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Jesus Seeks God and You. Wednesday After Invocabit, 2018.

February 21, 2018 Leave a comment

last supper godefroy.PNGVespers—Wednesday after Invocabit

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Passion History—The Last Supper

February 21, 2018

Jesus Seeks God and You


Iesu Iuva


In the name of Jesus.


What then?  Are we Jews any better off?  No, not at all.  For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Gentiles, are under sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  Rom. 3:9-11


No one seeks after God, says St. Paul.


Not even one.


The priests are seeking to arrest and kill Jesus in secret.


Judas is seeking to betray Him for money.


And the disciples are seeking to be the greatest.


Who is seeking God?


What is Jesus seeking?  “You know that in two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” 


Only Jesus is seeking God.  Jesus is the only one in this story seeking to do the will of God.  And His Father’s will is that He be nailed to a cross.


Lent began as a time for catechumens to prepare to be baptized on Easter.  They would be baptized into Jesus’ death.  So they had Jesus’ passion and His cross before their eyes.  And during Lent we are called to return to our baptism, to the death and life given to us there.  But to return to Baptism and to the Triune God who claimed us in it is to seek out the cross and its death, not metaphorically, but in stark reality.


Maybe you don’t like the idea of dying on a cross.  Maybe you would like to believe it’s not true that Christianity is like this.


St. Paul, quoting the psalm of David, says, “there is no one who seeks God, not even one.”  We seek the approval of the sinful world.  We seek to satisfy the desires of our flesh, to scratch our itch for praise and respect, pleasure and comfort. But no one can serve two masters.  The master we have by nature, whom we seek to please, is sin.


But Jesus our Lord seeks God, and in seeking God He also seeks us.  He knows that on this Passover in Jerusalem He will be the lamb who is sacrificed. But He is not running away.  He goes into Jerusalem, tells His disciples to prepare the feast, and then, in the course of the meal, gives them His body and His blood to eat and to drink.  He desires this.  I have earnestly longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.


At the Jordan River His cousin John argued with Jesus that Jesus should be baptizing him and not the other way around.  Jesus should not be in the lower position, but the higher.  But John accepted Jesus’ word that it was necessary for Him to accomplish all righteousness.  So John plunged him beneath the water in which thousands upon thousands of people had been plunged before Him, to be forgiven their cursing, unbelief, lying, their innumerable sins against God.  And Jesus went down into the water with them, though He had committed no sin and knew no sin.  He went down into the water in which others left their sins and took them up.  He was numbered with the transgressors.


Then heaven opened to Him.  The Holy Spirit came down on Him.  The Father said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  How strange that the Father was pleased with His beloved Son when He was made sin for us.  By becoming sin for us, Jesus was seeking God.


Seeking God for us who could not seek Him ourselves.  A sinner who tried to come to God while he is still in his sins would only find an angry God, a consuming fire.  He would not only find heaven closed.  He would find utter destruction, eternal pain.  That’s why no one seeks God.  We run instead, like Adam at the sound of God’s footsteps as he and Eve were finishing putting on their fig leaves.


Our road back to God is a road Jesus alone can walk.  He must pave this road with His bruises and His blood.  He alone is able to bear the punishment for our sins against God.  He alone is able to endure the stripes justice requires for our refusing to hear Him.  The times we knew what His will was and rejected it.  The sins we committed in carelessness.  The impurity and disobedience that we did not choose but which is born in us.  All these have a price, and Jesus must pay it in agony.  This is why Jesus tells Peter, Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you will follow after.


Everyone will follow Jesus into death.  That is certain.  But to follow Jesus to death, so that we can say with him, “Now I am glorified, and God is glorified in me”—that is not something we have the power to will.


No, He must give us a share in Him. He must serve us.  He must gird Himself like a servant and wash our feet.


Just like John the Baptist had done before Him, Peter resisted being served by Jesus.  You can understand why.  How demeaning it seems for Jesus—especially on the night of His death!—to behave like a servant instead of the Lord.  But He has much lowlier service He must do for us.


He must be handed over for our sins and rejected.  He must be tried and sentenced for the evil we have done, and give His life to pay for our sins.  He must even give His flesh to be our food and His blood to be our drink.


No one seeks after God, Paul said.  He meant no one born with Adam’s fallen flesh.


But Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit of the virgin, does seek God with His whole heart.  And with His whole, pure heart, He seeks God for you.  And with His whole heart He seeks you for God.


Knowing full well all your unfaithfulness, knowing it before it happened, knowing it intimately, better than you do, because He paid for it in stripes, in tears, in agony of soul.  See how He tells His disciples today: You are they who have continued with Me in My trials, and I appoint you a kingdom.  He knows full well they are about to abandon Him in His greatest trial, yet He speaks to them this way!  Because He seeks them, and He carries them and all their unfaithfulness as His own, and pays for it in full.  That is how the disciples are counted faithful.  That is how they came to sit on thrones with Him.


If you are to seek God’s glory and share in it, You must be served by this man.  You must have a part in Him, a share in His flesh.  You must be born anew of Him who does seek God, since in the flesh you do not and cannot.


And He has given you a share in Him.  He has baptized you with His Baptism.  You were washed with the water into which He plunged, and joined with Him who made full payment for your sins.  You seek God not by the law, but through faith in Jesus, the Son of God, who gave Himself as your servant, to pay for your sins.  And He serves you still.  He gives His very body that endured the cross to you to eat.  He places the cup of His blood of the new testament to your lips, pledging that you inherit the free forgiveness of your sins through His death.


You have a share, a part in Him.  You have communion with Him through the Sacrament of His death.  Through your participation in Him you are righteous, and seek God, and find His approval.


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



You Will Trample the Lion and the Dragon. Invocabit 2018.

February 20, 2018 Leave a comment

serpent trampledInvocabit—The First Sunday in Lent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 4:1-11

February 18, 2018

You Will Trample the Lion and the Dragon


Iesu Iuva


You really had a lot of nerve. Now you’re surprised that you have enemies who are waiting for you to fall.  You tell yourself that if they just knew how good your intentions are they wouldn’t be angry.  But you forget what you stood up and claimed in front of the altar of God.  Twice, most of you.


Do you renounce the devil?  Do you renounce all his works?  Do you renounce all his ways?  Do you believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?  Do you desire to be baptized?  And the second time they asked, “Do you acknowledge the gifts God gave you in your baptism?”  And you said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”


You were the one with the nerve to claim to be a son of God.  You were the one who claimed to be free from the devil’s power and no longer destined for the eternal fire prepared for him and all who follow him.


So now he tests you, like a thousand degree furnace tests a bar of metal.  And the whole world of people that has given their allegiance to Satan tests you too.  Let’s see if you’re really a son of God, or if you’re really just like us and just putting on airs.


“To tempt” in the biblical sense is “to test,” the way you might test a car on empty highway with no police around.  With the pedal to the floor.  To see what it can do, what it can take, how it will hold up under stress.


The world tests you because it wants to prove to itself that God’s Word is not true; it wants to prove that it’s not going to be judged.  Your flesh tempts you because it doesn’t want to be affixed to the cross, pinned there, unable to break free, until it suffocates.


And the devil tests you.  He never sleeps.  He never stops.  He is a lion hunting gazelles.  When he isn’t pouncing on the unwary, he stalks.  He hides in the grass, motionless, watching.


Then, suddenly, he’s with you.  Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, Jesus told Peter on the night of His arrest (Luke 22:31).  Now he has you in his sieve and shakes you to find out if there is any wheat with the chaff, if you are a son of God.


And what are the results of this testing, this temptation?  What remains of you after the lion has pounced on you?  Did you, like Samson, tear the lion in pieces (Judges 14) by the power of the Holy Spirit?  Or like the boy David, did you catch him by his beard and strike him and kill him (1 Sam. 17:35)?  Did you overcome the Philistine giant?  Did you show yourself to be a son of the Most High?


No.  No you did not.  You were tested in your claim to be a son of God, and you were found wanting.  The rooster crowed.


Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut. 8:3)  A son of God knows this and is free.  A son of God knows that life is more than food and the body is more than clothing (Matt. 6:25).  He serves God, not earthly possessions.  He trusts in God, not in food, drink, house, clothes, cars, money.


But when the devil tested to see whether you would trust God when the cupboard was bare, you bowed down to your stomach.  You acted like a slave, not a king, not a son of God.  You were willing to be unfaithful to the Lord whose name you bear if it seemed like your income was threatened, like a comfortable life would be denied you or your children.


And other times, you acted as if you were more spiritual than God.  Your Father called you and appointed you to a place in His kingdom, to serve certain people.  [But when the devil tempted you not to fulfill your calling and use the means He had given you to carry it out, you liked the devil’s way better.  You neglected the Word and the Sacraments and said, God can give Me His Spirit another way.  You said, “God will make His Word bear fruit,” and you neglected to work to spread that Word, to teach it diligently to your children, to do everything in your power to not cause people to stumble over His Word.]


And when your Lord told you He must be rejected and killed in Jerusalem, and then rise from the dead, and when He told you that you also would have to be rejected by the world and die, you didn’t listen.  You thought He was being metaphorical.  He is the Son of God, and sons of God don’t get killed by the world.  They conquer the world.


So Satan whispered to you every time the world opposed you for Christ’s sake, every time the world opposed another Christian who faithfully confessed Jesus and His Word, he whispered, “The world is not being conquered.  You must be doing it wrong.”  And you listened to Satan.  You wanted to gain the world—for Jesus, of course—so you lived your whole life trying to never offend anyone with Jesus’ Word.  All this I will give you if you will fall down and prostrate yourself before me, said the adversary Satan to Jesus.  But this hasn’t turned out to be true for the Christian Church in our country.  We haven’t gained the whole world. The world just walks all over us.  By agreeing not to offend anyone in Jesus’ name, you have bent the knee to the prince of this world, in the hopes that he would give the world to you.


Instead, he only laughs at you.  You have been tested, and you have failed the test.  There are so many circumstances under which you will abandon your God.  But a true son of God, in whom God is well-pleased, trusts God and never departs from Him.  That is why God counts him worthy to be called His Son and to inherit eternal life with Him.


The one who conquers the devil and his tests will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.  But as for the cowardly, the unbelieving, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.  (Rev. 21: 7-8)


A son of God conquers the devil and does not depart from God.  And the devil’s tests reveal that you are not by nature a son of God.  Your inclination is to depart from God, like Adam your father, like Eve your mother, like the devil himself.


When Jesus was led into the desert by the Holy Spirit, he was wet baptism in the Jordan River.  When He was baptized, a voice came from heaven: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Mt. 3:17).  How many of you who are fathers have ever felt that way when you looked at your son?  How many of you children ever felt your father’s approval that way, that your Father was well-pleased with you?


But then Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to be tested by the devil.  At the end of forty days and forty nights of fasting, when Jesus was weak with hunger, the lion pounced on Him.  Just like you are tempted as a baptized Christian.  He tested Jesus to see whether he would still be the Son of God when he was famished and weak, or whether he would break as every human being had in thousands of years.


But unlike us, Jesus passed the tests.  Jesus believed the Word that had been spoken about Him from heaven, that He is the well-pleasing, beloved Son of God.  And the devil’s tests only proved Him to be God’s Son.  He did not trade in His inheritance for a few loaves of stones made into bread, but was fed by the words that came from the Lord’s mouth.  Those same words came from His mouth in the time of temptation, and they defended Him.  He did not test God to prove that He was His Son by doing an unnecessary miracle.  He patiently held to God’s Word as His rock while the howling storm of temptation tried to pull Him away.


And when the devil showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth and their glory, and promised to give Him the world in an easier way, Jesus despised both the devil and the glory of the world.  A king does not pay homage to His slaves, much less to his enemies.  A Son of God does not fall down and worship the devil.  He trusts in the Lord, God His Father, and seeks the glory of His Kingdom.


Jesus did not seek that glory for Himself.  He was seeking it for the people of the kingdoms of the earth, who are held under Satan’s power and deceived by his lies.  Jesus knew that Satan must be overcome if people are to inherit the kingdom of God and be His sons.


So that is what He came to do.  When He was baptized with John’s baptism of repentance, Jesus was announcing Himself to be a sinner.  Since Jesus was not a sinner, and since it would be a lie to receive a baptism of repentance if you have no sin, what was Jesus doing?  He was receiving sin, becoming sin, so that He might take it away, pay for the sins of all people, and make them sons of God.


When the devil presented him with a different way to reign over the earth, Jesus spoke to the devil like he was a dog or a slave: Get out, Satan.  Our Lord was not afraid of Satan, because Satan, although he is stronger than human beings is nothing compared to God.  And God has now become a human being.


Jesus knew what this meant.  It meant warfare with Satan.  It meant a life of suffering.  It meant hatred from the world, and the worst death it could give Him.  It meant enduring God’s condemnation and the suffering we have earned for turning away from God, falling from God.


But He despised the devil and embraced the war.  He did it to conquer Satan, to break His back.  At His temptation He proved Himself to be the Son of God.  But He also showed Himself to be our conqueror, our victor.  He was victorious over Satan’s temptations for us.  And when He tasted death and God’s wrath on the cross, He entered into battle with all our falls and sins and destroyed them too.


Jesus is our victory over Satan.  None of your falls excludes you from being God’s Son, because the well-beloved Son of God destroyed them on the cross.  Your falls are not your own.  God says they have passed away, departed.  They lie in the grave with Jesus, and you have emerged from the grave with Jesus.  And when sin shows up, and you fail to conquer the devil, you plunge them into Jesus’ wounds, into His grave, into the waters in which you died with Him.  And you come out with Him again, a Son of God and a conqueror.


Because Jesus has conquered Satan, here at His temptation and finally at the cross, you will also conquer him.  You will tread on the lion and the cobra.  You will walk on Satan’s back, as he and the world have walked on yours.  You will overcome his temptations through faith in the Son of God.


Not that you can do it through hard work and positive thinking.  Not you, but Christ who lives in you will do it, because He already has destroyed the devil’s power.  He has taken away your sin and made it His own.


He will stand with you when you are tempted, with great pity.  For we do not have a high priest [ch. 5:2; Isa. 53:3]who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been [See ver. 14 above]tempted as we are, ch. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5; [ch. 7:26; John 8:46; 14:30]yet without sin. (Hebrews 2:15).  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 2:16). 


Let us draw near to our Lord’s altar, where He will give us mercy, His body and blood that have removed the record of our falls and have made us sons of God and more than conquerors through Him that loved us.  Let us draw near to Him and remember His bitter suffering and death for our sins at His table.  Then let us go forth as the sons of God we are, ready to fight and conquer the devil, the world, and our flesh.


With might of ours can naught be done, Soon were our loss effected…

But for us fights the Valiant One, Whom God Himself elected.

Ask ye, who is this?  Jesus Christ it is,

Of Sabaoth Lord,  And there’s none other God.

He holds the field forever. 


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


Soli Deo Gloria





Death and Life; Hypocrisy and Reality. Ash Wednesday 2018.

February 14, 2018 Leave a comment

nineveh.PNGAsh Wednesday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 6:16-21

February 14, 2018

Death and Life; Hypocrisy and Reality


Iesu Iuva


Death has been in front of our eyes in recent weeks, and today we are reminded again with the black ashes on many of our foreheads that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.  Today the black ashes are on our foreheads, tomorrow they will be gone.  But even when they are gone, we will still live in a world in which death’s mark is stamped on every person in it, as though every person we meet had a forehead smeared with black ash.


But death does not reign in the Church, over Christians.  Our Savior Jesus Christ…abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, the apostle says (2 Tim. 1:10).  And we are His people, baptized into His death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  (Rom. 6)  We have a beautiful picture of this whenever a little child is baptized.  We light a small candle from the paschal candle, the candle lit on Easter, that symbolizes Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  That little burning flame is a picture of the new life that we have received from Christ.


The new life that is in us is Christ’s life.  It is more powerful than death.  On Christmas Day we heard the words of St. John’s gospel: In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  The little baby in the manger, and the little light born in us in Baptism, are stronger than the darkness of death in us because the life of Christ is the life of God.  It is not overcome by the darkness of sin and death in us.  It burns in the midst of the darkness in our flesh and, growing ever stronger, finally burns up the darkness and fills us with the light of life


Why is it, then, that the darkness within us seems to blot out the light of Christ’s life?  St. Peter says this in the epistle reading: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness [1 Peter 1:3].  It is ours, yet we must make every effort, as St. Peter says, to take hold of itAnd when we do not, the flame begins to sputter.  Faith flutters.  The new life grows dim.


So during Lent we examine ourselves to see where the darkness remains in us, where death has crept back in.  We meditate on Jesus’ passion to see the reflection of our sin and death.  And to aid our meditation, Christians fast.


We are called to do this not just during Lent but always.  We heard St. Paul discuss this a few weeks ago: Every athlete exercises self control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable…[so] I discipline my body and keep it under control (1 Cor. 9:25, 27).  Fasting is self-discipline; it refers specifically to moderation in eating and drinking and to abstaining from food or drink for a period of time.  We do this to keep alert, to keep sharp so that we may devote ourselves to meditation and prayer and to serving our neighbor.  More broadly, fasting includes throwing off every hindrance to rising to new life with Christ, moderating our use of television, internet, phones, or abstaining for a time so that we may give our attention to the one thing needful—Jesus Christ.


Jesus expects that his followers will fast.  When you fast,  He says in the Gospel reading.  What does that mean except that Jesus expects that we will fast, that we need to fast?


He doesn’t reject all fasting, but false fasting, done to win praise from other people, done so that we may be proud of our own spirituality. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.  Truly I say to you, they have received their reward. 


Piercing words from our Lord for those who fast, or do other religious works only to take pride in themselves!  Jesus calls them hypocrites.  They have a reward—in the misplaced admiration of other people, in their own high esteem of themselves.  But they have no reward from God for this.


Instead God condemns their fasting, churchgoing, praying as false and empty.  They are only pretending to pray, or go to church, or fast, pretending to love and serve God. In reality, they are loving and serving only themselves.


How evil it is to use God’s name to make yourself a name!  Yet isn’t this what most religion boils down to?    Don’t even true Christians do this?  How many times have you acted piously, religiously, when your heart was far from God, not humble, not grieving over your sins, not desiring his grace, full of self-righteousness?  Oh, the bitter ashes we taste when we realize this about ourselves, that so often we ignored Jesus whipped, condemned, and pierced, and sought to glorify ourselves!


God relented from destroying Nineveh because they confessed their sins and eagerly sought His grace with fasting and prayer.  Most Lutherans do not fast, so we are not liable to be proud about it.  But in our worship, prayer, and work in the church we frequently forget that like Nineveh God has pronounced our overthrow, together with all who disobey His Law.  Before we realize it, we have forgotten what we are, become confident in our religious works, satisfied with ourselves because we seem to be doing more than others.


True Christian fasting is not done in this spirit.  Christian fasting is not done for men, not even for ourselves.  It is done because we desire life from Christ, because we confessing from the heart that we are dust and ashes. It is done because we desire life from Christ; we desire forgiveness, and we desire not to live in sin any longer.  It is done because we want to become like Christ.  A Christian who fasts in the way approved by God forgets about himself and what others think about him because he is looking at Jesus.


This kind of fasting has a reward from God.  Jesus says, When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.


The reward of the Father is life.  He sees what is in secret.  He sees the broken and contrite heart yearning to be forgiven, to be at peace with God, to become like Christ.  And He rewards such a heart with its desire.  He forgives our sins and makes Christ’s light burn more brightly in us until all darkness in us is burned away.

This new and contrite heart is God’s work, not ours.  He creates it in us through His Law.  And when faith in the good news of Christ enters the contrite heart, life comes in.  When we fast, we train the members of our bodies so that they do not lead us astray with the desires of the flesh and put out the life of Christ in us.  We train our members to seek life in Christ; our ears to hear His Word, our heart and mind to meditate on the Savior that the Word proclaims, our tongue to call upon Him.  And the reward is that this life grows in us.  We grow in virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, and love; vice, ignorance, self-indulgence, cowardice, and selfishness dies off in us.  And as Peter says, we make our calling and election sure; we grow in the assurance that the life God has planted in us will reach its fulfillment, and the light of Christ’s life will fill our whole bodies with light.


That is what we are after during these forty days of Lent.  We are straining ahead to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of us when we were baptized.  We are straining toward the heavenly reward of the Father, when we will be like Him, when we will be completely new, and life will replace death.


It seems far away and difficult, and it is.  Between you and that reward stands the cross to which you and I must be nailed and die.


But if you desire it, it is not far; you only need to come a few steps to take the body of Christ and to drink the blood which He poured out for the life of the world, for your life.  If what you long for is everlasting life in heaven—come, for everlasting life is here.  Everything is ready.  Come and receive the life of the Son of God.


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Soli Deo Gloria

Seed, Not Soil. Sexagesima 2018. Luke 8:4-15

February 9, 2018 Leave a comment

sower van gogh.PNGSexagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 8:4-15

February 4, 2018

Seed, not Soil


Iesu Iuva


As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:15)


Jesus just told His disciples, and us, a mystery of God.  He told us how God’s Kingdom comes.


He didn’t tell how earthly kingdoms come.  That’s no mystery.  If Jesus wanted that, and wanted to teach His disciples how to do it, He would not have preached this parable to the crowd.  If Jesus wanted to have an earthly kingdom, He would have told that great crowd that came to Him, “You are all my disciples.  Follow me, and the whole earth will be ours.”


That’s not what He did.  He told them a story about seeds and didn’t explain it.  If He had explained it to them, they would have heard that they were not all His disciples.  They would have heard that He was not interested in making them winners in this world, rulers of this world.  They would have heard that God wants to make them despised by this world, offensive to this world, and pleasing to God.


God wants to make us His seed, His offspring, begotten by His Word.  He says: You are not soil, you are My seed.  You are not the man of dust, from which I made Adam, cursed by sin, able to produce only thorns and thistles. You are born of the seed of my Word, which bears fruit a hundredfold.


That’s what Jesus says: As for that on the path…The ones are the rock…As for what fell among thorns… He doesn’t say, “The path are the ones who…”  He refers to them as the seed that fell on the path, on the rock, among the thorns, in the good soil.  He doesn’t call people soil, but seed.


That’s because the Kingdom of God is not about getting a crowd together and exercising power and influence on earth.  That may be a byproduct of the Kingdom of God.  More often it is a counterfeit of God’s Kingdom coming.  There are still plenty of houses of worship that are packed to the gills with large crowds in this world, even many in our country.  But there are very few that fit the description of the Kingdom of God Jesus gives in this parable.


The Kingdom of God comes when the sower sows His seed.  What is the seed?  The seed is the Word of God.  Not partly the word of God, and partly the word of men; not seed that produces grain mixed with seed that produces weeds.  The seed is the Word of God.  Not the Word of God mostly, but they just don’t believe that Baptism saves, or the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ true body and blood, or they don’t believe that God created the world in six days, like Genesis says, or they don’t believe you have to believe the same teaching to receive communion at the same altar.  The seed is the Word of God says Jesus, and only the Word of God.  People may be saved when the Word that they hear is corrupted by man’s word.  But God’s kingdom only comes when God’s Word is heard.  If other words are mixed in with God’s, the Kingdom of God comes in spite of those words.


God sends out His word with a purpose; the purpose is to save sinners.  His Word saves people who believe it.  When people believe God’s Word, they bear fruit for God.  Without God’s Word they bear no fruit.  Gathering a big crowd around you, even gathering a kingdom that extends to the ends of the earth, bears no fruit for God.  One or two people who hear the word of God and hold it fast in honest and upright hearts bear much fruit.  Without the word of God people are fruitless and barren and dead. With it they bear much fruit, “a hundredfold.”


The mystery of the Kingdom of God is: out of the seed of God’s Word, God brings offspring out of the cursed earth, out of human beings who are dust, and who return to dust because of sin.  He grows these offspring not for this present world, but for the world to come, where the curse will be gone, where death will be no more.


He does this in a mysterious way.  Seeds are very small, aren’t they?  Very small, and very simple.  Seeds are not billion dollar business empires.  Seeds are not movie stars.  If someone goes to Harvard or starts a billion dollar business, we think that is something.  Nobody thinks it’s something when you start the seed of a tomato plant in a planter in your window in February or March.


But seeds are more impressive than we think.  In the little shell is encoded the information and the material to produce the plant that will produce life.  One seed will produce a million more seeds, as well as fruit that can be eaten and flowers that can be smelled.


What human life produces a hundredfold, a million fold?  That is what seeds do.


The seed God sends into the world is His Word that proclaims His Son, who was incarnate of the Virgin, who died, like a seed sown in the earth, and rose again bringing forth a multitude of seeds, of sons of God who would inherit God’s Kingdom and everlasting life.


He sows this seed in a very low-tech way.  He has it preached.  It comes in other ways as well, but this is the primary way.  And whatever way the Word is sown adds nothing to the Word.  All the power is in the seed.  When it is heard and kept by faith, it grows and produces much fruit for God.  Whoever believes this Word has this life growing in him, in the soil of his body and his heart.


But God doesn’t call us who have the seed of His Word sprouting in us “the good soil” or “the rocky soil” that contains the seed; He calls us the seed.


His will is that this seed that He sowed in your heart grow up to eternal life, and that you become a seed like the one sown in you.  Like Him in producing good fruit; like Him in patient endurance of tribulation because of the Word that is in You; like Him in His death, His resurrection, His glory.


That is what God wants, and that is what will happen, as long as the pure seed is sown, and as long as the ground that receives it is good.


Not that there are people who are by nature “good soil” for the Word.  In your heart by nature are all the characteristics of the bad soil.  Sometimes your heart is hard like the path, like the broad way of the wicked, that hears the Word but ignores and treats it with contempt and tramples it down.  Then the devil comes and snatches it away.  Sometimes your heart is stony soil; you rejoice to hear the forgiveness of your sins through Jesus, but as soon as temptation comes you fall into sin, as though you had never heard God’s Word.  And of course in your heart by nature there are lots of weeds and thorns, worries about this life, the love of this world’s wealth and pleasure, and these will choke the Word of God.


But Jesus doesn’t say that the good soil is those who have no weeds in their heart.  He doesn’t say the good soil is those who are never hardhearted.  He says: As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.


Our hearts are purified by faith in Christ.  When we hear the Word and believe it, God counts us righteous for Jesus’ sake.  New life begins in us.  Christ’s life takes root in us.  God regards this life born of the seed of His Word as the real you.  And it produces new desires and loves in you.


So pull up the weeds, break up the soil of your heart, chase away the birds, the demons, who want to snatch away the seed God has sown in your hearts.  Come to the Holy Supper with your distractions and your idols seeking His grace.  It’s not you making your heart good soil.  You are not the man of dust, you are born of the seed of God’s Word, and He is tending what He has planted.

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

Not Alone. Susan Landerman Funeral Sermon. Dec. 10, 2017 John 12:23-26

February 9, 2018 Leave a comment

sue landerman.PNGIn Memoriam + Susan M. Landerman

Dames Funeral Home, Joliet

St. John 12:23-26 (27-33; Rom. 5:1-11; Job 19:21-27)

Dec. 10, 2017

“Not Alone”


Iesu Iuva


Michele, Joe, Julie,

Sue’s brothers and sisters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,

All her family, friends, loved ones,

And members of her church family at St. Peter:


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


The Word of God for our comfort this afternoon is from St. John’s Gospel: Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Amen, amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me, and where I am, there will My servant be also.  If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.  (John 12:23-26)


Beloved in Christ:


A few years back I used to read from a book called Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer for devotions at meetings of the church council.  Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany who became famous because he was involved in the resistance against Hitler, and right before Germany surrendered the Nazis hung him in the prison where he had been kept.


I vaguely recall that Sue liked what we read from Bonhoeffer.  As a pastor I couldn’t recommend Bonhoeffer to her without qualifications; not everything that he wrote was faithful to God’s Word.  But I thought of how what we did read resonated with her as I read another book of his recently called Spiritual Care, which is composed of lecture notes for a class he taught on pastoral care at an “underground” seminary during the years when the Nazis controlled the protestant church in Germany.  He described how German churches had a tradition of ringing the bells for prayer when a member of the congregation died and wrote: Even in death, the Christian is never alone.


Sue lived her life surrounded by other people.  She invested her life in other people.  Hers was certainly a “life together” with others, not lived in seclusion from the sinful world.


Another word for “life together” is communion, which we sometimes translate with the word “fellowship.”  Fellowship, life together, communion, is so important to the Christian faith that we confess it in the Apostles’ Creed: I believe in the communion of saints.  What the creed means is not just that Christians try to share in one another’s joys and pains in a human way, but that we participate in a shared life together, like members of a body.


We believe that God the Son joined Himself to human beings.  He shared all that was ours; He received our sin, death, and misery as His own, and He died for our sins.

God had communion with us, and the saints all have communion with Him. We eat His body and drink His blood.  As we share in His death, we share a common life together.  This is why the new testament is always exhorting Christians to love one another, and to have one mind, to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).  The apostle isn’t saying to act like we have communion with one another, but to live out the reality that we are joined to one another in Christ.  It’s a reality that has been brought about by Christ, not by us.


The sad reality is, though, that this common life is something we believe.  What we see of the communion of saints is very weak and imperfect.


But with Sue I felt like I did see the communion of saints, at least glimpses of it—in the way she treated me, the way she treated other members of the church, the way she cared for her family.  And she brought it out of us too.  When she was sick, the members of the church were concerned as we would be for ourselves or members of our own families.


Still, the communion of saints is hidden in this world.  The perfect communion that exists between members of Christ’s body is not visible.  We still do leave each other often to bear our sorrows and sins, our grief and death, alone.


But Jesus never leaves His Christians alone.  He is always with us, even when we die.


Life Together, the title of Bonhoeffer’s book, could also be a title for the book of Sue’s life.  She was always “together.”  Not just “together” in the sense that she was hardworking, organized, but “together” with others, always working for other people’s good as though she were working for herself.  She came from a family with a lot of brothers and sisters; she always had grandchildren with her at her house.  In church, after receiving new members’ instruction, she went back again to serve as a sponsor to other new members.  She was the face of St. Peter in places many of us were afraid to go, serving as a tutor to the kids at Evergreen Terrace, and going down to the projects to work in the community garden.  When she did that, she showed Christ’s communion with human beings, His readiness to not leave us alone, but bear our burdens—to have fellowship with us.  To be together with us.


Jesus said: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit.


Death is necessary to the fruit of life together.  But it is more than we are willing to give.  Working to help other people is something good people are willing to do, but that is not quite the same as giving your life (though it may feel that way to people who don’t have Sue’s work ethic.)


Dying for other people is too much for any of us.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would even dare to die, St. Paul said in the reading from Romans.  It was true in his day as it is in ours.  It is a rare person who will dare to die for someone else.


But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).  For while we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly.  Such is the love of the God Sue believed in.  A rare human being will die for a good person, but God showed His love by dying for us while we were still sinners, by dying for the ungodly.


He did this so we would have life together with Him.  He died so we would not be alone.


Sin isolates us.  It separates us and makes us alone—from other people, from God.  It does it in life and finally reaches its conclusion in death.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it well in another one of his writings: He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone.


But God the Son came to live together with us.  He shared our life and our weakness and had fellowship with sinners.  And on the cross He bore the punishment stored up against the sins of the whole world and took it out of the way.


As a result He did not remain alone, but…bore much fruit.  A seed that dies produces others like it.  Jesus died that He might be the firstborn of many brothers (Rom. 8).  He became sin for us, so that whoever believes in Him would be justified, counted righteous by God, and become a son of God and an heir together with Him, and inherit the glory that is His.


Jesus became the one who was truly alone with our sin.  From the cross He cried out that He was forsaken by God.


So Christians are not alone with their sins, not alone when we die, when it appears that we are most alone.  Christ is with us.  And those who mourn are also not alone.  Jesus lives together with those who mourn.  He shares our grief and will replace it with joy.  And because He shares His life with us, all who believe in Him and are baptized into Him live together in Him with the saints who are with Him in heaven.


We have life together with Jesus through His death.  But the Lord had more to say about this.  To have this life together in Him we must also share in His death.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.  If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.


This part is the part we struggle with.  We are justified by faith in Christ, not by our works. Through Jesus alone we have peace with God.  But faith in Christ makes us follow Him and go where He goes.


And where did Jesus go?  To give his life for sinners, enemies, for the ungodly, for us.


Christians also must die with Jesus.  To quote Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  We die with Jesus when we are baptized; and we continue to be put to death with Jesus as we are convicted of sin through the law of God, acknowledging that we have earned nothing by our lives but God’s punishment now and forever.


Then God’s grace raises us up throughout our lives.  He proclaims the good news of the forgiveness of sins to us, out of pure grace, solely for Jesus’ sake, and we are given peace with God as we believe it.  We are raised to a new life lived by faith in Him.


Then we go with Jesus to learn to give our lives for others.  Like Sue.  As she cared for her kids, her brothers and sisters, grandkids, people in her church, people in need.


This is not easy.  It isn’t paradise.  We follow Jesus carrying a cross, into death.  Sickness.  Troubles at work.  Heartache.  We carry the cross with Jesus until we finally die and are placed in the grave with Him.


This happened to Sue when she was baptized into Christ and was given life together with Him.  She was crucified with Christ and raised with Him.  Today her death with Jesus is completed.


She is not alone here either.  He has made her grave holy by His own three days in the tomb.  Her soul He has taken to Himself, but this body will be raised as His was raised. I know that My Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth.  And after my flesh has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God (Job 19:25-26). 


By faith in Jesus we follow Him and serve Him—in dying, in laying down our lives for others.  And for us the sting of death is removed.  We are not alone.  We have life together with Christ, even when our following Him is imperfect.  We have perfect communion with God through Him and with the saints—those still on earth, and those who are victorious.


When Bonhoeffer was led to the scaffold where his life ended, witnesses said that his last words were these: This is the end—for me, the beginning of life.


And so for Sue we rejoice, knowing that her life has just begun.


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

Soli Deo Gloria

All The World is God’s Own Field. Funeral Sermon Jan. 27, 2018. 1 Corinthians 15:20; John 20:1-18

January 28, 2018 Leave a comment

rembrandt jesus resurrection gardener magdalene.PNGIn Memoriam + Harold Dhuse

St. Peter Lutheran Church

1 Corinthians 15:12-26, John 20:1-18

January 27, 2018

“All the World is God’s Own Field”

Iesu Iuva


Roger, Karyl,

Ryan, Alec, Kara,

Darlene, and all of Harold’s family,

His friends,

Members of his church, St. Peter:


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

God’s Word for our comfort this morning comes from the reading from the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians: But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  (1 Cor. 15:20)


In the name of + Jesus.


All the world is God’s own field, Fruit unto His praise to yield;

Wheat and tares together sown,  Unto joy or sorrow grown.

First the blade and then the ear,  Then the full corn shall appear.

Lord of harvest, grant that we  Wholesome grain and pure may be.  (LSB 892 st. 2)


It’s probably pedantic to quibble with Mr. Harvey about the day on which God made the first farmer, but I think it’s right to say it was earlier than the 8th day.  The very first man, Adam, was a farmer.

…Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature…The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  (Gen. 2:7)


At the very least he was a caretaker of the garden of Eden.  And the second Adam, through whom the human race was reborn, was also a caretaker of a garden, a farmer.


[Mary] turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you seeking?”  Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  (John 20:14-15)


Jesus was not the caretaker of the garden where his tomb was.  But He was raising a harvest, and still is.  He is the planter and the tender of His crop.  But the Bible also refers to Him as part of the harvest:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. (1 Cor. 15:20-21)  He is the firstfruits of the harvest God is raising.


God the Father is raising a harvest—raising the dead, raising our bodies to be like Christ’s glorious body.  Jesus is the firstfruits of this harvest.


Harold, like most farmers, was not, I don’t think, very interested in poetic talk, symbolism, but in realities.  This probably had something to do with farming; you either have a crop at the end of the year or you don’t. And you will not have a crop if you don’t work.


God, while He appears to appreciate poetry and beauty for its own sake, is also interested in realities.  When He said, “You will surely die,” this was not a metaphor.  When He proclaims the resurrection of the dead, He doesn’t mean this in a spiritual sense, but a literal, physical resurrection of the body.


This is offensive to human reason and wisdom, just like the account of the creation of the world and of human beings is offensive, just like the resurrection of Jesus in flesh and bone is offensive.


Paul doesn’t attempt to make this easier for our reason; the Corinthians struggled with the idea of the resurrection of the body.  They were Greeks, and Greek philosophy taught that the body is a prison for the soul, which they said was a spark of the divine mind or reason.  When a person died, the soul was set free from the body to reunite with God.


That is what people believe today, more or less.  Paul says, No.  Human souls are not part of God.  They are created by God.  And both human souls and bodies are alienated from God by sin.  When body and soul separate in death, the soul does not automatically reunite with God.  The souls of righteous people go to the Lord to rest; the souls of the wicked to the place of torment, apart from Him. And both wait for the last day, for the resurrection when their souls and their risen bodies will be reunited and hear the final judgment pronounced by Jesus.  Then the righteous will enter the joy of the Lord in a new heavens and a new earth; the wicked will be cast into the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels.


We don’t simply return to God when we die, as if there were no judgment.  God will judge between the righteous and the wicked.  But God is not raising up a crop for eternal death.  The crop He is raising is a harvest of sons of God who are like Jesus.


Adam and Eve did not immediately die when they sinned.  They continued to live, but now in an earth that was cursed.  Adam’s work as a farmer was made painful.  But Adam and Eve had hope, because before they had heard God’s curse, they heard His promise, His comfort, about the coming seed of a woman, who would take the curse away.


Harold experienced what God said to Adam.  He lived by “the sweat of his brow.”  He got up in the morning at 4 am and worked till dinner.  Then often after dinner.  He knew what it was to work hard and see your best efforts result in thorns and thistles.  But he worked anyway.


Then he worked at his church too—countless hours he gave to this place, and these people.  He probably didn’t think about this consciously, but his hard work was for the good of others, who came to this church and heard God’s Word.  That is what God does.  He works, and his work benefits others.  And Harold did this willingly.  He didn’t grumble about it.


He was a farmer, and he understood that no matter how great your ideas may be, nothing will be done without labor.  And if you don’t labor your kids don’t eat.  If you don’t labor in the church, people suffer too.


But there are things our labor can’t do.  Our labor, if God blesses it, can raise a crop from the ground to nourish this temporal life.


But it can’t bring the dead back.  It can’t take away sins.


But God the Father is raising a harvest—raising the dead, raising our bodies to be like Christ’s glorious body.  Jesus is the firstfruits of this harvest.


This is work that God alone does.  Only He can bring the dead back, raise them to life in body and soul


When the church in Corinth doubted the third article of the creed “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” Paul reminded them of the 2nd article: “The third day He rose again from the dead.”  Jesus is a man just like us.  He truly died, and He rose again.  To not believe in the resurrection of Christians is to not believe in the resurrection of Jesus.  It’s to overturn the whole Christian faith, which rests on Jesus’ resurrection.  If we don’t rise from the dead, Jesus didn’t rise either, because He was one of us.


Jesus does the work of raising the harvest of God.  He raises up human beings out of death into eternal life; out of our fallen, broken, corrupt image into the image of God the Father, into His own image.  He raises up sons of Adam to be sons of God.


He did this by the hard labor of becoming truly man and suffering for our sins against God, dying on the cross.  He shared our curse, our death.  Then on the 3rd day He rose again from the dead.


Paul says that Jesus is the firstfruits of the dead.  The firstfruits was the offering made to God of the first portion of the harvest.  He stands before the Father for us as a pledge to us of our resurrection.  He is the first human to emerge from death and stand before His throne as a righteous man with God’s approval.


The person who believes in Jesus, that God raised Him from the dead, that He alone has freed us from our sins and death, is “in Christ” as Paul says, and has a share in the resurrection of the righteous to eternal life.


But this is another thing that no amount of work can accomplish—for us to believe in Jesus.  Everything in us is against faith in God’s Word.  We are not good soil which God’s seed can grow, apart from a miracle.


He must also work in us so that we believe in Christ and not in our own work.  It is a work of God when a person believes the Creed we say all the time—a work that only God can do, just like resurrection, Creation, the forgiveness of sins.


Yet God wants to do this work in us.  So He sows His seed that grows up to eternal life.  He has His Word preached, like a farmer in the old days casting his seed onto the fields he has plowed.  The same Word that created the world, that proclaims pardon and forgiveness from Him, that will one day cause the dead to come out of their tombs.  His Word miraculously creates faith in us.  It makes us believe that we are actually sinners against God and that we cannot free ourselves; and it makes us believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who was made man in the womb of the virgin, who truly suffered and died for our sins, and was raised on the third day to be our righteousness before God.  His Word is like a kernel of corn that contains within it the plant that will later appear and bear many ears of corn with many kernels.  The kernel of corn contains the power to bring forth the full grown cornstalk; God’s Word contains within it the new man in the image of Jesus who will rise from the dead on the last day.


This hard work is not our work but God’s.  And he did it for Harold and in Harold.  On March 9th, 1924, God joined His life-giving Word to ordinary water, let it be poured out on Harold, and Harold became Christ’s.  Jesus planted the seed of His Word in Harold’s heart.  He nourished this divine seed so that it grew up and bore fruit, Sunday after Sunday, like a gardener watering a seed.  No one may have seen it growing except God and we will not see it full grown until the last day.  But God who began this great work and saw it through to the end of Harold’s life will surely bring it to completion before our eyes.


It’s interesting how Harold listed among the works of his life the time he spent caring for the cemetery, tracking down the records of names that had been lost.  A lot of people might wonder why this was worth the effort.  The city apparently doesn’t consider it high on its list of priorities, because nearly every springtime that cemetery is underwater.  This was not probably what anyone will remember Harold for.  People stopped being buried in our cemetery sometime in the 1950’s or 60’s.  Fewer and fewer remember the names on the gravestones there.


Harold was the caretaker of that cemetery.  I don’t know how much he thought about what it meant for him to do that.  Harold was focused on doing the work that needed to be done, not writing poems and making sermons.


Yet Harold was like Jesus, or like Adam.  He was the gardener there, the caretaker.  Mary mistook Jesus for the caretaker.  But He is a gardener and a caretaker.  He gardens and cares for human beings and raises up from us a harvest for eternal life.  In caring for that cemetery, Harold was doing Christ’s work—remembering and honoring the saints who have died, whose bodies will be raised immortal.  Even when the world has forgotten Christians who have departed, Jesus remembers each one.  He tends and cares for the departed saints because they are His crop, His harvest. Their bodies, like seeds that have been planted, after they have decayed, will rise up imperishable, incorruptible, full of the glory of God.


Nobody may remember the folks buried at that cemetery for very much longer.  But Jesus remembers them.  He has made their death holy.  He is the firstfruits, but coming soon after is the harvest to eternal life.  Then that cemetery that has been mostly forgotten will be the garden of the Lord, as Is. 61 says, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.  From that almost-forgotten graveyard the sons of God will emerge, and He will gather them into His house.


Harold is part of that planting of the Lord.  He will join them when death is swallowed up in victory, when the earth gives birth to its dead at the return of the Lord.  And the Lord Jesus, whom Mary in her grief mistook for the gardener, will watch over and tend this body, because it is holy.  He has set it apart for Himself to share in His glory.


The Gospel reading said that when Mary Magdalene was at the tomb, she kept looking in after Peter and John left.  She saw two angels, and yet was so grief-stricken she didn’t know that she was seeing angels.  Then she turned around and saw Jesus, and thought He was just the gardener.  “Why are you weeping?  Whom are you seeking?”  Mary didn’t realize that what she wanted to see but could not see had happened.  Her greatest grief had been turned to joy and she didn’t know it.  Jesus had risen from the dead, but all she saw was a tomb with grave clothes, and the caretaker intruding on her grief.


It was always the Lord who was caring for you, taking care of you, through your dad, through your mother, through the food you ate, the air you breathed, through the teachers who taught you, the pastors who told you your sins were forgiven.  Every good gift is from the Father of lights, even though He usually gives to us through intermediaries.  We don’t see Him, but He cares for us, whether we believe Him or not.


Harold has gone to rest.  He’s been taken away from calamity.  We can’t begrudge him rest.  And as much as he enjoyed working, I am certain that he is not sorry to enter into His Savior’s rest.


Harold rests, but your caretaker is still with you, the one who called you by name when you were baptized.  Mary recognized Him when He called her name.  He also calls you by name; He knows you by name, as He knows the names of each one of those who sleep in Christ, awaiting the resurrection.  We can trust Him to take care of us, awake or asleep, in life or in death, in darkness and in light.  We can trust Him not to fail us.  He is the firstfruits, and we who are joined to Him in baptism will follow Him through death into His resurrection.


Even so, Lord, quickly come  To Thy final harvest home;

Gather Thou Thy people in,  Free from sorrow, free from sin,

There, forever purified, In Thy garner to abide:

Come with all Thine angels, come;  Raise the glorious harvest home.


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


Soli Deo Gloria

To You A Savior Has Been Born. Christmas Midnight 2017

December 24, 2017 Leave a comment

baby_jesus_touches_lamb_The Nativity of our Lord—Christmas Midnight

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:1-14

December 24, 2017

To You The Savior and Lord Is Born




It had been a long time since there had been any kings in David’s house.


King David lived a thousand years before Joseph.  Joseph didn’t even have any family left in the ancestral hometown of Bethlehem.  When he went to be registered, he had to stay at an inn, like a tourist.  And there wasn’t even room in the inn for him and his pregnant, not-yet-wife Mary.


So when Joseph’s son—or to be precise, when his step-son—was born in a cave, or a stable, a place probably filled with the smell of animals, in which there was the manger where Jesus slept His first night on earth, no one imagined that this baby was a king.


The circumstances of Jesus’ birth didn’t arouse confidence that this child was a king or a Savior.  Do you think Mary and Joseph were upset when she had to give birth to her firstborn son among goats or sheep or cows or donkeys, where they not only “were feeding” but also relieving themselves, neighing and grunting?  Did Mary cry to have to go into labor here for the first time?


Even if a firstborn son was just a normal child, you would be sorry if he came into the world among animals instead of people.  But a Savior and a King being born like this?  And not just any king, but the promised One of God, who is not merely anointed a King and Savior but is Himself “the Lord”, as the angel said?  Who would kneel before a king whose life begins like this?  How could a king like this save others?  How will he rule others?  A child without even a hotel roof over his head, pushed out to be born with animals.  He looks to us like He needs to be saved, not like He will save us.  He looks like the kind of child we collect coats and mittens for in the winter.  What kind of king will He be, who is helpless, meek, with no place to lay His head even when He comes into the world?


The kind of King who is crowned with thorns, whom the crowds acclaim by shouting “Crucify!”


That has always been the objection to Jesus the Christ, the stumbling block to the world.  There have always been those who mocked Jesus openly as weak and foolish.  There have also been those who dishonor Him more quietly, who claim Him as Lord, and yet practically do not believe Jesus will or can do much.


But Christians are also offended at Jesus’ apparent weakness.  His own disciples simply cannot believe that if He is the Christ and the Son of God that He will be mocked and killed by those who hate Him.  When it happens they abandon Him.


And Jesus’ disciples today, the baptized, even those who are baptized and truly believe that He is their King, their Savior, their Lord—still stumble at how Jesus’ Kingdom appears to our eyes weak or non-existent.  We stumble at the apparent weakness of the things He uses to extend the borders of His Kingdom.  He does not conquer with swords or guns, with powerful speech, with skillful manipulation of emotions or appealing to what the world thinks it needs.  His Kingdom advances through the foolishness of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21).  He comes and conquers through preaching, robs the devil of men’s souls with humble water joined to His Word, and preserves what He has taken with bread and wine joined with His Word.  That is the Lord Jesus’ way; those means are the means He chose to have His reign spread and to save souls.


It has been a long time since the days of the apostles, when they went out with only those things of the Lord, and faith in Christ spread across the entire Roman world until the pagan emperor’s knee bowed at the name of Jesus.


It has been a long time, 500 years, since the Reformation, when Martin Luther did nothing else that proclaim the good news of a Savior born to us, and the kingdom of the antichrist was torn open.  It was a long time ago.  Times have changed.  I wish you could have heard people say this to you as many times as all sorts of different people have said it to me.


The foolishness of preaching Christ might have been enough in Paul’s time (although Paul says it was regarded as foolishness by people then).  It might have been enough in Luther’s time (although Luther complained that people did not listen to the Word in his day either.)  But today everything is different.  Our kids need more than just the preaching of Jesus, the baptism of Jesus, the body and blood of Jesus; just Jesus isn’t enough to save my kids and make them holy, so that they love God and listen to His Word.  And the empty pews, and the vacant Sunday School seems to say, “Amen.”


I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people; for to you has been born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  So preached the angel on the first Christmas Eve.  But today almost every mouth says, “Maybe that good news is enough to save your soul by itself, but it isn’t enough to save our churches.”  The baby in the manger is weak, despised—in Bethlehem, in this stable or cave here, in the manger in which He lies today—the pulpit, the altar.  Who will worship Him and believe He is a Savior and a King when He lies in the manger of preaching and sacraments, surrounded by the dishonorable aroma of weak and sinful people and the braying of boring preachers instead of the ornaments by which we recognize kings and winners?  Who will worship a king who insists on being found in a stable?


According to the Gospel we heard tonight, the army of heaven will.  The angels will worship the Lord in a stable, and a little number of people on whom God’s favor rests.  They will come like the shepherds to the manger in which Christ lies among His people who believe in Him.  They will not be turned away by the fact that He lies in “mean estate where ox and ass are feeding,” by the small number who come to see Him, while most of Bethlehem sleeps by their fires in the inn or their homes.  They will come to the Church, to the manger in which the Lord, the promised King, the Savior, lies.


How sad it is on this Christmas Eve to think how many of us—not just the world outside—let ourselves be turned away from the infant Lord who wants to be found among us!  Many of us do not come to the place where He is found.  We stay away from His Church and do not come to see the Lord who has been born for us.


And others of us do come.  But we ourselves doubt that what is here in church is the Lord the angels worship.  The stable is not full. The handful here are lowly shepherds. He must not be much of a King.  Really He needs a Savior, we say, if He wants His Kingdom to grow in our day.  He needs salvation from church consultants and extra-talented pastors and church workers.


He does not need their help, beloved.  The baby we heard about, wrapped in swaddling clothes, comforted by His mother’s lullabies, causes the armies of angels to kneel and the demons to beg.  The angels see Jesus among the smelly animals and they suddenly erupt in praise, in joy.  And this Lord is with us.  He had become flesh, and in humility He lies in the manger of the words preached here, the straw of this bread that we eat, so that we may take Him as our own.


The world does not flock to His manger because it is a world in great darkness.  It is a world in which people do not have good will toward God.  Unless His favor rests on us we can’t see His light.


But listen to the angel speak to you: Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  For to you has been born this day in the city of David a Savior, Christ the Lord.


To you has the Savior been born.  He has not been born for us to save Him; He has been born to save us.  To save us, who decline to come where He is adore Him.  To save us, who do come, but doubt the power, wisdom, and majesty of this baby who comes to us at this altar.


To you this Savior was born.  For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder.  While He lies in the manger, all things in the world exist through Him, hold together in Him, exist for Him.  This baby who needs to be swaddled by His mother speaks and the sea is still and the howling storm is quiet.  Creation obeys Him as it did at the beginning.


He reigns in His Church.  The burden of the government of the Kingdom of God is on His shoulder.  He dispenses justice.  He bears on His shoulder the burden of punishing the guilty and justifying the righteous.  The burden of His government is the cross laid on His shoulder.  You were born in deep darkness, not knowing the Lord who made you.   But He justifies you of this crime; He pronounces you righteousness.  To do this He joins you in wretchedness and helplessness; He is born among the animals and later carries the heavy beam of God’s curse away from the city called by God’s name.  He is pierced and affixed to it and from it He bestows righteousness.  He reigns in our midst by proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to us who are unable to free ourselves from it.  He gives His blood to us to drink and His flesh to be our food; He gives Himself to be our life.


To you is born a Savior who is not only King, but Lord—I AM, the God of Israel.


It is not that He is weak.  He is mighty beyond our comprehension.  If He showed this we would run away.  He comes as a baby with no majesty so that sinners will not be afraid.  So that no one who is poor, or born in low estate, or made low through whatever sin, will think he is too lowly to come to this Lord.


His almighty power is hidden but is for us.  In His weak appearance, He takes on what we are far too weak to even struggle against—the power of sin and death.  If you have struggled against sin and lost, that is why the Lord of the world is swaddled and lying in the manger.  Born without sin, He becomes like us who sin and death wraps up.  And He will go on to bring sin and death to an end by His death on the cross.  The omnipotent power of the eternal Word is hidden under the appearance of weakness like ours so that He might keep the promise of God to Eve at the beginning of the world and crush the head of the serpent.


The days of the apostles was long ago.  So was the reformation.  But Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.  The mighty Lord who shared the weakness of our infancy is the same Lord who comes in the foolishness of human preaching and saves you individually and His whole Church.  His mighty word brings His holy birth and victory over sin to you and makes it your own.  It releases you from the devil’s power by forgiving your sins.  Through Him who is preached we, His Church, bruise the serpent’s head.  We conquer with Him; we will reign with Him.  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.


And through the humility of the Lord Jesus, who put Himself lower than us, we are coaxed to come near to the Almighty, to fear not, and receive the free gift of this child who has been born to us.  Our Lord and God, our Savior, and our own flesh and blood.


Hither come, ye poor and wretched,

Know His will/ Is to fill

Every hand outstretched.

Here are riches without measure;

Here forget/ all regret

Fill your hearts with treasure.  WH 20, st. 11

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


Soli Deo Gloria


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