Sunday, January 27, 2019

Sermon: Epiphany 3 - 2019

27 January 2019

Text: Matt 8:1-13 (2 Kings 5:1-15a, Rom 1:8-17)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The great enemy of the Christian faith is pride.  For pride is a particular vice that actually gets in the way of receiving help.  Pride fills us with a sense of shame that we should depend on others.  Pride teaches us that we don’t need anyone’s assistance, because we’re good enough to get by on our own.

The problem is that we can’t.  And only those with the humility to seek help actually receive help.  Hence the famous passage from the Book of Proverbs: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

In our fallen world, having a position of authority is often a source of pride rather than what it ought to be: a sense of humility and obligation.  It’s a story that seems to be repeated again and again among men of great power.  In 500 BC, King Tarquin was the last of the tyrants of Rome.  He was overthrown and Rome became a republic.  Tarquin is known to history as Tarquin the Proud.

But there are many much older examples, including the example of “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria” from about 800 BC, recorded in our Old Testament lesson.  Naaman was a great general, a man of power and arrogance, albeit a leper.  Leprosy was a terrible disease that was incurable until the 1940s.  It disfigured its victims and eventually killed them.

Naaman was told by a Hebrew servant girl that the prophet Elisha could cure his leprosy.  He sent a letter to the king of Israel, who “tore his clothes” in fear that Naaman was coming to cause trouble.  Elisha the prophet told Naaman, by means of a messenger, to “go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”

But rather than humbly submit to the word of the prophet, Naaman “was angry” and “went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.  Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?  Could I not wash in them and be clean?’  So he turned and went away in a rage.”

Naaman’s pride was wounded, first by feeling snubbed by Elisha, and second, by this sense of Syrian supremacy.  But fortunately, his servants calmed him down.  Naaman humbled himself to obey the word of the prophet, which was the Word of God, “and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”

How often pride gets in the way of the Lord’s work!  How often we think we know better than God!  How many blessings we miss out on because humility is too great a price to pay.  For even the original sin of Satan was pride: pride that prevented his submission to God, as well as pride that was spread to Adam and Eve in their quest to “be like God.”  And their pride went before the Fall indeed!

And this is why, eight centuries after Naaman, our Lord Jesus Christ “marveled” at his own encounter with a powerful military officer.  He was a centurion: a captain of about hundred Roman legionaries.

Only this officer “appeals” to Jesus, even addressing Him as “Lord,” saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”  Jesus hears his prayer and promises to go to the centurion’s home to heal his servant.  And here is where the centurion amazes Jesus: “Lord,” says the captain, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

Imagine this!  A mighty Roman officer saying to a lowly Jew that he is unworthy!  He is sensitive to the fact that Jews were not permitted under the roof of a Gentile, and he bids Jesus, in whom he has faith, to “only say the word,” and his servant “will be healed.”

And he explains to Jesus that he knows how authority works.  As an officer, he knows that he can just give orders, and those orders will be obeyed.  He knows that Jesus has authority even over things like sickness and health.  He may or may not understand that Jesus is God, but he certainly ascribes to Jesus powers that seem to be divine.  And he expresses faith in our Lord’s Word, that a mere utterance from Him can cure.

Our Lord “marveled and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly  I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”  He tells the centurion, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.”  His servant was cured indeed by the spoken word of Jesus, by His authority, for even nature is under the command of Jesus.

And though we don’t know this man’s name, we honor him for his example of faith.  He is not haughty, but humble.  He does not try to get what he wants by force, but rather by prayer.  He believes in the power of Jesus, and in His Word.  He trusts in our Lord’s ability to save.

We also remember the centurion’s faith in the words of our church’s liturgy.  In visiting people in their homes or in the hospital, the pastor often prays the general confession for, and with, the person he is visiting.  Often, the person may not be able to speak, so the pastor prays for both himself and the penitent.  He will then ask the person he is visiting: “Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?”  When the ailing person nods or answers in the affirmative, the pastor says: “Let it be done for you as you believe.  I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  For how often have we heard our Lord tell people, “Your faith has made you well.”?  The faith of the centurion received the Lord’s power and mercy.  And our faith in the Word of Jesus is the means by which His forgiveness is received by us.

Also, just before receiving the Lord’s Supper in the Divine Service, it is customary to pray: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof,” just as the centurion said.  And we continue, “but only say the word and my soul will be healed.”

For the Lord comes under our roof: our home that is this fallen world.  We are truly not worthy that He should come to us, and yet He does.  And we know that His Word brought the universe into being.  His Word combined with water cured Naaman, not only of his leprosy, but also of his pride.  We know that His Word, received in faith by the centurion, cured the centurion’s servant.

We have the Word of Christ when He promises to be with us in His Supper.  We have His Word and promise in that Holy Supper when our Lord says, concerning His blood that we receive in the cup, that it is: “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

And this is why we, as did the centurion, can express our unworthiness, and yet trust in the Word and promise and authority of Jesus.  For His blood was shed for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.  And in the Greek language of the New Testament, to be saved is to be healed, and to be healed is to be saved.

For our sinful flesh is like the flesh of a leper.  To be healed is to be forgiven of our sins.  To be saved is to be healed, to have our own flesh to be “restored like the flesh of a little child,” as was Naaman’s flesh.  Moreover, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament actually describes the experience of Naaman in receiving the healing and saving Word of God by means of water by using the Greek word “baptism.”

Dear friends, we too have been washed clean by water given under the promise and command of Jesus.  We too have been saved from the rotting flesh of our mortality, all by God’s grace.  We too receive His gift of eternal life in humble faith, knowing that we are not too good and too haughty to ask for help, for we most assuredly cannot save ourselves.

The power of the Lord’s Word resides in His divinity.  And the way that this power to heal and to save is applied to us is by our faith in His Word: faith received in baptismal water; faith received by His blood shed on the cross and given to us in the cup; faith that is received in humility.

For though we ask in humility, dear friends, we are not ashamed.  We confess with St. Paul, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

For faith is the means by which we receive salvation from the God the Father.  Faith assures us that we depend on the Son and His Word for our healing.  Faith teaches us that we are saved by grace alone through the working of the Holy Spirit by means of  water, wafer, and wine – all combined with the Word.

“Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.”  Amen.

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

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sermon: Epiphany 2 - 2019

20 January 2019

Text: John 2:1-11

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.”

What used to be the most normal and natural and universal of all human institutions has just in the last few years descended into chaos and confusion and infighting.  What used to be the ultimate symbol of human love found in every culture, has now become the source of lawsuits and threats of jail-time for those who understanding it biblically instead of according to the world’s recent radical redefinition.

Marriage is older than any human institution, older even than the state.  St. Paul teaches us that marriage is a “mystery” through which a man and his wife, “become one flesh.”  And the mystery of this union “refers to Christ and the church.”  The language of a man and a woman becoming “one flesh” is found  four times in Scripture: in Genesis Chapter Two, when God created Adam and Eve; twice in the Gospels, where Jesus confirms that this is what marriage is; and in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where he speaks eloquently and beautifully about married life.  Even the book of Revelation speaks of the Bride of Christ.  From Genesis to Revelation, we have God’s understanding of Holy Matrimony as He created it to be.  

And God created it to be one man and one women who become one flesh, in a lifetime union, which normally results in children.  But saying this today might get you fined or jailed or fired, or at very least, ostracized by polite company and shunned by one’s so-called “friends.”

But in the beginning, God created a perfect universe, a perfect world, and perfect humanity.  And in this perfection, we saw Adam and Eve becoming one flesh: Eve gladly submitting to her husband; Adam gladly serving his wife before himself.  But when the serpent came into the garden, Adam and Eve both forgot the vocations into which God placed them.  Eve stopped submitting to Adam, forgetting her place in creation, seeking to “be like God.”  Likewise, Adam failed as her husband, as he did not lay down his life for her protection, but instead allowing the serpent to deceive her.  They both failed.  And this, dear friends, is the answer to the question of evil.  Why is there evil in the world?  Why is there cancer?  Why is the war and hatred?  Why do children suffer?  Why are there natural disasters?  Why do we die?  Because Adam and Eve chose their way instead of God’s more excellent way.

And yet, even in our fallen world, marriage continues to be the mirror of God and His people.  God is the faithful husband who  gives of Himself without limit to His bride.  The people of God are the Lord’s beloved, placed into a position of loving submission to Him.  Of course, the history of the people of God has not been the perfect marriage.  We are an unfaithful bride, even though our bridegroom has given everything to us.

The church is the bride of Christ.  Her life goes well when she submits to her Bridegroom, Jesus.  Jesus is the perfect Bridegroom, who lays down His life to protect His beloved.  And that is the mystery of marriage according to the apostle Paul.

Our Lord’s first public miracle and His public ministry begin, appropriately enough, at a wedding.  And since this is the fallen world (and not the Garden of Eden), we deal with what economists call “scarcity.”  For whatever specific reason, “the wine ran out.”  This was to be a bad start for a young couple as “one flesh.”  This could have been a cause of shame.  But Jesus chose this union of one man and one women into one flesh to be where He, as the ultimate Bridegroom, demonstrates His love for His bride, as well as His divine power as the very Creator who puts men and women together in the first place.

Interestingly, He used “stone water jars” that were used for “Jewish rites of purification.”  This ritual water was an Old Testament prefiguration of Baptism.  Jesus has not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  And so He fulfills this purification by performing a miracle in order to serve His bride, to show love to His people who are being ravaged by sin.  He turns the water not only into wine, but into the “good” wine.  This word “good” may not seem like much, but it is the word that God chose to describe the perfect world that He had created before man’s fall into sin.  For marriage is not a post-fall institution, but was part of God’s original plan for mankind: for “male and female He created them,” both sexes, in His image.  

The master of the feast notes that in our world of scarcity, the custom developed to serve the best wine up front, and as the guests have “drunk freely,” then bring out the “poor wine.”  Of course, the world that our Lord made had no scarcity and no “poor wine.”  Our Lord only wants the best for His bride. 

“This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory.  And His disciples believed in Him.” 

Dear friends, the greatest thing that a wife can do for her husband in this life is to “believe in him” even as the bride of Christ, the Church, the disciples, “believe in Him.”  We live in a day and age where wives believe that they must denigrate their husbands, badmouth them to their friends, and try to show them up.  This is part of our culture’s corruption of the beauty of male and female.  Wives are taught to be sassy and disrespectful.  Many of them, like Eve, think that they can “be like God.”  We all laugh, when, in a TV show or movie, a husband is made to look foolish by his wife, and then his children pile on with the disrespect.  

Do you think this is how the Church ought treat Jesus?  Is that how the bride of Christ ought to be?  If not, then why do so many wives behave this way toward their husbands?  If this is you, then need to repent.  You need to learn some humility and be the woman God made you to be, and stop trying to be the boss of the family.  Stop trying to “be like God.”  You’re not.

And then there are selfish husbands who live as if they are single, who badmouth their wives to their friends, who resent their wives and children because they infringe on their time with their friends or hobbies.  Is this what Jesus does for His bride?  Or is He willing to give up everything – even His life – for His beloved?  If this is you, you need to repent.  You need to man up and take responsibility.  Stop abdicating your role as the head of the family.  You’re not a little boy obsessed with toys.  You are a husband.  You are a father.  You are a warrior against Satan, the defender of your family.  You have been given a family to lead and protect.  Stop letting the world tell you how to do your job.  

Is it any wonder that half of our marriages end in divorce?  Why do we let the world tell us how to live?  We are now even to the point where we can’t even define male and female, where thirty percent of Americans cannot name their four grandparents, and where many young men and women are not interested in marrying at all – but rather just go for the hookups.  In some communities, there are more abortions than births. 

But our Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect Bridegroom who teaches us a “more excellent way”: a way of service, of love, of forgiveness, of submission, of respect, and of rejecting the world’s distortions of God’s good creation.

It is fitting that the Lord, our Bridegroom, begins His service to His bride at a wedding feast: service that will culminate in the ultimate act of a husband’s love, dying for His beloved upon the cross.  He withholds nothing from His bride, and she lives her fullest life when she respects her husband and submits to him.  Jesus has come to forgive us and offer us a fresh start.

We hear a lot about “toxic masculinity” these days, but in reality, both sexes have become septic in their relations to one another.  Men do not know how to be men.  Women do not know how to be women.  Both are locked in a cycle of selfishness and failure.  But when we see our Lord Jesus Christ, we catch a glimpse into what men and women were meant to be from the beginning, before the Fall.  We see the Lord’s glory manifest in the good wine of the marriage feast, and in the glory of His atoning death on the cross.  We see the epic and heroic husband who interposes Himself between the devil and His wife.  We see the faithful bride honoring her Bridegroom in humility and service, joyfully supporting Him and faithfully serving her family, knowing that He died for her.

Although our own marriages are not perfect, we should at least understand what we are called to do, how we are called to live, why God made us male and female in the first place – and we can look to Jesus – the one who created us in the beginning – to bring us to the fullness of what we were created to be as men and women, whether we are married or single.  For the mystery refers to Christ and the church.

Jesus gives us the good wine, dear friends: the wine of His blood, and the bread of His body. He gives His very flesh for the life of the world, and He lays down His life for His beloved bride – which includes you, dear brother, dear sister.

Let us eat His body and drink His blood unto godly obedience and repentance, seeking His superabundant mercy when we fail, and giving Him all honor and glory for all of the goodness in our lives.

“This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory.  And His disciples believed in Him.”  Amen.

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

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Sermon: Funeral of Robert Childress - 2019

19 January 2019

Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Isa 43:1-3a, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Rhonda and Robert, family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests.  Peace be with you.

Robert has joined his beloved Betty in eternity.  The good news is that we Christians have a Good Shepherd who “lays down His life for the sheep.”  Jesus also went to His grave, but He didn’t stay there very long.  He died to redeem us from death and restore us to life.  

As we have just heard anew from our Gospel reading, our Lord says to us, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”  And no matter what happens in this fallen world, Jesus promises: “No one will snatch them out of My hand.”

But it seems that Bob and Betty have been snatched from our hands.  We can no longer talk with them, embrace them, or hear their voices on this side of glory.  This is why we mourn, dear friends.  We are filled with sorrow.  We have been unnaturally separated, and it causes us great pain.  God understands this.  He truly does.  For His own Son went to the cross as a sacrifice for us.  And this was done out of love for us, out of a desire that we live forever in happiness.  And so this is why, although we Christians mourn, we mourn in hope, knowing that we will see our loved ones again.  We will be reunited with them in eternity.

And it’s important to reflect on what this means.  So many people misunderstand what the Christian faith teaches – what the Bible teaches, what Jesus teaches – about life after death.  We are not angels, and we don’t remain as spirits floating around in the sky.  As we confessed in the creed, we believe in “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”  When Jesus rose from the tomb and was seen by thousands of people, He was not a ghost.  He made a point to let the disciples touch Him.  He even cooked up a breakfast on the beach and ate with them.  When God raises us to everlasting life, He means it.  In the fullness of time, God will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body,” and this is the promise that He made to Betty and to Robert, and to all who believe and are baptized.  God has plans for us in eternity with new and greater bodies – only without sin, without suffering, without aging, and without death.

Indeed, we will talk with them, embrace them, and hear their voices again on the other side of glory.  And that is why we Christians mourn – but we mourn in hope!

St. Paul speaks of the perishable body putting on the imperishable, and the mortal body putting on immortality.  And this is possible because our Lord Jesus Christ destroyed death by His own death, vanquishing evil on our behalf, shepherding us as His very own lambs who hear His voice, and who follow Him!

St. Paul leads us Christians in confessing “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory.  O death, where is your sting?” as we heard anew in our reading.  We feel the sting of death in our mourning, dear friends, but that sting is temporary, for the Lord’s victory is our victory, as the apostle continues: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And we can take great comfort in this, dear brothers and sisters.  Just as the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem is empty, all of our graves will one day be empty as well, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”

We can live the rest of our lives in expectant boldness, knowing that our reunion gets closer with each passing day.  Yes, we feel the pain of separation, but we will also feel the exaltation and unspeakable joy of reunion that will last forever!  

And as we heard in our first reading, the prophet Isaiah reminds us that God created us; the Lord formed us.  We are here by design, by the will of God.  We are all part of God’s grand scheme.  And the lives of Robert and Betty, who brought many of you into existence, and who nurtured you, taught you, and made your lives better – are intentional creations of God.  And so, we can have no fear, for God also redeemed them, and us, by the Lord’s death upon the cross.  

And so we have this promise of God as spoken to us again by Isaiah: “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.”

And the reason that He gives us for our victory over all of the suffering of this world is this: “I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

God is our Savior.  He rescues us.  Our Lord Jesus Christ redeems us – even from this broken and fallen world, even from death, even from mourning our beloved siblings, parents, grandparents, colleagues, and friends.

So, dear friends, ponder these words, for they aren’t my words, but rather God’s Word.  And this Word is God’s promise: the promise that our lives have purpose: eternal purpose.  Our lives do not end when we leave this fallen world, for the mortal puts in the immortal in Christ.  The perishable puts on the imperishable – just as the Lord Jesus rose from the death.

This is why Easter is so meaningful to us, dear friends.  Before we know it, it will be here, and we will reflect again on what it means that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”  The symbol of Good Friday is the cross: an instrument of death that has become an instrument of life – by the transformation of God.  The symbol of Easter is the empty tomb: a place of sorrow that has become a place of joy – by the resurrection of Jesus.

Let us reflect on the Word of God, especially that Word where Jesus reminds us that He is our Good Shepherd, knowing that He has shepherded our beloved Robert and Betty together, to eternity, where we await a glorious reunion with them.  And let us give thanks to God for His mercy, now and forever.  Amen.

Peace be with you.

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

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sermon: Baptism of our Lord - 2019

13 January 2019

Text: Matt 3:13-17

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Jesus was baptized.  This is an amazing thing.  For what is the point of baptism?  Mark’s Gospel teaches us that “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”  St. Peter’s first epistle teaches us that “Baptism… now saves you.” 

Saved from what?  What are we being saved from?  We are being rescued from death: the kind of death that leads to hell, to eternal separation from God as the righteous punishment for our sins.  So we Christians run to the baptismal font, even bringing our little ones, because this is where we are saved from the fires of hell and from never becoming whom God created us to be.  

As one of our hymns addresses Satan: “Now that to the font I’ve traveled, All your might has come unraveled, And, against your tyranny, God my Lord unites with me.”  And so for us, Holy Baptism defangs the devil, overturns his oppression, and brings us into communion with God.

So what is Jesus doing here?  Why did He travel to the font of the Jordan River?  What does Jesus have to do with Satan and his tyranny?  Isn’t our Lord already united in full communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit?

St. John the Baptist was equally baffled: “I need to be baptized by you,” he protests, “and do you come to me?”  It has been revealed to John that this Jesus, John’s cousin according to the flesh, is the Messiah, the one John spoke of: “He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  John expects the Christ to come baptizing, not being baptized.  But of course, our Lord has come not to be served, but to serve.  There are many surprises that Jesus has in store for the world.  This is not the only time people are shocked by our Lord.

Overriding John’s protestations, our Lord says: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  

Jesus has come to rescue us by doing for us what we ourselves cannot do: “fulfill all righteousness.”  Jesus fulfills all of the Law for us, as our champion, as the New Adam.  And unlike the Old Adam, Jesus will not give in to Satan’s temptation nor submit to his tyranny.  And just as Adam ushered in original sin that is transmitted to us through the flesh into which we are born, our Lord Jesus Christ, the New and Greater Adam, removes this original sin and replaces it with His original righteousness, placing this righteousness upon us in our restored flesh into which we are born again, by water and the Spirit.

And to demonstrate this fulfilling of righteousness, Jesus submits to a baptism that we need: the baptism of repentance.  But remember, dear friends, John prophesied that the Messiah was coming to give us a New and Greater Baptism, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

John consents to this strange reversal of baptizer and baptizee.  He trusts that the Lord knows what He is doing.  Jesus humbles Himself to submit to the things that He doesn’t need, but these are things that we need, dear brothers and sisters.  We need Christ’s righteousness, Christ’s forgiveness, Christ’s atonement.  And the baptism by fire will not come upon us, but upon Him at the cross.  Our Lord will be the Lamb, presented as a burnt offering, the consuming of His flesh and blood as a sweet aroma rising to the Father.  His sacrifice upon the cross is known in Greek as a holocaust, an all-consuming offering by fire.  And His crucifixion purifies all of us who believe and are baptized, burning away our imperfections by His sacrifice.  And, dear friends, we participate in this once-for-all sacrifice by consuming His flesh and blood in the Holy Eucharist.  For this is a baptism of blood.  And just as blood and water flowed from our Lord’s pierced heart on the cross, the blood of Christ flows into us at Holy Communion, and water is poured out upon us at Holy Baptism.  

For “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  

The Lord fulfills all righteousness for us in His conception, His birth, His circumcision, His teaching in the temple, His baptism, His ministry of preaching and healing and casting out demons, His forgiveness, His Supper, His crucifixion, His resurrection, His ascension, and His coming again.  It is indeed fitting that He fulfills all righteousness on our behalf, for this is the Father’s will.  And we know this pleases the Father, for what do we hear immediately as Jesus “went up from the water?”  What does the Father say as the heavens are opened and the Holy Spirit descends upon Him?  We hear the Father say: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.”

It pleases the Father that Jesus fulfills all righteousness, and that John obeys the Lord’s instructions even though it runs against his own inclinations.  It pleases the Father that Jesus humbles Himself, even to the point of death on the cross.  It pleases the Father that we are baptized, and we are adopted as sons of God, even as our Lord Jesus commissions the church to “make disciples” by the Lord’s ministers “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  This is indeed fitting unto the fulfillment of righteousness. 

The Father is pleased with the Son and with all of us as His adopted sons through the righteousness-fulfilling work and ministry of God the Son.  And the Son fulfills all righteousness in His obedience to the Father in laying down His life for us, taking our sins and exchanging them for His righteousness.  And the Holy Spirit descends and comes to rest upon all who are baptized: upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and upon all of us, who by the work of Jesus, are then called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the descent of the Spirit unto the baptized.

Dear friends, the baptism of our Savior points to our own salvation through baptism.  We can take comfort that all righteousness is fulfilled not in our works, but in His works, including His work in bringing us to the font, and sanctifying Holy Baptism by His own baptism.  

And just as John is pleasantly surprised by the coming of Jesus, let us also be filled with joy, dear friends, as Christ has come to fulfill all righteousness and to give us eternal life as a free gift by means of water and the Word. 

“Let it be so now.”  Amen.

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

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Seeds of Change

As a 1980s rocker and metal-head, I like reading rock and roll biographies when I have a little time for pleasure reading.  I just finished an interesting autobiographical work by the main songwriter and keyboard player for KansasKerry Livgren.

I've always liked Kansas, not only for their massive commercial hits like Carry On Wayward Son (1976), and Dust in the Wind (1977), but also for other pieces like Point of Know Return (1977) and the MTV classic Play the Game Tonight (1982).

This book, Seeds of Change: the Spiritual Quest of Kerry Livgren, (Crossway, 1983, paperback, 189 pages) focuses on the spiritual journey of Livgren and his conversion to Christianity and the end of a long quest for truth.

Actually, it was a re-conversion back to Christianity, as he was baptized and raised as a Christian from childhood.  He was confirmed by Pastor Nelson of Trinity Lutheran Church in Topeka, Kansas (which is today affiliated with the ELCA, and at the time of Livgren's childhood, before the formation of the ELCA, was either an LCA or an LCA parish).  Livgren also served as an acolyte.

As a young teen in the early 1960s, he discovered music, taught himself to play guitar, and formed a band (the Gimlets) with other teens.  Livgren loved classical music and he and his friends also studied philosophy.  Their band was interested in going beyond the usual pop-fare of the era.

Their study of philosophy led Livgren away from Christianity, which he didn't seem to find intellectually stimulating - although Livgren looks back upon his confirmation studies in amazement and can't explain why he wasn't interested at the time.  But the experience of the church's liturgy made an impact on him nevertheless:
[T]here were two things about church that sometimes captivated my mind: the organ music and the stained-glass window above the altar.  The music filled me with a sense of reverence and mystery, and while listening to it I would stare at the pastoral scene portrayed in the colored light beaming through the window.  It was a picture of Christ shepherding a flock of sheep in a valley.  I did not know how to direct these fleeting feelings of mystery and awe, but the sense of longing they produced became an important theme in my later life....  I felt privileged to have an active part in the liturgy (p. 6).
Livgren recalls learning doctrine, the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, church history, and of course, the catechism.

After playing with the same friends over many years, with various additions and subtractions, there would be three incarnations of the band Kansas.  They became wildly successful, with deep spiritual lyrics and complex music which reflected Livgren's fascination with bold and dramatic classical music.  This kind of music became known as Progressive or "Prog" Rock.

Meanwhile, Livgren's Christian faith lapsed and was replaced by studies of philosophy, Eastern religions, and finally, becoming involved in an esoteric cult based on a literary work called The Urantia Book - which claims to have been written by otherworldly spirits with the real insight on Jesus.  It is a syncretistic revival of Gnosticism - which Livgren acknowledges.  At this point, he became convinced of its truth.

Until he ran into Jeff Pollard, the singer of the Louisiana band, Le Roux.  Pollard was a deeply intelligent Christian, and he and Livgren had much in common.  They became fast friends.  Pollard patiently listened to Livgren's insights from the Urantia Book, but pointed out the many internal inconsistencies, as well as pointing Livgren back to the faith that he had rejected.  At this time, Kansas was "one of the most successful and respected rock bands in the country" (p. 127).  It was 1979.

After his (re)conversion, the first person Livgren called was Pastor Nelson.  His wife took time to get used to the idea, but gradually came to the Christian faith as well.  Livgren's bandmates weren't very thrilled with the idea.  His lyrics became openly Christian, and this caused some controversy within the band.

In time, the singer would quit, and was replaced by a singer who was also a Christian.  Kansas did not want to be a Christian rick band, but rather Livgren's vision was to be a quality rock band that happened to sing lyrics grounded in the Christian worldview.

As a outlet to his impulse to sing explicitly Christian material, Livgren put out a solo album (which I remember buying on vinyl) in 1980, called Seeds of Change (which became the name of this 1983 book).

Livgren called upon several friends to play on the project, and caused a few raised eyebrows by enlisting the great Ronnie James Dio to sing on two of the tracks.  Dio was singing for Black Sabbath at the time, and during this period, there was a lot of concern over Satanism in rock music.  Dio (who died in 2010) was no Satanist, but nor was he a Christian.  In fact, his understanding of Christianity was sadly superficial and mistaken.  I found it odd that he was completely clueless that these were Christian songs, one about Christ ("To Live For the King") and one about Satan ("The Mask of the Great Deceiver").

The two tracks turned out well, and Livgren knew that he had hired the right set of pipes for the job.

The book is interesting and thoughtful.  As a mild critique, I do think there is too much by way of lyrics.  Several runs of pages are simply lyrics of sings one after another.

Having said that, there is a quote from one song from 1972 (before his conversion back to Christianity) called "Drifting Silently Through Shimmering Days.  There is a line that caught my attention:
Surround me with your boundless grace,And take me to that holy place. (p. 51).
This sounds a good bit like a line from "O Morning Star How Fair and Bright" (LSB 395) by the 16th century Lutheran hymnist Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608):
He will one day, oh, glorious graceTransport us to that happy place (stanza 6).
These two motets have the same number of syllables (8-8) and both rhyme "grace" with "place."  I suspect that the church's hynody embedded itself deeply into Livgren's mind.  And there is much in common between Prog Rock's deep lyrics and powerful musical force and the deep theological verbiage combined with the potent classical gravitas of the traditional Lutheran chorale.

I would love to find an email address for Kerry Livgren and ask him about this.

(The other criticism that I have of the book isn't really about the book, but rather the fact that it is out of print and very expensive to buy.  A used copy goes for more than fifty dollars, at least at the time that I looked into it.  So, I borrowed the book through Interlibrary Loan.  I wonder if Livgren would consider re-releasing the book, or maybe updating it for a new generation.)

I was also struck by Livgren's attention to the importance of quality in music, and in art in general:
Instead of catering to the lowest common denominator, art should have a transcendent quality.  Unfortunately, Western art in the last two centuries has, in a general sense, been undergoing a tremendous downward trend.  The humanism of the Enlightenment gradually led to the loss of a Christian base in European and American culture, and this has been reflected in art, music, and literature.  In all too many cases, craftsmanship has been replaced by chaos in the arts.  An illustration of this in my own field is the trend toward minimalism in rock music.  The idea here is, the less thought, complexity and skill that goes into the music, the better.  This kind of approach is totally alien to my nature.  (Minimalism is not the same as simplicity; it is more of an attitude that results from a largely nihilistic world view.  There can be profound beauty in simplicity) (p. 178).
Also of note, upon his return to the Christian faith, Livgren became an evangelical Christian of some stripe.  He doesn't reveal what confession that he joined.  But it certainly seems that he did not rejoin the Lutheran Church, though he was baptized and catechized into the Christian faith within our Lutheran tradition, and for Livgren, it was within the Lutheran doctrine and practice that the Seed was sown in his heart, mind, body, and soul..

There was an interesting critique of his Christian childhood that I think is very important.  I surmise that Livgren's wandering from the faith was owing to the fact that his family did not seem to make the faith central to their lives:
Because of my church upbringing, I assumed that I had already tried Christianity and found it wanting.  I had long since shoved the Christian message into the back of my mind along with a lot of other childhood memories and had no intention of retrieving it for serious reconsideration.  I didn't know it at the time, but I had been inoculated with just enough Christianity to become immune to the real thing (pp. 116-117).
I was struck by this passage, that called to mind a line from Chad Walsh's remarkable 1949 work, Early Christians of the 21st Century, in which the author, an Episcopal priest and university English professor, wrote:
If a man travels far enough away from Christianity he is always in danger of seeing it in perspective and deciding that it is true.  It is much safer, from Satan's point of view, to vaccinate a man with a mild case of Christianity, so as to protect him from the real thing (p. 11).
The business about being inoculated by a weak does of Christianity sounded like something Lewis or Chesterton might have written.  In fact, this turn of phrase is often attributed to Leslie Weatherhead, though I cannot find a source for it.

Whoever originated the phrase, I believe it is a real danger when families limit the practice of their Christian faith to Sunday mornings, with meal prayers going unsaid, where the father of the house doesn't lead his children in prayer and the reading and studying of the Scriptures in the home.  Sadly, Livgren's developing piety did not gain traction, and the reverence and awe of the liturgy, the hymnody, the doctrine, and the preaching of Christ and Him Crucified unto forgiveness, life, and salvation was choked off by the cares and riches of this world.

But fortunately, the Seed was indeed sown, and it did eventually bear fruit.

Soli Deo gloria!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Sermon: Funeral of Michael Smith - 2019

11 January 2019

Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Job 19:23-27a, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Anna, Shawn, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests.  Peace be with you.

Our Old Testament lesson comes from the Book of Job.  Job was a man who enjoyed a wonderful life.  But all of the sudden, things went wrong.  He had health issues.  He suffered.  Things went downhill quickly.  Job’s friends wondered if he were being punished for something.  In fact, this was not the case.  His faith was being tested, but God was not angry with Job.

Also from the Book of Job, we learn that God’s will is not understandable to us.  And yet, Job’s faith hangs in there, even if by a thread when times were tough.  And Job makes this confession of faith that we just heard: “I know that my Redeemer lives…. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God…. And my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

Job’s faith was not in his health, his wealth, or how easy life was going for him.  Job’s faith was in God, and in the Lord’s promise.  And that promise, dear friends, is the promise of a Redeemer, a Savior, one who rescues us even from death itself.  “I know that my Redeemer lives” is a statement of faith in the Easter that was, for Job, still centuries in the future: the resurrection of Jesus from the grave, His death that destroys the power of death.  Michael was called into this promise at His baptism, when the name of the Triune God was sealed upon him by water and the Word, according to the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Having just been born, he was born again!

The promise of baptism is not that we become an angel when we die (it is far better than that: we become the perfection of ourselves).  It is not a release from the body (it is far better than that: our bodies become perfect, without pain, without decay, without death).  It is not that we live on in our loved one’s memories (it is far better than that: we will live again in the flesh and we will be physically reunited in eternity).  This is the promise of Jesus for those who are baptized and who believe.  It is a literal, physical, bodily resurrection and a happy reunion with our loved ones.  And this is why our Redeemer’s tomb in Jerusalem is empty: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

Our Redeemer is the Good Shepherd.  He “lays down His life for the sheep.”  Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”

This promise was applied to Michael on April 4, 1954 when he was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit by the Rev. Eugene Schmid.  The promise of baptism is that our perishable body puts on the imperishable; our mortal body puts on immortality.  And this is why we Christians can join St. Paul in being defiant towards death: “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Dear friends, it is right that we mourn our dear husband, father, brother, and friend.  We miss him.  We want him to be with us.  But the good news is that this separation is temporary.  We have triumphed over death because our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  We have triumphed over sin because our Lord Jesus Christ died for our sakes and has won forgiveness for all; and He freely gives it to anyone who believes and is baptized.  We have triumphed over the devil, because our Lord Jesus Christ is the victor over all evil, including the evil one himself.  That victory is Michael’s victory, won by Christ, and given to him as a free gift.

Let us take comfort in the promises of our Lord, the Good Shepherd, from whom no one can snatch us.  Let us take comfort in our Redeemer who lives, that we will see Him in the flesh – even after we have died, for we Christians bear the promise of the resurrection.  Let us take comfort in the sure and certain hope that the perishable will put in the imperishable, and the mortal will put on the immortal: all by the Word and promise of Christ.  

Let us mourn the loss of our dear Michael, but mourning in the knowledge that our separation is temporary, and that the Word of God does not return void.  For the same Word that said, “Let there be light,” and the same Word that said, “Lazarus come out” also said, “I give [My sheep] eternal life.”  For Christ has won the victory for Michael, and for all of us.  Amen.

Peace be with you!

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

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Sermon: Epiphany - 2019

6 January 2019

Text: Matt 2:1-12

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

For those of us in the Church who are not of Jewish heritage, today, the Feast of the Epiphany, marks our adoption into the family of God.  We were lost, but now are found.  We were on the outside looking in, but now we have been grafted to the Tree of Life.  God has indeed raised sons of Abraham from the stones.

The Magi were not children of Israel, but they worship the true God.  We don’t know if they had access to the Scriptures, but it does seem likely.  These Magi were “wise men,” and may well have been some kind of magicians or astrologers.  But when they come to worship the King, they are not treating the stars as gods or seeing themselves as servants of astrological fate.  For they have come to fall down and worship the Creator, the Redeemer, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  

Whether by prophecy, or in spite of the magic arts, these Gentiles have been led to the Christ, to the Savior, to the true God in the flesh.  Think of what they could have done with this knowledge.  They could have come to kill him to seek power for themselves (which is ironically what King Herod attempted to do).  They could have just ignored Him and gotten on with their lives as men of respect and wealth in their own country.

But instead, they go on a long journey, on “camels of Midian and Ephah” bringing “gold and frankincense,” as the prophet Isaiah foretold.  And they “shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.”  For what did these gentiles bring back in exchange for the precious cargo that they left with the Baby King?  They brought “good news,” the Gospel, to the Gentiles.  They brought praises to God!  No more praises for stars, for stars are creatures and servants of the Lord.  No more magicians’ spells, for the praises of God are more powerful.  No more being outside of salvation by virtue of their genealogy, for they are destined for adoption as sons.  Indeed, this Baby King will go to the cross, not only for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles.  His blood will atone for the world, and His forgiveness knows no boundary or border, no language or tribe.

And in the decades to come, disciples of this King Jesus will likewise preach good news, as St. Paul was given grace “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to being light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things.”

St. Paul would indeed preach Christ and Him crucified to the ends of the earth, to Jews and Gentiles alike, though it would be the Gentiles who would be most attentive and receptive to this good news.  And the apostles of Jesus will indeed preach the Word and establish churches in the far-flung lands of the Magi, bringing the light of Christ into the places where darkness formerly reigned: the “thick darkness” that covers the earth and its peoples.  “And nations,” as the prophet says, “shall come to [His] light, and kings to the brightness of [His] rising.”

Light is indeed a theme of the Feast of the Epiphany, as the light of the star led the wise men to the child Jesus, who is the Light of the world: “Arise, shine, for your light has come.”

And again, the Magi don’t travel to seek power for themselves, either by usurping the power of Jesus, or by snuffing out His life.  What did they do when they found Him?  “They fell down and worshiped Him.”  This word translated as “worship” means that they humbled themselves bodily before our blessed Lord.  The Greek word used here is related to the act of a dog licking his master’s hands.  It is an open demonstration of submission.  Traditional art often portrays the wise men as kings.  There is nothing in our text to explicitly indicate this, but the text in Isaiah’s prophecy seems to indicate this.  At any rate, kings or not, they were certainly highly regarded men: leaders of their people.  It is not ordinary or normal for powerful and wealthy men to travel hundreds of miles to worship a baby.

They knew that Jesus was God, dear friends, and they were not ashamed to bow before Him in worship. 

And the gifts they bring bear significance.  These are not trinkets, but incredibly expensive items.  They do not shrink from their duty to offer Him tribute as their Lord and King.  They do not rationalize stinginess by arguing that it would be better to give Jesus something cheap, and give the money to the poor instead. No, indeed, they bring Him gifts that our text describes as “treasures.”  As this Jesus would later preach, we believers are not to store up treasures for ourselves on earth, but rather lay up our treasures in heaven.  The Magi do that very thing, bringing offerings to show their love and gratitude to the One who will die to save them, and save their descendants for centuries to come. 

They bring gold, which is money.  Gold is also the stuff of kings.  Gold is used for jewelry and for a show of office, as kings wear crowns and wear symbols of their position that are forged in the yellow metal.  To give our Lord gold is to confess that he is, as the Old Testament prophets declare, the King from the House of David, from whom the scepter will never depart.

They bring frankincense, which is burned by temple priests.  Incense rises into the heavens, visually reminding us of our prayers that ascend to heaven.  And incense has a pungent aroma, reminding us of the sacrifices offered by the priests.  God commands the use of incense in worship, and to bring Jesus frankincense is a confession of His priesthood.  Jesus stands as the Intercessor between God and man, for He is both fully divine and fully human.  He makes atonement once and for all, for Jew and Gentile, for men and women, for free and slave, for young and old, redeeming sinners of every tribe and tongue by virtue of His priesthood that is above all priesthoods.  

They bring myrrh, an oily perfume used to embalm the dead.  This is an unusual gift for a baby, but it is a confession that this child was born in order to die, that this priest is also the sacrifice, that the atonement that He comes to effect for all men who are baptized into, and believe upon, His name, is offered to all people, even as Jesus is offered upon the cross.  But the myrrh is only symbolic, for His body will see no decay, and the large bag of myrrh brought by the Marys to the tomb that first Easter morning to anoint Him will go unused on that day.

These days, myrrh is often blended with frankincense and burned, providing a sharp and sweet aroma that reminds us of the sharpness of the law, the sweetness of the Gospel, and the beauty of our Lord’s salvation, which ascends to the Father as a “pleasing aroma.”

The wise men are indeed wise, for they seek Jesus, they worship Him as God, and they offer gifts to Him: as King, as Priest, and as Sacrifice.  They follow a light to the Light, and they outsmart the pretender king Herod (whose name means “fox”), who seeks to kill the true King.  They leave their treasures with Jesus and Mary, but they bring even greater treasures “to their own country.”  

And on this Holy Day of the Epiphany, the “shining upon” us of our Lord Jesus Christ, we mark another epiphany, a revealed truth that St. Paul refers to as “the mystery of Christ.”  For “as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” that “this mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

Let us, like the Magi, dear friends, bow down and worship Him in humility, confessing Him as our King, our Priest, and our Sacrifice, the Savior of our people and of all people, the Light shining in the darkness.  And let us bring Him the treasures of our labor and of our hearts.  

“Arise, shine, for your light has come.”  Amen.

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

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Sermon: Funeral of Thelma Kattan - 2019

3 January 2019

Text: Luke 2:25-32 (Job 19:23-27a, Rom 8:28-39)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Darlene, Daniel, Dianne, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests.  Peace be with you.

It was my honor, however brief, to give pastoral care to our Lord’s faithful servant Thelma, as her life on this side of glory drew to a close.  When I visited her, I found a lady who, though elderly, and though suffering, was focused on others, mainly her family.  She prayed not for herself, but for all of you.  Even in her circumstances, she was vivacious and continued to live life to the full. 

And now she lives to the fullest in the very presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, in glory!

She was fond of pointing out that her two beloved churches were named Redeemer: Redeemer Lutheran Church in New Orleans, and Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fairhope.  These two parishes were given the name “Redeemer” because this is one of the titles for our Lord Jesus Christ.  A redeemer is a person who buys back the freedom of another person from slavery.  In the Old Testament, a redeemer was often a relative, and redemption meant that the person was set free.

Our Old Testament lesson is taken from the book of Job.  Job suffered greatly, but never lost faith in his Redeemer who was still to come in the future.  Job believed in this coming Redeemer, that is, in our Lord Jesus Christ, even though he would not be born for centuries.  But Job knew the prophecies, and he believed.  We, dear friends, know these prophecies as well as their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, who was born in space and time (as we call to mind at Christmastide), and who came to die for our sins on the cross (as we call to mind at Eastertide).  The Lord gave us His very body and blood in the Holy Supper, the Eucharist, and it was my privilege to give my dear sister Thelma the body and blood of Christ in the Holy Mass according to our Lord’s instruction and invitation.  It was my honor to give her pastoral care in her hour of need, and to tell her yet again of the good news of her Redeemer, who came to her to set her free from slavery to sin, death, and the devil.  And Jesus rose again from the dead, promising a bodily resurrection to Thelma, and to all who are baptized and who believe.  This is the Lord’s promise, to her and to us.

This week in the church, the Gospel reading is the same reading that I read to you: St. Simeon’s rejoicing, because, by the Lord’s coming, he, an elderly believer and one of God’s people, had seen the coming of his Redeemer.  Now he was ready to “depart in peace” according to the Lord’s Word.  For he had seen his salvation prepared in the presence of all peoples.  And this song of Simeon is the canticle at the end of the Lutheran Mass, after we have received Christ in His body and blood.  Thelma and I prayed this together after she took the Lord’s Supper that last time.  We will pray it together again here.

Thelma did indeed depart in peace according to the Word of God.  She did see salvation prepared for the people of God, those who believe and are baptized.  And like Job, she knows that her Redeemer lives!

This knowledge that our Redeemer lives is also manifest in our knowledge of a bodily resurrection to come, as Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

Thelma will rise again, for that is what it means to have a Redeemer.  For in her flesh, she shall see God.  Her eyes will behold God.  And we too, dear friends, will behold the Lord’s servant Thelma in a resurrected body, no longer compromised by age and disease, by pain and death – but re-created anew!  This is what Job meant, and this is what it means that Thelma took the body and blood of Christ and heard the Gospel preached in houses of worship called “Redeemer.”

And though we don’t understand why God does what He does (which is another lesson from the book of Job), we trust His will and know that He loves us.  As we heard anew from St. Paul: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  Thelma was called according to the Lord’s purpose when she was baptized, and the Lord provided her with His body and blood even as she was preparing to “depart in peace.” 

Listen to this magnificent comfort from our Lord through His Word given to St. Paul and shared with the Christians of Rome. Listen to this mighty Word, dear friends: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?....   No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This is what it means to have a Redeemer.  This is what it means that the Lord provided for Thelma, from infancy to old age.  This is what it means that by grace and through faith, according to the Lord’s promise delivered to her at holy baptism, she will rise again in the “resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

Though we are separated from Thelma, this separation is only temporary.  For “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” who is our Redeemer.

We know that our Redeemer lives.  We know that Thelma lives.  We know that we will live, and be reunited with her for the sake of, and by means of, our Redeemer.

And just as Thelma lived this phase of her life on this side of glory to the full, praying and giving praise to her Redeemer, she now lives it in glory to the fullest, and she lives eternally.  We look forward to seeing her again and taking part in that fullness of life, giving thanks to our Redeemer, now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

Peace be with you!

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

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Sermon: Wednesday of Christmas 1 - 2019

2 January 2019

Text: Luke 2:22-32, 33-40

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord Jesus Christ breaks into our broken and fallen world, placing Himself, God in the flesh, into space and time, like a fireman who rushes into a burning building to rescue those trapped in the flames.

This kind of rescue work can’t be done sitting at a desk in front of a computer.  It is hands-on.  God came to where we are, and He saved us, we who could not rescue ourselves.  He turned the universe on its head.  The infinite God the Son willingly and lovingly took the form of a finite man, even a baby, even a fertilized egg in the uterus of a young virgin.  

And when He was born, His mother and her husband “brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord” in accordance with the Law.  His parents took Him to the temple to “do for Him according to the custom of the Law,” which included bringing a sacrifice to the priest.  There, the Lord Jesus Christ, the priests of priests, the sacrifice of sacrifices, was taken up in the arms of the elderly priest Simeon – who sang the canticle known as Simeon’s Song – which we sing with him after we too bodily encounter “the Lord’s Christ,” and we too are prepared to “depart in peace” according to the Word of the Lord.  

But the Lord not only received praise from the priesthood, but also from the laity: in the person of the elderly St. Anna, “the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.”  Like Simeon, she is a living symbol of the Old Testament, the Old Covenant, the years Before Christ, the Age of the Prophets.  She, like Simeon, was waiting expectantly for the coming of the Lord.  She “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.”

Anna was one of those ladies who spoke to everybody, and she talked about the coming “redemption of Jerusalem.”  We have many examples of modern Annas today: faithful women who serve the church, often without fanfare, typically behind the scenes, sacrificing their own time, offering their own money (even if it doesn’t seem to the world like much), praying for people, offering hospitality and consolation, and confessing Christ as Lord.

And though they are often out of view, their work is crucial for the ongoing ministry of the church and the preaching of the Gospel.  Their work is often unseen, but the fruits of their work is held in your hands: like the bulletin, or eaten: like the food that is lovingly prepared.  Often their work is completely hidden in the sacristy: as the communion vessels are cleansed and prepared for service.  There is sewing and cleaning and cooking and works of mercy.  Though not always, these acts of love and service are typically carried out by the faithful laywomen of the church: our own Annas young and old.

In our churches, women teach Sunday School, and often teach in our day schools.  They serve on boards and committees, and they make our life as a community more civilized and joyful.  And many of our shut-ins are, like Anna, elderly ladies, whose prayers do more for us and for our church than we can ever know or even imagine.

But what drives Anna?  It is the Christ and His coming into the world, the “consolation of Israel.”  For it was because of our mother Eve and the serpent that sin gained a toehold into our world.  It was Eve’s sin that led to Adam’s, which led to all of us men being born mortal and tainted by sin.

But it was also our Lord’s mother whom God used to turn back the curse of Eve: the virgin Mary, whom all generations call “blessed.”  And just as the Blessed Virgin Mary brought the Christ to the temple, Anna received the Christ in the temple, and as the temple.  Just as Mary’s soul magnified the Lord and her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior, so too does Anna’s soul rejoice in her Savior, in her consolation.  

What a magnificent example of the Christian life, not only for women, but especially for women, as St. Anna, even at the end of her life, “did not depart from the temple,” as her entire life was centered on “fasting and prayer, night and day.”

The hallmark of Anna’s life was her gratitude, for in encountering the Christ child, “she began to give thanks to God” and in gratitude, she confessed the Gospel, the Good News of the coming of Jesus “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”  Her gratitude was a response to the Lord Jesus, and she found this gratitude in the very place where Jesus was physically, the temple.

It is interesting that in this day and age, in the year of our Lord twenty nineteen, even as depression and anxiety and nihilism plague our culture, one thing that even unbelieving psychologists recommend is focusing on gratitude, even recommending journaling every day and writing down things to be grateful for.  For it is easy, in our sinful flesh, to forget all of the things the Lord provides for us, in body and soul, for which we should give Him thanks and praise.  It is fitting that we Christians ponder and meditate on the Lord’s goodness, “for His mercy endureth forever.”  And that mercy is indeed what Christmas is all about.  It is why we Christians continue to celebrate Christmas long after the world has already forgotten and moved on to the next Hallmark holiday and retail season.  Like Anna, we linger in the temple with our Lord to give thanks and to confess the works of Jesus, listening to the proclamation of the New Testament priesthood in the form of the prophetic preaching of the Word of God: the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ and His forgiveness.

Gone are the days of the shedding of innocent blood, for Jesus is the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.  Christmas points us to the cross, where our salvation was carried out through His blood, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

There is no better time and place to express this gratitude than in the temple of the Divine Service, where the Word of Scripture continues to ring out, where the Gospel is preached, and where we, like Sts. Anna and Simeon, receive Christ in His flesh.  We indeed “give thanks to God” and we are prepared to “depart in peace” because we too have received the Christ, in His flesh and blood, in space and time.

Like the fireman, our Lord rushes into the flames when everyone else is trying to escape.  He does this out of love: for the Father, in carrying our His will, and for us – as He saves us from the death and hell that we deserve.  

Let us give thanks to God for the saintly examples of Simeon and Anna.  Let us resolve to be in the temple all of our days, fasting, praying, and confessing Jesus, out of gratitude and love.  For we no longer must wait for our redemption and our consolation.  Let us resolve that in this year of our Lord twenty nineteen we will allow Christ to shape and form our days and our lives in His peace and redemption, living lives of thankful praise, now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

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