Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Day, Titus 3:4-7, Dec 25, 2005

Christmas Day, 2005
St.  John’s, Howard, SD
4But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  Titus 3:4-7 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
One of the greatest joys in the world is looking at, or even holding, a baby.  It doesn’t matter what kind of a mood you are in, when you get a baby in your arms you automatically go into ‘care’ mode.  Anger drips away as you look into a baby’s eye.  And if it smiles at you, all you can do is melt.  If the baby is your own flesh and blood, if you carried it those nine months of nurture, that baby may even hold the whole future in it’s face.  It’s impossible to fell bad or think evil thoughts as you look at a baby in your arms.  
I think that’s one of the reasons why people like Christmas so much.  It’s all centered on a baby.  It’s what makes the holiday cross over so many boundaries.  People understand Christmas, because they understand babies.  And they relate to it.  If you say to people, “the goodness and loving kindness of God is shown in that baby in the manger.”  They’ll pretty much know what you are talking about.  A baby is goodness and loving kindness personified.  If someone were going to make a new designer holiday, the best kind would be one that was wrapped up in the symbolism of a baby.  
Christmas isn’t a designer holiday, or even a manufactured holiday.  But it is about a baby.  It’s a holiday about a real live baby not a symbolic one or a pretend one.  All those years ago in that stable a real live mother actually gave birth to a real live flesh and blood baby.  I’m sure that Mary and Joseph had many of the same feelings, fears and joys that all parents have when a child is born.  And when they held their baby in their arms, they were looking the future in the face.  Right there in their presence was the goodness and loving kindness of God.  They could reach out and touch it, and hold it, and caress it.  It’s as if God were saying, as much as you love this baby, I love you.  As much as you will be father and mother to him, I care for your.  Yes, that baby, born in an animal shelter is God’s declaration of how much He loves human beings.  
And it seems that love is a part of the holiday, too.  You see things in people this time of year that you don’t see any other time.  In some ways, we get the feeling that this time of year shows the ‘real character’ of people.  They just seem to care more, help more, and love more.  Red buckets are hung by ringing bells, toys for tots are stuffed in boxes all over town, people even give more blood at this time of year than any other.  It’s nice that, for a few weeks at least, people show that kind of love for one another.  But before we pat ourselves on the shoulders for a ‘job well done’ we should remember that even a full year full of Christmases wouldn’t be enough to make up for all the ugliness, pain and selfishness that people inflict on one another for the rest of the year.  Christmas good deeds aren’t the ‘real character’ of people.  The ‘real character’ of all people is sin.
Actually, we are exactly the opposite of the ‘goodness and loving kindness’ shown to us at Christmas time.  How many different ways have been invented by people to cause each other pain?  Christmas joy is the blip on the radar; it’s the exception not the rule.  A quick perusal of the news will confirm it.  The top stories of most every day show the dark nature of human beings.  Murder, theft, abuse, and greed top the list of evils.  And worst of all, children are often the targets of those same evils.
Now, let’s make it personal.  It’s one thing to point to the world out there and say that it’s full of evil people, it’s quite another to turn that finger on ourselves.  But that’s exactly what we have to do.  We can see our own guilt very quickly by just looking at one of God’s Ten Commandments.  “You shall not kill.”  It says.  Jesus, that lovable little baby accuses us when he says, “22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.  Matthew 5:22 (ESV)” Who among you hasn’t been angry?  I know I’ve been angry with someone and recently, even during the month of December!  The time when there is suppose to be ‘peace on earth,’ the peace was shattered by anger.  Insults are the same and even calling someone a fool.  What Jesus is really saying is that you don’t have to spill someone’s blood to violate God’s will for your life.  Just like everyone else on the planet, your ‘real character’ isn’t shown at Christmas.  There is blackness in your heart that you can’t erase with any amount of ‘good deeds’ at Christmas time.  No matter how much ‘good’ you do, that evil will still be there and will spill out again.  
You might be able to fool the people who live around you by doing good things, but God sees your heart.  God sees my heart.  He sees the evil, the selfishness, and the deceit that is there.  And God doesn’t judge the things we do by how good they are; He judges the things we do by our hearts.  When He looks into our hearts, He sees that we don’t deserve goodness and loving kindness at all.  What we really deserve is punishment.
But it’s Christmas; can’t we put aside that punishment stuff for even one day?  Can’t we just enjoy the “Joy” of the season without talking about sin, death and hell?  Can’t we just look at the stable and revel in the goodness and the loving kindness that we see there in a newborn baby?
That is precisely the point.  The text for this message says when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, that’s what the Baby is all about, the goodness and loving kindness of God appearing.  It comes in a little baby wrapped in rags.  It comes with poor parents and even poorer shepherds that looked on.  It comes in the middle of a stable instead of a birthing room.  The goodness and loving kindness of God comes in a Baby, Jesus.  We look with loving kindness on this Baby not just because he is a baby, but also because he came for punishment.  
In goodness and loving kindness, God sent Jesus to suffer punishment for us.  That’s the mercy of God.  That instead of punishment for our sin, God punishes Jesus.  We deserve it.  Jesus takes it.  Instead of turning away from you and me, God turns away from Jesus and allows Him to be nailed to the cross, to bleed and die in great pain.  God looks at His Son and deals out punishment to Him, and goodness and loving kindness to you and me.  That’s a different way to look at a baby.  But that’s the only way to look at this Baby.  If we fail to see the Baby Jesus as the one-and-the-same Jesus bleeding on the cross, the joy we have at Christmas is meaningless.  
But God’s goodness and loving kindness goes way beyond the punishment of Jesus in our place.  There is more to what this Baby came to do than die (although that is essential!).  In a few months, we’ll put these white cloths back on the altar again and we’ll say to each other “He is Risen!”  The baby in the manger grows up to die, but more importantly, He grows up to rise again from death.  The loving kindness of God goes so far that God isn’t content with just paying the penalty for our sin; He wants us to live forever.  That’s God’s ultimate act of kindness for us.  He gives us the resurrection of Jesus.  The washing of regeneration and renewal that we read a few moments ago, is God connecting us to the Baby through Holy Baptism.  That’s where God makes us clean; and regenerates us, that is makes us a new person, by making the death and resurrection of Jesus ours.  Our punishment is His and so is His coming back to life is ours.  We inherit eternal life in Jesus.
Now let’s make this personal, too.  Jesus didn’t come only for the multitudes of people living everywhere out there.  He came for you.  That little baby was born in the manger for you.  He lived and He died for you.  The punishment He suffered is the punishment you deserved.  The new life that He rose from the dead to live is yours, too.  You are a child of God!  How do you know?  Well, it’s not because of anything you’ve done.  It’s not because you have a warm feeling in your heart at Christmas time that makes you do good things for people.  Remember he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.  You’ve been adopted.  You’ve been washed and regenerated.  God poured out on you all of His wonderful gift of grace when He poured over your head, water together with His words of forgiveness and life.  Baptism is God’s promise to you, that all that Jesus did He did for you.  That’s the goodness and loving kindness of God made personal for you.  
So, all of Christmas is wrapped up right here in the joy of seeing a baby.  When we see a baby, we know what goodness and loving-kindness is.  We know it because we feel it; it’s automatic; it comes with the territory.  Babies bring it out in us.  Maybe that’s part of the reason Jesus came as a baby, to show us that that’s how God looks at you and me.  To show us a love so great that a Baby, Jesus, came to live and die and rise again and give us life forever.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Christmas Eve, Luke 2:1-20, Dec 24, 2005

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2005
St. John’s Howard, South Dakota
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:1-20, ESV)
From a sermon by Tim Pauls.
“The Manger”
Go ahead-take a look inside. There's no need for you to be anxious or frightened. Go ahead-take a look: The angels already told you what you will find. You'll find “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
Look there, inside and you’ll see glory, because God is there and wherever God is you’ll see glory. As you look think about the Exodus, when God led His people out of Egypt by a pillar of cloud and fire. Remember how he parted the Red Sea, and gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. There was fire and smoke and lightning. The glory of God can be a terrible and magnificent and wonderful thing. But, the angel said that there is better glory here. God ahead take a look.
Look again, there’s peace on earth there too; and right now with all the talk about war we sure could use some peace. There’s weapons inspections, terror alerts, reports of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. And it appears from all accounts that we’ll be in the heart of the fighting this time. Look inside the manger again. “Peace through strength,” people say. Peace is just what we need. Look there and see strong peace.
Look inside and you will see goodwill toward men. It’s a tall order these days to even find a “strong will.” Someone who’s willing to stand up against the prevailing culture and speak his mind. Tolerance and acceptance must be accepted at all cost, and disagreement is bigotry. Resolve and purpose are not qualities that are favored these days. And good will… well you’ll be looking for a long time to find someone who has unselfish good will. That really belongs to God alone. It’s ok, look in again. You’ll find good will to men there.
Look in the manger, right there. The angels told you what you’d find: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.
Look inside, what do you see? A baby? But, how can that baby be everything that we’ve been talking about. How can a baby bring help and solutions to the real problems in the world? When you look at a baby you might see hope for the future, but I’m not sure you see, peace and good will.
Babies don’t seem all that glorious either; especially this one, born in a manger with the smell of animals around. His mother is beaming, but the baby in a diaper, breathing quietly, isn’t a commercial for glory.
Maybe peace is found here. After all a sleeping baby may be quite peaceful, for the moment. But the peace can quickly end. Parents know that very well, as they sneak quietly around the house when their children are sleeping. No it doesn’t seem like peace is to be found here either. Not one that ends violence and trouble.
What about good will. You know as well as I do that babies have no will but their own. If your looking for strong resolve for the good of all mankind we don’t see it in a baby either.
You’ve left your flocks, your work behind and walk all the way here looking for what the angels told you you’d find. But you just found a baby. Of course he’s cute, just like any baby is. But the world is full of troubles and problems and you’ve got your share of them. You’ve got sin to deal with too. Satan always makes things harder than they should be. He fills your life with grief, because you all too often listen and believe what he says. Death is out there too keeping track of you. The clock is ticking and every day brings death closer. Babies can’t be of help with problems like that.
It’s time to understand that you are wrong. Instead of living by your ears, and believing what you’ve heard, your living by your eyes. “It’s just a baby!” your eyes tell you, and your experience tells you that babies aren’t much help at all. But your ears have heard differently. The angels sang to you “Glory to God in the highest!” They sang God’s Word to you. Listen to what you’ve heard instead of trusting your eyes.
This baby is glorious, just not terrifying. When God showed himself before he was also terrifying. The baby here hides his true glory in human flesh and blood. His purpose isn’t to terrify, he has come, instead to give glory to God the Father. He is glorious in that manger because he lives up to God’s standards of glory, not human standards. He is glorious in the manger because of what he will do, and because he has humbled himself to do it. His glory will come, as he lives and breaths, like every human being. His glory comes when he suffers and dies on the cross, for every human being. If you think his glory is hard to see now, just wait until he hangs there, on that cross-shaped throne.
This baby brings peace. Not peace through strength, like the world does. The world uses laws that only contain violence. But this baby will destroy evil. He won’t just slow down the devil; he’ll remove him from power completely. He will completely destroy Satan and the curse of sin. He will do that by sacrificing himself on the cross for the sins of the world. That will bring peace between man and God.
And goodwill comes through this baby too. His will is a good will. He will do exactly what he has been sent to do. He will endure hunger in the wilderness, betrayal of his closest friends. He will feel the Roman scourge and the nails that will pierce his hands and feet. This baby is good and his will conform completely to the Father’s will. He is sent to suffer and die for you and for me.  And that’s exactly what he’s going to do.  
So believe you’re ears, in spite of what your eyes may show you. Your ears have heard the angel’s song; they tell you what you will find in the manger: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.
Gloria in Excelsis
The good news sung by the angels is far too good to keep just for one day a year. We sing it often, most of the time when we gather for worship. It’s called the Gloria in Excelsis: “Glory to God in the highest.” We sing it all year round and it’s a way of keeping a little bit of Christmas all year round. You see we don’t want to forget the Glory of God found in the manger. We don’t want to forget the Word made flesh, dwelling among us. We sing it so that we remember.
But we don’t just sing about the past when we sing that song.  Of course, we rejoice in the Baby in the manger, he’s not there anymore, he grew up, walked among people, healing and teaching. We remember the price he paid for us on the cross, but he no longer hangs there either. We remember Jesus in the tomb, but the tomb is empty, He is risen! We remember in this song how he comes to us today, with glory. “God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
And we still need help: Jesus Christ has conquered sin, death and the devil. But we still deal with their effects every day. Satan tempts us every day. Our weak sinful flesh battles us every day, wanting us to live in sin instead of the forgiveness won by Jesus. We look forward to the day when Jesus finishes what he has begun. We look forward when they are all sent into hell forever.
Jesus promises help for us. He is as much here as he was in that manger. He is God and man, the “Word made flesh.” When His Word is proclaimed He is there. When His Holy Supper is given He is there also. He is present in His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, and for strength and courage to live in the face of sin, death and Satan.
You struggle every day with temptation, sin and guilt and you will as long as you live. Listen to the angel’s hymn gain “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” It rings out to remind us that the Savior is here. He is here to bring peace and goodwill. He comes to you now to bring you the forgiveness he has won for you on the cross.
To tonight we do rejoice. We gather to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. And even though we only see a baby in a manger, our ears have heard the true story. In that manger is God’s glory. He has come, himself, to bring peace and goodwill, and to reconcile you with God again.
Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. Amen.The peace that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Midweek Advent 4, Luke 1:26-38, Dec 21, 2005

Weekday Advent 4, 2005 St. John’s, Howard, SD
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Greetings!!  God is with you.
Of all the unlikely places, of all the unlikely people, this was the most unlikely of all.  As if Galilee wasn’t odd enough, it all happened in Nazareth.  Nazareth had almost come to mean “nowhere.”  To say,”They come from Nazareth,” meant they were uneducated, uncouth and uncivilized.  There could hardly have been anything that was less significant than Nazareth, unless it was a virgin from Nazareth.  A young woman, not even married yet, only “pledged to be married.”  It was kind of an in-between state, not a girl in her father’s house, not a woman in her husband’s house.  There she was in-between two states of being, waiting for the future, and no longer part of the past.  Her husband, it should be noted, was of slightly more significant, being a descendent of David.  He could be associated with the Great King, but then so could many from Nazareth, even his future wife.  That was only a slightly polished spot on the old clay pot.  Nothing of significance ever happened there, or to those people.  
“Greetings Mary!  Grace to you!  You have been specially picked.”  Boomed the angel’s voice.  It came from Gabriel.  He had been particularly sent for this purpose.  This greeting began the most important message he would ever deliver.  He had been given other important tasks, like helping Daniel understand his dreams or announcing to Elizabeth that she would be a parent, even in her old age.  But, this time it was different.  “The favored one,” sat before him trembling.  He looked at her; there was nothing special about her.  She was young, faithful, beautiful, yet there were many others like her.  She was chosen to be highly favored.  He knew she had done nothing in her short life to deserve what she was about to receive.  But that was the nature of God’s grace it came to undeserving people.  He could see that she was frightened and confused.  It was more than just his presence; she was trying to understand what it meant that she had been “picked.”  “Picked for what?” her eyes pleaded.  “God is with you!”  Gabriel assured her. “You don’t have to be afraid, Mary.  A good thing is about to happen through you.”  The words settled on the girl, she breathed out and calmness appeared on her face.  Mary bowed her head and he could see that she was prepared to hear whatever he would say.  Her heart was open as she sat in silence waiting.  “You are going to have a baby and God wants you to name him Jesus.”  She raised her head and looked at him.  He continued, “He will also be, ‘The Great One,’ known as ‘Son of the Most High.’  He is the long awaited successor to David’s throne.  He is the promised ruler over the nation, the one promised to descendents of Jacob.  His kingdom will go on and on forever.”  The important message was followed by silence as Mary contemplated what the angel had said.  Gabriel watched her as the realization of what he had said came over her.  He could see her scanning her memory for the promises.  Crushing Satan’s head…  Wonderful Counselor…  David’s greater Son… At first there was a look of disbelief then her thoughts culminated in a whispered word…  “Messiah!”  The doubts washed away and Mary sat in silent wonder.  Gabriel let the moment stand in silence.  God’s grace would not be upstaged.  Still, he remained.  She would have questions.  After a pause, she puzzled, “How will this happen?  I am not living with my husband yet.  I have not been with a man.”  Gabriel saw her faith; she didn’t doubt what she had been told.  She only wanted to know how it would come about.  She wanted to know the details of how God’s grace would come to her.  The angel was prepared with an answer.  “It will come about by the Holy Spirit, through the power of God.  God, himself, will be with you, and enter your womb.  That is why, this Holy One who will be born to you, will be called God’s Son.”  There was another pause.  She didn’t need any more proof, she already believed, but Gabriel was instructed to give it anyway.  “Elizabeth is pregnant, too.  Even though people said she was too old and unable, she is six months along.”  “Nothing is impossible in God’s presence.”  He added.  Mary bowed again.  “I am humbled by being chosen.”  She said.  “I give myself to God’s purposes.”  Gabriel marveled at the display of faith he found in, of all places, a humble virgin of Nazareth of Galilee.  He left her there with her head still bowed, praising God as he left, thankful that he was given this task to do.  
Dear Christian friends, Members of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard:  This too is an unlikely place and we are all unlikely people.  “They come from Howard,” may not be equivalent to uneducated, uncouth and uncivilized, but it also isn’t equivalent to ‘high society.’  This isn’t the place people would choose to be a point of outreach to the world.  Yet, God has chosen it.  Here on this plot of land.  Here in this church building, named for the Apostle John.  Here is a small portion of the church to which Jesus commanded, “Make disciples of all nations.”  We are a part of the whole Christian church, which Jesus called his ‘bride.’  Like Mary, it is in an in between state. (it is) In between having been pledged to the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and his anxiously awaited return to claim us.  Here, in this place, God says to us, “Hello, St. John’s.  I have chosen you.”  We are fearful for we aren’t sure what we will be asked to do.  “Chosen to do what?” we ask, wondering if the budget will pass and if there will be enough money to do whatever it is.  “Do you really mean us?” we think, as we see our little congregation on the plains of South Dakota.  “You don’t need to be afraid, my children, you are all covered by my Grace.  Listen to the words spoken by your Pastor, the words of Grace pronounced upon you, after your confession.  Look at the altar where my body and blood stand, ready for you to taste and feel.  You don’t need to be afraid.  I am with you.  Nothing is impossible in the presence of God!
What we have been asked to do doesn’t come to us in the booming voice of an angel.  It comes on the lips of those dying without God.  It comes in the words of a world blissfully ignorant of its own needs.  From people striving to find meaning in a life that is filled with violence… violence that spills the blood of children, in the name of choice, and rips apart families in the name of personal freedom.  It comes in the words of those pushing for wrong to be called right and the darkness of sin to be held up as an alternative lifestyle.  That is a world that is screaming for help.  
The answer comes in an unlikely place, a pregnant virgin in Nazareth; a church under persecution in Sudan, where its members face death regularly; a small country church, membership 12, in central Nebraska, that hasn’t had a pastor in 4 years; a congregation in Louisiana, suffering the results of racism, struggling to rebuild its burned out sanctuary; and St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard.
Struggling to be relevant in a society that rejects what it believes.  In all these unlikely places, God is present brining salvation to a needy world.
Jesus Christ is the answer.  He was born in an unlikely place, to unlikely people to show that God’s love is especially for the unlikely.  In love he reaches out to a troubled and sinful world with forgiveness won by his death on the cross.  He reaches out to bring healing for the wrongs done in the name of personal choice.  He reaches out with forgiveness when families are broken, and lives destroyed by selfishness.  He reaches out to you and me with forgiveness for all we have done.  Washing our sins away in a bath of his cleansing blood.  That is the task.  We are to take the Good News of the forgiveness of sin, through the work of Jesus Christ to the world, beginning right here; in an unlikely place.
Mary bowed her head, and the impossible happened.  The infinite God entered her womb, became a fetus, and began to grow.  “I am the Lord’s servant.”  She said.  
We bow our heads, the budget not withstanding, and the impossible happens.  People hear the Word of God, the infinite Spirit of God enters their hearts and faith begins to grow.  
We pray:  God of all Grace, Immanuel, God with us:  We thank and praise you for your presence.  Use us, your servants, as you will that the Good News of Jesus Christ might be spread through the whole world, beginning right here in this very unlikely place.  This we ask in your Holy Name, O Christ. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Luke 2

I will not be posting a sermon today as the Children of St. John's are presenting us with the Gospel in song and action. Instead I'll direct you to the words of St. Luke for Christmas Day.;&version=47;

Please note on this page you can listen to the Gospel. Just click the small button with the speaker.

God's Blessings as you prepare for the Coming of Our Lord.
Pastor Watt.

Friday, December 16, 2005

St John's Web Site

St. John’s, Howard, now has a web site.  Check it out at  The site is under construction and your comments are welcome.
Pastor Watt. eMail me at

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Midweek Advent 3, December 14, 2005, Jer 23:3-8

Advent 3, Midweek, Jer 23:3-8, Dec 14, 2005
St.  John’s, Howard SD
Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.  I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.  “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.  And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.” (Jeremiah 23:3-8, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah had gained a reputation, and it wasn’t good.  “The complainer,” he wasn’t the kind of guy you’d invite to one of your Christmas parties.  Beside the fact that he never attended social events, (he said God forbid him to attend any at all, no matter what the reason) whenever you found him in a group of people he was always shouting out his doom and gloom.  It was a real downer for any gathering for Jeremiah to show up.  He also had other ‘social deficiencies.’  He had no family, he was well of marrying age and yet, no wife, no children.  According to Jewish custom that just made him weird.  Even his own relatives refused to claim him, and his friends’ made a plot to have him killed.  He was more than the black sheep from his hometown of Anathoth.  He sat in prison for a lengthy time because he had the gall to tell the King to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar’s army, who were pounding at the gate demanding tribute.  “It was God’s will!” he said.  For much of the time in his ministry, Jeremiah’s words were ignored.  He didn’t have popular things to say.  
Jeremiah didn’t like his role as prophet ‘against’ Israel.  He pleaded with God not to be given the burden he was carrying.  He himself mourned for his beloved Jerusalem, at the fate that was coming to it because of the unfaithfulness of God’s people.  But he continued to speak what God wanted him to say.  Weather it was popular or not.  But, always tucked in Jeremiah’s message of God’s displeasure at Israel, was a little fragment of hope, a ray of light that shown through, that told of God’s great love, and God’s plan to save his people from the problem they’d gotten themselves into.  Today’s text is one of those little fragments.  Right before this text he condemns the Kings of Israel, as the ones who have lead the people astray.  “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!”  They had allowed the people to slip away from the true worship of YHWH, and some had even promoted worship of false gods.  And now God’s people were now going to pay the consequences.  They would be scattered over the whole world, separated from their land and separated from each other, just as they were already separated from God.  But, God’s warning was ignored, and so was His promise…  The promise is what we really want to concentrate on today.  
God’s promise to the people, who weren’t listening, was that, even though they would be scattered, God himself would gather them again.  It would be such a significant thing in the lives of His people that they wouldn’t talk about the Exodus from Egypt any more, but they would remember their return from being scattered.  It would be a ‘new’ exodus, a new event to remember God’s salvation of His people.  And Jeremiah tells them this Good News in wonderful, easy to understand terms.  Even though they would be scattered, God would be their shepherd and gather them together again.  The people that Jeremiah was talking to, they understood what a shepherd was, this was a picture they could understand and relate to.  There were shepherds all around them all the time.  A simple walk outside the city walls would find shepherds keeping watch over their flocks.  And don’t forget one of our favorite passages of scripture was also very likely one of theirs.  “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want...” They already had a beautiful example of God as their good shepherd.  The Psalm told them how he would lead them, take care of them, and bring them home.  And Jeremiah explained that that is exactly what God is going to do… again.  He was going to lead them home from exile, back to their beloved city.  He would supply them with new shepherds that would care for them properly.  Then they would not be afraid any more.  Even though there would be the exile, God, their good shepherd, would gather them together again, and lead them home.  
But, Jeremiah’s beautiful words went unheeded.  In fact at one point in time they were burned line by line by the king.  As he tore each line from the page…  First, it seemed, the people would have to face the exile, then they would understand and appreciate God’s good news for them.  
So what does all this have to do with advent? What does something that happened nearly 3000 years ago have to do with us… sitting here in St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, South Dakota, at the cusp of the 21st Century?
“‘The days are coming’, says the Lord.” Jeremiah wrote.  Right in the middle of his proclamation to the people of Israel.  “The days are coming…” it was like an exclamation point, or a neon pointer.  “Pay attention to this!  It’s about more than just returning from exile.  It’s about more than replacing bad kings with good ones.  It’s about the time when God himself will come.”  Do you remember what the word ‘advent’ means?  It means ‘coming.’  Right in the middle of telling the people about how God was going to deliver them from exile, how he was going to return them home, he tells them about how God himself is coming.  
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.  And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
You see all of the sudden Jeremiah was talking about more that a regular king, more than a regular shepherd.  He was talking about the promised Savior, the ‘righteous branch’ from David.  The King who was greater than any of the kings they had previously known.  This king would make it possible for them to live in safety.  He would bring them righteousness, that is, he would make it possible for them to be counted right in God’s eyes.  
What Jeremiah told the people of God was more than good news following bad news.  It was more than telling them that even though they would have to go into exile, they would eventually be able to return.  He was telling them about the promised Advent of God.  He was telling them about the coming day, when God himself would come and save them from their sin.  Jeremiah was sharing with them the Good News about the coming of Jesus Christ.  That is the very heart of Advent.  
Tonight we have gathered to tell the Good News about the coming of Jesus Christ.  The Righteous Branch has come.  We have seen the Shepherd / King.  The story is impressed in our minds; Mary and Joseph, Bethlehem, the Angels, and the Shepherds; the baby lying in a manger.  The days have truly come, just as God said they would through Jeremiah!  And it is Good News.  But he didn’t just come to give us a ‘cute’ holiday… a day to think of little children singing and laughing.  The Good Shepherd came for a reason.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14-15, ESV)  The baby whose coming we remember, whose coming we look forward to celebrating, is the Lord our Righteousness.  His purpose, his plan was to save the people of God.  
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26, ESV)
Jesus Christ, the baby in the manger, the Good Shepherd, the True King of Israel laid down his very life, to bring to us the righteousness of God.  The cross and the cradle are forever linked…  He came to us in the cradle.  He saved us through his death on the cross.
That’s the Good News for Advent.  That’s the Good News Jeremiah was telling the people who weren’t listening to him.  It’s the Good News the he’s telling us.  Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Third Sunday in Advent, December 9th, 2005, John 1:6-8, 19-28

Advent 3, December 9th, 2005, John 1:6-8, 19-28
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  John 1:6-8
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.  He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.”  They asked him, “Then who are you?  Are you Elijah?”  He said, “I am not.”  “Are you the Prophet?”  He answered, “No.”  Finally they said, “Who are you?  Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us.  What do you say about yourself?”  John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”  Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  “I baptize with water,”  John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know.  He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”  This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.  John 1:19-28
Songs of Emmanuel – The Agnus Dei
From a sermon by Pastor Tim Pauls
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;
There’s something compelling about John the Baptizer.  Even for you and me, after all what would advent be without taking one Sunday and talking about him.  Though, I don’t think that it’s his clothing.  Camel’s hair isn’t exactly a popular fashion statement.  I don’t think it’s his diet either.  When was the last time you heard of a diet guru promoting a diet of locust and wild honey?  If that were my diet I’d surely loose weight!  But, John is a commanding presence; there must be something about him that draws people’s attention.  It has to be because the text says the “all Judea” was going out to see him.  They went out to hear his message and to be baptized.  Those flocks of people must have seen something more than “John son of Zacharias.”  
The Scribes and Pharisees sent people to him because they wanted to know what he was all about.  They were probably looking for a reason to kill him for all his attention.  
"Are you the Christ?”  they ask.  He was certainly drawing crowds like they expected the Messiah to do.  He had words for even Roman Soldiers.  But John answered their question clearly, “I am not the Christ.”
“What then?  Are you Elijah?”  They wanted to know if John thought he was the great prophet returned from the dead.  Elijah was the prophet who spoke God’s word and brought famine, and then again and the rains refreshed the land.  He is the one who killed 400 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.  And he even raised the dead.  Maybe John saw himself as Elijah.  “Are you him?”  they asked.  “I am not.”  John says.
“Are you the Prophet?”  came the next question.  Israel had for millennium expected a prophet greater than Moses to appear; one to preach like Moses; one to lead the people out of slavery like Moses; one to supply them with their needs like Moses did with manna and quail.  John was gathering crowds, maybe he thought he was the Prophet Moses promised.  “Are you him?”  they asked.  “No.”  said John, simply.
“Then who?”  they needed to know.  “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us?  What do you say about yourself?"
John’s answer may have surprised them.  “I am The Voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” as the prophet Isaiah said.”  Oh, so that’s who he is, they may have said to themselves.  For all of his talk, all of his crowd gathering, all of his charisma, he’s just “the voice.”  He’s just the preparer.  But the voice is preparing the way for Christ himself.  John’s isn’t the Messiah but if he is the voice then his message is that the Messiah is coming.  
If John draws so much attention what will the Christ, who comes after him, be like?  Will he stand out head and shoulders above the crowd?  Will he come in power and strength and authority?  If John is the voice and he draws this kind of attention, the Messiah that he announces will surely draw even more.  The Christ is one who is anointed by God to save his people, and govern them and lift them up forever.  He must be a strong and powerful person indeed!  If he is coming we’ll know him when we see him, right?  
The Pharisees ask one more question: “Why do you baptize if you are not any of these people, sent by God?”  John says, “I baptize with water, but there is one who stands with us now, he is the coming one, you don’t see him but he is here.  I’m not worthy even to stoop down to take off his shoes.”  
Those people must have been scratching their heads and looking around.  “You mean he’s here right now?  “Standing among us,” you say.  But we don’t know him?  Why doesn’t he stand out?  Don’t you think we’d recognize someone who’s greater than Moses and Elijah?  Don’t you think we’d recognize someone greater than the Baptizer?  Prophecy tells us that when the Christ comes he’ll flatten mountains and rise up valleys.  He’s called the Lion of Judah.”  
Jesus was there and quiet.  And they don’t recognize him.  He’s just a face in the crowd.  For the Christ that God did send you can’t go by appearance.  If you want to know who this Christ is you have to go by what he says and does.  John knows and identifies him.  Pointing a finger at Jesus he says “Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  He was right there with them and John called him the “Lamb of God” not the “Lion of Judah.”
A lamb isn’t what is expected.  Lambs don’t bring images of power and glory to mind.  They don’t conquer worlds and kingdoms.  They are taken care of.  They don’t care for others.  They are lead to slaughter and sacrifice without putting up even so much as a struggle.  But isn’t the Messiah supposed to be strong and powerful, why is he the “Lamb of God?”
He is strong; in fact he is all-powerful.  But he is also meek.  He is going to conquer his enemies but he will do it by meekness.  Just like everyone standing on that riverbank he submits to John’s baptism.  He isn’t going to save by being overpowering he is going to save by serving.  He will draw his followers by being their servant.  He won’t punish his enemies either.  Instead he will allow himself to be punished by them.  Most of all he will save by sacrifice.  He will offer himself as the sacrifice for the whole world’s sins.  He will take them to the cross and shed his blood, just like the lambs in the temple.  He is indeed the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Many will miss this Savior because he doesn’t look like what they expect.  In their eyes he should be a powerful king.  He should have a throne of power that people can look up to.  People go by appearances, so many reject Jesus out of hand, and pass him by as if he is nothing special.
But there are some who hear his word and believe in him.  They don’t care what he looks like, they don’t care if he’s just a face in the crowd.  They look on the one who dies on the cross for them and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
"O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us."O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us."O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have grant us Thy peace.""Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  John says those words because Jesus was right there the face in the crowd.  John spoke what was true; Jesus had come to save the world.  He was on his way to the cross to bear the sins of the world and set everything right between God and man.  
We don’t repeat John’s song just out of a sense of what God has done for us in the past.  We sing it because he is present with us here and now.  We sing those words in our worship because the Son of God has become flesh and he promises to be with us here whenever we gather in his name.  He is here right now, flesh and blood, just as he was with the people who crowded around John on the banks of the Jordan River.  
Jesus Christ conquered sin and death and rose in victory over the grave, he even “sits that right hand of God” and rules all things.  But he still comes to you humbly.  He still comes to you to serve.  He is present here with his Word.  He is the Word made flesh, so when his Word is here, he is here.  He is present whenever he pours the water of baptism, when he washes away the sins of the world.  He is here in bread and wine, giving you himself, his very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.  
It’s rather a humble way to come, isn’t it?  The spoken word, water and wine.  These are everyday things you can find in the grocery store.  Just in the same way he was quietly standing on the banks of the Jordan, he comes to us humbly in common things.  That’s his promise to us that he is with us here in Word and Sacraments.
The problem for us is that we often want to look for God where he isn’t found.  Our sin makes us want to see him in less common things.  There are plenty of charismatic leaders out there, who proclaim a popular message.  We want to see Jesus there, but if they don’t proclaim the Gospel, if they don’t point to what Jesus Christ has done for the world, Jesus isn’t there.  We want to see Jesus in our feeling and experiences.  We say to ourselves that we need to “feel” the Holy Spirit in our lives to know that God is with us.  But Jesus never promises that we will feel any different when we become Christians.  We don’t look inside ourselves to prove God’s favor to us, our feelings and experiences can be wrong.  We look to Jesus Christ and what he promises to do.  We want to see Jesus in powerful, growing, successful churches.  We want to see him in big programs that appeal to the “felt needs” of people.  But if God’s word isn’t preached and the Sacraments are not administered, if the Gospel isn’t found in those programs, it’s all for nothing.  Jesus Christ isn’t there either.  
We walk by faith, not by sight.  We believe in the Word, not what things look like.  That’s why we rejoice in the promises of our Savior.  He promises to be here in Baptism, Communion and his Word.  They may look like everyday things but everyday we need what God promises to give through them: We need the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross.  Our Lord comes humbly as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  It doesn’t look very glorious, but it is.  
If we think about this just a little more we can see that it explains a lot about our lives, in general.  Some people will tell you that when you become a Christian, you should expect an extraordinary life.  You should see miracles and wonderful things a proof of God’s love for you.  When you hear that and look at your life, that may be very unremarkable, and everyday, you may think that something must be wrong.  But, there’s nothing wrong at all.  Jesus Christ works in very un-remarkable looking ways for your salvation.  He also works in some very ordinary, everyday ways for your other needs also.  Instead of using a glorious healing, he may use ordinary doctors and medicine to heal you.  Instead of sending manna from heaven he provides you with a job so you can work to provide for your family.  These ordinary things don’t point to God’s absence in your life, they in fact point to God working and providing for your every need.
Jesus was just a face in the crowd at the Jordan River, he was unrecognized by the crowds.  You too, may live a life that is unrecognizable from people around you.  Just as Jesus suffered, you too will suffer.  It’s not because Jesus has abandoned you, but because you are his disciple.  You are the sheep of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  You are forgiven.  You are his.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Midweek Advent 2, Dec 7, 2005, Isa 40:1-11

Midweek, Advent 2, 2005, Isa 40:1-11
St. John’s, Howard, SD
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:1-11, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
3000 years ago, the prophet Isaiah took pen in hand and scratched out those words on a piece of dried calfskin.  As he wrote, tears may have welled up in his eyes, because he knew what his beloved people would soon endure.  He knew they would be defeated, tortured, beaten, and hauled off into exile by a brutal Babylonian Army.  He knew their beloved city, Jerusalem, the center of their national identity, would be leveled and the temple, the very place where God came to be with His people, destroyed.  There they were sitting in that city, blissfully rejecting the future.  And worst of all, he knew that the destruction was all the result of their own rejection of the one true God.  They had rejected their True King, the God who had brought them out of Egypt, and the God who had promised them the land they lived in and the land they loved.  They would pay a terrible price for their arrogance.  The death and carnage would be devastating.  The people would be scattered across the whole world.  Families would be divided and uprooted, never to be completely whole again.  There would be great suffering…
In the face of that suffering, Isaiah wrote unforgettable words of comfort.  He wrote words that from then on would be carved onto the hearts of God’s people; words for exiles to cling to, words to remember that God longs to forgive; not to punish;  words to remember that God gives undeserved love to undeserving people; words that show that where there is sin; His grace appears in double, (Rom 5:20) overwhelming sin and pushing it aside forever; words that give comfort to fragile people, ones who’s lives wither away too soon; words that reach out with the loving hands of a shepherd caring for His straying sheep, and comforting them in his strong and protecting arms.  
From 3000 years ago the words of comfort reach down from Isaiah’s pen.  It is because of Jesus Christ that those words have voice in our lives.  It is because of Him that they carry meaning for us.  His death on the cross paid for our sins and brings us grace, God’s undeserved love, in double.  Jesus Christ is the comfort we all need in a world full of sin, trouble, pain and death.
Ruth placed her hands back in the soapy water.  It was not a happy task.  Her mind was scrambled with the thoughts of the argument.  It was another foolish fight.  Like so many before, it drove a wedge between her and Jim.  “After ten years of marriage,” she though, “you think we wouldn’t have those stupid arguments any more!”  She tried to remember how it started, something about dinner, peas or carrots.  It was typical; the subject of the argument wasn’t what the argument was really about.  She tried to discover it by analyzing the words, but nothing that was said seemed to shed light on the real trouble.  She looked down at the dirty water, scraps of leftover food floated next to her fingers.  It was fitting, she thought, my hands belong in this dirty water.  “It is just like my life,” she reflected, “dirty, and full of junk.  I can’t even live with this man I love without causing pain and trouble.”  She splashed the water as a tear slipped from her eye.  Her mind returned to the fight.  It had begun right after the prayer.  “Come Lord Jesus…”  If only they had allowed Him to come!  “Come Lord Jesus now.  Forgive me Lord,” she begged, “Forgive my foolish pride.  Forgive my stubbornness.”   “Ruth,” came a voice behind her as she was suddenly embraced, “I’m really sorry.  Sometimes I’m such a jerk!  It’s my fault.  Can you forgive me?”  She turned, “Oh, Jim, It’s not just you.  I was in such a bad mood today… can you forgive me?”  The answer came in a long embrace.
Comfort, Comfort my people, says your God.  Take comfort in the forgiveness won by my beloved Son.  Be comforted knowing there is forgiveness for all your brokenness, forgiveness for all your hurtful pride, forgiveness for all the things that separate you.  There is comfort, my people, because your sins are paid for, and grace abounds.
The grass was getting tall.  Bud didn’t really want to get out that lawn mower again.  He had other things on his mind.  But, already it was too tall.  The neighbors might not complain, this time, but… it really needed to be cut.  Slowly resigned to the task he walked to the garage.  He tugged up on the door.  It seemed heavier than normal, not really wanting to be lifted.  There was a scraping noise that emphasized the resistance.  But finally it rose to his knees; he grasped underneath and forced the door, against its will, to the ceiling of the garage.  He scanned the clutter; a dozen unfinished projects littered the floors and walls.  It was funny, he thought, how the garage was supposed to be for the car, yet it had been relegated to the driveway, in favor of cardboard boxes, the Christmas tree and a pile of lumber wishing it was a new kitchen table.  “The mower…”  Bud interrupted himself.  His eyes moved to the corner where it was kept.  If Bud had known the bicycle was there he would have avoided the lawn project altogether.  If he had only let the grass grow or listened to the garage door’s protest, he would have been spared the pain.  He would not have experienced the re-opening of the wound.  But now, it was too late.  The bicycle was in view and so too where scenes of a little boy who used to ride it up and down the street.  “God!”  Bud cried.  “Why did he have to die?”  The question floated in the darkness of the garage as the memories flooded his brain.  The chemotherapy that was supposed to be the cure only drained the boy of life.  Bud remembered the helpless feelings, clenching his calloused hands in a vain attempt to do something . . . anything.  “What were the words at the funeral?”  He pleaded with his memory.  What were the words of comfort there?  The words that told him his Savior was with him even in that dark hour.  Even when the pain was so great he didn’t think he would ever laugh, or smile again.  In an instant the words appeared in his mind.  “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me . . .”
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  The grass withers and the flowers fall, but word of God’s promise lasts forever.  Be comforted my people, when you are faced with the frailness of human existence, when death comes too soon.  Take comfort in knowing that I am with you always.  Take comfort knowing that your separation will not last forever.  You will be together again.  Shout the good news, that Jesus Christ has destroyed death’s hold forever.  
“Baa, Baa” the bleating went on.  Growing louder each passing moment as the little lamb struggled.  But, with each pull, push or kick the thorns increased their bite upon the poor little animal.  Each place where one of the long thorns stuck into the lamb’s skin there was now a spot of matted blood.  The pain was becoming unbearable.  All around the lamb could hear the rustling of some hungry predator in the brush.  There was no way for the lamb to be calm, danger was everywhere, and death was stalking a helpless victim.  Yet, it had come to this difficult place by its own actions.  Ever straying from the flock in search of greener grass.  Hiding around rocks and ridges, playfully ignoring the danger of being separated from the flock.  Many times before the shepherd had chased him back to the fold.  He had been struck many times with the shepherd’s rod.  Still he would stray.  Now, this time he strayed farther than ever before.  He had wandered until the sound of the flock was far away.  It was exhilarating, running and jumping along as he felt the boundless freedom of his straying.  He ate wherever he pleased and moved with complete freedom.  As the afternoon ran on, he began to wonder why the shepherd had not come to retrieve him.  He shrugged it off and frolicked a little more.  The entanglement happened when he was trying to get an extra bite of a small clump of tender grass.  He had to stretch between two rocks to reach it.  As he did, he didn’t notice the thorny branches beside him.  It was only a small tumble, but he found himself square in the middle of the brambles.  After several hours of struggle, he began to realize there was no escape from the thorns.  The more he struggled the more entangled he became.  The more entangled he became the greater the pain.  The greater the pain the more he panicked.  The more he panicked the more he struggled.  And the deadly branches slowly tightened their grip.  Like a curious predator exhaustion crept up on him.  Engulfing his body in the darkness of sure death.  Soon the sun set and darkness closed in on the lamb.  Exhausted, it drifted in and out of consciousness.  Then it heard the sound, “Snap” like someone, or something stepping on a twig.  Then light footsteps.  A sudden coldness came over it and the fear reached a climax.  Hoping for one last bit of luck it jerked violently in the thorns, hoping to finally be free and away from the fearful approaching animal.  But, the plant refused to release it.  The lamb opened its eyes in terror gazing in the direction of the approaching danger.  But, when it arrived, instead of bloody fangs, the smiling face of the shepherd appeared.  “There you are,” said the shepherd.  “I’ve been looking for you all night.  What a mess you have gotten yourself into.”  The shepherd’s voice was quiet and full of comfort.  He reached down and began snapping off branches of the bush and untangling legs and wool embraced by thorns.  The Shepherd himself began to bleed.  Thorns dug into his hands piercing them.  Still he persisted.  It was a painful job, but necessary.  The Shepherd gladly shed his own blood to release the lamb.  Finally it was free and the Shepherd folded it into his arms.  The lamb could hear the shepherd’s heart beating in his chest and feel his warm breath on him.  It was safe, finally.  The shepherd had found him.  Nothing could hurt him while he was in his savior’s arms.  The shepherd spoke comforting words to him, “Quiet, be still.  You are with me now, there is nothing to harm you.  I have saved you, you are mine… “
Comfort, comfort my little sheep.  Says your Shepherd.  When you stray, I will find you and bring you home.  When you doubt I will assure you.  Look for me and I will be there to untangle the trouble you’ve made in your lives.  I will take you up and no one can snatch you out of my strong and comforting arms.
We are the exiles.  Our own sinfulness is the army that has dragged human beings from their God into painful exile.  It has brought with it its own carnage: sickness, separation and death.  Thank God, Isaiah wrote words of comfort for exiles.  He wrote words of comfort for us!  Comfort, Comfort my people…  Our God reminds us, through Isaiah’s beautiful words…  our exile is over, sin and its power, its carnage, is wiped away forever.  Jesus Christ brings comfort, and salvation.  The Shepherd has come to untangle and remove the thorns that pierce us.  He has laid down his very life for his sheep.  Jesus is the comforting Shepherd, folding us in his strong and comforting arms.  Forgiving us because of what he has done; because of his great love.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak straight to their hearts.  Say to them “I have done everything necessary; I have paid the price for your sin. I have shed my own blood for you. I have gathered you in my arms. I am your Shepherd.  I love you.” Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Second Sunday in Advent, December 4, 2005, Gen 3:9-15

St. John’s, Howard, SD, November 30, 2005, Midweek Advent 1.
Genesis 3:9-15, ESV
"Adam, Where are you?"
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Adam and Eve hid cowering among the trees of the Garden. For the first time in their lives they were afraid... afraid of God. They had never been afraid of Him before... never before had the sound of God approaching sent the scurrying for cover. Never before had they needed protection... But now, as they hid trembling, covered in their newly created clothing, they realized that their enemy was approaching. God would be angry. He would be angry at what they had done. Maybe it was a dream... maybe they really didn't take the fruit, but its taste still lingered on their lips, sweet... and bitter. It was not a dream. The shame clung to them, soiled them, so that they couldn't bear even to look at each other. No amount of clothing cover covered it... no amount of washing would remove it... They just wanted to hide, away from each other and away from God.
Why had they listened to the Snake? Why had they believed what was now so clearly lies? He had told them what it would mean... to know good and evil. The Snake was evil. What was it about what he said that was so irresistible? The lies dripped from his flickering tongue like drops of honey, but they held only poison and death. He had brought them to their hiding place with his promise of knowledge. Now they longed to forget. But it was the Snake... his evil... his lies... his deception... his fault. God couldn't blame them. They were too weak to resist. The fruit was too sweet.
Didn't God know that... didn't He know they couldn't stand up to such temptation. Now they were sure that it wasn't so much that they had failed... God had failed.... He should have protected them... He should have told them about the Snake. Clearly God was at fault, anyone could see that. So they crouched there, in their hiding place, blaming God. Hoping that He wouldn't see them, hoping that he would pass them by.
Satan howled in delight to see what he had done. He had driven a wedge between God and his most treasured creation. It had all seemed too easy. The man and the woman were indeed weak and pitiful. A half-hearted promise was all it took; a glimpse of the greener grass... They were so easily led away... And now, they were... lost, enemies of God; sinful creatures cowering among the leaves, hoping for protection from God's wrath. Satan watched in eager expectation, anticipation for what he considered a glorious victory. God was coming to the Garden, the man and his wife would face judgment.
God's heart was broken... He knew what had happened. He knew what Adam and Eve had done... how they had cast aside His love. Instead they believed Satan's lie. After all that He had done for them, they had chosen... the lie. And now, they were afraid... There in their poor hiding place, they were fearful and alone, not able to help each other and not able to turn to Him. The enormity of what they had done escaped them. They only knew their fear. It was right for them to be afraid... His anger burned. The sin in them was intolerable; a dark rotting spot; a self-imposed blemish in His perfect creation. They deserved destruction... but, now was not the time for destruction... now was the time for promise. "Adam... Adam, where are you?” He called to them.
We the people of the jury in the matter of the State of South Dakota verses John Doe, find the defendant... guilty. He is guilty, guilty, guilty... guilty, we don't even like the word. We want to pass it over as soon as possible. Push it aside. Get rid of it. To be found guilty is to be discovered, put to shame, and publicly humiliated. Guilty people will go to great lengths to show that they are not guilty. And if they are found guilty, they will do what ever it takes to show they had sufficient reason to do what they are guilty of doing. You see it really wasn't my fault... I was abused as a child... I'm a drug addict... It must be genetic.
So when we see Adam and Eve afraid in the Garden, when we see them hiding from the wrath of God, we may not see what it has to do with us. We know that we sin. We don't have to look very hard at ourselves to see that. We even use it as an excuse. "Well, I'm not perfect. I'd like to seem someone else do better." But we justify ourselves by comparison. “I’m no Sadaam Hussein. I’m no adulterer. I’m no murderer. I’m no slacker.” We don’t see ourselves cowering in fear over our sin, it is just an unpleasant fact that we deal with every day. The truth of the matter is we seldom feel guilty about it. And if we do happen to feel guilty we don't feel guilty long... just like our first father and mother our guilt turns to excuses. I did it but... I was pushed into a corner. I did it but... I was only following the crowd. I did it but... I couldn't help it. I'm weak and sick. I did it but... it really isn't my fault. I'm not really guilty. When the finger of guilt points to us we stammer and shake... and push it away. Point that thing at someone else... we don’t care where it points as long as it doesn’t point at me. It is his fault, not mine.
It seems, after all, that we have a lot in common with our relative in the Garden. That's exactly what he did. When God confronted him with his sin, he did the 'manly thing'... he blamed his wife. "She did it... she brought me the fruit. She picked it from the tree... she listened to the snake first... I was influenced by her 'feminine ways'. It isn't my fault. And don't forget, God, you are the one who gave her to me. I think you made her wrong. She's defective. It isn’t my fault." Adam didn't linger long on his own sin. He didn't deny it... he just pushed the finger of guilt out of his face, and he didn't care where it landed. Don't think, though that Eve did any better. When God turned to her, when she was confronted about what she had done... "It was the snake. I was afraid of him. He was too clever for me. He picked the fruit... I mean he knocked it off the tree with his head. He gave it to me... so I ate it... it isn't my fault." It doesn't take much to hear those words in our own mouths.
Our unwillingness to accept blame is really a matter of fear. Fear over the guilt of sin. But, really we’ve tried to forget exactly why we should be afraid when we fall into sin. We’ve change the bible’s picture of God from a God who demands perfection, to a god who’s all excepting, a god who overlooks our little faults and problems. A god who says about our sin, “Well, that’s ok, you did the best you could.” That’s not the God Adam and Eve were rightfully afraid of in the garden. If you want to remind yourself exactly how God’s anger burns against sin, all you have to do is stand at the foot of the cross and see it. The punishment of Jesus is a very clear picture of the wages of sin, a very crisp portrayal of just exactly what our guilt should bring. Just like those two hiding in the garden, we try to cover over the fact that we are guilty. Guilt brings punishment. When they heard God approaching... they knew that he would be angry. They knew they were guilty, and they knew they should be afraid. What their guilt had done was turn the sound of their loving protector and provider in to the terrible sound of coming judgment. They tried to deflect it to each other. They tried to reflect it back on to God himself. That too is just like us. We have done that very thing; blaming God when we are faced with the consequences of our actions. Why did He allow this to happen? Why didn't He stop me? Why didn't He tell me about the Snake?
But this story is more than a story showing us the lousy way we deal with guilt. It is more than a quaint moral tale to show us a part of the human condition. It is the story of how God deals with sin. When He came to the Garden, He found Adam and Eve frightened, but He didn't destroy them. When he called out to Adam, “where are you?” He was calling for him to come out of his hiding place. “Come out here Adam. I have good news for you, instead of bad news.” Instead of destruction and punishment God was bringing a promise. Not a promise to just forget their sin, but a promise to remove it by taking it on Himself.
Think of it this way... There in the quiet darkness of his room sits a boy. He has been sent there to await punishment for something he has done wrong. He has been waiting for what seems like an eternity, dreading the arrival of his father. The silence grows loud as the anticipation of the punishment grows, the longer he has to wait to more terrified he becomes. Then way down the hallway he hears footsteps. Each one brings his dreaded punishment closer until at last they stop outside his door. He watches the doorknob waiting for it to turn... The door opens... Father walks in and sits beside him. "I have good news for you son," he begins, “I have not come to punish you."
That was the Good News in the Garden, too. God did not come to bring punishment. He came to bring a promise. It is that promise that we remember as we light the first candle of the advent wreath. It’s called the ‘prophecy’ candle for that very reason. This promise in Genesis 3:15 is the first mention of God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. With this promise Adam, Eve, and all humans began the wait for the promised Savior. We know who the promised Savior is. We know who it is who was bruised by Satan but also who crushed Satan’s head. We know whom it is who came to take away the sins of the world. Adam and his wife put their trust in the promise of God. And because they trusted God and His promise they began to wait.
When God walked into the garden looking for Adam and Eve, instead of coming as their enemy, instead of bringing wrath and punishment, He came with the Good News of their Savior. Jesus Christ the promised one is the one who solves the problem of the guilt of sin. As promised He suffered in shame on the cross, alone and afraid, not able to hide from God’s anger over sin. And even though He was totally innocent, God poured out on Him all His anger over sin. He was declared guilty for us. He bore the punishment that our sin earned. He bore the sin of Adam and Eve. He bore your sin. He bore my sin. We all have sinned but Jesus was made guilty and Jesus was made the punishment. When God pointed the finger of guilt at us, He redirected it and turned it to His Son instead. “No! He is the guilty one, not you.” He said. And we breathe a sign of relief, as the punishment passes to Jesus and our guilt and punishment goes with Him to the cross. And God says to us, “I’m not here to punish you.”
God called out to Adam in the Garden. “Adam, where are you?” What He wanted was for Adam to turn to Him and say, "Here I am Lord. I am guilty. Please forgive me." Instead Adam did as we often do... "It isn't really my fault." He said. But, Jesus makes everything different. He has taken away the punishment that your sin deserves. So when God calls out to you, “Adam... Adam, Where are you?” Through faith in the promises of God, you respond, "Here I am Lord, I am guilty, please forgive me for Jesus sake." Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

First Sunday in Advent, Nov 27, 2005, Isa.63.16b-17.64.1-8

Nov 27,2005, St. John’s, Howard, SD
(Isaiah 63:16-17, 64:1-8, ESV)
(from a sermon by Rev. Daniel N. Jastram, CPR)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Advent is a time, the season before Christmas when we think about and prepare for the arrival of our Lord, Jesus Christ. God in a manger, gentle animals peering in, shepherds look on in wonder. It’s an important picture in our minds. It’s very important to prepare before we celebrate Jesus becoming a human being. But there is another emphasis that’s brought out by Holy Scripture today. Isaiah’s words about God coming don’t sound so gentle. He paints a picture of mountains crumbling and rivers boiling. In fact, Isaiah is calling upon God to come and destroy all that’s wrong in the world. “Burn up my enemies. Wipe out all the trouble in the world! Get rid of what’s wrong!” In a way he’s saying, “Visit us, and take care of us!”
Now maybe you’ve shouted something like that to God, too. In fact, I think, there are times in our lives when we are more impressed by what feels like God’s absence than His presence. When we run into trouble or hardship we ask the “Where was God?” question. You know; “Where was God, when the Tsunami killed thousands of people? Where was God when the plane crashed? Where was God when I lost my job, or my crops failed? Where was God when I had to move out of my home? Where was God when my husband/wife died of cancer? Where was God when the accident took away my child?” It’s like asking if God is really “there” for us when we need him most. God’s people have felt like this every since Adam and Eve left the garden. King David knew the feeling too! He wrote in Psalm 13, How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? (v1) If you’ve ever been in the hospital, suffered the loss of a loved one, or spent a holiday alone, you know the feeling. You just want to shout out to God and say, “God, visit me, be with me now, and take care of me!”
Those of us sitting around here this morning aren’t the only ones who have this feeling, about wanting God around. In fact, over the last few years it’s been very popular on Television. You see it in shows like Joan of Arcadia. It’s a show all about God, and God being among us. I think the opening song covers it’s theme pretty well.
What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home
While the show had its theological problems, it emphasizes the human desire to have God at hand, to be able to talk to Him, especially when things aren’t going well; to have God visit us, be with us and take care of us, is a common human feeling.
That’s just what Isaiah is asking God to do. Visit. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God would do just that? But, Isaiah quickly backs off the idea. God had already visited them, in fact. The Assyrian army trampled the northern part of the kingdom. And Isaiah prophesied that they would tromp right down to the gates of Jerusalem and flatten the temple too. God was visiting them, their sins brought God’s judgment, and God was visiting them in the Assyrian army. The people of God couldn’t deny that they had fallen into terrible sin. They are a people who continue to sin; who are “unclean”; whose “righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”; who “fade like a leaf”; whose “iniquities, like the wind, take [them] away” (64:6 ESV); among whom “there is no one who calls upon [God’s] name, who rouses himself to take hold of you.” All of their sin brought terrible judgment. Judgment that was visited upon them. That’s not exactly the “stranger on the bus” from Joan Osbourne’s lyrics, is it?
That’s the problem with God coming to be with us. We might want Him to take care of everything that’s wrong with the world. But are we sure that when He comes we won’t be the object of His justice? Are we sure that when He comes He won’t pour out His anger on us? Are we sure that we’re not the problem? And that’s just what Isaiah realized. If God comes, He would destroy them, because of their sin. That’s us too, because of sin, we are what’s wrong with the world. We can’t deny our sinfulness. Well, and we don’t really. We say it here Sunday after Sunday. Our lives are a dreadfully sinful state of affairs. Sin clings to our every thought, word and deed. Even the good stuff we do is polluted by it. We are full of self interest and self serving. We are quick to speak harsh words and quick to be angry. Our first thought when we are asked to help, is “What do I get out of it?”
I love the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes.” There are times when the cartoonist is so profound in what he says and he hits the nail precisely on the head. One example is when Calvin is talking to his imaginary pet tiger while careening down “Dismemberment Gorge” on a sled. “Christmas is getting near, huh?” the tiger asks. “You got it,” says Calvin. “I’ve been wondering though,” he thoughtfully continues, “Is it truly being good if the only reason I behave is so I can get more loot at Christmas? Is that good enough or do I have to be good in my heart and spirit? Do I really have to be good or do I just have to act good?” The furry Hobbes answers, “I guess in your case, Santa will just have to take what he can get.” “Ok, so exactly how good do you think I have to act? Really good, or just pretty good?” You see, Calvin understands his true human nature. Even when he tries to be good he knows he’s really doing it for selfish reasons. And the reason we like cartoons like that is that they speak to us, just as we know we are.
This Advent, as we look forward (or not) to God visiting us, we remember that the baby in the manger is the same one who will come again in judgment. We have to acknowledge that we stand before God, sinful and unclean.
Ah, but there a “rest of the story” in this waiting, isn’t there? Just like the television asks, just like Isaiah wanted, God has already become one of us. He has already visited us, not bearing his arm in anger, in naked, terrifying power. He came naked, bare and helpless, as a tiny baby. He came to bare his back to the smiters, to bear everything that’s wrong with the world—and everything that’s wrong with us—to the cross.
Isaiah also said it this way,
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6, ESV)
God’s people back then held fast to the confidence they had in God. They even called God by his saving name. “You, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.” (63:16 ESV) Isaiah calls God “Redeemer” over and over again in his book. He used that name for God to remind God’s people that God is faithful to His promises, especially His promise to save. Just as He had saved them from slavery in Egypt, He promises to save again.
But that’s not all. Isaiah also calls God, “our Father.” We do it all the time, whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer. But in those days they didn’t. In fact, it happens only 15 times in the OT scriptures and three of those times are in these few verses. When Isaiah calls God, Father, he’s emphasizing the relationship God’s people have with Him. He’s giving them a basis for their confidence. Because no matter how rich, warm, comforting, and embracing or how shallow, self-serving, faulty, or incomplete our experience of fatherly love from our earthly fathers may have been, it is only a pale, sinful reflection of our heavenly Father’s love. You see, God’s Fatherly love for us is perfect. God’s perfect love for His people is acted out in ways that are always for our benefit. It’s hard for us always to see it that way. Especially when painful things happen and we don’t feel like God is around at all. But that’s not His promise to us. He promises to be right in the midst of even our painful experiences. We can endure those painful times…
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:2-6, ESV)
That’s the confidence we have, that when God visits us it is always in love.
He makes his love personally clear to us in his means of grace. He comes here in his Word and Sacraments. We can have absolute confidence in the good news that He forgives all our sins through Christ’s death on the cross. We can be absolutely assured of that forgiveness through Baptism and the presence of His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. You see, God comes to us right here through these things, too. We have every reason to be confident in the coming of Christ through the forgiveness of sins!
This Advent, we look forward to the coming of Christ, our Savior. That’s because He is God, himself, coming to save us. We are confident in His coming because He came 2000 years ago, the newborn infant, to fulfill God’s promise to save us from sin. And He visits us right now as our means-of-grace Savior, too. His Word encourages and His Sacraments build up our faith. And those troubles that we face, those too are God visiting us in love. He visits that way so that we are drawn closer to Him in our need. Whenever God visits us we can say with Isaiah, But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isa 64:8 ESV). Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving 2005, Phil 4:9-13

Thanksgiving, November 24, 2005
St. John’s, Howard, SD
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Phil 4:9-13, NIV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Children’s Message:
This package was delivered to the church yesterday. Inside is something for you! In fact inside is something for all of us. What does this say? Care Package from God
What is a care package?
It’s a special package because it’s a message about love. If you are away from home for a long time, your mom might put together a package kind of like this for you. Or suppose you know someone who is hungry and you have lots of food. You could put food in this care package and give it to the person who is hungry.
The bible verse I read just a minute ago was written by St. Paul. He knew how to use a care package. He knew that Jesus died to forgive all people and to take them to heaven. So he traveled around to many places and told people that Jesus loved them.
But some people didn’t like what Paul did, so the put him in jail. Then the people who had learned about Jesus from Paul had a chance to give a care package to him! They brought him food and clothing and because he was a pastor they also brought him books. But most importantly they reminded Paul that Jesus loved him, just as he had told them.
Now, I get to give you something from this box. Small Cross with the words “Jesus Loves You” The best gift you can receive from God is Jesus. Because he loved you so much he died on the cross for your sins. That’s a wonderful gift that he has given especially for you.
Ok, now you’ve gotten something from this box, this care package from God. Did you know you can use care package to give God’s love to other people too. What are some ways that you can show God’s love to other people? giving food to people who don’t have food. Clothing. inviting friends to Sunday School. Being kind to other children. Forgiving people who hurt you
Remember that this care package works in two ways. First, it tells you how much God loves you and blesses you. Second, you can use the package to care for others.

Ok, now for the rest of us. Like I said this is a care package from God, there are wonderful things in it for all of us. Inside are all kinds of gifts from God…
• Church Directory (fellowship); Hymnal (music); Money; Food; clothing; medicine; Recipe book; Coffee;
The care package from God offers all these things to us. But one of the nicest things about these gifts is that there is always much more than we need. God gives us gifts like these because he loves us and he wants us the have the things we need to live, but he also wants us to share them with others. It is a wonderful thing that even though we receive things from the box, we also get the box. We get the box so that we can pass gifts on to others.
We use this care package right here in our congregation. People, who receive the Good News about Jesus Christ, share what they receive from God with others. It is a natural part of being a Christian. Just think about all the ways this package is used right here in our church. We have teachers that use it to tell their students, the children who come here every week, the message of how Jesus Christ loves them. How he loved them so much that he died for them. In an important way the new chair lift is another wonderful gift from this box. It shows the folks who have a little trouble getting around that we care that they can come here and hear about Jesus. That’s a way that we show how important God’s love is, that we want to make it easy for people to come here and hear about him. On Sundays we have beautiful music here. We are blessed with three wonderful organists who take time to prepare for worship. God gives us that gift in the care package, too. He gives us talented musicians that help make our worship service meaningful, to lead us in singing about our Savior and all that he has done for us. All of these things are examples of how this package is used right here in our congregation.
We have received so much in this package that we can offer it to others right here in our community. Think of the times we’ve used Thrivent matching funds to benefit someone in the community. In a small community it’s easy to hear about people who need help and we have a chance to help them. There are many, many ways that individuals sitting here this morning use this package, out there in our community, so many ways that they show God’s love.
And there is even more. Not only have we used this care package in our community, we’ve used it around the world. Each year we set aside a part of our regular budget for world missions. Just think God gives us a care package filled with treasure, and we use it to help a missionary share that same love with someone halfway around the world. But it isn’t just money. Right now we’re filling this care package with soap for missions. LWML has all kinds of project (most of them I don’t even know about yet!) The ladies group has given gifts to seminary students, and local missionaries. All of it is God’s love in action. All of this comes to us in this care package from heaven.
This care package is a part of being a Christian congregation. This care package is part of a Christian. It’s a part of being a Christian doing our daily work serving each other, serving the people in our church and the people in our community. But, I don’t want you to get the idea that this care package is only used by you in stuff that happens here at church or through the church. As if the work that’s done here is somehow more holy than the work that you do every day. The truth is that God has placed you in your place in this community to serve other people. In fact, he has called you to be as servant to other people right where you are. The things you do every day, feeding your family, growing grain to feed the world, serving food in the school cafeteria, teaching children, selling groceries, fixing cars, etc. Whatever you do every day is the work that God gives you to do to serve other people in his name. You are a gift that God gives in this care package, too.
Of course, there are many opportunities to serve, opportunities to use this package that we miss. There are times for all of us when we know that we should share the love of God that comes in this care package but we just don’t do it. We think we’re too busy to help a neighbor who needs it, or we convince ourselves that someone else will do it. We fall short of God’s expectation for our work when we don’t always do it to our best ability. When we are lazy or do work that isn’t up to the quality it should be. We over extend breaks. We cut corners that shouldn’t be cut. And sometimes we even lie to our customers. That’s sin, and it even creeps into the work we love to do. And when it comes to sharing God’s love by telling people about Jesus, we’re afraid of what other people will think of us. “Oh, he’s one of those religious kooks.” Or “Keep your religion to yourself. I don’t need any of that religion stuff.” So in the midst of all this great stuff here in this box we often just don’t live up to God’s call to share it with others.
We show our true sinful nature, the sin that resides right here in our hearts, when we are quiet when we should talk about Jesus; when we are inactive when we should show God’s love in action; when we are lazy and unproductive at work. Because of that sin, that we all have, we don’t deserve any good gifts from God; instead we only deserve his anger and punishment. We deserve to suffer and die. The wages of sin is death. We deserve to be separated from God forever.
But, guess what? That brings us to the best thing in this box. It’s the thing I want to tell you about the most. The best thing in here is what Jesus put in here. You see, he knows that we aren’t perfect. He knows that we fail to share God’s good gifts with others. He knows that we’re afraid to speak about him. He knows about our lazy habits, and our work faults. He knows all that and he still loves us anyway. In fact, he loves us so much that he suffered and died for us. Jesus love and care for us is greater than our sin. That’s why God sends us the best thing of all in this care package. Inside is the forgiveness of sins instead of the punishment we deserve. That’s what Jesus is all about. That’s why he became a human being. God hates sin so much that he can’t just let it go on and on without punishment. So he sent Jesus, his only son, our Savior, to suffer God’s anger and punishment instead of us. Jesus took it all into the grave, our grave; our death for sin; became his. And because God’s anger and punishment was put on Jesus on the cross, it is all paid up our slate is wiped clean. That’s what forgiveness is taking away punishment that we deserve. And that’s exactly what’s in this care package for you and me. It is given to us freely through faith in Jesus, not because we do good stuff to earn it, but simply because we need it, and because we can’t do it for ourselves. Now that’s a wonderful gift, and, in fact, it is what makes all the other gifts in this care package possible.
Now, how what does the forgiveness in this box look like? Well, of course we find the gift of God’s forgiveness in his Word. In it God sends us the Good News about Jesus. It travels through the air and enters our hearts through our ears. That’s where the Holy Spirit takes up residence, through faith. The gift of forgiveness comes through water connected with God’s Word. When God brings us to be baptized he pours water on our heads, marks us as his children and washes away our sins. We get connected to all that Jesus did through what God does for us in and through baptism. And finally the gift of forgiveness comes through bread and wine. Jesus Christ himself comes to us in his very body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. St. John says it very clearly. The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 Jn 1:7 ESV) The wonderful gift is placed right into your mouth. All that Jesus did in his life, death and resurrection is given to you right there. You see that’s one of the best things about God’s gift of forgiveness found in this care package. He makes sure that you know the gift is for you. You hear it and you feel it and you taste it.
So, here’s a care package for you. Inside of it you’ll find all kinds of great things. Gifts for you and gifts for you to share. Hey there’s lots in here, so help yourself, these things are for you, but remember also that there’s plenty more where this all came from, so take what’s here and pass it on. Amen.
The peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.