In Memoriam + Martin Herman Laufer (Committal)
Abraham Lincoln Nation Cemetery
1 Corinthians 15:51-57
August 30, 2016
Behold! I tell you a mystery.
The words of Paul the apostle are some 1950 years old. What he wrote was something that defied human reason when he wrote it to the Greek Christians in Corinth. A mystery. Today we experience the weight of that word: “mystery.” Christians say the words of the creed every Sunday, but seldom do we confront the weight of what we say we believe like we do here, in a cemetery, with a casket before us holding the body of one we loved. “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
It should not come as a surprise that many people simply don’t believe it, and even we who say that we do
believe it do so with trembling, fear, and weakness. Who has the ability to believe this mystery? No one. This kind of faith is itself a miracle as great as the resurrection. This is not a sentimental faith. It looks at this coffin and says, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Martin Herman Laufer was a gifted man. He lived a long life, nearly a century long. He lived a life of exceptional devotion and service to Christ’s Church. He had the ability to lead and influence people, and those abilities are evidenced by his work in the armed service, as a business owner, a salesman, as a leader of the churches in which he was a member. He touched many people’s lives; many people at St. Peter talked to me about how he was an example to them of how to live as a Christian. My wife and I remember the kindness he showed us when we arrived newly married to St. Peter only a little while before he moved to Litchfield.
Of course, we know all too well that a person’s gifts, abilities, kindness are not enough to overcome death and the grave. “The wise man dies just like the fool” (Ecclesiastes 2:16). So death makes ordinary people out of us all.
Since this is true, how can we listen to these words today and apply them to Marty: “Death is swallowed up in victory”? Surely these words, if they apply to any human being, are beyond the reach of ordinary people?
They are. But there is something that is drawn over the lives of ordinary people that puts this victory shout on Paul’s lips. After a strange experience he had while travelling to Damascus, he spent his life on what his former colleagues considered a fool’s errand or worse. He spent his life preaching a man who had died the way ordinary people do—or really a far worse way. He spent his life preaching Jesus, who suffered and died by crucifixion, a death reserved for slaves and criminal. There was no glory, no beauty, no heroism in a crucifixion—only pain, ugliness, weakness, and shame. Yet, Paul preached, God raised this Jesus from the dead. He went around preaching the shameful death of this Jesus, a death that filled his hearers with horror. And he went around preaching Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, an idea that the Greeks considered ridiculous.
Yet in the suffering of this Jesus, said Paul, God had taken on Himself human weakness, our guilt and our curse. In this death—all too ordinary, this all too familiar suffering, humiliation, and dying—God was present. Jesus was the Creator of human beings now become a human being, sharing our weakness, our shame, our death. In His resurrection the guilt and the death of all people—the noble and the base, the honorable and the shameful, the weak and the strong—was broken. And those who believe in this Jesus preached by Paul, and who were baptized into Him, have their lives caught up in Him and hidden in Him.
Over Marty’s entire life God drew the life of Jesus, the cross of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus. Long ago, Marty’s life was caught up in another life and another death—that of Jesus—when, in 1918, water and the name of the Triune God poured over his head.
Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable…Then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.
The hope God gives us today for Marty is the same hope He holds out to everyone here who is a sinner and is subject to death. Our hope is that God has entered into our lowliness, suffered our death, and risen again in righteousness. And that we who are men like any other are victorious, and will be victorious over death, because God drew the life of Jesus, the cross of Jesus, over our lives when we were baptized. Our victory is not in heroic works or achievements on earth, not in our piety or holiness on earth; our victory is the lowliness, the agony and death of Jesus, and His resurrection.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 2:21, Galatians 3:23-29
December 31, 2014
Today we celebrate the circumcision and naming of Jesus because New Year’s is the eighth day after the birth of Jesus. Circumcision was performed on Jewish babies who were eight days old. This provides us with an opportunity to talk about the meaning of Jesus’ circumcision and name and the hope it gives us for the new year.
First of all, God gave circumcision to Abram in the 17th chapter of Genesis, and at the same time He gave him a new name. Abram meant “exalted father,’ but when God gave him circumcision He gave him the new name, “Abraham,” which means “Father of many nations.”
God had already promised Abraham that he was going to have as many descendants as the stars in the night sky. And Abraham had already believed God, and the Scripture informs us that God counted his faith to him as righteousness. But now when He gives Abraham circumcision and a new name, it is a sign to confirm Abraham’s faith. It is a sign of the covenant, or pledge, between God and Abraham and Abraham’s descendants after him. God pledges to be Abraham’s God and the God of Abraham’s descendants after him. He promises that He is going to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations. Finally He promises that one of Abraham’s offspring is going to bless all the nations on earth. And as a sign of this covenant between Abraham and God, all of Abraham’s male descendants are to be circumcised in the flesh of their foreskin when they are eight days old. Thus God’s covenant will be marked in the flesh of Abraham and his descendants. It showed that they belonged to God’s covenant. They were the people to whom God had pledged to be their God. They were the people that Abraham’s offspring would come from and bless the whole earth.
The sad thing that happened to Abraham’s descendants was that even though they had the mark of circumcision, many of them did not have God for their God. It wasn’t that God had refused to keep His covenant. It was that even though they were circumcised in their flesh they were not circumcised in their hearts. That is, they did not walk in the faith of their forefather Abraham. Abraham believed that God was going to be gracious to him and raise up an offspring from his line that would bless all the nations. Abraham believed that this offspring would take away the curse that was over all the nations—the curse of sin and death. Abraham believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness.
But apart from this promised offspring, which circumcision promised, God is not our God. Circumcision was then just an empty sign in the flesh whose content was rejected. That’s the way most of the offspring of Abraham regarded their circumcision. They looked at it as a work that bound God to them. They did not believe the promise. God was going to be their God in sending the offspring of Abraham who would take away the curse of sin from the whole earth. Most of the circumcised people of the Old Testament were ignorant of that promise and did not believe it. Thus they cut themselves off from God’s covenant even though they were circumcised.
Now in our Gospel Jesus, as an offspring of Abraham, is circumcised. But it is different than when Abraham and everyone else was circumcised. They were circumcised as a pledge of the offspring who was to come, in whom God would be their God and bring blessing and salvation to take the place of sin and its curse.
But Jesus is different. He is circumcised because He is Abraham’s offspring. But He is the fulfillment and recipient of all the promises to Abraham.
God promised Abraham that He would be God to Abraham and his descendants. But God was only the God of Abraham by grace. Unless God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness, God could not be Abraham’s God because Abraham was by nature sinful and unclean.
But God is Jesus’ God not by grace but by merit. Jesus was born without sin. God the Father was God to Jesus the Son of Man because Jesus was perfectly obedient from the womb and always did what pleased the Father. From His mother’s womb God was His God. He never served another god, not even in thought or desire.
And through Jesus God is the God of everyone who believes in Jesus, whether circumcised or not. Through this baby who is born without sin, who is Abraham’s offspring, God regards Abraham and everyone who believes in Jesus as if they too have always pleased God from the womb.
Jesus is also the fulfillment and recipient of the promise to Abraham that through Abraham’s seed or offspring all the nations on earth would be blessed. Abraham and all the children of Israel were circumcised so that they would remember and look for the offspring of Abraham. But Jesus is that seed of Abraham through whom all nations would be blessed. He will do this—bring blessing to all nations—by undoing the curse brought by Adam’s sin. And He will undo the curse by giving His perfectly obedient life to bear the penalty and curse of sin, which is death.
He will shed His blood to bring blessedness and salvation to all nations. He begins to shed His blood in the first days of His life, but He will end His life by pouring out all His life’s blood that there might be blessing for those who are under the curse of sin.
Circumcision was God’s pledge to Abraham and his descendants. But the recipients of circumcision were also, in a way, making a pledge to God. They were showing that they belonged to God. A knife marked their bodies. Blood poured out. Babies cried. It was also supposed to show that their bodies were consecrated to the Lord and that the circumcised one would give up anything, even his own flesh and blood, for the sake of faithfulness to God.
However, none of those who were circumcised could really fulfill this pledge made in circumcision. Abraham offered up his own son Isaac in sacrifice to God. But God’s law requires more than that we love God than father and mother, son or daughter. The law requires that we love God more than all things, even our own lives. But we are unable to do this. Even if you were willing to give up something precious to you for God’s sake—your son or daughter, a limb from your body—you cannot give all of your heart, all of your body, all of the time, to God. That is what sin has done to us. We always want to hold something back for ourselves.
But Jesus did fulfill the symbolism of circumcision. His whole body and His whole soul and everything He was was dedicated to God. He gave Himself entirely to the will of God so that his perfect submission to the Father might be credited to us and so that He Himself might begin to live in us.
And how does this happen? By baptism into Christ. For Baptism is not just an external mark in the flesh, like circumcision. It is of the Holy Spirit, not of the flesh.
In Holy Baptism we “put on Christ.” His perfect submission and obedience to the Father is credited to us and covers us. Our sins and rebellion were credited to Him.
But whereas circumcision was a physical cutting off of a piece of skin, baptism is a spiritual cutting off of the whole old nature. Our old nature is joined to Christ in crucifixion and death and we are given a new nature which is united to Christ who is raised from the dead.
Now as we come to the conclusion of this year, 2014, we have many gifts for which to thank God, but also many sins to grieve before Him. There is not time to go into them, but many if not most of us carry a lifetime of sins and regrets as baggage from one year into the next.
Our baptism into Christ is our comfort here. WE are baptized into the one whose name means, “The Lord saves.” We could not cut off our sinful nature with its desires and deeds. We could do nothing in ourselves but die with it and its curse.
But our Lord Jesus Christ, the offspring of Abraham, has cut away the old man from us. He did it entirely on the cross. There he completely killed our old nature.
We cling to that fact. Meanwhile in our baptism he has begun the cutting off of our old man and our putting on of the new. It is not completed yet and the cutting is painful. When we feel the flesh fighting against the Holy Spirit to stay alive it is painful and frightening.
But He who circumcises us has a sure and certain hand. He went surely and certainly to complete the work of the seed of Abraham and take away the curse from the earth. He also knows surely and certainly the way to cut off and bury our old man and raise us up in His image.
We can carry that hope into the new year. In the painful death of our old Adam Christ is at work. He is cutting off the old Adam from us that He cut off once and for all on the cross. He will complete this work and raise us up new creatures from which the old sinful nature has been completely cut off.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 3:1-17
June 15, 2014 (Fathers’ Day)
Isaiah was a priest. The day he saw the Lord in the temple he was probably on duty.
When he saw the Lord, all the confidence you might expect a priest to have before God went up in smoke. “Woe to me! I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the Lord.”
What made Isaiah’s lips filthy? Did he swear a lot? Tell dirty jokes?
That’s enough to make your lips unclean and filthy in God’s sight.
But there are other unclean things that can pass through the lips that are even more unclean. Especially the lips of a priest.
The lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and the people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts, said the prophet Malachi to the priests of his day (2:7-8). But you have caused many to stumble by your instruction.
This is the worst kind of uncleanness to pass from the lips of a priest. To speak false things about God. To set up or strengthen the worship of idols.
And likewise it is the worst kind of uncleanness that can be in the heart to worship idols. To believe false things about God.
This kind of uncleanness was in the heart and mouth of Nicodemus. He didn’t know the first things about how we come to God, and yet he was a teacher of God’s people. Jesus exclaimed, “You are the teacher of Israel, and you don’t know these things?”
Very basic things about who the true God is and how we come to Him. Nicodemus thought the way the flesh always thinks. He knew what the pagans know—there is a God, He is powerful and righteous. So you find God where there is power and other good things that we like. And you please God by doing right things and rejecting immoral things.
Jesus says, “No.” You don’t find God where the flesh expects to find Him. No, you don’t draw near to God by doing good works. “Flesh gives birth to flesh and Spirit to spirit.” You cannot even see God’s kingdom unless you are born again. And you cannot enter it unless you are born of water and the Spirit.
Nicodemus found this impossible to accept. He rejected this testimony of Jesus. How could it be that all of his theological training and all of his moral striving left him with nothing, that he knew God just as little as the Gentiles and the sinners?
Nicodemus was a churchgoing, bible-reading idolater. He didn’t know who God is. God stood in front of Him, and Nicodemus recognized His power, but thought that God must be somewhere else. Because God doesn’t come in such humble clothing. God doesn’t come in poverty, in rejection, with only a few disciples, with the holy and great people of the world rejecting Him.
Does it sound familiar, Nicodemus’ thinking? Because it is the same thinking that you have in the flesh.
In the flesh you expect to find God in power and glory and earthly good things. When those things are missing you also think God must be somewhere else. This uncleanness is constantly cropping up in our hearts. We don’t recognize the true God visiting us in lowliness, weakness, and suffering and we despise Him in favor of the gods of success, power, prestige, comfort.
And then you too expect to stand before God on the basis of your moral life. You can’t believe that your attempts to be good count for nothing in God’s sight in the question of your justification before Him.
This is the worst kind of uncleanness to be on one’s lips or in one’s heart. The uncleanness of lifting up our souls to a false god. And this is what we do in the flesh. We believe that we can know who God is by our own reason and senses. Then we try to please God with our works and win His favor. We refuse to believe that our nature is so corrupt that neither we nor anyone else can know the true God or enter His kingdom unless we are reborn, born again.
But thanks be to God! You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but imperishable. Not by the will of man, but born of God. Not of the flesh, but of the Holy Spirit.
For all of you who have been baptized have received “the washing of rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3) You have been born of water and the Spirit. It wasn’t your will that accomplished this, but Christ’s, who instituted Baptism, commanding His disciples to make disciples “baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is Jesus who “loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26). It is Jesus who made baptism the means by which “we were buried with him…in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
Even though most of us were little children when we were baptized, without understanding, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven belongs” to little children and insists that we allow the little children and infants to be brought to Him, because “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall never enter it.”
How do little children receive the kingdom of God? Those who deny that infants should be baptized say little children do not receive the kingdom of God. But Jesus says they do. And how do they receive it? Passively. They don’t bring themselves to Jesus; they are brought, carried. They don’t use their reason to come to Jesus. Jesus comes to them and opens their eyes so that they see and enter the kingdom of God through baptism into Him.
In the same way our reason and understanding leads us astray. We look for God in the things the flesh trusts in—comfort, wealth, beauty, power, fame. We will not find God there. God is only found in Christ. And Christ is only found in His word and Sacraments, not with earthly splendor, but proclaimed as crucified in weakness and raised by the glory of God.
The Holy Spirit has opened your eyes and caused you to see what the flesh can never see. Jesus is God. The One who was crucified and who comes to us in His flesh and blood under the bread and wine is the Lord of the Universe, the Son begotten of the Father from eternity.
The only-begotten Son of the Father, who was with the Father in the beginning, came in our flesh and blood, in the image of our weakness, fallenness, corruption. He came down to us. We did not rise to Him. And because there was in us no power to make ourselves pleasing to God, since everything in us was corrupt, the eternal Son fulfilled the commandments of God perfectly in your place. And then the Father allowed His Son to be offered up for your sins, and lifted up on the cross and the preaching of the cross so that everyone who believes in Him might have eternal life.
There are many religions in the world and many people claiming that they believe in one God. But no one has the Father unless he believes in the Son, because the Son is the radiance of the glory of the Father, the exact imprint of His nature (Hebrews 1:3). The Son is begotten of the Father, distinct from Him, yet equal in glory, of one substance with the Father.
And no one has the Son unless he has been born again of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son, one substance with them. But the Holy Spirit is not the Father nor the Son. He proceeds from the Father and the Son.
And through the Word He opens our eyes so that we see the Son lifted up for us on the cross. And there we learn to recognize God and His kingdom.
We see that God is not only omnipotent and righteous and glorious, but that He is the God who justifies the ungodly and has mercy on the lost and helpless. Because the Son is the exact image of the Father, and He suffers for us on the cross. Through the Son we come to know the Father, that the righteous God is also the Father of all mercies, who gave up His Son to save those who were bound to perish.
It is the Holy Spirit who leads us to the Son. We would never come to Him on our own. We would be like Nicodemus—so close, yet so far away. Still clinging to our own righteousness.
The Holy Spirit shows us our complete uncleanness and idolatry; He also shows us the Son of Man made an unclean thing for all the uncleanness of our hearts.
Today is Father’s Day. Your Father in heaven has given you every good and perfect gift in Christ. One of his gifts to you in Christ is your earthly father.
Many of us may not feel like our earthly fathers were good gifts from God. Others have fathers who are gone from their sight. But others have fathers on earth that they thank God for.
Whatever your situation is, be sure to thank your Father in heaven for your father on earth. It’s your Father in heaven who gave the commandment “Honor your father and your mother.” Your father on earth is not a good gift of God because he seems like a good father to you, but because God the Father honors him with his commandment and by letting him have the title “Father.” And if God gave you a father you think is good, how much more honor and thanks do you owe to him and to your Father in heaven?
Fathers, look at the love shown by the heavenly Father toward sinners. You will never be able to equal His patience and kindness. But receive the kindness of your Father in heaven toward you. Receive painful experiences as the loving chastisements of the heavenly Father. Receive His Son, whom He gave up to adopt you as His child and heir. Receive Him in the Word, in your Baptism, in His body and blood. And as you receive His Son He will form you into the image of His Son, who is the exact imprint of His being, and you will become a father who is a witness to the heavenly Father.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
May 29, 2014+ Where is Jesus’ Throne?
If you stretch out your hand and look at it, you can see the tendons that enable it to move and grasp. You can probably see the veins that carry the blood from your heart to your fingers. You can see the small bones, without which you couldn’t do the simplest things—fish out your keys, use your cellphone.
A human hand is a powerful thing. We depend on it for so much of our lives. Yet our hands are fragile. The bones are easily broken. A well-placed cut can sever the tendons and make your hand useless, or open a vein that causes your lifeblood to flow.
But when we stretch out our hands, so useful and yet so fragile, we are looking at the hand of God. Because the one who ascended into heaven to reign is true man. The hand He once stretched out in infancy to His virgin Mother is the hand that holds all power in heaven and on earth—the same fragile hand that was pierced by the nail driven into the wood of the cross.
The Ascension of Jesus comforts us with this. The hand that holds all the power in the universe is a human hand that was once fragile like ours. The hand of Jesus now holds the scepter and rules over all things; He is seated on the throne at God’s right hand, exercising all power and authority.
And His reign is for us. He uses the power in His hand for us. His throne has been established for our salvation.
Jesus’ throne and His power are not only for us—they are among us. Just as His human hand is filled with all the fullness of God, so the human members of His body, the church, are also filled with the power of God despite our own fragility and weakness.
Jesus throne is above every power at the right hand of God, and it is also among us, where His Gospel is preached and people are baptized.
Jesus throne is above every power at the right hand of God.
Why do we confess in the creed that Jesus “ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty?” Jesus did a lot of other things that we don’t mention in the creed. Why confess this?
Der Herr sitzet, eine Sündfluth anzurichten.* Und der Herr bleibt ein König in Ewigkeit.
Hell’s dam-gates burst: a man, the LORD
Ascends to rule the nations,
And to the flood He gives His Word
To pour out in salvation
O’er ev’ry nation, ev’ry tongue
Which for hell’s bath were numbered;
That those who in these depths are flung
With millstone sins encumbered
This very death will rescue.
Little Sable Point Lighthouse, Mears, Michigan
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13
June 12, 2013
A More Excellent Way for Marriage
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ on this your wedding day.
“And now I will show you a more excellent way.”
The reading starts there, with “a more excellent way.” There are a lot of other ways to live in marriage, but what we get is not “the slightly less excellent way,” or the “better than most other people’s way”, or
“the way that seems best to us”, or
D K’s way, or
A McL’s way.
It is “the more excellent way.” Really it is the most excellent way.
The ‘more excellent way’ is the way of love.
God says love is the more excellent way to live in marriage and in every other station in life. He says love is, in fact, the only way that He accepts.
the most excellent way for marriage because it is God’s way. It is not only His way, but what He is. God is love (1 John). The Bible says, Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
But who gets married without love, anyway? Most people who get married are “in love.”
But that is not the kind of love we’re talking about. The kind of love we are talking about, which is the “more excellent way” for marriage, is not found in very many marriages at all.
4 Love is patient and kind…
Love is patient and kind even when the other person totally and inexcusably fails us.
love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude.
Love does not leave socks laying around the house and think the sock fairy will pick them up. It does not envy, thinking: “My husband or wife should put me before the in-laws or work.”
It does not seek itself
it is not easily angered, it does not keep a record of wrongs.
Love doesn’t remember all the times our spouse failed us or disrespected us in the past.
] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, stands firm through all things.
Love does not give loved ones a pat on the back when they do what is wrong in God’s sight, even if it is okay in the eyes of other people.
Nor does it give up when instead of a series of sunny days, marriage appears to be one storm after another. It believes all things, hopes all things, stands fast through all things, seeing through the dark clouds (like those we see today) and always believing that in the end joy will win out over sorrow.
This kind of love is God’s love. This is God’s nature. God is love.
Anything we do without this love displeases God and is unacceptable to Him. Without this kind of love everything we do—whether in marriage or any other calling in life–is stained with selfishness. It’s really all about us.
That’s how most marriages operate, even though the fundamental selfishness is prettied up and hidden even from the people who do it. Sometimes it works for awhile too. But it is really empty.
Without this love our marriage may please us, but it displeases God.
And yet this kind of love, which is the more excellent way, goes against our nature. We love and give, but we always want a return on our love. And we can’t wait forever for the debt to be repaid.
But you do have this love, unless you push it away from yourself. Because this is how God has loved you.
He loved you selflessly. He put aside His anger, and didn’t keep a record of your wrongs. He was kind and patient. And He wants to show you unlimited patience and kindness throughout your lives.
God has loved you with this selfless love, and given this love to you so that it is your own. He gave it to you in His Son.
Greater love has no one than this, that a man lays down His life for His friends, Jesus said (John 15?). Unlike merely human husbands, Jesus not only talked, but did what He said. He gave up His life and was judged and condemned for us that we would live, even though our whole nature had been to seek ourselves. We didn’t love. We didn’t know God. We were enemies.
But now God has loved us and His love covers our past sins and our present sins and our future sins. He loved us in His Son. And in Jesus He gives to us this love which as long as we live covers up our faults and buries them.
And the love God gave you in flesh and blood—in Jesus—He caused it to touch you in your time and place when He baptized you. There you became radiant and beautiful, like your bride on her wedding day. Today she is more beautiful to you than any woman in the world because she is your wife, given to you by God. That is how your baptism makes you in the eyes of Jesus. It made you His own.
As we watch the sun set over Lake Michigan tonight through the rain and clouds we hoped would not come, we rejoice in God’s goodness and kindness. He has made it so that you are not alone. He joins you in marriage and makes you one flesh, as Adam and Eve were one flesh.
And even when His gifts do not shine in our eyes, like this rain, we can still rejoice. God our Father gives nothing to us that doesn’t end in our good. The rain falling is not the whether we want for your wedding, but without this rain there would be no life. Often God’s gifts are like this—not what we wished, not what shines in our eyes, but giving something better and more real than we wished for.
God gave you something greater by His Spirit, which all this water pictures. He washed away and covered and drowned all that we are by nature—our self-love, our sin inherited from Adam. He washed it in Baptism and covered us with Jesus—with His righteousness, with His blood shed to cleanse us of our sins. He united us with Him as a bride to her husband.
In Him, in your Baptism, the love of God is yours. It covers your sins, and it flows out of you. It may be just a little puddle, or seem that way. But baptized into Jesus, and believing that He loved you so as to take away your sins forever with His death, the little fountain of God’s love in you will grow until it empties into the ocean from which it came—which is God Himself. For God is love. And those who are born of God will find their rest in Him.
Let this most excellent way be the way of your marriage. Love one another, but first believe in His love for you.
Be renewed in Jesus’ love. Don’t try to get by on your own. Hear Him preach to you in church and in the Scriptures. Hear Him when He says: “This is my blood of the new testament, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” and receive the gift of His love, His body and blood.
As you are strengthened in His love, you will be strengthened to love one another—to be patient and kind, to put up with all things, believe all things, hope all things, stand firm in all things. Even in storms and darkness light will shine in the darkness for you.
You will begin to love one another as God loves, and God, who is love, will dwell in your marriage. This is the most excellent way, and it is the way on which Christ put you when He baptized you. Like this rain and this lake, there is life hidden in this water, regardless of how it appears. Only the life in your baptism “never comes to an end.” He who loved you will lead you in His most excellent way until the river empties into the see and you know the love of God not as in a mirror, darkly, but face to face.
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 3:1-17
May 26, 2013
Exalted to the lowest place
A happy ending? God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world?
Here comes one of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus—a ruler of the Jews. A Pharisee. What the disciples hoped would happen seems to be happening. Sure, Jesus was opposed and they had some hard times. But everything will turn out right in the end. It has to be, because He’s the Messiah, the King of the Jews. So the rulers hate him now, but look, they’re already starting to come around.
Nicodemus says, “We know you are a teacher from God. Otherwise how could you do all these miraculous signs, unless God was with you?”
Who would be more likely to know whether someone was from God than the students of Scripture, the teachers of God’s Word among the people called by God’s name?
Jesus didn’t deny that the Jews were the people called by God’s name. Gentiles worshipped idols.
We also don’t look for God everywhere. He can’t be found apart from His Word other than as a God of wrath. So all other religions are not the same.
But despite being a teacher of the people of God and a student of the Word of God, Nicodemus didn’t know God at all.
“We know you are a teacher from God…” To say that is not enough to know Jesus.
To say that is not enough to know God either.
Muslims say that Jesus was a teacher from God, that HE ascended to heaven, etc. They believe in one God, and as they will tell you, they believe in Jesus and they love Him.
Most Americans are not atheists. They believe in God. Most of them probably believe that Jesus is God.
But they still do not know God nor Jesus.
No one is able to recognize or perceive God’s kingdom, His reign which is here and which is coming, in which sin and death are destroyed, unless he is born again or born from above.
If Jesus had simply come to have people “accept” Him in the sense of recognizing that God sent Him, or His teaching was true, that He should be obeyed, Nicodemus would have already “accepted Him.”
But recognizing Jesus as a prophet or one with God’s authority is not enough. It is useless.
And no one can perceive God’s salvation and enter into it unless he is reborn from on high, from God.
It doesn’t matter how wise you are, how knowledgeable of Scripture, how pious you are, how long you’ve gone to church or how much you’ve served there.
Nicodemus was the teacher of God’s people. But He didn’t know God and could not recognize God’s kingdom of salvation even though it had come.
Israel’s teachers did not know God and could not see His kingdom because they thought they already knew God and were part of His kingdom.
They had the Scriptures, didn’t they?
They had God’s promise, didn’t they?
God had taken them as His people and dwelt in the midst of them in the temple, didn’t He?
They had circumcision, which marked them as people of the promise.
But without being born from on High or reborn by the water and the Spirit, these things profited nothing. They did not understand the Scriptures or believe them; they did not recognize the Lord who dwelt in the temple when He came in a new house—human flesh. They did not believe in the one who was promised to them in circumcision—Abraham’s offspring.
Nicodemus thought that he was already holy, and now this teacher from God would unfold heavenly wisdom to him—add to what he already had.
You are just like Nicodemus and most of the people of Israel.
You have the Scriptures.
The Lord is present with you in His body and blood.
You are baptized—NT circumcision.
But like Nicodemus and most of the people of Israel, we think that we can come to God without being reborn—dying and rising again.
No. You must be born from above, or you cannot recognize the kingdom of God coming to you and you cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Like Moses we want to see God’s glory. But no one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven.
Only through Him can we know God. He alone knows the Father, and whoever He chooses to reveal the Father.
He reveals God not by being exalted and lifted up on a throne, in majesty.
You see how that affected Isaiah!
You see Him and know God when you see Him exalted and lifted up on the cross of shame the way that Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.
That is what Baptism is
It is coming as a sinner who is unable to know God by nature or see or enter His kingdom
God’s mighty Spirit is poured out on you, brings you into the kingdom of God.
You see Jesus as the one who became sin and is held up before our eyes to save us from deadly poison of sin.
To live in Baptism is to come to God this way—not as someone who knows something and is already holy, but as one who has nothing, knows nothing, except sin and death.
We are baptized into Him who is all-glorious but descended into the depths of sin for us and cancelled it.
All of the church year leads to today, the feast of the Trinity.
The only God who shows mercy like this is the Trinity.
He gives all of Christ to us in Baptism, all that we’ve heard about during the festival portion of the year.
The world does not know where you come from or where you are going. But you are born of the Spirit, which means you are united to Jesus the Son, who came from God and returned to Him.
That is the glory that fills St. Peter now for 156 years—not our own knowledge, wisdom, holiness, but that God lifts up His Son in our midst like the snake on the pole and baptizes us into Him, and He adds another to us today. Let us give thanks for Anthony who today is born again of water and the Spirit.
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.