Archive for the ‘Epiphany’ Category

Metamorphosis. The Transfiguration of our Lord 2019

February 10, 2019 Comments off

monarch.PNGThe Transfiguration of our Lord

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 17:1-9

February 10, 2019


Iesu iuva!


In second grade, Mrs. Higginbotham had a fish tank set up for us to watch a biological process that our science book called “metamorphosis.”


At the beginning of the year there was a striped caterpillar munching on milkweed or leaves.  But by this time in the year, February, we no longer saw the caterpillar.  Hanging from the fish tank’s cover was a metallic green-blue pod, almost like liquid turquoise—very beautiful.  Caterpillars that grow up to be moths usually build ugly, hairy cocoons, but this kind of caterpillar spun or wrapped itself up in a liquid sapphire coffin that Mrs. Higginbotham called a “chrysalis.”


Then through the winter and into the spring nothing happened.  The chrysalis just hung there in the upper corner of the fish tank.  But near the end of the school year, when spring had come and been here awhile, the appearance of the chrysalis began to change.  It started to become transparent.  The membrane became thinner and thinner.  You started to be able to see through it, and you could see that inside was something quite different from what had gone in.


I don’t remember the day the new creature came out, but I remember seeing it when it was ready and the whole class came outside to let it go on a day in May.  I remember watching it stretch its orange wings in the sun on a plant growing through a chain link fence outside the school.  It was a beautiful thing, a small wonder that God does many times every year.  He causes little creeping caterpillars to transform into bright orange flying things.  He causes some of His creatures to change their form, to transform from one thing into something else.




Today is the Transfiguration of our Lord.  Today we remember how the three disciples saw Jesus change His form, though it was not in exactly the same way.  The caterpillar became a butterfly and stopped being a caterpillar.  But Jesus did not change from man into God at His transfiguration.  Instead at His transfiguration one nature of Jesus appeared that was normally hidden—His divine nature appeared.  It was less like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly and more like the sun appearing after it is hidden by a cloud.


But when it came out the disciples wanted it to remain.  Peter said, Lord, it is good that we are here….I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.  (Matt. 17: 4) 


God rebuked Peter for saying that, but I know exactly, exactly how Peter felt, and I think you do too.  Don’t you want to see this world, or at least your world, or maybe yourself—transformed?


We have all experienced the wonder that my second grade class felt when the butterfly came out of the chrysalis and when my teacher took it outside and let it out into the world.  We were all second-graders once.


Now that we are older—even a few years older—we often can’t see the wonders God does around us because they are overshadowed by the pain of life in this world.  We would like to see the world transform so that the glory of God would not be covered by the sweat, the dirt, the thorns, the thistles.  Some people have been in this world too long to hope for so much, but even they reach out for little bits of something like glory that they think are still attainable, like being on time or having your bills paid or being in a church that is growing.  Age and bitter experience teaches you to accept the world as it is and not bash your head against a wall trying to have more.  But is there anyone here who can’t relate with Peter, who if they saw Jesus suddenly transfigured, wouldn’t want to stay there?


Yet God wasn’t pleased with this plan of Peter’s.  He isn’t pleased with any of our plans to carve out a piece of glory and lock it away.  Not because He doesn’t want us to have His glory, but because He wants us to have it all.  But He wants us to receive it as His gift, not to try to take it on our own terms.  The attempt to steal God’s glory is really a very old plan, and not one we invented.  It came to us from the serpent—the lie that we could have God’s glory for ourselves if we turned away from His Word.


And once we were infected by this lie and came under God’s curse, were exiled from His glory, condemned to work and sweat and experience futility and then to die, then old lie we bought tells us: you can find your way back.  You can see this in our world.  People don’t go to church, we all are aware of that.  Yet every day they come out with new technology and new medicines—and many of them are truly impressive.  They are supposed to make our lives better—and in some ways they do!  And yet people are even more unhappy today than they were when I was a child and we barely had computers, we had no internet access.  We had only just gotten cable.  We keep telling ourselves there is a way back to the garden of Eden—even if lots of Americans no longer believe in a literal garden of Eden.  They are looking to be transfigured, or for the world to be transfigured.


And we go to church, but we are looking for the same thing, most of the time or all of the time.  We in church think like Peter, James, and John: If Jesus would just show the glory we know He has to everybody, He would win over the whole world, and everything would be happy ever after.


But this is not the Father’s plan for the glory we see in Jesus.  So He says to Peter (and to us): This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.  Listen to Him.”  (Matthew 17: 5)  Jesus is the only Son of the Father.  He is also “the Son of Man”—that’s what He calls Himself.  He is the son of Adam.  He is one of us whose first ancestor was made by God from clay and had breath breathed into him.  He is one of us whose first ancestor turned away from God and exiled us from His glory.  But Jesus pleases the Father.  He knows the Father’s will.  He knows the way to His glory.  He is the only one who can take you there.  He is the only one who can transfigure us caterpillars into monarchs.  Listen to Him.







What Jesus told Peter and the other disciples six days previous was this: …that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Mt. 16:21)  He cannot stay up on the mountain and shine like the sun and have everyone marvel at Him.  He must go down from the mountain to Jerusalem where enemies are waiting for Him, where not just death but crucifixion await Him.


Jesus must go there, with His glory hidden.  What hides His glory is that He is like us. Jesus was indistinguishable from one of us.  Isaiah said of Him: He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.  (Is. 53: 2)  If Jesus sat next to you in the pew in the days of His earthly life, you wouldn’t know who He was.  He would just be some guy.  And when He went to the cross, He would be some guy you would move away from.


He hid His glory and came down to where we are.  All the way down.  Down farther than we want to admit we are.  How far?  Look at the cross where they pierced His hands, His feet, where, suffering, He cried I thirst.  The chief priests and scribes He said would kill him laughed about Him as He suffered.  Do you have pain?  Does it make you groan, or cry, or writhe, and when you do the heavens don’t respond to your tears?  Jesus, the beloved Son of God, came exactly where you are. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people, Jesus says through David in Psalm 22.  He joined you there and went further down: He was rejected by God.  He becomes lowly and loathsome to God because that is what we are through sin.  That is how He transfigures us, and through us, the world.


If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  (Matthew 16: 24-25)  That is what Jesus told Peter 6 days before His transfiguration.  We cannot enshrine Jesus in a tabernacle and capture His glory, or a part of it, the way you capture a tiger in a zoo.  That is not the way we enter into paradise.


The way is Jesus, who puts aside His glory, and goes down the mountain to be crucified for us.


And He goes knowing that neither Peter nor we have it in us to go with Him to the cross.  So He goes alone, drops like a stone to the bottom of death, and rises again.  And all that He accomplished He puts on you and in you in Baptism.  All your life in this valley of tears he leads you, like a caterpillar to its chrysalis, to baptism, to be crucified with Him and resurrected with Him until the day when He comes to let you out into a new world.




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


Soli Deo Gloria

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 2019–Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. No One Ever Hated His Own Flesh

February 5, 2019 Leave a comment

The Second Sunday After Epiphany—Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 2:1-11 (Eph. 5: 22-33)

January 20, 2019

No One Ever Hated His Own Flesh


Iesu Iuva


In the Name of Jesus.


The lifestyle we have in America is not free.  It comes with a price tag.  We pay for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as we understand those words today.


We are even paying this price in the church.  Christians are not immune.  We do not have clean hands.  Listen.  There are almost no small children making noise in church this morning.


Everyone who has had children knows that children are expensive.  They cost money and they cost so much time.  And you have to teach them everything.  You have to pay to educate them and you also have to teach them yourself.


Children get in the way of the American lifestyle; they get in the way of young men and women sampling all that the world has to offer; they get in the way of school and careers.  They get in the way of old people too—they cost money and time and energy for grandparents now that 40 percent of them are born out of wedlock and grandma becomes full time babysitter.


We have taught our kids by our words and our actions that children are undesirable.  Having too many children is looked on as a form of irresponsibility or craziness or both.  Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them says Psalm 128.  Blessed is the man whom God gives many children.


But we know better than Psalm 128, and science has given us the ability to limit the fruit of the womb with pills and devices.  And now we don’t see children in church, because they have been discouraged.  When young people do have children, they generally don’t bring them to church, because they have long since learned that it is more important to do what makes you happy than to have God.



But since 1973, it has not just been a matter of people choosing to not have children or to put them off in favor of other things they considered more important.  Americans have been quietly allowing the killing of their children for 45 years now.  Some 61 million babies have been killed since then, which would be something like 1/3 of the babies conceived.  Imagine that.  We sacrifice 1 out of every three children we conceive in America.


And why do we do it?  Because we do not believe that God knows how to give us happiness.  If we have too many children we will not be happy.  We will be poorer and have less time to do what we consider meaningful; our lives will be consumed with the difficulty of feeding too many mouths.  If we have children at the wrong time we will be unhappy, we think.  And this may be true.  It is difficult to raise children if you are unmarried, for instance.  But we wouldn’t be dealing with this problem if we had not already turned away from God’s Word and sought to find happiness or true love or sexual pleasure apart from marriage.


We pay a price to be free from God and His Word and to seek happiness according to our own reason and our lusts, and the price is the loss of our children and even the sacrifice of our children and grandchildren.


It is not surprising that people don’t want to look at this because it is awful to contemplate that this is what we have done and are still doing in the modern world.  But none of us has clean hands.  We may not have had an abortion, we may not have supported it.  But we have all participated in the system that created legal abortion.  We have all loved ourselves more than our neighbor and tried to find our own happiness at the expense of loving and giving to the other human beings, created in the image of God, we find around us.  We consider them a burden, an impediment to our happiness.


Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding at Cana in Galilee.  At this wedding they ran out of wine—truly an embarrassment at a wedding party, to not have enough food and drink to put before your guests.  When Jesus’ mother brought this to the attention of our Lord, He said, “Woman, what does this have to do with Me?  My hour has not yet come.”  Not my problem, our Lord appears to be saying.  The hour has not yet come for me to be married and provide wine for the wedding feast.


Yet of course Jesus provides the wine, copious amounts of wine, and the master of the feast calls it “the best wine.”  He provides it by speaking His Word and transforming mere water into wine.  In so doing Jesus manifested His glory, which means that He showed that He is God.


How foolish we are to think that God is not able to give us pleasure, happiness—that God doesn’t understand our desire to be happy and our thirst for pleasure.  God invented wine.  He knows how wine makes you feel.  God invented marriage.  He invented sex.  He gave us the pleasure of sex, the pleasure of a man in a woman and a woman in a man.  How foolish we are to think that we know better than God the way to happiness and pleasure.


Taking God’s gifts apart from the way He gives it may give pleasure temporarily, but it always leads to death.  Wine is good, but abused, it destroys homes, brings shame, kills people.  Sex is good, but taken apart from marriage and children when God wills it destroys families, brings shame, and kills people.


But the good God knows not only how to give pleasure and happiness, and how we ought to live, He also knows how we are trapped.  How we constantly doubt Him and lust after what He has not given us, and how in our paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace we have not known, as it says in Romans 3 (16-17).


So He came to help us.  He came not only to tell us the right way to go—which would not help us, because He had already done that long ago in the ten commandments.  He came to unite Himself to us the way a husband is united to His wife.


Paul said in the Epistle: No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the Church, because we are members of His body.  Therefore a man shall leave His Father and mother and hold fast to His wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.


Christ became “one flesh” with His Church.  God the Son left His Father and mother and was united to His bride, the Church.  He left His Father in that He laid aside the form of God and came in the appearance of a mortal man and a sinner, so that no one could see His glory.  And He joined Himself to His bride, the church, taking her to be one flesh with Him.  That meant He took to Himself her sin that she could not take away.  And He took it away, giving Himself for her on the cross.  In return He gave His bride Holy Baptism, in which He washed her and made her beautiful, without fault.  And He nourishes and cherishes the Church because each of her members is a member of His body, one flesh with Him.


That’s why Jesus told His mother: My hour has not yet come.  He was saying, it’s not yet time for me to provide wine for my wedding feast.  Because when that hour came it would be the hour when He was joined to His wife in her sin and separation from God, in her lostness, nailed to the cross under a sky that was dark as night.


But the hour came.  We remember it every Sunday, how the night before He gave Himself for us He took the bread and the cup and said, “This is my body, given for you; this is my blood, shed for you.”  He transforms the bread and wine into His body and blood that were given to atone for our sins and release us from death.  He feeds us with the food of life, His body, and the wine of eternal joy, His blood.

We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bone.  This is why we embrace life, even when it comes with difficulty and suffering, because we know that joy and life do not come from the abundance of our possessions.  Joy and life do not come where there is no suffering and no cross.  Joy and life come from our bridegroom, the Son of God, who made Himself one flesh with us.  Joy and life come with His cross.


He sets us free from the price we have been paying for our so-called “freedom”.  He does not let you carry your sins—be they abortion, fornication, greed and selfishness.  He makes you a member of His own body and joins you to His own flesh and blood and He dies for your sins.  So that you may be His bride, that you may stand before Him in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.  This is what we remember and proclaim as we eat His body and drink His blood.




Soli Deo Gloria

Epiphany 4 2019 Certain Death to Certain Life

February 3, 2019 1 comment

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 8:23-27

February 3, 2019

Certain Death to Certain Life


Iesu Iuva


In the Name of Jesus.


Living in Chicago, most of us don’t know anything about the sea.  If we hear seagulls they are seagulls from the barges that have migrated to parking lots outside Target.  We have never experienced storms on the sea in small boat.


But we have experienced the prairie version of the storm on the Sea of Galilee—tornados.  Everyone who was alive in 1990 and lived around here has a memory of the tornado that hit Plainfield at the end of August that year.  It was an F-5 tornado, the most intense kind, which means that the winds were blowing somewhere between 261 and 318 miles per hour.  A lady from the church I used to visit had a son who was driving near St. Mary Immaculate Church in Plainfield, which was destroyed in that storm.  His car was picked up in the air and tossed by the tornado.  The injuries he sustained were with him for the rest of his life.


Another member of St. Peter who lives near downtown Plainfield had the back half of her house torn off by the wind.  Over 300 people were injured in that tornado almost thirty years ago.  Twenty-nine people were killed.  We don’t have experience with storms on the sea, like the disciples did.  But we have experienced storms.


Being in a storm like that, with the waves about to cover their little boat, it is not too surprising that the disciples’ prayer to Jesus sounded like it did.  Lord!  Save!  We perish!  3 short words in New Testament Greek.  But not words brimming with confidence or faith.  Words that sound desperate and doubtful.


We are about to die.  You are sleeping.  You just finished cleansing the leper, healing the centurion’s slave.  You seem to have forgotten us.  Maybe your power has run out?  Because here You are, sleeping in this storm, when it means certain death—for us and for You.


We can understand the fear of the disciples not only because we have seen storms that can kill, but because like them we are also in a little boat with Jesus on a wild sea.  The little boat is the Holy Christian Church, and it is tossed around on the waves of this world.  And it seems doomed, this little boat we are in.


Is that overdramatic?  Not to hear you tell it.  Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t say something expressing worry over the future of St. Peter Church and, to some extent, the whole Christian Church.  We hear stories about the Lutheran Church growing in distant places.  But in our land we see few churches growing, and almost all the ones that do are those that have departed from the Word of God.  They say that Baptism is only water, the Lord’s Supper only bread; they rely on popular music and casual attitude to do what God’s Word seems not to be doing on its own—making Christians, saving people.  Meanwhile, the little boat in which we sit, the church in which we rely solely on Christ crucified, working through His Gospel and Sacraments—looks like it will be swamped by the tossing waves, broken by the raging wind.  We see many who have abandoned Christianity or the Divine Service as society has gone from encouraging Christianity to looking at it with contempt.  We see mounting hostility toward Christianity and wonder whether in our lifetimes the waves of open persecution will break over this boat at the very time in which we are weakest.


Sometimes we get up in arms as we see the Church’s influence in our country slipping away.  But more often we find ourselves in the place of the disciples. We are at our wits end.  We are tired.  We have done all we know how to do to help this boat called the church not sink, and nothing is working.  It looks like certain death, and we call out to Jesus—not with firm confidence, but with dismay, wondering why He is sleeping.


In fact, some may have even stopped calling to Him.  They have given up hope that Jesus will do anything to help them.


At this point, Jesus woke up, looked at His disciples in the middle of the raging waves swamping the boat, and said, Why are you fearful, little-in-faiths?  You would imagine Jesus would have to yell this over the crashing waves and the howling wind.  Why are you fearful, small-in-faiths?  It’s almost funny to imagine it, except for what comes next.  Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and a great calm came to pass.  In an instant, certain death was changed into a great calm on the sea.


Jesus rebuked their lack of faith before He rebuked the wind and the sea because their little faith, and our little faith, is a bigger problem than the winds that threw their boat around, or the tornado that tore off the back of the house in Plainfield.  Or the church leaking members.  What is a bigger danger than all these things?  Our little faith in Jesus.  That we doubt whether Jesus is able to do anything to help us, or that we doubt whether He will help us.  It is a bigger danger than an F-5 tornado.  The tornado can only crush your house or take your life.  But the absence of faith in Jesus means the loss of salvation and the loss of the only one who is strong enough to help us.


He speaks His Word to help us who are small in faith, and He does it now in a much greater way than He did for the disciples then.  Then His Word only turned certain death into a great calm.


Now His Word that He speaks to us when we come trembling to Him turns certain death into certain life.


The Word Jesus speaks to us does not always make tornadoes stop in their tracks or replace the turmoil and danger of this world with a great calm.


The Word He speaks to us ends the power of tornadoes and storms and even the power of the devil, the world, and the flesh that seek to destroy the Church.


The Word He speaks takes away the power of death to those who receive it in faith, who believe it.


The Word He speaks takes away the guilt of sin and makes a great calm in the conscience of those who believe it.


The Word He speaks makes those who believe it rulers over the whole world.  If you believe what Jesus says to You, everything in the world becomes your servant.  Pain, weakness, your stumbles and falls, even death—they all serve you.  They don’t rule you.  They kneel before you and work for you.


What is this word He speaks to you?  It is the good news.  He proclaims to you that He has become what you are, that God has become a human being, joined Himself to you, reconciled you to Himself, and taken your sin upon Himself.


The reason God came in the flesh was to turn certain death into certain life.  We are caught in a storm, in certain death.  We are born in sin.  All our lives sin storms within us.  Then our conscience is overwhelmed with the waves of God’s wrath pouring in from His Law, revealing to us that we have fallen short of what He demands of us.  We have not trusted Him above all things, but turned aside to what our own hands could build.  We have not believed what He tells us, but trusted what we could see with our eyes and touch with our hands.


This is certain death.  Certain damnation.


But Jesus entered into our human nature and He took on the form of us who were in bondage to death.  That’s why He got tired and fell asleep, just like we do.  Later, He would die and be buried, like we are, even though He is the Creator of human beings, the Maker and the giver of life.


He entered into our flesh and blood, which is doomed to die.  And He turned certain death into certain life.


That is what lies ahead in the church year.  The storm of our sin descending on Him in His passion.  Then, in Easter, He arises and comes into the locked room where they are overcome by the waves of guilt, sin, and death; and He says, Peace be with you.


When certain death is around us, we should not despair.  We should rejoice.  Jesus is with us.  His Word that He speaks to us—that He spoke when you were baptized ,that He will speak to you in the sacrament of His body and blood—turns certain death into certain life.




Soli Deo Gloria

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.




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.




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.




Soli Deo Gloria

The Captain of the Ship. Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany 2017. Matthew 8:23-27

January 30, 2017 Leave a comment

jesus sleeping in the storm eugene delacroiz.jpgFourth Sunday after the Epiphany

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 8:23-27

January 29, 2017

“The Captain of the Ship”

Iesu Iuva


Jesus gets into a boat, and his disciples follow.  Then a great storm arises.  It must have been a really great storm.  At least four of Jesus’ disciples are men who fished on this sea six days a week for years.  They were familiar with the weather.  They have been through storms before, and I’m certain that, being men who made a living with their hands and their back, they were not the type of men to show fear easily.  But when they come to wake Jesus up, they cry like terrified children, they humiliate themselves: Lord, save us!  We’re dying!


I’ve known Christian men who were dying.  Men don’t want to admit fear of death and God’s judgment in front of another man even when death is imminent.  Yet these fishermen in the boat cry out to Jesus in terror.


This must have been an incredible storm.


I am sure that you have had storms like this throughout your life, whether you are listening on the radio or here today.  You may very well be in one right now.  It may be that the doctor told you how many months he thinks you have left; it may be that the doctor isn’t sure what to tell you.  Or it may not be a storm that threatens you with literal death, but it’s bad enough that it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, or it’s hard to bring yourself through the doors of the church.


Then there’s the storms the Church goes through, which is really what this story is getting at.  The boat that holds Jesus and the disciples is a picture of the Church.  Look up there, at the ceiling; it kind of looks like the bottom of a boat.  That’s why the Latin word for the part of the church on your side of the altar rail is called the nave; it comes from the navis, which means “ship”, which is also where we get the word “navy”.  The Church of Jesus is a little boat or an ark.  It sails through the rough waters of this world, the storms of persecution, the flood of God’s judgment, the depths of death and hell, and lets those inside out on the dry land of the new creation.  And Jesus is in this boat with us.  We aren’t sailing ourselves to heaven.  He is the Captain of the ark of the Holy Christian Church.


But the whole way on this voyage the boat is hit by storms.  And throughout the 2000 years since Jesus ascended to the Father, the Church has cried out in desperation, feeling like the ship was sure to sink, and the Christians inside would perish.


Anyone who’s a member of this congregation and cares about it at all, for whatever reason, knows this feeling.  This Gospel reading today is your story, isn’t it?


And if the Church sinks, it’s far worse than when storms hit us individually.  We come to the Divine Service, to other Christians, to the pastor, to find help when the storms hit us privately.  We rely on the Church to be there when our child is going astray, when we are laid low with illness—to tell us what God says; to correct us when we live or believe contrary to His Word, and above all to proclaim to us the forgiveness of sins in His name.  We come to the Church when our father or mother, husband or wife has died.  We bring the bodies of the people we love most so that the Church—or rather Jesus through the Church—will preach to us that our loved one will rise again.


But if the Church goes under, destroyed by persecution or twisted and mutated so that it no longer proclaims God’s Word—who will bring us the Gospel of Christ crucified?  Who will tell us that it applies to us too?  Who will forgive our sins in Jesus’ name?  Who will baptize our children?  Who will give us the body and blood of Jesus?  And not only us: if the Church goes under the waves, who will proclaim the coming judgment of God and the forgiveness of sins through Jesus to the world that falsely believes it has God already, without Christ?


+Our storms at St. Peter are not unique or new


–when all of Europe was supposedly Christian, a false gospel of salvation by human effort made the true Gospel for all intents and purposes unknown, until 500 years ago God worked through Martin Luther to restore it


–Since then the devil has worked to almost extinguish the pure Gospel again through luxury and wealth, through doctrinal indifference.


+Yet very few Christians realized that this was a storm that threatened to destroy the Church; very few even realize it today.  We are only starting to realize in our Church that true faith in Christ was being eaten away for a long time; we started to realize it because this congregation is almost underwater.


We aren’t the whole Church; but what is happening here is happening all around us.


+So we go to Jesus, like disciples:

And notice: when the disciples wake Jesus up, they don’t have quiet confidence, fearlessness.  That’s what firm faith brings.  Instead they have terror and fear that Jesus is just going to sleep while they drown.


Their prayer comes from fear more than from faith.  It seems to express anger at Jesus—“How can you not care that we are going to die?  What are you doing, still sleeping?”


When a ship has no captain, or the sailors don’t trust the captain and they think the ship is going to sink, all hell breaks loose.  Sailors stop working together and letting the captain direct; they all start trying to save the ship as individuals, which is absolutely not going to work, or maybe they try to mutiny and set up a new captain.  And when all these things become hopeless, people start grabbing something that floats and taking their chances in the sea.  When no one listens to the captain anymore, the ship is doomed.


But Jesus is the captain of the ship of the Church; He will safely bring it through all storms into the eternal calm and peace of eternal life.


When Jesus gets up from sleeping, notice who He speaks to first—not the wind and the waves.  Not to the thing the disciples think is the danger.


He speaks to them first, because the danger is not the storm.  In our day, the danger is not the declining numbers in the Church, or declining bank accounts, declining prestige in our society.


The danger is within us—unbelief.  That instead of Jesus, we trust in what we see and feel, in our own thoughts, in the wisdom of the world and the false religion pushed by the devil and the world.


Unbelief is the danger because it is idolatry:  we think the storm is more powerful than God; we fear it more than God.  The first commandment: You shall have no other gods—We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.  The storm is more powerful than God, and we know better than God’s Word what is necessary to save ourselves or the Church.


So Jesus speaks first to the disciples, rebuking the storm in their hearts, the storm of unbelief and the cowardice that comes from it.

Why are you so cowardly, you of little faith?


Jesus understands why they are afraid.  What He is telling them and us is that we don’t have anything to fear.  Not if we have Him.


+Really?  We have nothing to fear?  Nothing.  How can you say that, if the boat is about to sink and the disciples are going to perish?


Because Jesus rebukes the winds and the sea and there was a great calm.  Not only does Jesus know how to steer the ship safely.  He simply speaks and nature obeys.  Who does that?


The answer is, only God does that.  God was with the disciples in the boat, living with them, sharing their bread, sharing their storms, sharing their sins.


The prophet Jonah brought a great calm when he was thrown into the sea.  The storm came because of Jonah’s rebellion against God, when Jonah ran away from the presence of God.  It went away when the sailors handed over Jonah to certain death.


But God rescued Jonah from his rebellion and its punishment; from certain death, sending the fish, who vomited him onto dry land.


Jesus also brought great calm that lasts forever; He took on our rebellion against God as His own; He willingly was thrown into the boiling, angry flood of God’s wrath, making our sins His own and being nailed to the cross.  Then He stepped out of the belly of death into the land of the living, having put our sins away forever.  Now there is a great calm; peace with God.


That great peace comes rolling across the storms of this world to us from the eternal God in our flesh; not a temporary calm, like the one in Matthew 8, but an eternal one.


Jesus is the captain of the ship of the Church.  He can be trusted to lead us safely through the storms of death and hell, because He has already gone through them and destroyed them.


Jesus will not fail to bring His church safely to land.


His Church includes the weak in faith.


But those who reject Jesus’ word are not Jesus’ Church; they are not in the boat where He is.  They are mixed with the saints around the Word, but they don’t believe in Him.  When storms come, they mutiny against Jesus, don’t listen to His Word.  They try to take over the boat from Him, or jump overboard because they think it’s doomed.


Brothers, we are weak; we do this in spite of ourselves.  But let us be comforted and listen to Jesus.  He is worthy to be trusted.  He isn’t a fool or a con artist.  He tells us, “You have me in the boat in my preaching, in my pure doctrine, and my Sacraments.  Hold on to me; you have nothing to fear.”


We have many sins, but He doesn’t cast away sinners who trust in Him, the Savior of sinners, the sin-bearer.


He will not let the floods overwhelm us or let His Church sink.  Our traditions will perish, our will that contradicts the will of God will not be done.  But Christ’s Church is more than that—it is the whole company of saints throughout the world, through time and eternity, who cling to Jesus alone.


It will never perish, and neither will those who trust Him.  He cannot perish; He died, and He lives forevermore.  And we who are baptized into Him have been joined with Him who joined Himself to us—we also have died and risen.  The new creation that will appear on the last day has already begun in all who believe.






Those Far Off–Epiphany 2016 (morning)

The Epiphany of our Lord (9:15 am—schoolkids’ service)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 2:1-12

January 6, 2015

“Those Far Off”

Iesu Iuva


–Today is the Epiphany of our Lord.

“Epiphany” means “the revealing of God.”


–It’s called that because God guided the wise men from far away to see Jesus in Bethlehem and worship Him. When they saw Jesus, they saw God, because Jesus is God become one of us, a human being.


–This summer in Vacation Bible School a little girl asked, “Where is God?”

I said, “God is everywhere.”

She said, “Why can’t we see Him then?”

A good question. What’s the answer?

One answer is—God is invisible. He is spirit. You can’t see Him with your eyes.

But another answer is that we don’t recognize God because we are born in sin, and sin

blinds us to God.


But now God shows Himself. He shows Himself in Jesus, the baby in Bethlehem.


–And the story of Epiphany is that God brings those who are far away from Him to see Him and be saved by believing in Jesus.


–How do we know God and come near to Him? We listen to His Word. We go to church, hear His Word, and believe in what the Word says—that God came to save us by becoming a human.


–But lots of people are not near to God. They don’t go to Church, don’t hear His Word.


–The wise men were like that. They were very smart and wise. They knew all kinds of things about the stars and the planets. But in their country they didn’t have God’s Word.


–But somehow they heard about the King of the Jews, the promised Savior. And then they saw a miraculous star that told them the King of the Jews had been born.


–So they followed that star. They packed up their camels with treasure and rode across the desert from the East for months to see the newborn King of the Jews and worship Him.


–Why did God lead them? Because the King of the Jews was for all people. He is God in the flesh who has come to save all people to the ends of the earth from the curse of sin.


–He saved us by being born without sin for us, by keeping God’s commandments for us, and then by receiving the punishment for our sins and dying under God’s judgment on the cross.


–Sometimes people in church take Jesus for granted. We forget that Jesus came to save all people, even those who seem the farthest away.

Sometimes people in Church don’t pay attention to God’s Word that tells them about this great

treasure from God, Jesus.


That’s why the people in Jerusalem and Herod were disturbed when the wise men came and said the king of the Jews had been born.


They weren’t ready for their king to come. They had other things on their minds, other things that were more important to them, that they loved more. They didn’t take God’s promise of the king and Savior as their highest joy and treasure.


That’s sometimes how we in the Church are. We take for granted the good news about Jesus that’s preached to us and have our hearts set on earthly things.


–But God wants all people to be saved through Jesus. He leads all people to His Son.


Those who are far away, who don’t have God’s Word or refuse to listen to it—who worship other gods. God calls them from far away to see Him come near to us in the baby at Bethlehem.


Also those in Church who don’t pay attention to His Word like they should and who don’t value it above all other treasures. God calls them too to see the great treasure of His Son. That means, He calls us to draw near and receive His forgiveness and salvation.


–Jesus is our great treasure.


He takes away our sins.


He gives us eternal life.


He makes us kings who reign with Him.


–The wise men gave Jesus kingly gifts—gold, frankincense, myrrh.


Jesus, the little baby in Bethlehem, is worth more than all treasures on earth. All earthly possessions that are dear to us, even the people we love most, even our own lives—are God’s gifts. But Jesus is God Himself, born a human being for us. He is the treasure that does not fade. In Him we receive God’s gift that endures forever and gives eternal life.


–The wise men bowed down and worshipped Jesus, giving Him presents because they believed that He was their Savior and a greater treasure than the wealth they were carrying with them.


–So we Christians, who believe in Jesus, also worship Him and lay down all our treasures before Him.


We do it because we believe in Him, that He is our Savior who called us to Him and gave us the forgiveness of sins when we were in the darkness of sin and death and couldn’t find God.


When we were little babies born in the darkness, He baptized us and put the bright star of His Gospel in our hearts.


And He continues to call us to Himself by the bright light of His Word.


So we in turn worship Him, lay our treasures and even our lives before Him.


And we pray to Him that He would make us stars that lead others to Him.



–Where is God? He is revealed in Jesus. And Jesus reveals Himself to us in His Word.




Soli Deo Gloria

The Gift of Glory. Transfiguration of our Lord 2015

January 26, 2015 Leave a comment

transfig10The Transfiguration of our Lord

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 17:1-9

January 25, 2015

“The Gift of Glory”

Iesu Iuva


Beloved in Christ:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




Soli Deo Gloria



2nd Sunday after Epiphany / Life Sunday 2015

January 18, 2015 Leave a comment

2nd Sunday after Epiphany/Life Sunday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 2:1-11

January 18, 2015


Iesu Iuva


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Soli Deo Gloria

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