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Shine Forth. Epiphany 3 2019

January 28, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus centurion.PNGThe Third Sunday after the Epiphany

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Matthew 8:1-11

January 27, 2019

“Shine Forth”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!

You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.  (Ps. 80:1)

 

We sang that in Advent.  You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, the angels on the ark of the covenant in the most Holy place—shine forth.  Reveal yourself.  Do an Epiphany.

 

In the Gospel reading our Lord is just beginning to shine forth; it’s only the eighth chapter of Matthew’s gospel.  There are twenty more to go.

 

Yet some have already seen Him shine forth, seen His glory break forth.

 

One is a leper.  The other, the commander of armed men who keep the Jews from revolting, the commander of a hundred Roman soldiers.

 

Jesus is coming down from the mountain where He taught His disciples what we now call the Sermon on the Mount.  Like Moses on Sinai He went up on the mountain and gave His disciples the Law and Instruction of God.  He taught people what they did not know about God’s Law even though they were the people who had been given God’s Law and were supposed to make it known to the world.

 

He taught them murder was not done only with swords and knives, but also with the tongue and in the heart, and that those who murder their neighbors by anger, grudges, curses, bitter words are liable to hellfire.  He taught them that God commanded them not only to love their friends and neighbors but also their enemies.  And He taught them that He had not come to relax any of these commandments, make any of them easier, or simply take them away—He had come to fulfill them.

 

And the people were amazed because He spoke as one with authority, like Moses, but more so.  Like a man who had not only heard from God but knew His mind.

 

But unlike Mt. Sinai, there was no fire, no smoke, no thundering voice from heaven to terrify the people.  There was only Jesus.

 

Yet the leper saw God shining forth from the man who came down the mountain.

 

That was strange not only because there was no visible glory on Jesus.  It was strange because lepers could not see the God who is enthroned on the cherubim.  Lepers were unclean according to God’s Law, and since he was unclean He couldn’t come near the dwelling place of God at the temple.

 

He couldn’t even draw near to see the priest who went into the holy place where God dwelt and then came out to bless the people in the name of the Lord.  Not until he was cleansed of his leprosy.

 

Yet, still unclean, this leper saw God shining forth.  He believed that Jesus was the shepherd of Israel, the LORD.  He saw the shepherd of Israel not sitting on His throne made of angels but coming out to find him, unclean, sick, and dying.  He believed that this man would do for him what the Law of Moses did not provide and what the priests could not do—that Jesus would not only show him his sickness, but would make him clean.  Heal him of this awful disease wasting away his skin.

 

Likewise the centurion had also never seen God shine forth from His throne upon the cherubim, in the holy of holies, on the ark of the covenant.  The centurion was an uncircumcised Gentile.  Going into the courts of the temple uncircumcised, unclean, would be like one who is unbaptized receiving the body and blood of Christ.  It would be unthinkable.  Without circumcision he was not part of God’s holy people.  He was unclean.

 

He was unable to approach the Lord who is, as we sing Holy, Holy, Holy—who is set apart; whom even the angels, the seraphim, as they fly around his throne, singing His praise, use two wings to cover their unstained feet and two to cover their eyes.

 

And yet he had also seen God’s glory shine forth.  He told Jesus: Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed.  For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  And I say to this one, Go, and he goes, and to this one, Come, and he comes…(Mt. 8:8-9)

 

He believed that Jesus had power to command sickness the way he gave orders to his soldiers.  His word was law among his men, and so, he believed in Jesus’ word with sickness and death, powers that do not obey human beings.  He believed Jesus was so powerful and yet he was not afraid to come to Jesus and ask for help for his servant, even though he as not part of God’s people.

 

Jesus is amazed by him and says, I have not found such faith in Israel.

 

Faith that believes that Jesus is God in the flesh is the way we see God’s glory shine forth.  Faith sees God present in this man Jesus.  Faith sees in Jesus God leaving His throne in the most holy place with the angels to come to the unclean and make them well and bring them into His presence.

 

The leper couldn’t have come to God according to the law, in the temple.  He was unclean.  He wasn’t even allowed to go near the people of God, and whenever he did, the law required him to announce himself by crying “Unclean” so that he wouldn’t pollute anyone else.  If  he had not believed that Jesus wanted him to come to him, he wouldn’t have dared to approach Jesus.

 

The centurion couldn’t draw near to God in the temple either.  He wasn’t allowed in until he left the ways of his people, worshipping idols, committing sexual immorality, eating unclean meat.  Then he had to be circumcised.

 

And yet they both saw God shining forth, revealing Himself.  God came to them.  He didn’t wait for the centurion to be circumcised and separate himself from the wickedness of his pagan culture.  He didn’t wait for the leper to heal himself.

 

God became a human being and came to them so they would see His glory and be cleansed by it and not destroyed.  When we believe that Jesus is the holy God become one of us in order to bring us near to Him and make us clean, make us whole, we see His glory.

 

Because His glory is not simply the great power by which He made the heavens and the earth.  It isn’t the splendor and light of His face which is hidden from human eyes—it’s not simply that.  The fullness of God’s glory is that He comes in mercy to those who are sick and lost and dying to restore us.

 

You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth we sang in Advent.  Now during Epiphany we see God do what we asked.

 

He led wise men from the pagan east to Himself by a miraculous star.

 

He shone forth and took up our sins in His baptism, and the Father declared Him to be His only Son, and the Spirit descended upon Him, revealing the Triune God.

 

He turned water into wine by His mere Word, as God spoke the light, the water, the land, air, and all living creatures into being.

 

Now He shines forth by coming out from His holy throne to those who are unclean and unable to approach God.  I will He says.  Be clean.

 

He does this to those who are unclean not merely with bodily disease, but those who are infected by the rot of the soul that is sin.  That makes us murder our neighbor in our hearts, commit adultery in our hearts.  That makes us commit idolatry in our hearts.  That makes our hearts fountains of uncleanness.

 

He comes to you who are suffering from this and says, I will; be clean.

 

And He does it not merely by a word from His lips, but by the blood from His veins and the flesh from His bones.

 

At the end of His life, and the end of Matthew’s Gospel there was another Roman soldier who saw Jesus’ glory shine forth.

 

From the cross under which that centurion stood, Jesus cried out, Eli, eli, lema sebachthani.  Then He cried out with a loud voice and yielded up His Spirit.

 

And the curtain in the temple tore, exposing the cherubim on which the Lord was enthroned under the old covenant.  And the earth shook, the rocks split, the tombs were opened, the bodies of many saints were raised, and the centurion and those who were with him were filled with awe and said, Truly this was the Son of God. 

 

God shone forth—not only coming to the leper and the centurion to heal but to cleanse them of all uncleanness by His cross.

 

Do you see Him come to you this morning?  He is coming to you with cleansing, to give you His pierced body and the blood He poured out for you, so that you might not be estranged from God any longer, but sin down among His friends, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  To bring you in out of the outer darkness so that you may sit at His table and see the light of His face.

 

And not only to do this for you today, but also to bring those who are far off to eat and drink at this same table—even strong enemies (like the Romans were) will come out of the darkness and see His glory shine forth.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Almost Blasphemous. The Baptism of our Lord 2019.

January 13, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus baptismThe Baptism of our Lord

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 3:13-17

January 13, 2019

Almost Blasphemous

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

It almost seems blasphemous, this baptism.  How can it be right for a man who has never sinned and has no need of repentance to receive a baptism of repentance?  How can it be right for a person who has never sinned to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins?  That’s why John tries to stop Jesus from being baptized.  It seems almost blasphemous to him, too.

 

Does it not also seem blasphemous to God?  Does God not know who has sinned and who hasn’t, who needs repentance and who doesn’t?  Of course He does.  Does God play make-believe?  Of course not.  God is God of truth, not make believe.  What He says comes into being.  He speaks and the world is created.

 

So when Jesus comes to John’s baptism, a baptism of repentance, it could not please God unless it were real.  Unless Jesus was actually coming to be baptized bearing sin.

 

Jesus is being baptized into your sin.  He is baptized and He becomes responsible for it and bears it.

 

That may seem almost blasphemous too.  How can the Son of the Father, the eternal Word through whom the heavens were made, become the bearer of your wicked thoughts, your godless words, your selfish deeds?  He is pure and clear as the light; He is the holy one.  Moments from now, moments before His Word comes to the bread and the wine made from grapes that grow in the dirt and make them His body and blood, we will sing the Sanctus: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.  Heaven and earth are full of your glory.  How seldom we take to heart the weight of these words, that God is holy!

 

And now the Holy One is to become a sinner—and not just a sinner.  The sinner; Luther says, “The world’s only sinner”!  He alone is going to bear it, the punishment and the shame of the way we have casually broken His commandments, as though we were God and He were not.

 

It seems almost blasphemous.  It is almost unthinkable.  This is why almost all religions refuse to accept it.  This is a dangerous teaching, they say.  It leads people away from the hard path of working out your salvation and obeying God.  It leads people to shrug and say, “Well, Jesus took my sin away, so now I can sin without worrying about it.”  That’s the criticism.

 

And the criticism is valid.  This is how many people use the gospel.  In fact, you may have misused the gospel in just this way—as a license not to serve God or follow Jesus.

 

And yet none of this changes the reality of what happens here, at Jesus’ baptism.  Jesus who has no sin steps forward to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  The baptizer tries to stop him and Jesus says, Let it be so now, for it is proper to do this to fulfill all righteousness.  (Mt. 3:15)  And after Jesus is baptized, heaven opens, the Holy Spirit descends on Him, the voice of God the Father affirms what Jesus has done by saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.

 

Jesus has claimed as his own the world’s sins, and the Father has approved what Jesus did.  He says that Jesus’ action of taking the sins of the world pleases Him well.

 

God is not well-pleased with sin.  No, Catholics, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, whatever religions there are that you may recognize as being strict—they are all correct when they say that God is not pleased with sin, that He is not just mildly dissatisfied with it but is willing to overlook it.  God hates sin.  He loves righteousness.  In fact He hates sin more than any religion of works can comprehend.  He is not willing to tolerate any sin—not the sin that you do willfully, not the sin you do in weakness, not the sin you can’t help doing.  He is satisfied with no sin.  Only righteousness pleases God.

 

But the good news is in front of us today.  Jesus, the beloved Son of God was baptized by John, and in being baptized He took your sin as His own.  He didn’t wait for you to decide He could take your sin onto Himself.  He did it already, long before you knew about it, or decided that you would follow Him.

 

And He did so knowing what it meant.  Once He took the sins of the world on Himself, He would have to pay for those sins.  That is why God the Father says, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.  Jesus is not taking our sins upon Himself so that they can remain before God but so that they can be put away from His sight forever when Jesus suffers and is buried.

 

Now this morning you may be here weighed down by your sins.  You have sins that weigh on your conscience and you struggle to believe that they are forgiven.  You have anguish and fear of God’s wrath.  Or perhaps you simply are struggling with your own apathy.  You are not anguished over your sins, and that causes you, in its own way, anguish.

 

Listen to the Gospel this morning, then.  See how Jesus has come to be baptized even though He had no sin.  He did it because He was coming to take your sins upon Himself.  And this was no joke.  He insisted on being baptized when John wanted to stop Him.  He insisted on taking your sins on Himself so that you would be released from them.  And the Father in heaven set His seal upon Jesus’ baptism into your sin by sending His Spirit and claiming Jesus from heaven, declaring—this one who is baptized is My only-begotten, beloved Son, and what He is doing—being baptized into the sins of the world—pleases Me.

 

On the other hand, you may be here this morning not weighed down by your sins.  In fact, that is quite likely, because our flesh usually doesn’t feel our bondage to sin, and the world denies the depth of our problem with sin.  You are worried and bothered about many things, but not with the one thing that should be uppermost in your mind—that you do the will of God.

 

Then the baptism of your Lord Jesus Christ calls you to repent.  See how Jesus had no sin and already did God’s will with all His heart.  You have not fulfilled all righteousness, and yet you are worried about other things, as though they were more important.

 

But see, your Lord comes and is baptized into your sins.  You don’t even know them all.  But He knows them all because He takes them all and He pays for them all as He is nailed to the cross, rejected by God, cast away for your sins.  Your sins should press on your conscience; but all too often, they don’t.  But see how they would not go away unless the Holy One took them all on Himself.  Then, even if you can’t feel them, you will see your need to come to Him who went to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness by suffering and putting away your sins.

 

It seems almost blasphemous that Jesus should be baptized.  And to many Christians it seems almost blasphemous what we say about our baptism.  We say, “it works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.”  We say, little children and babies are brought to Jesus and saved when they are baptized.  But some say, “that’s blasphemous.  A little baby can’t understand what Jesus did or choose to believe in Him.  A baby can’t do what is necessary to be saved.

 

It may seem blasphemous to our reason that God should be gracious and give forgiveness of sins apart from works, apart from us doing anything.  But that is how God saves.  It is the only way He saves.

 

In Baptism Jesus comes and gives forgiveness of sins and the faith that receives it through His Word, even to little children.  He does it without our thinking of it or asking, just as He came to be baptized and carry our sins without anyone asking Him.

 

In your Baptism all 3 persons of the Trinity were present just as at Jesus’ baptism.  The Holy Spirit came to you to give you the gift of faith.  The Father claimed you as His Son, in whom He is well pleased.  He says that about you because you were baptized into Jesus.  He was baptized into our sins so that He might take them out of the way on the wood of the cross.  We are baptized into Him and covered with the righteousness of the one who rose victorious over death.

 

This is why we remember our Baptism by invoking the name of God and making the sign of the cross.  We don’t remember the day when we saved ourselves.  We remember how God claimed us, how God worked in us.  And as often as you remember your baptism you can rightly claim for yourself what happened to Jesus at his baptism.  You can say, heaven is now open to me.  The Holy Spirit has descended on me like the dove that came out of Noah’s ark when the world began again after the flood.  And the Father claims me as His beloved Son.  He is well-pleased with me for Jesus’ sake.”

 

That is not blasphemous; it is the good news.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Epiphany of our Lord 2018

jesus epiphany.PNGThe Epiphany of our Lord (Reception by transfer of Wilke family)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 2:1-12

January 6, 2018

 

Iesu iuva!

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

In the days of Herod the King, behold, wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem (Matt. 2:1). 

 

Behold, out of nowhere when Jesus is born in Judea, the land of the tribe of Judah, wise men show up from Babylon or Persia, the places we now call Iraq and Iran.  These are all distant places, foreign places to us.  Babylon and Persia were much closer to Judea than the Romans who ruled Judea, and even more close than the barbaric tribes that lived in Northern Europe at the time, who most of us here today (but not all of us) have as ancestors.

 

But different is different.  Babylon and Persia were the people who took the Jews captive and ended their kingdom, their self-rule.  So try for a moment to imagine the shock in Jerusalem when wise men from Babylon or Persia appeared, asking about the King of the Jews, saying, “We have come to worship your king.”  They never would have expected such people to arrive—but they did, out of nowhere—and they announced the birth of their long-awaited Messiah, whom the people of Judea did not even know had been born.

 

And how did they find out that the King of the Jews had been born?  We have seen His star, they said.  The Jews brought their Scriptures with them to Babylon and Persia, and maybe the wise men of those lands learned something about the King of the Jews from them.  The Scriptures call the King of the Jews a star coming out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17), but they never say anything about a certain star rising to announce His birth.  God sent a miraculous star to lead these foreign wise men to His Son, just as He sent an angel to announce Jesus’ birth to the shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem.

 

All this came as a shock to the people of Judea, the people whose king had come.

 

Meditating on God’s Word about the wise men, thinking about this story, my mind looked over all the people in the last decade who have come to St. Peter like the wise men came to Jerusalem.  They came out of nowhere, unexpectedly.  People who had grown up here but then for whatever reason not come to church for decades and then—God brought them back.  Some of you here this morning, this is your story.

 

Others lived in the neighborhood and they just came to St. Peter because it was a church and it was nearby.  Or for other reasons I don’t know.

 

A few came here from Lutheran churches in other places, like the Wilke family is doing today.

 

I don’t think any were wise men—except for one, who had a doctorate from an Ivy League school.  But most of them were, in a certain sense, strangers.  This wasn’t the church they grew up in.  Many times they didn’t know the people.  Maybe they did at one time but they didn’t anymore.

 

And maybe they knew why they were coming, or thought they did.  But very few came up to us and said, Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?  We have come to worship Him. 

 

The truth is, most of us here today I think were strangers to St. Peter at one time.  There are a lot of you who grew up here, but many of you, at one time, came in here, not knowing anyone.  It wasn’t your church yet.  You may not have even had a church.  Maybe we knew what we were looking for here, or thought we did, but even if we did we only partly knew the person we were looking for.

 

And how welcome did we feel when we came in here as strangers?  Some very welcome.  But not everyone.  Not everyone.  Some even now feel a little bit like strangers even though they have been at St. Peter for many years.

 

And that is not good if people feel unwelcomed, if St. Peter is unwelcoming.  The people of Jerusalem were arguably not very welcoming to the wise men from the East, and that was not a good thing either.  But there is something even bigger at stake.  The question is, what brings people to wander into the doors of this church—really quite a few of them—in a broken down part of town, in a neighborhood that has had a bad reputation for decades?  How is it that people come here from the east, or the west side, or Rockdale, or Bolingbrook, or Oregon?

 

They are led here by the Lord so that they may find Him who has been born King of the Jews.

 

And—if you are drifting off, now is the time to return—they are led here by God to lead us to Him.

 

God sent a miraculous star to the wise men so that they would come find the King of the Jews.  He somehow caused them to know that this baby was not only for the Jews, but also for them, and that they should come worship Him.  People in Babylon and Persia worshipped their kings as gods, so there are those who think that the wise men were not worshipping Jesus in the sense that we mean when we say it—honoring Him as the only true God.  But the fact that they came to worship the king of another nation, and that they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy when they were led to Him, indicates that they believed that the King of the Jews was their King—the King of all Kings, the God of Gods.

 

This was a miracle.  And if God could draw the wise men miraculously like this, He could have done without sending them to Jerusalem to deal with Herod, the present ruler of the Jews, and the chief priests and scribes, the “wise men” of the Jews.

 

But God sent them to Jerusalem anyway.  And there is a twofold reason for this.  The first is that God always leads us to His Word to find Him.  That is where He wants to be found.  Even when St. Paul had a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus, Jesus sent Him to Ananias to be taught the Word and baptized.  Luther wrote in the Smalcald Articles, one of our Lutheran Confessions of faith from the Book of Concord: God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the external Word and the Sacraments.

 

But the second reason was so that the chief priests and scribes and Herod and the people of Jerusalem would be led to their King.  So that they would go with these foreigners, these wise men, to their King and their God to worship Him with exceedingly great joy.

 

The priests and scribes knew right away where the King of the Jews would be born and they quoted the Scriptures from Micah.  And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel (Matt. 2:6).  That is what was prophesied about this ruler, the Messiah—He would shepherd Israel.  Shepherding includes ruling, but an even bigger part of shepherding is calling and gathering and keeping the flock together.

 

And that was what Jesus was doing.  He revealed Himself as the King of the Jews but also of the Gentiles, the true God of the Jews, but also of the Babylonians and Persians who had oppressed them, and of all the nations who were far off.  That is what Epiphany means—shining forth.  It refers to God revealing Himself.

 

He revealed Himself to the Gentiles and when they came looking for Him He also revealed Himself to the people He had made a covenant with, the people of Israel.  They too needed to be gathered to Him, to come and worship Him.

 

The fact that Israel had been made God’s people did not mean that they had God in their back pocket and could forget about Him.  Faith in God is not the same as knowing about God.  Faith in God makes you go to God and seek Him.  It means you not only believe that He exists, but you say, “He is my God.  He is the one I trust.  He is the treasure I delight in.”

 

That was why the wise men were sent to Jerusalem.  But the sad and terrifying thing was that the wise men of Jerusalem did not want to come and worship their King.

 

The scriptures had foretold that in the last days the Gentiles would come and seek out the God of Israel.  This was a sign to the Jews, but they did not heed it, because they were not looking for their God.

 

When God sends people to us, He is also calling us.  When people come looking for the King of the Jews, what do you do?  You tell them where He is—in the Word.  In the Sacraments.  Or maybe you say “Go ask the pastor.”  But God is calling us to go with them—to go and worship the King of the Jews who is found among us.

 

He gathers us like a shepherd, not like an irritated hireling.  God wants to gather those who are far off.  That’s why He has gathered the Gentiles from the ends of the earth so that we are included with the people of Israel and are called His people.  That’s why He came into the world as a little baby to fulfill God’s Law for us, to take away our sins, to open to us not the treasures of the East but the treasures of heaven.

 

To give us forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  To give us love, peace, exceedingly great joy.  Even though we don’t see these gifts among Christians in great measure, it’s not because He doesn’t have them, or they don’t really exist.  It’s because they are gifts that are hard to open and hard to keep on earth, and we have to go to Him to receive them.  But He has come to open these treasures for us.  And above all He gives us this treasure—to know and be in communion with the true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  To be right with Him and to begin to participate in His life and work.

 

And what is the true God’s work?  It is to gather those who are in darkness into His light.

 

It is not merely His will to send people to us.  He has placed us here to shine the light of Christ into the darkness around us.  To work together as His body in this place to do this.  To offer our gold and treasures so that it may be done in distant places.

 

And this is joy—to find the one who has been born king of the Jews and to participate in the work of His Kingdom.  We find Him with the sign hung above His head where He hung on the cross accomplishing our salvation in full.  We find Him and receive Him as He gives us that same body crucified to eat.  And we commune with Jesus in His work of gathering the lost as we leave His table.  We offer Him not only our wealth but our lives as our spiritual worship.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Image of the Man From Heaven. Funeral Sermon

In Memoriam + Lucille Surdey

Carlson-Holmquist-Sayles Funeral Home

1 Corinthians 15:35-49

January 5, 2019

The Image of the Man of Heaven

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Donna, Bill,

Bill Jr., Beth,

And each of Lucille’s seven great-grandchildren,

All of her family, friends, and members of her church:

 

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

 

His word for our comfort this morning is from the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians: Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.  (verse 49)

 

When I visited your mother, your grandmother Lucille, I was there with what you could say is a limited purpose—to deliver to her the body and blood of Christ.  Probably that means I also saw a limited side of Lucille and her life and her personality.

 

But there are some things that can’t be hidden, especially when you come into someone’s home.   So you could hardly miss the treasures and the joys of Lucille’s life.  They were in front of her all the time, all along the walls; pictures of Donna and Bill, Beth and Bill, all four together, and all the great grandchildren.  Are there any greater treasures in this world, really, than your children, grandchildren, your flesh and blood?  Today many people my age and younger seem to think so, yet sometimes it appears that even though we are wealthier and have greater advantages than any of our ancestors, we are also more sad and angry than the generations before us.

 

Before her eyes were her offspring, and what was always on Lucille’s lips when I came to see her?  Thankfulness.  She would talk about how much God had given her.  What a blessing it was that she could live in her own home.

 

For a long time I would try sometimes, as subtly as I could, to get her to complain a little.  Sometimes it is good to give voice to your suffering and even to voice your complaint to God, as the Psalms say.

 

But as I have thought about it more I think maybe Lucille was right and not me.  Or at least I and maybe others in my generation could learn something from her in this regard.  Maybe she knew on a gut level what I ought to know better—that this world is not paradise, that we are not meant to be happy all the time here.  I know this from Sunday School and seminary and the Bible—we are fallen and this world, as Luther’s catechism says, is a “vale of tears” or a “valley of sorrows.”  Yet for me and I think many around my age, it’s hard to let go of the dream that, like Oprah or whoever we are going to transcend the limitations of human existence.  It could be just me that has unrealistic expectations like these, but I don’t think so.  Look around.  Look on the internet; everybody wants to be famous, everybody wants to be the star, the hero.

 

Lucille would talk about how when she was growing up her family had very little in the way of wealth.  They had their land and their hard work and they could lift up their heads.  But she said, “We didn’t notice that we didn’t have much.”  They were happy because they were busy working and they had each other, and not a lot of time for other things.

 

And probably from her childhood, she learned to work hard, to be faithful, and to be thankful for the gifts God gives you instead of always groaning over what you wish you had.  She had dignity in living that way.  And although it was by no means a perfect happiness she had happiness in the good gifts God gives in this world—especially in you, her family members and friends who are here to honor her today.

 

It is a hard pill to swallow that in this life we are not going to become gods and heroes.  In a certain sense we are already; we live longer and have advantages none of our ancestors did, and yet paradise always eludes our grasp and remains off on the horizon.  It’s hard—really impossible, humanly speaking—to accept what Paul said in the epistle reading: that we bear the image of the man of dust.  We are just like the first man.  Our bodies are formed from the dust of the earth and animated by a living soul.  We were created to live forever in communion with God.  But the first man of dust turned against the one who formed his body and breathed into him his soul; Adam wanted to be a god in his own right.  And so he came under the curse.  His life would be full of painful toil—sweat, failure, pain, lowliness—and then he would return to the dirt from which he was made.  Like Cinderella, sort of, who went back to being a nobody at the stroke of midnight—we were created in God’s image, but when we got proud and wanted to be gods on our own, we returned to the dust.  And we have the same image.  Adam’s sin became our sin, even before we made any choices.

 

We came from dust and we return to dust and there is no escaping it, not even for those who seem to be gods in this world.  And even worse—we will face judgment after that.  We will have to give an account to God for what we have done in the body—for every idle word, every evil thought, and all the deeds we try to hide from other people.

 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ does give us joy, peace, and happiness in this world, but that is not the good news.  The good news is that we who bear the image of the man of dust, that Lucille bore and that you, her offspring also bear, and her friends and relations—that you will bear the image of the man of heaven, Jesus Christ, if you believe His good news.

 

God made Adam’s body from the dust and breathed into him and, the man became a living soul according to Genesis (2: 7).  But the last Adam is not merely living, but a life-giving Spirit.  He was with the Father in the beginning.  Through Him Adam was created.  But then in the fullness of time He assumed a human nature from Mary the virgin.  In that body He bore our curse and humiliation and death and brought it to an end on the cross.  And from His body flows the Holy Spirit, who hovered over the waters of creation, whom we call “the Lord and giver of life.”  Jesus’ body is the fountain of life to all of us who were born with the image of the man of dust.

 

Now that He has risen from the dead, destroying it, conquering it, He plants His heavenly life in us who are of the earth.  He does that through means that appear to be of the earth and of the dirt.  He uses water.  He uses bread and wine.  He uses words from human mouths.  But they are not merely earthly—not merely earthly water, not merely grain that grows in the ground and wine pressed out of grapes.  They are heavenly because they are joined to His Word through which the water and the dirt and the grapes and the grain and human beings came into being.

 

Through these means Jesus, God and man, proclaims the good news.  I have become what you are, He says.  I have redeemed you from death.  I have taken away your sins.  He says it in preaching, in the Bible, in baptism, in absolution.

 

Through those means He gives us His Spirit.  He plants the everlasting life in us.  Not a life like Adam had, but a life like His—the eternal life, the unending life of God.

St. Paul says that this is the glory and the life that our bodies will have when they are raised from the graves on the last day.  They will be like Jesus’ body, and so they will live forever as He lives forever in His body, the same body that was pierced by the nails and wrapped in the linen cloths.

 

They will be like Jesus’ body, so they will share in the glory of God.  The light of God will shine from our bodies; the way Moses’ face shone when He came out of the tent of meeting where He spoke with God.  The glory in the bodies of Christians will be greater.  It will not be a reflected glory but a glory within us—just as Jesus’ face shone like the sun when He was transfigured.

 

Our bodies will be like Jesus’ body so they will be filled with the power of God.  We will not be subject to weakness and sickness, bent backs, bodies wracked with pain, minds full of turmoil.  God will dwell in our bodies.

 

This is the hope in which we lay Lucille’s body into the earth; in trust in Jesus, who has promised to raise up His believers in the image of His glory.  In this world she accepted that she was a child of Adam, subject to his curse.  But her Lord made her a promise that she would rise glorious with Him.

 

It’s hard for us to set our hope on the resurrection, which we have never seen, and which we can barely imagine.  But today as we lay Lucille to rest to await the resurrection, let us lift up our hearts to God and ask Him to give us His holy Spirit so that we set our hope on that day, the day when our bodies share fully in Jesus’ easter.  And to comfort us that when that day comes we will see Lucille emerged from the earth, planted and risen bearing the glory of God her Father and Jesus Christ her Lord.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Thoughts From Many Hearts. First Sunday after Christmas 2018

jesus simeon.PNGFirst Sunday after Christmas

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:33-40

December 30, 2018

Thoughts from Many Hearts Revealed

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Christmas has come and gone.  We ate and drank and opened presents.  The shredded wrapping paper has been put in the trash.

 

Soon Christmas will be over in the Church too.  Already the otherworldly beauty of Christmas Eve has gone.  The glory of God that shone around the shepherds has disappeared with the great company of the heavenly host.  The candles we held in our hands as we sang “Silent night, holy night,” have been put away too.  They will not come out again until we come here in the darkness of the vigil of Easter, as the women came while it was still dark to the tomb in which Jesus was buried.

 

And so we are back to life in this world.  Back to business.  Even in the holy place of the church.  Mary and Joseph go to the temple to offer the sacrifice for Mary’s purification.  Simon and Anna, prophet and prophetess, make glorious statements about Mary and Joseph’s child in the temple.  And yet, few there seem to hear and listen.  How, after all, can a little baby from a poor family be as great as Simeon claimed?  Besides, Jerusalem is still not redeemed.  It is still ruled by the hated Roman oppressors.

 

Likewise for us this Sunday after Christmas.  We return to church a few days later.  It is still cold and gray.  We still have all the same problems and pain our families as we did before Christmas.  Maybe the problems and pain are even more apparent to us after we celebrated Christmas with them.  Besides this our land and our church are in the same difficult position we were in before Christmas in relation to the unbelieving world, the powers in media, universities, government that are opposed to the Law of God.  This baby carried by Mary and Joseph into the temple ahs not changed these things, has He?  The struggle hasn’t ended with Christmas.  It begins again.  It goes on for us.  And where is our help?  Only this baby?  Who is not only a baby and therefore weak—but also born in poverty and low estate, not regarded by anyone?

 

Yes, and it gets worse.  Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph, but he whispers words to Mary about her future and that of her firstborn son that must have been hard to hear even if she could not fully understand them: Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also) so that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed (Luke 2:34-35). 

 

This baby Mary carries in her arms is not only outwardly weak and poor but also offensive to the world.  He is a sign that will be opposed.  The world is not going to love Jesus.  It is going to fight Jesus tooth and nail.

 

Why?  Because Jesus is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel.  He lays low and casts to the ground all of us with our pretensions, where we struggle to build ourselves up and make something of ourselves—financially, spiritually, whatever it may be.  The baby in Mary’s arms casts us to the ground, makes us and our efforts fall.  We are not whole.  We do not have the power to make ourselves whole.  We must see ourselves as we are—wretched, poor, spiritually miserable.  Something like this child we despise.  He looks wretched and poor because He has taken our image and appearance, not because He is wretched and poor in Himself.

 

But not even Mary or the other saints, not even the godly are immune.  Even Mary has a sword pierce her heart.  Even she opposes Jesus in the thoughts of her heart.  We don’t know what Mary wished for her son, but if she was anything like any other mother, she wanted Him to be happy.  That would have included peace in this world.  Not suffering.  Certainly not death on a cross!  We know that when Jesus began His ministry and was teaching large crowds, His family was worried about Him, thinking He had gone crazy (Mark 7:21)  .  And Mary’s heart was pierced with sorrow when Jesus was pierced and nailed to a cross.  What she wanted for her Son was not the will of god.  Even Mary, in the thoughts of her heart, opposed Jesus.

 

So it is with you.  Your heart’s thoughts are revealed by Jesus—and many of your thoughts are to have expectations of Him that oppose what He came to do.  Your heart wants to be exalted in this world, so you want Him to be exalted (so that you may be exalted with Him), and you are bitterly disappointed when He achieves nothing but the mockery and hostility of the world.  Like the world, your flesh thinks that wealth and the praise of human beings, the glory of this world—is God.  Jesus, the Word of the Father, is a double-edged sword who divides flesh from Spirit and reveals the thoughts of our hearts.  He shows us what we really believe in and what we really love, and what the wicked nature in us believes in and loves is not the true God.

 

But this child is also set for the rising of many. 

 

If you are poor and wretched, unable to free yourself from the love of idols, this baby Mary holds will raise you up.  This is why Simeon sang the Nunc Dimittis about the baby Jesus, the song that made Jesus’ father and mother marvel at what was said about Him (Luke 2:33).  It wasn’t in the reading, but you probably know it by heart; we sing it every week as we leave the Lord’s altar and we will sing it when you take your final leave of the Lord’s altar, when your casket sits at the altar rail covered by the funeral pall.

 

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,

According to Thy Word.

For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation

Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.

 

Why did Simeon sing this about the baby he took from Mary’s arms?  Because the baby, poor and weak, was the God of Israel; He had become poor and weak to save us from our poverty and spiritual helplessness.  We are born in a flesh, a nature, that rejects the true God for false gods that cannot save us.  And even if we were able to make ourselves free to turn to the true God, we could not escape the punishment of all our turning aside from Him in the past.

 

This child comes to save us.  He comes to make known to us the true God and to forgive our turning aside after idols.  He is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”  He makes the true God known to the heathen who worshipped false gods.  And He is “the glory of God’s people Israel.”  Israel’s glory and the church’s glory is not the glory of the world—wealth, power, the praise of men.  It is the true and living God.  The world despises God, but to us, His Church, He is preferred above jewels and every pleasure.

 

Like the people of Israel when Jesus was born, we are poor and weak in human terms.  And we are poor before God because we have longed for the glory of the world instead of the glory of the true God.

 

But this child is the Lord’s salvation. He is set also for the rising of many in Israel.  He enables all who take Him up to die in peace.  Because He, who is equal to the Father and shares His glory and joy, humbled Himself to take up our poverty.  He restores us to the true glory and joy of God by fulfilling the law of God for us and atoning for our sins.  This is why we sing Simeon’s song after we eat His body and drink His blood.  He has made us die to this world and made us alive to God.  He has covered our sin and our running after idols with His holy life.  We are purified by His birth and His death, and so our bodies in death are covered with the white pall emblazoned with His cross.  WE will be raised up with Him who rose in victory over death.

 

This child is a sign that is opposed by the world because He reveals the thoughts of our hearts—that we desire the world and its false glory.  He also goes against our thinking and wisdom.  He humbles Himself in order to raise us up, to make us able to depart in peace.  And so He comes to us today, now, in the bread and the wine, entering our fallen and impoverished bodies, to make us sharers in His salvation and in the glory of the true God.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Gift upon Gift. Christmas Day 2018

jesus nativity 2.PNGThe Nativity of our Lord—Christmas Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 1:1-18

December 25, 2018

Gift upon Gift

 

 

Iesu iuva!

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The Gospel for this morning says about God the Word who was born to us: From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:16).  That could be translated “gift upon gift.” 

 

That is the nature of the true God, and we see it clearly in Jesus.  We might mistakenly believe that the true God wants to take from us, that He never gives without demanding repayment.  Instead in Jesus we see the true God who is rich and has given to us freely again and again.

 

People also think God dislikes it when we live in the world too much; when we eat and drink and take delight in our wife or our children, our house and home.

 

No, friends.  Who do you think gave us food, drink, wife, children, and all we have?  From His fullness we have all received, says John.  He is full.  He is rich.  He has everything you could want and He has things you never dreamed of wanting.  All created things are His.  And He gives freely without finding fault.

 

When I was a small child, like most small children raised in Christian homes, I liked having my mother read me picture books about Noah’s ark, because in Noah’s ark were so many animals.  Have you ever noticed how almost all children love animals, as if they were Adam giving all of them names for the first time?

 

In the picture books of the ark are giraffes, hippos, horses, ducks, dogs, lions, bears, walruses, cows, deer, skunks, possums, squirrels, chickens, pheasants, woodpeckers.  The only limit on animals in the ark picture books is the inclination of the artist to draw and paint them all.

 

From His fulness we have all received—from God the Son’s fullness and riches—because He created the animals I named and countless, almost innumerable other ones.  And the sun, the moon and stars, the land and sea.  Everyone has received from Him—Christian, unbeliever, scientist, businessman, artist, politician, farmer.  Everyone has received from Him gift upon gift.

 

We have all received from Him, yet the world does not know Him from whose fullness we receive all these gifts.

 

That is terrible darkness; to have life, but not to know the source of your life, and not to know where to go to have life renewed and restored.

 

If you go into a cave where no light from street lamps or sun or moon can get in, and turn off your flashlight, what will you see?  Nothing at all.  Impenetrable darkness.  You won’t even be able to see your hand in front of your face.

 

You would know that you were in darkness, though, because you would be able to compare it with seeing.

 

But if you had been born in that cave, what then?  You wouldn’t know anything but the darkness.

 

John says that this is what we are like in this world.  People are conceived and born in total darkness, alienated from the light and life of the true God.

 

They know there is a God.  They know His Law and His will, even if their knowledge is imperfect.  But they are in the darkness when it comes to God.  They do not know Him.  They are alienated from the One out of whose fullness we receive life.  So their light is burning out into total darkness.

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

 

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

 

Into this darkness in which we are born comes the true light.

 

In the beginning He created the light that we see with our eyes, but that is not the true light.

 

The true light is in Him.  He is the eternal life, the One who was, who is, and who is to come.  The eternal God who receives life from no one, because He has life in Himself.

 

By Him everyone lives even this fading life that is burning out.  But in Him we see God the eternal life.  By faith in Him we come out of the darkness into the brightness of God’s face.

 

This is the child who was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, whom she cradled in her arms and nursed at her breast.

 

The life of men, the light from eternity, the Word who was with God in the beginning.

 

He has taken up His dwelling in flesh—the same flesh you have and I have—that He first formed from the dust and into which He breathed His breath.

 

And everyone who sees this light, who believes in Him, has His light dawn within him.

 

You who believe in this child are no longer in darkness.  The true light, the eternal life has dawned on you.

 

The Giver of Life, from whose fullness we have all received, has given you Himself.  He shares your nature so that you might participate in His divine nature and His eternal life.

 

On this festival day, this coming of God to us, let us celebrate rightly by receiving His gift.

 

Come and receive the Son who gives you His flesh to eat and His blood to drink, as food to eternal life.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Savior in the Flesh. Christmas Midnight 2018

jesus nativity 6 bronzino.PNGThe Nativity of our Lord—Christmas Midnight

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:1-14

December 24, 2018

The Savior In the Flesh

 

 

Iesu iuva!

In the name of Jesus.

 

Most people don’t like to follow decrees, especially not if it involves travelling somewhere so you can be taxed.  But even if people don’t do it willingly, they will follow a decree and they will endure slavery if they are forced to it at the end of a sword or a gun.  That is why everyone went to the city of their fathers in response to Caesar’s decree.

 

But there is a ruler to whom we all pay tribute even without external force. Not only we but all our ancestors have been slaves to this master.  They paid him tribute and so do we.

 

You have probably had some experience of this ruler if you have ever tried to lose weight, if you have ever wrestled with an addiction.

 

The name for this ruler is the flesh or desire.  Everyone in this world serves the flesh.  Most people in our time serve the flesh and think they are free, that they are doing what they want.  They don’t realize that they are just willing slaves to a master who will use them up.

 

But even Christians serve the flesh and its desires; only they do so unwillingly, crying out with the apostle Who will deliver me from this body of death?  (Rom. 7)

 

Only the grace of God sets us free from this evil master, not our own efforts.  There are people who are very self-controlled when it comes to food, for instance.  They discipline their bodies and go to the gym and watch what they eat, and they reap the reward of this discipline, which is that for a time their bodies are stronger and more beautiful than they would be otherwise.  But the desires of the flesh are not limited to wanting to eat food that makes you fat.  The desires of the flesh are nearly limitless.  The flesh craves everything except God.  Your flesh wants praise, it wants love, it wants wealth, it wants power, it wants beauty, it wants youth, it wants fame, it wants a good reputation.  It wants what it wants and we serve our flesh like slaves, believing that if we give this master what it wants it will give us happiness.  But it never does.  It is never satisfied.  Because nothing that the flesh or the sinful nature desires can replace what it is trying to find a replacement for—for God, in whose image we were created but whose image we have lost.

 

Not only so, but the flesh, or the old Adam, or the sinful nature always lusts against the command of God.  St. Paul wrote about this in the seventh chapter of Romans.  As soon as God gives a command: You shall not covet, the flesh produces in us all manner of covetous desires, where we long for what God has not given to us but given to someone else.

 

Paul said this as an apostle of Christ.  He was not a willing servant of the flesh, the sinful nature.  He wanted to be free from it.  But his old nature was still a slave to corruption.

 

If it was true for St. Paul it is true for you.  If you are here tonight and you reject God’s commandments which command you to love Him above all things, to come to church and hear His word, to honor your parents and to teach your children, to abstain from sex outside of marriage to your husband or wife, the freedom you think you have is a sham.  You are a slave to the flesh and its desires, and from the flesh you will reap corruption and death.

 

And if you are here tonight and you acknowledge that the law of God is right, you still are not free.  In this world no one has completely overcome this master the flesh.

 

Except for one.  The angels proclaimed Him to the shepherds on this night.

 

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  (Luke 2: 10-11)

 

Christ means “anointed one”—a King.  But this is not merely a King like Caesar who will force you to do what he wants at the end of a sword, with a cross looming over you.

 

He is not just Christ but Christ the Lord.  The anointed King who is also YHWH—I AM.  The Lord who appeared in the burning bush to Moses and in the fire on Sinai, who spoke the holy ten commandments in the hearing of the people.

 

But He has not come to judge you, to condemn you for breaking His Law.  He has come to fulfill the Law for you and to fulfill it in you.  To make you free indeed.  Not just Christ, not just Lord, but a Savior, Christ the Lord.

 

The one who gave the Law that we cannot fulfill because of the corruption of our flesh has now come in our flesh.  He will fulfill the Law He gave so that there is no condemnation for us.  So that even though the flesh continues to war against God’s Law, to fill us with lawless desires, there is no condemnation for you for the sake of Christ Jesus.  God covers all the uncleanness of our flesh with the righteousness of His Son.

 

And the Lord in human flesh also frees us from the power of the corruption in our flesh.  He governs it so that it is not able to have dominion over us.  He trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2:11-12).  Not that we become free from evil desire in this world, but that we learn from the child who is born to us, the Son who is given to us to walk in self-control and godliness.

 

It begins like this.  Not that we master our flesh or evil desire.  But that we come admitting our slavery to Him.  We come and listen to the angels who once sang creation’s story now proclaim the coming of the Creator into our flesh.  We find our creator wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.  How has the mighty, omnipotent, eternal Lord become an infant, lying with the cattle?  Why would He do this?

 

He has come to raise you up from slavery to your flesh and its desires, and the devil and his lies, and the world and its false glory.  He has come to make you truly alive and free, to make you a son of God.

 

He comes and begins to repay your debt.  Here he erases the stain that is on our conception and birth.  For we were conceived in sin, born in sin.  We were corrupt from our beginning.  But now, good news of great joy.  A Savior has been born to us.  God the Lord covers the corruption of our beginning with His innocent birth of a virgin.

 

And He will do more.

 

He will erase the handwriting that was against you, the record of your sins.  He will blot out the long record of your debts to God with the blood of His veins and the agony of His soul.  No place will be found for that record any longer in God’s courtroom.  It is cast out as He was cast out, here at His birth and later out at His death.

 

And He will pour out on you the Spirit by which He governs His church, who will remake and renew you in His image, after the pattern of the one in the manger.  After the pattern of God’s Son.

 

The angels suddenly appear in a great throng praising God as they contemplate the birth of Jesus for us.  It isn’t for them, but for us that He is born, yet they cannot restraint heir joy.  They see the God who made them come to us in our weakness and helplessness.  They do not say, “One day there will be peace, goodwill to man.”  But now at the same time there is glory to God and peace on earth among men.  The Lord has come to help us who were enslaved, to make us sons of God.

 

Tonight we are, none of us, lords over our sinful flesh in ourselves.  We are not perfectly sanctified, nor are we perfectly obedient sons of God.  Yet for the sake of this baby we are counted so.  And so we begin.  We praise Him by coming to Him with our helplessness, our weakness and sin, and believing that He forgives and covers it.  And with whatever weak and faltering faith we have, we praise the one true God, who revealed Himself in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.

 

This is the way we begin to live self controlled and godly lives—by coming again and again to the God who shares our flesh and blood, and who gives us His flesh and blood to us that we may live in Him.

 

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

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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