Sunday, January 23, 2022

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany and Sanctity of Life Sunday

LISTEN


Jesu Juva


“The Very First “Sanctity of Life “Sunday”?””

Text: Luke 4:16-30; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a


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


The first thing to say on a Sanctity of Life Sunday is this: God loves you. You who are here today, those watching on the livestream, and those who aren’t. God loves every person He has created. From the day they are created by Him in the womb, for as many days as He gives them life here on this earth. Every man and woman, boy and girl, loved by God. Those who accomplish great things and receive the praise of the world, and those who fulfill their vocations unnoticed by the world. God notices. And He loves them all. The man in the mansion and the one whose home is a cardboard box under a bridge. The immigrant and refugee, as well as the law enforcement officers and judges who uphold and rule on their cases according to the laws. Those the world thinks are worth something, and those the world thinks we’d be better off without. Those WE think are worth something, and those WE think we’d be better off without. God loves them all. And you. God loves you.


Even when you don’t love Him back. Isn’t that something? The cross shows us that. Jesus bearing the sin and dying for the sin of every person He created, and would create in the future. Not only the good ones whose burden of sin wouldn’t be too heavy, but the really bad ones with the crushing burden. Especially them. Come to Me, Jesus says, all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). So if you have a lot of sins and regrets and failures and disappointments you’ve been lugging around for a while, making life heavy . . . why? Jesus took them; don’t take them back! Jesus wants them! And He wants to give you rest from them. To forgive you. Because He loves you. You who are here today, those watching on the livestream, and those who aren’t. Imagine a cross big enough on which to hang every single person who ever lived in the entire history of the world, all at the same time. That’s a pretty big cross. Well that’s Jesus’ cross. And the weight He bore on it. Because He loves you.


And He loves those He grew up with in Nazareth. And they loved Him. At first anyhow. When He spoke gracious words, words they liked. Words that made them think that surely, they were next in line to get some miraculous goodies, that what He did in Capernaum He would now do here, for them. Oh boy!


Jesus wasn’t against that. But Jesus also loved them enough to want them to know that if He did, it wouldn’t be because they were His homies, it wouldn’t be because He liked them, because He knew them, because He grew up with them and they were nice to Him was He was little - it would be mercy and grace. Like it was with the widow of Zarephath in Sidon, and with Naaman the Syrian - and not only the Syrian, but Naaman the commander of the army of Syria that was plaguing and tormenting Israel! God healed Him, showed mercy and grace to Him, of all people. 


Well, the people of Nazareth, they loved hometown Jesus, gracious Jesus, their Jesus. But the Jesus who talked like that, who called them to repentance . . . not so much. That Jesus they wanted to throw off the cliff! And maybe we do, too, when we don’t think God is doling out His gifts as we think He should. When others get what we think they don’t deserve, and we don’t get what we think we do.


So that Sabbath Day in Nazareth . . . maybe we could call that the very first Sanctity of Life “Sunday.” Jesus teaching about life, and about His love and mercy and grace that is for ALL people. Sidonians, Syrians, and Nazarenes alike. 


Because Sanctity of Life Sunday isn’t about us better than them, because we’re Christians and they’re not. Or because we teach that abortion, mercy killing, assisted suicide, and all the different ways we destroy life these days is wrong and they don’t. I fear that sometimes that happens on this day and turns us into holier-than-thou hypocrites. Because we’re not holier-than-thou. We are sinners. And quite possibly “sinnier”-than-thou. So this day is a day for us to do what the people of Nazareth that day did not - repent. And receive the Jesus of mercy and grace that came for us. And the forgiveness He has for us. And the life He has for us.


And it is a Sunday to ask for His help. To give us the ability to see every life as He does. To pray not just that God would change the hearts of those who think the destruction of life is okay, even good. Of course we want that, and for our world to once again be a culture of life not a culture of death. But we can’t just ask for that. But to pray that God would change our hearts, too. To see every life as He does, and to forgive me when I don’t. To rely on Him and His mercy and grace, and forgive me when I don’t. To mean it when we confess that I am a poor miserable sinner, and forgive me when I don’t. When I think I’m not as bad a him! Or her.


Now, how do we do those things? Well, surely, there is a myriad of ways. But let me mention three here specifically today . . .


First, to forgive us when we destroy life. Christians, too, at times look to death as an answer to our problems. Instead of dealing with a person, with a life, instead of giving of ourselves and serving others, just get rid of them. Or, get rid of ourselves. Satan tempts us to think that ending life is an easy way out. And maybe it is - easy. And our world seems to keep making it easier. But it’s not good. It’s not mercy and grace. It’s not trusting that God can bring good out of a difficult situation. Forgive us for that, and forgive us for when we make others think that by how we treat them - when we make their lives bitter or sad with our anger, hatred, or condescension. When we, well . . .


Secondly, treat them as a part of the body we don’t need. In the reading from Corinthians, Paul was talking about the Church as the Body of Christ, and that we need all the parts. We’re all different in that some are more honored and some less, some are more presentable and some more modest - but none less important. Forgive us when we don’t see each other that way; when we don’t see ourselves that way. And when we don’t see others as those Jesus wants to bring into His Body, too. 


And third, forgive us for relying on the Law, not the Gospel. A lot of people think this will be the year the Supreme Court overturns, or begins to overturn, Roe v. Wade. Maybe so. But whatever the Supreme Court decides, abortions will continue, as will other ways of destroying life. Because the Supreme Court cannot change hearts. We should strive to have good laws that protect life, but even more should we strive for hearts changed by the Gospel that are not just restricted from taking life, but which love life, all life, as a gift from God. Something only the Word and Spirit of God can do.


That’s what Jesus was doing that day in Nazareth - preaching to change the hearts of the people He grew up with. For forgiveness. Forgiveness for them and through them for others. For really, forgiveness and life go together. Forgiveness gives life. For the wages of sin is death, so where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation (Small Catechism). And life without forgiveness . . . well, that’s what we see happening in our world today, with more and more polarization, more and more selfishness, more and more isolation, more and more violence, more and more death and ways of death. Death as the answer. Death as the solution. Death as good.


Death is never good, though we know God can bring good out of it. And once again, it is the cross that shows us that. And what Jesus’ cross brings us: life. Jesus’ death and resurrection fill His Word and Sacraments with His life. Holy Baptism is our re-birth to a new life that will never end. Holy Absolution and the Holy Gospel give us that forgiveness of sins that brings life and salvation. And the Holy Supper of our Lord’s Body and Blood feeds that new life to keep and sustain us steadfast until our life here is transferred to life everlasting. Life that Jesus died to provide for each and every person, bar none. Life that the Father created each and every person for, bar none. And life that the Holy Spirit would breathe into each and every person, no one excepted. 


And so life that is here for you. You who are here today, those watching on the livestream, and those who aren’t. If life throws you a curve and knocks you off balance, Jesus is here to catch you. If your life isn’t turning out how you thought it should be, maybe your thinking about life is off, and Jesus is here to teach you. And if your life is nearing its end, Jesus is here to shepherd you through death to life. And if you’re failing at life, if you’ve taken life, made a life bitter, thought little of life, neglected life - if you just can’t seem to get life right, Jesus is here to forgive you. Always. 


So the last thing to say on a Sanctity of Life Sunday is this: God loves you. You who are here today, those watching on the livestream, and those who aren’t. That’s why, as we prayed in the Collect of the Day earlier, looking upon our infirmities, God stretched forth the hand of his majesty to heal and defend us. That is, God sent the Son of His right hand to heal and defend us. To forgive and save us. To fight sin, death, and the devil, and win. And so really, as He is here with us, that makes every Sunday is a Life Sunday. God giving us life, now, and leading us to life, everlasting. Lord, give us that life. And help us treasure that life. All life.


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


Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Third Week after Epiphany (January 24-29, 2022)


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


Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 


Verse: Jeremiah 1:8 – “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.”


Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #394 “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”

Hymns for Sunday: 842, 394, 623, 545, 706, 533


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


Monday: 1 Timothy 6:11–16

Commemoration of St. Timothy. What does it mean to “fight the good fight of the faith?” How do you do this?


Tuesday: Acts 9:1–22

Commemoration of the conversion of St. Paul. What do you think is the most amazing thing about Paul’s conversion?


Wednesday: Luke 10:1–9

Commemoration of St. Titus. Why is the world so often hostile (like a wolf!) towards the Word of God?


Thursday: Jeremiah 1:4–19

Have you ever felt like Jeremiah, that you couldn’t speak God’s Word? What gives God’s Word power – you or the Word?


Friday: 1 Corinthians 12:31b—13:13

How can we have the kind of love Paul talk s about here? Where does it come from? How do we get it?


Saturday: Luke 4:31–44

Do you ever underestimate the power of God’s Word? How can these verses help you with that?


The Catechism - The Lord’s Prayer: The Fourth Petition [Part 2] – Give us this day our daily bread. What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, and devout husband or wife, devout children, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.


Collect for the Week: Almighty God, You know we live in the midst of so many dangers that in our frailty we cannot stand upright. Grant strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations; 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).

+ you to grow in God’s Word and God’s Word to grow in you.

+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Building Committee.

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

+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for the Higher Things youth organization.

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 16, 2022

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord

LISTEN


Jesu Juva


“Our Three Kings and the Gifts He Brings”

Text: Luke 3:15-22; Isaiah 43:1-7; Romans 6:1-11


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


The people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ . . .


Expectation. Excitement. What was happening at the Jordan, well . . . nothing like this had never been seen before! People were going out there in droves. From Jerusalem and Judea, from far and wide. Young and old, rich and poor. Because of him. This one named John. The prophet who broke the drought of God’s Word that had lasted some 400 years! He preached. He called to repentance. He baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Could he be the one? Could this be the Christ?


No. No I’m not, John said. Oh. Faces drop, shoulders sag. Disappointment. Like when you opened that gift on Christmas morning you thought was the gift you really wanted more than any other . . . but it wasn’t. Oh. Thanks, you say. Trying, but failing, to hide your disappointment.


No, I’m not the Christ, John says. But the one you want, the one mightier than I, is coming. Someone so much greater than me that I am not even worthy to crawl to Him on my hands and knees and untie the strap of His sandal.


Perhaps that was hard for the people to accept. Or imagine. Someone greater than John? Just look at His following. Look at all the people coming out to him to be baptized. Even the leaders in Jerusalem were taking notice of him. John went viral! John was fearless, even calling out King Herod! John was just being modest, right? Humble. Which made him even greater in their eyes!


But John is exactly right. He’s not humble; he’s honest. He IS a sinner so wicked that he is not worthy to even approach the Christ, to ask or beg for anything. And that’s our situation, too. 


So the Christ, Jesus, approaches him. Comes to him. And the one whose sandal John is not even worthy to untie, asks John to do something far more, far greater than that for Him - to baptize Him. The sinless one baptized by a sinful one! Should be the other way around, don’t you think? John thought so (Matthew 3:14).


But not God. The God who doesn’t demand we come to Him but who comes to us. The God who doesn’t demand that we clean ourselves up but comes to clean us. He is a God who doesn’t do things as we do them, or how we think they should be done. Because of that, many think God foolish, or no God at all. When He doesn’t live up to our expectations, isn’t the kind of God we think a God should be. He is a God who . . . who wears sandals!


But it’s even worse than that. He is the God who is baptized!


He didn’t need to be. Clearly. Jesus is the Son of God and so perfect in every way! Why is He being baptized? There’s only one reason: for you. That’s why He was born: for you. Why He lived: for you. Why He was crucified: for you. And why He was baptized: for you. He didn’t have to do any of those things. But we needed Him to, so He did. We needed Him to come to us, to be one of us, and to come all the way down to the lowliest of low sinners - all the way down to you and me. We who are not worthy to approach Him. So He comes to us. And stepping into the Jordan, it’s as if He says: I’ll be the sinner, and you be the son. I’ll take your place and you take mine. That’s why He’s baptized. That’s why we’re baptized. That’s why at the end of the Divine Service today, we’re going to sing: God’s own child I gladly say it. How can we say that? How can sinners like us be so bold as to make that claim? Because I am baptized into Christ (LSB #594). Because Jesus made it so.


The prophet Isaiah today hinted at such an exchange, when through him God said to Israel: I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. But to redeem not just Israel, but the world, a much greater ransom would have to be given: God’s own Son. And He publicly began that work on this day, in the Jordan. Before this day, He had been mostly hidden. Born in obscurity in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, out in the sticks. A few knew who He was - the shepherds, wise men, and Simeon and Anna - folks we’ve met the past few weeks. But now, no more hiding. Now it’s public. The Father and the Holy Spirit make sure of that. The Spirit descending upon Him in the bodily form of a dove, and the Father’s voice booming from heaven: You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased


I read in a brother pastor’s sermon this week how Luther remarked that today was really the day of the three kings - not Epiphany. Those wise men that came to see Jesus . . . there may or may not have been three of them to match the three gifts, and they most probably weren’t kings, even though they’re sometimes called kings. But today there are three kings. The King of creation, the triune King, there at the Jordan. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Coming into His creation, into His realm, to save it. To save you. To give you a gift - the gift of a Saviour.


So God, the King, is in the water with sinners. Big sinners, little sinners, all sinners. First it was the water of the Jordan, but after that, any water will do, He says. Water, which with His Word becomes a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit (Small Catechism). Because His Word makes it so. His Word which says: I baptize you. You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. I forgive you all your sins. And it is so. Just as at creation when He spoke and it was so, here, too. For His Word always does what it says. His powerful, living, and active Word.


So when that powerful, living, and active Word was poured on you, or sprinkled on you, or you were immersed in it - it doesn’t matter how - you received the gift of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38), and with you the Father is well pleased. The exchange complete. Jesus, the Son, baptized into your life, and you, a sinner, baptized in His.


Which is what the apostle Paul was explaining to the Romans in those verses we heard today. Don’t you know, he says, that when you were baptized, you were baptized into the life and death of Jesus, into the death and resurrection of Jesus. When you’re baptized, the old sinner dies with Jesus and a new person rises with Him to live a new life. So Baptism is your first death and your second birth. Your new birth to a life no longer enslaved by sin and no longer under the dominion of death - but a life set free and eternal! Because of the one who gave His life as a ransom for you.


And that all may have that gift, brought by the real three Kings - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - after Jesus’ death and resurrection, He sent His apostles out to give that gift. He said to them: Go baptize all nations (Matthew 28:19)! Set them free. Let them out of their prisons. The prisons of their sins, their guilty consciences, their failures, their regrets, all that is burdening them. I want it all. Baptize them into Me and Me into them! For the forgiveness of their sins. For a new life.


We call that the Office of the Keys - an image Jesus Himself used. That special authority that Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners (Small Catechism). That’s the gift John was trying to give King Herod! Preaching to him to bring him to repentance, just as he had done for so many at the Jordan. John was trying to unlock the prison of sin Herod was in and give him life when Herod locked John up in his prison and then took John’s life. Sadly, that happens. Some do not want the gift of God. Or they want it on their own terms. 


But Herod’s new wife could not give him that new life, nor could his power or wealth or anything else. You either . . . though how often do we look for our life in the things of this world? There’s only one who holds the key to life, and has authorized His Bride, His Church, to use it. To proclaim it. To pour it. To feed it. To give life to those dead in their trespasses and sins, and set free those in the prison of sin and death. Not so we can sin more! Or as Paul put it, continue in sin that grace may abound. By no means! Who gets set free from prison and then goes back? Um . . . oh yeah, that’s right! We do. Sometimes we’re not so smart. But when we do, I am still here for you, Jesus says. There is more forgiveness. There is always more forgiveness. More than you can ask or imagine. More than the water in the Jordan. More than the grass that covers the earth, or the atoms in the universe. My forgiveness is for all and greater than all. 


So repent, my children. I forgive you. All your sins. And here, take and eat My Body and Blood - the same that stood in the Jordan for you that day. To strengthen you in Me and Me in you. That you go and sin no more. That you go in joy and peace.


All that when Jesus stepped into the Jordan that day and was baptized. All that when you were baptized, too. You may not remember that day, but your Father in heaven does. Just as you do not remember the day you were born, but your mother and father do. That was a big day for them and you, just as when you were baptized. One the start of your life, the other the start of your eternal life. Both gifts from your three Kings. Your Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.


Or as Isaiah put it today:


But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are
mine.”


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


Sunday, January 9, 2022

Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord

LISTEN


Jesu Juva


“What Do You Follow?”

Text: Matthew 2:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12


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


Follow the science! How often have you heard that little phrase or seen signs promoting that these past two years? Follow the science. Believe the science. Trust the science. Let the science be your guide to get you through this pandemic.


But science isn’t enough. There must be more than science. And sometimes the science is wrong. Sometimes science holds something to be true and it is believed for a time - even a long time . . . we thought we knew, until contrary data shows something else, and the science has to change. 


Now how it will turn out with this pandemic, I don’t know. Was the science right? Did the science get it wrong? Was there some of both? We shall see.


But already it is the account of the Wise Men that shows us that the science isn’t enough. The science of astronomy or astrology was not enough to lead the Wise Men to Jesus. They saw the star. They interpreted the data. They followed the science. They followed the star. And they missed! They got to Jerusalem, not Bethlehem. They got to King Herod, not to the one born king of the Jews. 


Now, science is good. Science has done wonders and benefitted us in countless ways. Science is a good gift of God. But science cannot BE God. Science is good in its place. But if it becomes the object of our trust, what we look to for what we need, what we believe in, where our life is and what we entrust our life to, then it has become an idol. Then it is a false god, and not good at all.


Has it become so during this pandemic? I don’t know. Maybe for some, yes. 


But the Wise Men needed more. As I said, they followed the science, but the science wasn’t enough. So after they got to Jerusalem and to King Herod, it was the Word of God that guided them to Jesus. Following the science can only get you so far. Following the Word of God will bring you to Jesus. And Jesus to you.


And that’s true with all the knowledge of man. It is not enough. What we know on our own, from our own observation and study and investigation and experimentation, can only go so far. The more we learn, the more we realize how much more there is to learn. Things change. People change. Opinions change. What people thought was true changes. We need something more. Something to provide a foundation for our knowledge. To give us wisdom, to know what knowledge is true and what is not.


And really, wasn’t this the problem from the very beginning? The serpent’s temptation in the Garden (Genesis 3) . . . was knowledge! That by eating the fruit of this tree, you will know what you do not now know. You will know good and evil. You will be like God. You will know everything! And Adam and Eve followed that word. They believed and trusted that word. That was what they needed, where their life was. But they didn’t get life. They got darkness and death. Darkness and death that has continued to this day. As we heard from the prophet Isaiah, who said that darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples


And you don’t need me to tell you, to know how thick the darkness of sin and death is in our world. Sin that continues to divide and devalue life, and death that takes away our life. And science has not been able to change that or fix it. And in some cases has made it worse. We need more.


So how good to hear these words of Isaiah also today: Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you! God has not left us to the darkness of sin and death - there is light, and so there is life. And that light is His Word. His Word promising life and salvation, and then that Word made flesh who came to accomplish it. That Word gave light and life to Adam and Eve, and it gives light and life to us.


And as we just celebrated for the twelve days of Christmas, that light has come. The glory of the Lord has arisen and come, and lies as a baby in a manger, sits on His mother’s lap, stands in the Jordan with sinners, eats and drinks with outcasts and unwanteds, and finally ascends a cross to hang in the darkness with all our dark and shameful sins and die our death. So that arising again, this time on the third day, He shine an even brighter light of glory upon us. The glory of the forgiveness of our sins, the glory of the defeat of death and the conquering of hell and the one whose temptation plunged us into a life of darkness and death, and the glory of eternal life. That the more we need, we have. To give us what nothing in or of this world ever could.


Seems to me that’s something worth following! Which is what the Wise Men followed. After they got to the wrong city and the wrong king, it was the Word of God that set them on the right path. To go to Bethlehem to see the one who would be the king and shepherd of Israel. 


Interestingly, it seems that King Herod and the chief priests and scribes knew where the answer was; where the more they needed to know was. But they didn’t follow. This Word instead filled them with fear and became what they fought against. King Herod shortly after this, by executing all the male children two years old and under in Bethlehem to try to eliminate this rival. And the chief priests and scribes some years later, when, failing to discredit Jesus, finally convinced Pontius Pilate to hand Him over to be crucified. 


Fear can get the better of us, too, causing us not to follow the Word of God either. Fear of what this Word will mean for my life. Fear of what following this Word will cause others to think of me, or do to me. 


So perhaps the Wise Men can encourage us here. For following the Word brought them not just joy, but they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. It led them to the child Jesus, to the Word of God, the Son of God, made flesh, who they fell down and worshiped and gave their gifts to. Whatever they may have lost in the world, whether treasure or honor or whatever - they received far more.


Which is what we need to realize, too. And not just realize, but believe and trust as well. That following the Word of God may not make us friends in this world or friends of this world. It may cause us to lose treasure, job, and honor. It may not be easy. But whatever we may lose, we receive far more. The unsearchable riches of Christ, is the phrase Paul used. That in a world and life which are passing away, Jesus gives us a life that will never pass away. So that we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. Faith in all the words and promises of God, fulfilled in Him.


That’s the foundation we need. The Word of God proclaimed, and the Word of God made flesh. To make sense of everything else. To keep everything else in its place and order. To give us the wisdom to know what to follow and what not to follow. To know what is true and what is not. To know what is good and what is not. For what we think is good, what the world says is good, what the tempter tells us is good and good for us, may not be. And when it comes to the tempter and what he’s offering us and trying to convince us of, is certainly not good for us! We need the wisdom of God. We need His Word. We need the Word of God to epiphany all of this for us - to reveal it to us. 


And then you know that these men from the east were not the first wise men, and won’t be the last either. But that all who believe and trust the Word of God, before and after them, are wise men. Because the Word makes us wise. The times may change, the location may be very different, the gifts brought maybe less costly, but the gift received the same: the gift of a Saviour, the gift of faith, the gift of life.


So follow the science. That’s fine. Even good. I’m not trying to make any grand political or moral statements here. But what I am saying is this: do not entrust or find your life or hope there. Your life and hope belong to the one who created you, redeemed you, and sanctifies you. Follow Him and His Word. Fall down and worship Him - which means receive His gifts, the gifts He has for you here in water, and words, and bread and wine; His forgiveness, life, and salvation. And when you depart, either this place or this life, whether by a virus or some other cause, or Jesus coming again - you do not depart and will not depart in doubt and fear, but in joy and peace. The joy and peace of Christ, the Light of the world, the Light that has arisen and shined on you.


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


Sunday, January 2, 2022

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Christmas

LISTEN


Jesu Juva


“Who’s Really Lost?”

Text: Luke 2:40-52; 1 Kings 3:4–15


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


And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

 

We don’t know a lot about Jesus’ childhood. Very little actually. There are some documents that were written several centuries after Jesus came, which claim to give us some stories of when Jesus was young. Stories of an out-of-control child deity, haphazardly trying to learn how to harness His power, creating birds out of mud and cursing to death friends who bump into Him. But such stories do not agree with what the Bible says and come from those who want Jesus to be something He is not.

 

From Scripture, all we have is the story we heard today - of twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple. Our curiosity would like to know more, what the child Jesus was like, what it was like in Joseph and Mary’s household, what it’s like raising a perfect child - but more we are not told. The Scriptures weren’t written to satisfy our curiosity or answer all our questions. They were written to tell us what Jesus did for us and for our salvation. And so the Scriptures concentrate on that, beginning from His baptism and to His death and resurrection.

 

But what we have here, what we heard today, does tell us something of Jesus. He is eager to learn. He didn’t amaze the teachers in the Temple with His questions and answers because He was pulling some secret God-knowledge out of the back pocket of His divine nature! Rather, we see in Jesus man as man was meant to be. With a mind untainted, unhindered, and unaffected by the ravages of sin. And so He learns quickly and well. He knows that the Temple is His Father’s house, and He wants to be there. And then, after His parents find Him and tell Him it’s time to go home, He does not resist them or protest, demanding His own way, but is submissive to them. He obeys them. Even though as God He created them, as man, He was placed under their care and authority. So He stays in God’s good order, perfectly fulfilling the Fourth Commandment, just as He perfectly keeps all the Law for us, in our place.


But that’s not the main point of this reading today - obedience. We need to think a little deeper. For there’s one more thing we heard today - that last line, which should not be overlooked. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. Jesus continued to grow, He continued to learn, and He found favor not just with God but with men. For untainted by sin, He was wise but not proud, obedient but not condescending, good but not arrogant.

 

We get a picture of this kind of man with King Solomon, who we heard about in the Old Testament reading today. He was a young man when he rose to the throne of Israel, and God gave him great wisdom, such that Solomon became known far and wide as the wisest man in the world. People came from all over the world to see and hear such a king, and he found favor with both God and men. Just like Jesus.

 

But Solomon was no Jesus. The taint of sin would corrupt His good and perfect gifts, and Solomon lost favor with God. He allowed the people and things of this world to lure Him into a thirst for power and a myriad of sins, including adultery and idolatry. Though wise, He became foolish, and while still admired by men he fell away from God.


For Jesus, though, it was exactly the opposite. Untainted by sin, He would not allow the people and things of this world to lure Him away from His mission - to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). And because He proclaimed this fact, who He was and what He had come to do, and didn’t say what men thought He should say and do what men thought He should do, Jesus lost favor with men. And though some believed in Him, many opposed Him and finally, put Him on the cross for it. 


So how is it with you? You who have been made a child of God in baptism and given great gifts as well, including the wisdom of God’s Word, and wisdom in the flesh - Jesus Himself! How is it with you? Are you more like Solomon, or more like Jesus? What is more important to you - the favor and admiration of men, or the favor of God? Or, maybe we could put it this way: what do you fear losing more? The favor of men or the favor of God?


Of course, we know what the answer should be! We know what we want to answer for ourselves! But tainted by sin, it’s the Solomon in us that too often bubbles up to the top isn’t it? We, too, foolishly seek the favor of the world instead of the favor of God. Like, when maybe we remain silent when we should speak up. Or we hide our beliefs under the excuse of not wanting to offend others. Or we go along with the crowd instead of standing up for the truth. Or we love the things of this world too much and God too little. It’s true, isn’t it? And if it happened to someone as wise as Solomon, we should not be surprised that it happens to us, too. New Christians, long-time Christians, even pastors.


So here’s where Jesus in the Temple can not only teach us or serve as an example to us, but also comfort us. When Jesus was in the Temple, Joseph and Mary thought Jesus was lost. He wasn’t where they thought He would be, or should be. For three I’m-sure-quite-long days, they searched for Him. And when they found Him in the Temple, He calmly tells His (I’m sure by then) frantic and anxious parents: I wasn’t lost! Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? 


Because the truth is that it’s we who are lost, not Jesus. It is we who have wandered away from God. And it is Jesus who has come to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). And as we hear the story of Jesus, as we will again this Church Year, it is Jesus who is always finding the lost. He finds disciples and calls them to follow Him. He finds sinners and forgives them. He finds those who bodied has been ravaged by sin and heals them. He finds those without hope and gives them hope - especially after another three days when they thought Jesus was lost . . . lost to death and the grave. The Marys came looking for Him then, too, and He wasn’t where they thought He would be, or should be - in the tomb. But the now-resurrected-Jesus finds them! And He finds His disciples hiding in the upper room. And He finds the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. And He finds His disciples when they are back on the Sea of Galilee, fishing. And He brings them home again. Back home in faith. Back home in the forgiveness of sins. Back home in a resurrection to a new life. 


And you, too. For as we will hear again this year (and can never hear enough!), though Jesus found favor with God, He took our place under the wrath of God for our sinfulness and foolishness on the cross, and gave us His place of favor. He became the foolish sinner and made us the perfect sons. And after three days in the grave, He rose and went to His Father’s house, to His Father’s right hand, where He will never leave, but rules all things for you. To provide for you the forgiveness, life, and wisdom you need.


So, like Joseph and Mary, while we may not understand everything, all that happens in this world and in our lives, and why and where and when; and while we may not even understand all that we do, and why and where and when . . . like Mary, who treasured up all these things in her heart, we can treasure up all these things of Jesus and His Word in our hearts, too. And it will grow. It will grow faith and wisdom and mercy and love and that new life Jesus has for us. And when we act and live foolishly, it will grow repentance, too. 


And that, really, is true wisdom. To repent of our sins and receive our Lord’s forgiveness. To look to Him for all that we need, and not rely on our own goodness, our own wisdom, our own faithfulness, our own steadfastness, but rely on the one who is what we could never be, and gives these things to us, all that we need, including His Body and Blood to feed and strengthen us. For the things and favor of this world come and go, but the favor of God lasts forever. 


So Jesus is back in His Father’s house today. Here. Right where He has promised to be for us. So that we may live in our Father’s house, forever. As His children, dearly beloved. And that is what you are. And right where you should be.


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


Saturday, January 1, 2022

Sermon on the Eve of the Name and Circumcision of Jesus

No Audio


Jesu Juva


“An Ending and a Beginning”

Text: Luke 2:21


In the Name of Jesus. Amen.


We can say that little phrase, In the Name of Jesus, because of what we heard tonight. Because on the eighth day after He was born, this baby boy, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, was circumcised and given that name: Jesus. The name the angel told Mary (Luke 1:31), and then later told Joseph, too (Matthew 1:21), to give Him: Jesus. The name that means God saves. For this one, this child, is God come to save us. To save all people. The eternal Son of God, begotten of the Father from eternity, is born a man and given a man’s name: Jesus


And He is circumcised. As had been happening to baby boys ever since God gave this sacred sign of His promise to Abraham, that one of His offspring, one of His Seed, would be the one through whom all the families of the world would be blessed (Genesis 17). It seems a strange kind of sign, until you consider that it is connected to where a man’s Seed comes forth. Then it makes sense. It really was a sign of the promise. 


But with Jesus’ circumcision, something else happened, something different. Now, it is not only faith in the promise continued, it is faith in the promise fulfilled. For this sign of the Seed had, down through the centuries, pointed to this Seed - to Jesus. Now that Jesus had come, this sign would no longer be needed. 


And, Luke tells us, this happened on the eighth day, as God had commanded. The Law is being fulfilled. Every last bit of it. For as Jesus would later say, He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17-18). That is, to fill them up with Himself. They all pointed to Him, were waiting for Him. Now, He would fulfill them. Fill them up, so that nothing more need be done. Nothing more need be accomplished. The Law which accuses and condemns us, would be able to no longer. It would no longer be able to say you did not! because Jesus did - all of it, for all people. 


But what good is that for you? Jesus did it; He can’t be accused or condemned. But can’t you still be? You who are sinner. You who have not fulfilled the Law?


Well, yes. . . if that is all there is to it. But just as the eternal Son of God is given a man’s name, so we sons and daughters of men are given a divine name: the name of Jesus. Not His human name, though, but His divine name. That’s what happens in Baptism. We are baptized into His Name. We are given His Name. His Name is placed upon us. The Name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 


So when the Law comes to accuse you, you who are in Christ . . . when satan tries to accuse you and condemn you, you who are in Christ and bear His Name . . . it is as if He comes to you but cannot find the sinner. He must say: where is the sinner? For you no longer bear the name of sinner, but of Christ. The sinner was crucified in Christ. So you are no longer sinner, but Christian. Of Christ. Saved. Redeemed. He took your name, your sin, and your death, and gave you His name, His atonement, and His life.


So on this eighth day (which began at sundown, according to the Jewish reckoning), with His circumcision and with His Name, a sign and promise are fulfilled and a new part of the story begins.


Which makes this day in the life of the church a perfect day to start a new year in the life of the world. For tonight is both an ending and a beginning for the world, too. An old year brought to a close and a new year ushered in. The problem for the world is that it is not always so easy to start over, to turn the page of more than the calendar. The things of the old often carry over into the new, whether we want them to or not. But it is not so with Jesus. With Jesus, fulfillment really is fulfillment and a new life really is a new life. In Jesus, you really are a new creation and really can live a new life. You need not fear the sins of your past when Jesus took them away. For they’re not buried under the page of an old calendar, they’re buried in His grave, and they’re not coming out.


And that changes not only our future, but also our present and our past. Our past is forgiven, we can live in the present with confidence, and our future is secure. All is made new in Christ. Who was born for you, circumcised for you, and named for you. To give you not just a Happy New Year, but a happy new life


So just as we began this little sermon In the Name of Jesus - the human name given the Son of God when He was circumcised for us, so we end it In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit - the divine Name given to you when you were baptized into Him. One promise fulfilled and another begun. 


And all on the eighth day. For the day you were baptized was the eighth day for you - the day you began to live a new life. A new life not like the old seven-day-life-cycle, but a new life in a brand new day. A new life that will never end, in the day that will never end. The day of eternity. That’s yours, already now. That’s the life you are living, already now. Through all the pages and calendars of your life. You have already begun to live your eternal life. For when that day comes when you will die, you will not really die - you will simply move from this life to the next.


That’s what this day means for you. Jesus’ eighth day to give you an eighth day. One promise fulfilled and another begun. So it really can be a Happy New Year.


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


Sunday, December 26, 2021

Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas

LISTEN


Jesu Juva


“The Present-tation”

Text: Luke 2:22-40; Exodus 13:1–3a, 11–15; Colossians 3:12-17


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


What do you want for Christmas?


How many times did that question get asked this past month? And in how many different ways was it answered? We won’t hear it again for a while now, but it will come back. Next year. It always does.


But today I want to think about this: not how you answered that question, but how would Simeon have answered that question? The righteous and devout man we heard about in the Gospel today. This man waiting for the consolation of Israel. What did He want for Christmas?


Well, he wanted to die.


For, you see, he had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So Simeon wanted to die, because that would mean this promise was fulfilled for him. He would have seen the Lord’s Christ, the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world - His Saviour. 


So that day, the fortieth day after Jesus’ birth, when Joseph and Mary come into the Temple to do for [Jesus] according to the custom of the Law, Simeon received his present. Joseph and Mary came to present Jesus to the Lord, as it had been written in the Law since the day God brought His people out of Egypt in the Exodus, but it was Simeon who received the present. And that’s why he bursts out in joy, as we often do when receiving a special and much-wanted present. And so Simeon proclaims in joy, with his present in his arms, Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word. He was ready to die. Gift received.


Now, we don’t know when Simeon died, whether it was soon after this day or many years later. This is the last we hear of him. But neither does it matter - to us or to him. For he was safe in the arms of this one he now held in his arms. The arms not of a baby, but of the Almighty God who came in human flesh.


So while this day is called The Presentation of Our Lord, maybe we should say that a little differently today, and called it The Present-tation - the day Simeon’s present was given to him.


Of course, Jesus isn’t just Simeon’s present, He is ours as well. God’s Son is His gift to the world, to save the world. That all of us, like Simeon, may depart in peace when it becomes our time to depart this world.


And while that means death, it also means life. Because of Jesus, death is not the end of us, but the beginning of a new life. 


And maybe to understand that, we need to go back to the Exodus where, as we heard in the Old testament reading, this custom of the Law began. As you remember, Israel had been slaves in Egypt for some 400 years. They had gone down under the Pharaoh’s protection and with his blessing, but later Pharaohs forgot that, and it all quickly turned sour as Israel was subjected to a long, hard slavery. Which included death - not only under the harsh Egyptian whip, but also the commanded drowning of all the males babies born to Israel in the Nile River.


But into this life of misery and death, God came and rescued His people. Long before Simeon, they were the first to depart in peace - and joy! - as they departed the misery and death of Egypt for a new life. 


And now Simeon was following in their footsteps. His Christmas wish wasn’t really to die - he was already doing that! As we are. He wanted to live. Like Israel wanted to live. Simeon wanted to depart this dying world and live the new life God had for him. So when he talks about what receiving his present means, he is really doing what Moses told the people of Israel to do so many years before. For Moses said, as we heard earlier: when you are asked, hat does this mean? you shall say, By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. So Simeon proclaims what Jesus in the Temple means. What does this mean? Jesus, as the Lord’s strong hand, is doing it again and rescuing his people, bringing us out of this world of slavery to sin and death to life. What He did for Israel in Egypt He is doing again . . . only on a much larger scale. And with the strong hand of this baby, His Son.


So that’s our Christmas present, too. Not just a baby and not just a Saviour, but life. A new life to live. Set free from our slavery to sin and death, and set free from the fear of death, to live. Because like Simeon, we’re dying. We don’t wish for it. It’s our reality. From the sudden and unexpected tornadoes in the south, to the pandemic in which people were so afraid of dying that they were afraid of living, to accidents, to all the other and myriad ways death comes upon us . . . the reality is that death is never far from us. We need life. And we need to be able to live without fear of what’s going to happen to us. 


So Jesus is born to give us just that. Simeon had his promise. So do we. Many, actually. Like, for God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). So when Jesus comes to us, like He came to Simeon that day, and we hold Him - not in our arms - but in our mouths as we receive His Body and Blood, we proclaim what this means: life! We sing Simeon’s very words and make them our own: Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word.


And since we can now depart in peace, we can also live in peace. Not in fear of condemnation, not in fear of death, but alive in Jesus. The kind of life St. Paul described in the Epistle today: where the peace of Christ rules in our hearts. Peace which overflows in forgiveness and love and thanksgiving. Lives filled with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Because of our Christmas present: Jesus, and His life. His life He gave for us on the cross, and the resurrection He promised us in His own.


That’s also the kind of life St. Stephen lived. Although we kept white on the altar today, we could have had red - for today is the Feast of Stephen, the commemoration of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Maybe you know it from the song, that Good King Wenceslas went out on the Feast of Stephen. That’s today. The day after Christmas. And while I don’t know if Stephen died before or after Simeon, I do know he departed in peace, like Simeon. For after confessing What does this mean?, what Jesus’ birth and life meant (Acts 7), and while he was being stoned for that confession, he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:60)


And Stephen received his Christmas present, and lived.


And that’s your Christmas present, too. That you can depart in peace and so live in peace. Maybe sometimes we think other Christmas gifts more important than this one. If so, we need to repent - which is really just to receive a far greater gift than the ones we think so important! And you if find yourself not living that new life that Paul talked about, and living in fear, not peace, take Jesus’ words and promises up again - in your ears and in your mouths - and with the people of Israel, and Simeon, and Stephen, rejoice in them. For that is the present Jesus has for you. A new life in Him. 


So after we receive the Lord’s Body and Blood today, sing Simeon’s words again today, and sing them like he said them - with gusto and great joy! Lord, you’ve done it! And I, I can depart in peace, according to Your Word. Gift presented. Gift received.


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