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The Gift of Glory. Transfiguration of our Lord 2015

January 26, 2015 Leave a comment

transfig10The Transfiguration of our Lord

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 17:1-9

January 25, 2015

“The Gift of Glory”

Iesu Iuva

 

Beloved in Christ:

 

Look at the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ!  Don’t pass over it.  Meditate on it.  It is a picture of the glory that is to be ours in eternity, when we see Christ face to face and know the splendor of the eternal God.

 

This is the reason we say, “Lift up your hearts” in the liturgy before the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.  Heaven is being opened before us, because our Lord Jesus is coming to us in His flesh and blood.  But our hearts are usually weighed down to the earth.

 

Here in the transfiguration the veil that covers heaven is parted for a little while, and we see what is always there in Jesus but which is hidden from flesh and blood.  We see Jesus’ form suddenly changed and the eternal glory of God shining from His human body.  His face becomes like the sun.  His clothes become dazzling white.  The saints who are in heaven appear and are talking with Him.

 

Jesus is true God and true man.  In Him is all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form.  But the image of His glory was hidden when He was on earth until His resurrection.  We call this “the state of humiliation.”  Jesus hid His glory under the form of fallen human beings that have no glory.  He became like us who have lost God’s glory and are under the curse of sin.  As scripture says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  When we were created, we reflected God’s glory and shared in it, but through sin we have been cut off from the glory of God.

 

But now God’s glory is pouring out of the body of a man.  Heaven is present with Him on earth—the departed saints are revealed alive, speaking with Him.  And in case we were slow and didn’t get it, the father’s voice thunders from the cloud and says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.  Listen to Him!”  God the Father is saying—if you want to know what I think, if you want to know what pleases Me, if you want to know Me and come to Me, then listen to this man Jesus, for He is My only-begotten Son and He pleases Me in every way.

 

So when we have Jesus, we have this glorious God and man.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  It doesn’t matter if you have Him asleep in a boat, or crowned with thorns and spit upon, or buried in a tomb.  If you have Jesus you have the glorious Lord we see in the transfiguration.

 

If you have Jesus hidden under the water of baptism or hidden under the bread and wine of the sacrament or presented to you in preaching and the Scripture, you have this glorious Lord whose face shines like the sun in today’s Gospel.  And it doesn’t matter if you receive Him when you are a baby, a teenager, old or middle-aged.  It doesn’t matter if you are sick or suffering, burdened by sin, even if you are lying in your grave—if you have Jesus, you have the glorious Son of God who is presented to us today in His transfiguration, in all His glory and life.

 

We long and hunger and thirst for glory.  Is that true, really?  It seems like most of the time what we are hungering for is pleasure, or rest, or security, or health, or love, but not glory.  But isn’t it true that we want more?  We are frequently not content with our lives, our jobs, maybe our families, our relationships.  We want more.

 

We were created for more than to eat and drink and work and die.  That’s what Scripture tells us.  God created us to bear the image of His glory and to have fellowship with Him, the most High.  It’s no wonder that people feel dissatisfied and restless in this world.  We were created for more.  We were created to see God’s glory.

 

And in the beginning God gave human beings glory.  We were to bear God’s image in the world and see and know Him.  His glory was given as a gift, but we tried to make it our possession.  We tried to own and control God’s glory for ourselves and ended up instead under the curse.  Our curse is that our labor is in vain.  Man works the ground and it brings forth thorns.  Woman gives birth to children in great pain and her husband rules over her.  And both are condemned to return to the ground from which man was taken, and after that to be judged.

 

All our lives we rebel against this curse.  We try to find a way to secure our lives and whatever little piece of glory we think we can hold on to.  Those are our idols.  Sometimes people make an idol out of their work.  Even though work is good it’s not meant to give us life or save our souls.  God gives us work so that we may serve our neighbor.  Sometimes people make an idol out of family or love and try to find their little bit of heaven and glory there.  But even though God made marriage and family He didn’t make them to satisfy our thirst and hunger for God and life.

 

But now God has given us His glory again as a free gift.  He has given us Jesus.  In Jesus all the glory of God is hidden.  And everyone who believes in Jesus, who listens to Him in faith, receives God’s glory and shares in His glory.

 

You may notice, though, that Jesus did not give a vision of His glory to everyone.  Only three disciples went up on that mountain and saw Jesus transfigured.  And Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone about what they had seen until after He was raised from the dead.

 

It may seem like if Jesus wanted to have everyone believe in Him and honor Him all He would have had to do was have a transfiguration in front of all His critics.  But Jesus didn’t want to do that.  He didn’t even want His disciples to tell people about this transfiguration or that He was the Christ.

 

The reason was that it was necessary for the Christ to be rejected and suffer.  It had to be that Jesus would not stay on the mount of Transfiguration but go down it to Jerusalem where He would be transfigured into the man of sorrows.  His face would be so disfigured by blows and blood and scorn that Isaiah says He would almost be unrecognizable as a human being.  It was necessary that the glorious Lord have His glorious head pierced with thorns, His garments stripped and His skin torn with whips, His hands and feet nailed to the tree of shame.  It was necessary that He cry out to God in Gethsemane and from the cross and receive no relief from God’s wrath.

 

All this was necessary that He might take away our curse and crown us with glory.  It was necessary that the glorious Lord be laid in the dust to rescue us from sin and death, to turn away God’s wrath from us and bring us His favor.  That is why this glorious Son of God has come to earth and been made man.  Not merely so that He might show us His glory for a little while on earth, but so that He might take away all our shame and make us sharers in His glory and the Father’s good pleasure forever.

 

This is why there is joy for you even though you are carrying a heavy cross, and God’s glory seems far away.  Christians experience suffering.  There’s no doubt about that.  We struggle with boredom and restlessness as we live in a cursed world.  We live with the gloom of death looming ever larger over us as we grow older.  We live with physical and spiritual affliction.  We struggle with doubt over God’s care and concern for us as we see loved ones die and the church growing smaller.  Sometimes we are afflicted by doubt over the forgiveness of our sins.  If Jesus would only show us His glory, we think, that would be enough for us.

 

But just as it was absolutely necessary for our salvation that Jesus hide His glory and willingly accept the suffering of the cross, so it is necessary for us to bear the cross while we trust Him.  For we are not merely spectators, watching Christ.  We are participants in all that is His.  The glory we see shining from Christ’s face is the glory that will be ours in heaven and which belongs to our loved ones who have gone to be with Christ in paradise.  Jesus doesn’t just give us a glimpse of His glory, but to reflect it and share in it forever.  We have been baptized into Him.  His life is our life.  His glory is our glory.  Our lives are hidden in Him at the right hand of God.

 

And because we are baptized into Him, His suffering is also our suffering.  His cross is our cross.  His death is our death.  When we feel alone, forsaken, overwhelmed, we are not forsaken by God or being punished by Him.  We are simply sharing in Christ’s sufferings, for we were baptized into Him.  And the Father says about you and I as we cling to Christ and endure our cross—“With you I am well-pleased.”  We are God’s beloved sons and heirs through Him who bore God’s wrath for us.

 

I saw a member of St. Peter at her work not too long ago by accident.  I asked her how it was going, and she said, “You know, I’m just living the dream.”  That of course was good German Lutheran sarcasm.  But that’s exactly how we feel many days in our lives.

 

But God has given His glory to these lives that don’t feel like dreams.  All His glory is hidden in Jesus, who died for us.  And your life is hidden in Jesus through your baptism into Him.

 

Today you share in Jesus’ weakness and suffering, but you are also a sharer in His glory.  We are being transfigured into that image of His glory just as we are being conformed to the image of His death.  And the day will come soon when the old Adam will be put off forever and we will know nothing but the glorious image of Christ, the only Son of God.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

2nd Sunday after Epiphany / Life Sunday 2015

January 18, 2015 Leave a comment

2nd Sunday after Epiphany/Life Sunday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 2:1-11

January 18, 2015

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  It’s today because this is the closest Sunday to January 22nd, which was the date in 1973 when the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision legalizing abortion.  This year abortion will have been legal for 42 years in our country.  People who are my age have never lived in a country where abortion wasn’t legal.

 

Some estimate that in the years since 1973 one third of babies conceived were aborted.  That would be something like 56 and a half million lives that ended before the baby ever left its mother’s womb.  56 and a half million human beings put to death without the interference of the government, whose calling it is to protect innocent lives.  56 and a half million people who died as though they were not human beings, not allowed the most basic of human rights—the right to live.

 

If we reflect on this a little bit, it will change our whole perspective on what the mission of the church is in this age.  We are living in a society that has killed 1/3 of its children.  How can we think that its just a matter of being nice and friendly or packaging our message the right way to make people want to come to church?  How can we imagine that in a society that murders 1/3 or its children, we can expect our living children to remain Christians if Christianity is something we do on the side but is not at the center of our lives?

 

The Church isn’t called to win over society.  We are called to bring light into the darkness.  We are called to preach the forgiveness of sins from God to a world that is evil, that is under the power of the devil.  And we are first called to receive that same Gospel ourselves—that we are by nature sinners and wicked before God, but that through the death of His Son God forgives us and counts us righteous.

 

The good news we bring to the world is that even now, with the blood of 56 million babies rising around us like a flood, the God who authored those lives does not want to destroy us.  He comes in peace, to give us life and peace and pardon.  See Jesus going to the marriage at Cana in Galilee.  He was the same holy God that He is now, and human beings were just as corrupt then as they are now.  But Jesus is among them as a brother, not as a judge.  He goes to the wedding.  He doesn’t stand apart from human life and human joys, even though human beings are sinful.  He isn’t above it.  He goes to the wedding and participates in the joy of the bride and groom.

 

That’s because human life, despite being fallen and corrupt, is still God’s creation.  He does not want to destroy it, but to redeem it.  Life and the institutions that create and protect life are God’s, even though they are stained by the sin of the people who enter them.  Marriage is still God’s good creation, despite our abuse of it.  The bearing of children is still God’s work, even though children are conceived in sin.  Sex is God’s good gift and Jesus does not scorn or despise it, but blesses it when it is used as God ordained it, between a man and a woman who are united together for life in holy marriage.  Jesus doesn’t scorn or disallow the pleasure of eating and drinking, not even drinking wine, but creates gallons of the best wine for the wedding party to enjoy.

 

All this Jesus does even though He is dealing with the descendants of Adam and Eve, who are born corrupt and wicked, just like us.  Why does He bless marriage and the eating of food and the drinking of wine and life in this fallen world for those who deserve God’s punishment and not blessing?

 

Because God has come to earth not to destroy human life but to redeem and save it.  He came to reclaim human nature from sin and death and the devil.  That’s why God is at the wedding of Cana as a true man.  He has united human nature to Himself, to God.

 

Thhis is the great hope that we hold out to a world that has killed its own children.  It is the hope by which we ourselves live.  All the darkness and depravity of human nature and all our wicked deeds God comes to forgive and clear away, not to torment us for.

 

When His hour has come, He will take all the darkness and depravity of our hearts and our bodies on Himself.  He takes the sexual impurity, the murder of the innocent, and the failure to love and trust God on Himself when His hour has come.  And He bears God’s righteous wrath against all the sin s of the world so that His wrath might not rest on us.

 

All of God’s wrath that is hanging over our country for the murder of those 56 million babies and all the wrath of God against every sin of thought, word, and deed from the first sin of Adam all fell on Jesus and was paid for by Jesus.

 

In place of the shame and guilt and regret that follow us for our sins, Jesus gives us the wine of joy.  It is the toast that celebrates our new life with God.  For God in Christ has wedded Himself to us, as the alternate epistle from Ephesians says.  “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her with the washing of water by the word…”  Jesus is the bridegroom, and all who believe and are baptized into Him are the bride.

 

He doesn’t shame or criticize or beat down His bride.  He takes all her shame and sin on the cross.  He puts on us the wedding garment of His perfect righteousness in Baptism.  He invites us to the wedding feast of heaven, where He gives us the bread and wine of heaven—His own body and blood.  In them He gives us life in a dying world.

 

We often complain as we see the church seeming to weaken and the world becoming more godless.

 

But whether we are great or small, few or many, we have Jesus with us.

 

He gives us life through His death.  Life in a murderous world.  Righteousness in place of our sin.

 

We may be too small individually to turn back the tide of falling away and the lack of regard for life in our society.

 

But we have His assurance that He is pleased with us.  He is our bridegroom.  He comes to us and give us what is His—life, victory, righteousness.

 

He doesn’t ask us to overcome the world.  He has overcome the world.  We receive His victory and live in our callings as those who have already won the victory even though we may seem to be losing, trying to do an impossible task.

 

If married, we love our spouse, welcome children, and rejoice that He is well-pleased with ur lives through faith in Jesus.

 

If single, we live in chastity and rejoice that He is well-pleased with the life that He has called us to.

 

Our bridegroom Jesus gives true meaning to our lives in a world that is trying to steal paradise for itself.

 

He gives us the joy of God’s favor and good pleasure through His suffering for our sins on the cross.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Losing Jesus. First Sunday after Epiphany, 2015

January 12, 2015 Leave a comment

1st Sunday after Epiphany

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:41-52

January 11, 2015

“Losing Jesus”—heavily indebted to Tilemann Heshusius

Iesu Iuva

The first thing to notice in the Gospel for this first Sunday after Epiphany is the diligence of Mary and Joseph in keeping the third commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.”  Because every year they went up to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.

Now God had instituted three holy festivals in which all the males in Israel were to appear before God’s presence at the temple.  These were the feast of tabernacles, the Feast of weeks (which we know as Pentecost), and the Feast of the Passover, which occurred at our Easter.  As you can imagine, it was not easy to do this.  It was several days’ journey on foot from Nazareth to Jerusalem, and if it is difficult for us to get all the kids into the car to go to church on Sunday morning, or to get aching bones to make the treacherous walk up steps and across parking lots into our church, you can imagine how it was difficult to take young children and old bones on a several day journey into a strange city to worship the Lord.

Yet the Gospel tells us that the Holy Family made this journey every year.  Why did they do it?  Because it was the law of the Lord.  But it was a joyful duty, just as going to church is a joyful duty.  Because there the were gathered together with all the people of God to hear His word and rejoice in His salvation.  Every Passover, before the presence of God in the temple, the story of the Israelites’ redemption from slavery in Egypt would be proclaimed, and they would eat the Passover lamb which died so that judgment would pass by the Israelites and they would become God’s redeemed people.  They were redeemed with the blood of the lamb.  And in the same way we also gather together with God’s people on Sunday and eat the true Passover lamb who was slain for our redemption from sin—the body and blood of our Lord Jesus who redeemed us in His crucifixion on the tree at Calvary.  So it is not simply a commandment of the law that we fulfill because God threatens us with punishment if we don’t.  It is a joy to hear God’s Word, because in it He gives us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

So first from this Gospel we should take to heart the example of Mary and Joseph and cling with diligence to the public preaching of God’s Word.  Many people ignore and treat lightly the preaching of God’s Word.  They figure they know already what the pastor is going to say.  Or they may say, “I can read the Bible at home.  Why do I need to go to church?”  Sometimes people are blessed to have a gifted preacher as a pastor, but more often the pastor’s gifts at preaching are average.

But we should not regard the preaching of God’s Word in this way, according to human reason.  God highly exalts the public preaching of His Word.  Through the public preaching of His word He wants to be active through His Holy Spirit in convicting us of our sins and in working faith in Christ in our hearts so that we are saved and also living and active in good works.  God has highly exalted the preaching of His word and the ministry of the word and sacraments.  He says of His preachers in Luke chapter 10: “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me.”  As a result whenever a minister is preaching faithfully, no matter how humble his skills at speaking, he is speaking as Christ’s own ambassador and messenger, bringing Christ’s own message, which is a powerful word that brings with it the Holy Spirit and works faith and eternal life.  Thus we should cling to the public preaching of the word and regard it highly, as Mary and Joseph did.  We should not despise it but regard it as God’s own word, this preaching, and seek to hear it as often as we can, while at the same time reading the word in our homes and learning the catechism diligently.  That’s the example the Holy Family sets before us, and if we follow it and treasure preaching and God’s Word our homes will be blessed.

They will be blessed, like Mary and Joseph’s house.  But being blessed does not mean that they will be without affliction, suffering, and hardship.  In this Gospel reading we also see that Mary suffered a great and terrible affliction even though she was living a godly life of hearing the word of God and being faithful in her calling.

Her affliction was that she lost Jesus, who was 12 years old at the time.  The story is short, so it’s easy to miss the seriousness of this.  Imagine if one of the mothers in our church lost a 12 year old child of theirs for 3 days.  The parents wouldn’t be able to eat or sleep.  They would drop everything and think of nothing except finding the lost child.  And the parent’s hearts, particularly the mother’s, would be torn in two.  There would be crying and grief that would cut to the heart anyone who heard it.  And it wouldn’t just be the parents.  All the loved ones and relations would be worried and upset.  The whole church would share in the parents’ grief.

This was the grief and agony Mary had when Jesus turned up missing during the journey back to Nazareth.  But her grief was still worse.  This was no ordinary child who was missing.  Mary had heard from the angel that this child was the Son of God.  She knew He had been conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she knew from the shepherds who had visited her and from Anna and Simeon’s prophecies that Jesus was the Savior of the world.  Can you imagine, not only losing your beloved only son, but also losing the world’s Savior?  Mary was not only burdened with the grief of her own loss but with guilt at having lost the only Son of God who was to bring salvation to the world.

Sometimes Christians experience Mary’s sorrow.  They seem to lose Jesus.  For unbelievers the sorrow a Christian experiences at seeming to have lost Jesus is incomprehensible.  But to a Christian it can be the most severe pain imaginable.

How do we lose Jesus?  We can’t really lose Him, can we?  We can indeed lose Christ and salvation through willful sin, but I’m speaking of another kind of loss.  This is when a Christian wants to believe in Christ and be comforted by Him but their faith is shaken.  Perhaps they are assailed by doubts about the truth of parts of the faith or the Scriptures even though they don’t want to be.  Perhaps they are overwhelmed by temptations to sin or renounce Christ, even though they fight against them.  Perhaps suffering or death has driven out all the comfort they once experienced from believing in this child Jesus.  Perhaps the devil confronts us with the magnitude of our sins or our repeated falls and holds before our eyes the picture of God’s wrath with such clarity that we begin to despair of being saved.

There are innumerable ways that the world, the devil, and the flesh have of driving the comfort of Christ and the feeling of faith from our hearts.  At those times Christians feel like they have lost Christ and can’t find Him anywhere.  This is a terrible affliction.  It is the feeling of hell pressing in on us while we are still alive in this world.

If we experience this, we should remember this Gospel.  It shows that we are not the first to feel like we have lost Jesus.  Mary, the mother of God herself, had the experience of losing Jesus, and it seemed to her like all the grief and terror in the world had closed in on her.  But God brought her consolation again.  And this experience was not unique to Mary, but is common to saints, that is, to believers in Christ.  Time does not permit listing all the examples.  The disciples had this experience more than once.  They thought that they were doomed in the storm on the sea of Galilee when Jesus was sleeping in the boat.  Then when they had denied Christ and He lay hidden from them for three days in the tomb, they were sure that they had lost Jesus.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12 that God allowed him to have a messenger from Satan in his flesh to torment him.  And David tells the story in the Psalms repeatedly of feeling like he had lost Christ.

What are we to do when this happens to us, and we feel like we have lost Jesus?  The first thing Mary did was look for Jesus among her friends and relatives.  However she did not find Him there.  Sometimes if we are experiencing depression or some other earthly affliction, we can be helped by seeking advice and comfort from family, friends, doctors, and so on.  But Mary didn’t find Jesus there, where reason and human nature would think to look.  She found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers.  Jesus was found in the things of His Father.  He was found where God’s Word is.

This is where we will find Jesus when we feel we have lost Him.  When this happens we shouldn’t sit still and simply despair or hang our heads or give way to spiritual depression.  We should look diligently for Jesus in the things of His Father.  We should cling to the preaching of God’s Word, because there the Father reveals Jesus, makes Him known, gives Him to us, kindles love for Him and comfort in His salvation.  We should receive the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, because that sacrament is instituted for the strengthening of weak faith and the comfort of those who are distressed by sin.  We should diligently pray and read God’s Word and not give up.  And we should seek out the consolation of experienced Christians, particularly the pastor, whose office it is to speak God’s Word to comfort us.  Especially the pastor can pronounce the forgiveness of sins to you personally, which is of great comfort in spiritual afflictions.

Jesus is found where God’s Word is.  When we feel that we have lost Jesus, we look for Him in the word and sacraments.  There He will restore comfort to those who fear that they have lost Him, just as He did to His mother Mary.

For He is the true Passover lamb who was slain to redeem us from all our sins.  Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that it might be saved through Him.  This is a trustworthy saying, says 1 Timothy chapter 1—that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

When Mary found Jesus in the temple they were probably discussing the meaning of Passover.  Jesus was learning God’s Word, learning from it about His work to redeem sinners.  So when we feel that we are lost sinners who cannot find Christ, we should look for the Lord Jesus where He is to be found—in His Father’s things, in the preaching of the word.  There the Father gives His son to us as our Passover lamb who was slain to redeem us from all sin and make us God’s own people.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

All Things New. Funeral Sermon Jan. 9 2015

In Memoriam + Coletta L. Holder

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 9:18-26; Revelation 21: 1-17; Isaiah 25: 6-9

January 9, 2015

Iesu Iuva

Ron,

Elizabeth and Jason,

Emily and Devin,

Leslie and Paul,

Coletta’s family and friends,

Members of St. Peter:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

God’s word for our comfort this morning is from the Epistle, the 21st chapter of Revelation: “And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”

Beloved in Christ,

Coletta touched many lives in many ways.

First and foremost she loved her kids and her husband and was always telling people about them.  She gave them life and love and now leaves behind a family that loves each other and is rich in happy memories, and a family that sorely misses her.

She touched St. Peter too, both the school and the congregation.  Hundreds of kids now grown into adults who passed through the halls of this school will always remember Mrs. Holder.

And those who gather here to listen to God’s Word have had their lives touched by Coletta too.  She touched us with the adornment of the altar, bringing out Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the baby Jesus each Christmas.  She brought flowers to the altar, pointsettias and lights at Christmas, the lilies and hyacinths at Easter that filled the sanctuary with the fragrance of resurrection.  She touched us with her unforgettable laugh, with her jokes, with those little firecrackers at Mardi Gras.  She touched us with her service—on the council, in the financial office, on the board of Christian Education, and in other capacities too numerous to mention.  Coletta served the Lord and this church.

She loved us, and we felt it.

Now she leaves behind the many lives she’s touched.

She also touched Jesus.  She trusted in Him.  She took hold of Him.  And see how Jesus in the Gospel reading does not disappoint those who trust in Him.  The ruler trusts that if Jesus only lays His hand on his daughter, who has died, she will live again.  And so Jesus goes with him.  He goes to do what the man’s faith expects; He will not let him be disappointed.  And while He is on the way there a lady touches His garment, believing that she will be made well if she only touches his clothes.  Jesus does not ignore her because He’s previously engaged or because He’s occupied with an important person.  He stops, notices her, speaks courage and comfort to her, and heals her.

We read this today from Matthew chapter 9 because Coletta read it for hope and comfort during her struggle with cancer.  She had it marked in her bible.

Notice that with all her years of serving Christ Coletta put herself in the place of that woman with the chronic bleeding.  That woman didn’t come striding up to Jesus with her list of accomplishments.  She didn’t even ask to be noticed.  She just came and touched His robe, like a beggar seeking a crumb.

That’s the way Coletta saw herself coming to Jesus.  Not with a list of achievements but as a broken person needing mercy.  Confident not in herself but in the mercy of Jesus.

That is the only way to come to Jesus.  We come to Jesus broken.  Whether we have cancer or a flow of blood or are healthy, we are all dying.  We need His help as desperately as dying people, because that is what we are.

And Jesus—He doesn’t ignore anyone’s desperation.  He doesn’t get tired or too busy.  He has come into the world for this purpose—to do nothing but serve sinners.  To serve those who are broken by death.  He has come to rescue and save them.

But if that is how Jesus is, why didn’t He listen to the prayers of so many of His people who prayed earnestly for Coletta’s healing?  Why didn’t He heal Coletta like He did the woman who came and touched His garment?

Did we not pray right?  Did we not have the right kind of faith?  Or not enough?

No.  There is only one kind of faith that saves.  It is faith that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of sinners, their helper in every kind of distress.  Whoever believes that Jesus died to save us from our sins has the right kind of faith.

And it’s not a question of having enough faith.  Jesus says faith like a grain of mustard seed is enough to uproot a mountain.  The tiniest spark of faith in Christ is enough to save.

Coletta trusted Jesus just like the woman in the Gospel.  That’s why she marked the story in her bible and told other people about it.

It was a beautiful thing, this trust that Coletta had.  It was just like a child’s trust.  If I touch Jesus’ garment I will be made whole.

Can you imagine having that kind of faith in a human being?  Jesus was and is a human being.  And human beings, normally, no matter what kind of power they have—there is a point at which it runs out, whether it’s political power, physical strength, knowledge of the natural worl, even miraculous power.  Our doctors today are like gods.  They know so much about the human body and how to cure it.  But there is a limit to their power.  The hour comes when they say, “We can’t do anything else except make them comfortable.”

But the woman in the Gospel believed that such power to give life exudes from Jesus that if she would just touch the clothes that hung from His body she would be cured of a twelve-year-long torment.

Coletta had the same faith.  If she touched Jesus she would be cured of cancer.

Her faith was not misplaced, because Jesus is God and man.

He has the power to create out of nothing, to speak the universe into existence.  He surely has the power to restore life to the dying and health to the sick.

And He can do what is even greater than these things.

He has the power to make a new creation and bring us out of the old into the new.  As mighty as the power is to create, the power to re-create what has been corrupted by sin and death is still greater.  To bring us from the old into the new God has to destroy sin without utterly destroying us, who are sinful.  That is the miracle Jesus had come to do.  The miracle of healing the woman with chronic bleeding, even the miracle of raising the ruler’s daughter from the dead were just a prologue to this greatest of miracles.

It is this greatest of miracles Jesus gave to Coletta when she touched Him.

He came to lay aside the garment that the woman in our Gospel touched, to lay it aside for the soldiers as He was lifted up to wear the shroud that Isaiah says covers all nations.  He came to wear nakedness and shame, bruises and wounds.  He came to wear the wrath of God and the curse that covered the whole world.  That is the garment and shroud that covered all nations that resulted in mourning, cries, eyes red with tears, pain, and finally death.

He took off the garment that had healed the woman and put on the garment of sin, death, and God’s wrath.  He separated us from our sin by taking it on Himself and putting it away, nailing it to the cross.  “On this mountain,” Isaiah says, “the Lord will take away the covering that is over all the nations…He will swallow up death forever.”

In His death Jesus swallowed up death, sin, and God’s judgment against sinners.  He opened up a new creation for us and showed that that new creation had begun when He rose from the dead.

John heard a great voice from the throne say, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  And then, to emphasize the point and certify it, the voice of God said, “Write this down, for these words are faithful and true.”  What?  That He is making everything new.  That He is bringing the world where there is no more mourning and pain, where God dwells with us and we are His own people.  He is bringing the work He did on the cross to its conclusion in the new heavens and earth.

It is impossible that someone should trust in Jesus with the faith of a child and Jesus disappoint them.  See how tender and compassionate Jesus si with those who come to Him for help.  He hurries to the place where the ruler’s daughter lies.  He speaks with strength to give heart to the woman who touches His garment. “Be courageous, daughter, your faith has made you well.”

He did not disappoint Coletta either.

“Made you well” is one way to translate the word used in Matthew’s Gospel, but the literal meaning is, “saved you.”  “Your faith has saved you,” Jesus says.  The woman thought, “If I only touch His garment, I will be saved.”

Coletta touched Jesus, and her faith saved her.  She didn’t touch His robe.  She tool hold of Jesus Himself and made Him her own by faith.

Not that that faith was her own doing.  It was the gift of God, worked by God through His word and sacraments.  He worked faith in Jesus in Coletta when she was baptized.  He sustained and nourished her faith by His Word when it was read to her from the Scriptures, taught her in school, preached to her by her pastors.  There Jesus spoke His true and faithful word that John wrote down.  There Jesus assured her that He had made all things new in His death and resurrection, and that this salvation was for her also.

He confirmed her faith by giving her His crucified body to eat and His blood to drink.  He spoke with His strong voice when she confessed her sins and pronounced her absolved of them before the throne of God.  ”Take courage, daughter.  Your sins are forgiven.”

This faith saved Coletta.  She didn’t take hold of His robe and receive a temporary, earthly healing.  She took hold of Jesus and received a new creation.  All things were made new for her.  Her sins were forgiven.  God was well-pleased with her.  In place of eternal death she received everlasting life with Christ where there is no mourning, no cries, no pain, no tears, no death.

And all Christians who believe in Jesus take hold of Him and receive this same gift—a  new creation.  We receive the forgiveness of sins from God in Him and everything is new for us.

Coletta took hold of Jesus and received more and better than anyone was hoping for.  That’s how it is for everyone who trusts in Christ.  When we ask Him for what is good, He never refuses or disappoints us.  He always gives us what we ask for or something better.

In the midst of our fear and grief it’s easy to forget that to be with the Lord Jesus is better than to be in this old creation that is passing away.  Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with Jesus the same day in “paradise.”  If it is paradise to rest with Jesus—to have one’s soul with him while the body sleeps in the grave–what will it be like when Jesus returns and the dead are raised to live with Him forever in the new heavens and the new earth?

Then there will be joy and gladness like the reading from Isaiah says.  “This is the Lord—we have waited for Him.  Let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”  That is what we will say on that day.  But for Coletta the joy is beginning  today and the mourning and crying and pain has ended forever.
Who says this?  Our God and Savior Jesus Christ, our brother Jesus Christ.  He spoke with a strong voice to the woman in the Gospel: “Take courage, daughter.  Your faith has saved you.”   He said the same thing to Coletta as she trusted in Jesus to save her.  Now the great and mighty voice of the Lord speaks to us what is sure and certain to give us courage.

“He will swallow up death forever, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”

And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Your faith has saved you.  The Lord Jesus will not disappoint any who trust in Him.  Go in peace.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Epiphany 2015

January 6, 2015 2 comments

The Epiphany of our Lord

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 2:1-12

January 6, 2015

 

Iesu Iuva

 

People are born in the darkness and live in the darkness.  They can’t see the true light.  They don’t want to; they refuse to see it.

 

“And this is the judgment,” says our Lord, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.”  (John 3:19)

 

Because people are in the darkness and refuse to see the light, they don’t come to it.  It is a miracle whenever someone arrives at the light that gives light to every man; it is a miracle when someone comes to Jesus Christ.  It is a miracle whenever someone firmly believes the articles of the Christian faith.  It is not something that people will to do or can do.  It is the work of God.

 

Yet it is a miracle and work that God wants to do.  He wants to bring people from the deepest darkness of unbelief and sin to the light of Christ.

 

We have a picture of this in the Gospel for Epiphany.  The wise men were physically far away from Jesus.  They were probably from Arabia.  A month’s journey across the desert stood between them and Jesus.  But there was a greater distance that stood between them and the Messiah of Israel—a spiritual distance.

 

Some historians say that the kings of Yemen had converted to Judaism, so it might not have been that the wise men were in total idolatrous ignorance.  They may have heard something about the Messiah of Israel.  How much, we don’t know.  But they surely were not taught for generations from the Holy  Scriptures like the Jews were.

 

Yet these wise men came from a distant, dark land and bent the knee to worship Jesus.

 

On the other hand, the scribes and priests of the people of Israel were close to Jesus.  They were only a few miles from Bethlehem where He was born.  And spiritually they seemed to be close, too.  Trained from their infancy in the Scriptures, they could quote chapter and verse from the prophet Micah where the Christ would be born.  They were the leaders of the people of God, holding positions of respect and high honor among them.  If anyone should have been close to God’s kingdom, it was they.

 

Yet it was the wise men from far away who came and worshipped the baby Jesus, opening to Him their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  The priests and scribes didn’t come to the king of the Jews.

 

This shows us two things.  First, we can seem to be near to Christ and yet be far away.  Second, God wants to bring those who are far away to His Son.

 

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Christ’s kingdom is not like any other.  It’s not geographical.  Jesus doesn’t own a parcel of land and sit on the throne at its capital.  His reign extends over the whole earth, and He is present in every part of His kingdom.  So it’s not a question of being physically near to Jesus.  He is not far from any of us physically.

 

And a person is not near to Jesus by being born among or living among people who are His own.  There is no favoritism in His kingdom.  We are either His own or we are far away from Him in darkness.

 

Just as a miraculous star had to lead the wise men to Jesus, and their wisdom and learning and reason were useless, so miraculous, heavenly wisdom is necessary to bring us to Jesus.  If we are led by our own reason or intellect we will never find Him and salvation.

 

Our spiritual pedigree, our good lives, holiness, our position in the church do not bring us to Jesus either.  The priests and scribes had these things, but they did not come and worship the king of the Jews.

 

By nature we are in the darkness as much as those outside the church.  By nature we depend on our reason, like the pagan world we live in which considers itself too reasonable to be led by the Bible.  By nature we also depend on our birth and status among God’s people, just like the priests and scribes.  We figure that being leaders in the church or coming from a godly family will win us some kind of favor with God.  The world outside of the church depends on reason or their own goodness and as a result stays far away from Christ and does not come to Him.   We, just like the priests, scribes, and the people of Jerusalem, do the same thing by nature and refuse to come to the light of the Son of God.  We depend on ourselves.  Wherever human nature has its way, people remain in the darkness and are not led to Christ.

 

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But the good news of Epiphany is that God wills to guide those who are in deep darkness to the light of His Son.   His Son, the ruler born in Bethlehem, is the shepherd of Israel.  He gently guides and leads His flock to safety and to pasture, where they may feed on rich food and live forever.  God wills to draw those who are in deep darkness unfailingly to His Son’s light.  This includes the modern-day descendants of the wise men in Arabia who are lost in the teachings of the false prophet Mohammed.  He wills to draw modern American pagans, who have been captured by the wisdom of this age and no longer bow the knee to Christ.  They may seem too far away to us, but God wills to draw them to the light of His son.  He even wills to draw those people who profess faith in Christ but who are still far away from Him.  These are those who like the scribes and priests may know all about God’s word, and may even hold office in the church, but they do not come near to Christ in the only way He can be approached, which is by faith alone.

 

How does He guide us to His Son?  He first convinces us that we are in darkness.  The wise men could never have found the king of the Jews if they were guided by their own thinking.  They would have arrived at Jerusalem and said, “If even the leaders of the Jews don’t know about their king, we must have made a mistake.”  Or they would have arrived at Behtlehem, seen the child and His mother, and said, “How can we be sure this is the one?  There is no crowd and no big pile of gifts.  How can we be sure we’ve found the true king of the Jews?”  They did not do this, did not doubt, because they depended not on their own reason but on God’s direction.

 

So God convinces us through His law that our own wisdom and reason, our own spiritual intuition, our holiness, and everything in us is darkness.  He convinces us of this through the preaching of the law which not only shows us that we have committed sins, but that sin lives in us and has utterly corrupted all our powers so that we cannot find God unless God Himself reveals Himself to us.

 

Then by the bright shining light of the Gospel He leads those who are in darkness unerringly, surely, to His Son.  He proclaims to us who have no power to find God ourselves that God and His glory have come to us in this little child born of Mary.  He teaches us in His Gospel that through this child alone we have God and are included in His kingdom of salvation.  And this star, this light of the Gospel, will not lead anyone astray.  It leads us directly to Christ, who is God’s Son given for our salvation from the darkness that surrounds us and is in us.  His light overcomes the darkness.  It destroys the darkness of sin and the devil’s power forever.  It shines like a beacon from the cross where we see Jesus hanging dead for our sins.  There they are swallowed up and put away forever.

 

Jesus is the glory of Israel and the glory of the church.  God draws people from every nation out of the deep darkness to His Son’s light.  The wise men were not drawn to the priests and scribes and all their pomp and knowledge except to find out where the king of the Jews was born. Those in deep darkness today are not drawn to the church as an organization composed of holy or wise people.  They are drawn to the glory of the church, her great treasure, Jesus.

 

He is our treasure and our glory.  He is among us in His Word and blessed Sacraments—in the water of baptism, in the absolution, forgiving our sins, in the bread and wine giving us His Body and Blood.  He is among us as the true God, the Immortal Creator, now clothed in our poor flesh and bone.  He is with us and is one with us for our salvation.

 

He is with us as Savior, the one who takes away the sins of the world.  Churches may invent a million ways to try to get people to enter their doors—but the only true God and Savior of the world is the treasure God gives out in the Church.  Those who are weary and burdened by sin, who are lost in the darkness, will not be helped by anyone or anything else.

 

The wise men opened their treasures to Jesus, and they were rich treasures—caskets of gold.  Myrrh, a gum from an Arabian tree used to perfume, to heal injuries, to kill pain.  Frankincense, a resin that when burned clouds temples with sweet smoke.  But these rare treasures are nothing compared to the rarity of the treasure God gives us in Christ.  In Him He gives us His only Son whose suffering and death saves us from our sins.  He is the gold of our eternal heavenly riches, the healing ointment for the wounds of sin that makes them disappear.  He is the incense that makes us a sweet savor in God’s nostrils, as He offers us up together with Him in praise to God.

 

We have no treasures worthy of such a king.  But He guides us to Himself and bends the knee of our hearts so that we open them to Him and receive His treasures.  He fills our dark hearts with His heavenly light, teaching us to trust in Him to guide us unfailingly to the eternal light of His face in heaven.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Categories: Epiphany Tags: ,

Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, 2014.

Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:21, Galatians 3:23-29

December 31, 2014

 

Iesu iuva

 

Today we celebrate the circumcision and naming of Jesus because New Year’s is the eighth day after the birth of Jesus.  Circumcision was performed on Jewish babies who were eight days old.  This provides us with an opportunity to talk about the meaning of Jesus’ circumcision and name and the hope it gives us for the new year.

 

First of all, God gave circumcision to Abram in the 17th chapter of Genesis, and at the same time He gave him a new name.  Abram meant “exalted father,’ but when God gave him circumcision He gave him the new name, “Abraham,” which means “Father of many nations.”

 

God had already promised Abraham that he was going to have as many descendants as the stars in the night sky.  And Abraham had already believed God, and the Scripture informs us that God counted his faith to him as righteousness.  But now when He gives Abraham circumcision and a new name, it is a sign to confirm Abraham’s faith.  It is a sign of the covenant, or pledge, between God and Abraham and Abraham’s descendants after him.  God pledges to be Abraham’s God and the God of Abraham’s descendants after him.  He promises that He is going to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations.  Finally He promises that one of Abraham’s offspring is going to bless all the nations on earth.  And as a sign of this covenant between Abraham and God, all of Abraham’s  male descendants are to be circumcised in the flesh of their foreskin when they are eight days old.  Thus God’s covenant will be marked in the flesh of Abraham and his descendants.  It showed that they belonged to God’s covenant.  They were the people to whom God had pledged to be their God.  They were the people that Abraham’s offspring would come from and bless the whole earth.

 

The sad thing that happened to Abraham’s descendants was that even though they had the mark of circumcision, many of them did not have God for their God.  It wasn’t that God had refused to keep His covenant.  It was that even though they were circumcised in their flesh they were not circumcised in their hearts.  That is, they did not walk in the faith of their forefather Abraham.  Abraham believed that God was going to be gracious to him and raise up an offspring from his line that would bless all the nations.  Abraham believed that this offspring would take away the curse that was over all the nations—the curse of sin and death.  Abraham believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness.

 

But apart from this promised offspring, which circumcision promised, God is not our God.  Circumcision was then just an empty sign in the flesh whose content was rejected.  That’s the way most of the offspring of Abraham regarded their circumcision.  They looked at it as a work that bound God to them.  They did not believe the promise.  God was going to be their God in sending the offspring of Abraham who would take away the curse of sin from the whole earth.  Most of the circumcised people of the Old Testament were ignorant of that promise and did not believe it.  Thus they cut themselves off from God’s covenant even though they were circumcised.

 

Now in our Gospel Jesus, as an offspring of Abraham, is circumcised.  But it is different than when Abraham and everyone else was circumcised.  They were circumcised as a pledge of the offspring who was to come, in whom God would be their God and bring blessing and salvation to take the place of sin and its curse.

 

But Jesus is different.  He is circumcised because He is Abraham’s offspring.  But He is the fulfillment and recipient of all the promises to Abraham.

 

God promised Abraham that He would be God to Abraham and his descendants.  But God was only the God of Abraham by grace.  Unless God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness, God could not be Abraham’s God because Abraham was by nature sinful and unclean.

 

But God is Jesus’ God not by grace but by merit.  Jesus was born without sin.  God the Father was God to Jesus the Son of Man because Jesus was perfectly obedient from the womb and always did what pleased the Father.  From His mother’s womb God was His God.  He never served another god, not even in thought or desire.

 

And through Jesus God is the God of everyone who believes in Jesus, whether circumcised or not.  Through this baby who is born without sin, who is Abraham’s offspring, God regards Abraham and everyone who believes in Jesus as if they too have always pleased God from the womb.

 

Jesus is also the fulfillment and recipient of the promise to Abraham that through Abraham’s seed or offspring all the nations on earth would be blessed.  Abraham and all the children of Israel were circumcised so that they would remember and look for the offspring of Abraham.  But Jesus is that seed of Abraham through whom all nations would be blessed.  He will do this—bring blessing to all nations—by undoing the curse brought by Adam’s sin.  And He will undo the curse by giving His perfectly obedient life to bear the penalty and curse of sin, which is death.

 

He will shed His blood to bring blessedness and salvation to all nations.  He begins to shed His blood in the first days of His life, but He will end His life by pouring out all His life’s blood that there might be blessing for those who are under the curse of sin.

 

Circumcision was God’s pledge to Abraham and his descendants.  But the recipients of circumcision were also, in a way, making a pledge to God.  They were showing that they belonged to God.  A knife marked their bodies.  Blood poured out.  Babies cried.  It was also supposed to show that their bodies were consecrated to the Lord and that the circumcised one would give up anything, even his own flesh and blood, for the sake of faithfulness to God.

 

However, none of those who were circumcised could really fulfill this pledge made in circumcision.  Abraham offered up his own son Isaac in sacrifice to God.  But God’s law requires more than that we love God than father and mother, son or daughter.  The law requires that we love God more than all things, even our own lives.  But we are unable to do this.  Even if you were willing to give up something precious to you for God’s sake—your son or daughter, a limb from your body—you cannot give all of your heart, all of your body, all of the time, to God.  That is what sin has done to us.  We always want to hold something back for ourselves.

 

But Jesus did fulfill the symbolism of circumcision.  His whole body and His whole soul and everything He was was dedicated to God.  He gave Himself entirely to the will of God so that his perfect submission to the Father might be credited to us and so that He Himself might begin to live in us.

 

And how does this happen?  By baptism into Christ.  For Baptism is not just an external mark in the flesh, like circumcision.  It is of the Holy Spirit, not of the flesh.

 

In Holy Baptism we “put on Christ.”  His perfect submission and obedience to the Father is credited to us and covers us.  Our sins and rebellion were credited to Him.

 

But whereas circumcision was a physical cutting off of a piece of skin, baptism is a spiritual cutting off of the whole old nature.  Our old nature is joined to Christ in crucifixion and death and we are given a new nature which is united to Christ who is raised from the dead.

 

Now as we come to the conclusion of this year, 2014, we have many gifts for which to thank God, but also many sins to grieve before Him.  There is not time to go into them, but many if not most of us carry a lifetime of sins and regrets as baggage from one year into the next.

 

Our baptism into Christ is our comfort here.  WE are baptized into the one whose name means, “The Lord saves.”  We could not cut off our sinful nature with its desires and deeds.  We could do nothing in ourselves but die with it and its curse.

 

But our Lord Jesus Christ, the offspring of Abraham, has cut away the old man from us.  He did it entirely on the cross.  There he completely killed our old nature.

 

We cling to that fact.  Meanwhile in our baptism he has begun the cutting off of our old man and our putting on of the new.  It is not completed yet and the cutting is painful.  When we feel the flesh fighting against the Holy Spirit to stay alive it is painful and frightening.

 

But He who circumcises us has a sure and certain hand.  He went surely and certainly to complete the work of the seed of Abraham and take away the curse from the earth.  He also knows surely and certainly the way to cut off and bury our old man and raise us up in His image.

 

We can carry that hope into the new year.  In the painful death of our old Adam Christ is at work.  He is cutting off the old Adam from us that He cut off once and for all on the cross.  He will complete this work and raise us up new creatures from which the old sinful nature has been completely cut off.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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