Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jonah 3; Third Sunday after Epiphany; January 25, 2009;

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

Get ready to hear the shortest sermon on record… don’t get your hopes up; it’s not the one I’m preaching right now. But I wanted you to know, my average sermon length since I arrived here is 17 ½ min. Considering all we have to talk about that seems rather short to me. But I digress. The short sermon I’m talking about is the one found here in the book of Jonah. It’s right in the middle of Chapter three.

imageThen the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (Jonah 3, ESV)

You all know the story of Jonah the reluctant prophet. The guy who ran away from God and got swallowed by a big fish for his efforts. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah,” is how the story starts. Jonah was a prophet; his job was to take the Word of God to the people God told him to go to. And God gave him the task of taking that Word to Nineveh. Now Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. It wasn’t a very nice town; in fact it was very evil. The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what they were doing that was so bad; it just says that their “wickedness” had come up before God. But there’s more to it than that. You see Nineveh was the enemy. They had threatened the people of Israel before. They had a reputation of going around and sacking cities and killing all the people that lived in them. Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh because they were the enemy.

Now it’s not exactly the same thing, I’m not saying that they are evil over there in Iowa City, but It would be a little like sending a died in the wool ISU fan to Iowa City to preach about the virtues of the Cyclones.

Jonah didn’t want to go and he was willing to do just about anything to avoid it. So he went to the coast and chartered a boat for the farthest place he could think of “Tarshish.” We don’t really know where Tarshish is but there is good reason to believe it is Spain, which as far as the Jonah was concerned was the end of the world. The most important part of Tarshish’s location for Jonah was that it was in the opposite direction of Nineveh. So that’s where he headed. But, God of course, was determined in his plan for Nineveh so he sent a storm and a fish. Jonah gets thrown overboard and into the fish’s belly, where he spends three very long days.

Finally, after he should have died, Jonah got spit up on the shore. And God said to Jonah a second time, “Go to Nineveh and proclaim to it what I asked you to proclaim.” And Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord. You’ve gotta love the bible here for its understatement. After being chased down by a storm and spending three days in the fish; of course Jonah went to Nineveh. He knew he couldn’t run again. Who knew what God had in mind if he decided to run again? So Jonah went to Nineveh, but he was still the reluctant prophet. And this is where that short sermon comes in. Jonah preached as little as he could preach. Apparently just enough to satisfy what God told him to say. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” At first you might be tempted to think that that’s just the content of his message. But if you look you’ll see that those are very the words he used. It was eight simple words (actually on five in Hebrew), but a complete sermon. Jonah, it seems, still wasn’t very anxious to do what God had asked him to do. Kinda like the child who’s supposed to go up and clean his room, and shoves everything under the bed. The room looks clean but it isn’t. Jonah delivers the message, but only in the most minimal way he can deliver it. But, God’s Word always has its way. In spite of Jonah, the people of Nineveh believe what he says. the people of Nineveh believed God. It’s important to notice that they believe God, not Jonah. They take the message they hear as if it comes from God. And not only do they believe but they put their money where their mouth is. Everyone, even the sheep and cattle, fast and sit in sackcloth and ashes as a way to show God that they are truly repentant. And God changes his course of action against them. God’s threat was taken seriously and he doesn’t have to carry it out, because the people had believed.

And Jonah, well he gets mad. “I knew it!” He said. “That’s why I didn’t want to come here. I knew you’d wimp out and not destroy the city. And if any city needs to be destroyed it’s this one. These people are not your people, they’re Gentiles, they’re Ninevites! Aren’t they outside you plan? No… You… God are ‘gracious and compassionate.’ You let them off too easy.” Jonah, it seems had a lot yet to learn, and the book leaves us hanging and never tells us if he did.

And so what about that short sermon? “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” Well, I don’t think I can ever use it here, but it is good message. You see, it has law and gospel in it. Nineveh is going to be ‘overturned.’ Jonah says. Well, what he means is that Nineveh is on the fire and brimstone schedule, just like Sodom and Gomorrah. “Annihilate” is probably a word that better describes what God had in mind than just “overturn.” It fit pretty well in Jonah’s way of thinking, too. God was planning the total destruction of Nineveh because of her “wickedness.”

You do know that we all fit into that category. Our wickedness comes up before God on a daily basis. No, we aren’t out there destroying cities and killing the inhabitants. We aren’t out there committing great big huge sins. But the truth is that we too are wicked in God’s eyes. We can’t even keep any one of God’s laws perfectly let alone all ten. Jesus clearly tells us that it’s not just a matter of doing and not doing what the commandments say. It’s a matter of the heart. He said that you don’t have to kill someone to be guilty of murder. All you have to do is call them a ‘fool’ or think bad things about them. He says that you don’t have to have an affair to commit adultery. It happens when your eyes wander. And in case you think that that’s not the wickedness that Jesus is talking, about he says that people who break the least of the commandments aren’t worthy of the kingdom of God. Sin begins in the heart. The bible says, “the wages of sin is death.” The wages of sin is overturning, annihilation.

And not only that we easily find ourselves standing in Jonah’s shoes, with Jonah’s attitudes about people. “I’m not as bad as they are,” we say, “after all I’m a member of a church and there are lots of people who don’t belong anywhere. Surely God looks at them differently than he does me. And what about the members of our church who never come? They’ve got to be further down on the favor scale that I am. Maybe they deserve punishment, but not me. I’ve always got my checkbook out. I’m regular in attendance; whenever work needs to be done here I’m first on the list to volunteer.”

Jonah too, expected God to be gracious to him. He was thankful when God saved him from the fish; it didn’t bite him in half. It didn’t swim to the bottom of the sea and stay there. Let’s face it that’s what Jonah deserved. He had been given as specific task to do; there was no doubt about it. He was running away from God. God could have struck him dead. But God was gracious to him and let him live. Jonah’s problem isn’t a lack of thankfulness for what God had done; it was a failure to see that God’s grace is for other people too. The people in Nineveh needed God’s word. They needed to hear God’s plans for them, but Jonah didn’t want them to have it. He wanted to keep it for himself, and the people who he saw as the people of God. That simply wasn’t God’s plan.

Think about how we would treat the doctor who walked through those doors compared to the smelly bum. Think about our desire to get people to come back to church for the sake of the budget instead of their benefit in hearing God’s Word and receiving forgiveness here.

There was Gospel in Jonah’s message, in spite of Jonah’s wish. “Forty more days…” he said. There was yet a chance for the people of Nineveh to repent. There was time before the destruction to get things right with God again. Just the fact that God sent Jonah in the first place was an act of God’s grace. He could have destroyed them with out any warning at all. God’s plan for the Ninevites wasn’t destruction but restoration. God is ‘gracious and compassionate’ as Jonah said. He didn’t kill Jonah. He didn’t destroy Nineveh when they repented, either.

God is gracious he gives us a time and a place to repent of our sin. He gives us his word that convicts us of our sin. And he tells us of our Savior, Jesus. Who bled and died on the cross for our forgiveness instead of our destruction.

Well so, what’s this text really all about? It’s not about Jonah getting swallowed and spit up by a big fish. It’s not about how wicked the people Nineveh were. And it’s not even about us and our sin. It’s really about God, His grace, His forgiveness, and His Word. He is gracious and compassionate. Peter, Jesus disciple says it this way:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, ESV)

That message about God’s grace is the message of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to us in our Nineveh, even though we were the enemies of God and deserved punishment, overturning and annihilation. Jesus wasn’t reluctant, like Jonah, to come to us; he did it of his own free will, because it was part of God’s plan to save the whole world. Jesus preached an equally simple message. “Repent the Kingdom of God is here!” Now is the time to act. Now is the time to repent and set things right with God. God could have just destroyed the world without warning, but instead he sent Jesus to save you and me. That punishment that we deserved, that overturning and annihilation, Jesus Christ took it on himself on the cross. He was overturned and killed instead of us. He died and spent his three days, not in the belly of a fish, but in the darkness of death. And God changed his deserved action against us. Jesus died instead. Just like the fish spit Jonah on the shore, Jesus broke free from death. And we are free from the punishment of our sin.

God’s Word had its effect on the people of Nineveh. They repented of their sins. They turned from their evil. God was gracious to them. God is gracious to us. He has forgiven us, because of Jesus. We hear God’s Word that tells us to turn to Him for forgiveness. And we have faith in him, so we do repent and God forgives. The power for the people of Nineveh was in the Word of God, that great little sermon from the reluctant prophet. The power for us today is also in the Word of God. It says confess because I forgive.

Think about what it means to have the Word of God in this place. You can come here Sunday after Sunday and hear about the forgiveness won for you by Jesus. You can come here and see that forgiveness given to God’s people in Baptism, and Holy Communion. And remember that that Word of forgiveness isn’t just for you, it’s for the whole world, even the Ninevites.

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

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mark.8.27-36; The Confession of St. Peter; Epiphany 2; January 18, 2009

And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? (Mark 8:28-36, ESV)

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

Jesus says those very important words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” I know how we most often think about what Jesus means here. We think he’s talking in general the bad stuff that happens in our lives, on a regular basis. Like when a friend is troubled by a part of their life they can’t seem to resolve we try to give them comfort by saying, “Well, we all have our crosses to bear.” Or we say it to try to be of help a Christian who is suffering from a long term illness. Well, Jesus isn’t talking about the regular every day troubles that we go through here. He’s not even talking about the things that happen to us because we’ve screwed up and have to suffer the consequences. The cross he’s talking about here it the cross of being a theologian. Now I know you don’t usually think of yourselves theologians, but you are, in fact everybody is a theologian. All a theologian is, is a person who talks (Logos) or thinks about who god (Theos) is or isn’t, or what he is like. It’s like the psalm says:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1, ESV)

Everyone is a theologian, and Jesus is here saying that there are two kinds of theologians in the world, those who carry a cross and those who don’t. Our name sake, Martin Luther made a fine point on this. He says people are either Theologians of the Cross (good theologians) or Theologians of Glory (bad theologians). And as it turns out this difference helps us to understand very well the difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world. And it also helps us to focus on what is really important in our lives. And it all comes very clear in this text.

Peter begins by making the wonderful confession of faith. “You are the Christ.” Jesus asks about what people are saying about him. The disciples have a list. All of them are very complementary of Jesus, placing him in a very high category. If Jesus had been a sinful man like you and me he would have gotten swelled up with pride, to be considered on par with the prophets that were mentioned. But of course Jesus doesn’t sin. In fact, we see him doing something that sounds very strange. He says, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” We might wonder why he doesn’t want the word spread, but we don’t get to think about it very long. Right away he gathers his disciples together and begins to tell them about nothing less than the cross. Do you see it there?

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31, ESV)

And now Peter who made the great and true confession of Jesus shows his true colors. He shows he doesn’t really understand what Jesus is all about. He shows he doesn’t know what it means to be a Theologian of the Cross. He rebukes Jesus. Now that’s a word we don’t use too much anymore. But to rebuke means to put in place. Think of it in terms of the way you and I think. Someone says something that we don’t agree with and we use our tongue to take them down a peg. Put them in their place. That’s what Peter is thinking he’s doing. “Jesus you don’t know what you are talking about!” This is you and me. Peter is doing only what people do naturally. He’s being a theologian without a cross. After all that’s what he doesn’t like about what Jesus is saying. (Mark makes sure we know it’s not just a misunderstanding about what Jesus said. He adds that important detail, And he said this plainly”). Peter is perfectly happy with Jesus being “the Christ” unless it means Jesus’ suffering and death. “Not on my watch!” He says.

It’s hard to blame him either. Things were just starting to look up. Lot’s of people were gathering around the numbers looked good. He was pretty well set as the top of the twelve. Jesus new kingdom was going to have Peter as a pretty important person in it. People were going to be looking up to him. That’s exactly what a Theologian of Glory is. It’s not God’s glory that’s in focus. It’s self glory. That is how you and I think, too. We put ourselves at the center of our god-thinking, our theology. We think we can figure out stuff about God by how our life is going. If stuff is going good, if we have all the money we need and even extra for stuff we don’t need, we think that God is blessing us because he’s happy with the way we are behaving. What we are doing is bringing God down to our level. We think he works the way everything else in life works. You know; the American work ethic. If you work hard you’ll have nice things. The football hero gets the prom queen. The good student gets good grades, goes to a good school, and gets a good job (that’s no where near Creston), a beautiful wife, a SUV, 2.5 kids and a weekend house by the lake and one to live in every other day. All this, we think, shows God smiling down on us. Or maybe this is a little closer to home. If the church is working the way we want it to work, if there’s no conflict, if the budget is balanced, if there’s a bunch of new members looking to come in, if everyone feels good about what’s going on here, then God is blessing our congregation.

All of this thinking, this Theology of Glory gets us thinking about faith in the wrong way. We go to church to gain God’s favor. As if sitting our butts in on the pew pad earns us brownie points. If I pray hard enough and have enough faith, God will take away my cancer. Conflict in the church means God isn’t happy with us. If the church isn’t full like it used to be, just isn’t church anymore. Well, none of that stuff has anything to do with the cross that Jesus says we have to bear, if we “would come after him.” It’s thinking like Peter. It’s a Theology of Glory. It’s putting our thinking, our interests, our sinful hopes and dreams, and our sin stained attitudes at the center instead of Jesus and the cross that he bled and died on. The definition of sin is man turning in on himself.

If that strikes a little too close to your heart… so did Jesus words to Peter. “Get behind me Satan!” He said. You are not setting your hearts on the things of God but on the things of man. In Martin Luther’s words, “You are being a Theologian of Glory not at Theologian of the Cross.”

As I said before, all human religion is based on a Theology of Glory. A very basic way to think if that is this: “do good things for your god and he will do good things for you.” It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, or any other religion you can name. They are all the same. It even affects Christian churches and preachers like Joel Osteen, Rick Warren. Only true Christianity is different.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, ESV)

The foolishness of God is the cross of Jesus Christ; the Theology of the Cross. What exactly is that theology, that god-talk, all about? Well, instead of thinking that we can change God’s attitude about us by what we do, we, that is the Theologians of the Cross, see that there’s nothing we can do that changes God’s attitude toward us. Everything we do is polluted by sin. Yes, I did say everything. Remember, “We are by nature sinful and unclean.” Sinful trees produce sinful fruit. It’s our sinful nature that only deserves God’s present and eternal punishment, and nothing else. We can’t work our way into God’s good graces. He doesn’t work that way. And more importantly we can’t tell if God is happy with us by the way things look in our lives. It’s like St. Paul says, God hides himself in weakness and foolishness. One pastor I know says it like this:

God, Who is all-powerful, hides Himself in weakness. God, Who is all wise, hides Himself in foolishness. God, Who is living, hides Himself in death. (Rev. Todd Wilken, the new Issues, Etc. Journal - Vol. 2, No. 1; The Theology of the Cross: Cross-Shaped Theology)

Well, that’s just not the way our nature wants God to be. We’d have had Jesus born in a mansion. We’d have had him march on Hell’s Doors with his multitudes of armies. We’d have had him crush Satan’s head in an obvious, glorious way.

Ah, but we are followers of Christ. We do bear the cross. Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone because they hadn’t seen the cross yet. Peter missed it even when Jesus spoke about it plainly. We Lift High the Cross of Jesus Christ. Our Savior is the one who showed us who God is by His death on the cross. We don’t have to look at how the world is treating us to see what God thinks about us. We haven’t and can’t please God by the things we do, but Jesus did please God once and for all. That’s the foolishness that is so difficult for us to see and understand. That God would send His only Son, in the flesh to suffer and die and rise again, for me… for you. God isn’t pleased with us because of anything we do, but because of what Jesus did. If we want to see God’s favor we look the cross. If you want to know about your relationship to God, you don’t look at your “blessings,” instead you look at God’s promises through the cross of Jesus.

So what does the Theology of the Cross look like in your life? Not like we’d expect. And sometimes not even like we want. Sometimes it looks like suffering. We get sidetracked from our hopes and dreams by some unforeseen problem. We have to depend on other people for help. We have to trust that God knows what He’s doing and put our lives in His hands. God’s Word points out our sin, and we know we can’t change our lives for the better. At the foot of Jesus’ cross we drop the burden of it. Life is hard and we wonder where God is when we need Him. We cling to God’s promises made by an adoption of water on our head and His Name received upon our forehead and upon our heart. We drag our sinful nature to the Lord’s Table and God pours forgiveness into us with Jesus’ body and blood. People want us to tell them about our faith and we don’t talk about our faith, our experiences, or our testimony, instead we tell them about Jesus.

“I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit…”

It’s really a matter of getting ourselves out of the picture and putting Christ Crucified at the center. When I came here I had that passage from 1 Corinthians read at my installation. That was no idle threat. This is who we are going to be. Christians who know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. That’s who we are as Theologians of the Cross. Amen.

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Joshua Moves Out

image On Saturday (1/17/9), my son, Joshua will be moving into his first apartment. He's officially out on his own. He's moving to Kansas City and I look forward to visiting and having some great BBQ. Joshua will be working for Garmin. His first day of work is Monday, January 19, 2009.  He thinks he'll be in the marine division, programming plot charters / fish finders there. So! Josh! I found this cartoon for you.

I love you and I'm very proud of what you've accomplished.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mark.1.4-11; The Baptism of Our Lord, January 11, 2009

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:4-11, ESV)

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

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Jordan River, I haven’t, except in pictures. It’s a crooked running little thing, and muddy too. When you look at the pictures its hard to understand why anyone would ever go there to wash to get clean. But this is where John the Baptizer was working. He stood out there in the muddy stream calling people to repent of their sin and when they did he baptized them, in that muddy, dirty water. It is an interesting picture don’t you think? If you looked at the river you’d have second thoughts about washing in it.

There’s another story from the bible that helps us to understand this picture. Way back in 2 kings there was a man name Naaman. He was the commander of the army of Syria. He was a brave man, but he had a problem. He had lepersy. There was an Isralite girl there who told him about the prophet Elisha. She said that if he lived where Elisha lived he could be cured. When word got to the king, he sent Naaman, with money and a letter to the king of Israel. The king wasn’t very happy with the situation. He thought it was a trap. But, Elisha told him to send Naaman on ahead. When Naaman got to Elisha’s door Elisha sent out his messenger.

“Go to the Jordan river and wash seven times and you will be clean.”

Now picture in your mind the river we described before. Here is a very proud man asked to bath in a very dirty, muddy river. Naaman isn’t too happy with the situation.

“I came all this way for this! The prophet didn’t even see me. He just sent his servant. I could just as well have washed in clean rivers at home!”

He began to leave in a rage. But Naaman’s servants convinced him that he should do what the prophet said. So he went down and dipped himself in the river seven times. He was completely healed. In fact, the Bible uses the word “clean.”

Now, if you had seen the pictures of the Jordan, or if you’ve been there, you wouldn’t think anyone could get clean in any way washing in that dirty little stream. But, John is doing just that. And people were going out to him in bunches. In fact:

...all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

A little bit like Naaman, the folks came to John, confessed their sins, dipped in the water of the Jordan River and were clean. They were baptized, that is they were washed, and John told them their sins were forgiven.

So, Jesus comes to the muddy water of the Jordan to be baptized by John. In this reading we don’t get any of John’s arguments about not wanting to do it. We just hear about what happened when it was all done.

And when [Jesus] came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11, ESV)

The baptism of Jesus begins his public ministry. It’s a sort of job initiation. Here is where Jesus work really begins publicly. After he’s baptized, the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness, to be tempted by Satan. Jesus is off and running, doing what he’s been sent to do, and it all starts right there in the muddy water of the Jordan.

Actually, I think, there’s a very important phrase there in the text that helps us to really understand what’s going on here.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

That’s right. I think it’s extremely important to take note of the fact that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. Why? Well, just think about what John was doing there. People were coming from all over to be washed of their sin. They confessed, were washed and forgiven. It’s like all their sin was washed off into that muddy, dirty water. When Jesus stands on the bank looking in, what he sees is a sewer of sin. He doesn’t complain like Naaman. He doesn’t need convincing. He walks right in and is baptized. The difference between Naaman and Jesus, the difference between Jesus and all those people who washed there is that Jesus didn’t have any sin to wash away. Instead he sucks it all up into himself. He becomes the carrier of sin. John poured water on him and said God’s name and Jesus became the sin bearer.

From there Jesus walked and talked and taught and laughed and cried. From there Jesus carried sin to the cross. He was pinned to the cross with all that dirty, filthy, sewer of sin. And through his death he left it there. He rose again from death free from sin again.

Now look at that blue sheet in the bulletin again. This morning we began our service with a remembrance of your baptism. Listen again to just a few words from Luther’s Catechism.

What is Baptism?

Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God's command and combined with God's word.

What benefits does Baptism give?

It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

How can water do such great things?

Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without God's word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul writes in Romans, chapter six: "We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Romans 6:4)

All the promises that God makes to his people for washing away of sin is made true for you in Baptism. One part of the new service of Holy Baptism in the new hymnal is the prayer called “the Flood Prayer.” If you turn to p. 269 in the hymnal you can see it. There’s one phrase of it that is fit for today.

Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.

You see it? Do you see the connection between your baptism and Jesus baptism? Here at this font you were washed for the forgiveness of sin. All your sin, the filthiness that is in your heart was washed into the water. I’m talking about your selfishness, your pride, your sinful desires all of it. That little bowl of water became a muddy sewer of sin, just like the Jordan River. And all that sin, all your sin, was sucked up into Jesus. He got rid of it for you, on the cross. His death is your death, to get rid of sin. His resurrection is your resurrection to a new and clean life; buried with Jesus in death, alive with Jesus in resurrection.

Your have a new life through Jesus Baptism and yours; free from the slavery to sin; free from the fear of punishment for it too.

And just so you get the point even a bit more, your baptismal connection to Jesus isn’t just a one time deal. No, you don’t have to come up here and dunk your head in the tank again. Martin Luther is well know for saying its not that we were baptized but that we are baptized. Every day live in the promises of our baptism. We are baptized, we have forgiveness, we are clean, we do live forever.

What does such baptizing with water indicate?

It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

That describes our life as a Christian. Daily we bring our sin to the cross through our Baptism to be killed with Christ. Daily Jesus puts on us his perfect life, the forgiveness of sins. And daily in that forgiveness we live and serve our neighbor.

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

All that I am and love most dearly—
Receive it all, O Lord, from me.
Let me confess my faith sincerely;
Help me Your faithful child to be!
Let nothing that I am or own
Serve any will but Yours alone.


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

Monday, January 05, 2009

Epiphany of Our Lord; January 4, 2009; Matthew 2:1

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, (Matthew 2:1, ESV)

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

Everything seemed normal in the little stable when the baby was born. His mother had all the normal birth pangs; his father paced and worried that everything would be all right. The animals around watched in eager expectation. The birth of a baby is always as special occasion. When he was born he was quickly examined to see that everything was perfect. At first glance, it all seemed to be, but when he staggered to his feet and began to walk that’s when everybody realized something was different. They weren’t surprised that he could walk, all reindeer walk moments after they are born, what was surprising was his nose. It was unexplainable; there on the end of his face, where the hair gives way to the soft skin of his nose, was a light. It was perfectly formed. I know that many of you are imagining this light as a bulb screwed into a socket right there where his nose should be, but it wasn’t like that at all. There between his nostrils, on the flat part of the reindeer’s nose, the skin was, well… transparent. It was a little like a car’s headlight. The flat surface of his nose was the lens, underneath, was some kind of unexplainable light source, and behind that a very smooth and very shiny surface. It cast a bright red beam that was brighter than any halogen light that is driving down the highway today. It was so bright that everywhere the little deer looked heads turned away to protect their eyes. The animals fled the stable, even though there was a freezing blizzard outside; at least they understood the wind and the snow. His mother screamed and fainted. His father broke down and wept.

You know how the story goes, “all the other reindeer use to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolf, join in any reindeer games.” He was excluded, different, not part of normal reindeer life. We can relate to Rudolf. Remember on the playground? Lining up to be picked to play a game of ball. “I’ll take Joe.” “I’ll take Peggy.” “I’ll take Dan.” On and on it goes until everyone is picked, except one. Neither captain wants to pick him, because well frankly he can’t play. He is uncoordinated and slow. Finally they try strike a deal. “You take him.” One captain says to the other. “Ok.” He agrees, “but you have to give me Dan and Peggy, too.”

It is a part of human existence to exclude certain groups of people from the ‘normal’. Our own country’s history is a dark example of racial hatred and exclusion. Our bloodiest conflict ever was fought, in the shadow of the African American slavery. Even with slavery abolished, the scares will likely never heal. Talk to Chinese immigrants in San Francisco, or Polish settlers in Nebraska, their stories are the same. They were excluded.

I’d like to tell you about Willy. He was 8 and afraid to go to school because of the protestors. Whenever he did go, they would stand outside yelling obscenities, and racial slurs. He didn’t understand why people hated him so much just because of his race. He had heard of several schools like his had been burned, and the teachers beaten, and that men dressed in white sheets were terrorizing his relatives in town. Sometimes he was angry with his parents. “Why did they have to be so different?” He wondered. “Why couldn’t they be like other people? Why did they have to be so . . . German?” That, of course, was a picture of history in this country during the First World War. When racial prejudice was expressed against Germans, and German Lutherans in particular. It was at the height of anti-German sentiment that nearly closed parochial schools around the country. No racial group is immune from exclusion.

God hates racism. There is no question about this. Hatred and exclusion based upon a person’s race is outside of God’s desire for this world. He created man most of all with a capacity for relationships. First and most important, he created him for a relationship with God, Himself. Second, he created him for relationships to other people. Our relationship to God is expressed in Luther’s explanation of the First Commandment… to fear, love and trust God above all things, and then to love our neighbor as ourselves. When Adam watched Eve pick the fruit, he had decided that they knew better about what was good than God. He pushed himself away from God, ripping the loving, trusting relationship that was between them. In an instant destroyed the nature of relationships forever. Without a proper relationship to God, a proper relationship to others is impossible. That destruction is the nature of sin, and its power over us.

Over time humans have gotten pretty good at relationship breaking. Cain killed Abel. Jacob deceived Esau. Hitler gassed Jews. Southern whites beat blacks. There’s ethic cleansing in the Sudan. Every generation is the same, and worse.

But, before we begin to think that we are immune here on the crest of the hill, because we live in a ‘protected,’ ‘secluded’ community. We may not be guilty of gross prejudice, but we are guilty. No, I’m not saying we are responsible for our ancestor’s wrongs. We didn’t invoke slavery. We have enough guilt of our own. Scan your memory for your thoughts, or words. When have you spoken about ‘those people’ in DesMoins or Omaha. ‘He’s a pretty good worker for a colored person.’ When have you seen a person of color and wondered what they were doing here. Immigration is a hot topic, but what’s the first thing you think of when you see a person who looks to be from south of the border? When have you told off color jokes about Jews or others, and passed them off as nothing. When was the last time you heard of a racial slur causing pain and separation? It happens, and it happens right here, in your heart.

As much as God hates separation, he loves separated people. The Bible is a love story about how God reaches out with loving, protecting arms to restore his relationship to the world. His love reaches beyond political and ethnic boarders. He reaches out to people of all nations and races. It isn’t that God is colorblind. He loves people, in all their varying shapes and colors, all their walks of life, both rich and poor, black and white. He loves them so much that, once in time, he sent his son to be born in a quiet and dark stable. He became an ethnic human being.

Our text tells us of visitors to the infant Jesus. They were outsiders, Gentiles. Despised by the Jews. They were the butt of jokes told in the daily market place. Contact with them caused you to be unclean. “What are they doing here?” was asked of them. But, they came and gave expensive gifts to the Christ child. Matthew goes to great lengths in his Gospel, with this account and many others; to assure us that God’s love in Christ is for all people, even the despised and outcast. He tells us how Jesus love poured out on even the unwanted, hated separated people around him. He healed them, forgave them and comforted them. Finally he was raised up on a cross, spread out his loving arms to the entire world, every race, every color, every nation, and he died for them all. This great act of love evaporated the separation between man and God. Through faith in his un-separating work, human beings can once again be in a relationship with God. They can trust him and love him. The can look to him in times of pain and times of joy. He can heal their broken relationships with others.

God’s work of healing is a work of healing for you and me. We are gathered together here as a community of believers. We confess faith in the work of Jesus Christ to end our separation from God. We believe in this work for all people. It is only through this faith that we can begin to tear down the walls of separation that exist. Through this faith, God will enable us to heal the brokenness caused by our own prejudice.

So many years ago, ‘outsiders’, Gentiles, went to visit the Christ child. They weren’t Jews. They traveled a great distance to be there. They traveled into a foreign land that didn’t welcome them. When they found him they stood in wonder, then they bowed down in worship. There before them was a Savior, not just a Savior for the Jews, but also a Savior for all people. He was a Savior for ‘outsiders’ and Gentiles like them. He is a Savior for ‘outsiders’ and Gentiles like us. God had led them there to show us that his love and forgiveness crosses ethnic boundaries, race, and nation. He wanted us to see ‘The World’ worshipping Jesus. ‘The World’, with all its ethnic variety, needs this Savior. It needs him to restore its divisions, its ethnic hatred… its sin. That’s why he came to this world. He came to gather the ‘outsiders’ to himself. You see, as wonderful as the Christmas story is, the real joy for us is that … “Magi came from the East.” Because, their visit shows us that we too are included in God’s grace. Their visit shows us that God’s saving act through Jesus Christ was for Gentiles like them, and like us.

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

Friday, January 02, 2009

Num.6.22-27; New Year’s Eve; December 31, 2008

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:22-27, ESV)

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

What’s in a name? Parents often agonize over what to name their children. I remember when Joshua was born; I found it very strange that it was our responsibility to pick a name for a person. It’s a difficult decision because it’s the way a person will be recognized from that point on. Everyone will refer to that person with the name that’s given to him by his parents. And of course there can be more to it than that too. Many of you have a special story around why you were given your name. Names mean something. They identify the person, and they carry information about the person too. Think of some famous name you know and what you think of the people who were named by them: Abraham, Ronald, Adolf, Osama. A name can tell you a lot about a person.

If you’ve ever seen one of those baby naming books, you know that they usually aren’t just lists of names, but they have the meanings of the names listed also. So, what does your name mean? Do you know? Well I’ve looked up a few.

Albert – bright, noble

August – great

Bertha – “bright”

Brenda – sword

Byron - place of the cow sheds

Connie – steadfast

Clint - settlement on the summit

Charles – Carla – Warrior, “Man”

Daniel – God is my judge

David – Beloved

Dane - Valley

Delmar – (Elmer) – Noble

Delores - Desirbable

Dennis (Dionysius) – God of Partying

Don – Ruler of the world

Dorothy – gift of God

Doyle – Dark Stranger

Eugene – well born

Edward – Rich Guard

Eunice – Good victory

ELIZABETH – God is my abundance

Fren – the plant

Gary – spear

Gregory – Watchful, Alert

Harold – Leader of the Army

Henry – Home Ruler

Howard – (German) Brave - (English)Heart Shepherd

Jack – John – Janice - YHWH is gracious

James (Jacob) - holder of the heel

Jonathan – YHWH has given

Julian – downy bearded

Joyce - Lord

Kelly – War, strife

Kevin – Kind, Gentle

Kitty – Katharine – “each of the two” or “far off”

Kenneth – ?handsome – ?borne of fire

Lois – more desirable

Lola (Delores) – Desirable

Lyle - Island

Mark – “Mars” the god.

Max - Greatest

Mike – Michael – “Who is like God?”

Matthew – Gift of YHWH

Peter – Stone

Perry – Traveler

Patrick (ica) – Nobleman

Philip – Friend of Horses

Randy – Randolf - Rim of a Shield

Rebecca - Snares

Robert – “Bright Flame”

Rolland – famous land

Roseann – “Rose of Grace”

Ruth – Friend

Shirlee – bright clearing

Stephen, Steve – Crown

Sharon – Plain (flat place)

Tammy – Spice

Thomas – Twin

Tessa (Theresa) – Harvest, Summer

Verona – unknown – named after the city in Italy

Wendell – “a wend” a place between two rivers in the Slav Republic

Walter – Ruler of the Army

William - Helmet

There are many ways to find out what your name means. If you want to know talk to me I can help you find it. (You can find it on the Internet at

So, what’s in a name? Well according to Moses and according to God a lot! That’s what this text here is all about; it’s about a name. It’s about the name of God. “So they will put my name on the Israelites and I will bless them.” It’s about God giving His name to people. And to have God’s name is to be blessed by God.

The Israelites were given God’s name, and He rescued them from slavery. They were hopelessly trapped in a way of life that was oppressive. They couldn’t free themselves. It was “hard bondage” according to the book of Exodus. But God said to Moses at the burning bush, “I have heard the cries of my people in Egypt. Take my name, “I am” and go to Egypt and I will rescue them.” For the people of Israel, their salvation from slavery is the most significant event in their history. God marked that event, not only by setting up a festival to remember the day, but also by giving them His personal name to use. God’s name, given to them is YHWH. It means, “He is.” He is the God who brought them out of Egypt. He is the God who provided for them in the desert. He is the God who gave to them the Promised Land. He is the God who saves them. To know and use God’s name is to be blessed by God. “Put my name on the people.” The text says, “and give to them my blessing.”

It is important to note that anywhere in the Old Testament that you see the word “LORD” in all upper case letters that’s where you find the name YHWH. If you look again at the text printed in your bulletin you’ll see that that’s the case with the text for today. The LORD spoke, the LORD bless you and keep you, the LORD make His face shine upon you and the LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace. In this English translation we loose some of the effect that this text would have had on the Israelites. It isn’t just a generic blessing from someone whose title is Lord. It’s God himself, YHWH the one who rescued you from Egypt, who is promising the blessing. YHWH will bless you and keep you… YHWH will turn His face toward you… YHWH will give you peace…

See how the blessing is clearly from God, and not just any God but the God who has acted in His people’s history to save them. The focus of the whole blessing is on God. It’s based on who He is, and what He has done. He is their God. He is the one who rescued them. He is the one who blesses them and puts His name on them.

The Gospel lesson for today may be one of the shortest readings in the whole year, but it is packed with meaning. On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. Luke 2:21 It isn’t just a coincidence that the naming of Jesus is attached to God blessing people by giving them His name. Remember that God chose the name that was to given to His Son born of Mary. “You are to give him the name, Jesus.” Why? “Because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 Did you know what the name Jesus means? It means “YHWH Saves.” In Hebrew it is pronounced YA-SHUA. In Jesus name you can hear the name given to the people of Israel. The “YA” at the beginning of the name is from “YHWH.” “SHUA” means to save. God made sure that Jesus’ name reflected what He was going to be doing: Jesus is God saving His people again, from slavery. Jesus is God saving His people from the slavery of sin.

Jesus Christ, “YHWH Saves” has done that for you, by giving you His name. Look at your life over the past year. Is it filled with failure and broken promises? Why is it that no matter how hard you try you can’t seem to work everything out the way you want to? Why is it that most often when you hurt someone it’s the people you love the most? You may resolve to do better this year, you may resolve to do lots of things, but you and I both know that your resolution lacks the power to get the job done. You know that when temptation taps you on the shoulder you don’t have the power to resist it. And on top of all of that, Satan is relentless; telling you that God can’t possibly forgive someone like you, and constantly reminding you of your failures and sins. You see, just like the people of Israel were in slavery to Pharaoh, you are in slavery to sin.

But, God promises differently for you. He has given you His name, “YHWH Saves.” The blessing that we say at the ending of our service is the reminder that you have been released from sins power over your life. “YHWH bless you, and keep you.” You have been given God’s name. We saw it here again last Sunday, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It’s like the blessings in our text. God’s name placed on His people. The focus is on God and what He has done. The focus is on Jesus, “YHWH Saves.”

Jesus saves! He breaks the bands that hold us in slavery to sin. Just like the Passover lamb whose blood saved them from death, and released them from Pharaoh’s slavery. The blood of Jesus Christ, our Passover lamb saves us from death and releases us from our slavery to sin. Jesus sheds His blood on the cross for us, to free us. The blood on the doorposts marked the homes of the people of God in Egypt; the blood on the wood of the cross marks God’s people today. Pharaoh was defeated through the blood of the lamb. Satan is defeated through the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. And we are given His name; we are after all called Christians.

Think again about the blessing where God puts His name on His people. It’s not just about making people His. Look what He promises to do in His blessing: He promises to keep you, to turn His face toward you, to be gracious to you, and to give you peace. That’s what it means to have God name. When we have His name, and we can call upon Him especially when we are having trouble, He promises to answer. Think about the 2nd commandment and Luther’s explanation:

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

God has given to us His name. He has put it on us in our baptism. He comes to us right here in His word whenever we gather “in his name.” That’s were we find strength whenever find ourselves enslaved to sin in our life.

When you are struggling with sin and God feels a million miles away remember that He promises to keep you. Call upon him, using the name He has given to you, YHWH Saves! “Jesus keep me from sin!” God promises to keep you. When Satan’s lies cut your heart and make you doubt the love of God for you, call upon Him with the name that He has given you, YHWH Saves. “Jesus! Turn your face toward me and remember me!” God promises to turn His face toward you and remember you. When your failures and shortcomings destroy any peace you hoped to find, call upon God again with the name that He has given you, YHWH Saves! “Jesus Christ give me peace.” God promises to give you peace. That’s what this blessing in God’s name is all about.

What’s in a name? A lot, if it’s God’s name. In God’s name you find promises. And He has put His name on you. That means He gives those promises to you. Amen.

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