Thursday, December 31, 2009
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:18-21, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
My older brother had an interesting tradition that he and his wife followed. When they had children the name that was given to the baby wasn’t spoken until the very moment the church gathered around the baptismal font and said, “Luke Watt, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” They even held off printing the name on the birth certificate until the baby was named at baptism. I always thought it was a nice tradition. It isn’t new; it was a common practice in the old world. It was a common practice in bible times (With the noted difference that instead of Baptism the child was named at the time of his circumcision).
The Gospel lesson for New Year’s Day talks about just one such instance.
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Lk 2:21, ESV)
Now you might not realize it but “Jesus” was a common name in those days. Jesus, that name that was picked by his heavenly Father, was also the name of a national hero. Jesus’ name is really the name Joshua. Joshua was the leader who took over after Moses. He led the people and conquered the land for God and his people. You probably remember the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho, where they marched around the city and the city walls came tumbling down. The name Joshua (and also Jesus) means “God Saves.” You can understand how it fits the Joshua who God used to bring his people into the land that He promised them. And you can see how it fits Our Savior very well, too. The angel that visited Joseph made it clear: …you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Even though Jesus had a common name, he was very uncommon. In fact, no one like him had ever been born before, and none like him will ever be born again. Jesus name fits him like no other name. Jesus – God Saves – is God who saves. That eight day old child who was circumcised was not just a human baby but he was also God, born into the world to save us from our sins. He did it by dying on the cross.
When we consider the birth of Jesus and his circumcision we are thinking and talking about his humanity. We are thinking about what it means that God humbled himself to become a man. St. Paul writes about it for us to contemplate:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Php 2:5-8, ESV)
Jesus wasn’t just another Joshua. He wasn’t just another great leader. Jesus was God, come in human flesh to do very much more than give the people land. When Jesus was a grown man, he walked on water, healed the sick, and even raised the dead back to life. He came to free people from sin and death. People around him were slow to understand what the demons declared right away. I know who you are—the Holy One of God! (Mark 1:24 ESV), they said.
You may have seen that graffiti spray painted on some wall somewhere. “Jesus Saves.” Well, it is true. He is aptly named. “God saves through Jesus.” Jesus is “God Saves.” That’s the name that we want to think about some more today. It’s important because it’s not just God-in-the-flesh’s name. It’s the name that is also put on you.
Baptized into your name most holy,
O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
I claim a place, though weak and lowly,
Among your seed, your chosen host.
Buried with Christ and dead to sin,
I have your Spirit now within.
That’s talking about Baptism. If you talk at all about Jesus name you eventually have to get to baptism. That’s because it’s baptism that God used to bring “God Saves” right to you. In baptism God is at work doing something. He’s performing an adoption. In an adoption a young person takes the name of his new family. That new name says which family they belong to. A person who is baptized takes a new name, too. God’s name, more specifically Jesus name, is put on us. It tells us whose we are. It tells us who we belong to. I have a niece that’s the same age as my daughter. When we go home for Christmas Grandma always seems to get them the same gifts. Right away when the presents are opened the first thing Grandma says is, “Let’s put your name on that so we can tell them apart.” The name identifies ownership. God’s name on you identifies his ownership of you, too.
Before you were baptized whose where you? God tells us that everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. (John 8:34 ESV). We think we belong to ourselves. We think that we are capable of living our lives without God. We think that if we just get our act together, we’d be able to make it on our own. But the nature of sin is that it affects everything we do. As we live our lives it is pretty obvious. It’s not just our lives are full of accidents. In our hearts we see that we really belong to sin. We are enslaved to it. There isn’t any way to change the selfishness that controls our thoughts. There was a young child who was with mom Christmas shopping. Amazingly he found gifts for his brothers and sisters in the first isle he was in. When that task was done he quickly asked, “Now can we look for my presents?” The only difference between that child and you and me is that we have learned to hide our greed. We’ve learned to cover up what’s in our hearts. We haven’t gotten rid of it at all. We are still slaves to sin.
When Jesus comes to us with his name in baptism he changes who owns us. He claims us for God. Jesus, whose name is God saves, saves us from our sin.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 Jn 3:1a, ESV)
What happens is this: When you are baptized God puts Jesus name on you, and with Jesus name comes everything that Jesus did for you. He lived a perfect life, it is given to you. He died for sin. His death is given to you, too. That’s how it happens that in his death on the cross, Jesus dies for you.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Ga 2:19-20, ESV)
So that sin that you and I hide, that sin is sin that we were enslaved in. It isn’t our owner anymore. We have been set free from it by Jesus death, our death.
It’s a New Year. You can probably come up with at thousand things for New Year’s resolutions. So could I. But maybe this year instead of a resolution you can just remember something. Remember that you have been given Jesus name. You’ve got lots of new challenges coming this year. You’ve got lots of new troubles coming this year. But the thing that makes the difference for you and me isn’t that we make promises to ourselves about how we are going to be different. The thing that really makes a difference for us is that we have been made different already. We have died to sin, and are made alive to Jesus. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God. We are dead to sin and alive to Christ. (Romans 6:11). The thing that really makes a difference for you and me this coming year is that God has made us His and placed His name on us. The name that He gives you and me says it all. The name is Jesus, God saves. Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen
Monday, December 28, 2009
4But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
One of the greatest joys in the world is looking at, or even holding, a baby. It doesn’t matter what kind of a mood you are in, when you get a baby in your arms you automatically go into ‘care’ mode. Anger drips away as you look into a baby’s eye. And if it smiles at you, all you can do is melt. If the baby is your own flesh and blood, if you carried it those nine months of nurture, that baby may even hold the whole future in its face. It’s impossible to fell bad or think evil thoughts as you look at a baby in your arms.
I think that’s one of the reasons why people like Christmas so much. It’s all centered on a baby. It’s what makes the holiday cross over so many boundaries. People understand Christmas, because they understand babies. And they relate to it. If you say to people, “the goodness and loving kindness of God is shown in that baby in the manger.” They’ll pretty much know what you are talking about. A baby is goodness and loving kindness personified. If someone were going to make a new designer holiday, the best kind would be one that was wrapped up in the symbolism of a baby.
Christmas isn’t a designer holiday, or even a manufactured holiday. But it is about a baby. It’s a holiday about a real live baby not a symbolic one or a pretend one. All those years ago in that stable a real live mother actually gave birth to a real live flesh and blood baby. I’m sure that Mary and Joseph had many of the same feelings, fears and joys that all parents have when a child is born. And when they held their baby in their arms, they were looking the future in the face. Right there in their presence was the goodness and loving kindness of God. They could reach out and touch it, and hold it, and caress it. It’s as if God were saying, as much as you love this baby, I love you. As much as you will be father and mother to him, I care for your. Yes, that baby, born in an animal shelter is God’s declaration of how much He loves human beings.
And it seems that love is a part of the holiday, too. You see things in people this time of year that you don’t see any other time. In some ways, we get the feeling that this time of year shows the ‘real character’ of people. They just seem to care more, help more, and love more. Red buckets are hung by ringing bells, toys for tots are stuffed in boxes all over town, people even give more blood at this time of year than any other. It’s nice that, for a few weeks at least, people show that kind of love for one another. But before we pat ourselves on the shoulders for a ‘job well done’ we should remember that even a full year full of Christmases wouldn’t be enough to make up for all the ugliness, pain and selfishness that people inflict on one another for the rest of the year. Christmas good deeds aren’t the ‘real character’ of people. The ‘real character’ of all people is sin.
Actually, we are exactly the opposite of the ‘goodness and loving kindness’ shown to us at Christmas time. How many different ways have been invented by people to cause each other pain? Christmas joy is the blip on the radar; it’s the exception not the rule. A quick perusal of the news will quickly confirm it. The top stories of most every day show the dark nature of human beings. Murder, theft, abuse, and greed top the list of evils. And worst of all, children are often the targets of those same evils.
Now, let’s make it personal. It’s one thing to point to the world out there and say that it’s full of evil people, it’s quite another to turn that finger on ourselves. But that’s exactly what we have to do. We can see our own guilt very quickly by just looking at one of God’s Ten Commandments. “You shall not kill.” It says. Jesus, that lovable little baby accuses us when he says, “22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. Matthew 5:22 (ESV)” Who among you hasn’t been angry? I know I’ve been angry with someone and recently, even during the month of December! The time when there is suppose to be ‘peace on earth,’ the peace was shattered by anger. Insults are the same and even calling someone a fool. What Jesus is really saying is that you don’t have to spill someone’s blood to violate God’s will for your life. Just like everyone else on the planet, your ‘real character’ isn’t shown at Christmas. There is blackness in your heart that you can’t erase with any amount of ‘good deeds’ at Christmas time. No matter how much ‘good’ you do, that evil will still be there and will spill out again.
You might be able to fool the people who live around you by doing good things, but God sees your heart. God sees my heart. He sees the evil, the selfishness, and the deceit that is there. And God doesn’t judge the things we do by how good they are; He judges the things we do by our hearts. When He looks into our hearts, He sees that we don’t deserve goodness and loving kindness at all. What we really deserve is punishment.
But it’s Christmas; can’t we put aside that punishment stuff for even one day? Can’t we just enjoy the “Joy” of the season without talking about sin, death and hell? Can’t we just look at the stable and revel in the goodness and the loving kindness that we see there in a newborn baby?
That is precisely the point. The text for this message says when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, that’s what the Baby is all about, the goodness and loving kindness of God appearing. It comes in a little baby wrapped in rags. It comes with poor parents and even poorer shepherds that looked on. It comes in the middle of a stable instead of a birthing room. The goodness and loving kindness of God comes in a Baby, Jesus. We look with loving kindness on this Baby not just because he is a baby, but because he came for punishment.
In goodness and loving kindness, God sent Jesus to suffer punishment for us. That’s the mercy of God. That instead of punishment for our sin, God punishes Jesus. We deserve it. Jesus takes it. Instead of turning away from you and me, God turns away from Jesus and allows Him to be nailed to the cross, to bleed and die in great pain. God looks at His Son and deals out punishment to Him, and goodness and loving kindness to you and me. That’s a different way to look at a baby. But that’s the only way to look at this Baby. If we fail to see the Baby Jesus as the one-and-the-same Jesus bleeding on the cross, the joy we have at Christmas is meaningless.
But God’s goodness and loving kindness goes way beyond the punishment of Jesus in our place. There is more to what this Baby came to do than die (although that is essential!). In a few months, we’ll put these white cloths back on the altar again and we’ll say to each other “He is Risen!” The baby in the manger grows up to die, but more importantly, He grows us to rise again from death. The loving kindness of God goes so far that God isn’t content with just paying the penalty for our sin; He wants us to live forever. That’s God’s ultimate act of kindness for us. He gives us the resurrection of Jesus. It’s the washing of regeneration and renewal that we read a few moments ago. God makes us clean; and regenerates us, that is makes us a new person, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our punishment is His and so is His coming back to life is ours. We inherit eternal life in Jesus.
Now let’s make this personal, too. Jesus didn’t come just for the multitudes of people living everywhere out there. He came for you. That little baby was born in the manger for you. He lived and He died for you. The punishment He suffered is the punishment you deserved. The new life that He rose from the dead to live is yours, too. You are a child of God! How do you know? Well, it’s not because of anything you’ve done. Remember he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy. You’ve been adopted. You’ve been washed and regenerated. God poured out on you all of this when He poured over your head, water together with His words of forgiveness and life. Baptism is God’s promise to you, that all that Jesus did He did for you. That’s the goodness and loving kindness of God made personal for you.
So, all of Christmas is wrapped up right here in the joy of seeing a baby. When we see a baby, we know what goodness and loving-kindness is. We know it because we feel it; it’s automatic; it comes with the territory. Babies bring it out in us. Maybe that’s part of the reason Jesus came as a baby, to show us that that’s how God looks at you and me. To show us a love so great that Jesus lived and died and rose again to give us life forever. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Excellent post by Rev. Paul McCain.
I can’t think of a more foolish attitude I harbor at times than when I look back on previous generations and assume they were ignorant, unenlightened, unaware and totally outside of what I’m thinking and experiencing today. I was reminded of something the British writer G.K. Chesterton wrote in his book Orthodoxy (Chapter 4):
“Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.”
Monday, December 14, 2009
14Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 15The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. 16On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. 17The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:14-17 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Rejoice! Actually today is called “Rejoice Sunday!” That’s why today we light the pink candle in the advent wreath. Today is a day of rejoicing. But, Pastor we’ve been rejoicing already. We’ve been Christmas shopping. We’ve been attending parties. We’ve been setting up the Christmas tree. After all ‘tis the season to be jolly! We are happy that Christmas is coming! And so we are… and so we should be.
That’s what this text is talking about. Sing aloud! It says, shout, rejoice and exult. (I’m not sure the last time I ‘exulted’ but I’m sure it was fun! It actually means ‘leap for joy’). Finally, we’re getting to the part of the season before Christmas we really enjoy. But what is there really to be happy about. All told, the season is really a stressful time. On top of all of our regular problems, paying bills, meeting work obligations, taking care of our families, running here and there for the kids, and on and on… we’ve got all those extra Christmas things to deal with. Extra cooking, extra cleaning, extra traveling, extra cards and letters to write, extra shopping, and even more… It’s easy to say we should be rejoicing in the Christmas spirit but everyone really knows how hard it is.
Actually, the Prophet Zephaniah knew what you are going through. Well, not precisely you, but he knew about people just like you. When he was preaching to the Jews, things were beginning to look very bad. The political situation was becoming increasingly dangerous; one of Israel’s favorite kings had been killed in battle. It was becoming very clear that they were minor pawns on the world stage of nations. More and more, there was less and less to rejoice about. Added on to the regular problems of living in their day and age, there were all these extra things to worry about. They were loaded down with the things of life, overwhelmed with trouble.
And most of Zephaniah’s message really didn’t help. The first part of his book didn’t leave much doubt as to what was going to happen. God’s judgment was coming. There was going to be lots more trouble. There was going to be foreign armies at the gates and their cities were going to burn. There was going to be punishment from God for forgetting the special relationship they had with the God who rescued them from slavery in Egypt. There wasn’t much to rejoice about. And still Zephaniah says rejoice. And there was reason to rejoice. It’s because of something that’s repeated in Zephaniah’s message; one phrase that makes all the difference for God’s people. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst. And The Lord your God, is in your midst. You see, no matter how bad it was going to be, Zephaniah gave God’s promise that God would be with His people, right there in the middle of them, right there while they were bearing the worst of it, God was going to be there. And that… was really a reason for joy… a reason for rejoicing. It is in fact such a strong promise that Zephaniah gives them the words that they will be saying. He says, “Look it’s going to be so good when all this is over your going to want to start rejoicing right now!”
A father knocks on his daughter door. She is crying on her bed because she has received punishment for disobeying. “Can I come in honey?” he says. Quietly he enters and sits beside her on the bed. He folds her into his arms. “It’s ok, your mother and I still love you. It won’t be long and your grounding will be over. You can start rejoicing right now!”
But in Zephaniah’s case its even more than that. The Lord has taken away the judgments against you. And he is not just talking about small claims court here, or the end of a period of grounding. He’s actually talking about the death sentence. He is saying that you deserve death but God is going to set aside the verdict. He is going to take care of you so you will not be punished. It is going to happen for you. And it is so sure that you may as well begin the celebration right now!
A father went to tuck his excited children in bed. They were having a hard time getting to sleep because they were so excited. You see, tomorrow they were going to the zoo. It was a trip they had been expecting for a long time. They knew how much fun they were going to have. Dad sat gently tucking in the blankets around them, recounting all they were going to do… “Will we see lions?” “Of course, a great many I suppose.” “How about tigers?” “Yes, tigers too! Now please try to go to sleep.” “But Dad, I can’t sleep, I’m just too excited.” One of the boys said, fidgeting under the covers. The older clutched his pillow and looked up at his father. “Dad,” he said, “I just want to thank you for tomorrow.” That’s what Zephaniah was talking about. Thanking God for his presence now and thanking God for what He will do tomorrow.
Well, it’s all fine and good for those folks back then. They had lots to be thankful for. They had God in their midst. I’m not really sure we want God around us all the time. I mean, so much of what we say and do isn’t really the kind of stuff we’d share with God anyway. Especially the troubles we’re having. If God were here, the season would really have to be jolly wouldn’t it? God doesn’t’ really fit here in the middle of my holiday depression. He doesn’t really fit here along with my broken family (there’s nothing like a little holiday stress to bring out the worst in us). God doesn’t really fit in the holiday hassle of shop-till-you-drop overspending, and the insecurity of knowing that the bills are going to come due next month. God doesn’t fit in my holiday were I miss my loved ones who have died this year. Add all of that on to my regular life stress and there’s not much to rejoice about, is there? God doesn’t really fit in the middle of my messy world.
But you see, that’s exactly what Christmas is. God in our midst, God with us, right in the middle of our messy lives. He is a mighty one who will save, Zephaniah says. And he’s not just talking to long dead people in the Middle East. He’s talking to you and me. Christmas is the holiday where we celebrate the fact that God did actually, physically come right into our messy world. He showed up right in our midst, in the middle of our messed up families and broken dreams. God became flesh, that is, He took on a human body and soul, a whole human life; Birth and death, sorrow and pain, joy and laughter. He was as real, as flesh-and-blood, as the person sitting next to you. He breathed the world’s air, with all its foul smells as well as its sweet smells. He experienced human life, in the same way that you do. Right in the middle of depressed people with broken families and insecurity just like yours. God in your midst. Jesus didn’t just come to be close to you. But he came to rescue you from the very thing that separates you from God in the first place. Jesus Christ, God and man, lived, died, and rose again, to save you from sin. Sin is what keeps you apart from God. That’s because sin is really humans pushing God away; people wanting God to be as far away as possible, out of sight out of mind. Sin is people rejecting the God who created them and loves for them. And the punishment that that deserves is taken up by Jesus Christ, and nailed to the cross with Him. Your punishment paid for by the living-in-your- midst Jesus Christ. And all that pain and suffering, all that sorrow and separation, comes to you because of sin was laid upon Jesus. That’s the real joy of the season. You see, God belongs right were He says He’ll be, in your midst to save you.
Ah, you say, but I still have all this suffering, my family is still broken, I’m still apart from my loved ones, and this year’s holiday depression is worse than ever. And all that’s true, the world is still a messy place, it’s still a broken place because of sin. But there’s more to Jesus in your midst than His death on the cross. His death is not the end. Jesus rose again. He lives and reigns now today. And what’s more, He lives and reigns in our midst today, right now, right here. He’s sitting with you in your dark room telling you that even though things are bad they won’t last forever. He’s right there sitting beside you telling you how great it’s going to be when all this trouble is past, because His resurrection is His sure promise to you that all of this pain and suffering are done away with. He has taken them into His grave, so that your grave isn’t the end for you but only the beginning. So you can begin your rejoicing right now.
Because right now, He hasn’t left you alone to deal with your pain. He comes in your midst, H come to you in very real ways. Not in just some invisible, intangible, un-sensible, way… but He is with you in ways that you can actually hear, and see, and taste and feel. Pick up a bible, read God’s Word and Jesus is right there in your midst. Gather in church where “two or three are gathered in His name,” and Jesus is right there in your midst. Approach His table and take His body and blood given and shed for you, and Jesus is right there in your midst; in the midst of your depression; in the midst of your pain; in the midst of your insecurity. Now that’s real reason for rejoicing. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Only seven? Ok, so these are the same old reasons, but they still are relevant, aren't they?
Monday, December 07, 2009
I’m not really a list keeper. Well, at least I never was before. But put a guy in a church with no secretary and you have to keep lists; prayer lists, visit lists, board agenda items, thank you notes to send, “to dos” for everything from newsletter article ideas to sermon illustrations to remember. So, what’s a forgetful pastor to do?
1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Luke 3:1-6 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We really get used to hearing about John the Baptist during Advent. After all what would Advent be without singing “On Jordan’s Bank…” I remember singing it in a dark downtown St. Louis Church when I was in Kindergarten. Mom and Dad were teachers in the Lutheran School there. I remember sitting next to my mother who said each line quickly in between breaths so I could sing along. I remember standing there singing trying hard to feel the mood of the season (which was much darker than it feels these days). As for me singing about the “Baptist” is something I expect before Christmas.
This second Sunday in Advent is dedicated every year to the message of John the Baptist. There’s something I want you to notice about this text. This little section of scripture is completely full of geography. St. Luke, the Gospel writer, is intent on having us see the geography he almost overloads us with places… He talks about the biggest geographical area occupied by anyone when he mentions Caesar (The Roman Empire), He speaks about Judea (roughly the area of modern day Israel, Galilee, Abilene and finally he references Jerusalem (if you’re a Jew, you can’t hear about the High priests and not think of Jerusalem!). Luke is making a very strong statement before he introduces The Baptist. Then he tells us that John went into all the region around the Jordan. Luke wants us to be thinking geographically.
But why? Well, let’s look at what John is saying while he preaches and baptizes. Prepare the way of the Lord, make the roads straight fill in the valleys, level the mountains, make the roads all straight, and level out the rough land. Think about what he’s saying. He’s talking about a radical change in landscape. Just think of the huge earth moving machines that would be required to do what John is talking about. Deep valleys filled in, high mountains and hills leveled, crooked roads made straight, and rough land leveled out. It’s big change that he’s calling for; it’s noticeable change, monstrous change.
Maybe we don’t really have the perspective on this that John’s hearers had. Maybe we don’t really see what a radical change John was talking about. After all most of the land around here is already pretty flat. I was talking to someone the other day and they said that one of the best things about Iowa was how beautiful it was at night, because when you look out over the land you see all those lights. If you’ve ever been to a place like Pennsylvania the first thing you’d notice is how there are no straight roads! Driving there is like driving down in a ditch because the trees come right to edge of the road. Here our roads are in that familiar grid pattern set up a long time ago. But it’s really very different in Israel. Israel is a very narrow strip of land only about 30-40 miles wide and a little more than 200 miles long. The whole area would easily fit in a box with Des Moines and Kansas City as the corners. The lowest point (also the lowest point on the globe) is –1338 ft below sea level (the Dead Sea) and the highest point is a mountain peak at 3963 ft (Mt. Hermon?). By the way only 17% of the land there can be used for farming. So as you can see talk about changing the kind of geography of Israel, is really a project of epic proportions.
But that is the kind of change that John is preaching about. It’s enormous, noticeable, radical change. Of course John isn’t really talking about geographically, is he? He’s telling the people around him that they better get their act together. Something radical is about to happen: God is coming. “Get ready!” He’s saying, “the Lord is coming. You’d better get prepared. Level the land! Tear down the mountains fill in the valleys. Do the impossible!”
This isn’t the first time God’s people have been told to make a radical change. In fact, John is using the very same words here that were spoken by Isaiah some centuries before. Isaiah was also calling for radical change. Back then God was telling the people of Israel that even though things looked pretty good right then, they weren’t. They were going to be conquered. They were going to go into exile. It was punishment for rejecting the God who had saved them from being salves in Egypt; the God who had given them the land they were living in. This punishment was going to be harsh; it was going to be radical. God was coming in judgment; it was time for a radical change of heart. That’s what John was saying, too. The Lord is coming! It’s time for a radical change of landscape, a radical change of heart.
Those words also speak to us. Here we are in advent looking forward to celebrating Christmas. Remembering that Jesus has come and more importantly that He is coming again. And He is coming “to judge the living and the dead” as the creed says. It won’t take us too long to see that we need that same radical change of heart that John is talking about. The way of our lives is full of valleys and mountains; full of crooked roads and rough ground. But we are to make our way straight if we are to be ready. We need to live in the way of the Lord.
So what does it take to live in the way of the Lord? Have you ever tried? I mean really, really tried to stop sinning? Have you ever tried to stop lying, for instance? What does it take to completely get rid of lies in your life? Well, first of all, you have to hold your tongue. You have to not say things that are untrue. Especially things that are untrue about yourself. Oh but how hard that is when you really need to boost your standing among people you want to impress. How hard it is when you really need to show people your position is well founded. And maybe you can do that; maybe you can stop them some of the time. But don’t they somehow come creeping back when your defenses are down? They are there deep inside you holding it in just makes it worse.
So that one’s too hard to get rid of: What about gossip? That one should be easier, right? So you try to stop saying things about people. But that telephone is always ringing with some more news. You tell yourself that people need to be informed; people really do need to know what’s going on. And you know that even the truth can hurt people when it’s spread around. But some things are just too hard to keep to yourself.
Well again let’s try something easier: What about treating all people the same? Ok, you start by vowing to make it work, and then you are confronted by that person who you’ve never trusted. So you skip them and try to do it for everyone else. But you see a dirty, unkempt person walking toward you on the street and all you just want to crawl under a rock, or run the other way. You can’t help thinking about how spend the assistance they receive on cigarettes or liquor, when they should be spending it on new shoes for their kids. No matter how hard you try you can’t treat everyone the same because your feelings about them bubble up from your heart, and the only way to get rid of those feelings is to be dead.
Well there is always trying to do good things to make up for the bad things you do. So you try that. You find a worthy cause; build a mountain of Christmas presents for under-privileged kids; volunteer time to stalk the food bank shelves; help your elderly neighbor scoop snow; dig deeper into your pockets and give more money to the church. Those are all great things to do. And you feel good doing them. Maybe that’s the answer to the radical change. If you just do enough good things you won’t have time to do the bad. But if you think about it, your heart might be in the right place but you know that your mind wanders. Pretty soon you find yourself saying to yourself, “I hope so-and-so sees me doing this.” Or “at least I’m doing better than that person who never does anything!” or “God sure must be proud of me for all I’ve done for Him.”
Well so much for radical change. That fact is, and you know it as well as I do, that kind of change is impossible. Maybe you know it because you’ve tried and failed. You seem to make progress and when you turn your attention to the next thing the other returns. And maybe you know the things you do are wrong but you just plain don’t want to stop. You know your heart and you know that sin lives there. You know that the kind of radical change that John is talking about is impossible. It is impossible because the problem is just too deep. The valleys are too low and the mountains are too high. The roads we really want to go down are not the straight one but the crooked ones. I guess John wants us to do the impossible. We may as well try to level mountains and fill in valleys. The preparation he wants is just as impossible.
If that’s what you’re thinking I have to say that you are exactly right. In order to prepare ourselves for the Lord we’d have to be perfect in every way, no bumps, turns or lumps. Just perfect.
But Luke and John do leave us there. They tell us exactly what to do to prepare. They’re not really saying to get out the monster machines and start digging. And they’re not saying to quit smoking, lying, and cheating. They don’t even say do your best and the rest will follow. They tell us what John’s message is really all about. John’s message is more radical than that. John went all over the geographic area of the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He’s saying to take your sins to God and He’ll forgive them.
That’s what the coming of Jesus is all about. It’s about a radical change of landscape. It’s about receiving forgiveness for your sins. It’s about a radical change of heart. It’s about repentance, it’s about turning to God saying, “Lord, I am a sinful person, forgive me!”
We look at the little baby Jesus in the manger, we think about Him sleeping quietly in His mother’s arms. It’s a sweet picture but what that little baby really is really the radical thing that God is doing. That little baby is God’s way of making the rough things smooth. In fact, that little baby isn’t just God’s messenger; He is God coming to do what is impossible for you and me. He comes to live the way of the Lord.
You know all those things that you tried to fix in your life and can’t get done? He didn’t have that problem. He did everything perfectly. Jesus is the truth and the life. Lies are no part of Him. Jesus loves and cares for all people equally. He gives help when help is needed, comfort when comfort is needed. Jesus treats everyone the same, the rich and the poor, even prostitutes and tax collectors. That’s the way of the Lord. That’s the way of Jesus our Lord. Everything He does is perfect and good. His way is very different from our way. His way is something radical. His way leads to the cross. And in His way He takes the punishment for our lies, and hate, and selfishness. He bears it all in His way. And in His way His death takes our punishment away. His way is a very radical way.
So how do we prepare for His coming? How do we move mountains, the way Jesus did? We can’t. And we don’t have to. The radical thing that God is doing is the radical thing that we can’t. We can’t remove sin from our lives any more than we can make a mountain fill up a valley. But Jesus has done it already, and He does it for you every single day. It’s the same thing that John was preaching about, repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus has taken your sins away. That’s His Christmas gift to you. He’s leveled the mountains and valleys. And He has made a way straight from you to Him. That’s what repentance is. Jesus way of preparing you is to say to Him, “Lord Jesus, I have sinned against you in thought word and deed, by what I have done, by lying, and gossiping, and treating people badly, I have sinned in what I have left undone and what I have done with an insincere proud heart. Forgive me Jesus!”
And Jesus says, “I forgive you, my child. I will prepare your heart. I will make the change in you that is necessary. I will make my way, your way.” And today you have the opportunity to receive those words right here at his altar. When you open your mouth God pours in the forgiveness of sins, the radical change of heart that John is talking about.
John says to us, Prepare the way of the Lord. Well, it’s not just something we do for Christmas. It’s something Jesus does for us every day of our lives when we confess our sins to Him. It’s something He does for me and something He does for you. It’s a radical change of landscape. It’s a radical change of heart. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Friday, December 04, 2009
Thursday, December 03, 2009
John's note on facebook is worth reading. Here's an excerpt.
What is misguided is the notion that we need a new word to focus our attention on the work of God for blessing & growing His church. We've had a perfectly fine word for quite some time that means just that--*liturgy*. But it would appear that this word does not mean what many think it means.
Some mistakenly think that liturgy is the work people do for God (as though God needs anything from us). Others associate liturgy with traditional worship style and things that are old-fashioned. Still others de-promote the use of this fine term, arguing that Lutherans more commonly speak of "rites" and "ceremonies" as their lingo.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Higher Things is pleased to announce that it has been granted Recognized Service Organization (RSO) status by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. As an RSO, Higher Things is officially recognized as an organization whose mission, ministry and programs are consistent with the confessional standards of the LCMS and in harmony with the programs of the Synod while retaining its independence and self-governance. We believe that RSO status will enhance Higher Things' ability to serve the youth of our Synod with the fullness of our liturgical and confessional heritage.
We look forward to yet greater opportunities to assist parents, congregations and pastors in cultivating and promoting a Lutheran identity among youth through conferences, retreats, publications and the internet. Dare to be Lutheran!
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
by ToddPeperkorn ~ December 1st, 2009
It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am a techno-nerd from way back. Worked at a computer store in the 1980s. Had Radio Shack Model 1 parts strewn around my room at home through high school. Bought a laptop before laptops were cool. And so forth.
One of my ongoing questions has been how to reconcile my gadgetry and general nerdiness with the Holy Ministry. How can I use these powers for good, and not evil?
Enter the new blog, Do Pastors Dream of Electric Sheep?
This blog, started by yours truly and a half dozen or so fellow pastor buddies of mine, will explore the question(s) of how technology impacts the Holy Ministry today, and is impacted by it. We’ll talk about things from the mundane to the hyper-nerdy to the more sublime. God willing, our readers will learn something and will have something to contribute along the way.
I would urge you to go over, check it out, sign up to put the RSS feed in your reader, or however you keep track of such things. I think it will be a good time!
Monday, November 30, 2009
And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’ ” So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:28-40, ESV)
(from an outline by Rev. Harold Senkbeil, Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol 17, 2006)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Oops! Is that right? That sounds like the reading for Palm Sunday not Advent. That sounds like preparation for Good Friday not Christmas. We seem to have skipped right over Christmas and dropped into Lent and Easter. Are you sure pastor you’ve got the readings right? Well, yes I do. The new lectionary (series of readings that go with the new hymnal) has made this small change for the beginning of Advent. It sets before Jesus going into Jerusalem to give his life on the cross for our forgiveness. It makes sure we have all our ducks in the right row, so to speak, as we approach Christmas. You see, the cross and the cradle are connected together. Christmas isn’t just a story about the birth of a baby; it’s the story of the birth of a particular baby. He is born for a certain specific task: to die for the sins of the world. But you don’t have to take my word for it, just listen to what the angels tell the shepherds:
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a 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. (Luke 2:10-11, ESV) (Emphasis mine)
You see, the whole story of the birth of Jesus Christ is told for the purpose of telling us about what He did to be Savior of the whole world. It links together the cross and the cradle.
The birth of Jesus tells us a very important thing about Jesus. It tells us that he is completely human, completely flesh and blood. He was born just as every human being is born. He was a helpless infant just like every human being. It tells us that God didn’t just make some far out way of salvation for us, but He came to us in human flesh. That very same human flesh hung and bled and died on the cross. But to do that God had to take on human flesh, being born of a virgin, in a stable, in diapers, so that the law would actually apply to him. St. Paul says it like this:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7, ESV)
So we have the wood of the cradle on one end of the story, and the wood of the cross on the other. So today with the cradle in mind we look ahead to the whole point of the story, Jesus purposely going to the cross to give us peace.
First be clear that what Jesus does is not an accident. He knows where he is going. It’s his plan from the very beginning. That is just what he tells his disciples. They don’t like it. They don’t understand it. But Jesus makes his plan clear. And along the way the way he spends time with sinners in Jericho. These were the folks other folks only want to avoid, like blind people that he gave their sight, and Zaccheaus the tax collector who Luke tells us received faith in Jesus. You remember Zaccheaus hanging up in the tree to see Jesus, and Jesus telling him to get down because he was going to see him at his house. Along the way to die Jesus spends time with those he came to “seek and to save.” (Luke 19:10, ESV) And in our reading today he sets the dramatic stage for it all. He sends the disciples ahead to arrange things. You remember a colt “on which no one has ever ridden” you know the one that Jesus said would be there. The disciples go and find it just as Jesus said they would and they bring it and say exactly what they are told to day. “The Lord has need of it.”
It is all very dramatic and on purpose. Luke wants us to be clear about what Jesus is doing and who he claims to be. The donkey was an important symbol. By riding into town on it Jesus is claiming to be the new true king of Israel; the one King Herod was really afraid of; the one he tried to kill by killing every child under two years old in Bethlehem. And not only that but Jesus is saying by this very action that he is God come to do what God has promised to do all along, save his people. The prophet Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9, ESV)
And yet, riding a donkey is a very humble pose for God to enter a city.
And not only does Jesus know where he’s going, he knows exactly what he’s doing. He didn’t get killed by accident. The folks around him didn’t see it coming, but Jesus knows. They couldn’t understand why he would have to die, why (from their perspective everything he had done would come to an end). But Jesus knows it all. He sets his whole being toward the cross. He knew he had to suffer and die and be raised again according to God, the Father’s plan. He knew he was the sacrifice for the sins of the world, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
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)
The baby in the manger is headed for glory. And yet, it goes a way that we don’t necessarily like or understand. Did you hear on the news the other day about the Church that got in trouble for building a Christmas float with a crucified Jesus on it? People what to see the baby, you and I want to see the baby, but we like to put the cross out of our minds. Even if it is just for Christmas we think that we can put aside Christ’s sacrifice. It’s just as St. Paul said the cross is a public offense. But Jesus glory, his victory over sin, death and Satan only comes through the blood of the cross. We can never hear about it enough.
The disciples didn’t understand it either. Even though Jesus told them what was going to happen, they thought that march into Jerusalem was the beginning of Jesus sitting on the throne right there in their capitol city. Just like the crowds, listen again to what they were shouting:
“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38, ESV)
It must have been a surprise to all of them (and a let down) when he when straight to the temple instead of the palace. Jesus told his disciples that his kingdom was coming in full only on his return. Jesus’ road to glory passes through the cross. As his followers our road passes that way too. We enter the glory that Jesus has set aside for us only through much trouble and pain and death. St. Paul preached that very thing to the young churches he started “saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22, ESV) By the end of the week the king who rode into the city with cheers has other voices mocking him as he dies on the cross. Jesus is the sacrifice for their sin.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn king;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled."
“Peace on earth.” We sing. Jesus does all this to bring peace on earth. He breaks the bonds of sin to reconcile sinners to God. Just ask Zaccheaus! Jesus came down from heaven as a human being, born in a lowly stable. He did that to bring peace by joining God to man. He brought peace “on earth” by shedding his blood on the cross. He returns to heave to join man to God. He sits at the right hand of God declaring that human beings are now at peace with God again. In his Word he proclaims to you and me that we are released from the slavery of our sin.
Well, that’s all well and good, Pastor. Peace on earth that’s what everyone wants. But how can I have peace? What about me? When do I get peace? Life isn’t easy you know, Pastor. It seems to be for everyone else but not me. I don’t have what I need to live. Everything I do turns sour and worthless. The holiday stress only puts my family at each other’s throats. I doesn’t seem like I get to slow down and enjoy the good things in life? When does the ‘holiday spirit’ return for me since my husband/ wife/ father/ mother/ sister/ brother/ child died? The empty space at the table seems to suck up all the joy that should be here. What about some peace to wipe away the memories of the shameful things I’ve done that plague me at three in the morning? At least the baby in the manger story is a happy one. What you are telling me today, though Pastor isn’t a happy story. It’s the story of blood and pain. It’s a story of suffering and death. I get enough of that in my life without smearing the good feelings of Christmas with it.
When you look on the baby in the cradle and see also there the cross that is the best picture I can paint for you of God’s peace. It is God coming because you lie awake in sweaty guilt; exactly because you suffer the loss of love in death and struggle with living every day; because sin makes life a burden. That’s the problems that Jesus comes among us to resolve.
He brings peace from God and he brings it right here where you can so easily find it. We hear Jesus speaking words of peace right here. We call it the Gospel. The word means “Good News.” It’s not just good news because it tells us a sweet story, it tells us the good thing about Jesus, who came to our Savior; Jesus who was born into human flesh. That very same Jesus enters our hearts and minds through his Word and the water of Baptism and the bread and wine. He comes to you and me through faith and He comes to hold them us up when life is difficult. From the words he speaks into your heart He reminds you that even though things are hard, he makes sure it all works out for your good. He reminds us that God is in control of everything he even counts the hairs on your head. And that nothing can separate you from his love, even down feelings that seem to pop up this time of year. And He whispers in your heart the truth about love and death. That it isn’t the end it is only a temporary separation for those who live in faith. When we approach this altar and feast with Jesus we join in a heavenly feast that our missing loved ones are celebrating already; with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. And when Satan reminds you that you’ve failed, usually while you lay sleepless in your bed, Jesus is here (in your heart) to calm your fears and remind you that he suffered and died to put away your guilt forever. That’s the peace that Jesus brings. That’s the peace that comes by his cross and cradle. That’s the peace that comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
At first I was going to preach on the Old Testament lesson for today. 10And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Wow! If that isn’t talking about Thanksgiving I don’t know what it is talking about. Eating and being full… in a few hours we’ll all be sitting (or sleeping) around the television having football dreams… with turkey and gravy on our breath. It’s a day for overeating. “You shall eat and be full” Cranberries, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie… and family all together, all overeating. What better way is there to celebrate having everything we need then eating more than we should?
But then I read this text and I thought it had more to say to us today.
6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:6-9 (ESV)
Do not be anxious about anything… those are pretty nice words to hear, and I must admit it’s difficult especially for me. I’m an anxious person. I worry about the bills, I worry about my kids, and I worry about my wife. I worry about weather people are going to show up for meetings and bible studies here at church. Lots of nights I lay on my bed with the worries that go along with being Pastor for more than 400 people. I realized off the bat that if this text was talking to anyone, it was talking to me because I get anxious about things. And there are those words staring me in the face; Do not be anxious about anything…
Of course I’m not the only one who worries about things. To live is to worry. “That’s life!” we say, secretly wishing that it weren’t so. Lots of you worry about things that I haven’t even dreamed of. I don’t know what it is to worry about crops, or weather the hogs are going to survive the latest strain of disease that is coming over them. I don’t know what it is to worry about keeping a factory job when the management changes.
Running a business
Live on a fixed (decreasing) income.
Or the many things that are on your plate to worry about. Of course really we only worry because we care. The original word that Paul uses here really means to be “troubled with cares.” No one worries about people and things he doesn’t care about. And it’s good to care about people and things. St. Paul doesn’t tell us not to care about things that are going on. He says not to be anxious. Do you hear the word “anger” in “anxious.” Well, it’s in there in a way. They both come from the same root word. They are related. Did you know the word anger means “to strangle?” It means to be so upset that you want to strangle something. You’ve been there wanting to strangle something. I’ve been there wanting to strangle something. When we are anxious we get pushed to the brink, and those feelings take control out of our lives. But the text says, Do not be anxious about anything…
It’s easy to say, it’s easy to read it out, but to really apply it is something else entirely. Do not be anxious about anything… That’s something I’m just not sure I can do. Actually it sounds like something else to worry about.
Maybe Paul just didn’t have a firm grasp on reality. Maybe he never had to worry about anything. But a quick review of his life will tell you that that’s not true. From the time Jesus struck him blind on the road to Damascus and told him to switch sides and be His advocate to the world, Paul’s life was one anxious moment after another. Beatings, stoning, threats, shipwreck, “I bear on my body the marks of Christ.” He said. He knew what it was to suffer for Jesus every day. If anyone had a right to be anxious it was Paul. Instead he says Do not be anxious about anything… What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things. Paul knew what it was to be anxious, I’m sure he spent many anxious hours in his life.
You know we are going to be anxious. We are going to worry about things. That’s not the point Paul is making. He’s not making a point about not being anxious. He’s making a point about what you do with those moments when they come.
You see, he says do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. He says when you are tempted to be anxious about anything, big or small, manageable or not, take them all to God in prayer. Make these things known to God. It’s not that he doesn’t already know about them making them known to him is for your sake. Talk to Him about them. Take it to the Lord in prayer. The song goes… anything and everything…
Now here’s the really important part. Look what God promises: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Paul doesn’t say that the thing that’s making you anxious will go away. He’s saying that when you talk to God about what is making you anxious, your heart and mind will be kept on Jesus. In spite of your worry, God will give you peace about your relationship to Him.
You know, as well as I do, that when things are going well, when there is nothing to worry about Jesus gets pushed out of our lives. He moves from the absolute need pile to the need in reserve pile. When things are going well, we feel in control, we don’t think we need any help. And for lots of us that’s where we are most of the time. “No worries, mate!” everything’s just fine. Jesus gets left here in church or on our pillow after prayer, or on the shelf where He’s readily accessible when we need Him. There’s nothing like a good worry to get our perspective back.
Why do you think Paul says use prayer with thanksgiving? Pastor you don’t really mean that we should be thankful for our troubles, do you? That’s not really what we gather around that turkey table to talk about. We want to be thankful for money and good crops and good health and lots of family. We don’t want to be thankful for sickness and pain and trouble! But that’s what Paul is saying. “Look at what the things that make you anxious do. They turn you to God in prayer. They keep you looking at Jesus. They remind you of the consequences of your sin, and they remind you what God has done about our sin. And all that gives you peace.”
What do you think Paul is talking about when he says “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”? He’s talking about Jesus. Who was more true, and honorable, and just and pure and lovely and…? After all, look at how much He loves you, and not because you are lovable and trouble free, but simply because of who He is, pure and lovely and commendable and excellent…
And there is nothing like trouble in your life to help you remember Jesus’ love for you and the trouble that He suffered for you. You know about the cross. You know how it was love that put Him there and love that kept Him there to die. He suffered more than we can imagine because the suffering that He took was the suffering for all of us. And with that suffering He brings peace. Isn’t it amazing that it takes suffering, pain and death to bring peace?
Well, anxiety is the opposite of peace. Anxiety is what we get because we don’t want to trust in God. Anxiety is what we get when we strike out on our own and push God away. Anxiety is what we get from separating ourselves from God. And that’s where we’d be if it weren’t for Jesus. But we are not separated from God. We may put Jesus on the shelf but He never gives up on us. On the cross Jesus suffered separation from His Father. God looked away from Him and allowed Him to die. It was what we deserved, but what He received. And with that separation gone forever, we never have to experience it. We are never out of God’s hands. We are always in His loving care. You see that’s peace, that’s the peace of God that passes all understanding.
And you know what else? That peace is true weather we feel it or not, because it’s not founded on our feelings, or our actions, or even our promises. That peace is founded on Jesus Christ. That peace comes from knowing and trusting in Jesus, because He is the one who ended our separation from God. Jesus is what makes it sure, no matter what the worry or anxiety is.
So when Paul says, do not be anxious about anything, what he’s saying is let your troubles turn you to Christ. Let your problems remind you of the cross. Take them all to God in prayer and you’ll receive peace. But it’s peace that’s more than just a feeling. It’s real peace that is found in Jesus Christ.
10And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. And maybe, just maybe you’ll not only be thankful for the good things… maybe you’ll be able to be thankful for some of your troubles, too. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Grace and Peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
You know we are on a journey. Our lives are going somewhere. In fact they are going toward eternity. It’s a journey that we are on, and one of the primary reasons we gather together here every week. But is seems that so often we are focused on today and what we need to get along every day rather then the destination. So every year at the end of November we concentrate on the destination. We think about eternity coming, and how that affects… at least how that should affect our travels in this life. The epistle lesson for today is about just that.
20But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22And have mercy on those who doubt; 23save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. 24Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Jude 20-25 (ESV)
Imagine you are a pioneer crossing the great plains of America, in a small wagon train. The wagons drone along the prairie making slow progress every day. One day the forward scouts come riding into the group pointing ahead at smoke on the horizon. It’s a great prairie fire raging. It’s moving very quickly fueled by the dry grass and the wind. It’s moving far to rapidly to out run… there is no way around it… in fact there is literally no escape for anyone. Fiery death is approaching and will soon burn everything and everyone.
“There is no time to waste,” the leader of the groups shouts. He knows what to do. “Start a fire behind us, back there.” Some in the group object that the suggestion seems crazy. But there isn’t time and everyone pitches in and follows the instructions. “Quickly,” he urges, “It’s our only chance to survive!” Soon a fire is raging behind, and the situation looks even worse. There is approaching death ahead, and a blazing fire in the only line of retreat. By all appearance you are even more trapped then before.
But as you watch you see the fire behind moving away from you and leaving a burned patch on the ground; a dark smoldering barren area. “As soon as it cools,” shouts the leader get everything on that burnt patch! When the fire gets here it will go around us and we’ll be safe.”
The group act together supporting one another as they moved to the safe area. All the wagons, people and animals huddled together, fearfully watching the approaching firestorm. And just like the your leader said it passes around. Flames and smoke fill the air choking your lungs and terrifying everyone. But everyone stays put in the safety of the area that’s already burned. Between you and certain death is a patch of ground with nothing to burn. The fire can’t get to you. When the danger is over everyone has survived, and the journey can continue toward its goal.
You and I are on a journey. This is our wagon train, and all these people here are our traveling companions. That’s what the Church is all about. Traveling on our journey toward eternity, the Promised Land. Every day that destination gets closer. We are in this trip together. No single person, or family would dare travel the dangerous journey across the Great Plains by themselves. They traveled in numbers for safety and encouragement and strength. That’s what we do here, too. We gather for safety and encouragement and strength.
But it is a dangerous journey. There is fire all around us. Satan is very real and very active. He hates Christians with every fiber of his being. He wants nothing more than for you to leave the safety of the Church where he can drag you into Hell. And there’s more, the world that we want to live in is dangerous to us. It’s easy to get burned out there. So much of what’s around us dries up our faith. What’s worse is there’s nothing we can do about it. Satan is powerful. The world has great influence. The fire burns toward us and we are helpless to do anything. We can’t get away and we can’t put it out.
But Jesus knows what to do. He makes a way to escape. We know how he suffered for us. He suffered our punishment, the fires of hell, in our place. He hung on the cross and suffered God’s burning anger against sin. Satan attacked him. The world hated him. They dished out the worst they had to give and Jesus died. He gave his life for us, to give us a safe place to stand.
You see, the ground that we stand on here, in faith, is protected by Jesus. He gave His life for it. He spilled his blood on it for us. The fires of hell can’t get to us. Satan can’t harm us and the dangers of the world can’t destroy us.
But there all around us is the burning and raging fire waiting, wanting to get to us. Danger and death are there all around us. And the danger is real.
What do the fire look like? Actually we are enticed by it. It speak to us things we want to hear, things that sound so reasonable. “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are true to your beliefs and do your best.” “All religions worship God in their own way.” “There are plenty of ways to get to God, just pick one and be sincere.” “Look within yourself. You are all you need.” But these are all lies. They lead away from the safety of Jesus, the only Way to God, our only protection. They say nothing about Jesus life, death and resurrection; nothing about forgiveness of sins that He won for us. And without Jesus there is no hope and no salvation at all.
There are other things in the flame that we are attracted to. We think we can play in the fire and not get burned. A little sexuality here and there never hurt anyone. You can see it every day in advertising. You hear it every day on the radio and around the coffee table. “Don’t be such a prude. Sex is fun and free. Marriage is old fashioned. People should be allowed to express themselves in any way they desire. Get with the times.” But that too, is a lie. Sex outside of marriage is pure fire that will burn you up. But how tempting it is… but how dangerous.
And in the fire greed calls to us. We want more and more and we’ll do just about anything to achieve our goals. Even stepping on our brothers and sisters to push our way to the top. The desire to have the best and have more than anyone is part of the fire. And the rumor mill is in the fire. It churns up stories about each other that we can’t wait to pass on. And the smoke of laziness that keeps us away from worship and God’s Word.
You see the fire every day, all around us, calling to us, attracting us, and lying to us. It is deadly dangerous. Not just because it’s there but also because we are so easily lured into it. We are so easily burned.
Now look around you at the ground you are standing on. It’s safe ground. But, unlike the burned ground from the story this ground is rich and full of life. In fact it’s full of new life. You see, Jesus already was burned in our place. He died for us but He didn’t stay dead. He rose again to new life. He’s with us here. He causes everything in this safe place to grow and prosper. He takes care of us even while the fire rages all around. That’s what Paul is talking about when he says “your most holy faith.” It’s faith in Jesus and what He has done for you and me. That’s what we are built up by. That’s what we are encouraged by. That’s the faith that we can live by and not be burned.
But we aren’t just standing here either. We are on a journey. We are going somewhere. And that somewhere is a place where there is no fire burning around us. That place is a safe place without the temptations that are all around. That place is the place that Jesus said He has prepared for us. And we don’t have to travel alone. We are on this journey together. Paul tells us to, “Travel together, hold each other accountable, love and care for each other, keep each other away from the flames.”
How do we do that? “By building each other up.” He says. You know how to do that. We do it all the time. Kind words are a great encouragement. Look out for each other. Reach out in care and concern when there is pain and hardship. See what needs to be done and do it. It’s not difficult. In many ways it’s just building on the friendships we already have. But building means to expand. And we also need to expand that circle of friendship beyond where it is right now. We need including other people in our friendships that we wouldn’t normally include. People here in our church and people out there in our community.
Secondly Paul tells us to pray. “Pray in the Holy Spirit.” Speak from your heart to God. Keep each other in prayer about all of life’s troubles, but especially about our faith. Pray for those whose church attendance is falling of. Don’t talk to other people about the rumors you hear, pray to God about them. Pray that we’ll keep our eyes on Jesus instead of the fire that is tempting us. Pray that we stand and walk together on this journey.
Finally Paul tells us to hate what is evil and corrupting. “hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” It’s hard to live in the world that promotes so much of what is evil. It’s easy to say, “I’ll just let that go this time.” It’s hard to stand up against evil alone especially when it seems as if everyone is doing it. We need each other. “No, I’m not going to let my children watch that, or do that. Yes, I’m going to do what God says is right instead of listening to the world.” Doing the right thing is always the right thing.
The fire is all around us but we are safe with Jesus. We are protected. He died and rose again for you and me. This journey we are in together is leading to a great and wonderful place that we can only begin to imagine. The journey isn’t easy, but our leader, Jesus, calls to us to keep in His love, in the safe place. As we travel we are to build each other up and pray for one another and hate the evil of the world. You know, this journey won’t last forever, in fact, it will be over soon. When it is we will enjoy the heavenly place that Jesus Christ has prepared for you and me. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Pastor Watt Interviewed on Higher Things Radio
Join Pastor George Borghardt each week in his latest and greatest project, Higher Things Radio to learn more about the Gospel and Jesus Christ delivered for you! Pastor Borghardt's new program will air on Pirate Christian Radio Thursday evenings, so tune in your web browsers and check him out. If you miss him, don't worry we'll be podcasting his show right here from the Higher Things website! Each week on Pastor Borghardt's new radio program he'll be interviewing your favorite catechists and columnists from Higher Things. In addition, Pastor Borghardt will be cold-calling his friends up with your questions in a special segment called, Is this a sin?. Send in your questions today to email@example.com.
The Resurrection of the Body, Pastor Watt
Listen here http://higherthings.org/radio.html
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Here we are rapidly approaching 2010. Our synod faces critical changes in structure and governance, and budget shortfalls that are beyond the comprehension of most of the members of our churches. When all is said and done I believe the heart of our (LCMS) troubles still lie in worship practice. The competing factors are pulling the church in multiple directions and I fear that the only thing left for Missouri is the the birth of multiple tiny groups of churches that will refuse to be in fellowship with each other. Maybe it is the only solution left to us. The coming year, I believe, will see the determination of these issues.
But I hold out hope for the Missouri Synod. After all it is the synod of my birth. We are at our heart traditional, liturgical, practical and faithful to the Lutheran Confessions. At our heart we confess the faith of our fathers. (In spite of some who insist that this isn't our grand-father's church see "Through the Ages . . ." http://www.lcms.org/pages/wPage.asp?ContentID=418&IssueID=27) At our heart we know that all worship must find its center in Jesus Christ Crucified for the forgiveness of sins. We know the best way to worship is to speak, sing and chant the same texts as the faithful church has done over generations. At our heart we bring the Word of God to the world from our unique (Biblical!) law and Gospel perspective. At our heart we revel in the confession of the faith that has been handed down to us in the Lutheran Confessions. On the surface is the foolishness described by Phillip Magness in an article by Terry Mattingly (Mattingly and the Lutheran Worship Wars http://www.scrippsnews.com/content/mattingly-lutherans-and-worship-wars)
"What I found out is that we're a lot like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates," he said. "It says 'Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod' on the sign, but when you go inside you have no idea what you're going to get. ... Some of our churches are playing with the structure of the liturgy and some are playing with the content and our whole synod is trying to find out how to draw some boundaries."
As one pastor in the synod has said, "Now is the time for Confessional Lutheranism." The world is unsettled and unstable. People are looking for stability. The message of God's great love for sinful people shown chiefly in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross is the message we have. It is the message the world needs to hear and see. What we need to show is a traditional, liturgical, practical, confessional worshipping community that clearly and uniformly presents Christ. The best way to do that is the way the faithful church has done it: Word and Sacrament administered according to Christ's command; Hymns, songs and spiritual songs that clearly confess God's work for us in Jesus Christ; Preaching the law in its full force to crush the hearts of the faithful as well as the unbeliever AND the Gospel in its full force to sooth broken hearts with the comfort of Jesus Christ. there is no church body that can do all these things at the same time as well as the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. God grant it for Jesus Sake.
Pastor Jonathan C. Watt
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Listen on Pirate Christian Radio Monday at 2pm Centeral Time. PirateChristianRadio.com
or on the God Whisperers web page GodWhisperers.com
Lutheran Radio sure has taken an interesting turn. :0)
Here's the latest commercial.
Monday, November 16, 2009
11And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Hebrews 10:11-18 (ESV)
Grace and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hope looked at the dirty pile of clothes lying on the floor by the washing machine. It was a mountain that never seemed to go away. Every time she attacked the hill, every time she rallied her forces to conquer it; the hill sprouted anew. Instead of getting smaller it grew taller or wider or someone would dump a basket from the upstairs bathroom onto it. It was a hopeless task. It would never be done. Nothing she could do would ever end the job. It was “laundry everlasting”; dirty shirts, shorts and socks that multiplied. And yet, Hope persisted. The job was there to be done; she was the one to do it.
That’s a picture we can understand, “laundry everlasting.” We know it because it’s in all of our houses, maybe not so much for those whose children are grown and gone, but it was true for you, just as it is for those of us whose children are helping to build that mountain of never-ending work. But it’s a job that has to be done.
In a way, that’s what the writer of Hebrews is talking about here in this text. 11And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. He’s talking about the priest offering sacrifices for the Jews every day in the temple. There were sacrifices for every type of sin. There were burnt offerings made for general sins, there were offerings for unintended sins and mistakes, there were offerings for sins that required restitution. The blood of bulls, lambs, rams, sheep, goats and turtle doves spilled every day over and over again to take care of the never ending mountain of sins that God’s people committed. And these offerings were made repeatedly, many times a day, and yet the people’s sins were always before them. Each offering wasn’t an answer to sin because each sin required a new sacrifice. Before one sacrifice was finished a new one was required. The mountain of sin couldn’t be assaulted by sacrifice because no amount of them would ever make a dent in it. Every time a sin was removed by sacrifice a new batch was added to the festering pile. “Sacrifice everlasting.” A task that had to be done yet was never finished. That’s exactly why the priests stood, they were to be attentive to the task, and to sit was to say the job was done. An endless stream of blood from bulls and goats could never get the job done. They could never take away sins.
Do you see your sins this way? I think the mountain of dirty laundry might help us to see it. Every time we wear our cloths we leave them dirty. It’s not just dirt on the outside, but sweat and oil from on the inside. If they lie around the house they begin to smell. We can’t help it, it’s the way our bodies work.
Sin is kind of the same for us. It’s the way our bodies work now. Every time we do anything sin is a part of it. When we do good for someone, we hope someone sees us so we get the credit. When we are sitting alone we think about things we shouldn’t think about. Men think thoughts about women. Women think thoughts about men. We want what isn’t ours to have. And we take by deceitfulness what we can’t get legally. We cheat when it really doesn’t even matter. And we lie when lying isn’t even necessary. If we had to make sacrifices for each and every sin, the mountain of dead animals would stack to the top of the steeple for each one of us. “Sacrifice Everlasting” is what would be required. Your mountain of sin; my mountain of sin can’t be reduced by blood. Even your own blood spilled wouldn’t be enough to pay the price.
And that is really the point. That’s why God commanded the sacrifices. He wanted His people to see the effect of sin in a very graphic way. He wanted them to see that blood was necessary; lots of blood. He wanted them to see that death was necessary; lots of death. And He wanted them to see that nothing they could do would take away their sin. Not the blood of thousands, not anything they could do with their own hands. The mountain of sin grows every moment, and it requires death and blood.
12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. It says. Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice. It was one sacrifice that stood in the place of the thousands. One time for all sins, one man, one God, crucified, dead and buried. God wanted the people to know that the sacrifice of His Son was greater than all the blood ever spilled in the temple. His one single sacrifice for sins was not just one sacrifice is was “Sacrifice Everlasting.” It is the complete sacrifice for sin. The life of God given for the sins of the world. The life of a bull or a goat or a lamb has value. The life of a human being has great value. But none of them can pay the price for the sins of even one person. But the life of God is priceless. The life of God is eternal. The life of God is immeasurably high. That’s the life that Jesus Christ gave on the cross. That’s the life that is enough to pay for sin. In fact, the life of Jesus Christ is more than enough to pay for all the sins of the whole world no matter how long the world goes on, no matter how many people live and sin. The life and death and resurrection of Jesus is a price that is so great, no mountain of sin will ever be as tall. Jesus assaults the mountain of human sin with such force that it evaporates in to nothingness. And he sat down at the right hand of God. The job was done, and Jesus sits down. The text says 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. It’s talking about you and me, perfected by Jesus’ sacrifice, for all time. Job done, once and for all.
And as usual that’s not all the text has to say to us. Holy Spirit also bears witness to us. The fact that we even see this mountain of sin, this every growing dirty laundry is God’s work in us through the Holy Spirit. I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds. As we live and work and play every day God has given us His law. That law is like a mirror that shows us that every time we turn around that we’re adding to our pile of sin. The law says don’t commit adultery, which we may not do physically, but even the thoughts in our minds condemn us. The law says don’t steal, we may not actually get around to taking things that don’t belong to us, but the desire condemns us also. We don’t like it but actually that condemning law is really the gift of God, it is the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds. Jesus himself said that he came to help the sick. And the law that God has placed in our hearts shows us every day that we are very sick. And just like that ever growing mountain of laundry no matter how good we try to be we can’t remove our own mountain of sin. That’s really what the law is all about. It’s not there to tell us how to clean up our own act. It’s not there to tell us how to get right with God again, its primary purpose is to show us the mountain.
Now if that were all, we’d have a pretty terrible life, never living up to what we can’t live up to. Helpless and hopeless, we have nowhere to turn. But we can turn to God. And the Spirit is at work there, too. “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” It’s not that God is forgetful. He doesn’t remember our sins because He has taken care of them. He has paid the price that we can’t pay. He has done the work necessary to remove the mountain of sin. It’s not because of a thousand sacrifices made in the temple; it’s because of the One Sacrifice. It’s not because we’ve done it right and gotten our act together, it’s because God Himself, made it right, in Jesus Christ. That One Sacrifice brought to us more forgiveness than we’ll ever need. 18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. There is nothing more that needs to be done. No more blood spilled on stone altars. No more good works to set us in good standing. There is no longer anything to do, because Jesus Christ has done it all for us.
Here is where Jesus gives that wonderful gift to us; forgiveness for that mountain that we can’t handle. Every day we add to it and every day Jesus removes it. He does it here in His Word and Sacraments. Over and over again, it never ends. One Sunday is just like the last. We say: “For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us, renew us and forgive us, and lead us….” And your Pastor says: “in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” And it is so because of that Jesus promise. And the next Sunday we say it again: “For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us, renew us and forgive us, and lead us….” And your Pastor says: “in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” But we don’t do this over and over because it doesn’t work. We do this over and over because it does. We do it over and over again because Jesus has already removed the sin by His blood. We do it over and over again because we need to be reminded over and over again. We need to hear it to receive it. We need to hear it to believe it. It’s done! I’m forgiven because of Jesus. “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” That’s what it’s about really its “Forgiveness Everlasting.” Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.