Monday, January 28, 2019

Strategic Planning Seminar - January 27, 2019

Strategic Planning Seminar - January 27, 2019
Life in Christ Lutheran Church
Grand Marais, MN

  • Study of Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8
  • Strengths of our Church
  • Weaknesses of our Church
  • Our Assets

Study of Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8
Summary of the Study (see video posted on Facebook )
  • "Taking the pattern of the verses, we are to be witnesses empowered by the Holy Spirit, to our local community and the whole world.  While we go about our daily business, we are to point to Word and Sacrament Ministry as the means to reach the world." 

Strengths of our Church

The congregation identified the following strengths:
  • We are good citizens, encouraged by the church
  • Solid interpretation and solid foundation on the Word. "Built on the Rock"
  • Our property, its location
  • We sing well. We have good hymns to sing. 
  • We are a solid liturgical church
  • Stubbornness (both an a strength and weakness) we get done what needs to be done.
  • We are a friendly, welcoming group of people.
  • The majority of the congregation are self-employed

Things that have worked in the past
  • Informational booth at the community info fair
  • Caroling
  • Float in parade
  • Remote bible study, at Lisa's store and other places.
  • Program on the radio

We next discussed some ideas of how to capitalize on these strengths:
  • Apologetics - Lisa's father is an Apologetics speaker, we have discussed having him speak
  • Pastor will be writing articles on Apologetics in July for the local paper
  • The property as a strength, the sign needs to be updated and lit
  • Church phone directory for community churches
  • Housing for international students who come to work for the summer
  • a community garden

Weaknesses of our Church

The congregation discussed the following weaknesses:
  • Our size is seen as a weakness in the community (anonymity being one of the issues as well as an organized youth group)
  • How the community sees what we believe (i.e. we are strict, unloving and unwelcoming, and there are many examples of people who say they were treated badly by LCMS).
  • Budget
  • The current building, although a wonderful gift from God, and well used, would need updating / replacing
  • Stubbornness (see above)
  • Distance our members must travel to attend church and other events

Our Assets
The congregation discussed the following assets:
  • The parsonage
  • Location / Property
  • Recreation
  • Gunflint Lake
  • Visitors
  • Property available for growth (10 acres adjoining our property)
  • Resident pastor
We next discussed some ideas of how to capitalize on these strengths:
  • Pastor swap - primarily with the congregations that have supported us.
  • Stopover for people recreating in the Boundary Waters

What will we concentrate on for the coming year?

It was agreed that we should work on 
  • educating and changing the perception in the community as to who we really are
  • be more visibly active in the community as a congregation.  Events in Grand Marais
  • Bob will visit the Chamber of Commerce for a list of needs in the community, pastor will communicate these needs to the congregation and schedule a followup.
  • Lisa's father will come and speak on apologetics connected with pastor's articles in the paper, needs approval of the congregation

Other items discussed but not acted on at this time
  • Thanksgiving offering for Christian Care Committee
  • Youth group mission trips destination

Respectfully Submitted
Pastor Watt.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Luke.4.21-30; Third Sunday after Epiphany; January 27, 2019

Luke.4.21-30; Third Sunday after Epiphany; January 27, 2019
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
"And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away. " (Lk 4:21-30, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
People like Jesus. In fact, I did a Google search on “Jesus” and it returned an approximate 1,260,000,000 hits. That’s millions of web pages about Jesus. And even I narrowed it to “Jesus Christ” Google returned a mere 584,000,000 hits. It took me a while to get to every single one of them… And I think you could say by my unscientific Google poll He’s well known. Others:

Adolf Hitler                  86.5m

Gandhi                         207m
Pope John Paul             2,330m
Donald Trump              1,210m
Barack Obama             228m
Bill Clinton                   239m
My Name                      1,200,000
I’m sure that each one of the web pages about Jesus has a different idea about who He is / was, and what He’s all about.
Lots of people like to talk about Jesus. Jesus the great teacher / preacher. Jesus the healer. Jesus breaking down class barriers. Jesus feeding the hungry and the poor. People like Jesus that way: speaking to them and giving advise on how to live a better life; telling them that they need to care more for other people; telling them to care for the sick and the hungry. That’s a Jesus that’s useful to most people… a Jesus that is worth listening to by human standards.
We like Jesus that way, too. “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.” “Ask what ever you want in my name and I will give it to you.” “I came to give you life and give it to the full.” It’s a Jesus we like to hear about. It’s a Jesus we gladly follow. Listen to any one of hundreds of Christian authors out there and you hear everything from “Name it and claim it.” Jesus wants you healthy wealthy and wise. All you have to do is such and such for him. Or Jesus has won your salvation, it’s up to you to get the “good stuff” after that.” That’s the Jesus lots of Christians want to follow. That’s the Jesus we want to follow, too.
The fact is we want Jesus to do stuff for us and we want him to do it our way. Jesus I’ll give money to the church “if you let me win the lottery.” Jesus, heal me in a miraculous way and I’ll tell everyone about what you’ve done. Really, in all these things, we want Jesus to do things our way, the way we think is best. You’ve probably heard the story about the man who lived near a damn that was leaking and the flood warning went out. A neighbor came with his car and said, “The flood is coming come with me and we’ll escape.” “No,” the man said, “Jesus will take care of me.” After the water rose to the second floor of his house another man came with a boat. “Get in I’ll take you to safety. “No,” the man said, “Jesus will take care of me.” The water rose some more, and the man was forced to his roof. A rescue team came in a helicopter and waved him to grab the rope and be pulled to safety. “No,” the man shouted over the beating of the rotor, “Jesus will take care of me.” Finally, the water rose over the roof and the man was drowned. He stood before Jesus and asked, “Jesus, why didn’t you save me?” “What do you mean? I sent you a car, a boat and a helicopter. What more do you want?” That’s Jesus on our terms. Jesus don’t let me suffer. Jesus I’ll follow you but let me keep my friends. Jesus I’m yours but just do it my way.
One thing this account of Jesus in Nazareth shows us is that people are the same everywhere and that even those people weren’t much different from us. They saw Jesus in a certain way. After all, He grew up there. He was a small-town boy who had become well known. They saw him play in the streets, work for his father, attend the synagogue school, and even go to weddings and funerals for his relatives. He was the local boy made good. They even liked what he had to say (at first). “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him… And who wouldn’t? They liked what they heard him say. This was a Jesus they could deal with. The scripture that he said was fulfilled was this:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18-19, ESV)
It was good to hear it from the hometown boy… freeing captives, healing the blind, and giving a helping hand to the downtrodden. It’s good when kids turn out the way you raise them, isn’t it? It is Jesus the way they wanted: healing, feeding, and loving the poor and the hungry. In fact, they expected much more from the “carpenter’s son.” They were ready for him to do exactly what he said he’d do for them. “Isn’t this the Joseph’s son? He’s one of us. Let’s see him do what he has promised for us, so that life can be better for us.”
Jesus wants them to think about something else. He wants them to understand that he wasn’t just sent for their little town, or even just for the Jews, but for all people. He reminds them of two times in Jewish history where God sent prophets not to his people but to people who weren’t Jews. “You want me to take care of just you, but God’s plan for me is bigger that just this town. Open your eyes and see the world around you. That’s whom I’ve come to save. ‘Physician heal thyself,’ you’ll say to me. Don’t worry about all those people out there. Stay here and take care of us and we’ll believe in you.’ But I’ve come for more than just you. I’ve come for the whole world. Even people whom you don’t even want to hear about.”
And that’s when they became angry. They wanted their hometown boy to take care of them. They wanted people to come to him right there in their little town, to put them on them map. But Jesus told them he had other things in mind. They wanted Jesus on their terms, and if they couldn’t have him that way, they didn’t want him at all. So, they took him to the top of a hill outside of town, to threaten him with death. ‘Jesus heal us here and we’ll believe. Jesus, make us rich and we’ll believe. This is our chance to change our lives. Don’t waste this chance on other people.’ But Jesus pushed his way through the crowd and left, it wasn’t yet time for him to die. 
And that just goes to show us how people are the same everywhere and all the time. Look at how they want ‘their Jesus’ to just worry about and take care of them. You know in a lot of ways I think we are guilty of the very same thing. We have our comfortable church here, we’re used to the people who come and sing with us. We gather to receive all the wonderful gifts that God has for us. And that’s important, and he does offer them to us, for us. But, if we don’t bring Jesus to this community, we’re no better than the folks from Jesus hometown, wanting Jesus for ourselves but forgetting that His life, death and resurrection is for everyone. The people of Nazareth didn’t want Jesus to be for the people outside of their town. Lots of the time we don’t want Jesus to be for our neighbors. We don’t want Jesus to be for bikers, or people of different colors, or people who just don’t seem fit in here in “our church.”
Oh, but Pastor, I know that Jesus is for other people, but all the people I know are already Christians. They are too far left to become Christians. Well, that’s a lie right from the lips of Satan, and it’s an easy one to believe because we are so comfortable just the way we are. Jesus on our terms, Jesus for us, Jesus right here and nowhere else. “I want Jesus but just right here in this comfortable place not out there where he upsets my life and makes me uncomfortable with other people that don’t fit in.”
That’s where you and I are guilty. That’s where the sin of the Galileans shows up in our hearts, too. But there is Good News here for us. Jesus could have been thrown off the cliff to his death that day. But he wasn’t. In fact, he walked right through that crowd and right down the road that lead to the cross. He didn’t just come for those people who wanted him for themselves. Jesus came for you and me. He came to take care of the guilt that we feel when we fail to share him with others. Or even when we want ‘those people’ to just go to a different church.
He told the people in that synagogue. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He was talking about Good News. Remember… He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. That’s what He did. That’s why He came. When the guilt of our own sin holds us captive, the Good News of Jesus sets us free. Today, right now in our hearing, here in God’s Word, in God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, crucified dead and buried, risen and ascended, present here with us right now. That the Good News fulfilled in your hearing. Jesus died on the cross to forgive you of your sins, all of them, even the sin of keeping Jesus to yourself. Even the sin of believing that there’s no one you know who needs Jesus. It’s all forgiven. It’s all forgotten. It’s all done. When your guilt makes you captive, here you have, in your hearing, the Good News that Jesus has removed your guilt. And that’s Jesus on his terms. That’s Jesus, as He wants to work in your life. That’s what friendship with Jesus means for you.
And that’s the Good News that you have for everyone you know. The forgiveness that He has given you he offers to others. That’s Jesus on His terms. He forgives you for your sins. He wants you to tell other people about that. He wants you to tell other people about the forgiveness that He has for them. How do you do it? Well, that’s the part you leave up to Jesus. But that’s exactly why we are “Building Friendships.” You keep your focus on Jesus and what He has done for you. Remember your baptism, where the promises of God are made true for you. Listen to His Word and receive the Lord’s Supper. Receive all these gifts for the forgiveness of your sins. God will open doors for you to share the Good News of Jesus with your friends. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, January 21, 2019

John 2.1-11; Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 20, 2019

John 2.1-11; Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 20, 2019
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Dad, you’ll never guess what we found in the yard!” 
That’s the first thing Miciah said to me when I saw her at the end of one of the work days on our Mission Trip a few years ago to New Orleans.  We had been divided into different work groups. 
“We were hauling out a pile of debris out of the back yard, and at the bottom was a stop sign.”  She popped up a picture on her digital camera.  The picture showed the classic white and red sign with a few dings and scratches.   When the hurricane blew it must have come loose of its post.  When the levy broke, and the flood waters raced down the streets it dumped the sign and all that debris in a big pile right there in that back yard.  Now that stop sign was more than just a piece of trash.  That sign was a sign of something powerful that had happened.  It was a sign that pointed to the power of Katrina that happened over 14 months ago; wind so strong it can tear a sign from a post; water flowing at such a rate that it carries bricks, cinderblocks, branches, glass, mud and a stop sign, and deposits them in a big pile in a back yard with the stop sign at the very bottom.  Now, you can go over to the youth room at Divine Shepherd, Blackhawk, SD and see that sign tacked up on the all.  As it hangs there it’s a sign of something very powerful.  Actually, two things; one the awesome power of a hurricane and a flood; and the even more awesome power of the Holy Spirit that moved a Youth Group from South Dakota to give the hope of God’s love in Jesus to people still living in the wake Katrina’s destruction.  Kind of like God giving a hug of reassurance to people who really need it. 
Now here in the Gospel lesson for today St. John tells us about a sign, kind of like that stop sign.  He says, that Jesus turning water into wine was, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.  We just heard his account and we know it well.  Jesus, his disciples and Mary his mother are quietly enjoying the wedding feast.  The unthinkable happens, the wine runs out.  Mary asks Jesus to do something about it.  Jesus says, “not yet.” Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says.  Jesus tells them to fill these very large water jars used for ceremonial washing with water “to the brim” and take it out and take it to the steward.  Water goes in the jars, wine comes out.  And really good wine, “you’ve saved the best for last!” the person in charge of the feast says. 
Jesus changes water into wine.  We’ve probably heard many explanations of exactly what this miracle is all about, from Jesus blessing marriage, to Jesus showing that drinking alcohol isn’t in and of itself a sin (after all he made nearly 200 gallons!).  Now John tells us exactly why he put this account in his book.  By this sign, St. John tells us Jesus manifested his glory.  Manifested is one of those fancy church words that means: to shine the light on, to show, to make clear.  In this miracle sign Jesus tells us who he is.  In this miracles sign Jesus tells us why God was born in human flesh.  If you have any doubts about that just listen to what John tells us at the end of his Gospel:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31, ESV)
And that’s exactly what happened at the wedding of Cana.  The last thing John tells us about it all is that his disciples believed in him.  Now John tells you and me this story so that we too can have our faith in Jesus strengthened, so that we can believe that he is our Savior from sin, and that we poor sinners gathered in his name more than 2000 years later… can have life in his name.
So, what’s the sign?  Well, Martin Luther said that a sign (as John is using it here) is something that has something visible for faith to hold on to.  God loves to give us exactly what we need for faith to hold on to.  God knows how human beings work.  He knows that we need things to be concrete and tangible.  He knows the old saying “Seeing is believing.”  In the Old Testament, Luther says, [God gave] the pillar of fire, the cloud, the mercy seat; in the New Testament Baptism the Lord’s Supper and ministry of the Word[1], and the like.  By means of these God shows us, as by a visible sign, that He is with us, takes care of us, and is favorably inclined toward us. (LW 1:71)
So here at this wedding, Jesus shows that he is not only concerned with people but also such minor details as weather there is enough wine for a wedding celebration.  He showed that God was present there, in love and care for people.  He used these large jars set aside for cleaning to make wine, wine like the wine he uses to give to you and me the forgiveness he won at the cross.  In the wine he gives to you and me he is also present to take care of us.  Have you ever thought about the Lord’s Supper that way?  As a sign that God is with us to take care of us and is favorably inclined toward us.  There in broken bread and poured out wine we are reminded of Jesus death, we are reminded of how he bled and died for our sins.  We are reminded how he …loved the world, that he gave [himself], that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV) Jesus gives us his very own body and blood, really and truly present, as a visible sign of what he did for us on the cross.  We come to this altar and drink wine and eat bread, a meal for our body; and in, with and under those touchable, taste-able things we receive the very body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.  Jesus supplies us with all we need for eternal life right here.  He gives us everything that we need, and then he gives us even more.  Jesus fills our spiritual needs and our physical needs.  These are signs for faith to hold on to.  It’s just like the Catechism confesses says:
What is the benefit of this eating and drinking? These words, "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins," show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
Now some of you may be offended, but I’ve never understood how God can offer such a marvelous gift as the Lord’s Supper to his people and we say that we don’t need it.  And frankly, I’ve never understood the idea that once a month is enough of this great gift.  I think the problem is we think strong faith is that which doesn’t need God’s gifts very often, when exactly the opposite is really true.  Strong faith clings to the gift of forgiveness that God gives every single day and longs to receive them as often as possible.  You see, when we think we don’t need God and his activity in our lives that’s having faith in us.  Faith in God means leaning on him in all things.
Jesus turns water into wine.  He did it in at the wedding in Cana and he does it today.  I think it is Mary who shows us what it all about.  When the problem pops us, she turns to her Lord in faith.  Oh sure, some say she was just turning to a faithful son for help, but I think it’s more than that.  Remember how she reacted when the Angel came to her and said “you will conceive and bear a son...”?  “I am the Lord’s servant let it be done to me as you have said.”  When the wine runs out she goes to Jesus for help and then in faith she responds by telling the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  She doesn’t know what Jesus is going to do.  She just places the problem in his hands and gets ready for his answer and action.  Jesus turns the water into wine.  He provides all that is needed and then some.  It’s the best wine ever.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t always exhibit that kind of faith.  It’s difficult to “let go and let God.”  There are even times when I think I’ve done just that and as it turns out I’ve been depending on myself again.  Here’s a picture I want you to keep in mind.  I got this one from Wally.  It’s a puzzle he put together.  I’ve got it set outside my office door at the parsonage.  It’s behind the main door so those of you who’ve visited and just stood in the door haven’t seen it, but it’s right where I can see when I go out of the office.  This, I think, is a picture of Jesus at the wedding of Cana.  This is what Jesus is doing there.  Look at how he embraces this person.  Look at the love in his face.  I think you can see the worries and care of this man just melting away with Jesus loving hug.  And look what the man is doing… nothing.  He’s receiving the gift that he just doesn’t deserve, the love of God in Jesus Christ.  It’s just as Luther said he shows us by a visible sign, that He is with us, takes care of us, and is favorably inclined toward us.  Got troubles?  I do, every day.  You do to.  That’s life in the 21st century.  That’s human life since our parents in the Garden of Eden tried to run it by themselves, without God.  That’s life since you and I try to run it ourselves without God.  Well God does a miracle right here too.  He is present to take care of us.  Now as great as this picture is… right here God gives you something even better.  It’s real food for real people; bread and wine to satisfy the stomach; Jesus’ body and blood to satisfy the spirit.  Here is a very powerful sign, a very powerful action where God himself is present to save.  Here shows you his love for you in his death at the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  Here he tells you that he is with you always and nothing can separate you from him.  It’s a sign.  It’s a miracle.  It is God right here for you.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Luther here is likely referring to the Office of the Holy Ministry, i.e. Pastors.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Romans 6:1-11; The Baptism of Our Lord; January 3, 2019;

Romans 6:1-11; The Baptism of Our Lord; January 3, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:1–11, ESV)
(from a devotion by Robert Bernhardt,
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There’s a lot going on in that little bowl. I know it doesn’t look like much, but it’s really kind of a storm. None of you is looking at this little splash of water thinking dark thoughts of fear and trepidation. But maybe you should. In fact, these waters are downright treacherous. Here, right here, for some of you, you knocked on death’s door. St. Paul says it,
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
It’s a drowning. A dying. We experience death with Jesus. The moment the pastor says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, a killing, a drowning takes place. You are dead and raised. Death swirls around you in the water. Jesus’ death and yours. And don’t think for a moment that his death wasn’t real, or yours for that matter. He was pierced by nails, and stabbed by a spear. His heart filled with blood and stopped beating. He was taken down and buried in a tomb.
You see, death is the problem isn’t it. The grave. The place you will go sooner or later. A problem brought to us because of Adam and Eve. They rejected God. They fell into sin. To reject God is to reject the life he gives as a gift. They brought God sure promise of death as punishment, and not only death but permanent death, death that is total separation from God. Hell, created for Satan and the fallen angels, is the destination for all those who reject God. But it’s worse than you want to believe. Sin is in you. It’s proof of your own personal rejection of God. If you didn’t reject God, you wouldn’t sin. And the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23). You can’t get away from it. It’s like being stuck swimming in a stormy sea. You can’t get to shore. You can’t swim forever. The sea is too deep and the waves are too high. Eventually you will drown in death.
Ah, but that’s what Holy Baptism is all about. Jesus is there in your death. Paul declares it. It is God’s promise in Baptism. Jesus is there in your death. He grabs you out of the water you are drowning in. He pulls you out of the darkness.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
It’s not an idle promise either. Jesus didn’t just die he was raised. He wasn’t just carried into the tomb, he walked out of it. Jesus promises resurrection though the stormy bowl. Luther said it clearly.
What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
He’s only saying what Paul says.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Jesus dead and buried and raised again. We are united with that, with God’s Name connected to the Water. Promised a resurrection after death. Jesus proves he has power over death.
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.
It’s all good, but sin is still pulling you down. Every day you have to deal with falling short of what God tells you to do and not do. Most days it doesn’t feel like swimming but drowning. So what about that walking in newness of life that is promised?
It’s you sinful nature. The part of you that has evil thoughts and desires you hate. The part of you that lives for sin. Paul knew it. He says
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18–19, ESV)
You know it. It’s the life you live every day.
Well, that too, is dealt with at this stormy little bowl. Luther
What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Confess your sin and repent. Drag that old sinful nature, that heart of sin, to the bowl. Let him be drowned and die. Let the evil desires be washed away in the water. Die again to sin.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
It’s the only way to beat it. Jesus does it. He stand hip deep in the Jordan River, baptized by John. He’s in the water with you. Your sinful nature is washed onto him. He walks up out of the water and to the cross.
For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
Once and for all time, he crucifies your sinful nature dead, done, buried in the tomb. And the life he lives now is yours.
There it is in that little, terrible, dangerous, wonderful, stormy bowl of water. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Matthew 2:1-12; The Epiphany of Our Lord; January 6, 2018;

Matthew 2:1-12; The Epiphany of Our Lord; January 6, 2018;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6“ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sometimes when you hear a text you are presented with lots of questions. Over the centuries this account is one that has done just that. People have been asking questions about this visit of the ‘Wise Men’ ever since it happened, ever since Matthew committed it to ink. The questions that are often asked are: Who were these men? Where did they come from? How many were there? What are their names? We could spend time talking about these questions, and we probably have at one time or another. They are interesting and intriguing questions, but really, they aren’t important questions. They aren’t questions that have any real importance to our faith.
There are important questions that we can and should ask when we read this text. And those questions have correct answers that are found here. And even more than that those answers prompt us to certain proper responses.
Right Questions:
There are questions that have been asked here. The first is the question the Wise Men asked Herod. “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” Really, it’s not the first question they asked. They already knew the answers to their first question: “Who is he?” If they had not answered that question they wouldn’t have traveled so far to find him. They didn’t need to know the “who” only the “where.”
Herod carried the question to the scribes and Pharisees. He also wanted to know where. He recognized immediately what the Wise Men also knew. Herod answered the question “who” in asking where the Christ would be born. And then he asked the Wise men when the star appeared. Herod asked important questions, but as we see later in the chapter, he was asking the questions for the wrong reasons.
These are questions that we too should ask. Who is he that came? When did he come? Why did he come? For whom did he come?
Correct Answers:
The bible, God’s own word to us, gives us the answers. God always makes sure that we have the correct answers to the right questions. The Scribes and Pharisees knew the answer to “Where.” He was born in Bethlehem. They told Herod and he told the Magi. It was the right answer to the right question. The Wise Men went and worshipped Jesus where he was to be found.
Herod asked “When.” It had to do with the appearing of the star. It’s an important question, too. But there’s more to the answers than just a date. In fact, the date isn’t the important part of the question. The real answer is that Jesus was born in God’s own time, at exactly the right time. "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." (Galatians 4:4-5, ESV) It was the perfect time to accomplish God’s great desire to save human creatures from sin.
Both Herod and the Magi seemed to know “who” the child is. Notice how the visitors didn’t say, “Where is he that will become the king?” “Where is he who has been born King?” Jesus is the king of the Jews already when he was born. He is king in the stable, the house, walking along the road and teaching. And most of all he is King as he hangs on the cross, with a sign above his head that also said “King of the Jews.”
And that’s the answer to the question “Why did he come?” He came to minister to people; to heal, them and feed them, but most of all to restore their relationship with God. Because of sin people deserve only God’s anger and punishment. Jesus, the King, came to pay the punishment by his suffering and death on the cross. And through faith, he rules in the hearts of those who believe in him.
Proper Response:
When the right questions are asked and the correct answers given, a response is always required. This Epiphany text shows us responses too. Herod and his advisors didn’t respond in the right way, and they had the right answers even before the questions were asked. The Scribes and Pharisees knew where to find Jesus. But the text doesn’t say they went to see him. In fact, it says nothing at all, about how they reacted. They knew the answer but it seems as if their knowledge was only knowledge in the head, not knowledge of the heart.
We know all about Herod’s response. He knew when the child was born and sent His soldiers out to kill all the children of the proper age in Bethlehem. He sought to protect his own place on the throne. It wasn’t a response out of character for him either. He killed many that he saw as threats to him, even his ‘favorite’ wife and two of his sons.
It is the Wise Men who respond according to God’s will. After all they were ‘wise men’ right? What makes them wise is that they were led by the Holy Spirit to believe the correct answers to all the questions. They even understood that Jesus came for all people, the “for whom did he come?” question. They understood that the answer to that question was that the child they were seeking was for all people. When they found him, they rejoiced with “exceeding great joy,” joy born out of the realization that God sent a savior for them. They worshipped him, offered him valuable gifts and went on their way.
What’s our response? Well, often times we act as if our faith was simply in our heads. Our response to God’s love is dry and lifeless. We live as if the King of the Jews wasn’t our king at all. We stand with the Scribes and Pharisees knowing the truth but not allowing it to motivate us to action. Other times we push the king from our lives, preferring to be king for ourselves. And that’s were we’d always be, if it weren’t for the grace of God. Because of God’s working in our hearts through his Word and Sacraments, our response is different; our response is like that of those Wise Men of Old:
As they offered gifts most rare
At thy cradle, rude and bare,
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to thee, our heavenly king.
We worship the King, Jesus, born to die for our sin. We worship him with our hearts, lives and treasure.
This text brings many questions to our minds. God provides the answers through the guiding of the Holy Spirit. The answers tell us of his great love through his Son, Jesus Christ. And again through him we respond with “exceeding great joy.” Because of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Luke 2:22-35; First Sunday after Christmas; December 30, 2018;

Luke 2:22-35; First Sunday after Christmas; December 30, 2018;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”” (Luke 2:22–35, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Ok, so Christmas is long gone... well, at least in some ways it feels that way.  New Year’s Day is only hours away are probably not thinking much about Christmas.  But here in the church it is still Christmas, after all in the church the Christmas Season continues until Jan 6.  So, it's been almost whole week since you opened your gifts and there's been time for the luster to wear off, and maybe even a few of them are broken, don't fit, or not exactly what you wanted.  Well, your friends and family meant well.  They just missed the mark.  There's always next year... or you can use that gift receipt and try to get something you want for yourself...  In that way, Christmas is always a disappointment.  When we focus on the stuff (and who doesn't!) we are setting ourselves up for it.
Now that's quite a contrast with Simeon.  This is the last real Christmas story in scripture and one of the most important.  He sees the True Gift for what it is and rejoices.
Here's the picture.  The temple is crowed as usual.  Mary and Joseph are dutiful parents.  They have brought the baby Jesus to the temple to do what the law requires.  Every first born male child in Israel was to be dedicated to the Lord at 40 days old.  This was all set up by God in Exodus (13:1).  It has to do with the Passover.  All those years ago in Egypt, the angel of death took every first-born child that was not protected by lamb's blood on the doorpost.  Since God provided for the first born of Israel to be redeemed by the blood of a lamb, he claimed them all has his own.  "Consecrate them to me!" God said.  "Remember that I am the one who redeemed you out of slavery in Egypt." 
And so faithful parents for all those generations packed up the first born and made the offerings at the temple.  Joseph and Mary sacrifice the two doves, because they didn't have the means to sacrifice a lamb (this was allowed for in the law, Lev 12:8).  But when God appears in human flesh nothing is quite that simple.  The couple and the baby enter the temple, but they are immediately interrupted.  A man, Simeon, takes the baby from the parents.  Now Simeon is no ordinary man.  He is full of the Holy Spirit.  A devout believer, waiting for the Messiah, "the Consolation of Israel."  That is the "comfort" of Israel.  Think of the words from Isaiah 40. 
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1–2, ESV)
Think forgiveness of sins.  Simeon is holding in his arms the forgiveness of sins for Israel!  He was faithfully waiting, who knows how long.  And he was uniquely gifted to know that he would not die until he had seen Forgiveness with his own eyes.  So, holding him in his arms and filled with joy he sings... "Lord now let your servant depart... I've seen what you promised.  I can die in peace."
Now I don't know if you catch what's going on here or not.  In fact, it's been kind of a theme in the Gospel of Luke so far.  It beings in the fields, with shepherds watching sheep.  The angels appear and scare the beejesus out of them.  After all the shouting is over (yes, the angels probably didn't sing the Gloria they spoke it!).  It ends up like this.  The angel said:
And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”” (Luke 2:12, ESV)
Really!  That's the sign?  A baby in diapers!  There's nothing special about that.  And the manger thing is very easily explained.  In fact, there may have been other babies in Bethlehem in mangers that night.  After all it was a crowed town, unable to hold all the visitors.  A manger in an inn would be a perfectly logical place to place a new born.  The sign is nothing.  The baby doesn't seem like much.  In fact, everyone who hears the story the shepherds told, "wondered" at it, as if to say, "That's the sign?  But that's just a baby!"
That's all that Simeon has too!  A baby, in the crowded temple, among many other babies who were there for the same reason.  Nothing unique.  Nothing special.  Nothing miraculous.  In fact, a bit under-whelming wouldn't you say.  Kind of like the gifts you got for Christmas.  Kind of like the things you went out and bought for yourself.   Kind of like the let down every day of your life because things just don't live up to their promise.  Nothing special.  Nothing unique.  Nothing miraculous.
But, Simeon has eyes to see it differently.  He has eyes of faith.  For him, the baby he is holding is salvation, comfort, and forgiveness.  He sees past the plain everyday looking things to the reality of what is there.  He sees the baby Jesus, but he sees something else. 
And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”” (Luke 2:34–35, ESV)
It's a perfect picture of what Jesus would do.  He would be rejected by everyone even to the point of death on the cross.  Jesus, the humble baby in his arms was the "suffering servant" spoken about in Isaiah (53).   But don't forget he also sees baby Jesus as God's salvation for Israel and the whole world. 
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4–5, ESV)
There was nothing in Jesus that would point you to that conclusion.  To look at the baby, in diapers, in the temple was to see what had happened thousands of times over the years.  But, Simeon sees with the eyes of faith.  This is the promised Savior of the world.  The biggest thing in a humble package.  And don't forget why Jesus is there.  He's to be consecrated to the Lord.  Set aside for God's purposes.  It all comes full circle from the Passover.  All the male children were saved by the blood of the lamb, so they are dedicated to the Lord.  Now God-in-the-flesh, baby Jesus, is dedicated as the Lamb of God who sheds his blood to redeem people from slavery to sin.  You can't see it by looking.  But you can see it with the eyes of faith.
Now about Christmas and presents and disappointment and a New Year with failed resolutions already in the works.  When we look back at our Christmas joy from here it just seems a bit foolish, or maybe a bit misguided.  After all, Christmas comes and goes, and nothing really changes.  People are still poor.  Car accidents still take lives.  Politicians still lie.  You and me, we can't live up to our expectations.  Our relationships are difficult, at best.  A little Christmas joy didn't really change any of that.  At least that's what it looks like.  But that's only when you see it with your sin-filled eyes.  If you look at it with the eyes of faith you can see something different.  Baby Jesus does make a difference.  His birth is joyful because he is the "Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world."  When we look with the eyes of faith, our...
eyes have seen [God's] salvation [which he has] prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to [God's people]."
You see (you know) that the little joy we have a Christmas is joyful only because it points to a greater joy to come.  Everything that Jesus did, beginning with his birth, his circumcision, his dedication in the temple, his first miracle, his life with his disciples, his passion, death and resurrection are for the great restoration yet to come.  The new heavens and the new earth.  Perfect and sinless human bodies.  Perfect and sinless human relationships.  Joy-filled reunions with all those who have died in faith before us.  Not to mention power over sin and Satan right now.  All of it ours, right now, in the forgiveness of sins won for us by the baby grown, crucified, dead, buried and raised on the third day.  All of it seen in the eyes of faith, if not by regular human sight.  It's what makes Christmas more than a fleeting, month long festival of avarice and selfishness.  It's what makes Peace on Earth something real instead of only a human wish.  It's what make Good Will Toward Men something that is true even in the face of bloodshed and violence.
Oh, and don't forget Simeon's song.  Yep, we are going to sing it today.  And not only that but if you look at what God places in the cup and on the platen,  you'll see...
 [God's] salvation [which he has] prepared [for you].
There it is again, something that doesn't look like much.  But with the eyes of faith you see Jesus, God's salvation, in his very body and blood, hanging on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, and placing himself in your mouth to give it to you.  It's God making his promise true for you right now, forgiving your sin, restoring your relationship with him.  Showing you that all that is promised is yours right now.  It's the joy of Christmas.  It's the joy of Christ.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Luke 1:39-45; The Fourth Sunday in Advent; December 23, 2012;

Luke 1:39-45; The Fourth Sunday in Advent; December 23, 2012;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN

(b. 1460, Salzburg, d. 1520, Salzburg)
Meeting of Mary and Elisabeth
Wood, 100,5 x 81,2 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Have you ever been distracted from something that’s important? Of course, you have. It’s easy to find yourself fiddling with the radio while driving the car or paying more attention to the hot dog vender at a baseball game when the winning home run is knocked out of the park, or glued to the television when your daughter is trying to tell you all about her day. We are so easily distracted from important things. Our attention spans are growing shorter every year. But I’m not just talking about getting older. How long we pay attention to things is shaped by our love for that glowing box that’s at the center of most of our living rooms. We tend to drift away from anything that doesn’t fight to keep our attention.
There are other ways we can be distracted, too. Sometimes we just don't see the important thing. Sometimes we look right past it. Have you even seen those pictures that you stare at for a few min and a 3D picture pop out at you? I’ve never been able to get them to work. Maybe it’s because I’m too distracted by the unimportant details of the picture, the details that don’t mean anything, they’re not a part of the real picture.
And of course, nothing is more distracting than this time of year. How many trips have you made to go Christmas shopping? How much time have you spent decorating your house, your tree, your car, for Christmas? For many families it’s time to get that Christmas letter written and get all those Christmas Cards sent. There is so much to do to help make the season a joyous season. Oh yeah, don’t forget Advent Services, decorating the church, Christmas parties, and maybe even caroling. All these activities are important, all of them are wonderful, and help to make the holiday “bright” (as the song says). But it’s easy to be so involved in all those things we loose sight of Christmas itself. It’s easy to be wrapped up in wrapping presents and miss the meaning of the holiday.
So, let’s not do that today. Let’s pay attention to God’s Word written in the Gospel lesson for today and make sure we understand what it’s saying. Let’s not get distracted by all that’s going on today, weather you’re making another Christmas shopping trip to Des Moines, preparing a meal for today, or putting the finishing touches on your travel plans for Christmas. Let’s look at this text and find what’s important in it.
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”” (Luke 1:39–45, ESV)
So what’s really important here? Is Elizabeth important? After all, she is the one who is “filled with the Holy Spirit?” She is the mother of St. John the Baptist. That’s an important person to be, don’t you think? After all, without Elizabeth the would be no John; without John one preaching on Jordan’s banks, no forerunner to Jesus to prepare the way. And Elizabeth is a good example of faith, too. She believes everything she is told about her son. Her husband Zechariah had doubts and the Angel told him he wouldn’t be able to speak until John was born and named. And Elizabeth believes all the things she learns about Mary and her Baby. Just look at her acceptance of Mary, who was considerably younger. She is honored by Mary’s visit. “Who am I that I should be favored in this way?” She is humble even though her own child is going to be an important player on God’s world stage. She puts herself below Mary and even more below Mary’s Baby. So, Elizabeth is important. Is she the most important thing in this text? No!
Now, I think we can all agree that Mary is very important. Is she the most important thing to think about in this text? We spoke about Elizabeth’s humility and faith. Mary has all that and more. Mary was facing ridicule in her hometown (even possibly death!) Yet, she wants to see Elizabeth because of the Angel’s message. She rushes out to see her, so that they can to be together with someone who is a part of the wonderful thing that is happening. Mary’s faith is unquestioned. How many teenagers do you know who would say “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” In fact, Mary is the first person in Luke’s Gospel to hear, accept and proclaim the important Good News of Jesus. Really, she stands right there where we want to be; maybe right there for all of us as the first person of faith, the first Christian. What and example to us of faith. There is no doubt that Mary is important.
We may get a little squeamish here, because we don’t want to be accused of being Roman Catholic and holding Mary up to Jesus level. But it is true that without Mary there wouldn’t have been Jesus. She was an important, essential, part of God’s plan of salvation. She nurtured the growing baby Jesus in her body. She nurtured the baby Jesus and cared for Him through out His life, in fact. It is Mary that God uses to give Jesus His humanity. It is in her womb that God and man come together in Jesus. And there is no better way to confess the fact that Jesus is true God and true man than to say that Mary is the mother of God. (Theotokos) And don’t forget Elizabeth is honored at her visit. She is clearly an important part of this text. Are Mary and the example she gives the most important thing we can find here? No!
Well, then it must be John. If this text is about anything, it’s about John. We all know about him, that camel haired, locust eating, desert dweller, who made as many enemies as friends. We sing a great Advent hymn that’s all about John. “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist cries!” For lots of people John the most important part of Advent. If Elizabeth is important as John’s mother, then surely John is important! John is out there telling everyone that they had better be ready because God is coming! John is very important! He’s out there preaching the Good News before anyone. John is joyful about Jesus coming even before he is born. “…the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” Isn’t this one of those texts we use to support infant baptism, proving the infants (even unborn infants) can have faith? And Jesus even calls John the greatest prophet! Clearly, this text is about John. He’s active here, as he is all his life, telling us of the coming Christ. So, is John the most important thing we see in this text? No!
Well, if it’s not Elizabeth, it’s not Mary, and it’s not John, there’s only one thing left, there’s only one person left and that’s Jesus. But, wait as second, Jesus isn’t really even mentioned. No name, no Baby in the womb, nothing. How can this text be about Jesus if He’s not even written about?
Well, just think about it. What is Elizabeth excited about? Mary’s visit? Exactly where is Elizabeth putting her faith, in Mary? No, Elizabeth hasn’t missed the point. She says it very plainly, as a matter of fact. “Why am I so favored that the mother of MY LORD, should visit me.” She’s glad to see Mary, all right, but only because of Mary’s status as Jesus mother. Only because lying in Mary’s womb is Elizabeth’s Lord. There in the womb of Mary is the Savior of the world. Even her own pregnancy, blessed as it was, was not as important as that baby Mary brought to her was. Elizabeth is focused on Jesus.
And that’s exactly where Mary is focused, too. She rushes to Elizabeth, not for a place to hide out, (it seems too early for that) but to bring the Good News about the child, and in fact, the Child himself to Elizabeth to see and feel. It’s Mary’s way of saying, “Look! It’s all true, God is bringing forgiveness to us, and it’s all right here inside me!” Mary is focused on Jesus.
But as much as everyone is focused on Jesus, no one is more focused than John was. I don’t think there ever was a person so well in tuned with his calling in life as John was. Just look at how he is focused on Jesus. He leaps for joy just to know that Jesus was near him. John is so anxious to tell the Good News; he is so joyful that he leaps for joy while still in his mother’s womb. You see, John too is focused on Jesus.
In fact, I looked at some Renaissance art on this very subject. And one painting struck me as very telling. (Meeting of Mary and Elisabeth; REICHLICH, Marx b. 1460, Salzburg, d. 1520, Salzburg Wood, 100,5 x 81,2 cm Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Elizabeth and Mary are standing close together. Elizabeth has her hand place over the child in Mary; and Mary is looking on intently. But the most fascinating thing about the picture is the artist’s depiction of John and Jesus. Right there painted as if the viewers had X-ray glasses, you can see two little infants. And the infant John isn’t curled up, as we would expect, instead he is kneeling with his hands folded in front of him; kneeling facing Jesus recognizing what everyone in the picture knows. Jesus is the center of the picture. Jesus is the most important thing that going on.
The funny thing is I could spend a lot of time telling you, “Be focused on Jesus like Elizabeth, Mary and John.” But, the truth is you know how often you’ll fail. There are many important things to attend to and Jesus is left out of your life more than you’d ever want to admit. And as for Elizabeth, Mary and John, though they are good examples here they aren’t perfect. There were times in there lives they weren’t good disciples either. There were many times, as many as you have, that they were focused on other things besides Jesus. So telling you to focus on Jesus as they did isn’t going to help you much. And besides if we say be like Elizabeth, Mary and John we’d be taking the focus off Jesus again! Forgetting what He came in Mary’s womb to do.
So, the story here isn’t that Elizabeth and Mary and John were focused on Jesus. They aren’t the most important things there. Jesus is. And He’s not the focus because He’s our example of how to live. He’s the focus because He came to do what you can’t do. Even though you can’t always focus on Him, He is always focused on you. That little unborn infant came the way He came for you. He was conceived there in Mary for you. He was born in that cold dark stable for you. He lived a perfect human life for you. In fact, He is so focused on you that He even died on the cross to pay the punishment for your sin. Because your focus falls short, He focuses on you. He did what you can’t do. He lived the way you can’t live. His focus was on our death. He came to die in your place and mine, and for Elizabeth, Mary and John. God’s love and focus are so much on you that Jesus gave up His perfect life for your imperfect, unfocused one. And with your punishment paid, He rose again to bring you a new and re-focused life. That’s the real joy of the season.
Now, there are many important things to do before Christmas. You may have some shopping to do. You may have some presents to wrap, and maybe even a party yet to attend. Those things are great; they are an important part of the season. It’s very important to get together with your family and have a wonderful time together. And don’t forget that it is important to remember other people, even people you don’t know at this time of year. It’s great time to give food to the food bank, by a toy for toys-for-tots. Take a plate of Christmas cookies to your neighbor. But, in the middle of all of those important things, don’t forget the most important thing about Christmas. Don’t forget the baby in Mary’s womb. Don’t forget how He was born, lived, and died for you. Don’t forget Jesus focus on you. Don’t forget that it’s Jesus who makes all those important things important. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.