Sunday, January 29, 2023

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany


Jesu Juva

“The Beatitude Life”

Text: Matthew 5:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Micah 6:1-8


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

Sometimes it’s good to start at the end.

That’s what Jesus does today. We heard today the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. Jesus is just getting started on His public ministry and His teaching. But He speaks of the end. Of rewards. Of blessings. Of the kingdom of heaven. He didn’t have to. But sometimes it’s good to start at the end. To know where you’re going. To know the outcome. To know how life with Him and in Him is going to end up.

Because honestly, while we’re on the way, it may not seem like everything is blessed. You know that. Life is hard. Sometimes doing the right thing gets you hurt, gets you laughed at, gets you taken advantage of. Like when you’re meek, when you’re merciful, when you’re a peacemaker, when you try to be pure in heart - it doesn’t always work out, does it? It can even seem that those things leave us worse off, not better. So it’s easy to quit. It’s easy to give up or give in. It’s easy to question God and His Word and His ways. They don’t work.

So Jesus starts at the end. The blessings He’s talking about, that we heard today, may not manifest themselves in this life. Because we live in a sinful world. A world that is far from how He designed it to be. But rather than give in, or leave us wondering or in doubt, He tells us where we’re going. What is the outcome. That there is for His disciples, blessing. We ARE blessed, even if, for now, we don’t feel like we are.

And it’s good that Jesus starts at the end, for what His disciples are going to see for the next three years will make them wonder. Oh, they’re going to see wonders. They’re going to see Jesus bless many with healing and with His teaching. They’re going to see His power over nature and even over death. But they’re also going to see Him opposed, and vilified, and rejected. And ultimately hung on the cross and dead. That’s what a sinful world did to Jesus, and what a sinful world will do to those who live like Him. Who live - or try to live - a Beatitude life.

Because the Beatitudes describe the life of Jesus. They are first and foremost not about us, but about Him. They are what we aspire to as Christians, but what He is. He is all those things are then some. And all the blessings of which they speak are His and from Him. So when Jesus came into the world, He showed us what the world is not. What we think is normal, really isn’t. What we think is good, maybe not so much. What we think is truth may be a lie of the devil. Think about all that we’re being told today is normal and good and truth - or what the world wants you to think is normal and good and truth - and you can see how far we really are from those things. In a world that really doesn’t know where it’s going, or how things are going to end up. So there is much fear and uncertainty.

But then in steps Jesus. Who knows who He is, where He is going, and how this is all going to end up. And He lives that way. He lives not in fear and uncertainty, but in confidence and faith. And the Beatitudes are what that looks like, what it looks like to live by faith. The Beatitude life isn’t about being served, but serving. The Beatitude life isn’t about climbing the ladder, but coming down to those in need. The Beatitude life isn’t about getting the things of this world, but in receiving the things of God. And that just doesn’t fit with the way the world is, the way the world thinks, the way the world works. And it is hard for us who have been raised and catechized and marinated in the ways of the world, to be different, to think different. But that is the way of faith and blessing, Jesus says. 

So yeah, the world is going to take advantage of the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, the poor in spirit - that’s what they do. For that’s what you do when all you have is here and now. But the Beatitude life is different. For Jesus promises grace and every blessing - not because we are and do these things, but to enable us to be and do these things. He blesses us to live a blessed life, a Beatitude life. And to die a blessed death.

Which He did. Yes, He became a curse for us when He hung on the cross. And yes, He endured the wrath of God against all the sin of the world, all our false belief, perverted thinking, and wicked ways. But still He died a blessed death. Even on the cross He forgave, He promised, and He entrusted Himself into His Father’s hands. He was a man of faith and lived that faith to the end. For He knew death would not be the end or have the final word. Life would, and did, when He rose from the dead.

And because He did, death will not be the end or have the final word for us either. And with that confidence and faith - the confidence and faith of the resurrection - we can live a blessed life and die a blessed death. We know who we are - baptized children of God. Who know where we’re going - to be with our Father and brother in heaven. And we know the outcome - a new creation; a new heavens and a new earth, and a life that is everlasting. So knowing that, why wouldn’t our life be different?

This is what Paul was getting at in the Epistle we heard from First Corinthians, when He said the message of the cross is folly to the world, to those who are perishing, to those who look at the cross and see defeat and death. But to us who look at the cross and see blessing - the blessing of the Son of God laying down His life to save ours - we see the wisdom and power of God. We see the love and mercy of God. We see the path of life.

So, Paul said, that’s what we preach! Christ crucified. Because that makes all the difference in the world. Christ crucified gives us a Beatitude life when we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, and enables us to live a Beatitude life. A life of faith in who we are, where we are going, and how it is all going to turn out. So that we can be meek and merciful, we can be peacemakers, we can be poor in spirit and mourn and be persecuted and reviled and all the rest - because we have Christ and He has us. Because with Him, whether we feel blessed or not, we ARE blessed. Now and forever.

So starting at the end enables us to see the beginning and the present in a new way, through the eyes of faith. Knowing where we’re going so we can live where we are. And not be fearful or anxious because . . . well, the resurrection. That is the proof of our life now and our life forever. 

The prophet Micah put it this way: 

He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

 but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Which is to say: to live a life of faith; a Beatitude life. A life that knows who you are, where you are going, and what is the outcome. That that’s all been given to you and taken care of by Jesus. So we can live that way. A life not without sin, but forgiven our sins. A life not with our own strength, but with His strength. A life not with our own wisdom, but with His wisdom. A life fed not by the things of this world, but by Jesus’ Body and Blood. That walking to God humbly here - the God who comes humbly to us - we can walk humbly with Him out there. In faith and love. In meekness and mercy. In mourning and peacemaking. In being reviled and persecuted. Because you are blessed. And you will be blessed. For He who blesses you will not stop. 

So it’s good to start at the end. With, as we sang, the Son of God, Eternal Savior, source of life and truth and grace (LSB #842). And know that where He has gone, we will go, and where He is, we will be. And that joined to Him, all that’s His is ours. His life and blessing, His sonship and kingdom. And having all that, even now, blessed even now, we live a Beatitude life. Which is a Jesus life. Which is an eternal life.

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Fourth Week after Epiphany (January 30 - February 4, 2023)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Psalm 112:1b – “Bless├Ęd is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments!”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #578 “Thy Strong Word”

Hymns for Sunday: 402, 578, 623, 704, 579, 533

Readings for the Week: [The Scriptures for this week are the readings for the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services.]

Monday: Psalm 112:1-9

How can these words and promises of God help us when life is challenging and difficult? How do they point us to Jesus?

Tuesday: Matthew 20:1-16

Is God both fair and generous? Which is better? Why? How is God towards you? Why?

Wednesday: Hebrews 2:14-18

Why is it important that Jesus is a flesh and blood man just like us?

Thursday: Isaiah 58:3-9a

What does God ask of us? What kind of fasting? What kind of life? Why? How does such a life show faith and trust in God?

Friday: 1 Corinthians 2:1-12

What is the “wisdom” of our age today? How is the true wisdom of the cross greater? How is it the power of God for us even now?

Saturday: Matthew 5:13-20

Does your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees? How? By what you did, or by what Jesus has done for you?

The Catechism - The Lord’s Prayer: The Third Petition [Part 1] – Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

Collect for the Week: O Lord, keep Your family the Church continually in the true faith that, relying on the hope of Your heavenly grace, we may ever be defended by Your mighty power; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .

+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).

+ all pastors who are weary in their work, for the joy of the Gospel.

+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Sunday School teachers.

+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church - Peru, for God’s wisdom, blessing, guidance, and provision.

+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for our Synod’s Board for National Mission.

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!

Collect for the Week © 2018 Concordia Publishing House.

Lutheran Service Book Hymn License: 110019268

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany


Jesu Juva

“A One Man March for Life”

Text: Isaiah 9:1-4; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Matthew 4:12-25


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

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.

Those are familiar words. We hear them on Christmas Eve every year. Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah. Matthew confirms that interpretation for us today. That Jesus’ coming is the light in the darkness. Light in a land of deep darkness.

When Isaiah first proclaimed and then penned those words, Israel’s darkness was deep indeed. They had been drifting farther and farther away from God, worshiping false gods, not trusting God to protect them and provide for them and instead making unholy alliances with the nations around them. And it would all soon come to an end. God was bringing in the Assyrian army to conquer them, and their nation would be no more. Strong medicine. But medicine. For God had sent prophet after prophet to His people, but they would not listen, would not return, would not repent. So time to bring out the big guns - literally! - so that with no thing and no one else to rely on, His people would return to Him. And live. God was acting for their life.

Perhaps we could say the same today, some 2,700 years after Isaiah first proclaimed those words. For 50 years now, thousands of people have walked in darkness - the darkness of the disregard for life in our country. For 50 years now, there has been a March for Life - like there was on Friday, two days ago - because of the darkness of abortion. But it’s not just abortion. The darkness is deeper than that. It is a darkness of which abortion is just a symptom. It is the darkness that says: that life doesn’t matter. Or worse, that we would be, I would be, better off without that life. Whether that life is a baby still developing in the womb, or an elderly person in need of much care, or a disabled person in need of patience and understanding, or a spouse contemplating divorce, or a person who is suffering, depressed, or suicidal and thinks she would be better off, the world would be better off without her, or that person we just can’t get along with, that person on the other side of the political aisle, that person who keeps getting in my way . . . This darkness looks at some people as disposable, as unnecessary, as an infringement on what I want, on my happiness, on my self-fulfillment. So they have to go. They have to be cut off, cut up, or cut out

But there’s another darkness, too, related to this first, that says: that life doesn’t matter, so rather than getting rid of that person, I can use that person to get what I want. This is the darkness of sexual abuse, rape, sex trafficking, identity theft, phishing, scamming, slavery, theft, murder. That life doesn’t matter, but my life does, so all’s fair. Game on. No regrets. Every man for himself. 

These attitudes towards life has made it very dark in our world. A darkness that seems to keep getting deeper and keeps spreading farther. A darkness not only that we’re living in, but that creeps into us and wants to live in us. That we look at one another and say, or think, or act like that life doesn’t matter.

But for 50 years now, thousands of people have walked in darkness because they have seen a great light; because on us has light shined. The light of the world. The promised Messiah. The light who came into this world and said your life matters. He said that with His birth and with His life, but most of all, with His cross. That your life matters so much that God the Father gave the life of His Son for your life, and God the Son laid down His life for your life. And not just your life, but also that life, that person. I want them, God says. I love them. They matter to me. Imagine if we saw every other person like that!

But, Paul said, this way of looking at life, this word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing. Folly to those in the darkness. Because obviously, some people matter more than others, some are more important than others, and there are undoubtedly some people we would be better off without. So to them, this message of the cross is silly, it’s stupid, and maybe even dangerous.

But, just for the sake of argument, let’s grant that; let’s agree with that for the moment. That some people matter more than others, that some are more important than others. So, when Jesus came, who mattered? Who was important? Who did He hang out with? It was those people many thought didn’t matter, weren’t important, that the world would be better off without, or could be freely used and abused. The lepers, the prostitutes, the Samaritans, the beggars. Jesus turned everything upside down. And, He said, those people you think are first, and matter more, and are more important are going to be last, and those people you think are last, they are going to be first. And for that, those people who thought they mattered and were important showed Jesus what they thought of Him and His upside-down ways by putting Him on the cross. For, they thought, there is a life we - and the world - would be better off without.

But when they put Jesus on the cross - or better to say: when Jesus ascended the cross - that completely changed the cross. It was now no longer an instrument of death but of life. No longer a place of weakness but of strength. No longer a symbol of hate but of love. No longer a place of shame but of glory. And no longer a place of condemnation but of forgiveness. The cross became no longer the place for a life the world would be better off without, but the place of a life that the world cannot live without. The place where no matter who you are, God says: you matter.

So while the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, to us who are being saved it is the power of God, Paul goes on to say. It is the light of God’s love shining in a very dark world of sin. It is the word of forgiveness we need for our own disregard of life. It is the death and resurrection we need, that we die to our old life and old way of thinking, and rise to a new life and new way of thinking. And of looking at others. Looking at them as Jesus did. Treating them as Jesus did. Laying down your life for them, as Jesus did for you. 

Which means that long before there ever was a March for Life in Washington, there was a March for Life in Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. A March not of thousands, but a one man March for Life. When the Word became flesh for the life of the world. When Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. When Jesus came and did what we heard today - proclaim the Gospel, forgive sins, cleanse lepers, heal the sick, restore the disabled, and rescue the oppressed. One person at a time. Each and every life one that mattered to Him. That was worth His time. And then Jesus marched into the darkness of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and then marched with His cross to Golgotha, where He hung for each and every life, none excepted. Each one worth His own. A one man March for Life.

And life is exactly what happened that day on Golgotha. For when Jesus died, that meant life for the world. For His is a kingdom not of this world, and a victory that comes by dying. It is a kingdom that comes only through death and resurrection. And so a kingdom that comes to us when we die and rise with Jesus in Holy Baptism. When we die in repentance and rise with absolution. When we eat and drink that dying and rising Body and Blood of Jesus in the Supper. 

And with this life, Jesus’ life, and His life-giving forgiveness in us, forgiveness for all of our sins and darkness, we can then live His life in His light and no longer see others in the darkness, as disposable or for our own personal use, but now lay down our lives for others. For if I have to struggle to matter and be important, if I have to make something of myself, then I can’t do that. But if I know I already have that, that I already matter and am important to Jesus, then I can. For my life is safe in Him.

And your life is such a life. Even if the world thinks otherwise, even if you think otherwise. You matter. And only by knowing that can we see others that way, and treat them that way. When we’re forgiven, we can forgive. When we’re loved, we can love. When the light has shined on us in the darkness, we can then shine that light on others. And you can be a one man, a one woman, March for Life. In your home, at your work or school, in your neighborhood or church, with your family and friends, wherever you are. Shining the light of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Because you matter, and they matter.

So maybe, just maybe, that’s the way to fight this battle for life. Not just to tell other people they’re wrong - though there is a time and place for that. But to show them they matter. And tell them why they matter. For that, it seems to me, is the way of Jesus. Who, while we were still sinners, laid down His life for us (Romans 5:8). So while others are still sinners, perhaps we can do the same. And show them the power of the cross and the life of the cross. It won’t be easy. It may not be safe. It certainly wasn’t for Jesus, or for the disciples He called to follow after Him. But it is the way of life. Of life everlasting. And then, maybe, just maybe, when you do, you will find your own life. For as Jesus also said: Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39). Not how we usually think, maybe not how we usually act! But how we usually think and act hasn’t been working so well . . .

So, Isaiah says, you people walking in darkness, there is a great light. You’ve seen Him. You know Him. He came for you. He died for you. You matter to Him. He is the light no darkness can overcome. Not even the darkness of death. He is the light no sin can overcome; He is the forgiver of sins. Your sins. All of them. No matter what they are, how shameful or heinous they are. Even when we have not honored and respected life as we should. When we, each of us, have believed the lies, have been deceived, has succumbed to the darkness, in our own ways, in our own lives. He took those sins. All of those sins. He took them away from You and put them on Himself. He died for them, to set you free from them to live. And so He is the light that one day, for each of us, will say: Today you will be with me in Paradise (Luke 23:43). The darkness cannot have you. You matter. You are mine.

A one man March for Life. And if you know anyone who needs to hear those words of Jesus . . . maybe you can be a one man March for Life, for them, too.

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord

No sermon to post today as I was away this weekend. Chaplain Glen Wurdeman filled in for me - many thanks to him! You can go watch the service and listen to his preachment here.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord


Jesu Juva

“18 inches”

Text: Matthew 2:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6


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

How do you measure wisdom?

Some would measure it by age. The accumulated experience of years and years of living, of trying and succeeding and trying and failing, realizing what lasts and what doesn’t, learning what’s important and what really isn’t, of having loved and lost, of time well spent and time foolishly wasted, where true happiness can be found, and more . . . this is the stuff of wisdom. And there’s some merit to that. But it’s not a sure thing. I’m sure you know people, as I do, who have been through much and lived long lives and yet have learned little and continue to be quite foolish.

So how do you measure wisdom?

Some would measure it by schooling. The number of schools you’ve been to, the number of degrees and diplomas hanging on your wall, the number of letters that precede or follow your name. There’s some merit to that as well, though again, you and I, we probably all know people we might call professional students who have accumulated lots of knowledge, climbed the ladders of academia, who have positions of power and influence . . . but aren’t very wise.

So we’re still stuck with the question: how do you measure wisdom?

I ask because on this day when we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord, we again heard the story of the Wise Men. That’s what many of our English translations call them anyway. In the beloved Christmas carol they’re called We Three Kings, probably in part because the prophecy we heard from Isaiah today mentions kings coming to Jesus and falling down before Him. In Greek they’re called Magi - but there’s no small doubt about exactly what that word means. Some say magician, or astrologer, or someone who dabbles in the occult or soothsaying. Truth is, we don’t know exactly who they were, where they came from, how they traveled, how far they traveled, if they traveled together or separately, if they were young or old, why they decided to follow the star, or even how many there were. Stories and legends have grown up around them, names have been given to them, but so little is truly known about them. They are quite mysterious . . . which is probably why they are such a treasured part of the Christmas story. Even more, I would say, for many, than the shepherds. The mystery adds to their mystique and our fascination with them.

But this we know about them, beyond a shadow of a doubt: God wanted them there. To see His Son. To be among the first Gentiles, if not the first Gentiles, to see and worship Jesus. Which is no small thing. This epiphany to them of the Almighty God in tiny human flesh. And through them the epiphany, the revealing, to us of God here for all people - Jew and Gentile, poor shepherd and wealthy wise man - and so here for us, no matter who we are, what country we are from, or our station in life. For what great lengths God employed to bring them to His Son, from the prophecy recorded by Micah, to the star that led them, and surely much more.

And perhaps God has done the same for you - used all kinds of people and things to reveal Jesus to you and bring you here to this place. Family, friends, experiences in your life, things that seemed like accidents or chance but maybe were not . . . because God wants you here. Because God wants you to know His Son.

But I’ve digressed a little! We still haven’t answered the question how do you measure wisdom? Or, what made these men wise men? Maybe they had great learning. Maybe they had the wisdom of age and experience. But I want to suggest to you another measure, another way to measure wisdom, a way you may not have thought of before: distance. Distance.

Now, you may be thinking, I already admitted that we don’t know where these wise men came from or how far they traveled. Hundreds of miles? Thousands of miles? We assume it was a great distance and that it took a fair amount of time for them to get there, since Jesus is called a child, not a baby, there’s no mention of a manger, and they’re in the house and no longer out with the animals. So this seems like a stretch . . .

But that’s not the distance I mean. The distance I’m talking about is approximately 18 inches. About a biblical cubit. The distance between the heel and the knee of the average adult. For the hardest part of these Wise Men’s journey was the last: when they fell down off their feet, onto their knees, and worshiped this child. 18 inches. That’s the measure of wisdom.

Think about it. These magi, wise men, kings, whatever you call them, came to worship the king of the Jews. Or maybe we could say, the king of all people who came from the Jews. They went to Jerusalem because it was logical - you would expect a king to be born in a capital city, in a palace, among other royalty, and with wealth. But He’s not there. The King, Herod, then sends you to Bethlehem. Okaaaay. That’s a bit odd, but you go. The star then reappears - the star that started this journey - and leads you to a house. A house, not a palace. And since we know Joseph and Mary were poor, it was most probably a pretty common, ordinary house, not a fancy one. And when you go in, what do you see? A mother and child. Just like any other mother and child. No halos, glows, or anything else to indicate that this child is anything special. It doesn’t add up. It doesn’t make sense. They would probably be laughed at by their fellow magi, wise men, or royal attendants if they could see them now. Nevertheless, they fall down on their knees - the hardest and longest 18 inches of their lives - and worship this child. And that journey, I would say, earn the esteemed title given to them: Wise Men. For as the Scriptures teach us: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). They believed God’s Word, God’s way, God’s wisdom, over their own thinking, their own wisdom, or what they saw. 

But . . . we still haven’t quite got it. I think 18 inches is the right way to measure wisdom, and we all do well to follow the example of the Wise Men and get on our knees, or the knees of our hearts, to humble ourselves before Jesus. But the 18 inches that are really and truly the measure of wisdom are the roughly 18 inches from the bottom of the heels to the top of the head of the baby Jesus. Because that’s the size of most babies when they are born - 18 inches, 20 inches. And as St. Paul tells us: Christ Jesus is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). And it is those 18 inches, of the baby Jesus, that make all the difference in the world. That reveal to us the true wisdom of God. And the love of God. For you.

It’s not how we’d do it. To save the world you need power, you need big, you need fearsome. To save the world you don’t become weak and small, and you aren’t born in poverty and lowliness. And to save the world you don’t let yourself be arrested, whipped, and crucified, right? Yet God does. Because truth is, He didn’t come to save the world, He came to save you. And you. And you. All of us, yes, but each one of us. And so He came as one of us, lived as one of us, and died as one of us. As one of us so we could be one with Him. And that all started when Mary, and Joseph, and the manger held those 18 inches. Those 18 inches of God in human flesh. Those 18 inches of the wisdom of God.

And if you would be wise, you don’t have to wait until you’re old, you don’t have to have lots of schooling, you don’t have to travel thousands of miles - the measure of wisdom is 18 inches. The 18 inches of God, the 18 inches to your knees in faith. That here is my God. Here is my Saviour.

But we don’t have a manger or a baby to get on our knees before, or the knees of our hearts, before. So there’s another 18 inches where God has put Himself for you. Because 18 inches is also the measure of an average adult arm from elbow to finger tip. And so it is also at the hand of a man where God has put Himself for you. That hand that pours the water of baptism, that hand placed upon the head in absolution, that hand that puts into your mouth the Body and Blood of Jesus, and your hand when at the end of those 18 inches is the Bible. When the Wise Men walked into that house, they didn’t say: Why, it’s just a child! They took their own thinking captive to the Word of God and humbly fell those 18 inches to their knees. And for us today, here in this house, this church, we don’t look at all this and say: Why, it’s just water, it’s just words, it’s just bread and wine! We take our thinking captive to the Word of God and believe it, not what we think, not what we see, not what makes sense to us. We humbly fall those 18 inches to our knees, or the knees of our hearts. And we are wise men. Wise Men who see Jesus, here, for me.

And like the Wise Men, we, too, bring gifts. For them it was gold and frankincense and myrrh, for us maybe it is our time, talents, and treasure. But if you asked those Wise Men that day, they would tell you they received a gift far greater, far superior, than anything they gave - for they received the gift of a Saviour. And we, too. Whatever you bring to give, whatever you leave behind here, you always leave richer than when you came. For here you receive. That’s what the Divine Service is all about. Here you receive God. Here you receive His forgiveness, life, and salvation. Here you receive what mere money or riches cannot buy - what can only be purchased by the blood of Jesus. Which makes it a pretty valuable gift, don’t you think?

A valuable gift that looks anything but. But don’t let the wrapping deceive you. In that little 18 inch package, in this water, words, and bread and wine, in the blood of the cross, is the wisdom of God. Wisdom for all. Life for all. Jew and Gentile, poor shepherd and wealthy wise man, computer programmer, student, entrepreneur, mother, nurse, retired. He is not beyond anyone’s reach, for He came, and is here, for everyone. In just 18 inches. 

Now that’s an Epiphany!

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

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Sermon for The Circumcision and Name of Jesus


Jesu Juva

“Happy New Year?”

Text: Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 2:21; Number 6:22-27


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

Happy New Year! Maybe. Maybe it will be happy for you. But maybe not. We hope it will be. We wish it. That the war in Ukraine will end. That our nation’s politics will get out of the pig sty and maybe even get something accomplished. That hostile dictators will become a little less hostile. That hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, pandemics, and things like mass shootings and terrorism might take the year off. That would be nice. Though it’s unlikely. What’s more likely is that there will be more of the same. A new calendar year really changes very little. 

So maybe instead of hoping for change - which may or may not come in the new year now before us . . . maybe instead we put our hope in the God who doesn’t change. Our God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). And when things happen in the world and in our lives that cause us sadness or frustrate us, that induce fear or make us wonder if anyone is sane anymore . . . rather than drive us to despair, those things drive us to the one we can count on. The one who is good, works good, and can bring good out of evil. The one who makes promises and keeps them. The one who will one day make not just a year but all things new. That the worse or the harder things get in the world or in your life, the more we live by faith. Not in what we can do, but in what our Lord can do. And will do.

Which is not an excuse to do nothing! As in: My New Year’s resolution this year is to do nothing because I’m going to let God handle it all! No . . . God uses people like you and me to work good in this world. So what you do is important. How your work provides for the needs of others. How you care for and provide for your family. How your generosity and friendship helps others up. God wants you not only to not sin, but to do good works, God works, those works through which God works good. 

But as you’ve often heard me say, there are two ditches we don’t want to fall into here. To do nothing and think God is going to do everything for you is the one ditch, but the other ditch is equally bad - and that is to think it’s all up to me. That if this is really going to be a Happy New Year for me then it will be because I did all the right things, and did them well enough. I kept my resolutions, was a better person, a better parent, I worked harder, I changed, I improved. I did all those things I was supposed to do . . . mostly . . . or more often than not . . . or more than I used to, at least . . .

All of which isn’t bad! It’s good to work on yourself and improve. But you’re not worth more if you succeed and worth less if you don’t. You’re not loved by God more if you improve and less if you don’t. You are a baptized child of God. Which means when your heavenly Father looks at you, He doesn’t see a disappointment, someone who has fallen short - again! - or someone He’s only going to give one more chance to. Baptized into Christ, having put on Christ means that when your heavenly Father looks at you He sees Christ, He sees His Son, whom He dearly loves. He sees good. He sees new. Now, that’s definitely not what we see! But that’s why we say in the Creed that we believe in a holy Christian Church, a communion of saints, and the forgiveness of sins. So what makes you new is not a New Year or a new effort on your part, but the one who makes all things new by His death and resurrection. You are new because Jesus has made you new. 

And part of that was, of all things, circumcision. Which really doesn’t seem like something to celebrate, does it? It’s kind of odd, it’s kind of embarrassing. And apart from Jesus it would be this weird ritual, this weird law that had to be done but really doesn’t make any sense. Which is, in fact, what happened. Circumcision took on a life of its own and became something that had to be done in order to be saved. It was part of the Law that had to be kept if you wanted to be saved. And so at the time of Paul and the New Testament Church after Jesus, there were some people who were insisting that circumcision still had to be done - that if you wanted to be a Christian, you had to keep the Law of Moses and be circumcised. And this was no small problem in the early church.

So the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians to set things straight about this; about how one is saved. And he used an important word in the verses from that letter that we heard today: guardian. He said the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. Which does NOT mean that we were saved by the Law until Christ came and now we’re saved by faith. Salvation is and has always been by faith alone. The purpose of the Law was never to save us. And I’m going to repeat that because it’s so important and so often misunderstood: the purpose of the Law - which includes circumcision - was NEVER to save us. Because it can’t. We can’t be saved by what we do, no matter how much or how well you do it. Rather, the Law, Paul says, served as our guardian. That is, our caretaker. To point us to Jesus, in order that we might be justified - not by ourselves, but by faith in Him.

This is why I said at the beginning of the sermon today that all the things that happen in our world - the hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, pandemics, mass shootings, terrorism, all the things that cause us sadness and frustrate us - instead of driving us to despair, should drive us to Jesus. Because all those things are the wordless preaching of the Law. All those things are preaching to us that the world is broken, that we are broken, that we’ve fallen and we can’t get up! We need help. We need a Saviour. 

That’s the purpose of the Law. Not to make us good by what we do, but to make us good by turning us, driving us to God and what He does for us. That was the purpose of all the sacrifices, the Tabernacle, the Temple, the priests, and all those laws. And it was what circumcision was to do, too. That was a very graphic, very vivid reminder that God had made a promise to send a Saviour who would be a descendant, one of the seed of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. So circumcision was never meant to be a purely physical act, but a faith act. A put-your-faith-in-God-and-His-promises act.

Until that promise of a Saviour was fulfilled. Until Jesus came and did what we could never do - lead a perfect life, and then die in atonement for our sins. And once He did, you didn’t need the sacrifices anymore. You didn’t need the Temple anymore. You didn’t need the Levitical priesthood anymore. And you didn’t need circumcision anymore. We didn’t need those guardians anymore. 

But we still need Jesus! We always need Jesus. So just as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and all Old Testament believers lived by faith in God’s promise to send a Saviour, so we New Testament believers live by faith in the Saviour God did send, His Son. Promise fulfilled. His Son who was born for you, then circumcised on the eighth day for you, lived for you, was baptized for you, died for you, rose for you, and ascended for you. Who did everything for you, that you might be new. Forgiven. A child of God. Dearly loved. With hope, and a future, and confidence. No matter what year it is, or what time in the year it is. Jesus is the same - the same Saviour for you - yesterday, today, and forever.

So now that the sign of circumcision and the rest of the Mosaic Law has been gloriously and graciously fulfilled for us in Jesus, a new sign has been given to us: baptism. In his letter to the Colossian Christians, Paul calls baptism a circumcision made without hands, the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11). And in his letter to the Romans he calls circumcision a matter of the heart (Romans 2:29). Which is what Moses himself had said, too! That circumcision was not just an outward thing, but that the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring (Deuteronomy 30:6). That is, cut away the hardness and sinfulness of our hearts. To give us new hearts, loving hearts, godly hearts.

So everytime you see that font, or walk by that font, or make the sign of the cross, or remember that you are baptized, just as circumcision pointed the faith of Israel to their promised Messiah and all that God promised to do for them in Him, so baptism points our faith to Jesus and all that He has done for us. To remember and rely on not what you have done or do, but to remember and rely on Jesus and all that He has done for you. That He has made you new. And given you not merely a New Year, but a new - and eternal - life.

That’s who you are. Your identity. In a world searching for identity and making up new identities every day, you don’t need to. You know who you are: a baptized child of God. In a world searching and yearning for meaning, for relevance, for life, for something that will last, you already have all that. You are a baptized child of God. And in a world hungering and thirsting but they really don’t know what for, you are fed and satisfied by the Body and Blood of your Jesus here. All that you need, you have. And all that you will need has been promised to you. 

And whatever this New Year of 2023 holds for you, for us, and for the world, nothing can change that. Which, it seems to me, is a pretty good way to start a New Year. Remember who you are and what you have. That you are a child of God, and have his love, forgiveness, and life. And this too: His Name. He put His Name on you. Because you are precious to Him. That’s what we do, isn’t it? We put our name on the things we don’t want to lose. A wife takes her husband’s name because he is precious to her, and he gives it to her because she is precious to him. Children are given the name of their parents because they are precious new additions to that family. So God has given His Name to you. He put it on you in your baptism, and we hear it at the end of the Divine Service every week. God commanded Aaron to put His Name on His people, to bless them with His Name. And you have been so blessed. Don’t underestimate that, what a precious gift that is. To know who you are in a world with spiritual amnesia. To know what you have in a world always striving for what doesn’t last. Remember that you are baptized, the circumcision of Christ made without hands.Remember that you bear God’s Namen you are His. So that whether or not you have a Happy New Year, you will have a blessed one. 

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

Saturday, December 31, 2022

New Year's Eve Vespers Meditation


Jesu Juva

New Year’s Eve Meditation

Text: Psalm 90:1-12; Isaiah 30:8-17; Romans 8:31b-39; Luke 12:35-40


In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Another year has passed. A New Year begins in just a few hours now. A year, 12 months, 365 days, seems like such a long time. Perhaps by some measures it is. But not to the Creator of time. For Him, as the psalmist said, a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past

That is comforting. We need a God big enough for eternity. To a young child, Dad is big enough to protect her from all danger, and Mom is caring enough to provide for every need. But then we become the Dad and Mom, and we know there are dangers too big for us, cares we cannot provide for. At such times, we need to be children again. Children of our heavenly Father. And know that we have a refuge in Him. That He is our dwelling place. That there is no danger too big, no care beyond His providing. 

He knows what this coming year holds for us. The joys and the sorrows, the challenges and the successes. We like to think we’re in control. We make plans and resolutions and try to achieve our own versions of happiness. Perhaps you’d like to know what will come this next year, get a glimpse into the future, prepare for it. But that’s not for us to know. It is for us to trust our heavenly Father as He leads us from age to age, from one year to the next. To rely on His Word and not despise it. To grow in His Word and treasure it. To rest secure not in our knowledge, but in His; not that we’re in control, but that He is.

But big can also be frightening. So while it is comforting to have a God big enough for eternity, we also need a God small enough for us to know, and who knows us. That is our God, too. Who became small, the smallest of human beings in the womb of His mother. Who was then born and received the protection of His father and the care of His mother. Who grew as we do, and then died as we do. In every stage of life from beginning to end, Jesus knows. So whatever happened this past year, and whatever will happen next year, you have a Saviour who can and will provide exactly what you need.

Which is what the apostle Paul also said to us tonight, that if God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not with Him graciously give us all things? Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So we have a God who is both little and big. Little enough to spend time with widows and lepers, but big enough to cleanse them and help them. Little enough to  eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners, but big enough to feed over five thousand with five small loaves of bread and two fish. Small enough to pray, but big enough to hear our prayers. That’s the God we need, and the God we have.

So we end one year and remember all that our Lord has done for us, and we begin a New Year with the confidence that what He has done He will do. We will be well cared for, even, or especially, if it turns out to be a particularly difficult year. We end the year hearing Him speak to us in His Word, and we speak back to Him in prayer. This is exactly the right place and the right way to end one year and begin another.

But not just on this night, because as Luke reminded us tonight, our Lord is coming back for us. There may not be another New Year, a 2024. Or there may be, but not for you or me. I received word just this morning of a pastor who died suddenly and unexpectedly. You undoubtedly saw on the news the death of the former Roman Pope. Man knows not His time. So we need to be ready for whenever that time comes for us. To not be lured into thinking we have many more years - we may not. Not here, anyway. But we have an eternity to spend with our Saviour. 

So, the psalmist prayed, and we prayed, teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. That is a heart filled with Jesus. A heart filled with His forgiveness for my sin, His Word for my path, His love to overcome my fears, and His life to overcome my death. And when He comes again - when it is not a crystal ball dropping in New York City, but a Saviour descending in glory - we will be among the throngs of faithful waiting for Him and rejoicing at His coming. 

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