Sunday, February 10, 2019

Isaiah 6:1-8; The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 10, 2019;


Isaiah 6:1-8; The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 10, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”” (Isaiah 6:1–8, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
With Uzziah dead, a change was coming to God’s people in Israel. Uzziah was a good and powerful king. He held the Assyrians a bay. He helped the people prosper. The new king Ahaz was not good or powerful. He was controlled by his wife Jezebel. God gives Isaiah the prophet a vision and updates his call. He has been preaching and teaching already. Now things will be different. The security of the people is threatened. But they aren’t going to listen. The prophet’s words will go unheeded. And not just evil king Ahaz but the people, too. Isaiah’s updated calling will be difficult.
So we have God’s vision to Isaiah. He is high and exalted on a throne. Seraphim and Cherubim call out praises to God. “Holy, Holy, Holy! YHWH Sabbath.” Everything shakes. There is smoke that fills the house of God. The angels are addressing God in Trinity and Unity. Three persons, thrice holy. God of Armies.
There is nothing for Isaiah to do but die. No one can see God and live. Even Moses had to be hidden in the cleft of a rock, just to survive God passing by. Isaiah sees God in his holiness, the angels that swarm around him. Isaiah knows his place. He has been given job of speaking for God and yet he recognizes his own sin and failure. He sees his sin clearly. He sees the sin of the people he preaches to also. A sinner in the hands of an angry God is doomed. Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!
God is mercy. He forgives. He gives his own righteousness. God sends forgiveness in with a burning coal. The messenger touches Isaiah’s unclean lips and restores them. “Your guilt is taken was; your sin is atoned for.”
Isaiah responds to God’s call and forgiveness. Forgiveness has refreshed and revitalized him. He is restored as God’s mouthpiece. He is strengthened to face Ahaz with the message of God’s coming discipline. “Here I am. Send me!”
God calls, not just prophets, but all his people. He calls them to live and work and play in particular places among particular people. Isaiah didn’t deserve to be called by God. He was a man of unclean lips, who had failed in his calling many times. We do not deserve God’s calling either. We have not chosen God, but he has instead, chosen us. He chooses because he chooses, “without any merit or worthiness in me.” He chooses and places us in places to serve; bankers, teachers, farmers, parents, students, missionaries, and even pastors. Chosen and placed, called and given tasks to do in our calling. And like Isaiah called to speak, called to give the Good News of forgiveness found in Jesus Christ alone.
We are unworthy. We are sinners. We deserve God’s anger and punishment. Woe is us! We are people of unclean lips. We see God’s holiness and our sin.
I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.
We come before God’s throne pleading repentance, remembering that we have been made God’s very children in Holy Baptism. God puts his very name YHWH on us. And where God’s name is there is forgiveness. And we receive forgiveness by the touching of Christ’s body and blood to our lips (a far sight better than a burning coal!). We are given the righteousness of God. Clothed in the white robe of Christ. All that he did for us. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Your punishment done. Hell is not to be your destination. God declares to you and me “Your guilt is taken away; your sin atoned for.”
“Here I am, send me!” is our response. We are called in our baptism. Forgiveness refreshes and revitalizes us. We are restored as God’s mouthpiece. We are strengthened to face a world that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. And we are called as who we are. We all have unique talents and abilities to serve. Some serve as missionaries. Some serve as teachers. Some serve as friends and family. All called and placed to serve, placed to show God’s love and mercy. You are called to be God’s children in the world exactly right now where he has placed you. Each one of you uniquely placed in a family, a job, next to a friend, to serve. To be the best husband, wife, father, teacher, student, government worker, mechanic, builder that you can be.
For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV)
God calls you to this work. He may not call with burning coals or bushes, visions of glory in the temple or even voices in the night. But he does speak to you in his Holy Word. He does come to you in Word and Water and Bread and Wine in a real presence that you can see and feel and taste and touch. We see our sin clearly proclaimed to us. We confess it and receive God’s pronounce forgiveness. And we are touched directly by God with forgiveness, individually. The Holy Spirit works in us faith in Jesus as the one who has brought that forgiveness through his death on the cross and resurrection. He enables us to live as God’s people among a world of people with unclean lips among a people who will be slow to believe. And the Spirit draws us close to Jesus, the Word of Life himself.  He provides direction and purpose, and changes in our callings.
Job changes place us among new people. Marriage and children give opportunities to teach a new generation directly. Grandparents can show God’s love in ways that parents are unable. Some are called to change their lives and move to a foreign mission field. Some are given the means to support them. Some are called to serve simply in work of service. Wherever we are, whenever things change, we follow God’s leading with the humble response, “Here am I, send me!”
In all of it we are called in our baptism to be God’s children. He has placed us in the world, specifically where and when we are. Each one of us is called to be in this world as God’s children, loving, helping and serving those he puts before us. And in that service we also bring the Word of comfort and hope. Jesus Christ has died on the cross for all your sins. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

1 Corinthians 13:8-13; The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany; February 3, 2019;


1 Corinthians 13:8-13; The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany; February 3, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:8–13, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today we are doing things the way we always to them. We are singing hymns about what God has done for us. And today the text urges us to talk a lot about God’s great love. We are, just like usual, hearing God’s word read to us today. In a few moments we’ll be praying, just like usual, giving our gifts to our Lord in response to his great love for us, and  we’ll be celebrating Holy Communion. It is all the things we expect to do on any typical given Sunday, in this place. We do them because that’s what Children of God do when we gather together. We sing to, and about God. We pray about our problems. We listen to God’s voice in his word. And we respond with our gifts. Today will also respond with our gifts through the collection plate. So this is an ordinary Sunday at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr.
But, there is one thing that we do, that I haven’t mentioned yet. And according to Paul, (according to God), it’s the greatest thing we can do. Of course I’m talking about Love.
“Look,” Paul said to the Corinthian Church, “Love it the key thing. What you do that’s built on love will last, because love never ends.” Paul is drawing a strong comparison here to what God said to Isaiah,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, ESV)
It does what is promised. Just as God’s Word never falls to the ground ineffective, Christian love will remain in its important place for all time. “I know you’ve been given some important gifts,” Paul continues, “prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. And right now these are important. But, remember that these are only for ‘right now.’ When Jesus comes again, when we see him face to face, these things will be unnecessary. God’s love for us and our love for him will take over everything.”
I remember when I was little. I had a lot of ideas. Ideas about the world and how things worked. In the same way that I chuckled when my kids were little and they said something ‘cute’. I’m sure both of my parents had quite a few chuckles over me. But, to me they were pretty important ideas. Ideas like, cats were female dogs, and horses were female cows. I don’t remember when I realized that that wasn’t true, but it was a life changing event. When I was young I knew that my parents loved me, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that I learned what kind of love it really is. St. Paul is talking about that kind of a change here in the First Letter to the Corinthians. He says,
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11, ESV)
Paul isn’t saying that prophecy, and knowledge weren’t important. On the contrary he is saying that they were very important to the building up of the church. But, he says, when the last day dawns, these things, will be no longer necessary. “Because the sun rises all lights are extinguished.” (K. Barth) Similarly, I’m not saying that what we do here isn’t important. It’s vital to our Christian growth. But, to use Paul’s words, they are only part. Like the things of a child’s understanding. As great a Christ’s Holy Supper is, it is only a foretaste of the feast to come. The difference between what we have now and what we shall have is unimaginable.
Of all of the things we do, God says, through Paul, that love is the greatest. We can sing about God all day long, but if we do it without love, it is a terrible noise indeed. We can pray for people all over the world, but without love, its just noise in our ears. You see love is the most important gift that God gives us, and no matter what we do, at work, at home, at school, and even at church… if we do it without love, it is nothing.
Paul wants the Corinthian church, and us, to stay focused on what is important, on the things that endure, eagerly anticipating what is coming for all Christians. “When that which is complete comes,” he says, “that which is partial will be superseded.” When Jesus returns again even the most important things in life will lack any value because the all lack permanence. Even the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge.
But, love endures. We see it especially the love given to us in Jesus. It is the perfect explanation of enduring love. From eternity, God made a plan to save us from our sins. His love for us was so great that Jesus was given to be our Savior, even though it meant his death. Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends. And Jesus demonstrated the greatest love of all, when he laid down his life on the cross for us. It is love that endures the test of time, love that reaches right down to us here in this place. Because of what Jesus did for us, we have in our hearts the greatest thing in the world—love.  We love, because he first loved us.
And now, dear Christian friends, it is time to show our love for Jesus Christ. I’m not talking only about singing, praying and talking about what Jesus did for us. I’m talking about showing it, acting it, and living it. I’m not just talking about giving cash to help meet the church budget, although that is important. I’m talking about inviting our neighbors and friends to hear about the love of God in Christ. Do you realize that 50% of the people who live in Iowa are un-churched? It is even true of our little corner of the Minnesota Arrowhead here. Weather you realize it our not; you mingle with people every day who are going to hell. You talk with them, you laugh with them, and you even eat with them. Maybe you’ve told yourself that everyone around here belongs to a church, but the truth is, that it just isn’t so. There are people living in this very town who don’t know about the love of God. There are people very near to us who don’t know about Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that we need to walk down main street here with a sandwich board that says, “Repent! The end is near!” What is important is that we show them the love of God. It’s also important to find ways of telling them about the love of God for them.
We have a wonderful thing going here at Life in Christ Lutheran Church. Every week we come here and experience the love of God. A love that was so great for Jesus, that it meant his death on the cross. Always remember that it’s because of his love, that love is the greatest thing for us. Jesus lives in us, and he shows his love through us. That’s what makes everything different, especially on a special day, like today. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
           

Monday, January 28, 2019

Strategic Planning Seminar - January 27, 2019



Strategic Planning Seminar - January 27, 2019
Life in Christ Lutheran Church
Grand Marais, MN

Agenda:
  • Study of Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8
  • Strengths of our Church
  • Weaknesses of our Church
  • Our Assets

Study of Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8
Summary of the Study (see video posted on Facebook facebook.com/lifeinchristgm )
  • "Taking the pattern of the verses, we are to be witnesses empowered by the Holy Spirit, to our local community and the whole world.  While we go about our daily business, we are to point to Word and Sacrament Ministry as the means to reach the world." 

Strengths of our Church

The congregation identified the following strengths:
  • We are good citizens, encouraged by the church
  • Solid interpretation and solid foundation on the Word. "Built on the Rock"
  • Our property, its location
  • We sing well. We have good hymns to sing. 
  • We are a solid liturgical church
  • Stubbornness (both an a strength and weakness) we get done what needs to be done.
  • We are a friendly, welcoming group of people.
  • The majority of the congregation are self-employed

Things that have worked in the past
  • Informational booth at the community info fair
  • Caroling
  • Float in parade
  • Remote bible study, at Lisa's store and other places.
  • Program on the radio

We next discussed some ideas of how to capitalize on these strengths:
  • Apologetics - Lisa's father is an Apologetics speaker, we have discussed having him speak
  • Pastor will be writing articles on Apologetics in July for the local paper
  • The property as a strength, the sign needs to be updated and lit
  • Church phone directory for community churches
  • Housing for international students who come to work for the summer
  • a community garden

Weaknesses of our Church

The congregation discussed the following weaknesses:
  • Our size is seen as a weakness in the community (anonymity being one of the issues as well as an organized youth group)
  • How the community sees what we believe (i.e. we are strict, unloving and unwelcoming, and there are many examples of people who say they were treated badly by LCMS).
  • Budget
  • The current building, although a wonderful gift from God, and well used, would need updating / replacing
  • Stubbornness (see above)
  • Distance our members must travel to attend church and other events

Our Assets
The congregation discussed the following assets:
  • The parsonage
  • Location / Property
  • Recreation
  • Gunflint Lake
  • Visitors
  • Property available for growth (10 acres adjoining our property)
  • Resident pastor
We next discussed some ideas of how to capitalize on these strengths:
  • Pastor swap - primarily with the congregations that have supported us.
  • Stopover for people recreating in the Boundary Waters

What will we concentrate on for the coming year?

It was agreed that we should work on 
  • educating and changing the perception in the community as to who we really are
  • be more visibly active in the community as a congregation.  Events in Grand Marais
  • Bob will visit the Chamber of Commerce for a list of needs in the community, pastor will communicate these needs to the congregation and schedule a followup.
  • Lisa's father will come and speak on apologetics connected with pastor's articles in the paper, needs approval of the congregation

Other items discussed but not acted on at this time
  • Thanksgiving offering for Christian Care Committee
  • Youth group mission trips destination

Respectfully Submitted
Pastor Watt.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Luke.4.21-30; Third Sunday after Epiphany; January 27, 2019


Luke.4.21-30; Third Sunday after Epiphany; January 27, 2019
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
"And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away. " (Lk 4:21-30, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
People like Jesus. In fact, I did a Google search on “Jesus” and it returned an approximate 1,260,000,000 hits. That’s millions of web pages about Jesus. And even I narrowed it to “Jesus Christ” Google returned a mere 584,000,000 hits. It took me a while to get to every single one of them… And I think you could say by my unscientific Google poll He’s well known. Others:

Adolf Hitler                  86.5m

Gandhi                         207m
Pope John Paul             2,330m
Donald Trump              1,210m
Barack Obama             228m
Bill Clinton                   239m
My Name                      1,200,000
I’m sure that each one of the web pages about Jesus has a different idea about who He is / was, and what He’s all about.
Lots of people like to talk about Jesus. Jesus the great teacher / preacher. Jesus the healer. Jesus breaking down class barriers. Jesus feeding the hungry and the poor. People like Jesus that way: speaking to them and giving advise on how to live a better life; telling them that they need to care more for other people; telling them to care for the sick and the hungry. That’s a Jesus that’s useful to most people… a Jesus that is worth listening to by human standards.
We like Jesus that way, too. “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.” “Ask what ever you want in my name and I will give it to you.” “I came to give you life and give it to the full.” It’s a Jesus we like to hear about. It’s a Jesus we gladly follow. Listen to any one of hundreds of Christian authors out there and you hear everything from “Name it and claim it.” Jesus wants you healthy wealthy and wise. All you have to do is such and such for him. Or Jesus has won your salvation, it’s up to you to get the “good stuff” after that.” That’s the Jesus lots of Christians want to follow. That’s the Jesus we want to follow, too.
The fact is we want Jesus to do stuff for us and we want him to do it our way. Jesus I’ll give money to the church “if you let me win the lottery.” Jesus, heal me in a miraculous way and I’ll tell everyone about what you’ve done. Really, in all these things, we want Jesus to do things our way, the way we think is best. You’ve probably heard the story about the man who lived near a damn that was leaking and the flood warning went out. A neighbor came with his car and said, “The flood is coming come with me and we’ll escape.” “No,” the man said, “Jesus will take care of me.” After the water rose to the second floor of his house another man came with a boat. “Get in I’ll take you to safety. “No,” the man said, “Jesus will take care of me.” The water rose some more, and the man was forced to his roof. A rescue team came in a helicopter and waved him to grab the rope and be pulled to safety. “No,” the man shouted over the beating of the rotor, “Jesus will take care of me.” Finally, the water rose over the roof and the man was drowned. He stood before Jesus and asked, “Jesus, why didn’t you save me?” “What do you mean? I sent you a car, a boat and a helicopter. What more do you want?” That’s Jesus on our terms. Jesus don’t let me suffer. Jesus I’ll follow you but let me keep my friends. Jesus I’m yours but just do it my way.
One thing this account of Jesus in Nazareth shows us is that people are the same everywhere and that even those people weren’t much different from us. They saw Jesus in a certain way. After all, He grew up there. He was a small-town boy who had become well known. They saw him play in the streets, work for his father, attend the synagogue school, and even go to weddings and funerals for his relatives. He was the local boy made good. They even liked what he had to say (at first). “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him… And who wouldn’t? They liked what they heard him say. This was a Jesus they could deal with. The scripture that he said was fulfilled was this:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18-19, ESV)
It was good to hear it from the hometown boy… freeing captives, healing the blind, and giving a helping hand to the downtrodden. It’s good when kids turn out the way you raise them, isn’t it? It is Jesus the way they wanted: healing, feeding, and loving the poor and the hungry. In fact, they expected much more from the “carpenter’s son.” They were ready for him to do exactly what he said he’d do for them. “Isn’t this the Joseph’s son? He’s one of us. Let’s see him do what he has promised for us, so that life can be better for us.”
Jesus wants them to think about something else. He wants them to understand that he wasn’t just sent for their little town, or even just for the Jews, but for all people. He reminds them of two times in Jewish history where God sent prophets not to his people but to people who weren’t Jews. “You want me to take care of just you, but God’s plan for me is bigger that just this town. Open your eyes and see the world around you. That’s whom I’ve come to save. ‘Physician heal thyself,’ you’ll say to me. Don’t worry about all those people out there. Stay here and take care of us and we’ll believe in you.’ But I’ve come for more than just you. I’ve come for the whole world. Even people whom you don’t even want to hear about.”
And that’s when they became angry. They wanted their hometown boy to take care of them. They wanted people to come to him right there in their little town, to put them on them map. But Jesus told them he had other things in mind. They wanted Jesus on their terms, and if they couldn’t have him that way, they didn’t want him at all. So, they took him to the top of a hill outside of town, to threaten him with death. ‘Jesus heal us here and we’ll believe. Jesus, make us rich and we’ll believe. This is our chance to change our lives. Don’t waste this chance on other people.’ But Jesus pushed his way through the crowd and left, it wasn’t yet time for him to die. 
And that just goes to show us how people are the same everywhere and all the time. Look at how they want ‘their Jesus’ to just worry about and take care of them. You know in a lot of ways I think we are guilty of the very same thing. We have our comfortable church here, we’re used to the people who come and sing with us. We gather to receive all the wonderful gifts that God has for us. And that’s important, and he does offer them to us, for us. But, if we don’t bring Jesus to this community, we’re no better than the folks from Jesus hometown, wanting Jesus for ourselves but forgetting that His life, death and resurrection is for everyone. The people of Nazareth didn’t want Jesus to be for the people outside of their town. Lots of the time we don’t want Jesus to be for our neighbors. We don’t want Jesus to be for bikers, or people of different colors, or people who just don’t seem fit in here in “our church.”
Oh, but Pastor, I know that Jesus is for other people, but all the people I know are already Christians. They are too far left to become Christians. Well, that’s a lie right from the lips of Satan, and it’s an easy one to believe because we are so comfortable just the way we are. Jesus on our terms, Jesus for us, Jesus right here and nowhere else. “I want Jesus but just right here in this comfortable place not out there where he upsets my life and makes me uncomfortable with other people that don’t fit in.”
That’s where you and I are guilty. That’s where the sin of the Galileans shows up in our hearts, too. But there is Good News here for us. Jesus could have been thrown off the cliff to his death that day. But he wasn’t. In fact, he walked right through that crowd and right down the road that lead to the cross. He didn’t just come for those people who wanted him for themselves. Jesus came for you and me. He came to take care of the guilt that we feel when we fail to share him with others. Or even when we want ‘those people’ to just go to a different church.
He told the people in that synagogue. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He was talking about Good News. Remember… He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. That’s what He did. That’s why He came. When the guilt of our own sin holds us captive, the Good News of Jesus sets us free. Today, right now in our hearing, here in God’s Word, in God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, crucified dead and buried, risen and ascended, present here with us right now. That the Good News fulfilled in your hearing. Jesus died on the cross to forgive you of your sins, all of them, even the sin of keeping Jesus to yourself. Even the sin of believing that there’s no one you know who needs Jesus. It’s all forgiven. It’s all forgotten. It’s all done. When your guilt makes you captive, here you have, in your hearing, the Good News that Jesus has removed your guilt. And that’s Jesus on his terms. That’s Jesus, as He wants to work in your life. That’s what friendship with Jesus means for you.
And that’s the Good News that you have for everyone you know. The forgiveness that He has given you he offers to others. That’s Jesus on His terms. He forgives you for your sins. He wants you to tell other people about that. He wants you to tell other people about the forgiveness that He has for them. How do you do it? Well, that’s the part you leave up to Jesus. But that’s exactly why we are “Building Friendships.” You keep your focus on Jesus and what He has done for you. Remember your baptism, where the promises of God are made true for you. Listen to His Word and receive the Lord’s Supper. Receive all these gifts for the forgiveness of your sins. God will open doors for you to share the Good News of Jesus with your friends. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, January 21, 2019

John 2.1-11; Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 20, 2019


John 2.1-11; Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 20, 2019
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Dad, you’ll never guess what we found in the yard!” 
That’s the first thing Miciah said to me when I saw her at the end of one of the work days on our Mission Trip a few years ago to New Orleans.  We had been divided into different work groups. 
“We were hauling out a pile of debris out of the back yard, and at the bottom was a stop sign.”  She popped up a picture on her digital camera.  The picture showed the classic white and red sign with a few dings and scratches.   When the hurricane blew it must have come loose of its post.  When the levy broke, and the flood waters raced down the streets it dumped the sign and all that debris in a big pile right there in that back yard.  Now that stop sign was more than just a piece of trash.  That sign was a sign of something powerful that had happened.  It was a sign that pointed to the power of Katrina that happened over 14 months ago; wind so strong it can tear a sign from a post; water flowing at such a rate that it carries bricks, cinderblocks, branches, glass, mud and a stop sign, and deposits them in a big pile in a back yard with the stop sign at the very bottom.  Now, you can go over to the youth room at Divine Shepherd, Blackhawk, SD and see that sign tacked up on the all.  As it hangs there it’s a sign of something very powerful.  Actually, two things; one the awesome power of a hurricane and a flood; and the even more awesome power of the Holy Spirit that moved a Youth Group from South Dakota to give the hope of God’s love in Jesus to people still living in the wake Katrina’s destruction.  Kind of like God giving a hug of reassurance to people who really need it. 
Now here in the Gospel lesson for today St. John tells us about a sign, kind of like that stop sign.  He says, that Jesus turning water into wine was, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.  We just heard his account and we know it well.  Jesus, his disciples and Mary his mother are quietly enjoying the wedding feast.  The unthinkable happens, the wine runs out.  Mary asks Jesus to do something about it.  Jesus says, “not yet.” Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says.  Jesus tells them to fill these very large water jars used for ceremonial washing with water “to the brim” and take it out and take it to the steward.  Water goes in the jars, wine comes out.  And really good wine, “you’ve saved the best for last!” the person in charge of the feast says. 
Jesus changes water into wine.  We’ve probably heard many explanations of exactly what this miracle is all about, from Jesus blessing marriage, to Jesus showing that drinking alcohol isn’t in and of itself a sin (after all he made nearly 200 gallons!).  Now John tells us exactly why he put this account in his book.  By this sign, St. John tells us Jesus manifested his glory.  Manifested is one of those fancy church words that means: to shine the light on, to show, to make clear.  In this miracle sign Jesus tells us who he is.  In this miracles sign Jesus tells us why God was born in human flesh.  If you have any doubts about that just listen to what John tells us at the end of his Gospel:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31, ESV)
And that’s exactly what happened at the wedding of Cana.  The last thing John tells us about it all is that his disciples believed in him.  Now John tells you and me this story so that we too can have our faith in Jesus strengthened, so that we can believe that he is our Savior from sin, and that we poor sinners gathered in his name more than 2000 years later… can have life in his name.
So, what’s the sign?  Well, Martin Luther said that a sign (as John is using it here) is something that has something visible for faith to hold on to.  God loves to give us exactly what we need for faith to hold on to.  God knows how human beings work.  He knows that we need things to be concrete and tangible.  He knows the old saying “Seeing is believing.”  In the Old Testament, Luther says, [God gave] the pillar of fire, the cloud, the mercy seat; in the New Testament Baptism the Lord’s Supper and ministry of the Word[1], and the like.  By means of these God shows us, as by a visible sign, that He is with us, takes care of us, and is favorably inclined toward us. (LW 1:71)
So here at this wedding, Jesus shows that he is not only concerned with people but also such minor details as weather there is enough wine for a wedding celebration.  He showed that God was present there, in love and care for people.  He used these large jars set aside for cleaning to make wine, wine like the wine he uses to give to you and me the forgiveness he won at the cross.  In the wine he gives to you and me he is also present to take care of us.  Have you ever thought about the Lord’s Supper that way?  As a sign that God is with us to take care of us and is favorably inclined toward us.  There in broken bread and poured out wine we are reminded of Jesus death, we are reminded of how he bled and died for our sins.  We are reminded how he …loved the world, that he gave [himself], that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV) Jesus gives us his very own body and blood, really and truly present, as a visible sign of what he did for us on the cross.  We come to this altar and drink wine and eat bread, a meal for our body; and in, with and under those touchable, taste-able things we receive the very body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.  Jesus supplies us with all we need for eternal life right here.  He gives us everything that we need, and then he gives us even more.  Jesus fills our spiritual needs and our physical needs.  These are signs for faith to hold on to.  It’s just like the Catechism confesses says:
What is the benefit of this eating and drinking? These words, "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins," show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
And…
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
Now some of you may be offended, but I’ve never understood how God can offer such a marvelous gift as the Lord’s Supper to his people and we say that we don’t need it.  And frankly, I’ve never understood the idea that once a month is enough of this great gift.  I think the problem is we think strong faith is that which doesn’t need God’s gifts very often, when exactly the opposite is really true.  Strong faith clings to the gift of forgiveness that God gives every single day and longs to receive them as often as possible.  You see, when we think we don’t need God and his activity in our lives that’s having faith in us.  Faith in God means leaning on him in all things.
Jesus turns water into wine.  He did it in at the wedding in Cana and he does it today.  I think it is Mary who shows us what it all about.  When the problem pops us, she turns to her Lord in faith.  Oh sure, some say she was just turning to a faithful son for help, but I think it’s more than that.  Remember how she reacted when the Angel came to her and said “you will conceive and bear a son...”?  “I am the Lord’s servant let it be done to me as you have said.”  When the wine runs out she goes to Jesus for help and then in faith she responds by telling the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  She doesn’t know what Jesus is going to do.  She just places the problem in his hands and gets ready for his answer and action.  Jesus turns the water into wine.  He provides all that is needed and then some.  It’s the best wine ever.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t always exhibit that kind of faith.  It’s difficult to “let go and let God.”  There are even times when I think I’ve done just that and as it turns out I’ve been depending on myself again.  Here’s a picture I want you to keep in mind.  I got this one from Wally.  It’s a puzzle he put together.  I’ve got it set outside my office door at the parsonage.  It’s behind the main door so those of you who’ve visited and just stood in the door haven’t seen it, but it’s right where I can see when I go out of the office.  This, I think, is a picture of Jesus at the wedding of Cana.  This is what Jesus is doing there.  Look at how he embraces this person.  Look at the love in his face.  I think you can see the worries and care of this man just melting away with Jesus loving hug.  And look what the man is doing… nothing.  He’s receiving the gift that he just doesn’t deserve, the love of God in Jesus Christ.  It’s just as Luther said he shows us by a visible sign, that He is with us, takes care of us, and is favorably inclined toward us.  Got troubles?  I do, every day.  You do to.  That’s life in the 21st century.  That’s human life since our parents in the Garden of Eden tried to run it by themselves, without God.  That’s life since you and I try to run it ourselves without God.  Well God does a miracle right here too.  He is present to take care of us.  Now as great as this picture is… right here God gives you something even better.  It’s real food for real people; bread and wine to satisfy the stomach; Jesus’ body and blood to satisfy the spirit.  Here is a very powerful sign, a very powerful action where God himself is present to save.  Here shows you his love for you in his death at the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  Here he tells you that he is with you always and nothing can separate you from him.  It’s a sign.  It’s a miracle.  It is God right here for you.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


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

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Romans 6:1-11; The Baptism of Our Lord; January 3, 2019;


Romans 6:1-11; The Baptism of Our Lord; January 3, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:1–11, ESV)
(from a devotion by Robert Bernhardt, http://visualfeast.csl.edu/2012/01/19/baptism-of-our-lord-romans-61-11/)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There’s a lot going on in that little bowl. I know it doesn’t look like much, but it’s really kind of a storm. None of you is looking at this little splash of water thinking dark thoughts of fear and trepidation. But maybe you should. In fact, these waters are downright treacherous. Here, right here, for some of you, you knocked on death’s door. St. Paul says it,
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
It’s a drowning. A dying. We experience death with Jesus. The moment the pastor says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, a killing, a drowning takes place. You are dead and raised. Death swirls around you in the water. Jesus’ death and yours. And don’t think for a moment that his death wasn’t real, or yours for that matter. He was pierced by nails, and stabbed by a spear. His heart filled with blood and stopped beating. He was taken down and buried in a tomb.
You see, death is the problem isn’t it. The grave. The place you will go sooner or later. A problem brought to us because of Adam and Eve. They rejected God. They fell into sin. To reject God is to reject the life he gives as a gift. They brought God sure promise of death as punishment, and not only death but permanent death, death that is total separation from God. Hell, created for Satan and the fallen angels, is the destination for all those who reject God. But it’s worse than you want to believe. Sin is in you. It’s proof of your own personal rejection of God. If you didn’t reject God, you wouldn’t sin. And the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23). You can’t get away from it. It’s like being stuck swimming in a stormy sea. You can’t get to shore. You can’t swim forever. The sea is too deep and the waves are too high. Eventually you will drown in death.
Ah, but that’s what Holy Baptism is all about. Jesus is there in your death. Paul declares it. It is God’s promise in Baptism. Jesus is there in your death. He grabs you out of the water you are drowning in. He pulls you out of the darkness.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
It’s not an idle promise either. Jesus didn’t just die he was raised. He wasn’t just carried into the tomb, he walked out of it. Jesus promises resurrection though the stormy bowl. Luther said it clearly.
What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
He’s only saying what Paul says.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Jesus dead and buried and raised again. We are united with that, with God’s Name connected to the Water. Promised a resurrection after death. Jesus proves he has power over death.
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.
It’s all good, but sin is still pulling you down. Every day you have to deal with falling short of what God tells you to do and not do. Most days it doesn’t feel like swimming but drowning. So what about that walking in newness of life that is promised?
It’s you sinful nature. The part of you that has evil thoughts and desires you hate. The part of you that lives for sin. Paul knew it. He says
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18–19, ESV)
You know it. It’s the life you live every day.
Well, that too, is dealt with at this stormy little bowl. Luther
What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Confess your sin and repent. Drag that old sinful nature, that heart of sin, to the bowl. Let him be drowned and die. Let the evil desires be washed away in the water. Die again to sin.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
It’s the only way to beat it. Jesus does it. He stand hip deep in the Jordan River, baptized by John. He’s in the water with you. Your sinful nature is washed onto him. He walks up out of the water and to the cross.
For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
Once and for all time, he crucifies your sinful nature dead, done, buried in the tomb. And the life he lives now is yours.
There it is in that little, terrible, dangerous, wonderful, stormy bowl of water. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Matthew 2:1-12; The Epiphany of Our Lord; January 6, 2018;


Matthew 2:1-12; The Epiphany of Our Lord; January 6, 2018;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
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.