Saturday, January 18, 2014

John 1:29-42; The Second Sunday after Epiphany; January 19, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).” (John 1:29–42, ESV)

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

John the Baptizer is very focused. He's focused on Jesus. Behold! The Lamb of God! who takes away the sins of the world! He sees Jesus, the man standing before him on the shores of the Jordan River, and understands clearly that he has come to forgive the sins of the whole world. Not only that, but he knows that he will do it by sacrificing himself. Families brought lambs to the temple to sacrifice them. The did it by slitting their throats and draining their blood and separating the parts. I don't think you and I would call it family-friendly. So when John points to Jesus and calls him the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sins of the world, he's talking about a bloody sacrifice. The one sacrifice for human sin. Jesus is John's focus. He stands hip deep in the water of the Jordan River pointing at Jesus, telling everyone exactly who he is and what he has come to do. It's a single-minded focus. Behold! The Lamb of God!

We are not so focused. We let our lives get in the way. We let our families get in the way. We let our jobs get in the way. We let our church get in the way. We set aside Sunday morning, but only Sunday morning, (and no later than 12 noon!) to point to Jesus who sacrifices himself for our sins. The church is busy. Attendance is up. Our reputation in the community is good. But is our focus single-minded like John's? Are we thinking more about budgets and boards and new locations and coordination than we are about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? It's easy to love the church when everything is going smoothly, and we don't really need it. As long as it doesn't interfere too much with my busy life.

And don't get me wrong. The things the church does are important, Sunday school, budgets, committees and boards. But the church is not the end. The church is the means through which God delivers to us forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross. It is through the church, God's mouth house, that he speaks to us reminding us of our need, and then giving us what we need more than any other thing, Jesus. And everything we do here is for the sake of that message. It is to be our single minded focus. Anything else is damned-able sin.

Remember the First Commandment. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind. It is a single minded all-encompassing focus. Even Jesus says in light of God's providing everything we need, if we don't in relation to God, hate our family, our church, our community, we are not loving God nearly enough. And any love of God that is not complete, total, and single-minded is not enough. It is more than we can do. You and I fall well short. After all my wife is here, I can touch her and talk to her. God is only present in ways that I can't fully understand. My relationship to my wife is closer to my heart. We have meals together. We have children together. It's all here in seems so important.

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church has been here since 1928. The buildings, the pews, the carpeting, the hand made altar, the paved parking lot, the bricks and mortar, and the people. There is so much to do. Building maintenance. Boards and committees. Families and children that don't attend. It's all here and seems so important. My relationship to the church is closer to my heart.

We have work to do to support our families. Our employers don't pay us to be lazy. The harder we work the better off we are. There are bills to pay. Car loans and utilities and entertainment and meals to put on the table. It's real and practical. It's all here seems so important. My relationship to my job is closer to my heart.

Where is our focus. Is it on Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world? Is it on things we must do to make a living, to make the church run, to keep our families knit closely together? I know, it seems wrong for God to require what I can't possibly accomplish. This is the nature of our sin. It is so deeply embedded in our heart that we do not see that if we loved God with our whole heart, our whole soul, and our whole mind, everything else would fall into place. Without sin the world would work perfectly. There would be no need to focus on keeping our families together. Our relationships would be perfect. If God was our focus, everything we did would be perfect. But sin has so perverted our nature that all we can see is what we have to do. And it pushes the most important thing far from our hearts. And with our relationship to God broken, there is no place for us to spend eternity except the place he is prepared for those who reject him.

The baptizer lived in the desert. He had ruddy clothes and ate bugs. The people came out to him to hear what he was saying because it wasn't a message they were used to hearing. John's message was clear. Repent or go to hell. When Jesus appeared John pointed to him as the focus of their repentance. This is the one to trust. Don't forget, repentance, that is being turned from your sin, is faith and trust in the one who forgives it. He is the Lamb of God who has come to take away your sin. He is the one who will die in your place. He is the one God has sent to be the bloody sacrifice for your lack of loving God with your whole heart, whole soul, and whole mind.

There is no more important message that John could've preached. It is the message we have to preach. It is the purpose, the mission, of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. We are here to teach about Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We are here to learn for ourselves that Jesus is the one who restores our relationship to God by taking our punishment. We are to care for our community. That caring has it's heart in the message of Jesus Christ the Lamb of God.

There is a lot to do in the church, in your home, and where you work. As you do all of the important things you do in the places that God has given you to do them, you may well ask the question: "Is my focus on Jesus?" You will get distracted. I work in the church building and I get distracted. My full-time job is telling people about Jesus, and I get distracted. That's my sin and yours. And that's the good news of the message about the Lamb of God. He comes to take away the sin of the world. It's not just a generic message. It is a personal specific message for you. For me. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away my sin by his death on the cross. He suffers the punishment of hell in my place. He is the reason for this congregation. He is the single-minded message that we have to bring. Amen.

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

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Isaiah 42:1-9; The Baptism of Our Lord; January 12, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”” (Isaiah 42:1–9, ESV)

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

This text is one of the famous “Servant Songs” of Isaiah. They tell us all about God’s servant who he promises for Israel. “Behold,” some translations say, “here is my Servant.” By starting that way God tells us that this Servant is a very important person, actually a ‘chosen one.’ In whom God delights.

But as we read on, we may see some things that make us wonder. It seems that this Servant will actually be a hero. How can that be? How can Servant be a hero? We don’t always see those two things as being compatible.

Children (and adults) often imagine themselves as heroes. It’s great fun to pretend that we are capable of ‘saving the world’ from evil. But somehow, I don’t remember that the heroes that I played were really much of a servant. Being the hero meant being in charge, and taking care of everything. Being the hero meant being the boss.

But, I think this passage gives us a different picture of a hero, a hero who is a servant.

This servant will bring Justice. This bringing justice isn’t necessarily what we think of a justice. It isn’t the kind of justice that is brought someone who commits a crime. It isn’t the kind of justice that’s brought about by human effort. It’s the kind of justice that is brought out by God. Maybe a better translation would be ‘justice-salvation.’ This is the kind of justice that can only be brought about by God himself.

He doesn’t ‘blow his own horn.’ He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. Well, not many heroes don’t want to be recognized for their accomplishments. Yet, this hero doesn’t call attention to himself. He is humble.

And not only that but he is gentle. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. He won’t go around like a bull in a china shop, changing things, doing his work by force. His work will be so careful that he will care for even those who are already hurting, and those who are weak.

And very surprisingly even thought he wont work in the way we expect heroes to work he will accomplish what he has been sent to do. He will not be discouraged. Even though he is humble and tender, he will prevail, because God’s Spirit will be upon him. He will be successful, says the text, because he has been sent and established by the God, the creator of the universe. This is what God the LORD says— he who created the heavens and stretched them out. He created the universe he intends to protect and save it. He will do it through this Servant / Hero.

Even more importantly, this Servant / Hero will succeed; because he, himself, will become the promise that God will save people. He, himself, will be the light to all people everywhere. “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.”

The final verse tells us the results of what this Servant / Hero will do. Blind will see, and prisoners will be freed. To open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

Apparently, this Servant can be a Hero after all!

By now, we have already seen that the Servant that Isaiah is talking about is none other than Jesus Christ. Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. His Baptism marks the beginning of his public ministry. It marks the beginning of his time among us as God’s Servant / Hero. He is the one who brings God’s salvation for all people. He walks among the hurting people of the world, healing them and loving, even the unlovable. He serves them humbly, shedding the truth of God into their darkened world. He healed the sick and freed the captives from the prison of their sin. He shows us that he was a Servant / Hero who could live a life without selfishness, unjust anger and sin of any kind. Jesus Christ, our Servant / Hero gives his very life for the sake of others. The life and work of Jesus the Servant / Hero has its greatest point when he sheds his blood for the sins of the whole world.

Isaiah says God calls him in righteousness. What he is saying is that because of Jesus; sinful people are not sinful anymore. Jesus is the true hero, who takes the sins of the whole world on himself, suffers the just punishment for all of them on the cross. He takes the selfishness, the pride and the violence of sinful people on himself. His innocent death removes the punishment for them from us. We instead are given his perfection, his sinless ness. He takes our punishment, and we enjoy the reward for his perfect life.

And all that Jesus did for us is given to us in the promises that God make to us at our baptism. Jesus Baptism was very different from ours. He certainly didn’t need the forgiveness of sins as we do. He was already God’s only Son, he didn’t need to be adopted by God, as we do. But just like his baptism marked the beginning of his work as the Servant / Hero, maybe we can think of our own as the beginning of our work as a Servant, too. Maybe we can think of our baptism as not only our adoption in to God’s family, but also as the beginning of our work.

We can’t be the perfect Servant / Hero that Jesus was but we can be a servant / hero. We can be a servant / hero in the place where God has placed us. Each of us is in a unique situation to serve. We can serve in our work place. There are people there who don’t know the love of Jesus. There are people there who have forgotten about their Savior. There are people there who you can be a hero to by bringing them to the true Servant / Hero. We can serve in our families. There we can live in the forgiveness won for us by our Servant / Hero. Is there any better place to say, “I forgive you in the name of Jesus,” when someone hurts us. We can serve in our Church. There is so much to do. The church is God’s way of reaching out to not only those who occupy space on Sunday morning, but also the unlovable all around us. We can serve by encouraging those among us to take the opportunities offered here to grow in faith, by attending Bible Study, and worship.

Just as Jesus Christ is our Servant / Hero we can be a servant / hero for others. It all begins for us in our baptism, when we receive from God the promises made for us by the work, when we become “… a fellow member of the body of Christ, a child of the same Heavenly Father, to work and grow together in his kingdom.” Amen.

We continue by remembering our own baptism…

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Romans 8:31–39; New Year's Eve; December 31, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39, ESV)

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

If God is for us, who can be against us? Well, that doesn't even sound quite true, does it? I could make a list as long as my arm of those who are against us. I could make a list as long as my arm of those public figures who claim Christianity and how they are publically rejected and ridiculed by the culture. I could make a list as long as my arm of the issues floating around that are decidedly leaning very heavily against what we believe, teach, and confess. It seems things in the coming years could get very difficult for a church like ours.

When St. Paul wrote these words he understood exactly what he was talking about. He knew tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword. Just listened to his list:

... imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23a–28, ESV)

And notice, that these things he suffered directly because of his life as a preacher of the Gospel.

We are not yet talking about this kind of persecution of the churches in our country. But you can feel the culture against us. It is in the open, but it is not unexpected. Jesus himself tells us that the world will hate us.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18–19, ESV)

The world hates the message we have to bring. Just as Jesus says, it will hate those who bring the message because it hates the one who sends the message. And again St. Paul draws the battle lines clearly. We believe our issues are with the people of the world. They are not. They are lost and aligned with evil forces that are set against God.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)

But even with all these forces arrayed against us, God being for us is an even greater treasure. The hymn writer Martin Franzmann said, "God for us" is a "three – word summary of redemptive history." God is indeed "for us" in human history in Jesus Christ. The creator of the universe is the one who we are aligned with. There is no greater ally. And no greater enemy. Imagine if the opposite was true. If God was against us, who could be for us?

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:7–12, ESV)

What makes the difference? The difference is the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, for us.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

All of this aligned against us is nothing compared to all of God, in Jesus Christ, aligned for us. One who is the creator of the universe and yet willing to sacrifice himself on the cross, and defeating death through his own resurrection, cannot be defeated by any other means. None of these things, none of this persecution, none of this trouble, is able to separate us from the love of God that is shown in Jesus Christ.

Jesus' life, death, and resurrection conquers all of these things for us. He is the one who won for us and who gives to us the victory over death (1 Cor 15:57). The ultimate power that all our enemies hold over us his death. The sting has been taken out of our death. The sting of death is the threat of punishment in hell. Jesus Christ his removed our promised punishment.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)

And Jesus promises you and me a resurrection.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” (John 11:25, ESV)

and he also said:

So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:26–31, ESV)

Notice that St. Paul doesn't say "I think" but

...I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

"I am sure" St. Paul says. But in the face of persecution, you want to know if you can be sure. It's a new year. What will come is still unknown. Will the world be a more troubled place for Christians? Will the world be a more troubled place for you because you are a Christian? I don't know. But, this I do know, you can be sure as Paul was sure. He put his trust, his faith, in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. But don't take my word for it. Take God's word for it.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6–8, ESV)

This is the one on whom you can depend. This is the one who promises that even in the face of persecution you can be sure that you will not be separated from him. As the hymn writer said, "God for us." There are no more important words that you can hear from Scripture. There are no more important words you can remember under persecution. There are no more important words than you can say as you look at the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ did this all for me. Amen.

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

Isaiah 63:7-14; First Sunday after Christmas; December 29, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.” And he became their Savior. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit, who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths? Like a horse in the desert, they did not stumble. Like livestock that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest. So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name.” (Isaiah 63:7–14, ESV)

(from and outline by Joel Biermann, Concordia Journal Fall 2013)

Grace and peace to you from our Savior Jesus Christ.

Well it'll be nice to get back to normal want it? Christmas is nice, New Year's can be fun (if you don't overdo it!), but normal is nice. What's with this text anyway? It doesn't seem very Christmasy. God giving extraordinary loving kindness to Israel and their response is rebellion. And then returning to the Lord once again and he forgives. It's an endless refrain. A familiar story. But, it seems out of season. Let's hear something more about the Baby of Bethlehem.

Yes, let's not forget that the Baby was born. Let's also not forget that once the baby arrives there's no going back. Any couple can tell you the baby changes everything. There's a new routine. A new emphasis. This week we still want the baby. But next week when we take down the tree, we might rather pack the baby back in the box with the rest of the Nativity scene and let him stay there till next year.

But, this baby, this Christmas baby, won't be packed away. Because this baby is no ordinary baby. The changes he brings are not the same as midnight feedings and new bills. This Baby brings something much more. He has come to stay. And he comes on his own terms. He comes with an agenda. He is the King. He comes to bring his kingdom. A kingdom can only have one King. That's the problem the children of Israel had. They rebelled against their one King. It's an old story. God acts to bring salvation. Human beings rebel. There actually is no choice. It is a consequence of our fallen, sinful nature. Without the baby, we are blind, dead, enemies of God and we want to be our own King, and the new King born in the manger is a threat.

We think we can make it on our own. We think we are self-reliant. We think we have charge over our lives. It's an illusion. It's an illusion that began in the garden when Adam and Eve thought they knew what was better for them than God. What they wanted was not theirs to have. They thought they wanted what they didn't actually need. The illusion is brought full force to our eyes and ears through cultural inputs. Movies and television and music assure us that we are the master of our own destiny. And the illusion is so strong that in spite of the evidence, our broken relationships, our inability to do what we know we should do, our lack of care for our neighbors, and our insistence on our own way, that we think we have everything in control. But we fail daily in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and left undone. We fail to love God with our whole heart. And so, we resist the new King is strongly as Herod who sought to kill him, too.

Herod is the great evil man in the Christmas story who would dare to strike out and kill a helpless child. He strikes out in a violent attack against the one who would be king in his place. There we stand. In Bethlehem, the baby comes with an agenda. He is the Lord. He is the King. There can be only one. We cannot rule ourselves and bow before the true King. The true King will not be content until he rules all, even every aspect of our own lives. He comes to remove sin from your life and mine. Even the sin I don't want to get rid of. If you think about it, Herod's reaction isn't really that surprising. This baby King changes everything. This baby comes, and makes demands, and someone is going to get hurt. Someone is going to die. There's no getting around it. This baby King threatens to kill my rule over my own kingdom. Actually, this baby King, threatens to kill me. And I won't have it.

But maybe I will. Because I need a Savior. I am unable to rule over my own kingdom. My rule leaves my life in shambles. My failures are stacked up. My relationship with God is shattered by sin. Someone is going to get hurt. And if not me than the baby. And he does. In fact it's why he was born. What Herod tried to do by force, the baby does willingly. He gives himself into death on the cross. In the fight to reign over my own life God will win. He will do whatever is necessary, including sacrificing himself. My sin and rebellion is punished by God in the baby on the cross.

And I will die. In Holy Baptism, my old sinful nature is drowned to death. My rebellious nature is killed. And the baby's claim on my life is set forever. I am beat by the baby. All that happened with Israel is repeated. I am raised from death to new life.

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.

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