Gabriel’s Message to Both Mary and the Church – A Sermon on Luke 1:26-38

December 18, 2014 Leave a comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will bear the Savior of the world.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know if I could ever be that calm and collected if an angel showed up in front of my face to make an announcement. Throughout the Old Testament, any time an angel appeared, there was mortal terror in whomever the angel appeared to. After all, their very faces reflect the utter holiness and perfection of God Himself. Some fall down as though dead. Others cry out in fear. And still others are ready to fall to the ground in worship.

But today, we get none of that. We don’t even get much of a description of Gabriel. And I think we get so little, because it’s not Gabriel who matters. It’s the message. And the message is this. Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you. And let’s be fair to the text. This isn’t just the angel saying hello, how’s it going. The traditional Greek greeting is a command, be joyful. Rejoice. Rejoice, O one who has been given God’s favor is a lot closer to the original than the What’s up cool lady we’re tempted to read in the English.

But the very center of this message, the very reason Gabriel came, was to tell Mary that the Lord is with her. And Gabriel meant it literally. God is with you. Right there. In your uterus. Though, he hadn’t elaborated on that part just yet. So Mary was confused, to say the least. I would be too. And wondering to myself, just what did he mean by that? And what did he mean that Mary had been favored? She’s going to need just a little more context than that.

And Gabriel does give it. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb, [literally, be grasped in the stomach,] and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Well, that’s pretty awesome. After all, every woman in Israel since Eve herself has been hoping that their son will be the promised savior. That Mary gets this good news is amazing. But Mary also knows where babies come from. Where babies have always come from. So how exactly God’s promise going to come about here? Or to quote our text, And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Or, translated literally, since I do not know a man. Which is the same thing.

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age, [has also been grasped,] has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

It’s that last phrase where we lose just a little bit going to English. The sentiment is absolutely true. Nothing is impossible with God. But it’s even deeper than that. Not any Word or thing you might speak of is impossible. This isn’t the ordinary Greek word for nothing. This is one of the Greek words for Word, as in the spoken Word of God. And yes, you can translate it either way. But to really get the depth, I think it’s better to say that “Nothing is impossible with every Word of God.” Which Mary herself echoes in her response by using the exact same term. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Now, the message to Mary is absolutely remarkable. Mary’s response is the picture of faith. And that response is why we see Christ’s Church in Mary. Because that is how all God’s saints respond to hearing God’s Word. That said, we are both saint and sinner at the same time. The new creation in us responds in the right way. But there is also part of us that does not want to believe in that way. Just as the father of the convulsing boy said to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief!

And to do that, Gabriel has also been sent to you. Because here he is. Today’s text isn’t just for Mary. The words of this angel are also intended for you. The message is for your ears. So listen to them. Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!

But what kind of greeting is this? What can these words mean to us? Because we’re not Mary. Are they some kind of allegory that we understand by faith? Where they mean one think for her, and another for us? Because it can’t be the same. None of us are going to have baby Jesus. Some of us are the wrong gender to do that altogether. But allegorizing a text takes a lot of work. And a lot of times it just ends up in weird places. I’m afraid we’re just not equipped to do that. This is just too confusing.

Do not be afraid… for you have found favor with God. You will be grasped on the inside. You will bear the Son. You will have the one named Jesus within you. And you will call His name. Stop disbelieving and believe. Because today you be grasped in the stomach with the very flesh and blood of Jesus. He is placed on your lips with the words, take and eat, this is my body. Take and drink, this is my blood for your forgiveness. And you will bear Jesus. Literally. Εν γαστρι. In the stomach.

Jesus is with you. The same Jesus who is great, just as the angel said. The same Jesus who is called the Son of the Most High. The same Jesus who sits on the throne of David. Who sits at the right hand of God. Who reigns right now over the house of Jacob. Reigns over those who are children of Abraham by faith. Whose kingdom will never end. That’s the Jesus who gives His own self for you, puts His own self in you today.

But how can this be? We know that Mary was pregnant. We know where pregnancies happen. We know that the stomach and the womb are two different places. So how exactly is that promise given to Mary going to be at all possible with us? We know that Jesus ascended into heaven in His body. We know He’s sitting at the right hand of God. So how in the world can that same body and blood be here together with bread and wine today? But in which way are we asking how? Do we ask like Zechariah did earlier in Luke’s gospel? Who “knew” such a thing was impossible? Or do we ask like Mary? Who wanted to know how God would make such a thing possible?

Because we are both saint and sinner, we have both. But the sinner in us is silenced by Jesus. Just as Zechariah was silenced until John’s birth. While the saint, like Mary, is given even more of God’s Word. Because the answer given by Gabriel to Mary is the exact same answer that is given to us.

How will this be? The Holy Spirit has come upon you. The power of the Most High overshadows you. Therefore the one who is in the bread, the one who is in the wine, the one who is in you is called Holy, the Son of God. Because if the infinite Son of God can be contained in a single embryo, then the infinite Son of God can likewise be contained in bread and wine. After all, look, Mary, your sister in Christ, bore a son. Bore the Son, while still a virgin, while never knowing a man, never having sperm and egg combine. And that is by all counts absolutely impossible.

However, nothing is impossible with God. Nothing is impossible with every Word of God. And it’s in that very same Word where we hear the promise. From Matthew. From Mark. From Luke. From St. Paul. Jesus’ own words. This is my body. This is my blood. Take and eat. Take and drink. To quote Jesus again in His words to Thomas. Do not disbelieve, but believe.

The promises made to Mary by God through Gabriel are the very same promises given today to you. The Lord is with you. Literally. That same body, which was in Mary’s womb. Which was given on the cross. Once, for all time. That same body that hangs there that day, is the exact same body put in you. That blood, which Jesus shared with Mary while he was in the womb. Which Jesus shed for you on Good Friday. Which was poured out on the ground. Which purchased for you the forgiveness of all your sin That’s the same exact blood given to you today. Jesus brings that one sacrifice, the only sacrifice for sin, and gives it to you. Because that’s what the Word of God proclaims. And nothing is impossible with every word of God.

Therefore Gabriel’s message, God’s Word proclaimed, does what it says. Rejoice, O favored one, the Lord is with you. With you in ways you never thought possible. With you for real. In the flesh. And Mary said, and the Church said, and all God’s saints said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

I Am Not Worthy to De-Sandal the Kinsman Redeemer – A Sermon on John 1:6-8, 19-28

December 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text today is the Gospel lesson, where it sounds a lot like last week’s text. Though, we do see John point to Jesus and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

And I think we know enough to unpack that term. We know about passover lambs and sacrificial lambs. We’re familiar enough with the Old Testament concepts. And we understand that John’s talking about Jesus going to the cross to die in using that term. Jesus isn’t just a lamb as defined by our experiences. Jesus is the Lamb as defined by God’s Word.

However, when John says in all four Gospel accounts that he is not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, we do tend to understand that through our own experiences. We hear John saying that Jesus is really great. So great, that John is not even worthy to do the lowliest things for Him. And, you know? That’s totally one hundred percent true. However, there’s an even better way to understand it than through just our own experiences. Because just as the Lamb is defined by God’s Word, so also the act of untying someone’s sandal is defined by God’s Word.

You may have heard of the biblical idea of levirate marriage. Where if a man dies without giving his wife a son, that man’s brother must marry her and have children with her. So that the first son born to this wife can carry on the dead brother’s name. The role the living brother carries out is what we call being the Kinsman-Redeemer. Because he redeems his brother’s name from death.

Now, there were other jobs a Kinsman-Redeemer had as well. Like the buying back of land, rescuing from slavery, and avenging the dead. But levirate marriage is really where the sandals come into play. Especially if the Redeemer doesn’t want to do his job.

Deuteronomy 25 starting at verse 7. “And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’”

So removing someone’s sandal in Israel wasn’t a job you left to your lowly servants. Taking off someone’s sandal was to accuse them of not doing their job as Kinsman-Redeemer. So to take off someone’s sandal was to receive justice publicly. And shame the one who did you wrong. This isn’t just some random, obscure law either. Because this is exactly what happens in the book of Ruth. Where Ruth asked Boaz to be the Kinsman-Redeemer, but he couldn’t because there was one closer in relation who had the responsibility before him. So what was described in Deuteronomy 25 pretty much happens in Ruth, chapter 4.

Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”

“…So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.””

Where this ties into today’s text is John’s answer to the chief priests, the Levites, and the Pharisees. They see John baptizing not in the temple, but the wilderness. And they wonder why he’s doing this. Especially if he’s not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet. Because, to them, it looks as though he is unstrapping their sandals. Because they are closest in line. The nearest relative eligible to be Kinsman-Redeemers.

And by unstrapping their sandals, he must therefore be unstrapping God’s sandal. After all, God had given them Temple worship. God had given them the Law for cleanliness. God had set the place of forgiveness. And had put them in charge over it. What John was doing out here in the wilderness seemed to them to say that God was no longer doing a good enough job keeping his promises.

That’s why John answered the way he did. They were not the Kinsman-Redeemers. God Himself was. And God was indeed going to live up to that role as Kinsman-Redeemer. Even while the chief priests, the Levites, and the Pharisees were not.

John says this plainly. I am not the Christ. I am not the bridegroom. I am not the Kinsman-Redeemer. And you know what guys? Neither was Moses, who had to take off his sandals in God’s presence. Neither was Joshua, who also had to take off his sandals in God’s presence. Because as close as they were, it was not them who redeemed Israel. It was God. But there is one who stands among you whom you do not know. And no one can take off His sandals. Especially not me. Because He is the Kinsman-Redeemer for His bride. He will marry her. He will redeem her from death. And He will give her children.

In chapter three, John continues to say, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Jesus as the Lamb of God is very important. But Jesus as Kinsman-Redeemer is the message of John the Baptist in all four Gospel accounts. Because the Kinsman-Redeemer is one of the most salvific roles in all the Old Testament. The Redeemer rescues the poor man from his debts in Leviticus 25. That includes buying back his land. And even goes so far as buying him out of slavery. The Redeemer seeks justice for the dead in Numbers 35. And receives retribution on behalf of the family.

But where John tells us the most about Jesus as Kinsman-Redeemer is saving the widowed and childless, by giving them family as we see in Deuteronomy 25 and Ruth 4. As John says, the one who has the bride is the bridegroom. Jesus has His Church. Old Testament Church, New Testament Church, it’s all the same bride.

Make no mistake, the church needs a Kinsman-Redeemer. You need a Kinsman-Redeemer. You know what it is to have a debt you cannot pay. Because you too have sinned. You too know what it is to be enslaved. Because Anyone who sins is a slave to sin.  You know what it is to be denied justice. Because you have likewise been sinned against. You too know what it is to be widowed. Some of you literally. Yet all know what death does to our loved ones. What death does to us. We need a Redeemer. And Jesus is that Redeemer.

But you cannot redeem for free. The redeemer that Boaz confronted was willing to pay the price for the land. But he was not willing to pay the price for Ruth. The cost was too high. And it put his own inheritance in danger. However, Jesus was willing to pay any price to redeem you. Even when that price was His own life. Paid for with his body given on that cross. Paid for by His blood shed at Calvary. To redeem you out of death, Jesus entered death Himself. And at His resurrection, also walked out of death, carrying His bride, carrying you with Him.

Jesus has given His bride, His Church a child. And that child is you. You are a member of God’s family. You have been clothed in His baptism. Given a place at His table. Fed with His own body and blood. You are an heir in His house. And that inheritance is forgiveness, salvation, eternal life with Him.

So it doesn’t matter the price that has to be paid. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve lost. It doesn’t matter how much you hurt. Jesus is your Kinsman-Redeemer. And He has bought you back, and brought you back from it all. Jesus has counted you as worthy for all this. Because His love for you is greater than anything else. And because of His death and resurrection on our behalf, there is no need to take off His sandal. Because Jesus has redeemed His people. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

An Inside Wilderness – A Sermon on Mark 1:1-8

December 6, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where we hear about John the Baptist. We’re going to hear a lot about John the Baptist over the next few weeks. Because next week’s text also involves him, as does the text for the First Sunday after Epiphany.

But there’s something about this whole John the Baptist story that’s just a little bit off. And I think it’s location. Don’t you think there was probably a better place to make ready the way of the Lord than the wilderness? How about the streets of Jerusalem? What about the synagogues? What about the temple? It doesn’t take a marketing degree to figure out that to reach the most people, you go to where the people are.

There just weren’t many towns east of Jerusalem. Certainly not out in the wilderness near the Jordan River. Why would there be? There are irrigation canals around here that can handle more water than flows through the Jordan. Maybe you might walk through the Jordan River Valley to get to some real towns like Capernaum, but that’s on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. Quite a ways from where John was at. There’s just nobody out there anywhere. But that’s where John sets up preaching.

And yet we hear, “A voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.” And in that wilderness, John did prepare the way. By preaching baptism. But preaching to whom? The rocks? The sagebrush? Because people don’t just go out into the wilderness. If they do go out, there’s usually a reason. And that reason is almost always solitude. Because no matter what reason you have to get away, whether social, or economic, or legal, there’s no where better to get away to than an empty wilderness.

But for all the reasons people go out, the least likely reason possible is to find some crazy hermit, clothed in camel’s hair, preaching to you about baptism. You know, the wilderness is big enough, that I’d probably go head the other direction. Because if I want to relax, or hide, or bury the bodies, I don’t want anyone else around. Even if the wilderness is dangerous to be in alone. I’ll take that chance. Because the solitude itself is why anyone is ever there.

But the wilderness is dangerous alone. How often to we underestimate the wilderness and overestimate ourselves? Because who will find you if you get lost? Who will help you if you get hurt? Who will come to pull you up if you fall? Or feed you if the animals eat your supplies? It doesn’t matter what kind of wilderness it is. Deserts, mountains, tundra, or even our own hearts. They’re all the same. Being alone in these places can kill you.

This is why God sends His angel, His messenger to the wilderness. To prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight. Because the heart, stained with sin, is a dangerous place. And yet that’s where we are. That’s where we all are. Because look who sees John out in this empty wilderness. All the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him….

And so we too are here to see John the Baptist today. We too are ready to have the way of the Lord prepared in our heart shaped wilderness. And so, John appeared baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming baptism… That’s important. It’s a baptism of repentance, yes. But it’s still first and foremost baptism.

And this was unlike any baptism they had ever seen before. This wasn’t just a ritual washing to make them clean enough to enter the temple for a short time. This wasn’t at all like the Essene ritual washings of the Qumran community. This wasn’t even like the Jewish proselyte baptisms. This was something new. One washing. One baptism. And a baptism that created in the baptized repentance. A baptism that gave the forgiveness of sins.

What an amazing baptism this was. Because the baptism caused the confession of their sins. It’s impossible to read Mark in it’s original language and understand it the other way around. Mark doesn’t say that they confessed first. Mark doesn’t say that they repented first, as if those were some kind of conditions to baptism. No. The gift of baptism is primary. And repentance and confession is the result. The baptism of John rescued them out of the wilderness of their own hearts. And being saved from that, they cannot help but have repentance. And confession. And peace.

No wonder people thought that John could be the Christ. He’ll answer that one more directly in next week’s text. But we’ll content ourselves today with his answer from Mark. That there is one stronger, mightier, who is coming. And as amazing as this baptism John did was, there was an even better one coming. A baptism that had one more gift. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. That baptism which John promised is the very same baptism you received when you were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You have the Holy Spirit. Not because you confessed enough or repented enough. But because God gives Himself, just as He has promised.

The way of the Lord was made ready in the wilderness. And baptism has made ready the way of the Lord in you. Because that wilderness is where you are. That wilderness is what you have inside. That’s what sin does to you. So Jesus comes out to your wilderness, whatever that may look like. Jesus finds you when you are lost. Jesus is there with you when you don’t know where to go, or what to do. Jesus helps you when you are hurt, and cannot go any further. Jesus picks you up and pull you out of the pit when you fall. Jesus feeds you when you have nothing of your own. Jesus is stronger than your sin. Jesus overcomes it all, even death itself. You are not alone in your wilderness. Jesus has prepared his highway to go right through the middle of it. So that you will never be lost to Him.

You have been baptized into Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And even though we’re not worthy to even stoop down and untie His sandal, He has already stooped lower. By going to the cross, Jesus bears us through the wilderness. Carrying us with His own hands. Bearing all our sin Himself. Dying on our behalf. Making Himself lower than anyone else. So that when He rises on the third day, Jesus can bring all of us up with Him. So that all of us share His resurrection. That’s what Jesus has done on the cross. That’s what Jesus has given to you in baptism. And He’s done it all, in order to rescue you out of every wilderness you could possibly ever be in. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

That’s One Fine Ass – A Sermon on Mark 11:1-11

November 29, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, Jesus’ triumphal entry from Mark’s Gospel. This Sunday is also the first Sunday in season of Advent. Advent being the Latin word for arrival. So it’s fitting that we prepare for Jesus’ arrival at Christmas, by starting with His arrival at Jerusalem during Holy Week. Because that’s where Jesus was born to go. To the cross. But if someone is arriving, then there must be a journey. A road. A way. And when Jesus arrived on what we now celebrate as Palm Sunday, the journey was bigger than just Jesus heading south from Galilee.

Because everyone who was able was heading to Jerusalem at the same time. Passover was coming. And the place to celebrate the Passover was at Jerusalem. At the temple. And so Jews from all over were bringing their families on this pilgrimage. Teaching their children about not only Passover, but also about the temple. About the city of Jerusalem. About the History of David and Solomon. About the expected Messiah. And about the Day of the Lord.

So when the families approached Jerusalem, there was already excitement in the air. As they approached the gates, they would sing Psalm 118. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! …The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. …The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. And of course from today’s text, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

You see, they did something very wise. They remembered their past. Their history. The good, and the bad. And they made sure that history was part of who they were. Because to remember the past was to understand the present. What happened to the patriarchs was still happening to them. What happened to the kings was still happening to them. What happened with the prophets was still happening to them. And through that, they understood the world around them.

So then in understanding the present, they could look to the future with hope. Because in the future was God’s promise. A promise made in the past. But a promise they were still waiting for. Because a Messiah was coming. A Christ was coming. The Day of the Lord was coming. And they arrived, it would be great. And that hope made celebrating Passover even more amazing. Because past, present, and future were all part of the same plan of God. The same history. The same stories they heard growing up. Now they were a part of it. Living as God’s people. Waiting for God’s promise.

So when Jesus shows up on this journey with them. Entering Jerusalem with them. And riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Now the story of the past and the hope of the future are right now. “Look, there’s Jesus of Nazareth!” I’ve heard about Him! He healed my cousin!” “I heard Him teach in Capernaum!” “Is this the Messiah we’ve been waiting for?” “Look, they’ve brought him a colt. He’s getting on it’s back!” “Just as promised to Judah by Jacob!” Just as Solomon entered when he was crowned king!” “Just as Zechariah foretold of the Christ!” “It is Him! He’s the one!” “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord?” “Yes, that Psalm is for right now!” Here He comes right now!” “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

And when Jesus enters into the temple immediately after coming into Jerusalem in that way, everything comes together. Everything they had heard growing up. Everything they celebrated on this day. Everything they taught to their children. It was all here. The reason behind the passover pilgrimage. The reason behind going to Jerusalem. The reason for the temple. The reason for the Davidic kingdom. The reason for Solomon’s life. The reason behind looking forward to the Messiah. They all tied together in this one event. This one riding in on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

You see, that was the reason the crowds got so worked up. That was why people laid their cloaks in the road. That was why they cut leafy branches out of the fields. That was why Jerusalem was in an uproar. This wasn’t just a grand entrance by some popular celebrity. This was their entire past, present, and future compressed into one point in time. And the people who saw it knew something big was about to happen.

And it did happen. Jesus brought in one more very important element from their history, and their present. One more element, that maybe they didn’t think of that day. But after seeing it, they would. The Day of Atonement. Because the passover lamb and the sacrificial lamb were going to be the same lamb, Jesus Himself. He was going to die on behalf of all people in order to forgive all their sin. And once Jesus was raised from the dead, once Pentecost came, once the good news of Jesus went out, they finally understood it all. Three thousand believed on the first day. And many, many more afterwards. Connected their past, present and future in the death and resurrection of Jesus. All by remembering the past to understand the present. And understanding the present in order to hope for the future. And in that, they saw it all at once, in Jesus.

And you know what? We too can do the same thing. We too can remember our past. And for us, that includes Old Testament, New Testament, the life of Jesus, and what has happened to Jesus’ church since. All of it is one history. All of it ties together. All of it points to that week starting when Jesus rode a colt into Jerusalem. Because it’s that moment that Jesus was born for. That moment is the Advent of our King. Crowned at the cross as the Davidic King, the King of the Jews, and the King of us all. That is the moment where we are saved from death, as celebrated in the passover. That is the moment we are forgiven, as celebrated on the day of atonement. That is the moment where the Day of the Lord arrived. That is the moment the cornerstone of the Church is laid. That is the moment the building of the temple promised to David’s Son begins. That is the moment the Messiah is here for.

That is the past we are part of. That is the past that tells our story. That is the past that belongs to Jesus’ Church. Remembering that past helps us understand the present. A present where we too sing Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!

It is no mistake that we sing these same words right before receiving Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Because that’s where Jesus arrives today. That is where Jesus’ Advent happens for us. That is where we encounter Jesus right now. In this sacrament the King is here, in the flesh. And the only way we can understand that, the only way we can believe that, is to be connected to the past. Connected to His Holy Week Advent. Connected to His death and resurrection nearly two thousand years ago.

The excitement the crowds had in seeing Jesus on that donkey is the same excitement we get to have every time we hear the words, “Take eat, this is my body. Take drink, this is my blood shed for your forgiveness.” Because in this sacrament is everything Jesus did, and everything Jesus promises that He will do. They are really here. Jesus is really here. And because He is, we have hope for the future. We have hope in a new heavens and a new earth. We have hope in the resurrection from the dead. We have hope in standing forgiven before God, welcomed into His presence.

This is our pilgrimage to the New Jerusalem. This is our journey to the feast. This is our way that we go. So that one day we will arrive. One day, we will have our own advent. But on this road, Jesus is with us. Riding that colt. Feeding us at His table. Letting us know that our yesterday, our today, and our tomorrow are all together in Him. Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest! And thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

So Where’s That Blessing Anyways? – A Thanksgiving Sermon on Psalm 67

November 26, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There’s a famous Norman Rockwell painting from 1943 you might be familiar with. It’s called “Freedom from Want.” You might know it as the Thanksgiving Painting. Or sometimes the Christmas Dinner Painting. Grandma is bringing the Turkey to the table. Grandpa is ready in his suit to cut. And the family is all there, sitting around the table, full of smiles. They’re talking happily with each other. It’s the picture perfect Thanksgiving. It’s the kind of Thanksgiving that tonight’s Psalm would fit right in.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

A classmate of mine from seminary, Pastor Goodman who is serving now in Nebraska, I thought had the perfect response to this painting. To this scene we imagine while sitting down to our table. He said, “Sometimes, I wanna punch Norman Rockwell in the mouth.” And I completely agree with him. Because that picture isn’t real. We want it to be real. We want it so very badly. And we will sacrifice so much just to have that picture for one little moment on one particular day. Just one moment when the fighting stops. Just one moment when the problems aren’t spilling over onto everyone else. Just one moment when everyone we love is together, and happy.

That’s all we want. And you know, sometimes, some years, we even manage to pull it off. One brief moment where everything feels pretty good. But a lot of times, despite all our hard work, that moment never comes. There’s always something. Family is separated by miles, or perhaps should be. Sons- or daughters-in-law, cousins, even grandchildren are only transitory members of the family. Here and loved one year. Gone without a word through divorce the next. Not even our most stable families stay together forever. Death is constantly taking away those we love. Norman Rockwell’s painting is a fiction. And we live in reality. And even if you don’t want to punch the guy in the mouth, it still hurts to see a picture you can never truly have. Even if just for that moment.

Do we then look at tonight’s Psalm the same way? May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us. If we’re killing ourselves over the cooking and cleaning and shopping that it takes to even have a chance at that ficticious moment. Then what does that say about God? Is God actually gracious? Does God actually bless us? Or will it be yet another year of fighting, heartbreak, and absence?

But in order to blame God for not blessing us, we end up making assumptions about what blessings actually are. What grace actually is. Is it a blessing to be given a lie? Does grace ask us to pretend things are good, when they’re really not? Does God want us to be happy with a momentary delusion? Or do we need to know the truth?

Because the problem is a whole lot bigger than our holidays not quite turning out the way we want. The problem is a whole lot bigger than not having even one moment where we can smile and say everything’s fine. There’s a reason behind the fighting. A reason behind the hurting. A reason behind the absence. A reason behind death.

Our whole world is broken. Our whole world is corrupted by sin. And this isn’t a problem you just find in those people out there. Sin is in our loved ones. Sin is in us. And sin is why nothing ever works out in the end. Because if it isn’t the fighting, if it isn’t the anger, if it isn’t the not being there anymore, it’s still the dying. Because that’s where all sin takes us. We all die. And so, this isn’t a problem we can fix with a little holiday magic. It’s in our very core. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

But there is something God has done about it. And it wasn’t easy. The easy answer would’ve been to not even let any of us live. Just quarantine the rest of creation from us, and start over. But God loves you. God cares what happens to you. Not because you’re so great. Not because you did anything so amazing. Not because you did anything at all. Simply because you are His. That’s enough to have God to love you.

And because He loves you, losing you was not an acceptable outcome. But to save you took joining you in your pain. Joining you in your suffering. Joining you in your loss. Joining you even in death itself. This is why Jesus came. This is why Jesus died. So that no matter what happens to you in this sin-stained world, you would never be alone. In dying, Jesus pays for all your sin, and gives you forgiveness. The sin no longer stands between you and God. And you know what? He also died for, and forgives everyone else too. Even your own family. Even the ones who make your holidays miserable. You are all dear children to Jesus.

Now, we do wish that Jesus would just hurry up and make everything better, now that sin is taken away. Because this world is hard. And we keep getting hurt. And the people we love keep on dying. But here is where Jesus does ask us to be patient. Because there are more people that need to hear about Jesus’ death and resurrection. More people that need forgiveness. And they are as loved as you. After all, Jesus waited this long for you, so that you could hear His Good News. We can wait a little longer for our brothers and sisters to hear as well.

But while we wait, Jesus is still giving us gifts. Gifts bigger and better than mere moments on particular days. Jesus gave us tonight’s Psalm to help us through this life. May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us. This is no ordinary prayer. This is the Benediction repeated here in this Psalm. The words given to Aaron, the first high priest, to speak over the people of Israel. God had him say these words: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor, and give you peace. And the Lord gave this reason: So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.

The blessing, then isn’t that things always go well. After all, those first given this blessing wandered the wilderness for 40 years with no home. Some of the ones given this blessing later ended up as lepers outside of town, begging Jesus to heal them. They would have loved to received things to make this life go easier. Just like you and I would love the same thing. But the blessing was even bigger than that. The blessing was that they now had the name of God put on them.

They were marked by God as ones redeemed by Christ the crucified. A name that cannot be washed off or covered up. A name that cannot be taken away by anything this life can throw at you. A name that not even death can take away. A name that tells the world where God is. He is with them. And He is with you. Even now. And with that name, with that presence, comes every promise God has ever made to you. And He never forgets a promise.

You are His child. You are welcomed into His family. You are clothed in His baptism. You have a place at His table. You have forgiveness for every sin. Even the biggest ones. You have a place with God. You have life, even after death. And you have Him with you always. And there is nothing in this world, absolutely nothing, that can change that promise.

So that Norman Rockwell painting wasn’t the best thing to measure yourself against. But you have something that painting doesn’t. Something even better than the fake smiles, and pretended peace. You have Jesus. And Jesus is there when the family fights. Jesus is there when the problems are too big. Jesus is there, even when the ones we love can’t be, or wont be. But even when death takes them away, Jesus is still there. Waiting patiently so that we can all be part of His resurrection. We will be together again. That last day is coming. And that will be much more than just a perfect moment. It will be a perfect forever. And that’s worth waiting for. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

The Parable of the Master – A Sermon on Matthew 25:14-30

November 15, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text today is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus gives us the parable of the talents. Oh, not this parable again. This is the parable where the pastor always gets up and tells you about stewardship. What are you called to do with you time, talents, and treasures. Because apparently, the Church needs all three of them from you in order to survive. This is the text where you get told all the stuff that you have to do so that the Church can grow, or get bigger, or get younger, or explode in some fashion, or just not close her doors, or take care of some other desperate need. Because let’s face it, there’s always something that we need.

And if you will just take care of that need, it’s like magic! Five talents gets you five more. Two will double just as well. Just give what you can, and everything will work out great. You’ll get the growth, youth, or agenda item you were looking for. But if you don’t give, oh no! What you have will be taken away. Because apparently God is a big jerk about these things. I mean seriously. The master in this parable comes off sounding pretty horrible by the end if you’re not a giver. And wouldn’t you rather have a pat on the back instead of being thrown out into the utter darkness? I know I would.

This is why I hate today’s text. Not because of the text itself. But because this is the kind of garbage that ends up being preached from it. So then, if this text isn’t about giving everything you can, what is it about? It’s about a master going on a journey. But before He goes, he leaves everything to His servants. Property, in our English translation is not a strong enough word. He leaves his entire livelihood, everything he has to live on to these servants. Not as a loan. But as a gift. That’s different. It’s almost as if the master expected that his journey would end with his death.

Because what a valuable gift he gave. A talent of silver was equivalent to nine to ten years wages. So to one servant, about 50 years worth, another 20 years worth, and to another about 10 years worth of wages. He gave to each servant according to their ability. Now does that mean the most able got the five talents? Or does it mean the most able got the one talent? I don’t know.

But as soon as the master had given away everything he had to live on, he left. And immediately after he left, two of his servants began to invest their gifts. Notice, that no where does the master demand of them to do this. But that’s exactly how they respond. And they do so precisely because the gift is so great. They cannot help but go out and put this tremendous wealth to use.

The third servant, however, refuses his gift altogether. He knows the master went out with nothing. Therefore, he figured the master would likewise return with nothing. And having nothing, that master would surely demand back the gift he gave. If the money was all tied up in investments when he returned, then what would his master do? If that money had been spent, what would his master do? He knows what he would do if he were the master. So, this isn’t a wonderful gift. This is a terrible burden. And the only way to not leave it all to chance was to reject the gift altogether. And make his own way until the master returned. So the talent of silver was buried, and the servant’s believed his life to now be safe from the master.

However, when the master does return, we find that wasn’t what was going on at all. I know our English translation reads that the master came to “settle accounts.” But the Greek literally means “to take up a word with.” The master’s not looking for his money. He’s not looking to take back the gifts he gave. He’s looking to see how his servants are. And to give them even more, now that his journey is done. After all, the master who had given everything he had, now was giving once again. And giving even more than last time. “Well done good and faithful servant, You have been faithful with little, I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

But when the third servant saw his master, he returned the original gift. And he returned it with all the pent up anger and resentment that had built over all that time. The master, who had been so generous as to give everything he had away was now told that he was a “hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you sowed no seed.” He was told that he was a man to feared, and that his gift to this servant was no gift, but a curse.

The master wasn’t looking to get his money back. Even if that servant would have come up and said, “the talent you gave me is gone. It fed me when times were tough. It kept me alive when disaster struck. But I have nothing else to show for it but my life.” The master would have still said, “Well done good and faithful servant!” Because that’s what the gift was for. To live. And now the gifts could be given again.

But to reject the gift was to reject the giver. The servant wasn’t wicked because he didn’t invest the money. The servant wasn’t slothful because he didn’t earn a profit. The servant was evil because he hated his master’s gifts. And therefore, he hated the master. And so the master’s response is fitting. “You [“]knew[”] that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested the money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” In other words, the master is saying, “If I really were this way, I would’ve expected a lot more than I have. If I were really this way, do you think I would have ever entrusted this to you? But I’m not this way. Because, look I’m still giving it away.” Give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given.

This parable is a picture of Jesus. He takes on the role of the master from the parable. Jesus has a journey. A journey to the cross. Not just because it sounds like a nice vacation. But because there is where Jesus goes to give you even more. And to go there, He gives up everything. Not just possessions, but even as much as His own body. Not just livelihood, but life itself. As His lifeblood is shed. Poured out. All for you. And He gives even this to you. In fact, He’s giving here today. Saying to His servants, saying to you, take and eat, this is My body. Take and drink, this is My blood, shed for your forgiveness. This is a treasure worth more than any amount of silver.

Every other gift pales in comparison to this gift of Jesus. Because this gift, Jesus’ own death and resurrection, given at the cross, is everything. And not only is it given at the supper. Not only is it given in its proclamation. This gift from the cross also given in baptism. And we’ve seen that gift today too. The death and resurrection of Jesus came today to Landon, and Kaytie, and Jeff. Today they were clothed with Christ’s righteousness. Today their sins were washed away. Today they are children of God, brought into God’s own family. All through that journey to the cross that Jesus has made. All through that gift that Jesus has given. Not a loan. Not a burden. A glorious, wonderful gift.

It’s the death and resurrection of Jesus that gives life to the Church. The Church doesn’t need your time, talent or treasures in order to exist. Because Jesus gave His time, which is as long as eternity. Jesus gave His talent, to create what is good from nothing, and then living a sinless life on your behalf. Jesus gave His treasure, His own life. His own existence. And through these things the Church will always live. Because those are the only things that give her life. Those are the only things that give us life as well. And they’re given through her.

And you know, because we have this gift of Jesus, our faith cannot help but grow. When we give, it’s because Jesus has already given to us. When we help, it’s because Jesus has already helped us. When we love, it is because Jesus has already loved us. And even as that gift of Jesus keeps growing, He still has even more to give to us. For to everyone who has, more will be given. There is the resurrection coming. The resurrection of all flesh is coming on the last day when Jesus, our master returns. The last day will be exactly like Easter Sunday. Only instead of just one being raised from the dead, all will be raised.

Now, it is true, that not everyone will be happy on that day. Our text does make that clear. But it’s not because Jesus hasn’t been giving. Because here He is, with all His gifts. Because Jesus wants you to live. That’s the goal. Not that you multiply your own faith. Not that you even reach others with that faith. Now those things might happen anyways. And thanks be to God when they do. But the goal is to make sure that you live. And that can only happen through the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is what God gives. That is what we proclaim. Because that is the power of God unto salvation. That is good news. And with that good news comes the words, “Well done good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your master.” Not because your time, talent and treasure did anything. But only because Jesus has already done it all for you. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Parable of the Merchant and the Five Foolish Virgins – A Sermon on Matthew 25:1-13

November 6, 2014 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text today is the Gospel lesson where Jesus tells the parable of the ten virgins. It’s a pretty straight forward parable. The moral of the story is to be prepared when the bridegroom comes. Be wise, and stock up on extra oil. Or stock up on the gifts God is giving right now. Because you don’t know how long it will take the bridegroom to arrive.

The analogy makes even more sense when you take into account the wedding traditions in Jesus’ day. On the wedding day, the bridegroom leaves his parents’ house in order to go and pick up his bride. And that may be across town, or over in the next village, or quite a ways down the road. But once he has picked her up, the whole party intentionally takes the longest path home, so that everyone on the way can congratulate them on their happy day. So when exactly the bride and groom were to arrive at his parents’ house to start the wedding and the party was anyone’s guess. Five were ready for the extra late hours with additional oil in flasks for their lamps. Five were not. And the five who weren’t were stuck outside when the door was shut and the wedding begun. So be ready and don’t get locked out.

That’s a good thing to be prepared for. And that’s a valuable point that Jesus makes. Getting in the wedding is more important than any other thing that could be going on. Getting into heaven is more important than anything else that happens on this earth. So be prepared with the Gospel. Always receive more of the gifts Jesus gives. So that you will never starve your faith. So that your lamp never goes out. So that when Jesus arrives, you are welcomed in.

Is that the end of our parable? Looks wrapped up pretty clean. Not a whole lot else to say about it. Which is a problem. Because the people who heard this parable in Jesus’ day were still waiting to hear what happened at the door with the five foolish virgins. That parable is not yet finished. You see, we missed so much context, that you can drive a truck through it. Not because we were dumb, but because we didn’t live that life. What was the significance of having ten virgins waiting? What did it mean to have no lamps in the dark? How could anyone buy more oil that late? And was the doorman’s word final?

That there were ten virgins total was no accident. Weddings in those days were required to have ten witnesses. Ten being the number in that society representing completeness. Everyone knew that about the number ten. Just like people today know that ‘cool’ is the word for something you like. Therefore ten witnesses was the right number. Now, those witnesses were all male. And likely accompanied the groom on his journey. However, ten virgin women waiting was a peculiarity Jesus added. They too were numbered with that number. They too, in Jesus’ eyes were critical to the wedding. As in the wedding party could not be considered complete without them.

When the bridegroom arrives with his bride, we miss another critical element. Did you ever wonder why those without oil didn’t just follow those whose lamps were still lit? It’s because finding their way in the dark wasn’t the problem. In that society, women didn’t go out after dark without a lamp held up to their face. So that people could see who they were. To go out without a lamp was to try and hide your identity. To be found without a lamp was to be suspected of adultery or fornication.

Maybe we might judge that as wrong. Maybe we might call it a relic of a bygone patriarchal era. But that is the way it was. Because you know what? Adultery and fornication was just as popular then as it is now. But they at least recognized the shame in it. So for those five to show up with no lamps would have been the modern day equivalent of hiring five hookers to be bridesmaids at your wedding. So when they ask for oil from the five who brought extra, foolish virgins risk humiliating the entire wedding party, not just half of it.

Therefore the five foolish virgins must go buy more oil while the five wise virgins are let into the wedding. Now, it’s not the problem you think. There was a wedding going on in the village. The local merchant is probably smart enough to be open for business, because someone will run out of something. Which means, someone will be looking to buy. And these five are certainly willing to buy. But they still have the same problem as before. To have not one, but five anonymous women show up at night is a scandal most people who have good reputation would avoid at all costs.

But this is where our parable best shows us Jesus. Not in the bridegroom. But in the merchant. Because the merchant obviously does sell these five foolish virgins the oil they were looking for. Or else they would never have tried to get into the wedding after the door was shut. That these women end up with oil tells us more about the merchant than is ever mentioned about the bridegroom in this text. He was willing to bear their shame. Take for himself the accusations that would have been theirs. Be seen by the whole community as an adulterer and fornicator. Give up everything. So that these foolish women would have their place at the wedding.

That’s exactly what Jesus does for us. Jesus takes all our sin, all the things we’re too ashamed to admit. All the things we hoped no one else would ever see. Jesus bears them all. We stand accused. Satan is the word translated as accuser, and he knows exactly what to accuse us with. He’s kept track of every sin, and is ready to relate them all in detail to God. All so that we would be destroyed. But Jesus steps in and takes all those accusations instead. And He dies for every one of them. Jesus hangs on the cross as the worst adulterer, the worst fornicator, the worst sinner of all time. Not because He did those things. But because we needed those sins taken away from us. Jesus gave up everything. His honor. His Lordship. His freedom. His perfection. His very life. All for you. So that you have a place at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Jesus gives you the proverbial oil. He gives you the gifts of the Gospel. Jesus gives forgiveness. He gives life. He gives salvation. He gives resurrection from the dead. He gives hope for today. He gives you His kingdom. He makes you a part of His family. He feeds you. He gives you faith. He washes you. He clothes you. He makes you holy, so that you stand before God. Jesus gives you His own place. And no one can take that away.

But in our parable there is one more thing we need to know. Because we’re left standing at the door, with the door keeper claiming to not know who we are. What we don’t know is that the doorman doesn’t frame this as a final answer. In this society, this response was not the end of a conversation, but the beginning. The doorman can’t let just anyone in. But the number of virgins is not yet complete. The wedding cannot begin. Five more need to come. And not just any five. He needs to know that these are the five he’s looking for.

That Jesus ends his parable here is no accident. Because this is the point where it goes from parable to reality. There is only one way to enter the wedding feast. And that is to have the light of Jesus shining on you. For the doorman in the parable, he needs to see the faces. He needs the lamps lighting them up. It’s the same for us. Jesus on more than one occasion has told us that He is the light of the world. And that light shines on us. No matter the shame our faces have had to bear. No matter the sins our faces have faced. We are the ones the wedding is waiting for. And the light is the one thing that can change the doorman’s answer from no to yes.

We don’t know exactly when Jesus is coming back. So watching is a good thing to do. Do not neglect the gifts Jesus gives you through Word and sacrament. But also know that Jesus is with you, and for you, even in those times you’ve let the oil run out. Even in the times you fall into sin and shame. Even when the darkness surrounds you on all sides. He is there, gladly sacrificing Himself on your behalf. Because His wedding feast can’t start without you. You are part of the wedding party. And Jesus is of the opinion that you’re worth waiting for. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

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