Saturday, February 21, 2015

James 1:12-18; The First Sunday in Lent; February 22, 2015;

James 1:12-18; The First Sunday in Lent; February 22, 2015;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:12–18, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s a rough world, and getting rougher, it seems. As I look around the congregation I see lots of folks here who are struggling with difficult issues. Cancer and violence, money and work, family and future, disagreement and broken relationships. It doesn’t seem as if things are getting better. In fact, I think Satan is making specific attacks against you all. Trials are a part of the Christian life. If anyone sells Christianity as an easy life, full of riches and blessings, as if once you become a Christian life gets easy, they are lying. Certainly there are riches and blessings of a certain kind, to being a Christian, but not necessarily what is sold by preacher / hucksters.

And there’s more. We not only struggle with what the world has to dish out, we struggle with our own self-made troubles. When you are baptized into the Christian faith you gain a great enemy. He is bent on your destruction. He leads you down the path of your own choosing. He feeds your own desires. He lures you in, like the fish going for the bait on the hook. It feels dangerous, but you go right ahead because you can’t stop the desire. After all that, sin is born. The temptation isn’t sin, but temptation married to desire have sin as their offspring. And sin, set in the heart, after all its promises to satisfy desire, really only brings nothing but death. Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Your life is racked with it. Lost friendships. Regret that keeps you up at night. Hopelessness. You want to blame someone else, but as Pogo says, "We have met the enemy and he is us.” Just look at your own life and take inventory of the troubles you have that will only ultimately be resolved by death.

It’s the lifecycle of sin. Temptation, desire, sin, death. How many times have you lived that? How many times has it ended up where sin ends up? How many times in your life will you do it again? How many times can you count on God’s forgiveness?

Well, that’s the real question isn’t it? Does my temptation, desire, sin, and death lead to hell, permanent punishment, and separation from God, living in my sin and its consequences forever? Or is there some way out? St. James tells us carefully and directly, “Do not be deceived!” Temptation, desire, and sin are dangerous. The first place to realize some relief is early, when you are tempted by your desire. Recognize the lifecycle of sin, break it at the beginning. Recognize that sin is our own problem. We suffer the consequences. James tells us that when we “stand firm” we are blessed.

Now I’m not saying that you should work harder to overcome your temptations, as if you, by yourself could do such a thing. Pray harder, and endure your suffering stronger, be all that you can be! Look inside yourself and find the strength to beat down your temptation. The problem is in your heart. Your sinful nature drags you toward sin and its consequences. No, in your heart is not the place to find help against the lifecycle of sin. Your sinful nature is the very problem.

James actually gives you another idea, another place to look for help. He talks about good gifts that come from God. He talks about being “brought forth” by the word of truth. It’s a kind of lifecycle of salvation. Sin gives birth to death. Jesus, the Word of Life, gives birth to life itself. James is talking about being born of water and spirit just like our Lord says.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6, ESV)

Well, and don’t we have a great example of that very thing here today. Fritz Christian Carter, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! Born of the Spirit, brought forth by the Word of Truth. Baptized into Christ.

Sin, disturb my soul no longer:
I am baptized into Christ!
I have comfort even stronger:
Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me
Since my Baptism did release me
In a dear forgiving flood,
Sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?

LSB 594 © 1991 Robert E. Voelker. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License .NET, no. 100012735.

Good and perfect gifts that come from God the Father, reminding us that the lifecycle of sin is broken by the Word of Truth, Jesus Christ himself on the cross, the lifecycle of life. That is where James says to turn. Turn to the one who has paid the price for your sin already. Turn to the cross and your connection to it in New Birth, given in the water of Holy Baptism. Turn to the Holy Spirit, who pours into you His strength to avoid temptations pull.

The Word of Truth calls us to confess our sin, our shortcomings, our sinful desires, our inability to avoid, and our failure again and again. We confess, he forgives. That is Holy Baptism, the good gift that comes down from the Father of lights. It’s just like Luther writes in the Small Catechism:

What does such baptizing with water indicate?

It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

From Luther’s Small Catechism © 1986 Concordia Publishing House, cph.org

That New Man is the “firstfruits” that James is talking about. A new man that avoids temptation and sin, not because he has some great power to do so, but because he has God himself, working, offering forgiveness, calming the guilty conscience, releasing us in that dear forgiving flood, the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for you. Amen.

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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

2 Kings 2:1–12; The Transfiguration of our Lord; February 15, 2015;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take away your master from over you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.” (2 Kings 2:1–12, ESV)

(From a Sermon by Glen Nielson, Winter 2012 Concordia Journal)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today is ascension. We have the picture of Jesus, Moses and Elijah standing together discussing Jesus’ work, especially what he was going to be doing for forgiveness through the cross.

The Old Testament reading is about Elijah, one of those having today’s discussion with Jesus. Elijah was really and amazing fellow. Some of things that God did through him are simply incredible. He lived about 850 years before Jesus. He had a 15 year ministry, before that we don’t know much about him. But his calling from God was to turn the people way from the worship of Baal.

We heard about the end of his ministry in our first reading today. Even that was incredible. There at the Jordan River Elijah gave his cloak and struck the water, it spread apart and they walked across just like the Children of Israel did with the Egyptians hot on their trail.

Earlier he was ministering in Israel. There was a drought and food was scarce. Elijah met a widow and her son that were starving. They had enough food for one more meal, then death. Elijah asked the woman to use all they had to make him a meal. She did. But God made a miracle. Elijah told her that her oil and flour wouldn’t run out.

Then the widow’s son, her only son died. She wasn’t very happy with Elijah. She blamed Elijah of brining her sins to God’s attention. But what happened next was incredible. Elijah raised the boy from the dead. He had done one incredible miracle right after another. The widow believe that Elijah was great prophet of God.

Elijah’s biggest challenge came in his dealings with the king. Ahab was an evil king. His wife was even worse. Her name was Jezebel. She was a worshiper of the false gods Baal and Astroth. Ahab didn’t do anything to prevent her from setting up the false religion in Israel. She had hundreds of prophets for Baal and a bunch for Astroth.

God had Elijah challenge the prophets to a contest to see whose god was the true god. Elijah and the prophets (850 of them!) met on Mount Carmel. The test was simple. Build and altar, put wood and a sacrifice on it and pray. The God who lights the fire is the true god. The prophets of Baal started early in the morning and made a ruckus all day long, calling on Baal to light the fire. Elijah taunted them. “Shout louder, maybe he can’t hear you because he’s sleeping, or in the bathroom.” Nothing happened. Then it was Elijah’s turn. He rebuilt the altar, with the wood and his own sacrifice. He prayed, and immediately fire came down from heaven and burned the sacrifice, the wood, and the stones of the altar and left only a black charred spot on the ground. The God of Israel proved himself the only true God. Elijah took a sword and killed every one of those false prophets that day. Incredible.

Then came the end of Elijah’s ministry. Time to set his servant Elisha in his place. It was an incredible thing again. A fiery chariot came and took Elijah from the earth. He didn’t die. He was just scooped up and taken straight to heaven. The next time he was seen was standing on the mount of Transfiguration talking with Jesus.

Elijah was an incredible prophet who did incredible things. It seems like a long time ago, and very different from our day to day lives. It was a long time ago, 2900 years or so. Elijah’s life and ministry were incredible.

Our lives seem rather uneventful. Routine might even be the word. Children have to be taken to school, meals have to be set on the table. Food is plentiful for us, but we don’t often have the time to eat it. Not because things are incredible but because our lives are filled up with regular everyday things. Empty nesters have days that aren’t incredible but incredibly the same. Eat, clean, TV, errands. Apply, lather, rinse repeat.

But sometimes out-of-the-ordinary things happen. A trip to see the grandkids. A concert. A mission fest at church. A surprise party. A night out. But the excitement fades back to the routine. It all flies by quickly and we are back to the same old same old routine again. Nothing like Elijah’s excitement. We are still talking about the incredible events of his life 2900 years later!

Elijah—incredible. You and me—uneventful.

Except… Elijah was more like you and I than we might know. If you push past all the excitement you find a man who was most often lonely and afraid. Are you surprised by that? You would think that after all God had done through him, after all that he had seen he would be strong and confident. He had his moments, like on Mount Carmel. But much of the time he was alone. After he had killed all the prophets on the mountain he had to run for his life. Even after God’s great showing he thought he was the only person faithful to the true God. Elijah the incredible prophet had moments of weakness and doubt. Now weakness and doubt I can relate to, how about you?

There’s a cartoon. In it a young girl is talking on her cell phone. She’s surrounded by her classmates. And yet she says, “I’m so glad you called, I’m so lonely.” That’s life today, isn’t it? We are lonely in a crowd. We’re busy connected by Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, and Snapchat, but still alone in a crowd. We have so many ways to keep in touch but we are still lonely.

We are also afraid of many things. Most of them we can’t control. What are your greatest fears? Do they involve your children? Your health? Your job? Crime? Finances? Elijah was afraid. We are afraid.

Well, we are a bit like Elijah after all. He’s not quite so distant after all.

Back to the Transfiguration. Jesus is on the top of the mountain with his disciples and something incredible happens. Jesus changes. He is unbelievably, dazzlingly bright. Jesus’ glory, his divine nature, his God-ness shows out. He shows them clearly that he is in fact God-in-the-flesh. And Moses and Elijah appear. They talk with Jesus, but they aren’t the center of attention. Jesus is. God the Father speaks out of heaven, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” Moses and Elijah disappear and Jesus is left alone.

Jesus is the focus. Even when Elijah was doing all those incredible things all those years earlier it was the same. He did it all to show who the true God was. He did all that to bring people back to worship him. Elijah stands with Jesus to call our attention to him as the only true God. He was standing with Jesus, talking to him.

What were they talking about? Incredible things. Not the things that Elijah did, but the things that Jesus would soon be doing. Incredible things in Jerusalem. When Jesus comes down from the mountain, he heads straight for Jerusalem and the cross. He does those incredible things for you and me.

Jesus is alone when he does these things. The disciples start out with him but they fall asleep and flee like rats at the first sign of danger. Jesus will go to the cross alone. But there something incredible happens. Jesus takes our fears and loneliness. He takes our sins and our grief. He takes are moments of weakness. He holds them on the cross and takes them into his death. He makes them his sins instead of ours.

And then, as if that wasn’t incredible enough, something else happens. Jesus appears in glory again. Jesus’ grave is empty. He has risen from the dead. He is alive. And he promises to never leave us. It’s a bit like Elijah standing by Jesus. Jesus is always standing by us. He is ready to listen to all our troubles.

Yes, Jesus is standing beside us in all our uneventful, every day, dull moments. Errands, fast food, empty places at the dinner table and all. He standing with us when we have the same old, same old day we had before, and when something exciting happens. But most of all he’s standing with us in our loneliness and doubt. He with us in our fear and anger.

Now think again about Elijah. Even though he did some incredible things, I think he might tell us the most incredible of all was standing with Jesus on the Mount of the Transfiguration, talking to him about saving you and me through the cross. Elijah wouldn’t want us to focus on him, but rather “Listen to Jesus.” He would want us to focus on Jesus standing right beside us. He never leaves us, or forsakes us. That is very incredible indeed. Amen.

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

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Deuteronomy 18:15–20; The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany; February 1, 2015;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’” (Deuteronomy 18:15–20, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.

Now there’s a sticky wicket. I’m not sure I like the sound of that at all. Sure it’s true that when I prepare a sermon I first have to figure out how the text applies to me, but this… well, it’s pretty obvious. And it is most serious. And it is speaking most directly to pastors… that’s me. But not just me.

We live in a country that has loads of denominations, and more every year. New little clusters of churches pop up with all kinds of different beliefs. Most of them say that doctrine, that is, what a church teaches, isn’t really all that important. In fact, you probably have friends and neighbors and relatives that say that. Or maybe you even think that it’s true. Most of these other churches / denominations / people say it’s how you feel about Jesus that’s really the key thing. What Jesus and his apostles taught is important, but not as important as what you feel about God, what you feel in your heart to be true. That is in spite of what Jesus says in Matthew 28:19-20 (which happens to be our Mission statement).

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV)

Now, I want you to understand, it is good for you to have feelings about God and what he has done for you in Jesus Christ. It’s important to live out your faith with feeling, confidence, passion, and compassion. But faith comes through the hearing of God’s Word and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, not feelings that come up. Faith is created and grows as a result of the teaching of everything that Jesus taught.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14–17, ESV)

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard that we Christians in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod over-emphasize correct doctrine. I think it is true that we focus on doctrine / teaching more than any other denomination in the U. S. We have a written confession that emphasizes it. It’s called the Book of Concord. It spells out what we believe, teach and confess in great detail. Whenever you have a new pastor installed here, he promises to teach according to it. And you promise to support him in that effort. We get the rep of being legalistic. Most other Christians and maybe even some of you think that Closed Communion is over the top legalism. But practicing correct doctrine / teaching isn’t legalistic, really. It is being faithful to the Gospel that Jesus taught. We teach what he taught very carefully, because he died for us on the cross, and he rose again from death. He saved us from sin, death and Satan. So we want to do what he has told us to do. We want to teach what he told us to teach. We pray for this very thing every time we say the Lord’s Prayer. Luther explains the First Petition: Hallowed be Thy Name.

How is God’s name kept holy? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father! (LSB 323)

And notice how Luther sticks that prayer in the explanation that asks doubly for this to be done among us.

And, in 25 of the 27 books of the New Testament, there are specific instructions to beware of fals teachers and prophets. (Matthew 7:15, Mark 13:22, Acts 20:28ff, Ephesians 4:14–15, 1 Timothy 1:3, Hebrews 13:9, 2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 4:1) Not to mention that the first sin was doubting what God said. Satan asked Eve, “Did God really say?” Not taking what God teaches to be true is literally the oldest sin in the book.

Now there’s lots of pressure on pastors these days. Well, the truth is, it has always been so. God’s Word calls upon pastors to be faithful to teach what God says. Just look at the text for today for an example. Pastors are to teach carefully with humility, love and gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:24-25, Galatians 6:1, Ephesians 4:15, 1 Peter 3:15) And it is, in fact, the duty of the whole church to teach while at the same time doing it with gentleness and love. There is no excuse for being harsh.

So, who are you supposed to know if your pastor, or some television preacher for that matter is teaching according to God’s Word? How do you know if anyone who claims to be God’s teacher is not a false prophet? It is very important for you all to know what God’s Word actually teaches. You hear it read hear every Sunday. You have a bible at home. Bibles are to be read and studied. You actually pay me to read to you and teach you. I spend a great deal of time preparing Sunday morning bible study that most of you have never attended. You officers and board members really have no excuse. You are leaders of the congregation and you should be in bible classes. But there is more than that. Every Sunday we confess our faith together in one of the Creeds. They are a ruler you can lay beside anything a teacher says and decide whether he is teaching God’s Word. I quote Luther’s Small Catechism all the time in my teaching and preaching. You memorized it in confirmation. It also is a ruler for teaching. Do you regularly review it with your family? You should do that, too.

Now this text from Deuteronomy isn’t just about your pastor and other people who claim to teach God’s Word. In fact, it is about much more than that. Who is this new prophet that Moses is saying will come? After Moses, God sent many prophets. Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptizer. It is in John’s Gospel that we see clearly Jesus is the New Prophet.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:14–17, ESV)

And at Jesus Baptism and his Transfiguration, God the Father says to listen to Jesus. Back to what Moses says is God’s promise.

And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

And so, pastors strive to teach what God teaches through Jesus, with your help. And what is that? Jesus is God and man who came to the world to forgive human sin through his life, death and resurrection. That he ascended into heaven and is coming again to judge the living and the dead. You have forgiveness in him. You are declared to be righteous, that is, without sin, because he has washed you clean in Holy Baptism. Through the promised Holy Spirit, also given in Holy Baptism, you are empowered to live your faith in a world that needs to hear what Jesus taught. Amen.

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

Saturday, January 17, 2015

John 1:43-51; The Second Sunday after Epiphany; January 18, 2015;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”” (John 1:43–51, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Nathanael speaks correctly. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!” But Jesus wants him to get the big picture. “You will see greater things than these. In fact, you’ll see heaven opened and the angels of God going up and coming down on me.” Jesus isn’t making up new stuff. He’s referring to a dream that was dreamed centuries before. And the disciples knew it well. They were told the story by their parents. They heard it read in the synagogue. It was an important story about their ancestor Jacob.

Jacob stole his brother’s inheritance. He tricked his blind father into thinking that he was his hairy brother Esau by slaughtering a goat and covering himself with it. When their father died, Esau was out for vengeance. Jacob had to flee for his life. While he was running, he stopped to sleep on a mountain. While he slept shivering on a stone for a pillow, God gave him a dream. He promised the land he was on to his family. He promised that his family would be as “many as the dust of the earth”. God had not forsaken him, he would always be with him. In the dream there was a ladder going from the place where he was lying to heaven. And the angels were going up and down. Jacob called the place Bethel, meaning “the House of God”. The temple in Jerusalem was built on that very spot.

Now the disciples knew well what happened at the temple. God came to be with his people. Heaven and earth were joined together. Sacrifices were made to God for the sins of the people. Lambs were slaughtered and the blood was sprinkled on them. Prayers were offered to God. It was an amazing place. The link / ladder for God’s people to be connected to God by his very presence.

Jesus pulls it all together and makes it about himself. He says his disciples would see heaven opened and the angels going up and down on him. Jesus is claiming to be the link to heaven, the way that people have a connection with God. He’s saying the old dream the disciples grew up with was about him. Nathanael makes a wonderful confession about Jesus. “…you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” It’s correct, but I don’t think he has any idea of what it really means or what Jesus must do to be Jacob’s ladder.

The disciples did see greater things than Jesus miracle of seeing Nathanael under the fig tree. They saw Jesus turn water into wine. They saw Jesus healing a paraplegic. They saw Jesus feed 5000 men with a boy’s lunch, healing a man born blind, and raising Lazarus from the dead. All were greater than seeing Nathanael under the fig tree. And while Jesus may have been talking about these things he was more talking about the one greater / greatest thing he would do. The thing that he, the Son of God, God-in-human-flesh, had come to do. The place where heaven was opened and the ladder between God and man set up, Jacob’s dream fulfilled.

It was right after the Wedding of Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine, that he turned the tables in the temple and chased out the money men. “This is a house of prayer!” he shouted. “This is the place to come to meet God, not a place to buy and sell!” The Jews asked Jesus what right he had to do such things. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” He wasn’t talking about the physical building, he was talking about himself. Jesus replaces the temple. Everything that it was for people, Jesus is. Heaven and earth are joined together. Jesus is God and man joined together in one person. God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and made man. He is the sacrifice made to God for the sins of the people. Suspended between heaven and earth, bound to the cross. Held there not with the nails that pinned his hands and feet but with the purpose he had come to accomplish. He is the Lamb of God slaughtered and the blood poured out for the people. He is the one who prays (still) for his people, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus is the greater thing that brings forgiveness, God sacrificing himself in the place of sinful humans, to satisfy the forever punishment due for sin. Jesus is the amazing place where God and man, heaven and earth, meet.

It is what St. Paul means when he says in Colossians:

[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15–20, ESV)

And it is still true. Jesus ascended into heaven to be at God the Father’s right hand, and yet he is not gone. He is still very present in this house of prayer. Jesus is after all God’s Word made flesh come to dwell among us. Here he does it. Jesus off the page written through the Holy Spirit and into your ears to tell you the Good News of your restored relationship to God through forgiveness. Jesus in the water of Holy Baptism, connecting himself, in his death and resurrection, to you. He promises resurrection there, rescue from hell there, forgiveness there. Jesus present in the body and blood that hung suspended between heaven and earth. The body and blood that poured out on the earth and into your mouth, bringing you a connection directly to God through forgiveness.

Jesus tells the disciples and Nathanael that they will see greater things. They do. He tells them

And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” (John 12:45, ESV)

In Jesus we see God who comes in grace and forgiveness. God who comes to earth to restore our connection to him. God who goes up and down on Jacob’s ladder, from heaven to earth and back again. Making the climb for us. He says it clearly to Nicodemus.

No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:13–18, ESV)

Amen.

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

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Romans 6:1-11; The Baptism of Our Lord; January 11, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:1–11, ESV)

(from a devotion by Robert Bernhardt, http://visualfeast.csl.edu/2012/01/19/baptism-of-our-lord-romans-61-11/)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

There’s a lot going on in that little bowl. I know it doesn’t look like much, but it’s really kind of a storm. None of you is looking at this little splash of water thinking dark thoughts of fear and trepidation. But maybe you should. In fact, these waters are downright treacherous. Here, right here, for some of you, you knocked on death’s door. St. Paul says it,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

It’s a drowning. A dying. We experience death with Jesus. The moment the pastor says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, a killing, a drowning takes place. You are dead and raised. Death swirls around you in the water. Jesus’ death and yours. And don’t think for a moment that his death wasn’t real, or yours for that matter. He was pierced by nails, and stabbed by a spear. His heart filled with blood and stopped beating. He was taken down and buried in a tomb.

You see, death is the problem isn’t it. The grave. The place you will go sooner or later. A problem brought to us because of Adam and Eve. They rejected God. They fell into sin. To reject God is to reject the life he gives as a gift. They brought God sure promise of death as punishment, and not only death but permanent death, death that is total separation from God. Hell, created for Satan and the fallen angels, is the destination for all those who reject God. But it’s worse than you want to believe. Sin is in you. It’s proof of your own personal rejection of God. If you didn’t reject God, you wouldn’t sin. And the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23). You can’t get away from it. It’s like being stuck swimming in a stormy sea. You can’t get to shore. You can’t swim forever. The sea is too deep and the waves are too high. Eventually you will drown in death.

Ah, but that’s what Holy Baptism is all about. Jesus is there in your death. Paul declares it. It is God’s promise in Baptism. Jesus is there in your death. He grabs you out of the water you are drowning in. He pulls you out of the darkness.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

It’s not an idle promise either. Jesus didn’t just die he was raised. He wasn’t just carried into the tomb, he walked out of it. Jesus promises resurrection though the stormy bowl. Luther said it clearly.

What benefits does Baptism give?

It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

He’s only saying what Paul says.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Jesus dead and buried and raised again. We are united with that, with God’s Name connected to the Water. Promised a resurrection after death. Jesus proves he has power over death.

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

It’s all good, but sin is still pulling you down. Every day you have to deal with falling short of what God tells you to do and not do. Most days it doesn’t feel like swimming but drowning. So what about that walking in newness of life that is promised?

It’s you sinful nature. The part of you that has evil thoughts and desires you hate. The part of you that lives for sin. Paul knew it. He says

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18–19, ESV)

You know it. It’s the life you live every day.

Well, that too, is dealt with at this stormy little bowl. Luther

What does such baptizing with water indicate?

It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Confess your sin and repent. Drag that old sinful nature, that heart of sin, to the bowl. Let him be drowned and die. Let the evil desires be washed away in the water. Die again to sin.

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

It’s the only way to beat it. Jesus does it. He stand hip deep in the Jordan River, baptized by John. He’s in the water with you. Your sinful nature is washed onto him. He walks up out of the water and to the cross.

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.

Once and for all time, he crucifies your sinful nature dead, done, buried in the tomb. And the life he lives now is yours.

There it is in that little, terrible, dangerous, wonderful, stormy bowl of water. Amen.

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

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Luke.2.40-52; The Second Sunday after Christmas; January 4, 2014;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:40–52, ESV)

(From a Devotion by Matt Wait http://visualfeast.csl.edu/2013/03/25/christmas-2-luke-240-52/)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It’s a bit like the movie isn’t it? I mean, the family has been gathered for Passover in Jerusalem, and the vacation is over. Everybody’s packed the caravans for home. Everyone is in a rush and isn’t very observant. It is only when they are finally out of Jerusalem that someone does a headcount and finds “the boy” missing. Then panic! Mom and dad rush back to town. It takes three days to find him.

Jesus has been hanging out in Jerusalem. But he hasn’t been perusing the candy stores or playing games with the other kids. Jesus is sitting in the temple hanging out with the teachers of the law and asking them questions. The teachers are amazed. The questions he’s asking are beyond a 12-year-old without any schooling. He seems to be more than just an inquisitive child. Apparently Mary and Joseph are confused also. After a long search they find him and they ask “Why did you do this to us?” Even though both of them had multiple messages from God by angels. They are surprised at finding him in the temple. The family that lived with Jesus had eyes to see and yet they didn’t really see him. The teachers in the temple watched Jesus ask questions beyond his years and yet they really didn’t seem him. They were shocked at what they saw. All through Jesus life people looked straight at him and yet didn’t really see him. “That isn’t God! I know what God is, and that isn’t him.”

People today do the same thing. They love the baby in the manger. For most people he’s the embodiment of love. They love Jesus the story teller that tells them to love other people as you would love yourself. They love the self-sacrificing Jesus who gives up his life for his friends. They love the non-violent Jesus that says to pound swords into plowshares. They love Jesus, as long has he is human. “I know what God is. And, although Jesus has lots of good stuff to say, that’s not God.” “No god that I would have would tell me that all other religions are false.” “No god that I would worship would tell me that I’m hopelessly sinful.” “No god that I would have would send people into eternal punishment.” “No god that I would have would make me stop doing what makes me happy.” “No god that I want to worship would let children suffer” “That isn’t God!”

The artist Ad Reinhardt (1913-67) painted a deceptively simple painting around the year of my birth. It’s called “Abstract Image Number 6”. Your first reaction to the painting is “That’s not art!” because at first look it seems to be only a big black square.

While it appears entirely black at first, Ad Reinhardt’s Abstract Painting is composed of an almost imperceptible grid of nine squares distinguished by subtle variations in color. Close examination reveals a red hue in the squares at its four corners, blue at the top and bottom of its vertical axis, and hints of green across its horizontal center. These nuances, however, reveal themselves only after an extended period of careful looking, and the sustained encounter they demand, in Reinhardt’s view, marks the distance between aesthetic experience and everyday life.

(http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=78976)

The painting, weather you think it is art or not, has something more to offer than you think at first glance. It’s easy to take a quick look and write it off as inartistic.

It’s also easy to look at Jesus and write him off as only human, and nothing but human. He’s actually easier to deal with that way. He laughs, and eats and sleeps, and cries, and talks. All things that mere humans do. The thing is, Jesus as more than human, demands something from you. You can’t just live your life the same way as always. If he is truly what he shows to be, then all that he says and does is more important than what any mere human would say.

He is more than human. The 12-year-old in the temple shows it. He is about his Father’s work. He is in the temple teaching. He isn’t only Mary’s son. Jesus is the Son of God. In fact, the more you look at Jesus the more he shows you he isn’t just human. The words he says are bigger than human words. He claims to be more than human. And he says he’ll prove it by rising from the dead. If you look and listen to God’s Word, the story of Jesus, more and more of his life will show itself to you, and Jesus, who is God, will show through. The longer you look and study, the more you learn and love. He did rise from the dead, and he is God.

That black square painting: If you stare at Abstract Painting No. 5 long enough you begin to see not only shades of black and squares, but also a cross that is formed in the center of the painting, a faint cross but a cross nonetheless. I’m sure the painter wasn’t trying to say anything about Jesus, but the faint 9 squares are highlighted by the 5 in the center. They make a cross.

If you look at Jesus long enough you’ll see a cross, too. He is what God is doing in human flesh. A God-man with a purpose. He is showing what God’s love is all about. Your rejection of God, played out every day in your sin, your rejection of God’s rules, is the reason God comes in the flesh. The boy questioning in the temple begins to show it. The young man who turns water into wine at the wedding in Cana, shows it more. The man who teaches on the road and gathers sinners to himself, shows it more. The healer who has compassion on the sick and sent lepers home clean, shows it more. The exorcist who sent demons into screaming pigs and back to hell, shows it more. The sacrifice who doesn’t speak in his defense when he is nailed to the cross, says it again. The body laid in the tomb, and standing before the disciples in the upper room alive again, says it. Jesus is God, come to do all that is necessary to redeem you from your sin. He has come to restore you and me to God. He has come to heal and forgive. He has come to be Savior of the world. He has come for you. Amen.

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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

John 1:1-14; Christmas Day; December 25, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1–14, ESV)

(From a devotion by Ed Grimenstein)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is Christmas morning. From last night to today we have gone from the dark candlelight of Christmas Eve celebrating the newborn babe in the manger, to the brightness of Christmas morning. Last night we stood around the manger in awe that to you a child is born who is Christ the Lord. Born in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This morning we are left to ponder what it means that God the Word who created all things has become flesh to dwell among us.

How is it exactly a word becomes flesh, anyway? We don’t usually think of words as physical things. We think of them as ideas or symbols. A word is something that is said, it forms on the lips and the tongue and is projected through the air. It is heard by other people and interpreted. It isn’t something hard and fleshly, but ideas and thoughts. And yet here John’s Gospel says that The Word becomes flesh. And it says that this Word was the author of creation and life. God spoke the universe into existence by the power of this Word. And this Word is now a baby lying in a manger.

I think the text from Hebrews this morning helps fill in what’s going on. Listen again:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV)

The Word that created the world is the 2nd person of the Trinity, the Son, Jesus Christ born in the flesh in the manger. Long ago, and bit by bit (a more literal translation), God spoke to people through his prophets. But the relationship was one of distance and separation. He spoke of his promises to remove the distance and separation, to set right again everything that was broken by sin. God didn’t want to speak in a long distance relationship forever. He wants to be very close to his creation and his creatures. He doesn’t want his words just floating in the air. So God became flesh and dwelt among us. God’s Word actually walks on the ground, touches the sick, opens blind eyes, weeps at death, and speaks life back into dead friends. The Word become flesh speaks a final word at the cross, “It is finished!” The Word become flesh also becomes sin.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

Jesus on the cross is God’s Word of promise fulfilled. God’s sacrifice for sinners. God speaking forgiveness into human sin. God didn’t just become flesh to be close and have a conversation over coffee. He became flesh, one of us, so that he could pay for our sins through his death on the cross and restore our relationship to God.

And the Word become flesh is still present here with us. The Word made flesh is presented every time we gather in his name and hear the Bible read. He is present every day as his baptized children live out their calling in the world according to the Word of God. He is present as he speaks the wonderful Good News of forgiveness of sins through a simple, sinful pastor. Jesus is still coming to you to heal, and to forgive, just as he came in the Bible. Jesus wants to be near you, not just words in your ear, but in your heart and life, as you live every day holding on the promises God has made to you in Holy Baptism.

God’s Word becomes flesh every time a pastor speaks the wonderful word of release to you, the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus on the cross. God’s Word becomes flesh every time water is splashed on a sinners head and he becomes God’s own child, given God’s very name. The Word becomes flesh every time a believer receives forgiveness through the very physical body and blood of Jesus, in, with and under the bread and wine in Jesus’ supper. And God’s Word becomes flesh as Christians faithfully live out their vocations every day. Bakers baking bread, teachers teaching, farmers farming, parents parenting, and grandparents spoiling their grandchildren.

Jesus is God’s Word made flesh. He is touchable, God with us, Immanuel. He comes to us in Word and Sacrament, he comes to us and through us to the world to tell the good news of the love of God and the forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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