Sunday, January 30, 2011

1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany; January 30, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, ESV)

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

President Lincoln once said Better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. He’s reflecting the idea that nobody really wants to be called a fool. Nobody wants to be thought of as foolish. But there was a time when he was called a fool, and he didn’t mind. During the Civil War Lincoln visited one of the forts north of Washington during the heat of battle. While inspecting the front lines he asked to be shown where the enemy was. When they were pointed out Lincoln stood to get a better view, thus making his tall frame, beard and black hat the perfect recognizable target. Under a hale of bullets a junior officer grabbed his arm and pulled him from harms way, shouting “Get down, you fool!” The president was reported to have replied. “I’m glad to see you know how talk to a civilian.” It was the president’s first and last visit to an active battle front.

In not so many words, Paul calls the Christians who are members of the small Corinthian church, foolish. But like President Lincoln, they probably weren’t upset. Paul was clarifying the way that God works. He wanted the Corinthians to recognize that God does things differently than people would do them. He especially wanted them to recognize God’s work in their midst. He begins by reminding them who they were before God called them to faith. He wanted them to remember where they came from. It was not uncommon for Christians those days to be primarily from the lower classes. Many were former slaves and even current slaves. Many were poor and un-influential. It’s not the kind of group you would gather together to be a major force of influence in any town. Paul’s words tell the story: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth… and still there were wealthy people who were part of God’s family at Corinth. Note that Paul says “not many”; not “not any.” He includes them with an “m.” And yet, Paul reminds them that God doesn’t recognize social status. He calls all people into his family, regardless of their standing. Those who become a part, realize that all the things that people boast in, wealth, education, prestige, and moral standing don’t count for anything in God’s sight. Instead of boasting in those things that Paul calls them “rubbish” (Phil 3:4-10), Christians boast in Jesus (1 Cor 1:31). Christians know that nothing they have done can ever make them right with God. That’s what Paul means when he calls the Corinthians foolish. He means foolish in the eyes of everyone else.

God chose the foolish things to shame the wise, Paul says. Paul is emphasizing that God doesn’t consider human merit or human ideas in his calculations of what is important and how he is going to work. And you can see it easily with a quick look at the people Jesus hung out with. His followers came from tax-collectors, prostitutes, the sick and the poor. One of the Pharisee’s primary complaints against Jesus was that he received sinners, and not only that, but he had the gall to eat with them. (Luke 15:2) It went against the way they thought God worked. It went against their belief that people got connected with God by working to clean up their life first. Jesus shamed them by loving the people they deemed unlovable and, in fact, doing what they should have been doing. The very thought of helping those people was foolish to them.

But Jesus didn’t just start doing things like that out of the blue. The history of God working in the world is full if foolish examples. There are two good examples mentioned in the Old Testament lesson for today. (Micah 6:1-8) God is reminding his people, the Israelites, about what he had done for them. For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. (Micah 6:4, ESV) Egypt was a superpower. But the God, the God of slaves showed that he was The True God. He used foolish slaves to show his true nature to save. You and I would have chosen the grandeur and prestige of the King of Egypt to show God’s power.

And then there’s the reference to Balaam the son of Beor. (Micah 6:5) I don’t know if you remember this story but it’s a good one: (See Numbers 22) after the freed slaves, the Children of Israel, had wandered in the desert for a while and were finally ready to occupy the land that God had promised them, they needed to cross the land of Moab. The King of Moab wasn’t very happy to oblige. He called a wise man to help him, a general prophet called Balaam. “Curse these Israelites for me, so I can defeat them.” But Balaam was told by God in a dream not to do it. But because he stood to become very wealthy from the deal, Balaam took two of his servants and began the journey on his donkey. God made the donkey see what Balaam couldn’t. God had set and angel in the road to kill them. So the donkey stopped and refused to go on. Balaam beat the donkey in anger. But the donkey only trapped Balaam’s foot between himself and a rock on the narrow road. Balaam beat him again but the donkey still refused to move and lay down on the road. Balaam beat him all the more. After the third beating the donkey spoke up. “What have I ever done to you that you beat me in this way?” Balaam seeming to not be the least surprised at a talking donkey, replied, “You’ve made a fool of me! If I had a sword you’d be dead.” And the donkey answered back. “I’ve been your donkey all your life. Have I ever acted this way before? Don’t you think I have a good reason?” And at that moment God allowed Balaam to see the angel with the drawn sword in his hand. (Num 22:31) He repented immediately and promised to do whatever God wanted. There’s a song by Don Francisco that’s all about this account. In the song He talks about the foolishness of God and how he chooses what he will to do his work. The song ends with the line:

The Lord's the one who makes the choice of the instrument He's usin'
We don't know the reasons and the plans behind His choosin'
So when the Lord starts usin' you don't you pay it any mind
He 'could have used the dog next door if He'd been so inclined

(Copyright Don Francisco; This song appears on the albums:  Beautiful to Me Got to Tell Somebody)

And of course nothing screams foolishness, in human eyes, more than God becoming man, for the specific purpose of dying the death of a common criminal. But Paul wants the Corinthians to remember it is the message of that foolishness that has made all the difference for them.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV)

God’s purpose in choosing the poor in spirit (Matt 5:3), like the Corinthian Christians is, as Paul says, “so that none may boast.” (See also; Eph 2:8-9; Rom 3:27-28) There is no room for boasting in human achievement in light of what God has done through Jesus Christ. All the Corinthian Christians had to do was remember who they were and where they came from and they knew they had no room for boasting, they were saved because of Jesus and only Jesus.

My dear Christian friends; in some ways we are nothing like the Corinthian Christians. In fact, as a group we are very influential in our community. We have business owners, county supervisors, teachers, and civic group leaders who are members here. Using Paul’s words we might say, many of you are influential.

This is where Paul’s words should strike us right between the eyes. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; (1 Corinthians 1:27b, ESV) Paul’s words to us are like the soldier’s words to Lincoln. “Get down you fools!” Because of who we are and where we come from it is very easy for us to lose sight of Jesus and begin to boast in our own accomplishments. Like those Pharisees we forget what God has given us to do and look down our noses at the people in this community that God has given for us to serve. It’s easy for us to tell ourselves that we’re better than the people who don’t get to church much and pat ourselves on the back for being the financial backbone of the church. Or even more to the point, looking back at the way we used to do church and the way the things used to be and forgetting that this church is here not because of anything our parents did, and not because of anything we have done, but because of the foolishness of God. This church’s future isn’t in us and our ability to make it work, or make the right decisions about the church property, but in the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified for the sins of the whole world. We are here to boast in Jesus Christ, not in this church.

That’s the foolishness of God again isn’t it? We want to think that it’s what we do. God wants us to remember that it’s what he does. Through Baptism God has called you to be part of his body. Consider your calling… who were you without Jesus? A lost and condemned person; a sinful person deserving God’s anger and punishment. Yet through the “weak” and “foolish” acts of God in Jesus Christ you have been saved from that. Jesus death on the cross is even enough to forgive the sin of boasting that we so easily fall into. He forgives the sin of feeling superior, and forgetting why we are here. Paul says [God] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30, ESV) Just as God saved the Israelites from slavery and death in Egypt he saved you from slavery to sin, and the punishment that results. He does it through his sacrifice that is enough to forgive the sins of the whole world.

I think of the story of a family house that caught in a fire. The two children were saved from death by a stranger who risked his life and suffered serious burns on his hands. The parents didn’t escape. When it came time to adopt the children their savior stated his case without words by showing the scares he received by saving them. Some people might think it was foolish of the man to risk his life for two children he didn’t know, but not the children he saved.

Jesus does more than risk his life for us. He gives it. His bleeding body on the cross saves us from our own foolishness. His blood washes away all our sin. His death wins for us eternal life. His resurrection promises that life to us. What is there left for us to boast in? Only Jesus; only his cross; only his resurrection; only his choosing foolish things like you and me to be his own. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31, ESV)

We boast in the Lord when we remember that it is God’s work through His Word and Sacraments and the foolishness of preaching the Good News about Jesus, that God uses to call people into his kingdom. We boast in the Lord when we point people to Jesus as their only Savior from sin, even when they think it’s foolish. Amen.

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

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Matthew 4:12-17; Third Sunday after the Epiphany; January 23, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:12-17, ESV)

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

The light is Jesus. He saves you from the darkness of your sin, by bringing the great light of forgiveness of sin through His life, death and resurrection. End of sermon. Amen.

Long pause

Well, we’ve still got some time left. Maybe we should fill it with something. How about a story?

There was this guy named Gideon. He lived in ancient Israel. He was a man who was just a bit timid. He wasn’t alone, you see, all the people there were a bit timid. Things looked pretty dark for the Israelites. They were being bullied big time. These guys called Midianites were crossing the borders and harassing them every time the crops were ready to be harvested. They’d burn the crops, destroy the fields and kill the harvesters. They are the …

Mighty Menacing Midianites.

Crop destroyin, plague deployin, quite annoyin.

Fond of fightin, strike like lightnin, man they’re frightnin.

Kill, steal and destroy every man, woman, girl and boy.

Because they are the…

Mighty Menacing Midianites. (Dr. Reed Lessing, Concordia Seminary)

Well, one day, Gideon is hiding in the shadows of a pit beating the wheat to separate the grain from the chaff. He was hiding in the dark from the Midianites. God spoke to him there and told him he would be the one who would get rid of the Mighty Menacing Midianites and set God’s people free from the terror they were under.

Now Gideon wasn’t too keen on the idea. “Hey God, you’ve got to be kidding right. My family is the smallest one in Israel and I’m the smallest one in my family. Give me a sign! Show me the light. So I know for sure.” So he took a sacrifice and laid it out on a rock. All by itself it caught fire and burned up. So Gideon decided he was the guy.

Well, it wasn’t long before Gideon had an army. For a little guy he did pretty good. There on the bank of the river he had gathered 32,000 men ready to put the fight to the bad guys. But God wasn’t ready to work the way Gideon wanted to, so He told him to send home all those who were afraid. Well, I think it’s pretty amazing that only 10,000 left considering the crop destroyin, plague deployin… Mighty Menacing Midianites… you know what I mean. Gideon was still pretty happy with his 22,000. But not God. “Send them to the river and have them drink.” He said. “Keep the one who drink like dogs. You know, lapping up the water with their tongues.” That left 300. (Isn’t that a movie?) Finally God had the army he wanted, but not Gideon.

Just imagine Gideon’s head bouncing back and forth between his 300 doggy soldiers and the Might Menacing Midianites whose numbers were too great to count. Once again darkness crept into Gideon’s thoughts. “God!” He protested. “I need another sign.” He put a fleece (that’s just a ball of wool) out on ground and asked God to make it wet overnight but keep the ground dry. The next morning he found the fleece soaked and the ground bone dry. In fact he could wring the water out of it. But being a timid kind of guy he put it out again and asked for the sign to be reversed. The next morning the ground was soaked and the wool was dry. Gideon had to be sure now, right. Well, no not quite. God had him sneak into the Midianite camp and eves drop on the guards. He heard one say to another that he had a dream of bread rolling into the camp and destroying them. “That’s Gideon and his army, we’re doomed!”

Well, now Gideon was pretty sure now that God was on his side. So he had his little army surround the Midianite camp in the darkness of the middle of the night. And here’s the interesting thing. He gave them all lights hidden under jars. At the sound of the trumpet they broke the jars and shouted. Well the Mighty Menacing Midianites weren’t so big now. They were literally scared to death. They actually used their weapons on each other. The great light around the camp defeated them. That great light was something more than just the light of 300 torches. God made it really, really, bright. They were no match for the light of God. Hey, did I tell you that the place where this all happened was the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. In Jesus time it was called Galilee. Way back then in the time of Gideon Zebulun and Naphtali saw a great light and it saved them from their enemies.

Hey! Wait a second! That sounds familiar. A great light in Zebulun and Naphtali? Hey haven’t we heard that at least two other times this morning? In Isaiah and Matthew? But I thought the “light” was Jesus?

Well… It is. That’s how these Old Testament prophecies work. God does something miraculous to save His people to show how He was going to do the same thing in Jesus. Gideon and his army are a great light in Zebulun and Naphtali. Jesus is the really great light in Zebulun and Naphtali.

By the way, did I tell you how the Israelites got into the dark mess they were in? Hey if you go back to the book of Judges and read about the story of Gideon you find these words.

The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. (Judges 6:1, ESV)

These people had suffered a lot, but it was because of their own sin.

Now you won’t be surprised if I talk about that darkness in our hearts as our problem too. It’s an unholy trinity; the devil, the world and our own sinful nature. Each one darker than the other. Satan is out there turning out the light of truth. He lies about God and you. He tells you that you’re too much of a sinner to be loved by God. He tells you it’s better to hide in a dark pit than come into God’s light. The world around us is all darkness, too. Not only is sin public, but darkness is called light and light is called darkness. This week was the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision. That made it legal to kill a baby at any time during it’s pre-born life just because it might be unwanted. A pastor in Albany, New York, said the abortion business was

“sacred ground where women are treated with dignity, supported in their role as moral decision-makers ... sacred ground where the violent voices of hatred and oppression are quelled." (Rev. Larry Phillips of Schenectady's Emmanuel-Friedens Church, Lifenews.com)

Now calling evil “sacred ground” might seem as evil as it gets, but there is darkness that is even worse. You don’t have to look far to find it either.

Jesus said it like this:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matthew 15:19, ESV)

He was only echoing what was said in Genesis:

… the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. (Genesis 8:21, ESV)

And your experience with it tells you the same. It’s

Friendship destroyin, plague deployin, quite annoyin…

Kill, steal and destroy every man, woman, girl and boy.

Now that is being in the dark. But as I said at the very beginning, in that very short sermon, Jesus is the light. The people dwelling in darkness, (that’s us!) have seen a great light.

You know after hearing the story of Gideon, I can’t help but think of that song, you know;

This little gospel light of mine I'm gonna let it shine… Hide it under a bushel, NO! I'm gonna let it shine… Let it shine all the time Let it shine

The Gospel light is what Jesus does for us. Matthew tells us that when Jesus died there was darkness over the whole land for three hours (Matt 27:45). The darkness of Satan, the World and our Sinful flesh were there on the cross with Jesus. He took it all into the darkness of death, so that when the first bright beams of the Easter morning sun hit the empty tomb the darkness was gone forever. In that same way, Jesus shines His light of forgiveness into our sinful hearts. The darkness guilt and shame Satan wants us to feel so we hide from God flies away. The lies of the world that fill us with darkness scatter and even our dark sinful nature is no match for the life of Jesus given for us on the cross. It’s like St. John says at the very beginning of his Gospel.

In [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5, ESV)

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

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Future Aborted.

The future dies today
The future dies every day, a thousand times and more
The future dies with cold, calculated, medical precision

The future dies...

It dies with future
mothers, daughters, and sisters
fathers, sons, and brothers
friends, husbands, wives and lovers

It dies with future
police officers, firefighters and paramedics
doctors, lawyers and presidents

It dies with future
football and baseball players
waiters, waitresses and cooks
teachers and students
mechanics and engineers
designers and artists

It dies with future
managers, employees, clerks, servers, tailors, pastors, prisoners, programmers, secretaries, barbers, drivers, plumbers, carpenters, reporters, steel workers, miners, jewelers...

It dies with future rich and poor and healthy and sick

The future dies today and every day, a thousand times and more
It dies a violent, gruesome, horrible, painful, bloody death...
for choice.

Jonathan C. Watt

Friday, January 14, 2011

John 1:29; Second Sunday after Epiphany; January 16, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 (ESV)

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

There’s a very special thing about starting kindergarten. There is one thing most new kindergarteners anticipate more than anything. There is one kindergarten institution that children look forward to more than any other. It is Show and Tell. Most kids can’t wait to go to school with something, anything, to use for Show and Tell. The anticipation is there weather it is a tooth that has been pulled a family picture, a stuffed animal, or a Christmas present. You can imagine them standing in front of the class holding up, what-ever-it-is and saying, “Look! Here is something I want to tell you about!”

That’s John the Baptizer. He has something he knows about and wants to Show and Tell. It is a prize, a gift, something wonderful, to Show and Tell. There is a sense of excitement in John’s words. It’s an excitement that bursts off of the page in the words, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Now, maybe you don’t quite see the excitement in John’s language. Maybe the world “Behold” doesn’t quite convey it to you. Maybe a good modern translation would be “Give this guy the once over!” “Get a load of this!” or “Looky here!” How ever you translate it John is excited about what he is pointing to. His excitement comes from who it is that he is pointing to. “Look! Behold! The Lamb of God!” he says, “who takes away the sin of the world.”

John sums up everything he knows about Jesus in that short and meaningful sentence. He calls Jesus, “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” At first it might not mean much to us, but for the people who had their feet in the water around John, it was full of meaning. Saying something was the Lamb of God automatically carried with it some very important ideas.

Every year, families would gather together for a celebration. The main course for the meal was a lamb. But it was a very special lamb. Three days before, the man of the house would go to select the perfect lamb for the meal. And not just perfect “for their family,” like we try to pick the perfect Christmas tree for the living room, but perfect without any marks or blemishes, spots or sores. It was to be a perfect little lamb. Once selected, this lamb would become one of the family, for the next three days. It would sleep and play with the children, move about the living spaces of the house, and eat at the table. It was to be loved and cared for as any other person who lived there. In fact, the family was expected to become attached to it because on the fourth day, in the afternoon, the lamb was taken to the temple, to be killed as a sacrifice for the family. I’m sure there were many tears shed, it had to be done. In the temple, its blood was spilled into a bowl and splattered on the altar by a priest. The lamb was a substitute death, a member of the family, given in place of the firstborn of the family.

It was all done to remember how God had delivered them from slavery to Egypt. After nine other plagues, the King of Egypt still refused to allow the Hebrews to leave. God’s next step would be devastating. The first-born male of every family in Egypt would forfeit his life. God’s angel of death would cover the whole country and kill them all. But, a way was provided for God’s faithful people to be spared, a way for the angel of death to pass-over their houses. The blood of a perfect lamb spread on the doorposts of the house told the angel a death had already occurred. A substitute lamb was killed for the sake of the household. The bloody plague convinced Egypt that the slaves should be released. And God commanded that His people observe the sacrifice of the lambs every year. They were to keep the Passover in mind. God would do it again.

That day on the banks of the Jordan when John did his Show and Tell he may not have completely understood how it would all come about, but he did know that Jesus would take away the sin of the world. He knew that Jesus was God’s servant sent for that very purpose (In Isaiah 53, the prophet Isaiah makes a connection between the Suffering Servant of God and a sacrificial lamb). His excitement about Jesus was in knowing that the days of human slavery to sin were coming to an end.

John’s Show and Tell, tells us a lot about that, too. Look at how John talks about sin. He says the Lamb takes away the “sin” of the world, not the “sins” of the world. He’s not just talking about the bad things that you and I do. He’s talking about the root cause of those things we do. If we think about St. Paul’s words, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 ESV) It’s not the “all have sinned” part; it’s the; falling “short of the glory of God.” This is what John knew very well. The whole human race is in a state of rebellion toward God, a condition of separation from God called spiritual death. But we would rather talk about our sins, because no matter how often we have done bad things there is always someone who has done worse. And much of the time we think that we are in control of the bad things we’d like to do. We think them, we want to do them, but we manage somehow to avoid them. Our sins are something we live with, but we believe we keep them mostly in check. We like to see ourselves as mostly good. Once in awhile we fall of the wagon and sin. And we always have excuses. “I was overworked or overtired. I need the money. I have to think about myself once in a while.” We rarely ever blame ourselves for even the smallest act of sin. If there had been a camera in the Garden of Eden, the picture of Adam blaming Eve for his act of sin, would have look just like us.

Our real problem is sin. That is the corruption of the good human nature that God created us to be. We see the results of it all around us. Many through the ages have commented on the evil nature of humans. Cicero a Roman politician and philosopher wrote, “Even if you drive nature away with a pitchfork, still it continually returns” (Epist. I, 10, 24)[1] But it is only in God’s Word that we get the real picture of how bad the condition really is. Ephesians 2:1-2 says that following the course of the world, people are dead in their trespasses and sins. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Ps 51:5, ESV); … for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. (Ge 8:21, ESV); For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. (Ro 8:7, ESV) In fact, Jesus tells us that we are salves to sin. (John 8:34) That’s where those things we do, the sins that we excuse really come from. Even if we could stop them completely, we’d still have a problem. We are slaves to our sinful nature. Bad trees bear bad fruit. (Matt 7:17)

Now you can see why John’s Show and Tell made him so excited. He was looking at God’s way of taking care of our slavery to sin. He was looking at the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Jesus, The Lamb of God, has much in common with that Passover lamb that would have been on John hearers minds. He was perfect with out blemish. Not a slave to sin like we are. He was perfect and holy. He didn’t do sins. His nature was completely good. He is everything God wants a person to be, what God wants us to be, that we never can live up to. And He came and lived among us, right where we live. He lived to die. There is really only one way to end slavery, particularly our slavery to sin. Our sin requires that we forfeit our lives. We have to die. It took death to release the slaves in Egypt, too. God’s angel of death stalks the world to take us. But God provides a way of escape. He provides a substitute Lamb. The blood of a perfect, spotless, sinless Lamb is spilled and sprinkled on the beams of a cross. Jesus Christ died for the sake of God’s people and they are freed from their slavery to sin.

That’s really what John’s Show and Tell is all about. That’s why there’s an exclamation point at the end of the sentence. So what is it that makes it an exclamation point for us? You and I are freed from the slavery of that sinful nature that pushes us to sin. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Co 5:17, ESV) That’s God’s Word again telling us what is ours through faith in Jesus substitute death for us. And again, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22-24, ESV) It is St. Paul again who tells us exactly how that happens for you and me. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Ga 3:27, ESV)

Ever since you were baptized the perfect, spotless, sinless Lamb of God is the controlling factor in your life, not your sinful nature. It may be in there still poking up and trying drag you back into sin, but you have put on Jesus. He takes away the sin of the world. He takes away your sin.

Isn’t that a Show and Tell that’s worth getting excited about? I think so. And that’s the other thing about this Show and Tell. You can do it, too. All John did was point to Jesus and say what he knew to be true about Him. “Hey look! That’s the Lamb of God, who God has sent to take away the sin of the world!” John didn’t worry about what people would say about him. He didn’t worry about how many people around him already knew about Jesus. It didn’t matter to him that he was knee deep in muddy water. John just pointed to Jesus. That’s our job. We are to Show and Tell about Jesus wherever we live and work and play. Because wherever we are, there are people who are salves to sin. And Jesus is the only one who takes it away. Amen.

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


[1]Pieper, F. (1999, c1950, c1951, c1953). Christian Dogmatics (electronic ed.). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

Isaiah 42:1-4; The Baptism of Our Lord; January 9, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA;

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. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:1-4, ESV)

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

People have in mind what servants should be. I remember the classic Disney movie Cinderella. The prince’s messenger is at the door after trying to put the glass slipper on each of the evil step sister’s fat feet. “Are you sure there isn’t anyone else in the house?” “Wait!” Comes the cry from the stair way. Cinderella comes bounding down to deftly place here delicate foot there. But it is the look that her step mother and step sisters have on their faces that makes the whole movie priceless. They had become accustomed to Cinderella being a servant. Clean up after me. Bring me food. In their minds she was just not princess material. She was their servant. And there are just certain things servants don’t do… shouldn’t do. But that’s what makes the story a good one. Something remarkable happens.

Isaiah is telling us a about a servant too. “Behold my Servant,” he says, some translations say, “Here is my Servant.” By starting that way God tells us that this Servant is a very important person, actually a ‘chosen one.’ Someone who God has specifically sent. But as we read on, we may see some things that make us wonder. It isn’t the kind of stuff we’d expect to see a Servant do. Here, according to Isaiah, this Servant actually seems more like a Hero. Children (and adults) often imagine themselves as heroes. You’ve maybe seen them tuck a towel in their shirt and play “super hero.” It is great fun to pretend that we are capable of ‘saving the world’. But somehow, I don’t remember that the heroes that I pretended to be were really much of a Servant. Being the hero means you get to be in charge. Being the hero means you get to care of everything. Being the hero means you get to be the boss. But that’s not what we see here. How can a Servant be a hero? We don’t always see those two things as being compatible, unless, like the Cinderella story the Servant first becomes something different.

Well, to understand this better let’s look at Isaiah’s job description for God’s Servant / Hero, and maybe we’ll be able to see how they fit together here.

“He will bring forth justice to the nations” Now this justice that is being talked about here is bigger than just seeing that the law is administered evenly to everyone; that criminals are punished and innocent people are not. It’s a much bigger picture that is in mind. Another way to think of it might be “salvation-justice.” What God is promising here is that His Servant is going to set the world back in order . The whole world, “the nations,” set back to the way God intended it all to be. People can’t do this kind of work. It takes God’s Spirit and power. And that’s what this servant is going to have.

Isaiah goes on, “He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” And here another part that clashes with our thinking. He will establish this “justice-salvation” but he is humble and gentile. He doesn’t shout out about his accomplishments. He doesn’t do His work by brute force. He’s no a bull in a china shop, changing things, doing his work by force. His work will be so careful that he will care for even those who are already hurting, and those who are weak. But just because we don’t see what we think of when we think of heroes, we are told that he will be successful. We aren’t to think that because he is gentle and humble that he can’t accomplish God’s task. We aren’t to think that he’ll be weak. God promises that it will be done. Apparently, this Servant can be a Hero after all!

And that brings us to the Gospel reading for today. It’s the account of Jesus baptism in the Jordan River. This even marks the beginning of Jesus public ministry, a kind of stepping out in the open, being shown for who He is. Lot’s of things here point to Jesus as Our Servant / Hero. The dove coming down from the sky, and the voice of God speaking about Him. But mostly all you have to do is remember what Jesus did to see that He fits the bill. He is the one who brings God’s salvation for all people. He walks among the hurting people of the world, healing them and loving, even the unlovable. He serves them humbly, shedding the truth of God into their darkened world. He healed the sick and freed the captives from the prison of their sin. He shows us that he is a Servant / Hero who could live a life without selfishness, unjust anger and sin of any kind. But just because Jesus serves in this we shouldn’t get the idea that He is weak. Jesus Christ, our Servant / Hero, gives his very life for the sake of others. He serves by offering up His body and blood on the cross. The life and work of Jesus the Servant / Hero has its greatest point when he sheds his blood for the sins of the whole world. To all the world it looks like weakness, but in reality it is only the great strength of God that could do it. Jesus is the true hero, who takes the sins of the whole world on himself, suffers the just punishment for all nations. He takes the selfishness, the pride and the violence of sinful people on himself. His innocent death set in motion the restoration of the whole world back to God’s perfect creation.

And it all starts with the removal of human sin. It starts publicly with Jesus being baptized. Jesus Baptism was very different from ours. In our baptism we receive the forgiveness of God through Jesus. But Jesus didn’t need the forgiveness of sins as we do. We’ll sing about Him in a moment when we celebrate His Supper. He’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But just how does He do that? We always talk about Jesus taking away our sins… just how does Jesus take away our sin? How does serve us and carry your sins to the cross? Well, it’s His baptism marks the beginning of just that. In the old days the church pictured it this way. When we are baptized our sins fill the water. You know what I mean if you’ve cleaned a bathtub, and rubbed down the dirty ring that forms there. Our sins are washed off of us, and out of us, in Baptism, right down into the water. We say our sins are washed away in Baptism. Picture in your mind all your sins, floating on the water like a huge dirty oil slick. Think about all the times you lied, even those little white ones you use to make yourself look better. Think about all the times you put your own needs about the needs of your family. Think about all the times you should have spoken out about the sin you see around you and didn’t. Think about the sexual sins that flash through your mind that you want dwell on. Or the even the times you wanted to take matters into your own hands, instead of letting God take care of you. Like not trusting Him that even illness and death can be used for your good. We want to take these matters into our own hands, we want death with dignity instead of death trusting in God to know when is best for life to end. We want every child to be a wanted child instead of letting God determine the value of human life. You and I have been affected even by these sins. They creep into our thinking when we aren’t paying attention. Just like how we let the people outside the church tell us what we should believe, teach and confess, instead of clinging to God’s Word alone. It’s not so much the things we do, but what’s happened to us because of sin. It’s corrupted what God intended us to be. And it comes from our very being. The sins we do, the thoughts we have are only pictures of what’s in our nature. That’s why no matter how hard we try we can’t change enough to get rid of all our sin. We can’t bring God’s justice to our lives by effort. It has to be brought to us. That’s what Baptism does. All those sins and every other sin of thought, word and deed, are floating in the water, dirty and oily, washed away by the Water and God’s Word in Baptism. But they can’t just stay there. God has to deal with sin. He’s got to clean things up. Sin has to have punishment. And that’s where Jesus the Servant / Hero comes in. In His baptism He gets down into our dirty, sin filled water and takes up all the sin that is there. He sucks it up into His own body. Just like the paper towel commercial, Mom starts with a perfectly clean towel and cleans up job after job around the kitchen until the towel is full of dirt. And remember Jesus is completely God, so He can take it all, every single sin every committed, and every sin that will ever be committed. In fact, He takes the sin that’s a very part of our human-ness, the sin that’s a part of our corrupted nature. In baptism God drowns our sinful nature. The sin that came to us through Adam and Eve rejecting God in the garden, the sin that wants to pushes God away. The sin that is at the root of all the sinful things we do. That’s what Jesus does in His baptism… He becomes our Servant / Hero the Sin-Bearer. And He takes all of it right to the cross, and buries it His death there. He puts to death our sin-bearing sinful nature. All that dirt, all that sin, all that muck, He puts to death, and into the grave. And when He rises again on Easter Sunday, they are all gone, forever. That’s what a Hero does. He helps us when we can’t help ourselves. He saves us when we can’t save ourselves. He serves when we need to be served.

So, did you know that God now calls you to be a servant / hero, too? No, you can’t bear the sins of the world as Jesus did. You can’t serve perfectly, live perfectly as he did. But we can, we are God’s servant / heroes right where God has placed us. You are God’s servant when you do simple ordinary everyday things that God has placed before you to do. Are you a parent? You are a servant hero to your children and you serve by doing what parents do, changing diapers, preparing meals, etc. The most important task of a parent though, the very reason God gives children parents is to teach the faith. He makes them servant / heroes to tell their children about Jesus. Do you have a job? You are a servant / hero to your employer. You serve by being faithful to your work and doing the best job you can do. Are you a plumber, farmer, child, teacher, you are God’s servant / hero exactly where God has placed you. You serve by serving those who need to be served, by doing what the commandments say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Rom 19:9) That’s what we are talking about when we end the baptismal service with the words, “… a fellow member of the body of Christ, a child of the same Heavenly Father, to work and grow together in his kingdom.”

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

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Matthew 2:1-12; The Epiphany of Our Lord; January 2, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA

1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6“ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV)

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

Sometimes when you hear a text you are presented with lots of questions. Over the centuries this account is one that has done just that. People have been asking questions about this visit of the ‘Wise Men’ ever since it happened, ever since Matthew committed it to ink. The questions that are often asked are: Who were these men? Where did they come from? How many were there? What are their names? We could spend time talking about these questions, and we probably have at one time or another. They are interesting and intriguing questions, but really, they aren’t important questions. They aren’t questions that have any real importance to our faith.

There are important questions that we can and should ask when we read this text. And those questions have correct answers that are found here. And even more than that those answers prompt us to certain proper responses.

Right Questions:

There are questions that have been asked here. The first is the question the Wise Men asked Herod. “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” Really, it’s not the first question they asked. They already knew the answers to their first question: “Who is he?” If they had not answered that question they wouldn’t have traveled so far to find him. They didn’t need to know the “who” only the “where.”

Herod carried the question to the scribes and Pharisees. He also wanted to know where. He recognized immediately what the Wise Men also knew. Herod answered the question “who” in asking where the Christ would be born. And then he asked the Wise men when the star appeared. Herod asked important questions, but as we see later in the chapter, he was asking the questions for the wrong reasons.

These are questions that we too should ask. Who is he that came? When did he come? Why did he come? For whom did he come?

Correct Answers:

The bible, God’s own word to us, gives us the answers. God always makes sure that we have the correct answers to the right questions. The Scribes and Pharisees knew the answer to “Where.” He was born in Bethlehem. They told Herod and he told the Magi. It was the right answer to the right question. The Wise Men went and worshipped Jesus where he was to be found.

Herod asked “When.” It had to do with the appearing of the star. It’s an important question, too. But there’s more to the answers than just a date. In fact, the date isn’t the important part of the question. The real answer is that Jesus was born in God’s own time, at exactly the right time. "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." (Galatians 4:4-5, ESV) It was the perfect time to accomplish God’s great desire to save human creatures from sin.

Both Herod and the Magi seemed to know “who” the child is. Notice how the visitors didn’t say, “Where is he that will become the king?” “Where is he who has been born King?” Jesus is the king of the Jews already when he was born. He is king in the stable, the house, walking along the road and teaching. And most of all he is King as he hangs on the cross, with a sign above his head that also said “King of the Jews.”

And that’s the answer to the question “Why did he come?” He came to minister to people; to heal, them and feed them, but most of all to restore their relationship with God. Because of sin people deserve only God’s anger and punishment. Jesus, the King, came to pay the punishment by his suffering and death on the cross. And through faith, he rules in the hearts of those who believe in him.

Proper Response:

When the right questions are asked and the correct answers given, a response is always required. This Epiphany text shows us responses too. Herod and his advisors didn’t respond in the right way, and they had the right answers even before the questions were asked. The Scribes and Pharisees knew where to find Jesus. But the text doesn’t say they went to see him. In fact, it says nothing at all, about how they reacted. They knew the answer but it seems as if their knowledge was only knowledge in the head, not knowledge of the heart.

We know all about Herod’s response. He knew when the child was born and sent His soldiers out to kill all the children of the proper age in Bethlehem. He sought to protect his own place on the throne. It wasn’t a response out of character for him either. He killed many that he saw as threats to him, even his ‘favorite’ wife and two of his sons.

It is the Wise Men who respond according to God’s will. After all they were ‘wise men’ right? What makes them wise is that they were led by the Holy Spirit to believe the correct answers to all the questions. They even understood that Jesus came for all people, the “for whom did he come?” question. They understood that the answer to that question was that the child they were seeking was for all people. When they found him, they rejoiced with “exceeding great joy,” joy born out of the realization that God sent a savior for them. They worshipped him, offered him valuable gifts and went on their way.

What’s our response? Well, often times we act as if our faith was simply in our heads. Our response to God’s love is dry and lifeless. We live as if the King of the Jews wasn’t our king at all. We stand with the Scribes and Pharisees knowing the truth but not allowing it to motivate us to action. Other times we push the king from our lives, preferring to be king for ourselves. And that’s were we’d always be, if it weren’t for the grace of God. Because of God’s working in our hearts through his Word and Sacraments, our response is different; our response is like that of those Wise Men of Old:

As they offered gifts most rare
At thy cradle, rude and bare,
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to thee, our heavenly king.

We worship the King, Jesus, born to die for our sin. We worship him with our hearts, lives and treasure.

This text brings many questions to our minds. God provides the answers through the guiding of the Holy Spirit. The answers tell us of his great love through his Son, Jesus Christ. And again through him we respond with “exceeding great joy.” Because of Jesus. Amen.

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