Posts by Mark

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem

Second Sunday in Lent, 2019 – Deacon Rex Watt

Jeremiah 26:8-15 / Philippians 3:17-4:1 / Luke 13:31-35

 

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

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

Dear saints of Redeemer.  Have any of you heard about the young lawyer who posted on her Facebook page an image of one of those annoying minions along with this caption, “My goal in life is to tick off at least one person every day.  So far, I am 6 months and 27 days ahead of schedule.”  Have you known anyone like that?  Surely there is no one in this congregation like that.  Surely, we would never think of the Lord Jesus that way, would we?  And yet in today’s Gospel we see him picking what appears to be a fight with the Pharisees, and King Herod.

Jesus has been battling with the Pharisees for some time now, exposing their hypocrisy, their legalism, and their self-righteousness.  They always seemed to come up on the short end of the stick with Jesus, so this time, they try a different tactic.  They thought that they could intimidate him.  “Get away from here,” they say, “for Herod wants to kill you.”

Did Herod want to kill Jesus?  Could be.  Jesus proclaimed the same message that John the Baptist proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”   John’s bold proclamation got him in trouble.  He called out Herod for his illegal marriage to his brother’s wife, and it cost him his life.  It could be that Herod, hearing that Jesus was proclaiming the same message as John, would have wanted him dead.  But in the end, after Jesus had been arrested Herod didn’t condemn him.  He and his troops “treated him with contempt and mocked him,” then sent him back to Pilate, who was the ruler who ordered the crucifixion.  Still, Herod was not a person you wanted to tangle with.

Jesus’ response was basically, “Go and tell Herod that I will not be intimidated.  I have some work yet to do, and I will finish my course.”  These are prophetic words.  They are pointing to his arrest, crucifixion, burial and resurrection.  They cannot be taken for three literal days, for all the events between our text and chapter 19, where Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph, takes more than three days.  Coupled with the statement, “for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem,” and it is clear what Jesus is indicating.  He is God’s final prophet, just as we heard at his Transfiguration, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

People don’t like to hear prophetic words.  When I use that term, I am not speaking about words that foretell the future.  While the Old Testament prophets often spoke concerning the future, most of their preaching was preaching of repentance.  Those are hard words.  Just ask Jeremiah!  His preaching of repentance got him into a lot of trouble.  But that’s a prophet’s job.  A prophet is one sent by God to faithfully speak God’s word.  And people today, just like in biblical times, don’t want to hear such speech.  They don’t want to be confronted with God’s word because they have become too comfortable with their sin and unbelief.

Does the Church today still faithfully speak God’s prophetic word?  We live in a very casual and permissive society today.  People have become all too comfortable with their sins; comfortable with adultery, which they call having an affair; comfortable with fornication which is now called living together; comfortable with homosexuality which is called an alternative lifestyle; comfortable with the murder of innocent babies, now called a choice.  Every night violent crime, profanity, and pornography are cabled into our living rooms and the world calls it entertainment.  People have become comfortable with greed, being convinced that the only way to succeed in the world is to lie and cheat and steal just like everybody else.

Perhaps the Church today has grown fearful of proclaiming God’s prophetic word.  Perhaps we have allowed the world to intimidate us; bully us; convince us that it is more loving to overlook such sins rather than confront them.  Do you know what the most quoted Bible verse is?  It’s not John 3:16.  It’s “Judge not, lest you be judged.”   It appears that the Church has become increasingly tolerant of sin, speaking words that don’t offend anyone, but those are not God’s words.  The world needs God’s words.  The Church needs God’s words.  Any you, my brothers and sisters, need God’s words.

It’s time once again for the Church to say, “Thus says the Lord.”  It doesn’t matter what the laws of our land allow, it doesn’t matter what society permits, or what everyone else is doing, tweeting, or posting on social media.  God will not tolerate sin.  Your sins, my sins, or societies sins.  Repent, or you will perish.  That’s the prophetic word that you and I are sent into this world to proclaim no matter what our vocation might be.  Oh, sure.  It will tick some people off.  But if they don’t hear God’s Law, they would never know of God’s mercy and grace.  They would never truly hear the Gospel.  They would never truly know Jesus.

When you look back into Old Testament history you will see that the faithful prophets always dearly loved their people.  Jeremiah spoke harshly about the people’s sin and rejection of God, but listen to the depth of his love for them.  Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.”
(Jer 9:1)  Jesus also lamented over his people.  Do you hear the anguish in his voice, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (vs 34)

Do you sense the depth of his love for his people?  Do you hear how he longed to save them?  He was willing to die for them.  He was willing to go to the cross for them, but they were not willing to hear his word, they were not willing to repent of their sins, they despised the final prophetic word sent to them and they crucified him.

Can you hear Jesus today lamenting over the world that you and I live in?  Can you hear him lamenting over this community you and I live in?  Can you hear him lamenting over you?  In the depth of his love for you he was willing to suffer and die on a cross for your sins.

On that first Easter afternoon, two disciples were walking along the road to Emmaus when, they were met by a stranger who asked why they were so downcast.  They told him about Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet powerful in word and deed, and that they had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.  “They had hoped.”  Those are probably the saddest words in all of Scripture.  Imagine their surprise, and joy, when the crucified and now risen Savior revealed himself to them through the opening of the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread.  Yes!  Jesus is a prophet.  He is the Prophet.  But he is more than a prophet, he is your crucified and risen Savior.  The forgiveness of all your sins, no matter what they are, was delivered to you in your Baptism.  You, dear saints of Redeemer, sit here today with all the same joy and hope that those two disciples on the road to Emmaus had as they walked with Jesus, because your Jesus, in your Baptism, in your hearing of his word, in your reception of his own very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion has brought you into the New Jerusalem, the Holy Christian Church.

During Lent we walk with Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem.  We re-create what he has already done.  Today, we see Jesus lamenting over his beloved city, Jerusalem.  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…but you would not!”   But you and I know the rest of the story.  There will be a day when Jesus returns again, and again he will cry out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!”  But this time the cry will not be one of lament and anguish.  It will be a cry of joy from the lips of our Lord himself as he sees the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  When that day come, we will hear our Savior say, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem; O George, George; O, Mary, Mary; (insert your own name there); how I have longed, for you!”  Amen.

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

Jesus Alone

The Transfiguration of Our Lord / Deacon Rex Watt

Deuteronomy 34:1-12 / Psalm 99 / Hebrews 3:1-6 / Luke 9:28-36

 

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

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

Dear Saints of Redeemer.  We are bombarded by a plethora of voices these days.  Everywhere we go, everywhere we turn someone is speaking to us.  Think about it: the voices of newscasters, the voices of government leaders, the voices of songwriters, the voices of You-Tubers, bloggers, and Tweeters; the voices of television writers and movie stars, and all too soon the voices of political candidates.  Take a moment, if you will, and account for the assortment of voices you hear each day and consider what they are saying.  Consider where the voice is coming from.  Is this voice the voice of God, or is this a voice that will lead you into the captivity of sin, death, and the power of the devil?

The first voice recorded in the Bible is the voice of God saying, “Let there be light” (Gn 3:1), and there was light.  That voice of God called into existence not only light; but the heavens and the earth; vegetation; the sun, moon and stars; and all living creatures on the land, in the air, and under the waters.  After all these things had been created, God did not cease to speak.  He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Gn 1:26)  He also went on to say, “It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Gn2:18), and He also said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gn 2:16-17)  Adam and Eve did not listen to the voice of God.  Instead they were persuaded by another voice; another voice that would lead them into the captivity of sin, death, and the power of the devil.

There is a lot going on in our Gospel text for today.  It speaks to us of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  This Sunday is a transition, the culmination of the Epiphany season where we have witnessed various manifestations of Jesus over the past several weeks, to the beginning of Lent where we will walk with Jesus who has set his face to go to Jerusalem.  After this mountaintop experience, Jesus is going to go down the mountain into the valley of the shadow of death, to rescue you and me from our captivity to sin, death and the power of the devil.

But before he does that, he has one more manifestation for us, and boy, what a sight it is to see.  He takes Peter, John and James up on a mountain to pray.  This was about eight days after Peter made his confession that Jesus was the Christ of God.  Jesus would get away often to pray.  Before the end of this chapter of Luke we are going to see Jesus setting his face to go to Jerusalem.  He knew what lay ahead of him.  He needed time to pray.  Peter, James and John were three of the first four disciples called by Jesus.  They seem to have become some sort of “inner circle” to Jesus.  He had taken them into Jairus’ house when he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and they would be with him in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to his betrayal and arrest.  Here they are on the mountain top, and boy did they get a show!

While Jesus was praying “the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.” (vs 29)  It’s as if Jesus was becoming something “other” than what he was.  The term used for “dazzling white” indicates flashes of lightening.  In Matthew’s account, it says that his face “shone like the sun.” (Mt 17:3)  Imagine with me looking directly into the sun, and while you are doing that you see flashes of lightening, one after another, so intense that it makes the sun look like a nightlight!  I don’t care how asleep you are…that would wake you up!  And awake the disciples became.  I don’t know about you, but I identify with these guys.  Prayer is hard work.  I find it difficult to stay awake during extended times of prayer.  Maybe it’s because I am not cognizant of whose presence I am in while I pray.  Hebrews tells us, dear Saints, that when we pray, we enter the very Holy of Holies, the very presence of God himself.  We are, in a manner of speaking, on a mountain top, face to face with the glory of God.

The disciples “saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” (vs32)  One of the three, John, would later write, “…and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14)  And Peter would later write of this event, “…we were eyewitnesses of his majesty…. for we were with him on the holy mountain.” (2 Pet 1:16,18)  These three men saw the glory of God that Moses longed to see, but was denied, when he was placed in the cleft of a rock.  But now Moses is here, in the Promised Land, from which he had also been barred from entering; along with Elijah.  What a sight!  The two greatest figures in all the Old Testament: Moses the representative of the Law, and Elijah the representative of the Prophets right here, with Jesus, in glorious appearance, on this mountain top.  No wonder Peter didn’t want to leave!  Would you?

While there is so much to see with all this spectacular flashing of light and glorious appearing of these major figures in Biblical history, I want you to listen.  Listen carefully to what is being said and who is saying it.  Thee are three conversations going on in this text: the conversation between Moses, Elijah and Jesus; the conversation between Peter and Jesus; and then what God the Father has to say.

Moses and Elijah “were talking with him” our text says, “and spoke about his departure.” (vss 30-31)  This speaking about his departure is unique to Luke, and it is the Greek word for “exodus.”  We often get the idea that Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus and that they are the ones strengthening Jesus for the work he is to accomplish at Jerusalem.  I think it’s the other way around!  Jesus is pointing out to Moses and Elijah just what it was that their work and their prophecies were pointing toward!  Moses had prophesied, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen.” (Dt 18:15)  And Jesus is telling and showing Moses, “Hey!  It’s me!  I’m the guy!  You are now with me in the Promised Land, and you now get to see my glory!”  And to Elijah, the Old Testament harbinger of the Messiah, Jesus is saying the same thing, “It’s me!  I’m the one you were pointing to!”  “And my Exodus?  It’s not just a freeing of people from a life of slavery from cruel rulers to a land flowing with milk and honey; it will be a freeing of people from slavery to sin and leading them to the promised land of eternal life.”  Jesus made this abundantly clear while speaking to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Lk 24:25-27)

And then there is the conversation of Peter, if we can call it a conversation.  Typical Peter.  Open mouth insert foot.  He just doesn’t get it.  He’s so enamored with the flashing light, the glory, and the presence of the two greatest figures in all Israelite history that all he can think about is making three booths, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah so that they all could just stay on this mountain top and bask in the light.  Who’s to blame him?  Wouldn’t you?  But Peter’s focus is on the wrong thing.  He’d focused on the here and now.  He’s already forgotten that just a few days ago, after he made is profound confession that Jesus himself said that  he must “…suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (vs 22)

Peter loved mountain top experiences.  We all do, don’t we?  You go to camp, you go to a conference and you get all jazzed up spiritually and you don’t want to “go back home.”  You know that when you “go back home” that you will have to face the realities of daily Christian living, and it’s not all mountain top experiences.  My dear brothers and sisters, for every mountain top, there are at least two valleys.  It’s in the valleys that we live and move and have our being.  But take heart, Jesus is going to come down that mountain and walk with you…or maybe I should say, you are going to walk with him, for he has already been through the Valley of the Shadow of death, for you.

This brings us to our last conversation.  “And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’” (vs 35)

Listen to Jesus!  He’s the chosen one of God!  The writer to the Hebrews opens his book with, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son….” (Heb 1:1-2)  Do not get enamored by Moses’ or Elijah’s, or Benny Hinn’s, or Deepak Chopra’s, Joel Osteen’s, the Dali Lama, Buddha or any other so-called spiritual guru.  Jesus is God’s Chosen One.  Jesus is the one who lived his life in perfect obedience to God’s Law, for you.  Jesus is the one who suffered, bled and died on the cross for your sins.  Jesus is the one who was not only buried but was raised from the dead for your justification.  And Jesus is the one who ascended into the very throne room of God and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High, having completed his work on your behalf.

None of those other guys I mentioned, or anyone else, has done all that, or any of that, for you.  Dear Saints of Redeemer look to Jesus.  Listen to him!  “For this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way” (Ac 1:11) for you!

When the cloud dissipated and the voice had spoken, “Jesus was found alone.”  And they were silent.  Nothing else to say.

The first voice recorded in the Bible was the voice of God saying, “Let there be light” (Gn 3:1).  We have seen the true light which enlightens everyone, who came into the world, dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.  The last voice recorded in the Bible is his voice saying, “Surely I am coming soon.” (Rev 22:20)  Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

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

The Teacher

Seventh Sunday of Epiphany — Deacon Rex Watt

Genesis 45:3-15 / 1 Cor 15:21-26, 30-42 / Luke 6:27-38

 

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

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

Dear Saints of Redeemer.  We have been travelling with Jesus over the past several weeks from the time that the wise men came to offer their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child, to his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist where we heard the voice of God declare, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  We watched him turn water into wine; walk out of a crowd trying to kill him; heal many who were inflicted with infirmities; cast out demons; and provide a miraculous catch of fish.  Each of these Sunday’s readings manifested the divinity of Jesus in a material or physical way.  Last Sunday, and today, we see Jesus manifested as “The Teacher.”  Notice that I said, “The Teacher.”  It is conventional wisdom to consider Jesus as “a” teacher, maybe even a “good teacher” but certainly not “The Teacher.”  We heard from Pastor Wildermuth last week that Jesus taught with “unconventional wisdom.”  In our Gospel lesson for this week, we hear some more of that unconventional wisdom.  If Jesus is “The Teacher” then his words must trump the teachings of all others.  If Jesus is “The Teacher” then his words lay claim on my life, and your life.  If Jesus is “The Teacher” then it’s no longer what I think, but what he says.

We all have had teachers in our lives.  Some good, some not so good.  Some remembered, some you may want to forget.  What made a teacher good and remembered by you, or not so good in your mind, probably wasn’t what they taught, but how they taught; who they were.  After all, math is math.  History is (or should be!) history.  If I ask you to recall who your favorite teacher was when you were in school, I suspect it would be a teacher who took a special interest in you or was able to make a boring or difficult subject “come to life” for you.  Someone has said, “The mediocre teacher tells; the good teacher explains; the superior teacher demonstrates; but the great teacher inspires.” (William Ward, Progress Magazine, December 23, 1992)  No matter who we remember as a great teacher, they pale in comparison to Jesus.  Jesus is the greatest teacher who has ever taught.  When he opened his mouth, people listened.  They were, as Matthew said, “…astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Mt 7:28-29)

In our text for today, Jesus takes the heart of his teaching to an unexpectedly deeper level by commanding that his disciples love their enemies.  There is a lot of what we call “Law” in these verses.  There are several imperatives, commands to obey.  Love your enemies is one of them.  Conventional wisdom is that you hate your enemies.  You have heard the saying, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?”  Jesus here is turning that on its head.  And he tells us what love for an enemy looks like.  It is doing good to them, blessing them, and praying for them.    Later in Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus demonstrating this very teaching.  He is on the Cross, between two criminals, being scoffed at and ridiculed by those standing by and having his clothing being auctioned off by the roll of the dice when he says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”(Lk 23:34)  We see this teaching in practice in the early Church when Stephen is being stoned for his testimony about Jesus when in Acts 7 we read, “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’  And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’  And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (7:59-60)

Jesus goes on to tell us more about how this love gets worked out in life.  He tells his disciples, and us, that if anyone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other also.  I’ve heard someone say, “If someone strikes me on one cheek, I’ll let him strike me on the other…but I’ve only got two cheeks you know.  Third time’s the charm!”  I think that attitude misses the point here.  A slap on the cheek is a physical insult.  Insults are not life threatening.  We need to keep in mind the context in which we find these verses.  The reading today is part of a larger reading that began last week and is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain.  He said in verse 22-23, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”  If you are being hated, cursed at, abused or slapped because you bear the name of Christ, rejoice!  If those things are happening to you because you are being a jerk, face the music!

And it’s not just insults we are commanded to bear, but Jesus commands us to give.  When John the Baptist was asked by the crowds who came out to him to be baptized how they should then live, he told them “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none.”(Lk 3:11)  Notice Jesus takes it up a notch.  “…and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.”(vs 29)  The cloak was the outer garment, the tunic was the inner garment, closest to the skin: one’s undergarment!  Jesus wants us to give even if it means we give the clothes off our back.  All these commands demand something of us that we are not normally, or naturally, willing to do.

He goes on to give examples of what we are not supposed to do, which is exactly what we normally do.  We love those who love us.  We do good to those who do good to us.  We give, or lend, to those whom we know can give or give back with interest what we have given them.  Jesus says sinners (the unrighteous) do all that.  What benefit (and that word is actually “grace”) is that to you?  It’s not “grace” to do something because you know you are going to get the same, or more back!  Grace is an undeserved gift.  And that’s exactly what Jesus is telling us to do.  “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return…”(vs 35)  That’s grace. And that, dear Saints, is what God has done for you.

Your God, while you were yet enemies, sent his Son to die for you on the Cross of Calvary.  While you were yet enemies of God, desiring to follow the desires of your own heart, your Lord Jesus endured ridicule, insults, abuse, was hated by his own people, mocked, beaten (not just slapped), and stripped naked for you.  He endured the unimaginable pain of crucifixion for all your sins, my sins, and the sins of the whole world.  You know which sins those are.  I’m not going to stand here and point them out to you.  You can examine your own life according to the 10 Commandments, and if you are like me you fall on your knees and beg for God’s mercy.  And God is merciful.  His Son, Jesus not only died for your sins, but he was raised from the dead for your justification before God.  His resurrection proves that God has accepted his sacrifice for your sins.  Because Jesus lives, you also will live.  God has been merciful to you, and you, dear Saints, can be merciful just as your Father is merciful.

Jesus overthrows the conventional wisdom of human culture emphasizing the Father’s ways of love and mercy.  God is calling you today to practice self-sacrificing love.  Pray for guidance and patience as you put God’s ways into practice in your life.  The God of all mercy will hear your prayer.  He is ready to strengthen and forgive you.  As your teacher, Jesus does more than simply tell, he does more than just explain, he even goes further than demonstrating or even inspiring you…he does it for you.  You dear Saints can love, because he has loved you.  The Lord will lead you to love the ungrateful and the evil, just as he has loved and cared for you.  Amen.

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

Touched by Holiness

Epiphany 5C

February 10, 2019 / Pastor Dennis Wildermuth

Luke 5:1-11 & Isaiah 6:1-8  / “Touched by Holiness”

 

The human heart is a great battle ground between good and evil, between certain natural human inclinations, and the good that God intends for us.  Or in the words of the eldest brother, Dimitri, of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s great novel, The Brothers Karamazov: “The devil is fighting with God and the battlefield is the human heart.”

The only way that fight might be won begins with honesty about our condition, and today’s texts all suggest that we will see our human condition most clearly when it is set next to a vision of the justice and Holiness of God.

The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said that the Christian doctrine of sin was about the only self-evident doctrine we had.  Even if you don’t believe in Jesus, if you have any knowledge of human history over the past two millennia, you believe that we sin.  Human history is the history of sin.

We encounter sin and grace in all three lessons.  Young Isaiah is in the temple at worship.  He has a stunning vision.  It was as if the heavens opened and he saw the very throne of God.  “Holy, Holy, Holy,” sang the cherubim.  And Isaiah cried, “The choir was really on target today!”  No!  Isaiah declares, “Woe is me!  I am lost for I am a man of unclean lips.”  I’m a sinner!

Some years ago there was a popular TV show, Touched by an Angel.  It was a warm fuzzy show, but full of bad theology which usually resulted in me talking back to the TV in an angry tone.  I soon quit watching.  Each week when somebody was touched by an angel, did that person cry out in fear, “Woe is me!  I am lost for I am a person of unclean lips”?

In today’s Gospel Jesus and his disciples are out in a boat.  Jesus takes charge.  “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets,” He directs.  But they have already fished all night and caught nothing.  Besides, it is the wrong time of day to fish.  In bright sunlight the fish will see the thick rope nets.  Nevertheless they do it and the nets are full.  Recognizing that he is in the presence of divine holiness, Peter’s response is the same as Isaiah’s.  He falls to his knees and cries, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

It is hard to be honest about our sin because we are dishonest about the human condition.  We don’t know how to describe ourselves except through therapeutic categories.  We excuse ourselves, saying we are sick rather than sinful.  Or sin as an educational problem – we are racist because we don’t have proper understanding of other cultures.  Or our humanity is at fault: we are frail, vulnerable creatures who respond to our creatureliness in inappropriate ways.  There is some truth to all of that, but none of it gets to the heart of a specifically Christian view of sin, or that the remedy for sin lies not in us but in God.

Today’s Scripture demonstrates that our awareness of sin is a by-product of our being confronted by God.  When we say “sin” we’re not talking about occasional foibles and slipups.  We are saying that face-to-face with the awesome righteousness of God, the holiness of Jesus, we fall to our knees.  We have our noses rubbed in the great gap between who we are and who God is.  To be brought close to the One who is “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty.  The whole earth is full of his glory!” is to cry, “Woe is me for I am one of unclean lips and dwell amid a people of unclean lips.”  Or in the words of Peter: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Luther said he would know nothing of his sin had not the Holy Spirit taught him.  The Holy Spirit taught Luther and teaches us today through the Word of God.  It is there that the law cuts through all our defenses and rationalizations to show us our sin – that we are full of sin all the time, to show us our lost condition, and all this in sharp contrast to God’s absolute holiness.  Scripture then points us to the remedy, and that remedy is not us trying harder, but rather is to be found in the cross of Christ.

Yes, it is true that we are unworthy, but God has done something marvelous about it.  No flaming angel has come with a burning coal to touch our lips.  God has instead sent his Only Begotten Son to bear that pain on his Cross.  And He has poured out the fire of His Holy Spirit upon us.  He has washed us in the waters of the baptismal font.  He has touched our lips with something better and probably less painful than a burning coal: the very body and blood of Christ Jesus.  We really are the children of God.  He has taken up a real and permanent residence in our lives.

Because we come to worship and into the presence of the Holy God as sinful people, part of our preparation for worship is to confess our sins and receive absolution or forgiveness.  We hear this lifesaving, freeing Gospel in the words of absolution spoken, and we see it in the sign of the cross that is made reminding us of Jesus’ sacrifice.

In Holy Communion this Gospel is individualized, coming personally and directly to each one of us in ways we can see and touch and taste.  Luther never tired of emphasizing the words, “for you” — “given and shed for you.”  These two words convey the Gospel, giving to every communicant the assurance – the guarantee – that God’s grace and gift is for them.

“Holy, holy, holy” are the opening words of the Sanctus, part of the communion we sing before we come to the table of the Lord.  At least we do if we are observing a liturgical rite.  These words remind us that when we come to the Sacrament we are coming into the presence of the holy, we are coming into the presence of God, and this God once rode into Jerusalem where in the flesh He died for the sins of the world.

Years ago I read about a young pastor who served briefly as a chaplain in a state prison.  He told of a father of a young man who had had received a lengthy prison sentence for his crimes.  The son was angry and embittered.  The boy’s father came each week to visit him, but the boy steadfastly refused to see him.  The chaplain was asked to intervene, to plead with the boy to see his father, but the young prisoner refused.

Despite his refusal, the boy’s father took off work every week, boarded a bus, and traveled across the state in the hope of seeing his son.  Each time it became the young chaplain’s difficult task to ask the son, “Do you want to see your dad?”  Then he had to bear word of the refusal to the waiting father.  The father would thank the chaplain and head toward the door for the bus trip back home.

One day, after telling the father once again that his son would not meet with him, the chaplain said, “No one would do what you are doing.  Your son is an embittered, defiant young man.  Give up.  Go back home and get on with your life.  No one would put up with this kind of rejection, week after week.”

“God has put up with it for centuries,” said the father, as he headed out.  The young chaplain literally fell to his knees at this vision of the righteousness of God.  Woe is me!  I am a sinful man whose lips and life are not worthy of the greatness of God.

One theologian (Karl Barth) declared that, “Only Christians sin.”  That is, non-Christians tend to view their sins as mistakes, slip-ups, small potatoes.  Christians come to sense sin as a huge gap between us and our loving, forgiving, seeking Savior.  Christians can confess – come completely clean before God only because of a prior confidence in a forgiving, gracious God.  Peter cried, “Depart from me, I am a sinful man!”  The good news is, God never does depart from us.

How long has it been since we have been afraid in worship, filled with the sense of awe that struck down the young Isaiah?  This Sunday in Epiphany may be just such a time.  All of today’s lessons depict persons being confronted by the holiness of the living and righteous God.  Paul speaks of his own lack of fitness to be a leader of the church   (I Cor 15:1-11), an assessment of himself brought on by his experience of the love of Christ.  Peter is brought to his knees in confession, and then there is the young Isaiah in the temple.

They all end the same as well.  Paul becomes an apostle, an ambassador of Christ.  Isaiah is called to be a prophet and when the Lord asks, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?”  Isaiah answers, “Here am I send me.”  In the Gospel lesson Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.”  And “they left everything and followed him.”  Note that this undeserved, gracious love, acceptance and forgiveness of God led and empowered Isaiah, Paul, Peter, and now us to lead lives of service to God, to simply surrender ourselves to God.

So where will we see him today.  Our Scriptures remind us that God does not send angels into this world to do his work, but oddly works through and with us.  He sends the once sinful, now purified Isaiah out into the world as a prophet, transforming his fear into boldness.  He goes with a Peter, who cowers in fear at Jesus’ feet and simply wants him to leave him alone.  But Jesus sees his beloved friend and will not leave him, not ever.  Even when Peter disowns him, Jesus never will.

 

He Speaks with Authority!

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – Deacon Rex Watt

Jer 1:4-10 (17-19) / Psa 71:1-6 (7-11) / 1 Cor 12:31b-13:13 / Luke 4:31-44

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

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

Dear Saints of Redeemer.  Once again we find Jesus in the synagogue.  This time he is up in Capernaum, a little NE of Nazareth his hometown and right on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Capernaum was a fishing village and an important Roman garrison, a military outpost.  It was also Simon Peter’s hometown, and the town in which Matthew collected taxes.  It had become Jesus’ base of operations since his baptism by John the Baptist.  If you remember last week, Jesus had been teaching in the synagogues throughout Galilee when he returned to his hometown only to be rejected by them.  So, he heads back to Capernaum and these folk “were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority” (vs 32).

This Sabbath we don’t get to hear what it is that Jesus is teaching, but we do get to see the power of his words.  For while he was teaching there was a man in the synagogue who was possessed with “the spirit of an unclean demon” and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha!  What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are – the Holy One of God” (vss 33-34).  This demon identifies Jesus with a messianic title: the Holy One of God.  There was a belief among the pagans of the ancient world that if one knew a god’s real name, then one could exercise some control over that deity.  By calling Jesus by this name, the demon was probably attempting to exercise control over Jesus.[1]  But look what happened!  “Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’” (vs 35).  The demon had no option but to obey the voice of the Holy One of God.  Jesus is the Stronger One who enters the house of the strong man and drives out demons with the finger of God.[2]

Just as Jesus’ words have power and authority over the unclean spirits, his word has power and authority in your life as well.  His word of Law points out your sins, and my sins even as we sit, here, in church.  While an evil spirit may not possess us, we are as unclean as they come because of our natural sinful condition.  Today, our Epistle reading points this out to us all too readily.  We don’t love as Scripture demands.  We are not always patient, or kind.  We envy others.  We boast, either about ourselves, or about the deal we got on some purchase.  We can be arrogant or rude at times, if not in actual practice, certainly in our thoughts.  If we don’t get our way we get irritable or resentful.  No, you and I don’t love as Scripture demands; but there is One who does.  There is One who has loved you from the foundation of the world and has demonstrated that love for you by sending His only Son to live the life you cannot live, to love as you cannot love, and to die so that you can live.

Jesus comes with his powerful Word pointing out who he is (last week’s lesson) and demonstrating to you this week, that he has authority over the spiritual realm; and as we will see, the physical realm.  With a word of rebuke, he casts out the spirit of the unclean demon, and the people were amazed saying to one another, “What is this word?” (vs 36).  This “word” is the Word of God in the flesh!  This word is the Word which, when spoken into your ears, creates faith in your heart.  This word is the Word that is attached to the waters of your baptism that brings you out of the kingdom of darkness and transfers you into the kingdom of light.

Jesus left the synagogue and entered Simon Peter’s house.  Peter’s mother-in-law lay ill with a high fever.  A high fever could be a prelude to something far worse given the state of medical care back in those days.  Notice again what Jesus does.  He rebukes the fever.  To rebuke is to speak against.  We don’t know what those words were, but Jesus spoke against the fever and the woman became well, well enough to get up and serve the guests in her house.  Word of that healing must have gotten out for when evening came, people from all over town brought to him “any who were sick with various diseases…and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them” (vs 40).

Dear Saints of Redeemer, Jesus is revealing himself to us today as the One who has authority over all things.  His authority over the demons, as demonstrated today, shows us that he rules over the spiritual kingdom.  His authority over sickness and disease, as demonstrated today, shows us that he rules over the physical kingdom.  Just as he said in the last chapter of Matthew, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt 28:18), so it has.  Jesus is in control!  That should bring you comfort in whatever trials and tribulations you may be going through.

“And when it was day” our text says, “he departed and went into a desolate place” (vs42).  Jesus must have been up all night ministering to those who were sick and demon possessed.  He had hoped to get away for some time alone, but the people sought him out.  They didn’t want him to leave.  Why would they?  They’ve never seen anything like this before.  Having Jesus around was better than Obamacare!  Everyone was getting cured.  They must have approached him with an offer they thought was too good to refuse…but he did!  He told them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (vs 43).

Jesus didn’t come to just cast out demons and heal people’s diseases and infirmities.  Being healed of disease or being freed from demon possession was only a temporary fix.  People would still die.  Even Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, would one day die again.  Jesus came to proclaim the Good News, the Gospel.  He came to be the Gospel!  For only the Gospel is the power of God for salvation.  All these miracles of healing and demon exorcisms were done to simply validate the authority of Christ’s preaching of the Good News.  Don’t get them confused!  The people of Nazareth, upon hearing the Good News only wanted to see miracles performed like they had heard were done in other towns.  The people of Capernaum, who heard the Good News, were focused on the miracles and wanted to work a deal to keep this miracle worker to themselves.  People in Jesus’ day, like ours, get focused on the wrong aspect of Jesus’ ministry.  He came to “proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (vs 18), as well as give sight to the blind and set at liberty those who are oppressed.

The Gospel, dear saints, is the message.  It is what “this” is all about.  What good is it if one gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  You can have perfect health, the perfect “10” body, the perfect job, great kids, great house, 10x the money Bill Gates has; but if you do not have the forgiveness of sins given to you in the Gospel, you have nothing!

Jesus came to proclaim the Good News, the euaggelion.  Jesus is the euaggelion, the Good News.  Paul said in Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel [euagelion], for it [the euagelion] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  Concerning this Gospel he also wrote to the Corinthians, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:1-4).

By God’s grace, dear saints, this gospel is the word I will preach to you.  It is my prayer, paraphrasing the words of the Apostle Paul, when I proclaim the testimony of God to you that I do not do it with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I want to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

It is Jesus who has all authority.  It is Jesus who speaks with authority.  His prophets, his apostles, his preachers down through the ages have simply proclaimed his Word.  You and I are beneficiaries of their proclamation.  We have heard the power of God; we have believed the Gospel; let us not be distracted by the trials and tribulations of life, or seek after temporal signs.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and perfector of our faith.  Amen.  So let it be.

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

 

[1] Robert A. Sorensen, “Luke”, Reformation Heritage Bible Commentary, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 2014, page 83.

[2] Gerhard Kittle, Editor, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol 2, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1964, page 626.

Today…in your hearing

Third Sunday after Epiphany / January 27, 2019 / Deacon Rex Watt

Neh 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 / Psalm 19:(1-6) 7-14 /

1 Cor 12:12-31a / Lk 4:16-30

 

 

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

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

 

Dear Saints of Redeemer, isn’t it exciting when a celebrity comes to town?  It’s even more exciting if the celebrity is a product of your own hometown.  We have some celebrities that our communities can lay claim to:  Jake Locker of Ferndale, who was starting QB for the UW for four years, and spent four years as QB for the Tennessee Titans; Hillary Swank, a graduate of Sehome HS who is an academy award winning actress; Doug Pederson, a Ferndale HS grad who went on to a multi-year NFL career, most recently as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, winning the Super Bowl just last year; and Stephen S. Oswald, a 1969 graduate of Bellingham HS who went on to the US Naval Academy pursuing a career as a naval aviator/test pilot, and eventually became a NASA astronaut with three space shuttle missions and 33 days in space to his credit.   If any of these celebrities showed up at our church services, we’d beam with pride.  Home boy/home girl made it good.  If we knew they were coming, we’d invite friends and relatives to come and see and get in on the excitement.

In our Gospel lesson for today the synagogue in Nazareth was beaming with pride.  As Luke tells the story, Jesus had returned from His temptation and been going about Galilee teaching in their synagogues, being glorified by all.  Mark gives us more details of the events leading up to our reading today, outlining several healings and miracles prior to His return to His hometown Nazareth.  But today is special!  It’s the Sabbath and Jesus has returned home.

“And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.”  Jesus went to church regularly.  He was obedient to the Third Commandment.  This would have been his home synagogue, where he grew up, where He went to synagogue school with the other boys in town, and where He would have heard, studied and learned by heart the Scriptures.  But this Sabbath day was different from others.  Jesus didn’t come to the Nazareth synagogue because he was “the son (as was supposed) of Joseph” (Lk3.23), to be a hearer of the Word; he was there as a teacher of the Word, a rabbi, a guest preacher in his home congregation.

The people of Nazareth had never seen this side of Jesus before.  They had never heard him speak in the synagogue.  Synagogues operated without professional clergy.  Elected presidents or rulers of the synagogue would select a man to read the Scripture and expound upon it, prompting a general discussion.  Visiting rabbis were prime choices for this privilege, so Jesus was invited to read and teach.  This would be a new experience for Jesus, and the people of Nazareth, for although Jesus grew up in their midst, he had never read publicly the Scriptures nor offered his comments, since the custom was that until a man reached 30, it was required that he be a hearer; to listen to his elders.  Jesus, having now attained that age, was invited to read.  “And he stood up to read.  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’” (vv 16-19).

“And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” (v 20)

Then came the sermon.  It was not a lecture on theology; a list of ten steps to a better you; or even a rally for some social issue.  It was simple, profound.  “Today,” Jesus said, “this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (v 21)  “What Isaiah wrote,” Jesus says, “is about me!”  It’s as if the words of the prophet walked right off the pages of Scripture and stood right in front of them.  And actually, that is exactly what happened.  Jesus, the Word who was in the beginning, who was with God and who was God, who became flesh was coming to his own, and just like the Apostle John wrote, “…his own people did not receive him.” (Jn 1.11)

The people of Nazareth couldn’t believe their ears.  “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (v 22) they asked?  No, not really.  He’s “the Son of God” (Lk 1.35) conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.  He is, as Isaiah wrote, and Jesus just declared, the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah.

Dear Saints of Redeemer, we don’t have to wait for some celebrity to come to our church.  The celebrity of celebrities is here.  This Jesus, your Jesus, the Word in human flesh, the Word that’s living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, is present here, as he was in Nazareth, to deliver the Good News of salvation to you who are poor and needy; to proclaim liberty to you who are in debt with sin; to give sight to you who walk in darkness; to set you who are in bondage free; and to let you know that the Jubilee of the Lord has begun. It all happens “in your hearing” – literally in your ears.  That is how Jesus makes himself and his forgiveness known to you.  Saint Paul wrote, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10.17)  So today, in your hearing, right here at Redeemer, this Scripture is again being fulfilled: Jesus, the Christ, comes with the Lord’s favor for you.

A few weeks ago I asked you why you come to church.  This, dear saints, is why.  Every Sunday, flesh-and-blood Jesus, true God and true man steps into our gathering.  He comes to us in his Word again and again, never tiring to bring us forgiveness, life and salvation, week in and week out.  Sunday isn’t about you or what you are doing here, though it is good that you are here.  What matters is that he is here…here for the depressed and despairing, here for the sinner and the sinned against, here for all who are oppressed, victimized, abused, taken advantage of, and suffering.

Unfortunately, like the people of Nazareth, not all who hear believe.  All they see when they look at Jesus is that he is Joseph’s son.  What do they want with Jesus?  Apparently not the good news he proclaims, the liberty he brings, the sight he restores, or the freedom he promises.  They want him dead.  Those people of Nazareth dragged him up to the brow of a hill to throw him off so that he’d be bruised, wounded, stricken and crushed as he fell.  Today, people simply want him silenced.  They want to shut any mention of Jesus out of the public square.  It’s as if they have an innate fear of hearing his voice – lest they be convicted of their unbelief.  Yet his voice still speaks, and you, dear saints have heard that voice.  That’s why you are here.  That’s why you keep coming back here.

The voice of Jesus cries out to you from another hill.  This one he willingly ascends for you.  Despised and rejected by his people, he carried his own cross along with all of your sins, my sins, and the sins of the whole world to the top of that hill where he, bruised and wounded, stricken, smitten, and afflicted was crucified being delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.  This same Jesus was laid in a tomb only to be raised from the dead after three days for your justification.  Just prior to his ascension, having given his disciples the commission to proclaim his gospel, baptize, teach and forgive sins in his name, he promised to be with them always, even to the end of the age.

My friends, there is no need for a celebrity.  Jesus, the Living Word, comes to you every time Scripture is read, studied in Bible class or proclaimed from this pulpit.  He came to you in your Baptism, washing you clean from the guilt of your sins, giving you his Holy Spirit as a down payment of your inheritance.  And he comes to you each and every time you kneel at this altar and receive his very body and blood broken and shed for you on the cross of Calvary for the forgiveness of your sins and strengthening of your faith.  “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” he said. (Mt 18.20)

You dear saints of Redeemer have received the good news, so you are no longer poor, but rich in his grace; you have been set free from your captivity to sin by your burial with him in your Baptism; he has opened your eyes like he did for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; he has freed you from the oppression of the guilt of your sins; he has brought you into his eternal rest, the Jubilee of the Lord’s favor.  Today, in your hearing, the Scripture is again fulfilled: Jesus, the Christ comes with the Lord’s favor, for you.  Amen.

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

The Baptism of Jesus

 

First Sunday after the Epiphany / Baptism of Our Lord

Isa 43:1-7 / Rom 6:1-11 / Lk 3:15-22

Deacon Rex E. Watt

 

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

Prayer for blessing on the Word.

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

Kids grow up fast, don’t they?  While the adjustment to having a newborn in the house is sometimes daunting, I have yet to hear a parent say, “I just wish they’d grow up faster!”  It usually goes something along the lines of, “They’re already walking?  They’re already driving?  Oh my gosh, they are graduating…where did the time go?”  Our pericope readings for the past few weeks have been like that.  A few weeks ago, we were at the manger peering in on the baby Jesus.  It just seems like yesterday the Magi were bringing the young child gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Today, we find Jesus all grown up!

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about the childhood of Jesus.  Other than the story of him in the temple talking with the teachers of the Law when he was twelve years old, what we’ve read over the past several weeks is about all we know.  Jesus’ childhood and growing up years were probably pretty unremarkable, pretty quite, pretty unassuming.  That is about to change.  Today we read about the event in Jesus’ life that marks his entrance, the beginning if you will, the manifestation, the revealing, the Epiphany, of why Jesus came.

We are in the season of the Church Year called Epiphany.  Do you remember the meaning of the word, “Epiphany?”  It is an uncovering, a revealing.  Something has been hidden, or unnoticed, and now it is revealed.  Sometimes we use the term in the sense of “Aha! Now I get it!”  We say that we’ve had an epiphany.  A question that I’d like you to keep in mind as we travel through this season of Epiphany is, “What is God’s Word telling me about Jesus that I would not have known, thought about, or considered before?”  Our text for today is about Jesus’ baptism, so we want to be asking the question, “What is this text telling me about Jesus that I haven’t been thinking about before?”

Have you ever wondered, “What is Jesus doing here?”  John was baptizing with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  People were coming to John from all over confessing their sins and being baptized by him.  Jesus had no sins.  He did not need to confess anything.  Why in the world was Jesus coming to John to be baptized by him?  Shouldn’t this be the other way around?  Shouldn’t John be getting baptized by Jesus?

Jesus is here, for you!  He comes to John to be baptized not because he needs to confess anything.  He comes to John to be baptized in order to become like one of us.  In the waters of the Jordan, he is not washing away any sins he has, he is having the sins of the world washed onto him as part of the “great exchange” that the Apostle Paul refers to in 1 Cor 5.21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  In Jesus’ baptism by John, Jesus is identifying with us poor sinners.  Only sinners need to be baptized.  Jesus is taking onto himself the filth of our sin so that he can carry it to the cross where he will pay the ultimate penalty for your sin, my sin, and the sin of the whole world.

Picture with me, if you will, a pool of water where a shepherd stands and bathes his sheep who are covered with the dirt, filth, grass and dung from months of being out in the fields.  Sheep after sheep come into the pool with the shepherd and he washes each one until they are spic and span clean.  The water is a mess.  Then he spots one beautiful, totally clean lamb waiting its turn.  Should he wash that lamb?  If that lamb steps into the water, it’s going to take on all the muck floating around in that now filthy pool.  John said to Jesus, “I shouldn’t baptize you.”  And Jesus said to John, “Yes, you should!”  Your Jesus, circumcised on the eighth day shedding his first blood for you; presented in the temple at forty days old keeping the Law for you while still an infant; now steps out in public, for the first time that we know of, and so completely identifies with us, lost and condemned persons that we are, that he takes on the burden and guilt of all of our sins.

And when he does, the most incredible thing happens.  “The heavens are opened, and the Holy Spirit descends on him in bodily form, like a dove, and a voice from heaven says, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”  God Almighty, the creator of the universe, by voice which was heard by all who were standing nearby, and by a sign, seen by all who were standing nearby affirms that his son, Jesus has begun to do all that he was sent to do.  The heavens, which were shut to mankind after the Fall into Sin are now opened.  The Spirit of God who hovered over the waters at creation and came and went upon people of the Old Covenant now rests upon Jesus to be given to whomever he will.  And the voice of God, which has been silent for 400 years is heard once again.

So what does all this mean for you and me?  When we compare Jesus’ baptism with our baptism, we see this “great exchange” at work.  In Jesus’ baptism, he is identifying himself with you, me, and every other sinful human being who ever lived or will live.  He takes on our sins, and becomes one with us.  In our baptisms, we are joined to Christ in a death like his, receive the forgiveness of our sins that he paid for on the cross nearly 2,000 year ago, clothed with his righteousness which he gives to us freely as a gift, made heirs with Christ and receive the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance.  Needless to say, it seems to me that we, poor miserable sinners that we are, get the better deal in this exchange.

Returning to our question that we asked at the beginning of our time together, “What is this text telling me about Jesus that I haven’t been thinking about before?”  What is the “epiphany” in this text?  Let me suggest a few:

When Jesus came to be baptized by John, he did it for you.  This is not just an historical note about something that happened to Jesus.  The sinless Son of God, the second person of the trinity, the savior of the world, came to John to be baptized, for you.

This Jesus, whom God declares to be his beloved son at his baptism by John, declares you to be his sons and daughters in your baptism.

As God has now made you his children, he makes you full heirs of his kingdom.  Children inherit from their parents.  God gives you his Holy Spirit as the down payment, the guarantee, of your inheritance.

As you have been united with Jesus in a death like his, as the Apostle Paul wrote, you dear Saints will certainly be united with Jesus in a resurrection like his.

“When you pass through the waters, [he] will be with you”  “He called you by name, you are [his].  No matter what you go through in life, your Lord Jesus will be with you.

Dear Saints of Redeemer, God your father, at your baptism, opened heaven for you.  He gave you his Holy Spirit to enlighten your eyes to see the work he was doing, forgiving you your sins, he also gave you ears to hear his voice anew: “You are my beloved son/daughter; with you I am well pleased.”  Amen.

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

The Mystery Revealed

Texts: Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12  — Pastor Don Mossman

Introduction

I recall the time a student made an insightful statement in one of my classes.  Try as she might, she just didn’t understand the theory we were discussing.  Then she said, “Oh, now I get it.”  My response?  “Great.  You’ve just had an epiphany.”

It’s satisfying to finally understand some things after having wrestled with the mysterious for some time.  Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.”  It enables us to dream, to imagine, to see things we could never otherwise see.  For example, the Scriptures proclaim that, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above shows his handiwork.” (Ps. 19:1)  I am told, and hang onto your hat, that there are some 10 billion galaxies scattered through the visible universe.  And when I gaze up at the stars on a clear, dark night, I am amazed at the mysteries that go into God’s creative work.

Our lessons for this Epiphany Sunday speak of a Light that sheds belief or understanding of mysteries previously unknown.  Isaiah (Is. 60:1-3), often said to be the Gospel of the Old Testament, speaks of the Light promised, the light shining on the darkness of God’s people around the world.  St. Paul sheds translucent light on the inclusion of the Gentiles peoples.  Indeed it was and still is to a great extent, a mystery too deep for humanity to grasp unless the Spirit grant it.

I.  In the darkness of sin

     A.  Herod was an evil man (Matthew 2:1-12)

  1. Herod was a wicked man. He was insecure, suspicious of anyone who would even think of taking his throne.  When he heard that the Magi were asking questions about a newborn king, the Scriptures say he was greatly troubled, together with all Jerusalem.
  2. I guess so! Because of this suspicion, he had one son killed, a brother-in-law, his own wife, and others of his royal court because of uncontrolled suspicions of someone wanting his throne.  In response to the inquiry of the Wise Men, and to eliminate any challenge to his throne as he saw it, he had every male baby up to two years killed in and around Bethlehem.  He was as spiritually dead as a stone.

     B.  Description of our society

  1. Peggy Noonan, American author of books on politics, religion and culture, is quoted as saying that in this our society, “Everyone’s in the dark looking for a light switch.”  Perhaps that is too extreme a view for some of you, but it bears similarity to our society today.  Another insight: bumper sticker: “I’m lost! Where am I going?”
  2. So it is in the lives of many in this world. The law in the form of the Ten  Commandments or that written on the hearts of men and women are ignored or trampled upon.  Living in the darkness of sin they cannot see or deal with the seriousness of their sin.

III.  The Light of God

        A.  The real star of Bethlehem is Jesus

  1. We have every reason to rejoice this 12th day of Christmas, for when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might be the light to lighten both the Jewish and the Gentile peoples around the world. We read as to how these Wise Men were very intelligent and were able to interpret the meaning of a new star, which is something no one else in the world was able to do.  They looked at the star and it was revealed to them that the promised Messiah had come.  Not even the Jews knew that.
  2. In our lesson in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the fact that he would never have been able to understand the promises of God if they hadn’t been revealed to him. The first of these “mysteries” as he called them, was that the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together with one body, and shared together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
  3. Now this was a very counter-cultural thing for a Jew like Paul to understand. It wasn’t easy coming to understand that God’s grace is for Gentiles also. It took direct intervention by Jesus on the road to Damascus to reveal God’s intended truth.  Yet, it shouldn’t have been surprising, for these “mysteries” are consistent with the many OT prophesies that Peter, Paul and the rest of the Jews should have been familiar with.  God’s grace was intended for all people throughout the entire world.  God’s love knows no limits and it recognizes no boundaries.  Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female – it is inclusive.

Conclusion

The Hubble telescope repeatedly reveals new mysteries of the heavens.  My jaw never ceases to drop when I look upon the glorious, beautiful, amazing handiwork of God.  I don’t understand it all, yet I marvel at it and its beauty.  God’s wisdom is even more beautiful.  How can he show love to people like me who have done nothing to deserve it?  The answer is God’s Son Jesus.  His love is constant, unfathomable and limitless.  And I am ever so grateful for that epiphany.

The Mystery in the Manger

Christmas Eve – December 24, 2018  — Deacon Rex Watt

Luke 2:8-20

 

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

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

The contrast is striking.  While every year the Christmas retail season starts earlier and earlier and the hype gets more and more intense, the first Christmas was not an intense affair at all.  If anything, it seems to be quite calm and quiet in comparison to today’s festivities.

Now in our culture, you cannot blame people for trying to make a buck.  Ethel Merman, the famous actress/singer of a generation ago, belted out her signature song, “There’s no business like show business,” and she was right.  Show business is fine in its place.  But show business has no business in God’s business.  Christmas has its entertainment side and its retail side, but we have not come here tonight to be entertained.  We are here on God’s business.  And God’s business is to call a halt to all the busy-ness of our hectic lives and this hectic season so that we might discover anew the good news of great joy that was proclaimed so long ago to shepherds on Bethlehem’s plain: “Today… a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11).

As Mary looked down at the tiny baby wrapped is swaddling cloths Scripture tells us that she, “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”  What were all those things?  It wasn’t the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, for those didn’t come until later.  It was the words spoken by the angel to the shepherds, who in turn had told them to Mary and Joseph.

Could it really be that the Lord, the God of hosts, who feeds all creation, who opens up His hand to satisfy the desires of every living thing, could come as a helpless infant boy?  “Good news of great joy that will be for all people” (Lk 2:10), the angel had announced.  This was no pipe dream.  These words were from the very mouth of God.  Her firstborn son was none other than the long awaited for Messiah, the promised Redeemer, God in human flesh and bone.  No wonder Mary kept all these words and pondered them in her heart.

You and I can do no less on this holy night.  For when all is said and done, there is nothing else to say or do that could add the smallest luster to this day.  This is the Mystery in the Manger: God in diapers, here among us.  God in a crib – who some 30 years later will be God on a cross, made to be sin for us that He might remove forever the curse of sin and the sting of death.

This little baby, so cute and innocent, so meek and so mild, came for one purpose, and one purpose only.  He came for you, and he came for me.  Those cute little feet, with those tiny little toes (you know, the kind that we take ink prints of and put up on our nursery walls or on infant

t-shirts), would soon walk the dusty paths of this earth, be anointed with tears, and be pierced with nails for you, and for me.  Those cute little hands, with those cute little fingers, would soon be fashioning furniture, healing the blind and the lame, feeding the multitudes, and be stretched out and nailed to a cross for us.  Those swaddling cloths will be exchanged for a tunic that will be stripped away from his body, which will then be beat, spit upon, flogged, and crucified for you, and for me.  That cute little head will have a crown of thorns mashed down upon it causing blood to flow from head to toe for us.  That cute little mouth with those reddish rosy lips cooing in the cool evening Bethlehem breeze will before long cry out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as He hangs on the cross paying the penalty for your sin, for my sin, for the sins of the whole world.  Soon after that He will utter His final words, “It is finished!”

Finished!  Hmm.  Soon, in a few hours actually, the world will be finished with Christmas.  Everything will fade away.  The glitz and the glitter will soon be packed up and put away to be stored for another day, another year, actually.  The excitement of children and the happy glow of all that we’ve come to expect from this holy night is illusive and fast fleeting.  All too soon it’s come and gone.  But not this: Treasure in your heart the Mystery of the Manger, God made flesh for your salvation.  He comes for every soul distressed, and lonely, and grieving.  He comes for every wounded mind and heart.  He comes with peace that passes all understanding, with forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He comes for you…and you…and you…and you.  (Sigh) And for me.

Amen.  Come Lord Jesus.

 

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

The Beauty of Love

Text: 1 John 4:10   Theme: The Awesome Beauty of the Love of God — Pastor Don Mossman

Introduction

Away in the Manger, a favorite Christmas carol.  While in AA, I was a member of a Lions Club that had the tradition during the Christmas season of going to a lower income retirement residence to distribute a gifts and sing Christmas carols.  I was volunteered to choose and print a number of familiar Christmas carols.  One I chose was “Away in the Manger.  However, somehow the resulting title came out “Away in the Manager.”  Manager?  I had some explaining to do.

I.  Naughty or nice

     A.  Just look at the words.

  1. Now you might also call me a Grinch (or a Scrooge) by my choice of a non-favorite Christmas carol. That would be “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.”  Why you ask?  Well, let me explain.  (Read portions of lyrics)  I find it a little creepy that for 364 days of the year Santa Claus is checking on our bad deeds.  For youngsters, that can be a bit terrifying.  That applies to adults as well.  Yes, all those naughty things you’ve done are being recorded and brought up to the North Pole and Santa.  And he’s checking it twice!  Scary, isn’t it.  (Today he probably uses twitter, text, email, or Instagram…)
  2. And to top it all, there is apparently “Elf on the Shelf” characters that are Santa helpers.  Each night they zip up to the North Pole while you are sleeping to tell Santa about those “naughty” things you’ve done in thought, word, and deed, and thus earning those dreaded lumps of coal in your stockings.

     B.  We don’t need Santa or his elves to check who’s been naughty or nice.

  1. We’ve all been naughty, that is, we have failed to live the lives of God’s people who speak of Jesus as Lord and Savior. In our busy lives, some which may resemble chaos this time of the year, we forget the reason for the season.  It happens.
  2. Sign in kitchen “Love spoke here…” Family of four young children plus two adults.  Apparently, they needed the reminder among the children as well as adult parents.

II.  The love of God that erases all sin.

      A.  Reassuring Christmas cards

  1. We received a picture Christmas card from our son, daughter-in-law and three-year old granddaughter. Simple, yet expressing love.  Their daughter appeared comfortable, happy, and loved, yes, so very loved.  And there was no way that she could fully know the height, the depth, or width of the love that she generated in the hearts of parents and extended family. Yet she lived securely in the glow of that love.
  2. That’s the way it is with God’s love for us. We acknowledge the love, we welcome it, we speak of it, and it is warm and deep and real.  It is as beautiful as in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world…”   And with us, there is no way we can fully know the depth of the Father’s love or us 24 x 7, every day, every hour, a love that doesn’t change or diminish.  Christmas expresses and shares a picture of that beautiful love in the person of Jesus, born of Mary, born to the world.  See LSB, #425, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, verses 1, 3 and 4.  “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”    

      B.  A love that does not diminish.

EG: Some months ago, I went into my stash of handwritten letters that I had received from my wife when we were dating.  Yes, I still have them.  I’ve read a few of them to her after dinner in the evenings.  On occasion my wife would say, “I said that?  No way!”  Letter after letter reminded us both of the love that we received from each other then and the love we now live in.  (By the way, all the letters I had written to her, she threw away.  Seriously!)  And we have had to be reminded of that love a few times in our lives.  As Shakespeare said in A Midsummer Night’s Dream “The course of true love never did run smoothly.”

  1. Our Lord Jesus will take your sins to the Father and say, “Here’s what I found, and here’s what I am going to do with them. I am going to pay for them, and take their names off the naughty list and place my name there instead. In exchange I will give them mercy, forgiveness, peace of heart and mind, and the promise of eternal life.”
  2. So today we bask in the beautiful love of God, a love that never wavers, flickers, or goes out. There is no one whom he doesn’t love, no one who has been so naughty that he would turn his back on them or deliver a lump of coal in the manger. No one!

Conclusion

In place of “Santa Claus is coming to town”, substitute “God loves me dearly.”  Read 1st and 4th verses.  Nobody telling on you or gossiping about your naughty behavior.  You are loved dearly.  Toss the elf on the shelf out the window.  Free up your children.  Free yourself.  “Unto you this day in the city of David is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

sdg

 

Are You The One?

Third Sunday in Advent, December 16, 2018 — Deacon Rex Watt

Zephaniah 3:14-20 / Philippians 4:4-7 / Luke 7:18-35

 

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

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

Have any of you read the Judith Viorst book, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?”  In it, little Alexander is having the worst day of his little life.  One thing after another goes wrong for him.  He went to sleep the night before with gum in his mouth and woke up with gum in his hair; when he got out of bed, he tripped over his skateboard, and then dropped his sweater in the sink while the water was running.  He could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  Later, at school, his teacher Mrs. Dickens liked Paul’s picture of a sailboat better than his picture of an invisible castle.  At singing time, she said he sang too loud; at counting time she said that he left out the number 16.  At lunchtime, he discovered that his mother had forgotten to give him dessert.  It was just one thing after another, all day long.  It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  Little Alexander didn’t have much reason to be Gaudete.

Have you had days like that?  I know I have.  Days in which it is impossible to Gaudete, to rejoice.  In our text today, John the Baptist doesn’t seem to have much reason to rejoice.  He is in prison.  John had been placed there because he called out Herod for committing adultery with his brother’s wife.  Prisons in those days weren’t like prisons today.  There were no TV’s, beds or showers, toilet facilities, libraries, internet access, medical care, or three hot meals a day.  Prison was essentially a dark, dank dungeon where you’d be chained to a wall, left to waste away.  If, and when death came, it was a blessing.

There are two schools of thought about John’s question to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  One view believes that John is expressing doubt about whether Jesus is truly the Messiah or not.  The other view believes that John could not possibly have such doubts given his earlier proclamations about Jesus.  “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him…And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (Jn 1:29ff).  This view believes that John is sending these two disciples to Jesus for their benefit, not because he didn’t believe.  While the text doesn’t explicitly say which of these two views is correct, I tend to think that John is like you and me.  He was born of sinful flesh just as you and I were.  He has the Old Adam in him just as you and I do.  When we have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days; weeks, months or years, we sometimes struggle in our faith, don’t we?  Why should we think John is any different?

I think John was struggling in his faith because he had the same expectations as the rest of the people concerning the Messiah.  While his earlier preaching did point out that Jesus was the Son of God, he also talked a lot about the axe swinging at the root of the trees; the wrath to come; the winnowing fork clearing the threshing floor and separating the wheat from the chaff; a baptism with holy wind and fire.  All that language was in line with the expectation of a coming Messiah who would rescue the people of Israel from the Roman rulers.  But Jesus wasn’t cooperating.  Jesus was going around and preaching about liberty to the captives and the oppressed.  He wasn’t raising an army; he was eating with tax collectors and sinners.  Are you the one, or shall we look for another?”

Jesus answers John’s question by His actions.  “In that hour He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.”  Then he told John’s disciples to go back to John and tell him what they had seen and heard, quoting two passages from the book of Isaiah: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them.”  Jesus pointed John back to the Scriptures to answer his question.  Scripture doesn’t tell us what John’s response to these words was.  Did he smile?  Did he shed a tear?  Did he dance for joy?  Maybe, like Mary, he quietly pondered these things in his heart.

The most important thing Jesus says in His response to John is, “and blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  That word “offended” in the Greek means “scandalized.”  Jesus is saying, “Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by me.  Blessed is the one who does not stumble over my unwillingness to use power, my apparent weakness against the forces of darkness, my victory hidden in defeat.  Blessed is the one who believes what is written of me in spite of what he sees around him, who sees life in my death, who sees kingdom in my cross.”  Dear Saints of Redeemer, today listen to what Jesus says to John, and to you.

John’s struggle with doubt gives encouragement to all Christians, for all Christians struggle with doubt.  Doubts can have a variety of causes.  One of those causes is unmet expectations.  One reason we have doubts about Jesus is that He turns out to be different than our expectations.  Some of us expect Jesus to be the provider of all good things that we want: the giver of bling.  Some expect Jesus to be the healer of all that besets us or ails us, whether physical or emotional: the good therapist.  Some want a Jesus who is a social justice warrior.  Others want a Jesus who is a good moral example.  When you listen to some so called contemporary Christian music you might even think Jesus is your boyfriend.  You may be struggling to make ends meet.  Always seeing more bills to pay than resources.  You may be wondering why your Jesus isn’t supplying your every need.  Maybe that cancer has come back, that injury isn’t healing, your feelings of inadequacy or depression won’t go away.  You may be wondering why your Lord hasn’t relieved you of your suffering.  You look around the culture today and wonder where is God in all this mess.

Dear Saints of Redeemer, rejoice!  Gaudete!  As we heard from Zephaniah this morning, “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst.”  This little baby, whose birth we will be celebrating in a little over a week from today is not only the King of the Jews, but is in fact the King of Kings.  Do not be fooled or scandalized.  Beneath the weak little legs of this Babe of Bethlehem is the power to crush the head of the devil.  Attached to the little thumb being sucked on, is the hand that will be nailed to the cross for your sin and for mine.

Everyone wants to have a little Jesus in a manger with their Nativity sets at home, but no one wants a crucifix (a cross with a body on it) displayed, either in their home, or God forbid, in their church.  My friends, you cannot have an empty cross until you have an occupied cross.  This little baby Jesus, who’s first coming we are getting ready to celebrate, came for one reason and one reason only.  He came for you!

He came to take away your spiritual blindness and give you eyes to see so that you would turn from darkness to light; He put His fingers into your ears so that you would hear the good news preached to you and believe; He has lifted your drooping hands and strengthened your weak knees so that you may no longer be lame but walk as children of the light; He has cleansed not only your leprous diseased flesh, but washed you with the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit; and He has raised you up with Him and seated you with Him in the heavenly places.  He did all this for you by His birth, life, death, burial and resurrection.  He is the one who is in your midst today.

With joy we listen to His Word…words we heard earlier today: “The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down” (Psa 146:8); “The Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil” (Zeph 3:15); “He will quiet you by His love” (Zeph 3:17); and, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Php 4:7).

Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by the cross of Jesus.  Blessed is the one who has not seen yet believes.  Blessed is the one who sees the dawning Day in the darkness.  Blessed are you, trusting that Jesus is the One, who came, who comes, and will come again.  You need not look for another.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  Come Lord Jesus!  Amen.

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

Pointing to the Messiah

Text: Luke 3:1-20   /  Pastor Don Mossman

Introduction

It was like any other day at the mall, people hurrying around, shopping, buying, chatting, eating at the food court and sipping on their Starbucks coffees.  Then all of a sudden a young woman stands up and begins singing, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You. Then a tenor adds his voice, joined by harmonizing voices all around the food court.  Then going up the escalator were four tenors, singing O Come All Ye Faithful.  They were joined by some 30 other voices arranged around the eating area.  By now, a large crowd had gathered to watch and listen.  Go Tell It on the Mountain was the next.  “Go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.”  As the crowd took pictures and videos of the flash mob, the choir began to sing O Holy Night.  It was at this time that costumed Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus made their way through the crowd to the central area.  Some onlookers had tears in their eyes; others huge smiles.  A spontaneous applause followed, and the people then slipped into shopping mood and dispersed.

For many in the food court, the carols of Advent and Christmas had warm and familiar meaning, but for others it was an unfamiliar story.  The carols pointed to Jesus.  Go tell it on a mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.  Indeed!  The flash mob was a voice in what one might called a wilderness, busy shopping mall prior to Christmas, pointing to the Messiah.

1. Another voice that God sent to the world

    A.  The voice of John the Baptist

  1. We hear the voice of John the Baptist, who spoke of a life to be lived in preparation of the coming of the promised Messiah. It was a real voice of a real man in a historical moment in time, asking the people to prepare their lives for the coming the Lord.
  2. Church officials came out to John to question him. Who was this man? They were expecting perhaps Elijah or that of the Messiah.  Malachi 4:5 says it this way: “See, I will send the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.”  But John knew who he was, and he knew who he was pointing to, who was to follow him.

    B.  Today John the Baptizer puts us all on our backs and forces us to look admit the truth, we need of help in our spiritual lives.

EG: A few weeks ago, I was attempting to clean the gutters at my house of the leaves that had gathered there.  Most of you know the rest of the story.  I made some nice friends at the ER.  My wife, God bless her, was prepared to love me to the end!  Her words were, however, “That was a dumb thing to do.  Read my lips.  No more ladders.  Challenging words!  There are men out here I’m sure who have heard the same story.

  1. We are not the savior of our little world; and we are not in control of our lives, spiritual or physical. We are sinners.
  2. Those are difficult words. We are broken, flawed, and fragile human beings. It is as we confessed earlier- we are “poor, miserable sinners” before the sinless God.  And that sin will have to be acknowledged and paid for.

II.  The voice of God

      A. By faith you are what the voice of God ultimately says you are in Jesus.

  1. You are God’s redeemed and rescued child. You are the one your Savior draws near with the voice of grace and truth saying, I love you, I forgive you, I will protect you.  That’s what John’s voice declares to you.  You are a sinner, saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ – with a purpose in life. That’s who you are.

EG: If you’ve ever been to a McDonald’s Playland or a Chuck-e-Cheese, you know things can get a little chaotic for the kids.  This one youngster was afraid to get involved in the playground chaos.  So, Dad figured out a way to help his son.  He went in there with him.  Through the tubes, up the poles, in the ball pits, up the stairs; he stuck with his son.

      B.  In this challenging world we live in

  1. You’re that little child. Jesus is like that Dad. He’s right there in the middle of all of it with you.  Whether it’s sitting in a dentist’s chair or the doctor’s office, or with strings of lights that burn out right after you put them in the spot that’s hardest to reach, or through stress through finals and computer crashes, colds and flu, depression or cancer, even death and chaos, Jesus stands right there with you!  Right in the middle of your life is your Redeemer, your Savior, the miracle of God with you.

Conclusion   On a nine-foot tall painting by Matthias Grunewald entitled The Crucifixion, which was painted as an altar piece in Isenheim, Jesus is depicted on the cross with a collapsing Mary and St. John holding her up to this right, and Mary Magdalene kneeling, looking up to Jesus.  On his left is shown a lamb shedding its blood into the cup of blessing.  The lamb reminds us of John’s statement, upon looking upon Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”  To Jesus’ left is John the Baptist with an open book, pointing to Jesus.  The print behind reads, “I must decrease; he must increase.”  Thank you, John, for pointing us once again to the Messiah.

Blessed is He Who Comes

First Sunday in Advent /December 2, 2018 / Deacon Rex E. Watt

Jeremiah 33:14-16 / 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 /Luke 19:28-40

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

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

When you were on a road trip with your family, did your kids ever ask, “Are we there yet?”  It seems that children march to a different drumbeat of time than parents do.  All they know is that they are on the way to Grandma’s, or maybe Disneyland, and they just want to be there.  They are not interested in the journey.  Their only focus is on the destination.  The Church and the World are like that too.  They march to different drumbeats.  To the world, it’s already Christmas.  And in case you haven’t noticed, it’s getting earlier and earlier each year.  I can remember when the first Christmas decorations in the stores came out after Thanksgiving.  Then they started showing up before Thanksgiving.  This year, I’m pretty sure I started to see stuff show up in the stores before Halloween!  It seems that they cannot get enough of Christmas.  But a Christmas without Christ is no Christmas.

But for the Church, it’s not Christmas yet.  Christmas is still four weeks away.  It’s Advent.  And by the way, in the Church year, Christmas officially starts at the Vigil of Christmas, known as Christmas Eve, and lasts for 12 days, beginning on Christmas Day.  Do you see how the Church and the world march to a different time?  To the world, Christmas is this ever increasing time of shopping that culminates on Christmas day.  The day after is called Boxing Day.  And while there appears to have been some sort of charitable basis for the establishment of Boxing Day, it seems to have devolved into the day you pack up all the Christmas decorations (since Christmas is over) and get on with life.  But for the Church, it’s not Christmas yet.  It’s Advent.

So, what is Advent?  Advent comes from the Latin word “Adventus” which means “coming, or arrival.”  It is the season of the Church year during which we turn our attention to the “coming” of Jesus.  You may be wondering about the texts for today’s readings.  If Advent is about the coming of Christ and precedes Christmas, shouldn’t we be hearing about the Virgin Mary; Bethlehem; a star; a manger?  Why are we reading about Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem?  Dear Saints of Redeemer, the readings for this First Sunday of Advent lay the foundation for what we are going to hear for the next four weeks, and beyond.  They speak of Jesus’ coming to us, and for us; past, present, and future.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”  The next verse following our Old Testament reading says, “For thus says the Lord, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel…’”  Jeremiah wrote these words some 600 years before the birth of Jesus.  Jesus came, as promised, to fulfill the promises God the Father made with His people.  Those promises began all the way back in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, which plunged all of humanity, including you and me, into enmity with God.  The Lord gave this first promise when He said to the serpent in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  Later, the Lord promises to Abraham, “Through thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Gen 22:18)  And in 2 Samuel 7:12 the Lord promises to King David, “I will raise up thy seed after thee, who shall build a house to my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”  The Apostle Paul in the book of Galatians identifies this Seed, as Christ.

This Christ, this Jesus, your Jesus, comes riding into Jerusalem in our Gospel text for today, which also being read on Palm Sunday gives us a clue as to why we hear it again today.  This is Jesus coming into Jerusalem at the start of what is to become Holy Week.  He is coming to die.  Make no mistake about it, Jesus knows why He is here.  He is here to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah which we heard in our Introit, “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation…”  He is riding a donkey, not a war horse.  He is not here to overthrow the Romans, but to overthrow Satan’s rule over the world.  A thousand years earlier King David, on a donkey, rode out of this very city fleeing Absalom’s rebellion.  Today, Jesus, the true Son of David, is riding into Jerusalem to face the rebellion of sin, death, and the devil, and to give His life as a ransom for you, for me, and for the world.

We needed Jesus’ first coming.  Had he not come as the Babe of Bethlehem he could not have ridden into Jerusalem to fulfill God’s plan for your salvation and mine.  We are going to have plenty of opportunity to marvel at the Gift of God in the Incarnation of Christ in the weeks to come.  As we wait, let us not be like children who whine, “Are we there yet?”  Rather let us be like the Psalmist who wrote, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  O my God, in you I trust: let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.  Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame… Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths…for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”

We need Jesus’ second coming.  In case you haven’t noticed, the world seems like it’s going to hell in a hand-basket.  That shouldn’t surprise you.  Paul wrote about it in the early chapters of his letter to the Romans.  Jesus has been talking about it for the past few weeks in our Gospel lessons.  He will come, as promised; just as He came as promised the first time.  And when He does, dear Saints, He will finally “establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father.”

In the meantime, as we reflect on Jesus’ first coming in the weeks ahead, and as we await his second coming whenever that may be, let us remember His promise to be with us always, to the end of the age.  Jesus comes to you today in the humility of His Word and Sacrament to deliver the fruits of His Passion: the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life.  He comes to you in His living and active Word, whether you hear it proclaimed from this pulpit, read it on your own, or study it in Bible class.  He comes to you in the word of forgiveness pronounced in the Absolution each Divine Service.  He comes to you every time you remember your Baptism when you repent of your sins.  He comes to you in a most real manner when you partake of His body and blood here at the foot of this Altar.  This Jesus, your Jesus, who was born in a manger in Bethlehem; who rode into Jerusalem to be our sacrifice; who laid down His life on the cross for our sins; who rose in triumph to defeat our enemy: death; who ascended to the right hand of the Father, is the one who came for you; comes to you now; and will come to get you and take you to be with Him forever.  Blessed is He who comes.  Come, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

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

We Have A King, His Name Is Jesus

Text: John 18:33-37        

Introduction

Grace, mercy and peace from him who was, who is, and who is to come.  “We have a Pope!” is the announcement given by the Senior Deacon at the Vatican upon the election of new Roman Catholic Pope.  The announcement is given from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, and for millions it has serious implications.

I prefer the announcement we have hear from this pulpit: We have a king, and his name is Jesus!” 

 1.Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last festival in the Christian Church year.

  1. Today we celebrate that Christ is the king of all creation, we believe Christ existed with God before all creation, and that Christ was the agent of creation.
  2. Today we celebrate that Christ is the ruler of all nations, ruler of all kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers, dictators and religious leaders. They all may have their moments in history and then fade away and die. Only one king outlives them and all the nations of history: Christ the King.
  3. Today we celebrate that Christ is the ruler of individual lives, that the kingdom of God is the primary teaching of Jesus when he lived on earth. Jesus wanted disciples to enter the kingdom.  He told parables about the kingdom and teaching about the kingdom and worked miracles about the kingdom.  Jesus wanted all people to be part of his kingdom.
  4. Today we celebrate Christ’s promised return on the last day, a day of supreme joy for all who call Jesus Lord, an event that has not yet occurred.

II.  In doing so, we look at the lessons for today for further definition of who we are talking about, namely the Son of man, whose kingdom will last forever.

  1. From our Old Testament lesson in Daniel 7, we hear the following words, Verse 9-10: “As I looked, thrones were set in place…“ Verse 13-14: “In my vision at night I looked, and there was one before me like a son of man…”
  2. Our Epistle lesson, (Revelation 1:4-8): read…
  3. Our Gospel lesson, (John 18:33-37) Jesus was brought before Pilate. We know from secular historian Josephus, that Pilate had ruled Judea for some 10 years.  In those years there were no less than 32 riots and upheavals from the people against the dominant Romans.  During the Passover celebration at Jerusalem, a time when the population of the city increased by thousands, Pilate came from his residence in Caesarea along with 600+ armed troops.  Pilate was nervous about this Jesus who had been brought before him.

EG: A pastor mentioned that his grandson told his mother at bedtime prayers, “I don’t need to ask God’s help with anything today.  I’ve got it all under control.”  Everything under control.  Really?

  1. In our gospel lesson, it appears that Pilate’s notion of being in control is challenged. Josephus, a secular historian of the time, notes that in a 10 year period of Pilate’s rule, there had been no less than 32 riots and upheavals in Jerusalem that had to be put down.  Once again his control as the Roman governor is being challenged by the powerful Jewish religious establishment.  They knew how to play hardball according to the world rules.  But you know who really challenged Pilate’s notion of his kingdom?

III. Question: Are you the king of the Jews?

  1. So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus before him and said to him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say that of your own or did someone else.”
  2. Is Christ your king? Take that question personally.  Do you say Christ is King on your own, or do you say it because people around you say it?  Do you say Christ is King on your own or because everyone else is singing, “Crown Him with many crowns,” and you’re just singing along?  Am I a Christian when it is convenient, or am I a convicted follower of Jesus Christ?
  3. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king? For this reason I was born and for this reason I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  This is the Good News.  We are here, for whatever the reason, listening to the truth Jesus is giving us.  “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Conclusion 

While the 2nd and final coming of Christ is a future event, it is present with Jesus.  The absolution we speak is a heavenly reality.  The Spirit who empowers that absolution is also a present reality.  The citizenship of heaven which is ours is no future reality, but a real and present thing to say about us.  The Word of God says that this is enough for this day.

Lo!  He Comes with Clouds Descending” LSB #336, 1 & 4

The One Who Endures

Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28) – Deacon Rex Watt

Daniel 12:1-3 / Hebrews 10:11-25 / Mark 13:1-13

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

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

Dear Saints of Redeemer.  We are nearing the end of the Church Year.  Next Sunday is the Last Sunday of the Church Year we call Year B in the three-year lectionary cycle.  We will transition from reading and hearing about our Lord Jesus’ second coming in the Gospel of Mark, and begin to read and hear about Jesus’ first coming in the Gospel of Luke as we enter the season of Advent.  But before we can begin Year C in the lectionary cycle, we need to come to the end of Year B.  We begin that this morning in the 13th chapter of Mark with Jesus sitting on a hill looking across the Kidron Valley toward the Temple, one of the great wonders of the ancient world.

Herod’s Temple, a refurbishing project of the temple originally rebuilt by Zerubbabel following the Babylonian Captivity, was some 35 acres in footprint, and took a little over 80 years to remodel.  While it was not “officially” listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it  ranked right up there amongst the marvels of first century construction.  Some of the largest stones used to construct the Temple measured about 40 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 3 ½ feet tall!  No wonder the disciples were impressed.  As Jesus and His disciples were coming out of the Temple itself, they said to Him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”  And Jesus responded with words that shook them to the core, “Do you see these great buildings?  There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

You know that those words took them by surprise.  There is no more discussion recorded until we see Jesus and His disciples sitting on the Mount of Olives, about a 25 minute walk from the Temple itself.  They were sitting there probably admiring the beauty of the countryside, the Kidron Valley, and the view of the Temple itself when four of his disciples could no longer hold it in.  They had to know!  They come to Jesus privately and ask, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”  They wanted to know when, and how, it would all end.  And I’ll bet that you want to know too!

Jesus’ response wasn’t quite what the disciples were looking for.  And I’m willing to bet that it isn’t quite what you’re looking for either.  If the plethora of End Times programs, books, movies and podcasts are any indication, Christians are infatuated with the idea of the End.  We want to know which Blood Moon is going to be the last one before Jesus returns; we want to calculate the number of years since the re-founding of the Nation of Israel in 1947 to get a jump on the Rapture; we read our Bibles with the newspaper open to see what’s going on in the world and then try to fit current events into the Bible rather than let the Bible dictate how we see current events.

I think that the first sentence Jesus speaks in our pericope for today, and the last sentence, are key to everything He has to say both to His disciples and to us.  “And Jesus began to say to them, ‘See that no one leads you astray…. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.’”  My brothers and sisters in Christ; everything in the middle of those two sentences, is peripheral.  All the wars and rumors of wars; nations rising against nations; kingdom against kingdom; earthquakes, famines, persecutions; even family divisions are not the main point.  Jesus, your Jesus, does not want you to be led astray.  He wants you to be saved.

We certainly have our share of false prophets today.  But that’s nothing new.  Solomon wrote that there was nothing new under the sun.  Moses warned the Israelites over 3,400 years ago about the coming of false prophets and we read about them throughout the Old Testament.  Jesus warned about wolves coming in sheep’s clothing.  Paul wrote, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” (Ac 20.29)  The Apostle John wrote about the Antichrist (one who speaks against/falsely about Christ) saying that even at his time, “…many antichrists have come.”  False teaching, especially false teaching about the end times, has plagued the Church since it’s earliest days.  In our modern era we’ve seen William Miller, founder of the Adventist Movement, who predicted that Christ would return in 1843.

John Nelson Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren who created the Rapture doctrine and Dispensationalism which is prevalent throughout American Evangelicalism; Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons) who made numerous false predictions about building the New Jerusalem in Western Missouri and that the lost tribes of Israel would be restored; Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who predicted the world would end in the battle of Armageddon in 1914; Hal Lindsay, who as a disciple of dispensationalism, wrote The Late Great Planet Earth where he claimed to detail the movements of the armies lining up for the great Battle of Armageddon, which would in all likelihood take place during the late 1980’s  (By the way, he’s still on television trying to figure out what went wrong!  I don’t suggest you waste your time!); Pat Robertson who claimed Christ would return in 1982; Benny Hinn who predicted Jesus would return in 1993; Harold Camping who predicted numerous dates; Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who claimed to be the Messiah; Jim Jones; David Koresh; and the list could go on!  Dear Saints of Redeemer, Jesus says to you today, “See to it that no one leads you astray.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

“But how do I know if I will be able to endure to the end?” you might ask.  The temple in Jerusalem, that grand structure that had the disciples awe struck, didn’t last; it didn’t endure.  The Romans came in 70AD and sacked the city and tore the temple to pieces just as Jesus had predicted, leaving not one stone upon another.   But that’s the way it had to be!  Why?  Because the old had to give way to the new.  The Old Covenant must give way to the New Covenant; and Jesus is the New Covenant!

Our epistle readings for last week and this week show us who it is who endures.  We read last week that “Christ has entered, not into the holy places made with hands…but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.  Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own…But as it is, He has appeared once for all…to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”  And as we read this week that the Old Covenant priests stood daily offering repeatedly the same sacrifices which could never take away sins, “…Christ…offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…[by which] He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (and that’s you, my friends!)  And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us, saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord; I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’”

My dear Saints, your dear Jesus came into the world and took upon His body all of your sins and lawless deeds.  He is the one who stood before councils, governors and kings on your behalf.  He is the one who was beaten, brought to trial and delivered over to death on your behalf.  It was His body that was nailed to the Cross, along with your sins, so that His shed blood could wash away all of your unrighteousness.  He was laid in the tomb and raised from the dead, so that when you are laid in the tomb, you also will rise from the dead.  All this He has done for you and now appears in the presence of God on your behalf.

The disciples in our text today were overly impressed with the Temple.  The people in Jesus’ day also were overly impressed with the Temple.  After Jesus had cleansed the Temple of the money changers and was challenged by the Jews who asked Him for a sign to prove He had authority to do such things, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”   The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”   But he was speaking about the temple of his body.”  (Jn 2:19-21)  Dear Saints, “see to it that no one leads you astray.”   Contrary to popular “Christian” teaching, there will not be a new Temple built, at least not with God’s approval.  Jesus is the New Temple.  And you, dear Saints, are part of that new temple, having been baptized into Christ wherein,

“…you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph 2:19-21)

Unlike Herod’s Temple, which did not endure, Jesus endured all for you.  Because He endured to the end for you, you also, in Him, will endure to the end and be saved.  Amen.

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

On Being All-In

Text: Mark 12:38-44

Introduction

People watching is a favorite activity for many.  It happens in places like grocery stores, malls, sporting events, even churches.  Our text is a people-watching story. Imagine this setting: on one of the walls of the temple there were 13 offering boxes, about the size of a suitcase, made out of metal.  There were signs at each box, with a slit on the top where people could place their offering.  The signs may have said something like building maintenance, utilities, another for the rabbi’s salary, and for widows and orphans.  The room was jammed with people pressing to make their contribution as they saw fit.  It would have been great for people watching.

1. Outward manifestation of holiness is useless if the heart is not all-in on Jesus.

    A.  People watching at the temple

  1. In our text we find Jesus in the last week of his ministry in Jerusalem. He continues to be at odds with the religious leaders of the day, and the relationship is aggravated and testy.  Still, Jesus as a teaching rabbi, warns his followers about the scribes, who wore long robes as a mark of distinction so as people would notice and stand in awe of them.  They were not salaried and as such they lived off the generosity of benefactors to the point of usurping the homes of the poor.  They loved titles, honors, sought out the best seats at gatherings and banquets, and determined to be noticed with long prayers and association with men of greater rank.  They made sure everyone in the temple noticed their generous alms giving.
  2. Then came a little old lady. No one noticed her.  She was almost invisible to the busy, noisy crowd.  She approached the offering boxes.  Into one of the boxes she drops in two small coins, worth less than a penny.  Jesus whispered to his disciples, “Do you see that little old lady over there?  She gave her last penny from the abundance of her heart; she gave everything she had.”
  3. At other times of the day you might find her at a busy gate or corner in the city, begged for food or pennies to buy food. Whatever the circumstances, her faith internally shone, her faith trusted Jesus to look after her.

   B.  Other examples

  1. We notice that the widow of Zarephath in our Old Testament lesson did as asked by the prophet Elijah. She had only enough flour and oil for one more meal, and assumed she and her son would at die of starvation after this last meal.  Yet she bakes a pancake for Elijah, then for herself, then her son, knowing there would be nothing left after this meal.

EG: Grandma Schmidt lived a life that revolved around her reading of Scripture and a prayer life that was both admirable and praiseworthy, though she would immediately disagree with any positive commendation.  Her offerings were always $20 each Sunday out of a weekly budget of $100.  She was a woman of God, living each day as God gave it.  So many lives were touched – and changed – because of her being all-in with her trust and faith in her heavenly Father.  She was satisfied with her confidence in the Lord looking after her.

  1. The challenge to being all-in

       EG: It’s not that easy being green (Kermit) – see printout –

  1. How much is enough?

1. I do admire those stars of entertainment or sports who write checks for $100,000, and with some fanfare donate the money to a charity. If Bill Gates donates ten million to eradication poverty and disease around the world, that’s admirable.  Way to go Bill and Melinda Gates.  If the person who is homeless donates $10 and then needs to stand on a corner to beg for money for food, they will receive their reward.  And the widow’ mite, with no publicity, gives her all.

2.  The contrast in our text is clear. Among those who seek to serve God, there is the need to recognize that Jesus asks us to be all-in, to have full confidence in his direction for our lives.    We are the Lord’s, and that’s not because of degrees earned or awards received, or because of positions in society or amid a religious organization, but purely because of his grace and being right with him through the blood of Jesus Christ.

3.  But can we meet the example of the widow in our text? Jesus sees us as we are, be it green and easily blending in the world around you.

EG: Children’s drawings or crayon-colored art work displayed with pride by parents / grandparents and displayed on the refrigerator door – God notices the little things, he smiles, he treasures them, and he delights in them.  He sees us, imperfect as we are, and he smiles. That’s your life, that’s my life on the His refrigerator.

In conclusion I ask two questions: one question is easy and the other is hard.  The first question is easy: why was the widow so generous?  The second one is hard: What would it take for you and me to be like the widow?  Amen

sdg

Expectations

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 26) – Deacon Rex Watt

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 / Hebrews 9:11-22 / Mark 12:28-37

 

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

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

Expectations.  Expectations are a part of daily life, aren’t they?  If you are employed, your boss has expectations about the quality and quantity of your work; and you have expectations that you will get paid fairly for your efforts and that your job will be there tomorrow.  If you are a student, your teachers have expectations about your attendance and homework assignments; and you have expectations that they will teach you things you will need to know in life.  If you are married, your spouse expects you to be a source of support and encouragement; and, of course, you expect that your spouse will reciprocate.  If you are a parent, your children expect you to drop them off to wherever they want to go, feed them, clothe them, and have an extra $20 in your wallet at a moment’s notice!  And you expect your children to behave and be nice.  Our lives are full of people who have expectations; expectations they want from us, or expectations they want us to fulfill.  And we have our expectations.  Everybody has expectations.

The people in Jesus’ day had expectations.  Some of them were expectantly waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ.  Others, while in the back of their minds knew that their scriptures foretold a coming Messiah, had their own ideas about what that Messiah might look like.  When Jesus shows up on the scene, He didn’t exactly fit their expectations.  Our Gospel text for today is the conclusion of a string of questions and challenges and testing that various Jewish leaders put to Jesus.  It all started back in the 8th chapter with the Pharisees demanding a sign from Jesus to validate His claims.  They later questioned Him about divorce, paying taxes to Caesar, how to obtain eternal life and even what happens with respect to marriage after death!  Many questions were put to Jesus about various aspects of God’s laws.  Finally, in this last story of the string, a scribe, an expert in the Law, comes to Jesus and askes, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

Here’s a guy who is the legal beagle par excellence!  Scribes were the experts in all things pertaining to the Law.  They knew not only the 10 Commandments by heart, they knew all 613 commands found throughout the Old Testament writings: the 248 positive commands (you shall do this!), and the 365 negative commands (you shall not do that!).  He had just witnessed the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees in their failed attempts to trap Jesus, and asks what appears to be an honest question.  “Let’s skip the small stuff Jesus and get right to the point.  What is it, bottom line, that God expects of me?”  And Jesus responds right out of our OT lesson, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:29b-31).  Jesus sums up the entire 10 Commandments, and all the rest of the OT commands in this concise statement, “Love God; and love your neighbor.”

Sound familiar?  It should.  The explanation of the Small Catechism picks up on this and says this saying of Jesus distinguishes the two parts of the 10 Commandments: love for God (commandments 1-3), and love for neighbor (commandments 7-10).  Question 15 in the new 2017 edition of Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation says, “The Ten Commandments are God’s Law, His good and loving will for the lives and well-being of all people” (pg. 53).  Then question 16 asks, “What is God’s will for our lives?”  And the answer is: “God wants us to trust Him above all else, to love Him, and to love our neighbor.” (pg. 53)

How are you doing with that?  Have you loved God perfectly today?  Have you loved Him with all your heart – so that there is nothing in this world you love or trust more than Him?  Have you loved Him with all your soul – so that there is nothing in this world you consider a higher good than your Heavenly Father? Have you loved Him with all your mind – so that this world offers nothing more exciting or interesting or important than the living words of God?  Have you loved Him with all your strength – so that nothing in this world is able to pull your eyes off the prize of God’s goodness?

And what about that second part – to love your neighbor as yourself?  Husbands, have you always loved your wives with the self-sacrificing love Jesus has shown his Church?  Wives, have you submitted to your husbands with the faithful humility with which the Church submits to the Lord Jesus?  Have you always given your employer an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay – or do you do as much as you can to do as little as possible to get by?  Students, do you do the same?  Have you shown the highest kind of love to your neighbor or family member who doesn’t know Christ by giving him/her the reason for the hope that is in you – or do you just keep quiet whenever the topic of religion comes up?

Dear saints of Redeemer, as we reflect on what Jesus tells this scribe, this expert in the law, and look at our lives in comparison, about all we can do is fall to our knees and cry out for mercy!  Neither you, nor I, have loved God today, or any other day for that matter, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Nor have we really loved our neighbor as ourselves.  Oh, we can be pretty good at faking it – good enough so that people around us think that we are pretty good people.  But God sees our hearts; your heart, my heart.  He sees the self-centeredness and the selfishness that lives there by nature.  We fall short, and we know it.  This morning if you have come to the realization that you fall short of God’s expectations for you; if you have come to the realization that you cannot by your own efforts, reason or strength measure up to God’s requirement that you “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength,” if you have come to the realization that you need a Savior; you, like the scribe in our text, are not far from the kingdom of God.

The scribe, upon hearing that he was “…not far from the kingdom of God” said no more.  In fact, the text tells us that no one said anything more!  I guess they were comfortable with just being close, at least closer than those other folk.  As if close is good enough.  My dear saints, close is only good enough in horseshoes, hand grenades, and atomic bombs.  With the kingdom of God, you are either in, or you are out.

As we saw a couple of weeks ago, what is impossible with man, is possible with God.  Upon seeing that no one dared to ask Him any more questions, Jesus poses a question to them, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?  David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet.’  David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?” (vss.35-37)  Jesus poses this question to them to get them to see that the Christ, the son of David, is also the Lord.  The Christ will not be a mighty warrior come to throw off the shackles of Roman rule, but the God-Man; Lord of heaven and earth, and son of David, a man after God’s own heart.

And so, Jesus came; God in the flesh.  He came to do the impossible.  The very One who demands perfect love from us; the very One who knows that we cannot render that love, has responded by showing His perfect love to us.  He showed us that perfect love by becoming one of us, by placing himself under all the same divine expectations that you and I are under and by placing himself alongside the same people you and I call neighbor.  He showed us that perfect love by living a perfect life of perfect love, by loving God with all His heart, His soul, His mind and His strength; and by perfectly loving His neighbors in our place.  He showed us that perfect love by taking all our loveless acts, all our half-hearted devotion onto Himself – and then offering Himself as the perfect payment for all our sins.  “He entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves, but His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12).  That blood of Jesus, shed on the Cross for all of your sins, was applied to you in the waters of your Baptism.  Your Lord Jesus Christ has secured your eternal redemption and brought you into His new covenant so that you “may receive the promised eternal inheritance”  (Heb 9:15).  My dear Saints of Redeemer, you are not just “close” to the kingdom of God, you are “in” the kingdom of God, because your Jesus has walked in the law of the Lord for you; He has kept His testimonies, sought Him with His whole heart, was forsaken by His Father so that you won’t be.  To Him be praise, glory and honor now and forever.  Amen.

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

Freedom In Christ

Text: John 8:31-38 — Pastor Don Mossman

Introduction

On Wednesday of this week, October 31, you’ll see no end of little ones dressed up in cute costumes knocking at doors seeking tons of candy.  In downtown Lynden, there will be many little ones going from store to store with the trick-or-treat request.  A number of adults go to downtown Front Street just to see the children and their unique costumes.  We will put on our front light and attract like moths the many neighborhood kids who will be looking for treats.  My wife usually buys many more treats than we will give away, much to my sweet-tooth satisfaction.  Trouble is, I never can find where she hides them.

There is another notable occasion to celebrate on October 31 and is the celebration of the Reformation.  It was that date back in 1517 that a young monk named Martin Luther walked the long street from the Augustinian monastery to the Castle Church in Wittenberg and nailed 95 thesis or statements to the church door that served as a city bulletin board.  They were meant for debate among fellow clergy and university educators.  Luther’s concern was the selling of forgiveness of sin via a piece of paper called an indulgence.  Today we acknowledge the ongoing result of that first step to freedom from human efforts in the realm of salvation.  We celebrate, not with fireworks or trick-or-treating, but with the continuing declaration that we are free from sin, death and the devil in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone as revealed in the Word alone.

A. He was that way because he was free

  1. He was no weak-kneed chicken, that Luther. He was bold.  He was fearless.  He was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He was no one’s slave.  That’s why he wrote, “We tremble not. We fear no ill. They shall not over power us.”
  2. As you look at Luther’s earlier years, freedom was not foremost in his life. He grew up in a strict household, he was poor and I assume somewhat timid.  When he decided to become a Roman Catholic monk, his father almost disowned him.  As a priest he was not free, having to take direct orders from the pope and superiors.  He feared the possible punishment of officials of government and church; he feared the judgement of God upon his sin.
  3. The RCC as well as the government authorities ordered him to take back what he had said and written under threat of death. He was kidnapped for his own safety. You begin to wonder; what kind of freedom is he referring to?  Yet he exclaimed, “We tremble not, we hear no ill, They shall not overpower us?”

B. It was the Word of God that had makes a person free

  1. Now, 500 years after the Reformation, what we need to recognize it is the Word of God that still makes men and women free. John 8:31-32 says, “If you abide in my word, you are my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” The message proclaimed is that every individual who believes that Jesus is Lord is free from sin, death and the lasting power of the devil.  Don’t let anyone, or anything try to talk you out of that.  Those are the words of Jesus.  It is his prescription for freedom.  Abide in my Word.  That simply and powerfully means, stay in the Word; read, mark and inwardly digest the Holy Scriptures.  And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

C. The search for truth

  1. But what kind of truth is that? Truth to you, or truth to me? You don’t just go out and look for truth amid options that society offers. You certainly don’t want to go on TV and pick out one out of the many talking heads that beckon you to their personal understanding of truth.  And if you believe the present political TV ads as to who’s telling the truth, and who is lying, well, it’s enough to make your head spin.  Giuliani: “truth is not always the truth” (It’s someone’s version of it).”

D. Freedom, real freedom, comes from the Word of God.

  1. What is it then that sets you free? “If you abide in my word, Jesus says, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The Word of God, the Bible, points you to Jesus the Savior.  He is the only one who sets us free from sin, death and the devil, who died on the cross to end our slavery to sin (see copy of passages…).  St. Paul boldly proclaims our victory over death1 Cor. 15:15: “O death where is your sting, o grave where is your victory…” It is that saving faith that frees you.  Faith in Jesus, who is going to return soon and take you to heaven.

Conclusion

So, we celebrate this day, not with fireworks as perhaps on July 4, but with the message of the Word.  Luther understood that.  He knew that true freedom is freedom in Christ.  That’s why he was so bold and brave.  Luther was no fool.  He didn’t point to himself; he pointed to Jesus.

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

But for us fights the valiant one, Whom God himself elected.

Ask ye who is this?  Jesus Christ it is.  Of Sabaoth Lord,

And there’s none other God; He holds the field forever.

sdg

Mission Impossible

October 21, 2018 / Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24)

Texts:  Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 / Hebrews 4:1-16 / Mark 10:23-31

By Deacon Rex E. Watt

Mission: Impossible

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit +  Amen.

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

Many of you may remember the television program Mission: Impossible.  In that show, a special agent, Mr. Phelps, received daring and dangerous government assignments.  If you remember the beginning of the show, it always started with a tape recording that said something like, “Your mission, Mr. Phelps, should you decide to accept it is…”  And then, after describing the seemingly impossible mission, the tape would self destruct “in five seconds.”  The show would have you on the edge of your seat as you watched Mr. Phelps and his team pull off the mission.  These missions were certainly difficult, but apparently not impossible, as the team of agents week after week pulled off the “impossible.”

In our Gospel lesson today, we are continuing the story of the rich young man we heard about last week.  In it, Jesus is talking about entering the kingdom of God.  In one case, He describes it as very difficult, like the Mission: Impossible assignments; not really impossible but really, really difficult.  In another, he describes it as truly impossible.  So which is it?  Is the mission just difficult, or is it impossible?

If you remember last weeks Gospel, when Jesus told the rich young man that he lacked one thing: he needed to sell all his belongings, give them to the poor, and then follow Jesus; the text says, “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”  Our text for this week picks up right there, “And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”  The rich young man’s problem was that he trusted in his wealth.  Trust.  What does that word mean?  Luther tells us that that in which we trust, has become our god.  What do you trust in today?

Are you trusting in your wealth?  Oh, I know what you’re thinking, “I’m not wealthy.  I barley have enough to pay my mortgage, my second mortgage, my two car payments, let alone car insurance, homeowners insurance, my heat, lights, grocery, cable TV, internet and of course my cell phone bills.  Why I hardly have enough left over to pay for my Seahawks or Mariners tickets!”  I know that you’ve heard some of these statistics before, but just to put our thinking about “wealth” in perspective; one article I read this week said that if your family income is $10,000 a year, you make more than 84% of the rest of the world.  And if it’s $50,000 or more, you make more than 99% of the rest of the world.  Kind of sobering isn’t it?  (https://www.oregonlive.com/hovde/index.ssf/2012/08/income_in_perspective_americas.html)

But my question wasn’t, are you wealthy; my question was, are you trusting in your wealth?  Do you spend more time, energy and effort in figuring out how to preserve your income for the future than you do thinking about how you can use what God has given you for your neighbors benefit?  Do you put more into your savings accounts each month than you give toward the Lord’s work?  Money is a good gift from God, but “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” (1 Tim 6:10)  The story of the rich young man warns us today about the danger of allowing our riches to get in the way of trusting God who “clothes the grass of the field” (Mt 6:30), and gives all living creatures “their food in due season…who opens [His] hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing” (Psa 145:15-16).  Repent!

Are you trusting in your doctors and/or the medicine you are taking?  People are shocked when the doctor says there is nothing more that can be done.  But the truth is that doctors eventually lose all their patients.  While doctors themselves can be quite trustworthy, the issue here is: are you putting your trust in the physician’s skill and/or resources rather than the One Who put those healing gifts in the doctor’s hands?  Physicians, no matter how good they are, are fallen creatures just like you and me.  To put your trust in them, rather than the God who gave them their vocation, is idolatry.  Repent!

Some people trust in their “stuff.”  You know them.  You’ve seen them.  Are you one of them?  The rich young ruler, exhibiting a common belief of his day, believed that the presence of wealth in his life was evidence that God was pleased with him.  That same belief is all around us today.  The purveyors of the “prosperity gospel” hawk the idea that personal wealth, big homes, fancy cars and even having airplanes is a sign of God’s blessing upon them.  And, of course, if you’d just sow a little (or big) ‘faith seed’ in their direction, God will bless you also!  Hopefully, you’ve never fallen prey to their false gospel.  But is the Mall your temple?  It has lots of little chapels in which you can make sacrifices.  And all those promises which are made in the ads that adorn the windows; they lead you to believe that if you just make the appropriate sacrifice here, you will be happy, fulfilled, or beautiful.  Of course, when we get back home and look in the mirror, we discover that all those promises are empty.  But then we go back, and back again, and again.  This acquiring of stuff, much of it unnecessary, is also idolatry.  Repent!

Maybe you are trusting in yourself; in your own piety.  The rich young ruler trusted in himself; in his piety.  When Jesus answered his question about what he needed to do to inherit eternal life by telling him that he needed to keep the Commandments, he had the gall to say to Jesus, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth!”  How are you doing with that?  Do you think that if you just keep your nose clean and don’t break any of “the Big Ten” that God will be pleased with you?  Do you think that if you just spend a little more time in prayer each day, or read your Bible more each day, or go out and tell three people a week about Jesus that God will be pleased with you?  Do you realize that the Scripture tells you that “…all [your] righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” ? (Isa 64:6 NASB)

After Jesus told his disciples how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God, the text tells us that they were amazed at his words.  He goes on to   tell them, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person (or any person for that fact) to enter the kingdom of God.”  Upon hearing this, the disciples “were exceedingly astonished” and they said to Him, “Then who can be saved?”  That, dear Saints of Redeemer is the correct question!  Not “What must I do to inherit eternal life” but “who?”  Jesus’ answer is the key to this whole dilemma, “With man it is impossible, but not with God.  For all things are possible with God [even your salvation!].

You see, the truth is that no one can save himself.  It is impossible.  And unlike “difficulties” there are no grades of “impossibility.”  With man, it is simply impossible!  There are no exceptions; no matter what race, no matter how smart, no matter what age, no matter what gender, no matter how rich or poor, man cannot and does not do it, even with a little help from God.

The true Rich Man, your Jesus, has made himself poor on your behalf.  He came to your earth and lived His whole life, tempted in every respect as you were, yet without sin.  Are you willing to believe in the impossible?  The Gospel is the Good News that God does the impossible for you.  He paid the price that was impossible for you to pay.  He paid for your sin, my sin, the sin of the whole world.  In Jesus, God became man so that you and I might be saved.  In Jesus, God died for you.  The impossible is possible with God.

The True Physician, your Jesus, has borne all your infirmities (Mt 8:17), “He himself bore [your] sins in His body on the tree, that [you] might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)  You have died to sin in your Baptism the Apostle Paul writes.  He goes on to say with respect to baptism that if “we have been united with Him is a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him is a resurrection like His.” (Rom 6:2-5)  Each and every Sunday that you kneel at this altar for Holy Communion, your Jesus, your true Physician, gives into your very mouths the medicine of immortality.  Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (Jn 6:54)  These are words you can trust.  Jesus won’t lie to you!

My dear Saints, as you listen to this living Word of God that is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit…discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” and as you continue to live in the grace of God given to you in your baptism; feeding on the body and blood of our Lord Jesus whenever it is offered to you, God will continue to do the impossible for you.  He will continue to drown that Old Adam in you and cause the New Man/New Woman created in Christ Jesus to come forth to the praise of His glory.  Life may seem difficult at times, but remember, no matter how difficult it gets, the Mission: Impossible is Mission: Accomplished because the Lord Jesus, your Jesus, has completed His mission for us.  We are assured of the victory in Christ because He did the Mission: Impossible.

And by the way, this promise of God will not self-destruct in 5 seconds!  Amen!

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

All Things Are Possible With God

Text: Mark 10:17-22                   Pastor Don Mossman

Introduction

Bumper sticker read: FOMO made me do it. (Fear of missing out) Attitude of many.  You only go around once, but if you play your cards right, once is enough.

I.    The common question

A.  The searching young man

  1. The young man in our text had heard about Jesus. He was by all standards well off. Think Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook – 80 billion dollars worth.  He was anxious to have Jesus share a perspective on life and death.  How might inherit eternal life?  He was sincere, and our text says Jesus was impressed by him – he loved him.
  2. What is good about his question is that the young man’s heart has a concern with getting to heaven. Jesus was stern with him, giving him a Law answer. You know the commandments, he tells the young man.  Then he quotes a number of the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, etc.  You know the answer to your question.  “Well rabbi, these I’ve done since I was a youth.”  “Alright, then go sell all you have, and follow me.”  So sad.  He left Jesus, for money and possessions were his god.

B. Sickness and death and life after death

  1. It is unlikely that there is a more common question spoken or unspoken that we all have as it pertains to life and/or death. It’s at times “the horse on the dining room table,” as some refer to it. Everyone sees it, acknowledges it, but don’t want to talk about it.
  2. Humanity has asked about sickness and death since the beginning of time. And by nature, humankind will try to answer the questions in order to give satisfaction to nervous hearts.  Many an article and no few books have been written giving imaginations and/or self-made answers or explanations to death and dying. And most often they are answers that never seem to satisfy.  In national surveys, a growing number of people are claiming they are spiritual, but not religious.  Others growing among us are referred to as “nones.”
  3. Peggy Noonan, speech writer for President Reagan and now a weekly columnist for the Wall Street journal, reflected on all the changed we’ve realized in this our secular and confused society when she wrote, “Everyone’s in the dark looking for the switch.” One could add to that without God’s grace, we need to realize there is no switch.  A desperate situation.  So we live in the dark when it comes to spirituality.

II.   The revealed answer  

        A.  With God all things are possible

  1. How is it for us today? There are many of the same temptations for us as in Jesus day even though we live in a different world than that of the rich young man.  We live in a time when nothing seems to make sense.  You can hear it if you listen: the whys, the anger, the lost feeling, and the loneliness.  We can live longer thanks to advanced medicines and life styles, but, in the end, death awaits.  Suffering is not eliminated; we still walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
  2. But we have an answer from Jesus. What is impossible for us to do, it is possible for Jesus.  And our good folk here at Redeemer and throughout the world graciously reach out with kind and reassuring words and a gentle touch of a loving God, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.

      B.  Jesus’ answer is the only answer

  1. Family Feud on TV. With Jesus, there is no need to play games. No other answer comes close.  There is only one answer, Jesus.  If anyone is in Christ she/he is a new creation.  The old is gone, and the new is revealed.  It may have at one time looked impossible, but with God all things are possible.
  2. With God, all things are possible. You see, the deep, deep love of God has shown itself in the person of Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection. His love and security in reaching out to us through faith opens the doors of salvation, of eternal life.  For God so love the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.  It is his free gift, because he loves you. Always remember, this is his doing, by grace and grace alone, that he saves and secures us in this life to all eternity.

Conclusion

The eye of a needle:  difficulty all my life…   Small doorway in city wall – camel needed to get on knees to get through, or a hyperbole: speaks of the impossibility of a camel… even as a rich man whose god is his possessions.  I go to prepare a place for you.  In my Father’s house there are many mansions.  I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am, you may be also. (Jn 14:3)  What seemed impossible becomes possible.  Jesus breaks down all barriers; the Spirit calls, gathers and enlightens our hearts for Jesus.