The Cast Off – A Sermon on Genesis 29-30 (Revised from 2013)

February 10, 2016 Leave a comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. How many times have you heard someone say, “Well, polygamy is in the Bible”? Usually as some way to excuse something they’re doing that God says you shouldn’t. Well, they are right. Polygamy is in the the Bible. And you don’t have to look any further than Jesus’ own genealogy to find it. Jacob, one of the three great patriarchs, is probably best example. And how well did that work for him?

Well, it’s tough to blame Jacob on that one. He meets this beautiful girl and falls in love. Asks Rachel’s father for her hand in marriage. Offers to work seven years without pay, all in order to get him to say yes. And we read, “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” The wedding day came. The feast was prepared. A marriage happened. And Jacob woke up the next day to the wrong woman.

That dirty, cheating Laban. Seven years Jacob waited. Seven years Jacob worked. Plenty of time to find a different husband for the ugly sister. But no, Laban had to dump Leah on him. Well, the deceiver was himself deceived. But Jacob still loved Rachel, and would work another seven years for Laban in order to have her. Only this time, they were getting married first. And he would be checking under that veil, and sleeping with the lights on, just to be sure.

But who in all this was hurt the most? Jacob? Rachel? Or Leah? The ugly one. The one no one wanted to be around. The one who could only get a husband by trickery. The one who was cast aside the moment it was light enough to see. Who was given her marriage week grudgingly. Who became the second class wife the moment her week was up. Jacob was madly in love with her sister. And she was emotionally abandoned. Sure, she was fed and housed. Occasionally visited by her husband. On those nights Rachel was too tired or had a headache, I suppose.  But her rejection was plain to see. Her rejection was found in the names of her sons.

And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” Therefore she called his name Judah.

Did it work? Did having children Jacob love Leah? No. But it did make Rachel jealous. So jealous, in fact, that Rachel sent her maidservant to bed with Jacob in order to take away what little Leah had. And that favor got returned, by the way. All in all, polygamy is shown to be an absolute disaster. Which you all could have probably imagined, even without this biblical illustration. Turns out that the Bible acknowledging that something happened isn’t exactly the same as endorsing it. Because even though it happened, someone always ended up the favorite. And everyone ends up getting hurt.

But Leah was hurt the most. She was the one who lost. She was the one cast aside. She was the one too ugly to compete with her sister or even their maidservants. The one who invoked too many of Jacob’s bad memories. The one who was never loved. Not by her father, not by her sister, not by her husband. And yet Leah is the one who is loved by God. From her son came the line in which God’s Son would be born. Not beautiful Rachel. Not better looking Bilhah or Zilpah. Leah is the one God chose.

What did Leah do in order to get God to look on her and have compassion? Did Leah have a better faith than the rest? Did Leah do the right things to make God happy? Did Leah suffer injustice, and now God can’t help but love the underdog? None of those reasons work. For Leah is not innocent in this whole sordid affair. Leah had to agree to Laban’s marriage deception in the first place. She too lied to Jacob. She too was willing to manipulate people to get what she wanted. There was nothing that Leah did that made God happy enough with her so as to chose her.

Likewise, there is nothing that we do to make God happy enough with us that He would bless us. Not the activity of our faith. Not the good things we do for others. Not even the injustices we suffer. For we are not innocent. We too are willing to deceive when it suits our purpose or meshes with our warped idea of good. We too openly lie, when we think it will help. We too manipulate others. Because that manipulation is surely in their best interests, so we say. We dress up evil, and call it good.

And when those seemingly good things fail, we’re cast aside. Left behind by those who were supposed to love us. Abandoned by those who were supposed to be on our side. Betrayed, leaving things spiraling out of control. And so, what seemed like a good idea at the time turns into a complete disaster. We’re cast aside when we mourn. Cast aside when we need too much. Cast aside when we get too sick. Cast aside ultimately by death itself. Left to rot alone in our graves.

And yet, despite being cast aside, God chose Leah. Despite being cast aside, God chose you. Even though maybe you were cast aside for all the right reasons. Even if you were hated for all the right reasons. You are still loved by God. Because that’s what God does. Jesus is not embarrassed by us cast offs. He is not embarrassed to be descended from Leah. For Leah is loved by God. Given a son named Judah. And even though we’ll see next week that he isn’t that great either, this is Jesus’ family. And we are part of it too through His blood.

We are not cast aside alone. Not by sin. Not by death. Not by people or events in our lives. Because Jesus Himself was the greatest cast off. He Himself was thrown aside. Ugly. Unloved. In a whirlwind of anger and resentment and confusion. As the crowds shouted for His crucifixion before Pontus Pilate. He went there for you. Died for you. To pay the price for our ugliness. To pay for our deception. He has joined you where you are. To bring you in to His family.

And on the third day, Jesus rose. Because being cast away by the world, cast away by sin, cast away in death is not to be cast away by God. And by rising, He brings you up with Him as well. For what was given to Leah is also given to you.. Leah was given the place of wife to Jacob. Leah was given the the son who would carry on the genealogy towards Jesus. Even in death, God cared for Leah. For she is the one who was buried with Abraham and Sarah. Buried with Isaac and Rebekah. The one next to whom Jacob would eventually be buried. Leah. Not Rachel. Not Bilhah. Not Zilpah. But Leah. She was not, and is not cast aside forever.

Likewise, you too are part of the bride of Christ. Part of the Church who needed rescued from her sin. You too are a child of God, born of water and the Word in baptism. You too are buried with Christ in that baptism, so that you will likewise rise with Him to new life. All that God gave to Leah prefigured everything that God gives to you now through Christ’s cross.

Of course, the pain of being cast aside is real. We live it every day. But like Leah, we’re not cast aside forever. Because Jesus has reversed it all in His death and resurrection. Not because we were so good. But because His love is that great. Despite our sin, which we remember in repentance through these ashes tonight, God has reversed our predicament. A reversal foreshadowed in the lives of His earthly ancestors. A reversal accomplished perfectly in the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. And that reversal is still ours today.

We are loved despite our sin. We are loved despite our failings. We are loved despite our circumstances. God chose Leah, and us likewise, not because we are lovable in and of ourselves. But because that’s who our Lord is. And he has shown that to us throughout Scripture. Even in the places that we would quickly skip over, like the  lists of names in the genealogies. Because in that list are the sins for which Jesus died. In that list are the people for whom Jesus died. He is not too proud to be part of their disreputable family. But He has also made them all part of His family. Made them all children of God. And He has done that for us as well. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

It’s All Going Downhill from Here – A Sermon on Luke 9:28-36

February 4, 2016 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 right at the very  beginning, we’re aware that we missed something. Because our text reads, “Now about eight days after these sayings….” And just exactly which sayings are those?

Turns out, what Jesus said is pretty interesting given what Peter, John, and James saw on the mountain today. Jesus said earlier, “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” And so, when they saw not only Jesus shining like the stars, but also Moses and Elijah appearing in glory, what else could this be but the kingdom of God? I mean, isn’t that kind of what you imagined the kingdom of God to be like? Way up high. Glory all around. Seeing the hall-of-famers of the faith standing right there. And in the midst of it all, Jesus. I mean, do you really need anything else?

Peter sure doesn’t. “Master, it is good that we are here,” he says to Jesus. This is great! Let’s get Moses to stay. Let’s get Elijah to stay. Who in all Judea wouldn’t be excited to come here and see you together with them? Just think of all the people who would come and be a part of your Church. I can see it now. Therefore, let us make three tents, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Because nothing packs them in like seeing the glory of God.

Our text tells us that Peter didn’t know what he was saying. And I don’t think it means that Peter was so confused. That the words coming out of his mouth didn’t make sense. I think it’s that Peter didn’t realize that his brilliant plan went directly against the plans of God. That at this mountain, it was going all down hill from here.

We too have Peter’s problem. We look to the wrong kind of glory. And assume that is the kingdom of God. We’re happy to look at the bright, shining, smiling Jesus. We pine for the days when the pews were full, and we could trust society to teach our moral values for us. We want to see a beautiful empty cross and a Jesus who couldn’t possibly be disliked by anyone. We’re eager to point out Lutheran celebrities, or Christians who make a difference by being well known. We want a mountaintop experience for ourselves and for our kids. And we’re not afraid to build the tabernacles that will generate that feeling for us. We respond to that kind of glory, and we know others do as well. Because that kind of glory is safe.

Everyone likes it. No one can question it. Nobody can get offended at it. No one is going to come knocking on our doors with torches and pitchforks for it. It’s what we want. And if we want it, odds are, others will want it as well. Maybe your idea looks different than mine. Maybe we could squabble over the details. But as long as we’re in our safe little corners, and don’t have to really risk anything, we can live with that. In fact, most of us have lived in relative safety for all our lives in regards to our faith. And it’s a safety we want to keep, no matter what it costs.

But remember Jesus’ words eight days before? But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God. That’s not what you say to someone who is eight carefree days away from seeing what you’re talking about. These words let the disciples know that there’s a real threat of actually dying. And it implies that death will come for at least one of them before the kingdom is seen. Whatever words you may use to describe the kingdom of God, safe isn’t one of them.

But this also tells us that today’s Transfiguration is NOT the coming kingdom of God. The glory, the celebrities, the mountaintop experience, it wasn’t to show Peter, John and James where they were going. The good ol’ days of decades past don’t show us where we’re going either. But the glory revealed on the mountain was to show them and to show us where Jesus came from. This is what Jesus gave up. What Jesus left behind. All in exchange for a greater glory. The glory of cross.

That phrase, “the glory of the cross,” should trip us up more than it does. Glory? In a cross? Not only was the cross the most painful way one could die, but it was the most shameful as well. For the cross in Jesus’ day symbolized all that was criminal, all that was foreign, all that was servile, and lowly. Every one who was crucified had to bear the very cross they would die on across their backs. And they would be hung naked at the busiest places, so that all the gathered crowds would laugh at their disfigured shame.

No one in the world should comprehend the cross as glory. Yet God does. And not just a glory, but His greatest glory. Because at that cross, which all the world wants to avoid, there is Jesus’ greatest work. At the greatest atrocity ever committed by humanity, the murder of the one innocent man, there is humanity’s one and only hope. Because Jesus Himself was the one He was talking about in the verse before today’s text. Jesus was the One standing there who would indeed taste death so that we could see the Kingdom of God.

That kingdom does not come with the promise of safety. There is no promise that everything will work out. No promise that you will be loved by the people around you. No promise that you wont be hurt. No promise that you wont be hunted down and killed. No promise that you wont have to face shame like Jesus. No promise that things will stop going downhill out of control. To see the kingdom is to risk all those things and more.

That’s scary. That is something to fear. Because that’s risking more than we can afford to lose. That’s risking friendships, family ties, even our very lives. Risking the things that we expect to be there on our mountaintops. The things we expect to find in our glory. And the kingdom of God guarantees none of them.

But in the midst of our fear, just as in the midst of Peter’s fear. Just as in the midst of John’s and James’ fear, there is God, wrapping us in His cloud. There we find Jesus alone. There is Christ who willingly gave up all those things we can’t live without. Who threw His own safety to the wind. Who set His face toward Jerusalem and the cross, leaving it all behind. All to race down that hill and to get ahold of you.

Jesus needed to get where you actually are. Not where you think you are. Not where you’d like to be. Not where you should be. No. Jesus went to where the suffering is. Where the shame is. Where the sin is. Where the death is. Where you are. And when He gets here, He says, “This is my glory. This is where My kingdom comes. This is where My Exodus leads me. This is where I speak. Because all that glory left behind means nothing compared with you.”

So it’s here in this life, in the midst of all the things that go wrong. In the midst of the broken and the dying. In the midst of the ones overcome with the shame of sin. In the midst of us who cannot do anything ourselves. In the midst of the last thing we would ever call glory. There is Jesus. In the flesh. Putting His own body into our hands, saying, “Take, eat.” Giving us His blood, saying, “Take, drink.”

Which to the world looks as plain bread and plain wine. The most unremarkable of all substances. Given to the most unremarkable of all people. And for Christ, this is a higher glory than all the heavens and all the earth. Because in this supper, the angels and archangels sing with all the company of heaven. Sing with all of us. In this supper, we join together with the Church throughout time. Together with Moses, and Elijah, and Peter, and all our loved ones who have gone ahead of us in the faith. In this supper, heaven and earth meet. This supper is the kingdom of God coming to you. The glory of the Transfiguration is here in communion. And greater glory still. And while it might not knock the socks off someone who doesn’t know what it is, there’s no where else that Christ reveals Himself to us more vividly than here.

But this is no safe kind of glory. Of course, there never was any safety. Whether in our perceived glory. The mountaintops of our choosing. Or in the Church. In Jesus  Himself. It is never safe to be apart from Jesus, and it is never safe to be by His side. But safety isn’t our priority. Because no matter what we endure, the last chapter has already been written. No matter what we lose, it has already been won back by Jesus’ death and resurrection. No matter even if we die, for death itself is conquered through Christ’s glorious cross. Appearances are temporary, and will all fade. The promises given by Jesus are forever. And those promises are yours here, in the kingdom of God.

Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

The Demon’s Mask – A Sermon on Luke 4:31-44 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

January 28, 2016 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 sitting in the synagogue that Sabbath morning was a man wearing a mask. Luke doesn’t tell us that this man barged in. Or suddenly showed up when Jesus started preaching. He was already there. Already in the synagogue. Which should surprise us. Because we know a little bit about the culture in Jesus’ day. Demon possessed people don’t just get to walk into synagogues without being thrown out, or worse. And that is why the mask was necessary. For this man to already be there when Jesus shows up, he was going to have to look like everyone else.

That is the demon’s mask. Fit in. Be just like everyone else. Be able to handle whatever little problems I have. Be friendly. Smile. Everything’s fine. And as long as that mask is on, people will love you. As long as that mask is on, you will belong. That mask, though, takes a great deal of care. Do not let it crack, lest people see someone different. Do lot let it fade, lest people distance themselves from you. Do not let it fall, lest people turn their back on you and leave you behind.

Why did you come to Church today? To hear something positive and uplifting? It fixes the cracks in that mask. To sing out with joy and get energized for your week? It secures that mask in place. To come out of Church feeling good. It polishes that precious mask so we can better show it off to the world. Now, those positive things aren’t bad in and of themselves. But we have been trained by our world from infancy to use those good things for our own demon’s mask. Because what’s good for the mask is good for you. The better the mask, the better you are respected by everyone else. And to have the best mask, is to have the best life.

Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where sitting in the synagogue that Sabbath morning was a whole crowd of people wearing masks. And Jesus, by His Word, punches one of them in the face. His mask cracks, crumbles, and falls. And in it’s place, we see the horror that really lies underneath. We see the demon that afflicts the life behind the mask, in all its terrible ugliness. The mask itself is darkness. And when it is broken, everything below it is revealed.

There is little worse to see in a person than a broken mask. Someone who, because of the pain, can no longer put up a nice front. Who, because of the loss, has nothing to cover up their open wounds. Who, because of their sin, no longer even look human to the rest of us mask wearers. Because we can see in them what would happen to us, should our mask break. What has happened to us when our masks did break. Revulsion, rejection, abandonment.

When it’s the world, or other people, or our own sin that breaks our mask, it’s bad enough. But when it’s Jesus who does it, we get angry. Because Jesus is the one who is supposed to make us clean, not revolting. Jesus is the one who is supposed to accept us, not reject us. Jesus is the one who is supposed to include us, not abandon us. And yet, with the mask of darkness gone, how can anyone, even God Himself do otherwise? “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.” The demons words call God to finish the job. When the demon says us, it isn’t referring to itself and other demons. No, it means itself, and the man it’s in. Now that you’ve broken the mask, Jesus, destroy us both. After all, that’s who you are. The holy One of God. And the holy One of God must destroy sin.

When Jesus breaks our masks, so also do our demons cry out. What a terrible God. What hateful Christ. Your holiness is a sham. Your love is a lie. Because if you really loved me, my mask would shine. But now, you have exposed my sin. You have brought my shame out for everyone to see. The sadness I have bottled up bursts open. And I am no longer okay. Not to others. Not even to myself.

And to this demon Jesus says, “Shut up. Get out of here. Because you are between Me and someone who needs My hand.And after the sun set, when the land was covered in darkness, Jesus laid His hands on every one of them. Refusing to let their demons speak. Jesus gave them His hand. Even though what was left was ugly. Even though what was left was broken. Even though what was left was hurting. Even though what was left was infected by sin. Because what is left behind is not just a mask. What is there is you. And you are loved.

Love is patient. Not getting fed up with the lies of the masks we wear, nor the demons hidden with us behind it. Love is kind. Continuing even when His light reveals what is underneath. Love does not envy or boast. Leaving no room for the pride masks bring. Nor any room for fear that we may never measure up. Love is not arrogant or rude. No matter what lies beneath, Christ gives you His hand. Love does not insist on its own way, demanding that you first be acceptable enough before He will come. Love is not irritable or resentful, for whatever is behind the mask is exactly what Jesus died and rose for. Love does not rejoice in wrong doings. There is no praise for how good a mask you can design. But love does rejoice with the truth. The truth that you are loved, no matter how broken, or dirty, or sad, or sinful you are.

Because on the cross, Jesus bears all things for you. Every sin. Every lie. Every demon. Every shame. Every loss. He takes them all on His shoulders. And bleeds and dies for them all. Jesus believes all things for you. For even when you yourself have doubts. When you live as though you didn’t believe in Him. When you have failed to live up to the standards of faith, He still believes in you. Not just in that sappy, made-for-TV drama kind of way. But rather it’s Christ’s faith that trusts in your place, when your own cannot.

Likewise, Jesus hopes all things for you. Because He is hope incarnate. He is the resurrection and the life. And that resurrection is yours. And He is your hope for today as well. For no matter what lies behind the mask, He is there with His hand outstretched to let you know that you are not alone. For Jesus endures all things. The shame of the cross. The burden of your sin. The grief of your loss. The ugliness of your life that is hidden away. The worst of it all. Jesus endures it with you. He does not abandon you like everyone else would if or when they see what’s under there. He is there through it all by your side.

And this love of Jesus never ends. This love of Jesus is with you now. He is with you throughout this life. He is with you as you lie in the grave. He is with you when the earth gives way. He is with you in the final resurrection and all eternity. And that faith, that hope, that love abide with you through Christ. And the greatest of these is His love.

Why did you come to Church today? It might not be the same reason Jesus is here for you. In love, Jesus is here to punch you in the face. By His Word, He might just break the friendships your mask has made. Or break the family your mask holds together. He might just break you. Or your whole concept of what it means to be you. And that is love. Because that mask is darkness. And hiding behind it might make things easier in the short term. But it never, ever makes things better. And that’s why our mask needs broken. Praise the One Who breaks the darkness.

The need to break that mask is why not every Sunday text is a happy text. Not every season is a happy season. Not every hymn is a happy hymn. Because you are much more than your mask. And Church is not here to fix or polish that mask. You, all of you, even the parts you don’t want to show, are a redeemed child of Christ. Whether that’s in your sadness. Whether that’s in your fear. Whether that’s in your anger. Whether that’s in your loss. Whether that’s in your shame. Or whether that’s in your joy. Christ Jesus is there for you through them all. And because He is, there is no more need for masks. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

The Word Fulfilled – A Sermon on Luke 4:16-30

January 23, 2016 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, but we’re actually going to start with our Old Testament text. We don’t often hear a lot from Ezra and Nehemiah. In the entire three year lectionary, we hear them only once. And that is today.

This text tells about a time way after everything we usually think about from the Old Testament. Well after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Well after Moses and the Exodus. After kings David and Solomon. After the great prophets like Elijah and Elisha. After the warnings of impending exile from Isaiah and Jeremiah. After the time of Babylonian captivity with Ezekiel and Daniel.

The Jews had returned to their land under the Persians. They had rebuilt Jerusalem. Rebuilt the wall. Rebuilt the temple. And now, after generations removed from having even heard God’s Word read aloud, there they are. Listening for their very first time. Not just to the bits barely remembered by a select few. But to the whole thing. All the works which God had done on their behalf from Adam on. And as they are moved to tears, they are told that this day, the day when God’s Word was spoken aloud once again, was a day of joy.

Now compare that to the Sabbath Day inside the synagogue in Nazareth, less than 500 years later. The same things were there. Once again the scroll was unrolled. Once again the words were read. But instead of a moving reception of that Word by the audience, the only questions were, “Who’s this guy think He is? And why doesn’t He get to the good stuff already?”

What happened? What was the difference? Why did God’s Word do so much in one instance, and next to nothing the other? It didn’t even matter that Jesus Himself was doing the reading. They still were ready to throw Him off a cliff. And it’s not like these are the only two times we see such mass differences in the reception of the Word of God. It happens all over the place. With your neighbors. With your own family. Even in Church. Sometimes it clicks with people. And sometimes people can’t stand to hear it. And so we have to ask. Is the Word of God sufficient on its own?

Well, God says it is. We remember from Isaiah, ““For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Or Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation….”

But experience tells us otherwise. Even our own. How often have we heard the lectionary readings for the week, and said, “Meh? I guess it’s supposed to mean something. But dang if I know what it is.” So it isn’t too much of a stretch for us to believe that God’s Word needs just something else. That je ne sais quoi, which will really make it shine. And that thing might just be us. After all, the only thing that changed between the Word of God in our two texts are the people who heard it.

You can find this belief in a lot of churches today. If we do the right kind of thing. If we reach the right kind of people. If we have the right kind of programs. If we have the right kind of worship style. If we have those things, then finally, the Word of God can be unleashed, and move people to tears of joy. Churches spend billions each year, looking for that one thing that will make the Gospel do it’s job. But it’s not just them out there. We believe it too. If only we could get more young people. If only we could get offerings a little higher. If only we could get more people motivated. If only we get the right person to be the pastor. If only we try harder. Then the path will be cleared for God’s Word to finally do something around here.

All of us, me included, fail to hear the Word Jesus spoke to the synagogue in Nazareth. “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.” “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Today it has been fulfilled. Not later. Not someday. Today, right now. Simply by reading that text to them, Jesus fulfilled it. Good news was indeed proclaimed to the poor. Liberty was indeed proclaimed to the captives. The year of the Lord’s favor was proclaimed. And the blind received their sight. Because the very creator Himself spoke to them. The same Creator who spoke light into existence. Who spoke the separation of the waters. Who spoke plants, stars, fish, birds and animals into existence. That same creative Word spoke again that day. And it did exactly what it said.

But that’s not really what we were looking for. That’s not really what we want. Because we don’t consider ourselves poor. We don’t think of ourselves to be captive. We aren’t blind. And we believe that we already have the Lord’s favor. We think our  problems are bigger than that. They need big answers. Like the people in Capernaum got. Big signs. Big healings. Why can’t we get that too, Jesus? What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your Church as well. Do big things like making the pain go away. Like bringing our sadness to an end. Like having everything in our lives turning out okay. When that happens, then we can finally be happy. Like the people in Nehemiah’s day. But when it doesn’t happen, we forget that God’s Word does what it says. We trust instead that to get what we want, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.

But those things that we want. Those things that we think will make the biggest difference. Those things that really matter to us. Those things are actually pretty small. We think God working through Elijah to keep a widow and her son alive through a famine is really big. But every widow from that time is dead now, even the one Elijah helped. Whether they died from famine, or disease, or sheer age doesn’t matter. We think curing leprosy is really big, like Elisha did with Naaman. But every one from that day, both leper and clean is dead now. Whether from leprosy, or war, or anything else. It doesn’t matter now, does it?

What we think are our biggest problems today are also likewise temporary. They will give way someday soon. And the solutions we want God to give us right now are too small. Because our true problems are eternal. Our true problem is our poor condition caused by our sin. Our true problem is being held captive by death. Our true problem is our blindness to our own condition, which drops us further down the pit of hell. And none of the miracles we would be impressed with would do a single thing about these.

However, in the very midst of all those eternal problems is Jesus. And just as He spoke in Creation. Just as He spoke to the returned exiles. Just as He spoke in that synagogue. So also He speaks to you. And it is good news. News that creates what it says. Your sin has been forgiven. Even the sin you’re not really paying attention to right now. That one day would be the basis of your condemnation if it remained. Forgiven. Not just some of it. Not just little stuff. All of it. Taken away completely. Carried on Christ’s own shoulders. And buried forever in the tomb.

Jesus speaks. Even as He is there with you in the grave. Because if not for Christ’s resurrection, death would be forever. And unfixable problem. Captive eternally. But He opens that grave up. Rolls away the stone. And His Word proclaims the command for you to come out, just as Lazarus. Risen. Liberty proclaimed to you.

The darkness of hell is overcome by His light. Our blindness is overcome. So that we recover not only what was lost at the fall of Adam, but receive every gift that God gives to us. All of that is fulfilled to the people of Nazareth in Jesus’ Word. All of that is fulfilled for us by the proclamation of that same Word.

That Word of God isn’t special because we did anything. That Word didn’t become effective by our getting something right. That Word of God doesn’t depend on the state of our hearts, or our feelings, or our attitudes. Because if the Word of God had to depend on any of those things, it would never, ever do anything at all. It saves us, even when we continue to throw Jesus down the cliff. It saves us, even when we still pound the nails into his hands and feet. It saves us, even when we continue to sin against Him. Because it is the Word of God that does exactly what it says.

Jesus is the Word made flesh. And it is what this Word does that saves us. Because He has died and risen on our behalf. He has forgiven our sins. He has made us children of God by proclaiming ti to us. And He did that without our help. In fact, all our help did was cause that death to be necessary. And so once again Jesus can say to us, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Because by His Word, He has done the very thing it says. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

The Bridegroom – A Sermon on John 2:1-11

January 19, 2016 Comments off

iconofchristthebridegroomGrace, 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, the wedding at Cana. The wedding feast was a disaster. The guests were looking for more wine to drink, and there was none left. Murmurs were going through the crowd. The master of the feast, what we today would call the wedding coordinator, was getting panicked. The bridegroom was supposed to have had all this set up beforehand. And because he didn’t, everyone looks bad. What would he do? What could he do? But then, one of the servants bring up a glass. It’s wine. And there’s more where that came from.

So what is this text about? Is it about Jesus able to do powerful miracles? Is it about Jesus giving His disciples something to believe in? Or, is it about Jesus coming to help those who need Him? If it is any of those, then today’s Gospel lesson is a deeply frustrating text. Because there are times when we have been in greater need than this wedding party. Desperate need. And there was no miracle. There was no sign to believe in. Jesus didn’t do what we needed Him to do.

I have not been here very long. So I don’t know yet what you’ve been through. But I do know what I’ve been through. I know that when I introduce my five children, that it should have been seven. That two of them did not live to see the day they were born. We sure could have used a miracle then. A sign to believe in then. We needed Jesus to do something to save the day for them then. And it didn’t happen. It feels hollow to say that everything turned out for the best. It feels empty to try and put on a smile about it. I don’t know what you have been through. But I know everyone goes through things like this in various points in their lives. And so do you. Things fall apart for us. Things come crashing down for our loved ones. We die. And not everything turns out okay.

Who here hasn’t lost fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, or children? It’s never if, but when. Compared to this, the wine running out at a party is nothing. Having a bad day is nothing. Being embarrassed is nothing. We would gladly endure them all each day, in order to have our loved ones back with us once again.

And so we wonder why. If Jesus is all powerful, then why? Why take care of this little thing, and leave our big ones alone? Are you not as strong as you say? Or do you just not care? If this text shows that you are God, then show me that same power. If this texts shows that you fix problems, then show me that you can fix mine.

But today’s text reveals something far more important about Jesus than simply knowing He is the power of God. In today’s text, Jesus takes the bridegroom’s place. Jesus supplies the wine that should have been supplied. Jesus takes responsibility for the feast. Not to make the wedded couple’s day turn out okay. Not to let the master of the feast save face. But because He is the bridegroom. The true bridegroom of whom the Old Testament speaks, as in today’s lesson from Isaiah. As John the Baptizer says the chapter after today’s lesson in John’s Gospel. And as the bridegroom, He must take care of His bride. He must take care of His Church.

But not always in the way we want Him to. Not always in the way we demand. Remember, the master of the feast stormed up to the bridegroom when Jesus’ wine was delivered. Because it was all wrong. What are you doing? You’re supposed to give out the good stuff first, while the guests are sober enough to enjoy it. And so it’s strong enough that they don’t notice when it runs out, and the cheap wine is all that’s left. To quote him, “Everyone, literally all humanity, serves the good wine first.”

And Jesus does not. Jesus doesn’t do things the way we would do them. And a good thing too. Because Jesus doesn’t just put off death for a while. Jesus doesn’t just bring our loved ones back in order for them to die again. Instead, Jesus is the true bridegroom, the true husband. Just as Paul outlines in Ephesians 5. “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”

He gave himself up for my unborn kids. He gave Himself up for your fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands and children. “That He might sanctify them having cleansed her by the washing of water by the word. So that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their own wives.” So that death would be conquered forever. So that they would have His resurrection. So that we can put our own arms around them once again in the new heavens and the new earth.

His giving Himself up for them, and for us, is the hour that Jesus refers to when talking with His mother Mary. This is His hour. The hour when He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. The hour when He did suffer and was buried. The hour He died on our behalf. The hour when he defeated death itself. So that He might cleanse that death from His Church. And give her His resurrection. A permanent resurrection. A life everlasting. A marriage without a ’til death do us part. And that resurrection is coming. It is promised. And we wait for it expectantly.

And that’s great and all. But while we’re waiting for the good wine of the resurrection, we still mourn today. The wine of this world is still bitter. And the dregs of it are no good. But that’s just it. Jesus isn’t just here for when times are good. Or here even to make the bad times good. Christ is here, for better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. In sickness as well as health. Jesus is here to weep with you when times are sad. Here to grieve with you, when you mourn. To cry out with you when your world crumbles around you. To lay in the grave with you when you die. Jesus drinks this cup with you even today. The Christian life isn’t one of only happy smiles and bright rainbows. Life with Christ is everything this world throws at us. But we’re not alone in them. Christ Jesus is here with us.

And Jesus is indeed here. Because we’re not separated from Him by the chasm that separates earth from heaven. Jesus is here, in the flesh. As close as anyone can be. For on this Altar, heaven and earth meet. The two are made one. Not just spiritually, but physically. Because here today is the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. And Jesus wouldn’t miss it for anything.

Jesus is here in the words, take and eat, as His own body is in your hands. Jesus is here in the words, take and drink, as His own blood is given to you for your forgiveness. There is no way to be closer to Jesus than this. Not by any spiritual exercise. Not by any good work. Not by any feeling you can muster up. Here we see Christ in the flesh. Delivering on His promises to you.

There’s a reason wedding vows are written in the Church the way they are. Because they’re not just a good idea between husband and wife. They are the promises of Christ. Promises fulfilled in the Lord’s Supper. Because here, Jesus says to us, “I, Jesus, take you to be my bride the Church. To have and to hold from this day forward. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, and death can no longer part us, because that is God’s holy will, which I have fulfilled my death and resurrection. And I pledge you my faithfulness.”

Jesus’ promise is sure. He has sealed that promise by His own blood at the cross. And He continues to deliver that promise to us in His supper. And even though this world chokes us on the dregs of pain, and grief, and death, we are not alone in them. Jesus is here, in the flesh. He is here for His bride. He is here for you. For better or for worse. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

I Am Baptized – A Sermon on Luke 3.15-22

January 19, 2016 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, But we’re going to start about 1500 years later with another familiar face. Luther often used three little words  when the devil hounded him. “I am baptized.” Those were powerful words. Life changing words. And by those words sin, and temptation, and the devil were driven away. Because those words are true. And those words have promises attached to them. Because by those words, we find ourselves, not only back at our baptism, but we find ourselves back at Jesus’ baptism as well.

The baptism of Christ is good news for us. But just what is that good news? Is it that Christ gives us a good example to follow? That’s certainly true. Jesus obeys His Father, and we should too. But that’s not what baptism is all about. Is it a symbol of the love Christ has for us, to remind us just what He did on our behalf? Kind of, but baptism is so much more than a symbol. But we do remind ourselves of the Gospel by it. Still, that’s not what baptism is all about.  Is it an entrance rite into the Church? Well, yes. Baptism does bring us into the body of Christ. That’s why historically, churches used to put the baptismal font either by the doors into the sanctuary, or right before the rail leading up to the altar. And many still do. So baptism indeed is the entrance into the church. But it’s not just that either.

Baptism is the grace of God. The Lord’s gift to us. It is Jesus delivered to us directly. The forgiveness of sins given. Faith created and strengthened. It is where we are washed clean. Made heirs together with Christ. Rescued from sin, death and the devil. This is why Luther used those words, “I am baptized,” to chase the devil away. Because in that baptism is God for us.

And you know what? That works for us. We’re okay with all those things. It’s easy for us to say yes to each and every one of those gifts. And that is a problem. Oh, but pastor, what’s the problem with that? All those things you said about baptism are true. And I believe them. And because I am baptized, I can now serve God. I can grow in wisdom. I can grow in holiness. I can do good now because of those great gifts. I want to make God happy, and now I can.

The problem with lies is that the most convincing ones are mostly true to begin with. It’s not intentional. We mean well. We may not even realize were doing it. But we have a deep seeded need. Planted by original sin. A need to show God just what we can do. Whether that’s against Him, or by His side.We’re perfectly fine with baptism as a kickstart. A push of grace to help get us going. So that when we do get moving, God can see how wise I am. How holy I am. How good I am. Because if I am wise, holy, and good, then I can be like God.

Now, we shudder at those words. That’s not at all what we’re trying to do. But the best lies of Satan are partial truths. Shaped just so, in order to guide us away from God and back to ourselves. The very place we want to go. To paraphrase Luther, we want to be the architects. We want to lay the foundations upon which God builds His grace and love. We want God to thank, praise, and adore us as well as our work. So that we become His gods, rather than the other way around. The most pious, most thoughtful, most loving, most faithful, most servant-like gods He could ever ask for.

But no matter how good those things are. And by themselves, they are good. Our hearts betray us. We fail at the very First Commandment. It’s almost as if the words of Scripture are actually true. No one is righteous, no not one. No one understands. No one seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together they have become worthless. No one does good, not even one. Or, as we confess from the Small Catechism, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” God has no need of your wisdom or mine. God has no need of either of our holinesses. God has no need of our goodness. God doesn’t need for us to be pious, thoughtful, loving, faithful, or servant-like for His sake. All that is nothing before Him. Or worse.

However, that does not mean that we are nothing. Luther’s three little words still have all the promises of God attached to them. All the promises. Even the ones we’re not sure we’re up for. For baptism has one more thing that we don’t really like to hear about. It’s in today’s text. From the confession of John the Baptizer in verse 16. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Those words shake me to my very soul. I am afraid of those words. Because fire always hurts. Fire always consumes. Fire always burns. That fire is for me. That fire is for you. And that fire is unquenchable.

But in that fire is a promise worth more than all my wisdom. Worth more than all my holiness. Worth more than all my works. And it’s a promise that has been there from the beginning. Isaiah, in today’s text gives us that promise once again.  But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.

In that fire, every sin is burnt away. Even the ones where we fail to fear, love and trust in God above ourselves, or our works, or any other thing. Those sins are burnt down to nothing. By the fire that is ignited on Christ’s cross. Jesus Himself is the fuel for that unquenchable blaze. And consumed with Him are the sins of the whole world. Every one. Even yours.

The entire wrath of God has burned completely on that cross. And you have joined Jesus in that fire. You have joined Jesus in that death. Because there are three little words that are true. “I am baptized.” Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? That fire consumed Him. But it did not consume you. Jesus took your place there, so that you could take His place now. So that at your baptism, the Holy Spirit descends as a dove on you. In your baptism, the Father speaks boldly from heaven, “You are my beloved child.” In Your baptism, Jesus baptizes you with fire, sifting you out like wheat, and burning off the chaff of your sin.

And that fact gives us the whole truth. We aren’t baptized because we are so good. We aren’t baptized in order to show God what we’re made of. We aren’t baptized to become God’s little idols. We are baptized because Christ died for sinners, of whom I am the foremost. We are baptized to burn our sin away. We are baptized in order to be set free. Free, not to serve God for God’s sake, or ours. But to serve our neighbor in their need for their sake.

Yes, we will still fail in this life. We will still make it about us impressing God, even if we don’t exactly mean to. We will still neglect to follow the First Commandment the way we’re supposed to. None of those things are okay. We do not want to continue in sin at all. But when the devil throws those facts in our faces, we have three little words that chase those accusations away. Because our forgiveness isn’t up to us. Our salvation isn’t in our hands. There is a Word and a promise from God that has already been delivered to us. And we proclaim that fact to drive Satan off. And remind us of the hope Jesus has given to us. I am baptized. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Singing for Joy – A Sermon on Luke 1:39-56

December 18, 2015 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 pregnant Mary goes and visits her relative Elizabeth for three months.

In those days, Mary arose with haste and went into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Those are some pretty loaded words. It isn’t hard to figure out what happened here. Mary is pregnant, and not yet wed to Joseph. And that didn’t go over real well. After all, in that day, that was scandalous. Her family’s honor was at stake. What kind of girl did they raise? Who is going to believe that she got pregnant by the Holy Spirit? They need to get Mary out of town. Hope that some relative will take her in. And it’s not like Zechariah can say no at this point. Or anything else for that matter. And so Mary stays three months with Elizabeth. At least until John is born.

A lot has gone wrong for Mary. And it wasn’t her fault. She’s away from her mom and dad. She’s away from Joseph. Staying with an grey haired pregnant woman and a mute old man. Though at least Elizabeth is glad to see her. And given Elizabeth’s experience, she actually believes Mary’s story. But that’s one supporter amidst how many scoffers? I imagine it would be real lonely for her, and humiliating. It would be tough to see the bright side. This was about as low as Mary could get.

But in this loneliness, in this darkness, in the bottom of this hole, there with her is Jesus. Not just spiritually. Not just in her thoughts. But in the flesh. Inside her. And that changes everything. Together with Christ, Mary sings. Not of sadness, but of joy. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

We sung the same song just moments ago. And the Church has always sung this song with Mary. It still goes by it’s Latin name, the Magnificat. And it is one of the Church’s greatest songs. Along with the Benedictus of Zechariah a few verses after this. And the Gloria in Excelsis of the angels after Jesus’ birth. And the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon, all in the first two chapters of Luke. All of them, singing for joy, because of the incarnation of Jesus, God in the flesh.

But is the Magnificat, Mary’s song here, all good news? I suppose it depends on who you are. If you’re in humble estate, or maybe better put, a state of humiliation, there is a lot to be thankful for. Because Mary confesses that in her humiliation, God still looks on her. That all generations will call her blessed. That God has done great things for her. And that He has mercy. The hungry are filled with good things. And the promised seed of Abraham has finally come.

However, it’s not such good news for the proud, or the mighty, or the rich. The proud are scattered. The mighty are thrown down. The rich are sent away empty. And there’s two ways we can react to that. We can say, “Ha! They got what they deserved.” Or we can hope that maybe there’s someone prouder, mightier, and richer than we.

However, both those reactions are problematic. Because no matter which way we look at it, we’re hoping that we compare well to everyone else. As if the sin of pride had a shade of grey. As if misusing our own strength were only wrong at a certain degree. As if being selfish were only wrong when we went over the line of our choosing. When what God has to say about those things is very clear. Don’t do it at all. That’s sin. That’s what divides you from God. That’s how you actively push God away.

Um. So, what if we already did that? Is it too late? Are we going to be scattered, thrown down, and left empty? Because I’m pretty sure I don’t want that. Well, if God is a God of justice, then yes, we are. If God is holy, as Mary sings, then yes, we are. Because God is good. And good cannot just let evil win the day. If God let your sin go, then He wouldn’t be very good, now would He? And so the evil in us must be dealt with. And that’s kind of scary to think about.

But God is also a God of mercy. Mary sings that as well. And God has mercy on us. Sinners every one. There was only one way that He could have both justice and mercy. And still be good. That way was growing inside Mary’s uterus. In there was the Creator of all things. Who was filled with a holy pride in His creation. In there was the Mighty One of Israel. Who, from His throne, was strong to save Abraham and his offspring. In there was the King of kings and Lord of lords. To whom belonged all the riches of the universe. In there was Jesus Christ. And not only would He fulfill what the angel spoke to Mary. He would fulfill Mary’s song as well.

Christ Jesus would indeed do great things for Mary, and for us all. But He did them by being the proud man scattered. By being the mighty man cast down from His throne. By being the rich man sent away empty. Sin had to be paid for. And so He was going to pay for it Himself. All of it. All in order to buy us back. Bring us back from inside the gates of Hell itself. This is why Christ was born. This is why Christ became flesh and dwelt among us. So that He could stand in our place, even as we stand in His. His blood was scattered across Jerusalem. Slapped, scourged, nailed, and speared through. His body, first lifted up on the throne of the cross, was then thrown down from there into the grave. His life, once full, now sent away empty, dead. All before His mother Mary’s eyes.

And because of this, because of the brutal and ugly death of Jesus, our sins are forgiven. We have been given mercy. Justice has been carried out. And God is still good. And because of Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection, our song and Mary’s song are now the same. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For He has looked on the humiliated state of His servants, you and me. Behold, from now on all generations will call us blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for us, and holy is His name. And His mercy is for those who fear Him, from generation to generation.

Our Lord has indeed had mercy. Sin has been paid for. Death has been defeated. We have been rescued from our sinful selves. And we have been given Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We have a lot to be joyful for.

Now, that said, three months after Mary sang this song, it was back to more troubled times. When she gave birth, Joseph’s family didn’t give her a room to stay in. Herod would force her to flee with her family to Egypt. She would think she lost Jesus when He was twelve. She would worry that Jesus went crazy during His ministry. And a sword would pierce her heart seeing her own Son die. Life didn’t ever get to be easy. And it doesn’t for us either.

But the joy. Joy is not the same as happiness. Joy is there no matter what happens. No matter if there are smiles or tears. No matter if things go well, or badly. No matter the highs or lows. And that joy is found by having Jesus, in the flesh, inside you. Just like Mary did. The table is almost ready. So let’s join Mary, and all the faithful, to see the fulfillment of what was spoken to us from the Lord. To see Jesus keep His promises right here today. To see Jesus in the flesh, given and shed for you. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

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