Saturday, December 25, 2010

Luke 2:1-20; Festival of the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ; December 25, 2010;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into 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 wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, 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, goodwill toward men!” So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. (Luke 2:1-20, NKJV)

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

“And it came to pass,” the story begins. We might say, “in those days.” That’s how St. Luke begins the story of Jesus’ birth. It happened in “those days” it’s almost like that movie… “a long long time ago.” The story of Jesus’ birth is a great story that we celebrate every Christmas, but we don’t celebrate it because it is a great story. We celebrate it because it is a true great story. We celebrate it because what happened then means something to us today. It means something to us that Mary and Joseph trekked across Judea to pay their taxes and found shelter for their newborn child in a stable in an overcrowded little town. It means something to us, even though it happened in “those days.”

It is a very special message, too. It is very good news that comes to us from Christmas past to Christmas present. It is Good News that we need especially in these days, when so much seems to be unsure, and so many people seem to be troubled. The story of God’s action in time actually does what it says. It is the way that God does His life saving and life changing work in human history. Whenever we remember what God has done, how He did what was necessary for us to be saved, we rejoice. We have good reason to talk about “Those Days, and these.” Because of what God did then, and what he is still doing now. This is a time of year to rejoice, these days.

How did it happen… in those days? God was involved in human history. Even the Roman government was involved. The decree of the Emperor was in accordance with God’s will. He didn’t know that his decree to count people for taxes was going to bring Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. He had no idea who they were, much less did he care. Yet, it was exactly what God wanted to happen. God was working through the Roman government to make His promises come true. The Messiah, who would save God’s people from their sins, would be born in Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2).

Jesus birth was according to God’s plan in those days. Everything went according to God’s promises. As strange as it seems God’s plan was to save the whole world through a baby born to a poor young mother, in a dirty stable, in a crowed town. This birth was special, just as the Angels announced. This child was the promised Savior. He was sent by God, and set apart for a special purpose. This baby is God in the flesh, just as God had always promised: He, Himself, would come to assure that people would be saved. He shall be called Jesus… his name means “God Saves!” And he was born to save all people. He saves them from sin, from its punishment and its power. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour…”

In those days, the birth of Jesus was celebrated by both angels and people. “Glory to God in highest!” the angles sang. “And peace to men on earth.” And the shepherds couldn’t wait to see what they had been told about. And they couldn’t wait to tell it to everyone they saw. Just the sight of the baby Jesus had a life changing effect on them, they returned to their sheep, “…glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen.” They would never be the same again. Indeed no one would ever be the same again.

But, Christmas isn’t just for “those days.” It is very much for us. It is very important to us here in “these days!” When the angel announced, “I bring you good news of great joy…” he said it would be for all people. He didn’t just mean all the people living “in those days.” Jesus Christ saves the sinners in “these days too!” He was born for us, just the same as he was born for shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. He was promised also for us, he came as our Lord, God in human flesh, to live among human beings in our world. He came to save us, in these days.

And save us he did. We need saving, because our worst enemy stalks us, and torments us… sin. Sin drenches everything we do and say. It lives in our thoughts, and often controls our actions. We hate it, and yet we so often bow to its power in our lives. At Christmas we think of children. We want them to feel the love given in a gift. But, just look at the world they are born into these days. A quick look at today’s paper will show you sin out in the open. Bomb threats, murder, theft, shootings in the mall, these are all a part of these days. And while we want to think we are better, we know we are born with that darkness in us. We know that our children are born with sin in them. That’s why, “those days” are so important. That’s why Jesus was born a baby in “those days.” He saves us completely by become completely one of us. He lives in our world subject to the same temptations and troubles as we are. He had relatives who died. He suffered from illness in his family. He knew of corrupt politics and religious leaders who only led people away from God. He heard of murder, and theft and threats to human life. “Those days” where just like “these days.” That little baby that we loving adore in the cradle grew to be a man. He knew the temptations of being a teenager. He lived as a young adult in a small community. He roamed the streets of cities and towns and saw greed and its most direct effect, poverty. He saw first hand the effects of sin on the people around Him. Yet, Jesus lived His life without sin. In spite of all that was around Him, He lived in perfect relationship to God and perfect relationship to everyone around Him in those days.

Jesus lived His perfect life according to God’s will, which led him to the cross. Every step, every word, every action led there. Jesus, completely God and sinless human being was nailed to the cross as a common criminal. It was unjust and yet, God’s way of saving us. Jesus sinless life was sacrificed in place of our sinful one. He hung bleeding and dying on the cross, suffering the punishment deserved for the worst kind of crime. But that wasn’t enough. God heaped on the Baby of Bethlehem the sins of the whole world. Every sin in thought, word and deed, every sin you and I have done and the things we should have done but have left undone, God laid on Jesus’ shoulders. The shear weight of them caused Him to cry out to God in those days, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s because Jesus didn’t just suffer the physical pain of crucifixion, He suffered the spiritual pain of eternal hell, complete rejection by God. That is the punishment that the smallest sin deserves, because it violates God’s design and will for human life. It is a stark contrast from the swaddling cloths to nakedness of the cross. But that my dear Christian friends is what the scene in the manger is all about. Without the cross in those days there is no joy to the world for these days.

Everything Jesus did in “those days” has a lasting impact on us in “these days.” In fact “these days” our lives are completely different. We have so much to celebrate on Christmas. We see the salvation of God in the crib and we see it in the cross. He is our savior from sin in “those days”, in “these days” and for all eternity.

We are happy at what we see in the manger on Christmas. The Shepherds were “in those days.” It’s ok to rejoice in what God has done for them, and for you and me. Today, in these days, we can find Joseph, Mary and the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Shout out with joy what he has done, today! It is indeed good news of great joy for all people. Spread the word in “these days” just as the shepherd did. Express the joy of Christmas. Tell everyone you see as you return home. “Joy to the world the Lord is come!”

It is true: Christmas in those days is Christmas in these days. It is Christmas for us! It isn’t just the celebration of something in the past. It’s the celebration of something God is still doing. He still brings the good news of forgiveness through his word, the story of what he has done. Hear the Good News of Great Joy for all people… for you who live in ‘these days.’ Today, this day, a savior has been born to you who is Christ the Lord. Amen.

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

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve; December 24, 2010; Luke 2:19;

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:19, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I once heard about a child who told the story of Christmas. I don’t remember all the ins and outs of it, but I do remember one phrase. Mary treasured up all these things and pounded them into her heart. Well, it makes a certain amount of sense doesn’t it? What second grader is going to know or understand the word pondering? Now, she probably understood the idea of pounding something. If she had brothers, she’d probably even been on the receiving end of a pounding. Her brothers had something they wanted her to know, so they pounded her till she remembered it. That was an object lesson in the making. Mary, the mother of Jesus, pounded these things into her heart. I’m sure she did. All these wonderful events; shepherds, angels, magi, special travel arrangements made in the middle of the night, these things didn’t happen every day. God’s hand in the birth of her child wasn’t subtle. Mary was probably the first human being to really understand the meaning, the reality of God coming into the world in human flesh. She suffered the pains of child birth when God was born. She knew these events were events to be remembered. She pounded them into her heart. When she held the infant Jesus in her arms and fed him at her breast, she must have been overwhelmed to hold God, feed God, and change God’s diapers. She pounded these things into her heart. When she and her husband took him to the temple to be circumcised, on the eight day, when he cried at the pain, at the first shedding of his blood and the prophet told her that her heart would be pierced; she pounded these things into her heart. As he grew, learned to walk and talk, skinned his knees, worked with his Joseph, laughed and played and cried, just like any other completely human growing baby boy; she pounded these things into her heart. When he was twelve and stayed behind in the temple wowing the scribes and the Pharisees with his knowledge of God and his understanding of scripture. She and Joseph were in a panic when they couldn’t find him. They were angry, but soon they understood. Jesus was doing what he had come to do; she pounded these things into her heart. When Jesus ministry began in earnest, when he turned water into wine, when he healed the sick, when he preached to the gathering crowds, he spoke with authority showing he wasn’t just an ordinary prophet; she pounded these things into her heart. She’d need to remember all these things. Her son, isn’t just any human baby, he is the son of God. He wasn’t born to live a life for his own sake. He lived his life for her. He live his life for you. Mary, Jesus’ mother, saw all these things first hand, she saw Jesus living his life for sinful human beings. She saw God’s love expressed in human form. She saw grateful human beings reacting to God, in the flesh; she pounded these things into her heart. So, with Jesus standing bleeding from thorns in his scalp, torn flesh from the Roman scourge, bruises on his face from being pounded with human fists, she recalled the things she had stored up in her heart. She maybe didn’t fully understand why God-in-the-flesh would allow himself to be treated so, but she knew who he was. And so this too, she pounded into her heart. She remembered Simeon’s words about the pain she would endure. With each blow of the hammer that pounded a nail into Jesus hands and feet, she felt the pain she was warned about, a mother’s pain. And yet it was nothing compared to the pain that her son, Jesus bore. You see, this her son, the God-man, Jesus Christ, was born of the virgin for this very purpose. The life he lived, the life Mary pounded into her heart, was lived with the purpose of suffering the guilt and shame of sin. He lived his life to suffer the death of sinful men. What Mary saw on the cross, wasn’t just her son, it was her Savior. With all of his life stored in her heart, what she saw on the cross was the sinless Son of God; God, himself, restoring a relationship to his people. God doing what was necessary, what you and I, (and she) can’t do for ourselves. Jesus Christ, true-God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified dead and buried; And Mary saw it all, and pounded these things in her heart. But it wasn’t over. The joy Mary felt at the birth of God’s son, was given in full measure when he rose again. Then she understood fully what God had done through her son. All that she had pounded in her heart came flowing out in joy.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:4-6, ESV)
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11, ESV)
So, this evening, what are you pounding into your heart? Christmas gifts, or the Christmas gift? As you listen to the account of your Savior, do you hear about the Savior for you? Do you pound Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection for you into your heart?
Think on Jesus, the son of the Virgin, God in the flesh born for you, and pound that into your heart. Think about Jesus keeping God’s law perfectly for you and pound that into your heart. Think of Jesus suffering for you, think of Jesus dying on the cross for you for the forgiveness of your sin, and pound that into your heart. And pound into your heart the joy that Jesus promises to come again. You will live with him forever.
I guess the little girl had it right. Mary kept all these things and pounded them into her heart. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Matthew 1:18-25; Weekday Advent Service Four; December 22, 2010;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. ” (Matthew 1:18–25, ESV)
(Thanks to Paul Robinson, Concordia Journal, Volume 36, Number 4, Page 365-366)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Are you afraid of angels? Well, maybe you should be. After all over the past few weeks we’ve heard about angelic visits in the accounts in the bible leading up to Christmas and they all seem to elicit the same response. The first thing the angels say is “Fear not!” Just look at what happens to people when angels speak to them. The Magi traveled great distance. Young Mary would have a very special baby. Joseph was told to go ahead and take Mary as his wife in spite of how the local town’s folk’s tongues would wag. When angels speak peoples lives are turned upside down. When angels speak, important God events, life changing events happen. We should be afraid, especially since we so often value the world’s stuff rather than God’s. We should be afraid because we bask in the glow of technology, security, and the honor and praise of today’s society.
Just look at Joseph again. He decided to save his reputation and divorce Mary quietly. It was the right thing to do. It would save him the embarrassment from those who would count months. But there’s more. Joseph was also very concerned for Mary. A public accusation would lead to more than public embarrassment for her it was more than a matter of loss of honor, but likely a loss of her life. The quite divorce would allow her to flee to another place where the child could be born in secret. But this isn’t what God had planned. The angel’s words to Joseph turned his life upside down. He was told that there was more going on here than meets the eye. He was to marry his betrothed just as he had planned, but not just for her sake, or his, but because it was all part of God’s plans to save the world. This child, unique in every way, is more than a human being. He is God himself, Immanuel, God-with-us, born to save God’s people from their sins.
Joseph took the angel’s words to heart. But that didn’t make things easy. How did he explain the baby to his friends and family? We don’t know. The marriage didn’t end his troubles either. They were required to travel to Bethlehem when Mary was far along in her pregnancy; a crowed town that afforded no shelter for his family; and a nighttime flight to Egypt to protect the child from the murderous King Herod. The announcement by the angel was just the beginning.
All of this trouble points to the whole purpose Jesus is born. It all points to the cross. Martin Luther says the text here is the creed. “…conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary…” and soon after follows the cross. “For as soon as the Christian life is begun or anything else of Christ, the next thing, the cross, is at hand.” (WA 27:475-76)
In our lives the cross is always at hand. We see it very clearly at this time of year. The season of joy is often interrupted by trouble. We let our focus shift from Jesus born for our forgiveness, to what we are told is much more important; success; comfort; money; things. These can never satisfy. They leave only the desire for more. The season of joy is often interrupted by sorrow and loss. The empty place at the table, the missing loved one, weather it is the first year or the tenth, is highlighted by the season. Fake joy doesn’t fill the emptiness. The season of joy is often interrupted by uncertainty. Every year it seems that the true God, found in Jesus Christ alone, is more and more sidelined. How long until we are forced to choose him or our way of life?
But just like Joseph we have the word of God in the midst of all this trouble, sorrow, and doubt. The words spoken by the angel to Joseph were not only for him. It is good news for all people. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”
This promise, God-with-us, stands even today, even as the Christmas season brings fear, pain, trouble, doubt and loss. It stands because God-with-us is God himself come to deliver us from the cause of it all. Jesus Christ, “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried.” Again Luther makes it plain:
What does this mean?
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord,

who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death,
that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness,
just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
This is most certainly true.
It is because of cross and Jesus death there for the forgiveness of our sin, that this season is really a season of joy. Forgiveness sets us right with God. Forgiveness sets us right with each other. And forgiveness is what the angel is telling Joseph is about to come. This is the real reason for the season. This is the real joy. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Matthew 1:18-25; Fourth Sunday in Advent; December 19, 2010;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Mt 1:18-25, ESV)

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

Well, now the time is really getting close. In my house we’ve finally got the tree set up and there are all those pretty packages under it. In just less than a week we’ll tear our presents open with “unbridled avarice” (to quote one of one of my favorite Christmas movies). I know, I know, we all say that Christmas is about giving. We all say that the true joy of Christmas is in giving gifts, “it’s better to give than to receive.” But just ask any kindergarten kid who has spent any time salivating over the presents under the tree and they’ll tell you what Christmas is really all about. Christmas is for getting. “It’s better to receive than to give.”

Sometimes, giving is a tricky prospect anyway. Just ask any husband who’s made the fatal mistake of buying the wrong gift. In Reader’s Digest, Herb Forst gives hard learned advice on giving your wife a gift: “Don’t by anything [for your wife] that plugs in, it’s seen as utilitarian. Don’t buy anything with sizes, the chances you’ll get the size right are one in seven thousand. Don’t buy anything useful. Don’t by anything that involves self improvement or weight loss. These things are seen as suggestions. Don’t buy jewelry. You can’t afford the jewelry she wants and she doesn’t want what you can afford.” If the gift wasn’t really important we wouldn’t even think that was funny. (Maybe some of you don’t!) We all know that our hearts are set on the things that we will receive on Christmas. It’s about the getting. An American Express poll showed that “no gift” was preferable to a gift of fruitcake. In our minds “it’s the thought that counts” doesn’t really add up. A gift of clothes given to a child is opened with greater enthusiasm if it is given in a hard box.

Today I want you to set aside all the things you have to do, you know the last minute shopping and the like. I want you to think about what you’re getting for Christmas. Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m not saying that giving is unimportant. It’s just that really if we get right down to it, the real meaning of Christmas found in what we give, it’s found in what we have received. So, I want you to forget, for a moment, that you will be giving gifts to other people in a few days. Forget about all the buying, and the wrapping and the shipping and the delivering. Today, I want you to think about a gift, for you.

You see, that’s what the text today tells us about. It says, Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. With just that opening phrase we see it already in our minds: The wooden shed, the cattle and sheep, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and the Gift, a baby in a manger. But, the gift of Christmas isn’t that we now have a quaint story about an unusual birth to delight children of all ages. The birth of Jesus Christ is about something much more. The gift of Jesus is that God became human flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1ff). The gift of Jesus comes out clearly in the text where we read a different name for Jesus. The name is Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

Joseph almost missed it himself. He had to be told about Jesus. The angel appeared to him and cleared it up. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. That’s what “God with us” was coming to do. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3:16, ESV)

In 1946 at the Los Alamos atomic laboratory, Dr. Louis Alexander Slotin and seven co-workers were doing experiments with plutonium. These pieces were harmless unless they were put together in the wrong way. Anciently that’s exactly what happened flooding the room with dangerous radiation. Dr. Slotin acted at once yanking the pieces apart with his bare hands. He knew what he was doing; he knew that he was exposing himself to an overwhelming dose of radiation. But by reacting so quickly he saved the lives of his seven colleagues. Nine days later he died.

When God became Immanuel—truly, physically, with us as the Son of a virgin—he didn’t come into the world as a safe laboratory experiment. He didn’t come here to see how things were going. He became a part of our world—our sinful, corrupt world, dangerous and dripping with death. He came, God with us, to save us from our sin, by taking on himself the poison of it. He came, as our gift from God, to expose himself to the lethal dose of our punishment. He gave his life for ours. (from an illustration by Scott D. Johnson, Conover NC, Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 15, No. 1).

God came among us, in Jesus, to shed his blood on the cross, to suffer and die for the sins that you and I live in every day. As joyful as the season is suppose to be, it’s easy to see our sin as the holiday stress sneaks up on us: A short temper; a misspoken word of hurt; the “Holiday” excuse for neglecting our regular daily tasks; selfishly looking over our gifts with “unbridled avarice”; pushing the limits of credit without means to pay. Leave it to a holiday to bring out the worst in people. But it only brings to the surface what’s deep inside. To be a sinful human is to live with a selfish heart. To be a sinful human is to struggle to do the right thing when you want to do the wrong thing. To be a sinful human is to live every day with the knowledge that we don’t live up to even our own expectations for ourselves. To be sinful human is to know that the only thing that is ever going to bring all that to an end is death. That’s the nature of sin. Its hold on you, its power over you, is in the fact that it brings death. Old Satan whispers it in your ear every chance he gets. “You’re a sinful person and you deserve to die. God can’t stand sin so he can’t stand you.”

But that’s what the gift of Jesus is all about. “God with us” came to deal with sin in the only way it can be dealt with. Born in that manger was a man who was God, human in every way except for sin. His perfect life and innocent death was given for your sin. The author of Hebrews says it like this: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb 2:14-15, ESV) Sin hasn’t any power over you any more because Jesus death for sin is your death for sin.

And there’s more. “God with us” isn’t just talking about the baby in the stable. It’s not only that Jesus walked and talked and healed and feed people who live at the time when he was born. His perfect life and death weren’t just for people who lived when he lived. He is still with us, today. He talks and heals and feeds us every day. I know you’ve heard about the gift that keeps on giving. Well, “God with us” is just that, because his gift didn’t end with his death on the cross. He rose again from death. He was dead and buried in the grave, but “God with us” came alive again to be with us always.

God is with us here in his living, breathing, Word. It’s not just a story about Jesus. It’s not just a tale about his birth and death and resurrection. It’s the truth about what God has done to deal with our sin. When the Word about Jesus fills our ears, the Holy Spirit fills our hearts and minds and gives us faith to believe, and faith to hold on to what Jesus has done. “God with us” is the power to believe.

God is with us here in his sacraments, too. They aren’t just empty actions that we do. In fact they are nothing that we do. They are nothing less than “God with us.” When a human pours water on another persons head and speaks God’s Word of forgiveness, God is there making the promise of forgiveness true for that person. Again the Holy Spirit creates faith. Again God is the power to believe. And how much more can God be with us than in the Body and Blood of Jesus. Even though we can never understand how it is true, we receive the precious gift of the very blood shed, and the very body beaten for us in the Lord’s Supper. There “God with us” brings forgiveness of sins as we open our mouths and eat and drink.

So that’s what I mean when I say I want us to think about what we are getting at Christmas. That’s what I mean when I say that Christmas isn’t about what we give but what we receive. So, as the day approaches think about Jesus, think about Immanuel, “God with us.” And look forward to getting something wonderful for Christmas. Amen.

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

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Matthew 11:2-11; Third Sunday in Advent; December 12, 2010;

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Mt 11:2-11, ESV)

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

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

So what about doubts, especially doubts about our faith? Well, it is OK to have doubts; you might even say that having doubts puts us in pretty great company. What was it that Jesus said about John? Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. That’s pretty high praise! There has not risen anyone greater than John. When we think of John the Baptist we don’t often think of doubt, do we? We saw him last week standing by the Jordan River shouting down the Pharisees and the Sadducees, calling them “You brood of vipers! You hypocrites!” He doesn’t sound much like a guy with many doubts about what he is saying or doing. And people went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. He was a popular guy. He had a hopping river ministry going there by the Jordan. It sure doesn’t sound like the work of a guy who would have doubts.

I think, though, if we look at a few things we can see that maybe John, even though he was a great (the greatest!) prophet, may have indeed had some doubts. Just maybe he was plagued by some of the same thoughts we are. Maybe John was human, too.

First, I want you to remember, again, what we talked about last week. What was John preaching out there in the wilderness? “The ax is at the root of the trees!” he said. “Judgment is coming, especially for those who are hypocritical. I have come to baptize you with water, but he is coming to baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire!” He was saying that God would come to set things right. Fire burns away the chaff and purifies. John knew who he was. He had no identity crisis about himself. He was the ‘voice in the wilderness’ that Isaiah said was coming. He was confident in his calling. He was confident that God was coming to be King over the whole world. And that meant that everything would be different, nothing would be the same. John knew that God’s kingdom was coming.

Now, remembering John’s confidence, look where we find him this morning, in Herod’s prison. That doesn’t sound much like God is reigning over the world. If Jesus says that John is the greatest prophet, what’s he doing in prison? That doesn’t sound much like God is in control. That sounds like King Herod is in control. It sounds like nothing has really changed with Jesus beginning his ministry. After John was arrested, as he must have sat there in his chains in the dark dampness of Herod’s dungeon, wondering if all that he was waiting for had not yet begun. When he heard about Jesus, and there didn’t seem to be much ‘fire’ going on, he may have asked “what’s up with this?” There alone in that prison, he may have begun to wonder, “Why am I in chains?” Why is the king threatening my life? When will God begin doing what I was suppose to tell them was beginning? Maybe I’m wrong about Jesus, being the one who is bringing the kingdom.”

I can relate to John. I think you can, too. If what John said was true and Jesus brings the reigning of God over everything, then why do people have to suffer? Why don’t some people have the food they need? Why do we have wars that kill thousands? Why is there sickness, cancer in my family? Why can’t my community be the way it used to be? Why does everything have to change? Maybe, we wonder, Jesus doesn’t bring the kingdom of God after all. Maybe the baby in the manger isn’t really the answer to the world’s problems. We may ask, just like John, “Is this really the kingdom of God?”

Well, Jesus doesn’t condemn John for his doubts. He doesn’t say, “John can’t you see what’s going on here? Are you so weak in your faith that a little trouble in your life throws you into a panic? No that’s not what he says at all. He tells John, through his messengers, to look at what is happing, to look at what Jesus is doing. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” He gives John just what John needs to hear. He gives confirmation that Jesus is indeed the coming King; confirmation that Jesus is doing everything according to God’s plan. Even if he isn’t acting like John expected, God’s reign is breaking into the world. Things really are changing, and the changes can be seen by anyone who looks to see what Jesus is doing.

Jesus describes to John, what happens when people in need come in contact with a God who loves them. Things begin to return to the way that God intended wants them to be; when the relationship between God and man is restored. God didn’t create eyes to be blind; he created them to see. He didn’t create legs to be crippled, but to walk and run. He didn’t create skin to be full of sores and ears to be unable to hear; or our bodies to be racked by cancer, or other illnesses. He created them to be whole, and he certainly didn’t create human beings to die. Everywhere Jesus went he left in his tracks the signs of the fact that God had come into the world to set it right again. That’s what the Gospel means when it talks about the coming of the Kingdom of God. “And,” Jesus said to John, “the good news about all that I am doing, is being preached to the poor.” At that very moment, John may have very well felt very poor, there in that dank dark prison, alone with his doubts. But Jesus tells him, “don’t worry John; the kingdom of God has come. I am the one who brings it. I am the Messiah!”

Jesus Christ does bring the kingdom of God, he brought it to John. He brought it to all those that were around him, the poor, the lame, the deaf and the blind. And he brings it to you and me. But, he brings it in a way that we would never expect. He brings by his suffering and death. It just doesn’t seem right. We expect a king to establish his kingdom with power. Instead Jesus establishes his in weakness. We expect a king to rule from a jewel encrusted thrown. Jesus rules over his kingdom from the cross. It was there that he showed his great love for us. It was there that he came into contact with us for our greatest need. It was there that he mended our broken relationship with God by paying the penalty for our separation. The separation that causes us doubts. He brings his kingdom with his own blood. He restores us to himself in a way that we don’t expect.

We don’t really expect good things to come from suffering. We especially don’t expect God to establish his good and perfect kingdom through suffering. But that is exactly what he did. And it may even look foolish to us. But this is what God’s kingdom looks like: John the Baptist suffers in prison facing sure death, Christians struggle every day with sin and doubt. At those times God’s kingdom doesn’t look at all like we’d expect. It is time like these that we may doubt weather his kingdom has come at all. Maybe that’s what happened to John. But, here again, John can be an example for us. When he doubted he knew where to turn in faith. He knew who would have the answers for his suffering, and his doubts. He turned to Jesus.

When we doubt we turn to Jesus, too. We do it because he is reigning. We do it because his kingdom has come to us. It comes to us here in this place, through his Word where he assures us of his love for us, and what he has done for us to restore us to the kingdom. He does it here in baptism. Where he takes each of us and makes his very own child an heir of his kingdom. He does it by giving us the food of his kingdom, his very own body and blood shed for the restoration of our relationship to him.

We are members of his kingdom and God does reign over the world. And just like Jesus took the signs of God’s kingdom with him wherever he went, the signs of God’s kingdom go with us, too. We can’t help it, because of his love for us, his love flows from us to other people. It flows to our friends here and it flows to our neighbors and coworkers. The good news is being told all around, the kingdom of God has come. It has come in Jesus Christ.

That is the answer to our doubts. To look to Jesus, just like John did. To see all that he has done, the mending of our relationship, and the love that flows from him in this place. Will all our doubt going to go away? Well, not yet. Because even though the kingdom of God is among us, it is still coming. The King, who came wrapped in swaddling cloths, has promised to come again. To make complete all that he has begun. When he comes again he will bring to completion what he has begin. He will finish what he started and what he is doing here in this place every day. Then there will be no more blindness, no crippled, and no more doubt. No more sickness and death. That is what advent is about. Remembering that Jesus Christ, our Lord and King, came to earth in an unexpected way to establish his kingdom, and that he is coming again. Amen.

The Peace that passes all understanding Keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Matthew 3:1-12; Second Sunday in Advent; December 5, 2010

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’ ” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” ” (Matthew 3:1–12, ESV)

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

John the Baptist is a regular figure in our Pre-Christmas time. We’ve gotten used hearing about that voice crying in the wilderness. It just wouldn’t be Advent (Pre-Christmas) without singing that song “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s cry, announces that the Lord is neigh.” (Listen to the MIDI here[1]). This time of year we’ve gotten used to hearing about that guy[2] who dresses in camel skin and eats locust. We’ve gotten used to him calling us to get ready for Christmas. But, is that really what he’s doing? I mean, I find it a little bit difficult to coordinate what John is saying with the picture in my mind of the animals and Mary and Joseph and shepherds standing quietly around the stable so as not to wake up the sleeping baby. I mean, just look at what John actually says; “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent! How does repent tie to that little baby? How does the quietness of the stable connect with “repent!”

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

“Repent” begins with confession. It is recognition of one’s true self and true position before a perfect God. But it doesn’t stop there it also means to reach out and grasp a hold of with the hand of faith the forgiveness that God offers through Jesus as the only answer for that sin. It means to live in the “Kingdom of Heaven” that John was talking about. You see, John didn’t just say that the kingdom was near, the best translations say, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And he means here right now in Jesus. I love the old paintings of John[3]. They often show him holding a little sheep in one hand and pointing to it in the other. That too, is a great definition of the word “repent.” Looking at Jesus for what we need most, forgiveness of sins.

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

John is really saying here that there are two responses to the coming of the kingdom of heaven: repentance or judgment. There’s either repentance and Baptism for the forgiveness of sins or facing the wrath of God. And just look how personal John makes it. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (v10) “Every tree,” it’s a very inclusive statement. No non-fruit bearing tree is going to be spared. And now we get right to the heart of the matter for you and me. Through faith in Jesus we don’t face God’s judgment any more. Even though as trees we don’t look like the kinds that bear fruit in keeping with repentance. God has picked up the ax at our roots. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, God has given us everything that Jesus did. St. Paul tells us that when we are baptized we have put on Christ. (Gal 3:27) Forgiveness includes what we don’t do. Luther: “[Jesus] satisfied the Law; He fulfilled the Law perfectly, for He loved God with all His heart, and with all His soul, and with all His strength, and with all His mind, and He loved His neighbor as Himself. Therefore, when the Law comes and accuses you of not having kept it, bid it go to Christ. Say: There is the Man who has kept it; to Him I cling; He fulfilled it for me and gave His fulfillment to me. Thus the Law is silenced.” (Erl. XV, 61, 63.)[4] Never mind that your life doesn’t look like it is fruit-full. Jesus life was. He has borne all the good fruit you’ll ever need. The ax is gone for you; it was laid at a different tree.

But to get it all started, first Jesus was born. That’s what gets us back to the quite of the manger. Right there, that stable that we’ll all gaze into with wonder[5] in a few weeks, is the “different tree.” It’s utterly amazing, totally beyond our thinking and acting, to believe that anyone would be born specifically to take the whole burden God’s anger, the unquenchable fire of God’s wrath over sin. And to do what we can’t ever hope to do, keep God’s law perfectly in every detail. But there he is, ready and willing to do it. And not only ready and willing, but able to do it.

And so he does: from his first breath to his last; from sitting on his mother’s knee to hanging on the cross. Jesus bears the fruit of a perfect life and he dies the death of a complete sinner. John said he wasn’t fit to carry Jesus sandals. In our day we’d say we’re not even worthy to be his water boy. But still, Jesus does it all for us from bloody birth to bloody death[6]. Taking what is ours, sin. And giving us what is his, a perfect life and relationship with God.

So, as John the Baptist would say, Prepare the way of the Lord; or like the hymn says:

Then cleansed be every life from sin;
Make straight the way for God within,
And let us all our hearts prepare
For Christ to come and enter there.

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

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


[2] BOUTS, Dieric the Younger, St John the Baptist, c. 1470, (Web Gallery of Art).

[3] BOUTS, Dieric the Younger, St John the Baptist, c. 1470, (Web Gallery of Art).

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

[5] BRONZINO, Agnolo, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1535-40 (Web Gallery of Art).

[6] ANTONELLO da Messina, Crucifixion, 1475 (Web Gallery of Art).

Slappy Christmas! Get to Know the Real “Santa Claus” – Saint Nicholas

Happy Saint Nick Day!

Love this story by Gene Veith in 2004 World Magazine. It's just a different picture of "Saint Nick" than we often think. Also check out Paul McCain's post.

Slappy Christmas, World Mag 2004

Slappy Christmas! Get to Know the Real “Santa Claus” – Saint Nicholas

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Matthew.24.37-44; First Sunday in Advent; November 28, 2010;

37As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Matthew 24:37-44 (ESV)

(From a sermon by Rev. P).

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

Today is advent and we are looking forward to Christmas. Oh, already outside you can see it’s so. The nativity is setup in the yard. Christmas carols are playing on the radio. Walmart has all the Christmas stuff up and most folks have had their fill of overeating (Thanksgiving) and overspending (Black Friday). So here we are in church ready to talk about the cute baby in the manger… when the altar turns blue we know what to expect. So, here we are ready to talk about Christmas and Jesus. But wouldn’t you know it, here comes today’s Gospel lesson, and Jesus talks about… being ready because we don’t know when the end will come. Well, since it’s always good to talk about what Jesus talks about we’ll dive in again, we’ll take our cue from Jesus.

The first thing you notice about what Jesus is saying is that he compares the end of time to the days of Noah. But to find out exactly what was that like, we go back to Genesis: The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5 (ESV) And Jesus adds, For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away. (38-39). You see, back in Noah’s day, they didn’t have a clue that there was any problem. They didn’t know the flood was coming, it took them by surprise. Eating and drinking, getting married, those are regular every day events. Before the flood came and swept them all away everything seemed normal.

That’s the warning Jesus gives to us. ‘Be ready, because everything will seem normal, then the end will come.’ Oh, I know we’ve all been conditioned to think that things have to get much worse in the world before the end comes. But if we take seriously Jesus description we’ll soon, take a quick breath and take note of how it’s so very much the same today as it was before the flood. Back then, God says the evilness was in their hearts and in their thoughts. But when you add Jesus words it doesn’t sound like the picture we might have in our minds because of the movies. It wasn’t out-and-out evil running rampant in the streets. Everything seemed normal. There wasn’t the idea in their minds that something terrible was about to happen. The picture we are given is, rather, of a whole society that has turned against God; people doing what ever they wanted apart from God. And most importantly as far as they were concerned everything was going ok.

But Noah knew better. He had been given the job of building an ark, and preaching. The two things don’t seem to go together. It’s not often you see a preacher with a hammer in his hand. Yet, Noah and his family lived a life that was in sync with God. Noah was told of the up coming disaster, at least 80 years in advance (that’s the amount of time it took to build the ark). All that time he spoke again and again in warning of what was to come. But in spite of all Noah’s preaching no one was convinced, not one single person, except for the 8 of Noah’s family, was saved from the flood. No one believed that Noah knew what he was talking about. Well, everyone except God. In fact, Noah is called a great preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). If we go by human standards, human measurements we’d say that Noah failed in his task. But God knew better and saved him and his family.

All the time while Noah was preaching and the world around him was ignoring him, they had no idea; no idea of the form God’s anger would take. They were living normal everyday lives, marrying and giving in marriage, eating and drinking, everything was normal. But the flood came and God saved the believers in the ark. But All those who didn’t listen to Noah were left behind for judgment. It all happened without warning on a very normal day, like today.

Yes, I mean a day like today. If you think about it that description of Jesus matches today very well, too. Marrying and given in marriage, eating and drinking, some of us are still fighting off the tryptophan daze, that stuff in turkey that makes you sleepy. In spite of all the dangers in the world, the average life expectancy continues to rise; it’s all the way up to 77.9 years (see And we aren’t just able to live longer; we have a better quality of life than any generation before. I think, in fact, that there should be a new index on the quality of life based on the amount of time it takes you to get from your house to a Best Buy. So, let’s see, ours would be about 45 min (the way some of us drive). Other good things going on around us: How about 3D TV?! Our society demands we respect one another. Hate isn’t just a four letter word it actually a crime. And we owe it all; it is said, to advancements of science and technology. Really, from that perspective it’s a great time to be alive.

Of course there are other things we should recognize about the time in which we live. These things fall right in the category of what God’s Word calls the wickedness of man and the every intention of the thoughts of [our] heart[s is]only evil continually. It is legal in this country to kill and unborn child, for any reason and at any time during their development before they are born. God’s definition for marriage has been totally set aside and soon it will be anything goes. We are told that we must tolerate all kinds of sexual immorality, and to speak against it is quickly threatening to become a violation of the law. That respect that is suppose to be granted to everyone doesn’t really apply to those who believe in God’s definition of marriage, or if you believe in Creation instead of evolution. And we are told that God is not allowed in Public Square, either in our schools, or government, or even regular public discussion. Well, we should qualify that by saying that god is allowed in public schools many gods and religions are discussed freely as a matter of diversity, only Christianity seem to be excluded. The only acceptable discussion about human origins is that which includes millions of years of evolution. And unfortunately very many Christians have given in to the idea. It is wrong for Christians to do so. Evolution and Christianity are totally incompatible. Really, we live in a society that has turned openly against God. We live in a time when people do whatever they want apart from God. It seems it can tolerate anything but the truth from God’s Word, and especially the fact that Jesus is the only way that God has provided for salvation.

So right now we have a lot in common with the people who lived before the flood. Eating and drinking our way through life, marrying and giving in marriage, looking to the future for better things, unaware that everything is just as Jesus said it would be at his second coming. Today is a day very much like the days of Noah, and the Lord could return at any time.

If God’s judgment is working on you… if you are cut to the heart about the condition of our world, it would be easy to be discouraged. But there is Good News in Jesus words, too.

You see, Noah and his family were saved from the flood. They were left behind as everyone else was swept away in judgment. It seems like an insignificant number of people, but God didn’t destroy the 8 people who trusted in him. As promised he placed them safe from the flood of destruction in a boat, an ark.

And this is where Advent comes into the picture. As we prepare to celebrate God’s coming in human flesh, we remember that God is always faithful, and always keeps his promises. Jesus, our Savior, was born of a virgin to secure a place for you away from the flood of God’s judgment that is coming. Instead of letting you be destroyed, God himself was punished, as Jesus endured the pain and suffering of the cross and the eternal torment of hell for you. He bent God’s anger away from you and suffered it, so you and I won’t see it when Jesus comes again.

Some baptismal fonts (not ours) have eight sides. In fact, that is a very strong tradition. That’s not an accident, that’s not just an artistic notion; it’s all about being saved from the flood. It’s all about being saved from God’s anger. Baptism is about not being left behind for judgment as the flood of punishment washes over and destroys everything. Just like the flood destroyed an evil world and saved the righteous, Baptism does that very thing for you. Your old evil self, your sinful nature, was drowned to death, and you were saved from death all at the same time. Jesus puts you in the ark, the big boat of his church. He puts his name on you, and declares that no matter what the world tells you, you are his. So that when Jesus comes again and sweeps away the whole world and all those who reject him, with a new wave of destruction of God’s anger, you will not be left behind.

The words of the world are still out there, they still impact us every day. They say that God isn’t real. They say that there are other ways besides Jesus. They say that sin isn’t sin. But God gives you a different Word. His Word is truth. His Word is dependable. God has staked his life on it. Jesus gives you new life through it. Here in the ark of his church we hear the words of God’s promise. God speaks his Word to you to keep you faithful, to keep you awake and alert for the day that Jesus is coming again.

While the world goes on eating and drinking oblivious of God, he has provided a meal for you that also keeps you alert and ready. When we open our mouths and receive the forgiveness of sins through the body and blood of Jesus, we are kept mindful that that same Jesus is coming at a time when we don’t expect. And that that same Jesus is the one whose birth we celebrate and prepare for in Advent.

We live in the days of Noah. All around us are the signs. The Day of Judgment is coming. We also live in the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ. Just as he saved 8 from the flood, he promises to save you. Amen.

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; Thanksgiving Eve; November 24, 2010;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

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

It’s Thanksgiving, that warm and wonderful holiday where we give ourselves permission to overeat. There may be a better holiday meal than turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry salad, and sweet potatoes, but I doubt it. The holiday does bring us lots to think about. Abraham Lincoln established it as a time to repent of our sins and to express to God our thankfulness for all the blessings that have been given to our nation. It is an appropriate time to do just that.

Thinking about the harvest, and being thankful is also very appropriate on Thanksgiving. The harvest is now in and done, maybe this year it could have been better but none the less we have a lot to be thankful about. So tonight we’ll look at this harvest parable.

Here Jesus tells us a simple story, as is the case with most of the parables, but this is one of the most unique parables because Matthew records for us Jesus own interpretation of the story. The story goes like this:

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ” ” (Matthew 13:24–30, ESV)

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. ” (Matthew 13:36–43, ESV)

It seems a pretty simple story, Jesus himself is the farmer, we, his children are the good seed. Satan plants his children, among us in the world. We all grow up together until the end when everything is cut; the good grain to the barn, the kingdom of their Father, and the bad to the fire of hell.

God sows the wheat. It’s good seed. He has plans for it to prosper and grow. It is indeed good news that God plants and take care of us. Think about the 1st article of the Apostle’s Creed, and especially how Martin Luther explained it. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. Jesus himself says Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:44-45 In order that the good seed might reach its full potential, God takes care of the field as if it were all full of good plants. He is gracious, not wanting any to perish. The seed that is planted produces “Children of the Kingdom.” God is the one who makes us His children, just as the farmer waters the field so God uses water to make us his children. And He promises to protect and keep us. In Baptism God promises to send us the Holy Spirit. He guides us and keeps us in faith. the Spirit helps us in our weakness. Romans 8:26

But, the parable is clear that not all the plants are good plants. In fact, in one place in the parable some of the plants are called “scandleon” that means things that cause others to stumble. The Evil One has sown weeds all around us. We live in a world of believers and unbelievers. And often it’s difficult to tell the difference. The weeds look just like the wheat. But it is bad seed. Sin that is planted takes root and grows. The roots of the weeds tangle up together with the roots of the good plants. The field that God intended to be only good is infected, overnight. God’s greatest gifts are poisoned. Life becomes difficult. The scandal of sin causes destruction and death.

What’s to be done? Can the weeds be pulled up now? No. That’s impossible because everything is tangled all up together. Jesus says, “Wait! The time for separation is coming later. Right now is a time of grace, a waiting period, a time for Him to do some more work. It is a time for Him to turn weeds into wheat.

That is, after all, just what he did with you and me. We are surly weeds. The grain that we would naturally produce isn’t the kind that should be stored in the barn. It’s the kind that comes from our own sinful desires and actions; the kind that chokes our hope and life and causes pain and suffering. All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. If we had been left to our own, we would have been bundled up and cast into the fire to be burned.

But God doesn’t burn us. Not because we are producing good grain, but because Jesus Christ died, and rose again that we could rise up by his power and be changed from weeds to wheat. God reached out to you and me and saved us from our just end. In the same way he offers that same gift to all. But those who are deaf to his call will not receive His gift but be burned… in hell.

Jesus Christ was burnt for us. He took our weed-ness, our sins, and bore them to the cross. There God turned away from him and he suffered the very fires of hell. And when it was all over he rose un-charred to a new life. And he gives that new life to us instead of the fire.

There will be a harvest. There will be a day of sorting. Sheep from goats, good fish from bad fish, wheat from weeds. The sorting is all focused on the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is there where people either say, “Jesus be cursed!” and reject him, or shout with joy, “Jesus is Lord!”

It’s a harvest story. Is it simple? Yes in a way, it is because it shows us that Jesus alone provides what is needed for weeds to become wheat and escape the fire. It’s a Thanksgiving story too. This holiday as we gather with our family and friends it’s a great time to consider how weeds like us can be called the children of God… and give thanks. Amen.

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Malachi.3.13-18; Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 21, 2010;

“Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’ ” Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. ” (Malachi 3:13–18, ESV)

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

Malachi had a tough job as a prophet. Church attendance was at an all time low. People just didn’t seem to give congregational activities much priority. Lot’s of people only showed up for those twice a year special services. The church was broke. Pastors all around were doing and saying things that were completely against God’s Word. Marriage was mocked. Young couples were hooking up left and right. Shacking up was becoming the common way to live. Folks didn’t care about the poor and hurting. Oh they did what they had to do, the token gift to show that they cared, but their hearts were far from caring. It was pretty obvious too, that there was profit in neglecting the things of God. Evil people were doing well. Outspoken critics of God had the public ear, and God’s faithful people were mocked for being old fashioned, and ignorant. It was easy for a church go-er to get discouraged. God promised that he would take care but it didn’t seem to be happening. You’d often hear church folks saying and thinking things like:

‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’

One poet captures the sense very well:

They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
the sinners are much more fun...
you know that only the good die young (Billy Joel, Only the Good Die Young, 1977)

Malachi had it tough. But then again so do we. Kind of amazing how things come around, isn’t it? It’s enough to make you wonder what difference it really makes. People all around us live as if there is nothing to fear from God and they’re doing well. There’s no lightning bolts out of heaven striking them dead when they out right mock God and faith. Not only do they get away with the fun stuff but they even seem to be rewarded. Does God really care how I act? Does it really matter to him if I cheat a little here and there on the commandments? I’ll go to church when there’s nothing else more important going on. After all God forgives sin, isn’t that the point of church? Maybe I can get away with not speaking out against sin and making my neighbors angry. What’s the point in looking like a backwoods hick who doesn’t have the brains to realize the way the world really works? Maybe I can have my cake and eat it too. Maybe I can just fit into what ever is popular right now. After all I believe in Jesus and that’s what’s important, right?

“It is vain to serve God.” That’s what Malachi’s people said. That’s what we are tempted to say and think. There’s a problem here. Do you remember that one?

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.

You might think that the second command doesn’t apply to you because you’re good at holding your tongue. You don’t curse or swear. Hey it’s not just using OMG that’s a problem here. It’s murmuring against God, doubting his promises. You use God’s name incorrectly when you wondering “What’s in it for me?” Especially in the face of all that’s going on out there. Living as a Christian means showing the truth about who God is. When we start thinking this way we are being self serving, instead of neighbor serving. When we think this way its easy to get lazy and indifferent. It’s easy to overlook what God calls sin, especially in us. It’s our sin taking control again. It is unfaithfulness, doubting God’s promises again. All of the sudden you are in the camp of people who are speaking wrongly about God. You want others to be destroyed, but your thoughts and actions deserve the same punishment from God. That’s the real problem isn’t it? Anytime you start to focus on the sins of other people, you really ought to turn your condemnation back on yourself. It is perfectly right to think that God should punish sin. Just remember that your sin is front and center. You should first be concerned about that. If you can’t even keep God’s second commandment perfectly hell is your reward. Lord, have mercy!

Well, he does have mercy. There is a difference between the righteous and the wicked, those who serve God and those who serve themselves. But, it’s not what we so easily think. It’s not about doing. It’s about “fearing.” Look there at Malachi’s text. Everything turns around for those who fear the Lord and esteem his name. That’s another way to say those who live in repentant faith. To fear the Lord is to know God’s just judgment against sin and make it personal. It’s my sin that condemns me. Yet, we trust that God has taken care of our sin in Jesus Christ. It is our faith in God’s sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of sin that saves us from his condemnation. It’s there in the text too.

“They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.

This is Jesus on the cross. I know what it looks like. Jesus obeyed God and where did it get him. Crucified, dead and buried. Naked, mocked, beaten bloody on a cross. He certainly isn’t spared any of that. And yet that is Jesus’ service. That is God’s love out in all of its naked glory. Here is where God really shows the difference between good and evil, righteousness and wickedness. Here is where the great exchange takes place. A Jesus mocked, beaten, humiliated, and crucified serves God perfectly. Here perfect Jesus takes on our sin and receives our punishment. Here God takes Jesus’ perfect life and gives it to us. God, the Father, spares not his own Son so that we who are so often unfaithful are spared. We who murmur against God and doubt his anger and resolve to punish sin to its fullest. We who ignore the needs of our neighbors in both body and soul. We who so often fail to speak the truth when a sinful world says sin is right. We who pretend that there is nothing special about God’s presence in this place. We who so quickly point to the sin of others ignoring the logs in our own eye. We hear Jesus’ words from the cross. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

These words of forgiveness are spoken to all, for all. It is the fear of the Lord that receives them in repentant faith. The repentant sinner receives the gift of forgiveness with joy, firmly holding on to Jesus. Do you want an example? It’s right there in the Gospel for today.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him… (Luke 23:39–43, ESV)

My dear Christian brothers and sisters the same Jesus Christ, from the cross says those words to you:

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

You are mine. You are my special possession. Your name is written in the book of life. You are forgiven of all your sin. Amen.

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

Monday, November 08, 2010

Matthew 5:3; All Saints Day (observed); November 7, 2010

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ” (Matthew 5:1–12, ESV)

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

There are a few things that make preaching today a bit difficult. Don’t get me wrong I love All Saints day. I think it’s great that we remember the gift of life and salvation that God gives to those who die in the faith. It’s just that you’ll want me to say something like, “Grandpa is fishing with Jesus.” Or “Aunt Nelly is knitting up a storm, thinkin’ about all her grandchildren joining her in heaven.” Or “Joe, just loves the auto races they have there.” Well, I can’t say anything like that. Actually, what scripture tells us about those who have died in the faith is very lacking in our eyes. Much less than we’d like to know. Here’s what we do know. They are dead. That’s kind of strange to say, but it is true. They are dead Christians. Dead means, their souls have been separated from their bodies. Physical death is the part of the wages of sin we are not able to avoid. So, they have suffered that. Their bodies are in the cemetery, an urn on the mantel, missing in action, or what ever. That’s the bad news. The good news is that their souls are with Christ. What that means is just this, they are safe, sin isn’t a concern for them any more, they don’t have any pain, they don’t have any sorrow, they don’t care a lick about what’s going on here, and most importantly, they are waiting for the resurrection. Because that’s when God will make them a whole person again, body and soul, flesh blood and spirit. A perfect spiritual physical body, as St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians. What they have right now, in the in-between time is better than what we have, but it’s not the best it’s going to be. What they have right now that we don’t have is that they are “with Christ.” They see his face first hand. They will never again doubt his Word, his promises of life and salvation are sure for them. But sure and certain isn’t complete. God’s promise for us isn’t only that when we die we will be in heaven. God’s promise for us is that through Jesus Christ, we will be raised from death to live as perfect people with him forever. Completely perfect human beings, physical body and soul together forever. This is what we really have in common with our friends and relatives who have died, and in fact all Christians over all time who have died and will ever die. With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven… we are all looking forward to the resurrection, Jesus coming to restore the earth to its full glory and give it to us again as a perfect place for perfect people to live. And so in the meantime, we wait.

Actually, waiting is what the Beatitudes are about. Jesus is not talking about things we should do (this is how most likely you’ve heard this text preached before). Since you are God’s people you need to be meek, righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers… the problem with that is we could never live up to those expectations. And if we could what in the world would we need a Savior for? What Jesus is talking about is how it is with us now and how it will be for us in the resurrection. In fact, do you realize that the very first word Jesus speaks in this sermon is this salvation word? “Blessèd” One modern translation uses the word “happy.” Well, that falls way short. These are not the “Be happy attitudes.” Instead they are about our emptiness and how God fills our emptiness. Another way to say “blessed” is “saved”.

All the beatitudes really fall under the very first one.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, ESV)

Look at your bulletin where it’s printed. All of them, all nine, follow the same pattern. There is the part before the “for” and the part after. Another way to say that “for” is “because.” Someone who has a need is blessed because God gives them what they need. Now look again at the first. “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” All the rest says “they shall… all the way to the next to last that says “is” again. Do you see what the “is”, is about there. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We don’t have to think about this very hard at all. The word “is” means right now, and forever. The ones who are poor in spirit (we’ll talk about that in just a second) have the kingdom of heaven now and forever. The way that Jesus has opened and closed this list is to say that all these things are describing what it means to have what we have, what it means to be in the kingdom of heaven right now… and forever.

Ok, pastor, what are you saying that we are “the poor in spirit”? We’re not poor. Look at all that we have. Our little corner of the Iowa is a great place to live. We’re relatively unscathed by the recession. There’s housing and food. We’ve got a Walmart and a McDonalds. You can find anything you need right here. We’ve got a great church that seems right on the cusp of exploding into something really great. And who could complain about the outcome of the election? Things seem to be going our way. What else do we need? Are you saying we are the ones who are poor in spirit? That’s precisely what Jesus is saying. In fact, unless you see yourself as “poor in spirit” you’ll miss everything that God has to give here.

If you have any doubts get out your bible and look up the Sermon on the Mount. It begins with the Beatitudes. In it Jesus sets some pretty high standards. He says if you are angry you are guilty if killing your neighbor. If you look at a man or woman lustfully you are guilty of adultery. Divorce is always evil. Leave payback to God alone. Love your enemies and do only good things for them. And oh, just so you don’t miss it he finishes all these commands off with

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ” (Matthew 5:48, ESV)

You see all these things that you do or don’t do really reveal a spiritual problem. You are sinful. You cannot be perfect. You deserve only the punishment that Jesus describes in this sermon.

But 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)

That’s what it is to be “spiritually poor” bound for hell with no way to change.

My dear Christian brothers and sisters, most of us, you and me have been in God’s grace for our whole lives. God poured water on our heads in Holy Baptism and since then we have had God’s gifts and blessing so long that we have no idea what it was like to be without out. In fact, we may have even come to think that we deserve these things and we could never be hell bound. But the thing is, if God were to for one moment withdraw his grace, there would be nothing here (in your heart, or mind, or spirit) that would save you. You are blessed, saved by God’s grace alone in Jesus Christ and nothing in you or about you. Because he does for you what you are unable to do for yourself. You are spiritually poor, without any resource to save yourself. Standing on the forgiveness of sins you have in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and nothing else. No work or merit, no goodness in you.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, ESV)

Yours is the kingdom of heaven. Yours is salvation in Jesus Christ without any conditions, or limits, without any thing you must do to earn it. It is a gift given for you, oh you who are poor in spirit.

And just what is it that is given? The kingdom of heaven, or as one of my seminary professors says, the “reign of God.” Jesus describes it like this.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. ” (Matthew 5:4–9, ESV)

Actually it’s exactly Jesus; sins forgiven; blind people see; deaf people hear; lame people walk; and here’s the thing that ties it all together with All Saints; dead people live!

Yep, that’s what we really want to see isn’t it. That’s the comfort we have as mourning Christians. Our dead in Christ will live again. Oh, they have it great right now, no sin, no sorrow, no crying, safety in Christ. That’s better than what we’ve got, sorrow, sin, pain and death. But what they have will be even better “they shall receive” Our Lord says. What we have in Jesus will be even better “we shall receive” our Lord says “the kingdom of heaven.

And it all begins for you in Holy Baptism, when you receive on your for head the sign of the Holy Cross to mark you as one redeemed by Jesus Christ the crucified. All the promises of God are true in Jesus, true for you now; the reign of God is at hand.

Did you ever wonder though why the sign of the cross? Of course it points to Jesus there and his death as your death, his resurrection as your resurrection. But there is more. All described also in the Beatitudes. The sign of the cross on you means that the life of a Christian is one of suffering.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ” (Matthew 5:11–12, ESV)

You are blessed, you have the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is doing just what he promised for you. You can’t always see it because sometimes it looks like mourning, meekness, hunger, and so forth, but it is true for you. But there is always the “because”; because mourners will be comforted; unrighteousness will come to an end. Mercy will be given and shared. There will be peace and we will see God! Face to face in resurrected bodies; standing with our loved ones hand in hand rejoicing in Jesus.

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