Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Jan 28, 2007, Luke 4:31-44

And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region. And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them. Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (Luke 4:31-44, ESV)

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

Today will be a good day to review the 2nd article of the Apostles’ creed. P. 301 in the front of your hymnal. Let’s read it together.

I believe in Jesus Christ, His-only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

What does this mean?

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

Now the part I want you to pay close attention to today is the part that says: [Jesus] purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death…

This Gospel reading today from St. Luke reflects what Luther is talking about right here. When we talk about the work of Jesus, which is what he did for us through his life, death and resurrection, we are talking about those three things: rescue from sin death and the power of the devil. And that’s what we see in this reading today. It starts with the power of Satan.

Jesus casts out a demon from a man in the synagogue. First we must remember that Satan has real power. These demons that possessed people were and are real. In those days they were well recognized. We don’t know what kind of trouble this one caused but we are reminded by St. Peter to be on the watch for Satan.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8, ESV)

And it true and we’ve all seen Satan’s handiwork. We don’t have to go far either. All we have to do is look around us, we can see it right here. You’ve seen the destructive power of Satan at work in our church. He divides. He distracts. He sets friends against friends. He urges us to concentrate on things that are unimportant making us think they are most important. He whispers lies in our ears that we gladly believe because it’s the easy way. His goal is for you and me to go to hell. He works especially hard among Christians to get them to take their eyes of the Cross of Christ. And we listen to him all too often. In fact, if it weren’t for God’s Word and the Sacraments, if it weren’t for Jesus we’d be slaves to Satan and all his works and all his ways.

It’s no different in the Gospel. This possessed man was in the Synagogue. St. John’s is no different than any other church where God’s Word is proclaimed. But Jesus shows he is more powerful than any demon, and even Satan. When he commands the demon out, the evil spirit throws a tantrum by throwing the man on the ground, but he can’t hurt the man anymore. Jesus has commanded him to come out and he must do so immediately. This evil angel, this unclean spirit askes Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us?” Jesus answer is an emphatic “Yes!”

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39, ESV)

Jesus performs this miracle for us. That’s what Luke wants us to see. Jesus rescues us from the power of the Devil.

Next we see Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. She has a very high fever. She is dangerously sick. This is Jesus rescuing us from death. After all illness is just death lying in wait for us. Every time you and I get sick we are pushed closer to the grave. When I had the flu a few months ago I said what a lot of you said. “I just wanted to die and get it over with.” Illness and disease take away our abilities. We can’t take care of ourselves. We can’t take care of other people. When we are sick we are slaves to it. And no matter how hygienic we are we just can’t always avoid it either. We don’t have to look very far to see that this is true either. In Hannah’s class a week ago there were 8 students out at the same time with influenza, almost 30 from the grade school. It spread like wild fire and now it’s in the High School, too. And right here, just look at our prayer list of late. It’s been long. While it’s good that we pray for all these folks, each name on the list is illness taking its toll; complications to child birth, cancer, influenza, pneumonia, blood clots, and more. Each illness is a sign that we will all die. And there isn’t anything we can do about it. Death has us in its grasp. We are slaves to illness and death. Well at least that is without Jesus.

Jesus show us that his rescue again. I think it is very interesting that St. Luke uses the very same word about what Jesus does. He rebuked the demon. He rebuked the fever and it comes right out of her. Now we should see right away that this isn’t healing in the way that we’ve seen it. When someone is released from the hospital we pray for their recovery. Peter’s Mother-in-Law had no recovery. She got up and goes right to work without any effects. Jesus healing shows more than just the removal of the illness. It shows a return to life the way that God has designed it. She was free to do what she was called to do, serve the guests that had come to her house.

Jesus performs this miracle for us. That’s what Luke wants us to see. Jesus rescues us from the power of the death.

But Luke also wants us to know that Jesus does even more yet. The news spreads and people bring all kinds of sick and demon possessed to Jesus. He laid his hands on every one of them and healed them, the text says. He heals them all, every one of them. St. Luke wants us to see Jesus rescuing us, too.

Now there’s one of the three yet to go, and admittedly it’s not mentioned directly in the text. But it is here. Jesus rescues us from sin. You see, Satan has power among us because there is sin among us. Death has power among us because sin is among us. What we see Jesus doing here, is restoring things to the way they should be. Because with out sin there would be no illness and death. Without sin Satan would have no power over us. It is important to see that Jesus healing miracles are always accompanied by Jesus preaching. That’s who the text starts out. Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath. And that’s how the text ends Jesus says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…” What is the good news of the kingdom of God? Back to Luther’s words: I believe that Jesus Christ… has purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [God/Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15, ESV)

That’s it exactly. Through death Jesus rescues us from lifelong slavery to sin, death and the power of the devil. How does Luther say it: not with gold or sliver, but with his holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. You see those miracles we see here, commanding demons and fevers to leave, are just the little ones that point to the really big one, the really important one, the miracle of God-come-in-the-flesh, Jesus Christ. I like how Luke, whose always interested in Jesus direct connection to people, says that Jesus laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. That very hand that he stretched out to heal and cast out demons is the very same hand that he stretched out on the cross. It’s there that he paid the price for sin, not with gold or silver, but with his holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.

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.

Being alive to God in Christ Jesus, means that we don’t have to tolerate Satan’s temptations, we don’t have to live in sin. Satan wants us to think that money is more important than people. Satan wants us to think that the budget is of a higher priority than the telling people of this community that Jesus lived and died and rose again for them. But that’s not being alive to God in Christ Jesus. We don’t have to live that way anymore. Instead we can get our priorities right. Our income is a gift from God, not to be used to purchase the latest and greatest toys for ourselves, but to use in service to our families, our church and our community.

Being alive to God in Christ Jesus means that illness and death are nothing to fear. We may not be able to avoid them, but Jesus tells us that they are done in. Our death isn’t the end but only the beginning of life forever with him. So illness is an opportunity to serve; first, in prayer, then in presence. I would urge you to pay particular attention to those among us who are ill, or suffering, and make an extra effort to touch them, as Jesus did. Some of you have never thought of taking supper to the house of one of our members who is just out of the hospital. Especially, I would urge you to be the loving hand of Jesus to the members of the congregation you don’t even get along with or like. Nothing will break down those cliquish walls we’ve been so eager to build up at Satan’s prompting faster than the loving touch of Jesus Christ.

All of that is possible, not just possible but actually happens, through Jesus. Picture this one last thing. There’s a practice in our church that we don’t use much here, but you can see it in print if you turn to p. 309 in the front of your hymnal. There in red letters a number 6 you’ll see these words.

The minister shall preferably absolve the penitents individually at the altar, laying his hand on each and pronouncing the following absolution…

In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the XSon and of the Holy Spirit.

That’s the touch of Jesus, forgiving you all your sins. As your called and ordained servant of the Word, Jesus speaks his words through my lips and he touches you through my hands. Understand that it’s not my forgiveness that I give to you, it’s his. He purchased and won you from all sins, death and the power of the devil, not with gold or sliver but with his holy and precious blood and innocent suffering and death. Amen.

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

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, Jan 21, 2007, Phil 1:20-26

Philippians 1:20-26

From a Sermon by Dr. James Lamb (Abide With Me, 2006).

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD – Sanctity of Life Sunday

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; But it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, So that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. (Phil 1:20-26, NIV)

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

This week we are observing Sanctity of Life Sunday because the anniversary of Woe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision is January 22. That decision effectively legalized abortion for all nine months of pregnancy for virtually any reason. Since that day in 1979 over 45 million babies have been killed by this procedure. That’s about 3,600 every single day and one every 24 seconds.

Do those numbers make you feel uncomfortable? Well, they should. Some of you might be uncomfortable for another reason, you believe that this issue is political and should be avoided in church. In fact, when the Vote Yes on 6 campaign was active some in our congregation complained that I put up the sign in the parsonage yard. It’s just too political. It’s just too controversial. It’s just too private. Well, you are right, in a way. It is political and controversial. But you are wrong when you say it’s private. You are wrong when you say it isn’t an issue for the church. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” the bible starts. We clearly have a God who wants to be known as the creator of all things. He tells us in His Word that he is the Creator of Life; the Giver of Life and the Redeemer of Life. Killing unborn infants in the womb is an insult to God. That’s exactly what Abortion is, killing of a helpless human life. We have to talk about this issue in church. In fact we’d better start waking up and not callously ignore what is happening in this country every day. Think about it this way. It isn’t something that is killed in an abortion. It’s someone. That someone was created by God. That someone is someone for whom Christ died. In fact, if I didn’t point out the sin of abortion to you, I’d be failing in my role as your pastor.

Now some of you may be among those who have been affected by abortion. Over 36,000 are every day. Maybe that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe you’ve been involved in an abortion directly. Maybe you’ve had one or counseled someone to have one. If the reality of that decision has caught up with you and you are feeling guilty I have Good News for you. In fact, that’s another reason why the church can’t remain silent on this topic. We must talk about the sin of abortion to be able to assure those who have been caught up in it that God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ even covers this sin. Because of Jesus death on the cross for you, you can begin again in Him, with hope and healing.

So it is time to talk about abortion in church. But today we aren’t going to talk about abortion directly. Instead we are going to talk about the legacy of abortion has given us. It is a legacy that effects us all, especially the elderly, the disabled, and the cronically and terminally ill. Because we so readily accept abortion, the killing of an innocent child as a means to dispose of a problem, we very easily accept the idea that certain people are better off dead. A couple of years ago we saw it very clearly in the case of Teri Schiavo. Lot’s of people thought she was better off dead. Some of you may have though so. But we don’t have to go that far to get personally entangled in this issue. Maybe you have someone who you care for who is old or ill, someone that you’ve thought would be better off dead. Maybe someone you care for has expressed the worry of being a burden to the family, or wondered what possible good they could do, or what purpose God could still have for them. I’ve been with older folks who have asked the question, “Why doesn’t God just take me home?”

If you’ve felt this way, or know people who have felt this way, I’ve got good news for you. Jesus is able to work through your life and your death. Christ can be exalted in either. It is the abiding presence of Jesus that enables us to both live and to die in joyful faith. This congregation’s favorite hymn is Abide With Me. That’s exactly what it is talking about. “In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”

The second reading for today is from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he says:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; But it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, So that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. (Phil 1:20-26, NIV)

St. Paul anticipates death. He’s in prison and doesn’t know what will happen to him. But he is ready for death. All that he wants is for Christ to be exalted in his death. He says, “do die is gain” and “to depart and be with Christ is better by far.” That confidence is what exults Jesus, that is makes Jesus the most important thing. Paul is confident, not because he is strong, but because of all that Jesus has done for him. Jesus life, death and resurrection give Paul to confidence to know that death isn’t the end for him.

Is it OK to want to join Paul and be with Christ? Is it OK to want our friends and family members to have and end of their pain and sorrow in death? You know it would be better. You know it would be an end of pain. The answer is yes it is OK. In fact, when faith like that is expressed Christ is exalted. Christ becomes the all important thing because He is the one who gives confidence to believe that this is true. When we believe in the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation won by Jesus on the cross; when we believe that his resurrection points to our resurrection that’s Christ’s abiding presence in our lives. He comforts us, calms our fears, and gives us patients to wait for his timing in these matters. We pray in the hymn, “in death, Oh Lord, abide with me.”

Death isn’t the only possibility for Paul. He seems pretty confident that he will live longer yet. And in that case he knows that Christ will be exalted, too. He says it would be “far better” for him if he should die but “more necessary” that he live a little while longer. God has “fruitful labor” planned for him. Paul writes, “through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” Christ will be exalted through His abiding presence as He works in Paul’s life.

Death isn’t the only possibility for the elderly, ill, disabled or even the unconscious. People in these situations can live many years. As we said it would be “far better” for them to die and be with Christ. But it is God who is in charge of their time of death. There is a children’s book by Joanne Marxhausen, If I Should Die, If I Should Live (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1975). It says “God will decide when I should die, and the time will be just right . . . because God is very wise.” But as long as we live, as long as God gives us life, we must believe that in God’s Wisdom it is “more necessary” for life to continue, no matter what that life is like. As long as God grants life, he gives meaning and purpose to that life. God has “fruitful labor” in mind, no matter what it looks like from our perspective.

We must not forget that God can do whatever he wishes. He doesn’t only use healthy people to accomplish his purposes. We are not in a position to judge things from God’s perspective. Christ was exalted in Paul because Christ was at work in Paul’s life. We are very limiting of God if we think that He can’t use whom ever He wishes to accomplish his good purposes. He can work in your life. He can work in my life. He can work in the life of ill people and even the life of a bed-ridden grandma who doesn’t even know where she is or who she is with. He is God! He is exalted because of what He does in our lives, not because of what we do. In fact, you could say that the less we are able to do the more he is exalted as He does in us what we can’t do for ourselves.

I once visited with a man who was dying of cancer. He was a big and strong man who God had used to care for many people. He raised a large family, supported the church, and worked hard to improve the community. But it was faith that told him in his illness it was time for others to have the opportunity to practice their faith by serving him. It wasn’t easy to let that happen. He struggled with his own pride until the very day he died, but the Holy Spirit showed him again and again how others were able to grow in faith because they could serve.

It is the bible that tells us that when we serve those in need, we are serving Christ himself. Think of it. When we are ill or dying, when grandma is being served by those around her she may well be Christ to those who are serving. The same is true of all the Teri Schiavo’s out there, those who are brain damaged and those we so easily say would be “better off dead.” Jesus may not be done exalting himself through them yet.

We never know how God is going to work in people’s lives. We never know how Christ’s abiding presence may show itself. What we do know is that Christ is always at work. Remember that as long as God gives the gift of life, God gives purpose to life. As long as God gives life, he gives value to life. That’s why in the hymn we pray “in life, O Lord, abide with me.”

You and I live in a culture that is more and more seeing death as a solution for those who are “better off dead.” St. Paul said it is better for Christians to be “with Christ.” But he also reminds us that the timing of death belongs to God alone. If he continues to give life, he gives life purpose. But you see, whether we live or die we know that Christ is at work and that He will be exalted. And so we pray, “Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes. Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. In life, in death, O Lord. Abide with me.” Amen.

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

Sunday, January 14, 2007

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, John 2:1-11, Jan 14, 2007

John 2.1-11

Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 14, 2007

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11, ESV)

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

“Dad, you’ll never guess what we found in the yard!”

That’s the first thing Miciah said to me when I saw her at the end of one of the work days on our Mission Trip to New Orleans. We had been divided into different work groups.

“We were hauling out a pile of debris out of the back yard, and at the bottom was a stop sign.” She popped up a picture on her digital camera. The picture showed the classic white and red sign with a few dings and scratches. When the hurricane blew it must have come loose of its post. When the levy broke and the flood waters raced down the streets it dumped the sign and all that debris in a big pile right there in that back yard. Now that stop sign was more than just a piece of trash. That sign was a sign of something powerful that had happened. It was a sign that pointed to the power of Katrina that happened over 14 months ago; wind so strong it can tear a sign from a post; water flowing at such a rate that it carries bricks, cinderblocks, branches, glass, mud and a stop sign, and deposits them in a big pile in a back yard with the stop sign at the very bottom. Now, you can go over to the youth room at Divine Shepherd, Blackhawk, SD and see that sign tacked up on the all. As it hangs there it’s a sign of something very powerful. Actually, two things; one the awesome power of a hurricane and a flood; and the even more awesome power of the Holy Spirit that moved a Youth Group from South Dakota to give the hope of God’s love in Jesus to people still living in the wake Katrina’s destruction. Kind of like God giving a hug of reassurance to people who really need it. (Miciah will tell you more about the Mission trip in a few weeks).

Now here in the Gospel lesson for today St. John tells us about a sign, kind of like that stop sign. He says, that Jesus turning water into wine was, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. We just heard his account and we know it well. Jesus, his disciples and Mary his mother are quietly enjoying the wedding feast. The unthinkable happens, the wine runs out. Mary asks Jesus to do something about it. Jesus says “not yet.” Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says. Jesus tells them to fill these very large water jars used for ceremonial washing with water “to the brim” and take it out and take it to the steward. Water goes in the jars, wine comes out. And really good wine, “you’ve saved the best for last!” the person in charge of the feast says.

Jesus changes water into wine. We’ve probably heard many explanations of exactly what this miracle is all about, from Jesus blessing marriage, to Jesus showing that drinking alcohol isn’t in and of itself a sin (after all he made nearly 200 gallons!). Now John tells us exactly why he put this account in his book. By this sign, St. John tells us Jesus manifested his glory. Manifested is one of those fancy church words that means: to shine the light on, to show, to make clear. In this miracle sign Jesus tells us who he is. In this miracles sign Jesus tells us why God was born in human flesh. If you have any doubts about that just listen to what John tells us at the end of his Gospel:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31, ESV)

And that’s exactly what happened at the wedding of Cana. The last thing John tells us about it all is that his disciples believed in him. Now John tells you and me this story so that we too can have our faith in Jesus strengthened, so that we can believe that he is our Savior from sin, and that we poor sinners gathered in his name more than 2000 years later… can have life in his name.

So, what’s the sign? Well, Martin Luther said that a sign (as John is using it here) is something that has something visible for faith to hold on to. God loves to give us exactly what we need for faith to hold on to. God knows how human beings work. He knows that we need things to be concrete and tangible. He knows the old saying “Seeing is believing.” In the Old Testament, Luther says, [God gave] the pillar of fire, the cloud, the mercy seat; in the New Testament Baptism the Lord’s Supper and ministry of the Word[1], and the like. By means of these God shows us, as by a visible sign, that He is with us, takes care of us, and is favorably inclined toward us. (LW 1:71)

So here at this wedding, Jesus shows that he is not only concerned with people but also such minor details as weather there is enough wine for a wedding celebration. He showed that God was present there, in love and care for people. He used these large jars set aside for cleaning to make wine, wine like the wine he uses to give to you and me the forgiveness he won at the cross. In the wine he gives to you and me he is also present to take care of us. Have you ever thought about the Lord’s Supper that way? As a sign that God is with us to take care of us and is favorably inclined toward us. There in broken bread and poured out wine we are reminded of Jesus death, we are reminded of how he bled and died for our sins. We are reminded how he …loved the world, that he gave [himself], that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV) Jesus gives us his very own body and blood, really and truly present, as a visible sign of what he did for us on the cross. We come to this altar and drink wine and eat bread, a meal for our body; and in, with and under those touchable, taste-able things we receive the very body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus supplies us with all we need for eternal life right here. He gives us everything that we need, and then he gives us even more. Jesus fills our spiritual needs and our physical needs. These are signs for faith to hold on to. It’s just like the Catechism confesses says:

What is the benefit of this eating and drinking? These words, "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins," show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.


I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

Now some of you may be offended, but I’ve never understood how God can offer such a marvelous gift as the Lord’s Supper to his people and we say that we don’t need it. And frankly, I’ve never understood the idea that once a month is enough of this great gift. I think the problem is we think strong faith is that which doesn’t need God’s gifts very often, when exactly the opposite is really true. Strong faith clings to the gift of forgiveness that God gives every single day and longs to receive them as often as possible. You see, when we think we don’t need God and his activity in our lives that’s having faith in us. Faith in God means leaning on him in all things.

Jesus turns water into wine. He did it in at the wedding in Cana and he does it today. I think it is Mary who shows us what it all about. When the problem pops us, she turns to her Lord in faith. Oh sure, some say she was just turning to a faithful son for help, but I think it’s more than that. Remember how she reacted when the Angel came to her and said “you will conceive and bear a son..”? “I am the Lord’s servant let it be done to me as you have said.” When the wine runs out she goes to Jesus for help and then in faith she responds by telling the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” She doesn’t know what Jesus is going to do. She just places the problem in his hands and gets ready for his answer and action. Jesus turns the water into wine. He provides all that is needed and then some. It’s the best wine ever.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t always exhibit that kind of faith. It’s difficult to “let go and let God.” There are even times when I think I’ve done just that and as it turns out I’ve been depending on myself again. Here’s a picture I want you to keep in mind. I got this one from Wally. It’s a puzzle he put together. I’ve got it set outside my office door at the parsonage. It’s behind the main door so those of you who’ve visited and just stood in the door haven’t seen it, but it’s right where I can see when I go out of the office. This, I think, is a picture of Jesus at the wedding of Cana. This is what Jesus is doing there. Look at how he embraces this person. Look at the love in his face. I think you can see the worries and care of this man just melting away with Jesus loving hug. And look what the man is doing… nothing. He’s receiving the gift that he just doesn’t deserve, the love of God in Jesus Christ. It’s just as Luther said he shows us by a visible sign, that He is with us, takes care of us, and is favorably inclined toward us. Got troubles? I do, every day. You do to. That’s life in the 21st century. That’s human life since our parents in the Garden of Eden tried to run it by themselves, without God. That’s life since you and I try to run it ourselves without God. Well God does a miracle right here too. He is present to take care of us. Now as great as this picture is… right here God gives you something even better. It’s real food for real people; bread and wine to satisfy the stomach; Jesus’ body and blood to satisfy the spirit. Here is a very powerful sign, a very powerful action where God himself is present to save. Here shows you his love for you in his death at the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. Here he tells you that he is with you always and nothing can separate you from him. It’s a sign. It’s a miracle. It is God right here for you. Amen.

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

[1] Luther here is likely referring to the Office of the Holy Ministry, i.e. Pastors.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

First Sunday after the Epiphany, The Baptism of Our Lord, Jan 7, 2007, Luke 3:15-17; 21-22

Luke3v15-17, 21-22

Epiphany 1, Baptism of our Lord, January 7, 2007

St. John’s, Howard, SD

(from an outline by Mark Wangerin)

15As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Luke 3:15-17 (ESV)

21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22 (ESV)

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

I don’t know if you remember those old commercials for Coca-Cola. “It’s the real thing!” they said. They were saying that Coke was the real cola, and all the others were imposters. Right here in town we have Dakota Beef, packing beef that’s the ‘real thing’ without preservatives, chemicals, hormones, and steroids. ‘Organic’ food is very popular in grocery stores these days. Increasingly people want only natural, real products. Only the ‘real thing’, no substitutes will do. The gospel lesson for today is also about ‘the real thing.’ But this real thing is much more important than a pound of ‘Dakota Beef’ or a sugary drink. The real thing St. Luke is talking about here is Jesus Christ our Lord.

Right away, as you read this lesson, you see people asking the ‘real thing’ question. They want to know if John the Baptist is the expected Messiah. “Are you the Christ?” They asked themselves ‘in their hearts’. It’s not really a strange question. John’s ministry was having an effect on people. There were large crowds, tax collectors, soldiers, religious leaders, coming to see who John was and what he was saying. It’s a very natural question for a group of people who are expecting something to happen to help them out from under the thumb of the Romans. At that time, they were not a free people. They lived in an occupied land. Foreign soldiers patrolled the streets, and harassed them. Corrupt government officials over taxed them. It would have been easy for them to look back, remember how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, and expect that God would do something great again. In their minds if they were looking for someone to take on the Romans, he was going to have to be a strong talking person. And the entire thing that John said only heightened their expectations. “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” he shouted to people. He let them know that things were going to change. And they were expecting a Messiah. All over in the Old Testament, their Bible, were prophecies that told them to be ready. John seemed to fit the bill. They wanted to know if he was the “real thing.”

But, John made it very clear. “No, I am not! No matter what you may think you are seeing, when the ‘real thing’ comes, he’s going to do greater things than I do. In fact, I’m so far beneath him, that I’m not even worthy to tie his shoes.” John was saying that compared to the real Messiah, he was only a slave. Slaves were the ones who had the job of tying and untying their master’s shoes. John says that the coming one, the real thing, would do much greater things than he was doing.

Even the thing that John was most known for was less than ‘the real thing.’ John says that the baptism he was doing was only with water, but the ‘real thing’ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John’s baptism was only in preparation of the ‘real thing’ to come. He shouted at the people reminding them that they were all sinful. “You brood of vipers! You need forgiveness that you can only receive from God.” The people responded to John’s message and were baptized in the water of the Jordan River. It was a baptism in response to God’s words of forgiveness. ‘The greater one’, ‘the Real Thing’ that John was preparing them to meet would have a different kind of baptism for the people, “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

John’s message gathered crowds of people, but the ‘real harvest’ was in the hands of the ‘real thing’ to come. Just look at the words he uses to describe what the Messiah would do! The winnowing fork was used to separate the chaff from the grain. You probably know all about this the old way of doing the harvest better than I do. The stalks of grain were brought to the ‘threshing floor’ from the field. It was beat with boards to separate the grain and then the winnowing fork was used to throw it up in to the air so that the wind would blow away the chaff. The grain falls back to the floor. Notice how John says that the Messiah will ‘clear’ the threshing floor. He will thoroughly clean it; every piece of grain will be taken care of. All of the chaff will be burnt in the fire. It’s a real harvest to be done by the real messiah.

And the real Messiah comes.

21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22 (ESV)

Jesus is baptized. After all of John’s preparation, Jesus is baptized. It is rather funny, that the way St. Luke writes it Jesus almost seems anonymous in the crowd. With all those people, Jesus was also baptized. And yet, Jesus baptism is a very important part of His ministry. It is the public proclamation of what He has come to do and that what He has come to do begins right now. And John the Baptizer isn’t even mentioned. Of course John is the one who baptized Jesus, but Jesus is the focus. John is the lesser. Jesus is the most important. John disappears and Jesus stands alone. The writer wants us to know that. And John would agree. In another place he says, “I must decrease so he can increase.”

Jesus is the ‘real thing.’ And just in case people weren’t sure, the Holy Spirit makes an appearance, ‘in bodily form.’ St. Luke gives us this important detail. The Spirit’s appearance here isn’t a secret thing only John and Jesus saw, but ‘bodily’ in the form of a dove (pigeon). And also God the Father makes His appearance too. He speaks from heaven. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. You are the real thing. You are my promise of forgiveness of sins fulfilled.” We heard something similar to those words in the reading from Isaiah. Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. Isaiah 42:1 (ESV) The work of the ‘real thing’ is the work of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

What is the work of the Real Thing? Well, it’s all spelled out for us in John’s simple statement that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Just as the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus, so also he will pour out the Spirit on all those who are baptized in His name. In a few days we’ll be doing it again here… we will gather a family and newborn infant around this font and pour water on her head. And according to Jesus promise, in the same way that he was baptized, in the same way that the Holy Spirit came to him, the Holy Spirit will come to that child here. Our newest sister in Christ will begin their life of faith with baptism… a life lived in the shadow of the life Jesus lived for her.

And Jesus says that with the Spirit comes fire. John was really talking about God’s anger, His wrath over sin. That’s what the fire is. In the Old Testament, when it talks about God’s reaction to sin it talks about His anger burning. But Jesus was perfect without sin, he doesn’t deserve God’s anger and punishment, and yet it is placed on him. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We fully see God’s anger, his disapproval of sin, the punishment that sin deserves, when we see that Lamb sacrificed on the cross. God’s anger burns against Jesus. The full force of His disapproval over human sin is poured out on His only son instead of you and me. He actually turns away from Jesus and allows him to suffer the whole punishment of sin, the eternal punishment of sin, and sins wages death. That’s the baptism of fire, the Baptize was talking about. The Spirit who descends on Jesus brings not only God’s favor but also God’s judgment. For you and me, for the person we will next baptize here, that punishment is also brought to us in the Baptism that is given in Jesus name. When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan river, when Jesus hangs on the cross suffering and dying, He stands in our place to receive the fire, the wrath, the anger of God over our sin. We are baptized into his life, his death and his resurrection. That’s a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

Jesus is the Real Thing. After he suffered the fire of God’s anger, after he bled and died on the cross, after he was place in a cave for burial, he rose again from death. The punishment, the fire of God was taken to the grave, but Jesus Christ rose again to life. That’s something only the Real Thing can do. It proves he’s no imitation Savior. It proves that the punishment he bore was paid in full. It’s proof to you and me, who are connected to him by the Baptism of the Spirit and fire, that the work that he did was finished, and pleasing to God.

Now what about you? Well, you are the Baptized children of God. You have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire. Weather it happened here, or over in the parsonage, at home, or even and entirely different Christian church altogether. That baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit means that when you sin, when you fall short of God’s plans and desires for your life; when you hurt your neighbor; when you yell at your children for no good reason; when you act selfish when you know you should be helping someone else; you have a place to go. You don’t have to worry about God’s anger over your failure. When water was splashed over your head, your sin was washed away to Jesus. And God’s fire, his over your sin extinguished on the cross. That’s exactly why we confess our sins here. We are reliving our Baptism, seeing our sin, and seeing our Savior.

So, you can live differently. When you yell at your children, you can ask for forgiveness and move on to a better way of handling them. When you are selfish, you can set that aside and be helpful instead. You can serve by doing whatever God has called you to do in your everyday work. When you are hurtful you can do what is necessary to set things right again. That’s the Holy Spirit working in you through God’s Word. That’s Jesus the Real Thing motivating you to live a life more like his.

All in all, nothing else really matters, except Jesus Christ, the Real Thing. He, who was baptized in the Jordan, lived, suffered, died and rose again. John pointed to him as the most important. We recognize him as the most important thing in our lives. He is the beloved Son of the Father. Jesus Christ is the Real Thing. Amen.

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