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)


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,

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

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.


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.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Luke 2:1-7; The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord; December 24, 2014;

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

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:1–20, ESV)

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

It’s Christmas Eve and baby Jesus has been laid in a manger. Mary and Joseph beam with delight. The animals are attentive. The shepherds are on their way fresh from the heavenly announcement. Peace on Earth is right there lying in swaddling cloths. It’s the vision of Christmas that we have all come to see tonight. What could be better? The holiday that celebrates children and family, and love, forgiveness and gift giving, starting with a baby laid in a manger? He is after all the “Reason for the season.” It is essential to keep Christ in Christmas.

Actually, I don’t really think that Christ has been totally removed from the Holiday. You can’t go far without seeing a nativity scene. I even saw one a few days ago that had Elvis worshipping Jesus. But Jesus was still there. Elvis was just tucked in behind Joseph and a few sheep. Jesus is a regular fixture in the Christmas music you hear on the radio, right along with Grandma and with her

“…hoof prints on her forehead; And incriminatin' Claus marks on her back.” (Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, Song by Elmo & Patsy)

And in spite of the fact that at some Walmart stores you’ll hear “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” you can still find “The Little Drummer Boy” in the video section. No, Jesus is still a part of Christmas. People easily remember that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.

What I think we forget about the baby that was laid in the manger is that he was also laid in a tomb. The sweet warmth and light of the story of Christmas is nothing without the harsh cold darkness of Jesus’ tomb. What we don’t want to forget, what we can’t afford to forget, is that the baby in the manger was born for more than a cute scene for a family holiday. You know, Linus gets it right standing in the spotlight in front of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11, ESV)

The stable’s new born babe is Savior of the world. It’s not because he’s cute. It’s because he is God in the flesh who comes to die on the cross. The fresh pink flesh that Mary and Joseph cleaned and wrapped in swaddling cloths was pierced by nails and hung up to die. The small voice that cooed for its first meal at Mary’s breast,

…cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Matthew 27:46, ESV)

Jesus is born in Bethlehem to accomplish this purpose, to be the sacrifice for all sin on the cross. To suffer eternal hell, that is rejection by God, for all people. To satisfy the just punishment for your sin and mine. And then to defeat death, your death and mine, through his resurrection to new life. He only begins a baby. But that’s because he must. Jesus begins his life, just as you and I do. A baby conceived in a womb, carried nine months, and born. He grew and loved and worked and played. A complete human, born as anyone. Countless babies were likely born in similar circumstances. What makes this one Nativity Scene worthy is who he is and what he is born to do.

The last thing we want to hear on Christmas is about human sin, particularly our sin. But it is the story of sin that make the story of the manger necessary. Our sin separates us from God and one another. Our sin is a rejection of the creator of the universe. Our sin deserves God’s anger and punishment. The promise of the new born life in the manger is God’s promise of forgiveness. “God and sinners reconciled.”

And so, here we sit on Christmas Eve with the story of baby Jesus fresh in our ears. It is a lovely story. It is so because of who Jesus is. It is so because of what he does. It only begins in human history in the manger. It is the cross, and the forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross, that makes the manger of any value to you and me. And it is the empty tomb that makes the cross true. The Baby that was laid in a manger, went to the cross, died and was laid also in a grave. But Easter morning the grave was empty because that self-same baby rose from the dead, with the promise of your resurrection, your eternal life through the forgiveness of your sins. Amen.

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

Monday, December 22, 2014

Psalm.116.15; Funeral of Beverly Ann Braymen; December 22, 2014;

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

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15, ESV)

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

There is nothing good about all of this. Death is a great evil. Today it has taken away a faithful wife, mother, grandmother, and a friend. And it has taken her away by surprise. We were not prepared to lose Beverly. You are still in shock. I don’t know how many people stopped by just to say how shocked they were when they heard the news. And when the shock wears off there will still be grief and loss. These last few days have been terrible days. There is not much I can say that is going to stop your tears from flowing. There is nothing wrong with weeping, Jesus himself wept when his friend Lazarus died. God hates death, as we hate it, and even more.

Beverly was very faithful in attendance in worship. She came to hear God’s Word proclaimed and receive God’s gift of forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper. I look forward to seeing her with Jesus when all the differences between people will be forgiven. You see, I’m confident in Bev’s being with Jesus right now. Not because she was such a great person. She was a wonderful person. How many hours did she sit at the hospital volunteering with you Tom? The truth is she was a sinner. You her family and close friends know that even better than I do. Sin leads to death. There is no more sure sign of being a sinner than your own funeral. But none of that really matters today. Today I’m confident in her salvation because of what Jesus has done. Nothing Bev did, as good as it was, measures up to the perfection required by God. Nothing she did, nothing you and I could ever do would be enough to make up for not loving God with our whole heart, soul and mind. But if that’s all that there was, our weeping would be in vain, our mourning would be even more terrible. We are not counting on what Bev did to bring her to live with God forever. We are counting on Jesus. She did.

She wasn’t even two weeks old when God adopted her as his child. Some other fallible pastor poured water over her head and said God’s name and hers. “Beverly Ann Otte, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” God gave her faith that began to grow that very day. She confessed it publically at her confirmation after growing in faith through the hearing of God’s Word. And all through her life, her church life was important to her, because of what it means for her right now.

Beverly is with Jesus because he won forgiveness for her sin and victory over death through his cross and resurrection. She trusted in Jesus for that forgiveness. Now she is with him awaiting the resurrection of the body. She knew she didn’t have to do a bunch of good stuff to pass through death to life with Christ. Jesus has done everything necessary. His perfect life is counted as her perfect life. His death on the cross and his resurrection is counted as payment for her death and the eternal punishment for her sin. And so she has passed through death to life with Jesus. Beverly lived in that faith and confidence.

But there is even more. Shortly we will place her body carefully in the ground for safe keeping. Together you and me, Tom and Lisa and Dale and Gabe and Jessica and all of us living in faith just as Beverly, we will wait anxiously for Jesus to return. Because on that day God will call Bev out of the ground, just as he will for all those who have died in the faith. He will raise up this body and your body and mine. And we will live together forever with him. We will live forever with Bev. Her body that failed her will be made perfect. My fallible body and yours will be made perfect, too. It will be a joyous reunion.

That’s why, to God, Bev’s death is precious. Not because he loves death, far from that, he hates it. Her death is precious because she is precious to God. She has claimed precious by holy baptism. It is her connection to the baby born in the manger, who grew up to suffer and die on the cross, and rise again to new life proves that. He came to fix the sin and death problem. And he has. He came to fix this terrible separation and grief that we are feeling. And he has. Though for a while we suffer grief with the help of the Holy Spirit we can bear it. We can bear it because we know that it is short lived. Jesus resurrection promises it is so. Amen.

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

1 Corinthians 13; Wedding of Dane and Jordan Wardenburg; December 20, 2014;


If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13, ESV)

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

You know, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to work in a sports metaphor for your marriage. You know, Dane is QB & Jordan is Half Back; Pitcher, Catcher, Running a marathon, winning / losing a national championship… Couldn’t get anything to work the way I thought it might. So… I decided to drop the whole sports metaphor for marriage. It’s a good thing really, because the more I thought about it the more I realize that love and marriage aren’t a sport.

Love is a choice. Just look at what St. Paul says about love in the reading.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Notice how nothing he says, says anything about the feelings of love. He’s not discounting the feelings of love, he just knows the truth about people. Feelings come and go. Dane and Jordan, today you have all those mushy, in love, feelings. Who wouldn’t! It’s your wedding day. You are surrounded by all your family and friends. Everything is focused on your love. It’s great. But, remember, love isn’t a sport. It isn’t just feelings. Love is action and those actions are lived everyday by choice. You could add a few words to every phrase of the reading and not change a thing about what it says. Love is patient and kind, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Love does not envy or boast, even if it feels like it. It is not arrogant or rude, even if you’re mad him Jordan. It does not insist on its own way, even though you will want to Dane. It is not irritable or resentful, even if you feel that way. It doesn’t rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth, even when it hurts. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things, even when these things are the farthest things from your thoughts. It’s all about choosing to love instead of what you want to do in the heat of the moment. Deciding to love each other

…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part…

So, just how successful are you going to be at doing this your whole marriage, your whole life together? Today it’s easy, tomorrow too, most likely. But what about when the money runs out, and Dane is on the road more than you think he should be? Or Dane how about when she’s working those extra shifts and you are sitting home alone? Or the toilet seat doesn’t get put down for the thousandth time and the dishes are stacked up in the sink? You are making promises today that you can’t possibly keep perfectly.

So, what is your marriage doomed? Hardly. That’s exactly why we are here, isn’t it. In this marriage service you aren’t just making promises. You are making promises in the sight of God and these witnesses and inviting your Savior to be with you in your marriage. It’s the most important thing you can do when you are married. You will fail each other, often. You need forgiveness for your failures. And that’s what Jesus brings. He was crucified, dead and buried and raised again to new life, for your sins, especially for the sins that you both bring to this marriage. Forgiveness is what allows you to move forward past the hurt. It is just a fact of life that you will sin against each other more than you will sin against anyone else. So you need to forgive each other more than you need to forgive anyone else. Jesus forgives you. In that forgiveness you can / will forgive each other. The key to living in forgiveness is to do what God says to do. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. It is best to do it out loud in those very words. “Dane, I forgive you, in the name of Jesus.” “Jordan, I forgive you, in the name of Jesus.” Those exact words are the most important words you will speak after “I do”! Forgiveness changes things. Jesus forgives you and in faith, you will forgive each other.

Jesus is a part of your marriage and your life together. It’s the forgiveness. The author of Ecclesiastes says it like this:

And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12, ESV)

God’s richest blessings on your marriage. Amen.

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