Friday, December 31, 2004

New Year's Day, January 1, 2005, Matthew 1:18-21

New Year’s Day, 2005
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Burt, Iowa
Mt 1:18-21, ESV
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
My older brother had an interesting tradition that he and his wife followed. When they had children the name that was given to the baby wasn’t spoken until the very moment the church gathered around the baptismal font and said, “Luke Watt, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” They even held off printing the name on the birth certificate until the baby was named at baptism. I always thought it was a nice tradition. It isn’t new; it was a common practice in the old world. It was a common practice in bible times (With the noted difference that instead of Baptism the child was named at the time of his circumcision).
The Gospel lesson for New Year’s Day talks about just one such instance.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Lk 2:21, ESV)

Now you might not realize it but “Jesus” was a common name in those days. Jesus, that name that was picked by his heavenly Father, was also the name of a national hero. Jesus’ name is really the name Joshua. Joshua was the leader who took over after Moses. He led the people and conquered the land for God and his people. You probably remember the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho, where they marched around the city and the city walls came tumbling down. The name Joshua (and also Jesus) means “God Saves.” You can understand how it fits the Joshua who God used to bring his people into the land that He promised them. And you can see how it fits Our Savior very well, too. The angel that visited Joseph made it clear: …you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Even though Jesus had a common name, he was very uncommon. In fact, no one like him had ever been born before, and none like him will ever be born again. Jesus name fits him like no other name. Jesus – God Saves – is God who saves. That eight day old child who was circumcised was not just a human baby but he was also God, born into the world to save us from our sins. He did it by dying on the cross.
When we consider the birth of Jesus and his circumcision we are thinking and talking about his humanity. We are thinking about what it means that God humbled himself to become a man. St. Paul writes about it for us to contemplate:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Php 2:5-8, ESV)

Jesus wasn’t just another Joshua. He wasn’t just another great leader. Jesus was God, come in human flesh to do very much more than give the people land. When Jesus was a grown man, he walked on water, healed the sick, and even raised the dead back to life. He came to free people from sin and death. People around him were slow to understand what the demons declared right away. I know who you are—the Holy One of God! (Mark 1:24 ESV), they said.
You may have seen that graffiti spray painted on some wall somewhere. “Jesus Saves.” Well, it is true. He is aptly named. “God saves through Jesus.” Jesus is “God Saves.” That’s the name that we want to think about some more today. It’s important because it’s not just God-in-the-flesh’s name. It’s the name that is also put on you.

Baptized into your name most holy,
O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
I claim a place, though weak and lowly,
Among your seed, your chosen host.
Buried with Christ and dead to sin,
I have your Spirit now within.

That’s talking about Baptism. If you talk at all about Jesus name you eventually have to get to baptism. That’s because it’s baptism that God used to bring “God Saves” right to you. In baptism God is at work doing something. He’s performing an adoption. In an adoption a young person takes the name of his new family. That new name says which family they belong to. A person who is baptized takes a new name, too. God’s name, more specifically Jesus name, is put on us. It tells us whose we are. It tells us who we belong to. I have a niece that’s the same age as my daughter. When we go home for Christmas Grandma always seems to get them the same gifts. Right away when the presents are opened the first thing Grandma says is, “Let’s put your name on that so we can tell them apart.” The name identifies ownership. God’s name on you identifies his ownership of you, too.
Before you were baptized whose where you? God tells us that everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. (John 8:34 ESV). We think we belong to ourselves. We think that we are capable of living our lives without God. We think that if we just get our act together, we’d be able to make it on our own. But the nature of sin is that it affects everything we do. As we live our lives it is pretty obvious. It’s not just our lives are full of accidents. In our hearts we see that we really belong to sin. We are enslaved to it. There isn’t any way to change the selfishness that controls our thoughts. There was a young child who was with mom Christmas shopping. Amazingly he found gifts for his brothers and sisters in the first isle he was in. When that task was done he quickly asked, “Now can we look for my presents?” The only difference between that child and you and me is that we have learned to hide our greed. We’ve learned to cover up what’s in our hearts. We haven’t gotten rid of it at all. We are still slaves to sin.
When Jesus comes to us with his name in baptism he changes who owns us. He claims us for God. Jesus, whose name is God saves, saves us from our sin.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 Jn 3:1a, ESV)

What happens is this: When you are baptized God puts Jesus name on you, and with Jesus name comes everything that Jesus did for you. He lived a perfect life, it is given to you. He died for sin. His death is given to you, too. That’s how it happens that in his death on the cross, Jesus dies for you.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Ga 2:19-20, ESV)

So that sin that you and I hide, that sin is sin that we were enslaved in. It isn’t our owner anymore. We have been set free from it by Jesus death, our death.
It’s a New Year. You can probably come up with at thousand things for New Year’s resolutions. So could I. But maybe this year instead of a resolution you can just remember something. Remember that you have been given Jesus name. You’ve got lots of new challenges coming this year. You’ve got lots of new troubles coming this year. But the thing that makes the difference for you and me isn’t that we make promises to ourselves about how we are going to be different. The thing that really makes a difference for us is that we have been made different already. We have died to sin, and are made alive to Jesus. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God. We are dead to sin and alive to Christ. (Romans 6:11). The thing that really makes a difference for you and me this coming year is that God has made us His and placed His name on us. The name that He gives you and me says it all. The name is Jesus, God saves. Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Nativity of Our Lord, December 25, 2004, Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Day, 2004
St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City.
Lk 2:1-20, ESV
(Outline from a sermon by Rev. Donald Deffner)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Christmas is for children. If you have any doubts, I’d like to point out just a few things to you. First, school’s out. If you are going to do anything that children want, you’ve got to start first with letting school out. There’s nothing better to lift the spirit of a child than to give them free time to play. There’s nothing like “no school” to maximize play time. Add to that six inches of snow, that magical liquid in power form that we’ve been blessed with, just in time to make it a real white Christmas. There is something wonderfully childlike in the air when the ground is covered with a fresh blanket of white. Think about the stories you’ve heard. Think about the “Christmas specials” you’ve seen on TV (although not all are really appropriate for children). All of it is aimed at children. And even the picture of that first Christmas has been made in the images a child can love and understand. Just think of the cubby cherubs, lazy lambs, cozy cows, and dozing donkeys that populate any proper manger scene. They all seem to be made with children in mind. Even here, last night children played a major part of our celebration, by telling the story of Christmas to us again. That’s probably why Christmas is so appealing to so many people. It touches something of the child in us all. And so, Christmas is for children… and that’s not all bad, is it?
So how will you celebrate Christmas this year? What’s on tap for the rest of your day? I think that since Christmas is really for children, the best way to celebrate Christmas is as a child. Actually that is the only way to properly understand and celebrate Christmas. Christmas is for children because it all began with a child being born, and only when we become children ourselves can we look at Christmas and keep it properly.

After all, the familiar Christmas text, this account of Jesus birth is all about a child. There is one point that’s repeated several times. Firstborn son, baby, child... And I think its amazing that these words refer to the Creator of the Universe. Of all the ways God could have revealed himself to human beings, of all the ways he could have chosen to set us back on our heals, of all the ways he could have declared to us who he is, he chose to reveal himself as a little child. Instead of finding God in all his power and majesty (at least as we understand power and majesty), at Christmas time we remember, that we will find [God] wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, a baby.
When we look in the manger and see that little child there, it tells us something about God, something important about who he is. If you think back to the Bible Stories you may have learned in Sunday school, you might notice that God has been in the habit of working through children. It was a child that told a military captain that he could be healed of leprosy. It was a child that Jesus showed as an example of the stature a person would have to have to enter the kingdom of heaven. A young boy gave up his lunch so that 5000 other people could eat. God often works in ways that are quite different than the ways we would work if we were creator of the universe. And in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, (Heb 1:2, ESV) a child, a baby born in a lowly manger and in lowly surroundings.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Is 9:6, ESV)
It might be difficult for us to understand that a sweet little baby, wrapped in rags, crying in a food trough, is “Mighty God.” But that’s what we are told. If you come to the manger and peer in from a child’s perspective, with a child’s faith, you’ll know that it’s true. For you and me, it’s impossible to believe with out God planting that faith in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. That’s what happened to the Shepherds. After the angel told them what to look for, they went, they saw, and the told everyone what they had heard and seen.
But not every is ready to see Jesus and receive God “as a little Child.” There were lots of people in busy Bethlehem who were not. The angels didn’t appear to the Roman Legions, they didn’t appear to King Herod or Caesar. They didn’t appear to people in the busy inns and market places. They came to the Shepherds.
So how about you, are you ready to see Christmas from a child’s point of view, with the faith of a child? Can you see the baby of Christmas, for who he is? Can you see why he has come?
Remember what Jesus said, Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Lk 18:17, ESV) This is the only way to see him. This is the only way to have Christmas and eternal life through Jesus. But, everything in your nature shouts out against it, your pride, your ego and your need to be self reliant.
It is a childlike faith that admits “I need a Savior.” A child like faith that admits, “Without Jesus I am lost. I am a sinful person. I sin against God daily, in thought word and deed. I don’t deserve God’s forgiveness and I can’t earn it.” It’s that same faith that holds on to the promise of God that also comes with the child in the stable. “I have a Savior. He has done everything for me.”
The biggest obstacle to a child like faith is wanting God to be who we want him to be. We want Him on our terms and by our conditions. We want to live our lives without interference, unless we are in trouble. We want to think we know what’s best for us.
In faith we come to the stable this morning, knowing what we need because we know what’s in our hearts. We come to this baby, clinging onto him with a childlike faith that says, “This child is my Savior from the sin that fills my heart. This child is God’s promise to me and the whole world.”
Is there something that’s getting in the way of your Christmas joy today? Is there an empty place at the Christmas dinner table? Are you afraid and unsure what this next year will bring? Does your heart ache over a broken relationship that you can’t repair? Look with childlike faith at The Child. There, you’ll see God’s love for you, in a way that you can understand and feel and hold on to. The Child is God for you. Wrapped in the blanking is the one who is carrying all your sin and all the hurt and pain that goes with it. That peaceful child has come to bring you peace.
As you suffer remember that he too suffered. As you live with sin remember that he was born into a sinful world, to carry your sin and take it from you. He carried it all the way to the cross and he took it into death. There’s a painting I remember that shows the classical manger scene but draped all across it is a dark shadow of a cross. We have missed the greatest meaning of Christmas if we don’t look at the Child of the manger with the eyes of faith, and see also the cross. We can confess it with the faith of a child and say, “This is Jesus, who died on the cross to take away my sin.”
There’s another thing about children. If something wonderful happens to them you can’t make them be quite about it. They’ll tell you all about it, again and again. That’s part of the childlike faith, too. The shepherds did it. They returned to their work glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Lk 2:20, ESV) I’ll bet those shepherds made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child every day of their lives, over and over again, and whispered it in their last breath. They had seen the Christ, the very day he was born. God had told them it was so through angel song. That’s the kind of thing you can’t hold in, especially when you have faith like a child, especially when you see Christmas from a child’s point of view.
Christmas is for children. There’s no secret to seeing Christmas from a child’s perspective. It’s what children do naturally. They do it because they are children. You are God’s very own child, connected to God through a childlike faith in Jesus. It is childlike when you remember that Jesus is God’s gift to you. When you gaze on that baby in wonder remembering that he was born, lived, died and rose again for you, that’s really seeing Christmas with the faith of a child. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 19, 2004, Matthew 1:18-25

Advent 4, 2004 (December 19)
St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City
Matthew 1:18-25, ESV
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Well, now the time is really getting close. In my house we’ve finally got the tree set up and there are all those pretty packages under it. In just less than a week we’ll tear our presents open with “unbridled avarice” (to quote one of my favorite Christmas movies). I know, I know, we all say that Christmas is about giving. We all say that the true joy of Christmas is in giving gifts, “it’s better to give than to receive.” But just ask any kindergarten kid who has spent any time salivating over the presents under the tree and they’ll tell you what Christmas is really all about. Christmas is for getting. “It’s better to receive than to give.”
Sometimes, giving is a tricky prospect anyway. Just ask any husband who’s made the fatal mistake of buying the wrong gift. In Reader’s Digest, Herb Forst gives hard learned advice on giving your wife a gift: “Don’t by anything [for your wife] that plugs in, it’s seen as utilitarian. Don’t buy anything with sizes, the chances you’ll get the size right are one in seven thousand. Don’t buy anything useful. Don’t by anything that involves self improvement or weight loss. These things are seen as suggestions. Don’t buy jewelry. You can’t afford the jewelry she wants and she doesn’t want what you can afford.” If the gift wasn’t really important we wouldn’t even think that was funny. (Maybe some of you don’t!) We all know that our hearts are set on the things that we will receive on Christmas. It’s about the getting. An American Express poll showed that “no gift” was preferable to a gift of fruitcake. In our minds “it’s the thought that counts” doesn’t really add up. A gift of clothes given to a child is opened with greater enthusiasm if it is given in a hard box.

Today I want you to set aside all the things you have to do, you know the last minute shopping and the like. I want you to think about what you’re getting for Christmas. Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m not saying that giving is unimportant. It’s just that really if we get right down to it, the real meaning of Christmas isn't found in what we give, it’s found in what we have received. So, I want you to forget, for a moment, that you will be giving gifts to other people in a few days. Forget about all the buying, and the wrapping and the shipping and the delivering. Today, I want you to think about a gift, for you.
You see, that’s what the text today tells us about. It says, Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. With just that opening phrase we see it already in our minds: The wooden shed, the cattle and sheep, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and the Gift, a baby in a manger. But, the gift of Christmas isn’t that we now have a quaint story about an unusual birth to delight children of all ages. The birth of Jesus Christ is about something much more. The gift of Jesus is that God became human flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1ff). The gift of Jesus comes out clearly in the text where we read a different name for Jesus. The name is Immanuel, which means “God with us.”
Joseph almost missed it himself. He had to be told about Jesus. The angel appeared to him and cleared it up. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. That’s what “God with us” was coming to do. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3:16, ESV)
In 1946 at the Los Alamos atomic laboratory, Dr. Louis Alexander Slotin and seven co-workers were doing experiments with plutonium. These pieces were harmless unless they were put together in the wrong way. Accidentally that’s exactly what happened flooding the room with dangerous radiation. Dr. Slotin acted at once yanking the pieces apart with his bare hands. He knew what he was doing; he knew that he was exposing himself to an overwhelming dose of radiation. But by reacting so quickly he saved the lives of his seven colleagues. Nine days later he died.
When God became Immanuel—truly, physically, with us as the Son of a virgin—he didn’t come into the world as a safe laboratory experiment. He didn’t come here to see how things were going. He became a part of our world—our sinful, corrupt world, dangerous and dripping with death. He came, God with us, to save us from our sin, by taking on himself the poison of it. He came, as our gift from God, to expose himself to the lethal dose of our punishment. He gave his life for ours. (from an illustration by Scott D. Johnson, Conover NC, Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 15, No. 1).
God came among us, in Jesus, to shed his blood on the cross, to suffer and die for the sins that you and I live in every day. As joyful as the season is suppose to be, it’s easy to see our sin as the holiday stress sneaks up on us: A short temper; a misspoken word of hurt; the “Holiday” excuse for neglecting our regular daily tasks; selfishly looking over our gifts with “unbridled avarice”; pushing the limits of credit without means to pay. Leave it to a holiday to bring out the worst in people. But it only brings to the surface what’s deep inside. To be a sinful human is to live with a selfish heart. To be a sinful human is to struggle to do the right thing when you want to do the wrong thing. To be a sinful human is to live every day with the knowledge that we don’t live up to even our own expectations for ourselves. To be sinful human is to know that the only thing that is ever going to bring all that to an end is death. That’s the nature of sin. Its hold on you, its power over you, is in the fact that it brings death. Old Satan whispers it in your ear every chance he gets. “You’re a sinful person and you deserve to die. God can’t stand sin so he can’t stand you.”
But that’s what the gift of Jesus is all about. “God with us” came to deal with sin in the only way it can be dealt with. Born in that manger was a man who was God, human in every way except for sin. His perfect life and innocent death was given for your sin. The author of Hebrews says it like this: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb 2:14-15, ESV) Sin hasn’t any power over you any more because Jesus death for sin is your death for sin.
And there’s more. “God with us” isn’t just talking about the baby in the stable. It’s not only that Jesus walked and talked and healed and feed people who live at the time when he was born. His perfect life and death weren’t just for people who lived when he lived. He is still with us, today. He talks and heals and feeds us every day. I know you’ve heard about the gift that keeps on giving. Well, “God with us” is just that, because his gift didn’t end with his death on the cross. He rose again from death. He was dead and buried in the grave, but “God with us” came alive again to be with us always.
God is with us here in his living, breathing, Word. It’s not just a story about Jesus. It’s not just a tale about his birth and death and resurrection. It’s the truth about what God has done to deal with our sin. When the Word about Jesus fills our ears, the Holy Spirit fills our hearts and minds and gives us faith to believe, and faith to hold on to what Jesus has done. “God with us” is the power to believe.
God is with us here in his sacraments, too. They aren’t just empty actions that we do. In fact they are nothing that we do. They are nothing less than “God with us.” When a human pours water on another persons head and speaks God’s Word of forgiveness, God is there making the promise of forgiveness true for that person. Again the Holy Spirit creates faith. Again God is the power to believe. And how much more can God be with us than in the Body and Blood of Jesus. Even though we can never understand how it is true, we receive the precious gift of the very blood shed, and the very body beaten for us in the Lord’s Supper. There “God with us” brings forgiveness of sins as we open our mouths and eat and drink.
So that’s what I mean when I say I want us to think about what we are getting at Christmas. That’s what I mean when I say that Christmas isn’t about what we give but what we receive. So, as the day approaches think about Jesus, think about Immanuel, “God with us.” And look forward to getting something wonderful for Christmas. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Third Sunday of Advent, December 12, 2004, Matthew 11:2-11

December 12, 2004, St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City
Mt 11:2-11, ESV
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Do you ever have doubts? Well, I do… I think everybody has doubts of one kind or another. Doubts about family, doubts about our abilities, doubts about the situation of the world, doubts about the economy, and doubts about faith. You pick up a Newsweek or Time magazine and they have an article about Jesus that seems to be so reasonable, yet, it says that most of what you believe about Jesus is made up or wrong. It says that you can’t trust the Bible because it was made up by people with a political agenda. It says that “scholars” agree. It shouldn’t be a surprise, what they says. They look at Jesus through the same old tired eyes every year. Their list of “Biblical Scholars” is hardly mainstream and their “facts” don’t stand up to real historical scrutiny. But I really don’t think they care about the truth. What they really want is to sell magazines. And a provocative story that makes people angry will sell magazines. Lot’s of people will buy the magazine just to see what it says. I’ll bet in fact, that at least one of you was tempted to buy a copy for the pastor. It’s not necessary; I have the internet I can read it for free. (But the truth is I knew exactly what they were going to say before I read it). And still, it’s enough to make you wonder. It’s enough to make you doubt. Doubt is a part of being human. All of us have doubts. Anybody who says they don’t have any doubts at all isn’t being entirely honest.

So what about doubts, especially doubts about our faith? Well, it is OK to have doubts; you might even say that having doubts puts us in pretty great company. What was it that Jesus said about John? Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. That’s pretty high praise! There has not risen anyone greater than John. When we think of John the Baptist we don’t often think of doubt, do we? We saw him last week standing by the Jordan River shouting down the Pharisees and the Sadducees, calling them “You brood of vipers! You hypocrites!” He doesn’t sound much like a guy with many doubts about what he is saying or doing. And people went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. He was a popular guy. He had a hopping river ministry going there by the Jordan. It sure doesn’t sound like the work of a guy who would have doubts.
I think, though, if we look at a few things we can see that maybe John, even though he was a great (the greatest!) prophet, may have indeed had some doubts. Just maybe he was plagued by some of the same thoughts we are. Maybe John was human, too.
First, I want you to remember, again, what we talked about last week. What was John preaching out there in the wilderness? “The ax is at the root of the trees!” he said. “Judgment is coming, especially for those who are hypocritical. I have come to baptize you with water, but he is coming to baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire!” He was saying that God would come to set things right. Fire burns away the chaff and purifies. John knew who he was. He had no identity crisis about himself. He was the ‘voice in the wilderness’ that Isaiah said was coming. He was confident in his calling. He was confident that God was coming to be King over the whole world. And that meant that everything would be different, nothing would be the same. John knew that God’s kingdom was coming.
Now, remembering John’s confidence, look where we find him this morning, in Herod’s prison. That doesn’t sound much like God is reigning over the world. If Jesus says that John is the greatest prophet, what’s he doing in prison? That doesn’t sound much like God is in control. That sounds like King Herod is in control. It sounds like nothing has really changed with Jesus beginning his ministry. After John was arrested, as he must have sat there in his chains in the dark dampness of Herod’s dungeon, wondering if all that he was waiting for had not yet begun. When he heard about Jesus, and there didn’t seem to be much ‘fire’ going on, he may have asked “what’s up with this?” There alone in that prison, he may have begun to wonder, “Why am I in chains?” Why is the king threatening my life? When will God begin doing what I was suppose to tell them was beginning? Maybe I’m wrong about Jesus, being the one who is bringing the kingdom.”
I can relate to John. I think you can, too. If what John said was true and Jesus brings the reigning of God over everything, then why do people have to suffer? Why don’t some people have the food they need? Why do we have wars that kill thousands? Why is there sickness, cancer in my family? Why can’t my community be the way it used to be? Why does everything have to change? Maybe, we wonder, Jesus doesn’t bring the kingdom of God after all. Maybe the baby in the manger isn’t really the answer to the world’s problems. We may ask, just like John, “Is this really the kingdom of God?”
Well, Jesus doesn’t condemn John for his doubts. He doesn’t say, “John can’t you see what’s going on here? Are you so weak in your faith that a little trouble in your life throws you into a panic? No that’s not what he says at all. He tells John, through his messengers, to look at what is happing, to look at what Jesus is doing. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” He gives John just what John needs to hear. He gives confirmation that Jesus is indeed the coming King; confirmation that Jesus is doing everything according to God’s plan. Even if he isn’t acting like John expected, God’s reign is breaking into the world. Things really are changing, and the changes can be seen by anyone who looks to see what Jesus is doing.
Jesus describes to John, what happens when people in need come in contact with a God who loves them. Things begin to return to the way that God intended wants them to be; when the relationship between God and man is restored. God didn’t create eyes to be blind; he created them to see. He didn’t create legs to be crippled, but to walk and run. He didn’t create skin to be full of sores and ears to be unable to hear; or our bodies to be racked by cancer, or other illnesses. He created them to be whole, and he certainly didn’t create human beings to die. Everywhere Jesus went he left in his tracks the signs of the fact that God had come into the world to set it right again. That’s what the Gospel means when it talks about the coming of the Kingdom of God. “And,” Jesus said to John, “the good news about all that I am doing, is being preached to the poor.” At that very moment, John may have very well felt very poor, there in that dank dark prison, alone with his doubts. But Jesus tells him, “don’t worry John; the kingdom of God has come. I am the one who brings it. I am the Messiah!”
Jesus Christ does bring the kingdom of God, he brought it to John. He brought it to all those that were around him, the poor, the lame, the deaf and the blind. And he brings it to you and me. But, he brings it in a way that we would never expect. He brings by his suffering and death. It just doesn’t seem right. We expect a king to establish his kingdom with power. Instead Jesus establishes his in weakness. We expect a king to rule from a jewel encrusted thrown. Jesus rules over his kingdom from the cross. It was there that he showed his great love for us. It was there that he came into contact with us for our greatest need. It was there that he mended our broken relationship with God by paying the penalty for our separation. The separation that causes us doubts. He brings his kingdom with his own blood. He restores us to himself in a way that we don’t expect.
We don’t really expect good things to come from suffering. We especially don’t expect God to establish his good and perfect kingdom through suffering. But that is exactly what he did. And it may even look foolish to us. But this is what God’s kingdom looks like: John the Baptist suffers in prison facing sure death, Christians struggle every day with sin and doubt. At those times God’s kingdom doesn’t look at all like we’d expect. It is time like these that we may doubt weather his kingdom has come at all. Maybe that’s what happened to John. But, here again, John can be an example for us. When he doubted he knew where to turn in faith. He knew who would have the answers for his suffering, and his doubts. He turned to Jesus.
When we doubt we turn to Jesus, too. We do it because he is reigning. We do it because his kingdom has come to us. It comes to us here in this place, through his Word where he assures us of his love for us, and what he has done for us to restore us to the kingdom. He does it here in baptism. Where he takes each of us and makes his very own child an heir of his kingdom. He does it by giving us the food of his kingdom, his very own body and blood shed for the restoration of our relationship to him.
We are members of his kingdom and God does reign over the world. And just like Jesus took the signs of God’s kingdom with him wherever he went, the signs of God’s kingdom go with us, too. We can’t help it, because of his love for us, his love flows from us to other people. It flows to our friends here and it flows to our neighbors and coworkers. The good news is being told all around, the kingdom of God has come. It has come in Jesus Christ.
That is the answer to our doubts. To look to Jesus, just like John did. To see all that he has done, the mending of our relationship, and the love that flows from him in this place. Will all our doubt going to go away? Well, not yet. Because even though the kingdom of God is among us, it is still coming. The King, who came wrapped in swaddling cloths, has promised to come again. To make complete all that he has begun. When he comes again he will bring to completion what he has begin. He will finish what he started and what he is doing here in this place every day. Then there will be no more blindness, no crippled, and no more doubt. No more sickness and death. That is what advent is about. Remembering that Jesus Christ, our Lord and King, came to earth in an unexpected way to establish his kingdom, and that he is coming again. Amen.
The Peace that passes all understanding Keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Second Sunday of Advent, December 5, 2004, Matthew 3:1-12

Advent 2, December 5, 2004
St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City
Matthew 3:1-12 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist is a regular figure in our Pre-Christmas time. We’ve gotten used hearing about that voice crying in the wilderness. It just wouldn’t be Advent (Pre-Christmas) without singing that song “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s cry, announces that the Lord is neigh.” (Listen to the MIDI here ). This time of year we’ve gotten used to hearing about that guy (BOUTS, Dieric the Younger, St John the Baptist, c. 1470, Web Gallery of Art - who dresses in camel skin and eats locust. We’ve gotten used to him calling us to get ready for Christmas. But, is that really what he’s doing? I mean, I find it a little bit difficult to coordinate what John is saying with the picture in my mind of the animals and Mary and Joseph and shepherds standing quietly around the stable so as not to wake up the sleeping baby. I mean, just look at what John actually says; “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent! How does repent tie to that little baby? How does the quietness of the stable connect with “repent!”

I’m not even sure we always remember exactly what repent means. It’s just not a word in our common vocabulary. Well, we do know I think that repent means to confess our sins; just like we start most every church service here. “I a poor miserable sinner…” We probably remember that it has something to do with being sorry for our sins, and not just sorry for the ones we get caught doing. But, I think John tells us all about that here too. The ordinary folks that came out to see him, heard what he had to say, “Repent!” and they were baptized and confessed their sins. I think it’s what John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees that helps us to understand it all better. You see these guys didn’t repent. They came to see John, too. But they didn’t believe what he was saying. “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance!” He tells them, after calling them a bunch of snakes. Not only wouldn’t they confess their sins but the Pharisees believed they could deal with their sins by working them off and being better than everyone else. The Sadducees believed that there was no resurrection of the dead, when you were dead you were just dead. (That’s exactly why they were so sad, you see?) They both believed they were a part of God’s kingdom automatically just by being born Jewish. John sets them straight. “You can’t be born to it! Just being Jewish isn’t enough.”

“Repent” begins with confession. It is recognition of one’s true self and true position before a perfect God. But it doesn’t stop there it also means to reach out and grasp a hold of with the hand of faith the forgiveness that God offers through Jesus as the only answer for that sin. It means to live in the “Kingdom of Heaven” that John was talking about. You see, John didn’t just say that the kingdom was near, the best translations say, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And he means here right now in Jesus. I love the old paintings of John. (BOUTS, Dieric the Younger, St John the Baptist, c. 1470, Web Gallery of Art - They often show him holding a little sheep in one hand and pointing to it in the other. That too, is a great definition of the word “repent.” Looking at Jesus for what we need most, forgiveness of sins.

Another great thing about John is that even his name reminds us of God’s greatest work in our lives. (Although I’d still like to call him John the Lutheran, (on Baptism) it just doesn’t have the same ring to it). It’s Baptism that’s the sure sign to us of repentance. Oh, I know, lots of folks say that we are baptized because we repent… you know “repent and be baptized.” (Acts 2:38) But that’s not really the case. It’s not repent then be baptized. The people who came to see John weren’t baptized because they confessed their sins. They were baptized, confessing their sins. They saw their need for forgiveness and they saw God offering it and they took hold of it in the way that John said it was offered. After all, just like John said the kingdom was at hand. Baptism isn’t a sign of repentance because we do it. Baptism is a sign of repentance because it’s what God does. It’s the same thing in Acts chapter 2. Peter preached the law to the crowds of people standing before him. “They were cut to the heart.” The author tells us. “What shall we do?” they asked. 38And Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 (ESV) They saw their need. Peter pointed them to Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and he told them exactly how God would give them what they needed. John was doing the same thing out in the wilderness of Judea. You see, John is the Baptist!

John is really saying here that there are two responses to the coming of the kingdom of heaven: repentance or judgment. There’s either repentance and Baptism for the forgiveness of sins or facing the wrath of God. And just look how personal John makes it. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (v10) “Every tree,” it’s a very inclusive statement. No non-fruit bearing tree is going to be spared. And now we get right to the heart of the matter for you and me. Through faith in Jesus we don’t face God’s judgment any more. Even though as trees we don’t look like the kinds that bear fruit in keeping with repentance. God has picked up the ax at our roots. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, God has given us everything that Jesus did. St. Paul tells us that when we are baptized we have put on Christ. (Gal 3:27) Forgiveness includes what we don’t do. Luther:
“[Jesus] satisfied the Law; He fulfilled the Law perfectly, for He loved God with all His heart, and with all His soul, and with all His strength, and with all His mind, and He loved His neighbor as Himself. Therefore, when the Law comes and accuses you of not having kept it, bid it go to Christ. Say: There is the Man who has kept it; to Him I cling; He fulfilled it for me and gave His fulfillment to me. Thus the Law is silenced.” Pieper, F. (1999, c1950, c1951, c1953). Christian Dogmatics (electronic ed.). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
Never mind that your life doesn’t look like it is fruit-full. Jesus life was. He has borne all the good fruit you’ll ever need. The ax is gone for you; it was laid at a different tree.

But to get it all started, first Jesus was born. That’s what gets us back to the quite of the manger. Right there, that stable that we’ll all gaze into with wonder (BRONZINO, Agnolo, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1535-40 Web Gallery of Art - in a few weeks, is the “different tree.” It’s utterly amazing, totally beyond our thinking and acting, to believe that anyone would be born specifically to take the whole burden God’s anger, the unquenchable fire of God’s wrath over sin. And to do what we can’t ever hope to do, keep God’s law perfectly in every detail. But there he is, ready and willing to do it. And not only ready and willing, but able to do it.

And so he does: from his first breath to his last; from sitting on his mother’s knee to hanging on the cross. Jesus bears the fruit of a perfect life and he dies the death of a complete sinner. John said he wasn’t fit to carry Jesus sandals. In our day we’d say we’re not even worthy to be his water boy. But still, Jesus does it all for us from bloody birth to bloody death. (ANTONELLO da Messina, Crucifixion, 1475 Web Gallery of Art - Taking what is ours, sin. And giving us what is his, a perfect life and relationship with God.

So, as John the Baptist would say, Prepare the way of the Lord; or like the hymn says:
Then cleansed be every life from sin;
Make straight the way for God within,
And let us all our hearts prepare
For Christ to come and enter there.

Every life… Hey, there are lots of people around who aren’t prepared. There are lots of people who don’t really know what Jesus has done. They’re all focused on Christmas-Stuff; shopping till they are dropping; partying hearty; ‘tis the season; and forgetting what John tells us. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Remember, repentance or judgment? Do we leave the ax at the root of the trees, and let the trees be cut down or do we tell them the Good News of Jesus? Look, there’s isn’t a better opportunity to make it clear. Jesus is the reason for the season. It’s not hard to find people who are disillusioned about the whole holiday thing. Do what John does. Point them to the coming of the kingdom of heaven, point them to Jesus. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 28, 2004

First Sunday in Advent, November 28, 2004, Matthew 24:37-44

Advent 1, 2004, November 28, 2004
St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savor, Swea City
Matthew 24:37-44 (ESV)
(From a sermon by Rev. P).
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Well, today we can sigh a sigh of relief. After the last few Sundays of talking about the end of the world, we can finally look forward to Christmas. Finally, we can stop talking about the “end times”, we can stop talking about being ready because we don’t know when the end will come, and talk about the cute little baby in the manger… or at least getting ready for him. When the altar turns blue we know what to expect. So, here we are ready to talk about Christmas and Jesus. But wouldn’t you know it, here comes today’s Gospel lesson, and Jesus talks about… being ready because we don’t know when the end will come. Well, since it’s always good to talk about what Jesus talks about we’ll dive in again, we’ll take our cue from Jesus.

The first thing you notice about what Jesus is saying is that he compares the end of time to the days of Noah. But to find out exactly what was that like, we go back to Genesis: The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5 (ESV) And Jesus adds, For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away. (38-39). You see, back in Noah’s day, they didn’t have a clue that there was any problem. They didn’t know the flood was coming, it took them by surprise. Eating and drinking, getting married, those are regular every day events. Before the flood came and swept them all away everything seemed normal.
That’s the warning Jesus gives to us. ‘Be ready, because everything will seem normal, then the end will come.’ Oh, I know we’ve all been conditioned to think that things have to get much worse in the world before the end comes. But if we take seriously Jesus description we’ll soon, take a quick breath and take note of how it’s so very much the same today as it was before the flood. Back then, God says the evilness was in their hearts and in their thoughts. But when you add Jesus words it doesn’t sound like the picture we might have in our minds because of the movies. It wasn’t out-and-out evil running rampant in the streets. Everything seemed normal. There wasn’t the idea in their minds that something terrible was about to happen. The picture we are given is, rather, of a whole society that has turned against God; people doing what ever they wanted apart from God. And most importantly as far as they were concerned everything was going ok. It was a great time to be alive.
But Noah knew better. He had been given the job of building an ark, and preaching. The two things don’t seem to go together. It’s not often you see a preacher with a hammer in his hand. Yet, Noah and his family lived a life that was in sync with God. Noah was told of the up coming disaster, at least 80 years in advance (that’s the amount of time it took to build the ark). All that time he spoke again and again in warning of what was to come. But in spite of all Noah’s preaching no one was convinced, not one single person, except for the 8 of Noah’s family, was saved from the flood. No one believed that Noah knew what he was talking about. Well, everyone except God. In fact, Noah is called a great preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). If we go by human standards, human measurements we’d say that Noah failed in his task. But God knew better and saved him and his family.
All the time while Noah was preaching and the world around him was ignoring him, they had no idea; no idea of the form God’s anger would take. They were living normal everyday lives, marrying and giving in marriage, eating and drinking, everything was normal. But the flood came and took away all those who refused to believe, all those who didn’t listen to Noah, and it all happened without warning on a very normal day, like today.
Yes, I mean a day like today. If you think about it that description of Jesus matches today very well, too. Marrying and given in marriage, eating and drinking, some of us are still fighting off the tryptophan daze, that stuff in turkey that makes you sleepy. In spite of all the dangers in the world, the average life expectancy continues to rise; it’s all the way up to 77.2 years (see And we aren’t just able to live longer; we have a better quality of life than any generation before. I think, in fact, that there should be a new index on the quality of life based on the amount of time it takes you to get from your house to a Best Buy. Last week in Burt, ours just shot up by 30 min. Other good things going on around us: Our society demands we respect one another. Hate isn’t just a four letter word it actually a crime. And we owe it all, it is said, to advancements of science and technology. Really, from that perspective it’s a great time to be alive.
Of course there are other things we should recognize about the time in which we live. These things fall right in the category of what God’s Word calls the wickedness of man and the every intention of the thoughts of [our] heart[s is]only evil continually. It is legal in this country to kill and unborn child, for any reason and at any time during their development before they are born. And there is a strong movement to make it legal to kill other helpless people, the elderly, the disabled, the terminally ill, and others that are considered to not be living “quality lives.” (for example see and We are told that we must tolerate all kinds of sexual immorality, and to speak against it is quickly threatening to become a violation of the law. And we are told that God is not allowed in Public Square, either in our schools, or government, or even regular public discussion. Well, we should qualify that by saying that god is allowed in public schools many gods and religions are discussed freely as a matter of diversity, only Christianity seem to be excluded. The only acceptable discussion about human origins is that which includes millions of years of evolution. And unfortunately very many Christians have given in to the idea. Really, we live in a society that has turned completely against God. We live in a time when people do whatever they want apart from God. It seems it can tolerate anything but the truth from God’s Word, and especially the fact that Jesus is the only way that God has provided for salvation.
So right now we have a lot in common with the people who lived before the flood. Eating and drinking our way through life, marrying and giving in marriage, optimistic about the future, unaware that everything is just as Jesus said it would be at his second coming. Today is a day very much like the days of Noah, and the Lord could return at any time.
If God’s judgment is working on you… if you are cut to the heart about the condition of our world, it would be easy to be discouraged. But there is Good News in Jesus words, too.
You see, Noah and his family were saved from the flood. They were left behind as everyone else was swept away in judgment. It seems like an insignificant number of people, but God didn’t destroy the 8 people who trusted in him. As promised he placed them safe from the flood of destruction in a boat, an ark.
And this is where Advent comes into the picture. As we prepare to celebrate God’s coming in human flesh, we remember that God is always faithful, and always keeps his promises. Jesus, our Savior, was born of a virgin to secure a place for you away from the flood of God’s judgment that is coming. Instead of letting you be destroyed, God himself was punished, as Jesus endured the pain and suffering of the cross and the eternal torment of hell for you. He bent God’s anger away from you and suffered it, so you and I won’t see it when Jesus comes again.
In case you never noticed before, the baptismal font has 8 sides. That’s not an accident, that’s not just an artistic notion; it’s all about being saved from the flood. It’s all about being saved from God’s anger. It’s all about being left behind as the flood of punishment washes over everyone else. Just like the flood destroyed an evil world and saved the righteous, Baptism does that very thing for you. Your old evil self, your sinful nature, was drowned to death, and you were saved from death all at the same time. Jesus puts you in the ark, the big boat of his church. He puts his name on you, and declares that no matter what the world tells you, you are his. So that when Jesus comes again and sweeps away the whole world and all those who reject him, with a new wave of destruction of God’s anger, you will be left behind.
The words of the world are still out there, they still impact us every day. They say that God isn’t real. They say that there are other ways besides Jesus. They say that sin isn’t sin. But God gives you a different Word. His Word is truth. His Word is dependable. God has staked his life on it. Jesus gives you new life through it. Here in the ark of his church we hear the words of God’s promise. God speaks his Word to you to keep you faithful, to keep you awake and alert for the day that Jesus is coming again.
While the world goes on eating and drinking oblivious of God, he has provided a meal for you that also keeps you alert and ready. When we open our mouths and receive the forgiveness of sins through the body and blood of Jesus, we are kept mindful that that same Jesus is coming at a time when we don’t expect. And that that same Jesus is the one whose birth we celebrate and prepare for in Advent.
We live in the days of Noah. All around us are the signs. The Day of Judgment is coming. We also live in the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ. Just as he saved 8 from the flood, he promises to save you. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Friday, November 26, 2004

December Newsletter Cover - Isa 9:6

…a child is born… (Isaiah 9:6, ESV)
The busy time is here… again! With Thanksgiving turkey still on our breath we look forward to Christmas green, a white blanket of snow on the ground, and brightly colored packages under the tree. There is always a lot to do. Just look at the calendar for the church; advent services every Wednesday night (It all adds up to 10 church services this month!), Christmas luncheons, Christmas eve program practices (Saturdays!), bible classes, budget meetings and elections, etc. And that’s just the church schedule. Most of us have school events, work events, family events, and maybe even a few other things folded in just for good measure. Wow! No one can say we don’t get the most out of the holiday season. Now, it’s a great time of the year, and there’s nothing wrong with getting the most out of it. There’s nothing wrong with Christmas lists, and shopping, and parties with family and friends.
But we know what the season is really all about. It’s really all about those four simple words from Isaiah …a child is born… It even sounds simple. Children are born every day. Families grow. It’s the way things work. We often put out of our minds that child birth is a messy business. We forget that in years past it was down right dangerous. Only a few hundred years ago a woman giving birth had a one in four chance of dying. Really …a child is born… is not as simple as it sounds, actually it’s extraordinary. On a dark night, in a dark stable, in a far away land, there was an extraordinary event …a child is born… everything was pretty normal as far as normal goes, for child birth. There was pain and blood and a nervous father. It was another extraordinary birth of a human baby. But there was something else that made this extraordinary event something different. In the middle of all that was normal, there was something very abnormal, because that completely normal baby boy was more than just extraordinary because he was born. He was much more than normal and even much more than extraordinary. He was God. That night God was born as a baby boy. …a child is born… doesn’t begin to grasp the significance of God suckling at his mother’s breast. …a child is born… doesn’t begin to explain the Creator of the Universe wrapped in diapers. That must be why Isaiah says more: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6).
That’s what the busy time is really about. God in human flesh, born of a virgin, wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. But also let’s remember that that’s not the whole story. Being born is only the beginning. That same extra-extraordinary baby, lying in diapers, also hung naked on a cross. …a child is born… also fails to grasp what it means that God himself paid the awful price, the eternal consequences of human sin. That baby that was born in the normal extraordinary way, died in a very extraordinary way, as the complete and total payment for sin. It’s the gift that all the giving is about, God taking your sin and killing it by dying himself.
So, keep busy, celebrate fully, but remember the baby, remember the cross, and what Jesus, that extra-extraordinary child, has done for you.
God’s Peace.
Pastor Watt.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Thanksgiving Homily - 11-25-2004

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, (2 Ti 2:8, ESV)
Even though our thanksgiving service today is structured around the Liturgical Church Year; remember that today, Thanksgiving Day, isn’t really a church holiday. Really it’s a Federal Holiday, established first by Geo Washington, and restarted by Lincoln as a way to remember that our nation only survives because of God’s blessing. And you might think that this year this has been a strange Thanksgiving Service, because usually for this day we focus on harvest and the gifts, the blessings of home and family, and food and work, that we’ve been given. Usually, we talk about all that and how we should be thankful for them, and how we should share with those who are less fortunate. You may have even come today to get that little tweak, the twinge of guilt that sounds like your mother scolding you for leaving food on your plate, “There are starving children in China who would love to eat that food!” Sometimes I think thanksgiving is all about appeasing our guilt so that when the afternoon turkey sleep comes over us we can sleep better. Well, Thank God, we do have physical blessings. Thank God, we had a plentiful harvest. Thank God we have family and friends to enjoy today, because there are people who don’t have any of these things. In other words, there are starving people who would love to have just what you and I throw away every day.
While we do at times take all these things for granted, today’s service is set up to remind us of something else we sometimes take for granted. And it is, in fact, the greatest gift from God. It is the one thing that if we are missing everything else we have been given doesn’t have any meaning. Today we are doing exactly what St. Paul told Pastor Timothy to do. Remember Jesus.
On this day, that we have set aside to thank God, we remember that we have a God who loves people so much that he made a world that provides all that is needed for living every day. If we are to truly to thank God, if we are really going to celebrate thanksgiving, then remembrance must be front and center in our celebration. So today, we remember and give thanks to God for the most important gift we have ever received. Today, we remember Jesus and give thanks to God for what he has done for us through him.
Well, even if the federal government hadn’t set aside today for Thanksgiving we Christians are obligated to give thanks to God. We don’t do it because a president says so, but because we are moved by God’s goodness. God gives us gifts and we respond in prayer, praise and thanksgiving. As Christians we live a liturgical life. That’s what’s reflected in our regular worship services here. That’s what’s reflected in the way we remember Jesus throughout the year.
And yet, we are hardly as grateful as we should be. In fact, a lot of the time we are down right selfish. Especially as we look forward to the gifts that come at Christmas time, we think more about what we can get than the one from whom we receive everything. “Give us our daily bread” becomes a self absorbed prayer, a selfish prayer, a self-worshipping prayer, rather than an acknowledgment of where all our gifts come from. It’s not “it’s better to give than to receive.” It’s “It’s better to receive than to give thanks.” So at least on this one day, maybe it’s good that the government has set a day to remind us to be thankful. But when we think about it even this day has turned into a day of self-indulgence. So we must confess, as we clearly see, that we are sinful people. Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean…
And yet again, we confess something else. We confess God’s greatest gift, the one we are most thankful for today. It is the gift of God’s one and only Son, Jesus. He came into this world to take our sins upon Himself, to become our sin, and pay with His very life the penalty we by our sins have deserved, giving His body and shedding His blood for the forgiveness of all our sins. Today in a few moments we will share together that same body and blood in the thanksgiving meal that Jesus gives us. The Lord’s Supper is the Great Thanksgiving, because in it we receive what He won on the cross for us, and we in turn give thanks. We thank our Lord for first loving us, for dying for us, and for rising from the dead for us, that we will, through faith, one day feast with Him forever.
And that puts it all in perspective. Remember Jesus… and give thanks. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understand keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Last Sunday of the Church Year, Rev 22:6-13 - 11-21-2004

Last Sunday of the Church Year, November 21, 2004
St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City
Revelation 22:6-13, ESV
(From an outline by David S. Smith, Concordia Journal, October 1992).
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Maybe we say it too often to really understand what it means… like we do when we ask people how they are doing but don’t really expect an answer. “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest…” we say before meals. Come and be with us as we eat, “let these gifts to us be blest” come and give us what we need at this moment. Come, Lord Jesus,” we say, but maybe we really don’t mean what we are saying. Maybe we don’t really know what we are saying…

That well know part of the “not-so-common” table prayer “Come Lord, Jesus” is from the book of Revelation just a few verses after our reading for today. Jesus has been speaking to John through an angel, and then he says directly, “I am coming quickly.” John answers “Come, Lord Jesus! Come… soon.”
I’m not sure we would all echo John’s prayer. We think about all the things that we are sure will end when he comes and we’re not sure we want that to happen. We think about our property, our education, our life, raising children… all the things we haven’t done in life, all that we haven’t accomplished, and we don’t want all of that to end. We don’t really know what it’s going to be like for us when Jesus comes, so we’re not sure we are ready. It just wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t get to see my grandchildren grow up, or my children graduate from college, or even just another harvest season. We do love this world, and in many respects we should because it was really created for us. And yet, all the stuff of the world, all the things that grab our attention and our affection, can turn us away from Jesus. They get a hold of our thoughts, and we worry and fret, plan and prepare, scheme and deceive, first to get them and then to keep them. There are times when we forget all about God and his love for us. We fall in love with the creation and forget about the creator. Even we Christians know that it’s not easy to worship only our Lord, Jesus in this world.
We also might not echo John’s prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus!” because we know what our lives are like. Unannounced guests cause you to scurry around the kitchen to push the left over food down the disposal or throw the dirty laundry in the closet. Our lives are full of dirty laundry. Even we Christians know that it’s not easy to live righteous and holy lives. After all there are a lot of un-righteous things going on out there. And the people who are doing them all seem to be having such a good time doing it. There’s also a lot of unrighteous things happening right here in our heads and our hearts. “It’s not so bad!” we are told, and we are inclined to believe. And Jesus knows. He knows our desperate desires. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Mt 15:19, ESV) We can’t hide them from him. We can’t push our sins into the closet. “Come, Lord Jesus!” means showing our sins. When Jesus words say, “I am coming soon… to repay everyone for what he has done.” It doesn’t really sound like a time to look forward to.
We might not think much about our prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus” for other reasons, too. After all, lots of times God doesn’t seem to be very active in our lives, at least not in the ways we want him to be active. We wonder why we have to suffer with troubles that never seem to end. We get over one hill of trouble just to see that we still have a mountain to climb. We pray for healing and we are still sick. Death visits our homes, unwelcome. With trouble come doubts; doubts about God’s love; and doubts about the forgiveness that he promises us. And yet, not everyone looks to be in the same boat. People who declare their independence from God look to have it easy. The justice system allows obviously guilty people to walk away free, and crime does pay. Even for us Christians, it’s hard to believe the word and promises of Jesus, when the world doesn’t seem to work a promised. “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Re 22:7, ESV) “Life is hard, and then you die.” Better describes most of our life. That’s hardly the blessing that we think we should see.
So why should we say, “Come, Lord Jesus?” Why should we want him to come soon? The key is right there in the middle of the text. It actually comes to us in words that at first seem like a reason for us to not want him to come. “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. (Re 22:12, ESV) It’s in that word recompense, the NIV translates it as reward. We might understand that word a little bit better. We know what a reward is. The owner of a lost dog might offer a reward to the one who finds it. Parents offer rewards to their children for doing extra chores. Employers often offer rewards for work well done. A reward is given to someone who deserves it, someone who does something great and beyond expectation. So just why is that Good News for us? We don’t have to examine ourselves very hard to realize that we don’t deserve any reward from God for our behavior, and especially for what we know is in our hearts. We have doubts about God. we know the sinful desires that live there. We know how we put things before God. We don’t deserve a reward. Listen again, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my [reward] with me.” It isn’t a reward that we have earned that Jesus brings. It’s his reward, what he was given for his perfect life. It is the reward that he earned. It’s his prize. He has done the extraordinary things necessary to win it. His was the life that deserved reward. God’s perfect son, “With him I am well pleased.” God himself said at Jesus baptism. He won the reward for all that he did, including giving up his own life for the sake of others. And his reward was life after death, not some ghostly life either, Jesus, God from before all time, rose from the dead in a complete and perfect human body. The reward that he brings is life. Changing death to life, was the very reason God became man. He came to do what we are unable to do. He won the reward and he comes to give that reward to you and me. Jesus says, I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (Jn 10:10).
When we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” we are praying about that abundant life. We are praying that it would come to us. That Jesus would give it to us. When we pray in the Lord’s prayer, Thy kingdom come. We are praying the same thing.
What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.
How does God's kingdom come? God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.
That is Jesus promise to us. The abundant life, the new eternal life, that Jesus won, he also bring brings he gives to you and me. I know I refer to this passage a lot, but I haven’t found one that describes what Jesus will do when he comes, and what Jesus is doing right now in our lives better than this one:
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. (Ro 6:3-11, ESV)
You see, the reward that Jesus brings he gives to you through faith, through the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism. That new life is all sealed up, that promise is all assured to us, because of Jesus, because of his death for the forgiveness of our sin, but even more important, the life given to him in his resurrection is given to us too, through faith! That means that even though we struggle with doubt, that Jesus’ reward is ours. That means that even though we suffer through trouble and pain, Jesus’ reward is ours. That means that even though we sometimes think of ourselves first, Jesus’ reward is ours. It is ours because Jesus earned it and he gives it to us, free.
That’s life without doubt. Life without the unwanted visitor, death. Life without trouble and pain and suffering and sorrow. It is life without sin; without the desire to sin; without the consequences of sin, life without desperation. It is life where nothing is missing; a life of perfect relationships with our family, and other people, and most importantly a perfect relationship with God. In that life, nothing is more important to us than Jesus. And that’s what we pray when we pray “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Am I saying that we should just hold on and suffer through because the new life that is coming for us is so much better? Well, that is partly true. But Jesus gives you that new life now! While we face today we don’t face it alone. “I am with you always,” Jesus promises, “to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20, ESV) As we live and breathe today and tomorrow, Jesus is right here with us. I mean right here and right now. That abundant life is already ours. You know how it is when you are troubled and a friend stops to visit you. That’s Jesus at work, especially when that friend prays for you and speaks God’s Word to you. You know when you have doubts about forgiveness for your sin, but you hear your pastor speak God’s forgiveness to you, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus, I forgive you all your sins.” And even more powerfully give you the very body of Jesus that was raised to new life, for your new life… as a physical reminder of your sins forgiven. That’s Jesus at work with you, giving you his reward. And it’s just a taste of what is to come when Jesus appears. “Behold I am coming soon.” He says. Come, Lord Jesus. Come. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Second Last Sunday of the Church Year - Luke 19:11-27 - 11-14-2004

Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 14, 2004
St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City
Luke 19:11-27, ESV
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, that parable ends on quite a harsh note. Doesn’t really seem to match the words we said right after it does it, “This is the Gospel of the Lord?” It just seems a little too hard for our ears. But, Jesus means it to be harsh. He’s talking about serious business. It’s not just a quaint story with a hidden meaning. It’s about a reality that is in the future for all human beings. These last few Sunday’s before Thanksgiving, before Advent starts we think about that reality. We mull over and think about the fact that someday, sooner than any of us may really think, Jesus is coming again. We have a tendency to not think about it too much; and even not want to think about it. But there it is in the creeds we speak every Sunday, “from thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.” And “he will come again to judge the both the living and the dead.” There are those harsh words again. Jesus is coming to judge… to judge us.

That thought might not be very comforting to you. When I think about God judging me, I get a little chill that runs up my spine. I know that most of the time, I can hide my faults from the people that I come into contact with every day the people who don’t know me very well, occasionally I can even hide my faults from my wife, but I can never hide them from God. He is a hard judge that doesn’t need any witnesses. He demands perfection from us and He knows the truth. He sees right into our hearts and he judges according to what he finds there. And what does he find… well our hearts fall far short God’s demands.
Most of the time when we read this parable, when we think about what it means we are drawn to the idea that it’s about stewardship of what God has given us. We might sum up that idea like this: “God gives us talents and abilities; if we use them wisely he will reward us. If we don’t we will be judged.” Because we don’t want to be connected with the last servant, the one who just put the king’s mina in a napkin, we are pretty quick to point out what we’ve done with the minas that God has given us; after all our church gives a great mission offering every year. We remind ourselves and anyone else that will listen that we strive to give our employer what he is due for our paycheck. We take care of our land, making sure to conserve it so that it continues to produce a crop every year. We work hard to raise our children and give them all the advantages a good education can offer. We make sure they have opportunities that that we never had. All that sounds pretty good. It’s a good stack of minas that we’ve built up from the one that God has given us.
And yet, while all of it may be true, do you see what we’ve done? We’ve turned the focus of the parable onto ourselves and the things we do. We’ve gone from God giving gifts to our using them. It’s only natural. That’s who we are, that’s what we’ve been raised to be.
It’s my mina! It’s my life! It’s my money! It’s my house… land… car… tractor… I worked hard to earn them I’ll do with them what I please. I get to decide how I will live and when I will die. I’ll eat, drink, sleep… and shop… after all there’s only 40 shopping days till Christmas. That’s the American Dream, to be successful, self-sufficient and independent. While we are pursuing wealth and our own self-interest, we forget that there is a King who owns it all… And that King is coming here to judge us, to see how we’ve used his minas. In reality, this parable isn’t so much about stewardship as it is about ownership.
Let’s look at it again. Jesus talks about a nobleman who is going to a far land to receive the right to rule over a kingdom. There are three different ways that the people in it react to the new king. There’s a group that outright rejects his right to rule. They send a delegation ahead of him to try to prevent it. There is a second group, called the king’s servants. They are each given some of the would-be-king’s money. “Do business until I return.” Most of these servants are faithful with what they’ve been given. That’s the second group; the faithful servants. The third group is the servant who puts the money in a napkin, and doesn’t do what he’s been asked.
The first group, Jesus says, “hates” him. Since Jesus is clearly telling this parable about himself, we can see that this is people who completely reject God’s rule over their lives. It’s easy to find examples of this around us. And although we sometimes resist God in our lives, Jesus isn’t using this group to describe His people. True Christians, those who have been claimed by God, and have faith in Jesus don’t “hate” him. Our sinful nature always struggles against God’s law for our lives, and causes us to continually fall into sin. But we are also God’s saints; purchased by Jesus’ blood. Washed and made clean in Baptism. Feeding on the food of Jesus perfect body and blood, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” While we sin daily, that sin doesn’t separate us from God because Jesus took the necessary punishment for it. The people who reject God face what Jesus describes at the end of the parable. “Bring them here and slaughter them in front of me.” For you and me, and all those who have faith in Jesus, that isn’t our fate.
Jesus is talking about us when he talks about the king’s servants. Look at the difference, instead of rejecting him, they serve him. When the king comes back they report what has happened while he was gone. Look again at the strong contrast. “Lord, your mina has earned ten more.” The first says. He doesn’t say, “Look at how good I did with my money.” He takes no credit at all but gives it all to the king. Your mina… has done this. The servant’s job is to serve and he does what he’s been given to do. His relationship to the king is never in question. The second example returns to the king only half the amount that the first did, and yet the king’s response to both is the same. “Well done good servant!” Both receive rewards that are far more than is deserved. The king’s concern isn’t the amount of their return but their love for him and their willingness to serve. The servants served because they love the master. Jesus is saying the same to us. We are given much from Jesus, but the question isn’t weather we are faithful enough with what we’ve been given. The question for us is “Do we love the master? Do we have a relationship with him?” We do! So we serve.
The last example in the parable really puts a fine point on the idea. The final servant isn’t faithful with what he’s been given. But it’s not because he wasted his time or because he was lazy. He himself says he does nothing with the king’s mina because he was afraid of the king. But he is mistaken about the king; he is gracious to those who are faithful. The unfaithful servant has no relationship with him. He doesn’t think the king has any right to rule over him. “You reap what you did not sow.” He’s saying, “You get what you don’t deserve to get.” Just like those who sent the delegation to prevent the king from becoming king, he hates his master. That’s what his unfaithfulness shows plainly. He doesn’t lose everything because he was unfaithful. He was unfaithful because he refuses the master’s place over him. When he rejects the king he rejects everything the king would give him. And again notice that the amount of the return isn’t important to the master at all. Even the smallest of interest that would come from the money being on deposit would have had a reward. It’s not that the servant wasn’t faithful enough; this servant wasn’t faithful at all, because he rejected the king.
So how does Jesus want us to react to this parable? Does He want us to be faithful with the gifts He gives us? Does He want us to “do business” while he is gone? Of course He does. The gifts He gives aren’t just our wealth and land. Naturally these gifts should be used faithfully. We should give in our abundance to support the work of the church. We should care for those around us who don’t have all they need. But the gifts He gives also include those that we receive right here. It’s easy to receive God’s Word about our forgiveness, give a sigh of relief and leave the wonderful message here in the pews, instead of taking it with us out the door into our homes and work places. It’s easy to remember the blessing of God in our Baptism and wrap it up in that napkin and never mention it again. How easily we take the Lord’s Supper for granted. Opening our mouths to receive forgiveness and not forgiving those who sin against us. Does our relationship with the King, Jesus, lead us to be faithful with these “minas” that he has given us here? If you are like me it all raises the question again of my own faithfulness, and my own faults. I certainly don’t live up to God’s standards. It seems that lots of times I’m a lot like the guy who put the mina away for a rainy day. And I’m sure you feel that way sometimes, too. There’s that little chill again, that realization that what God wants is perfection.
But, that’s not the point of the parable. It’s not about stewardship, it’s about ownership. The point is the relationship between the king and his servants. You see, the servants in the parable are already his servants. They already have a relationship with him. There love for the king shows in their faithfulness, they don’t have a relationship because of their faithfulness.
We have a relationship with God, our King. We are not going to be dragged in front of Him for slaughter. Jesus has suffered that fate for us. God called for His enemies to be killed in His presence, Jesus was crucified instead. When God demanded death for those who hate Him, Jesus cried out “it is finished!” When that was were we should be, Jesus stands and dies there for us. All the sin that separates is blotted out by the blood of Jesus. It is Jesus’ death and His great victory over death that binds you and me to God. He makes us His servants, and really so much more than that… We are guaranteed a reward, not because we are faithful, but because we are His.
That makes all the difference for us. Instead of looking at the King’s return and being afraid, we can look for the reward He promises. Weather the minas He has given have been very productive or only slightly productive. Our relationship with Him assures us that we have been faithful. We are not going to be slaughtered. We are not going to lose everything but we will gain it all. We are the faithful servants of Jesus. Saved from death, saved from punishment, saved to be with Jesus forever! When He comes again to judge the living and the dead He will say to us, “Well done good servant!” Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.