Sunday, January 30, 2022

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany; January 30, 2022;

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany; January 30, 2022;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of his sermon one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Corinthians 12:12–31a, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Ben Franklin once said, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." Certainly, the kind of unity that Ben Franklin was advocating is not the same as what St. Paul is talking about here, but there is unity that Paul is speaking of here just the same. He uses the analogy of the body to speak about the unity of Christians. Just like all the parts of the body make the body function properly, Christians bring varied gifts and abilities that make the Christian church function properly. It is our sinful human nature that wants to divide the body as useful parts and less useful parts. As those in the know, and those who are out of God’s council. It is our sinful nature that looks with envy on other parts of the body of Christ for what they have and think of ourselves as less. Or to look down on parts of the body of Christ that seem in our eyes to be less important and think that we have no need of them. This was a very important discussion for the recipients of this letter of St. Paul. The Corinthian church was in disunity. They were divided among teachers and teachings. They were divided by social strata. They were not living in the unity that was theirs in their Savior. St. Paul calls them to account. But he doesn't base this unity out of thin air. He bases it on one single truth that is true for all Christians. It is not something they have done, rather something that God has done to them. It's not something they earned by their living rightly or doing rightly, but something gifted to them. It's how the second sentence begins. It is the word for.
For (because) in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...
What he is saying is that our unity in Christ, in the church, begins in Holy Baptism. We have unity with one another because we have unity in Christ through the water and the Word that was placed on us by the Holy Spirit in baptism. He says it again in his letter to the Romans chapter 6.
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.” (Romans 6:3–4, ESV)
"all of us" he says. That's all of us together collectively. When we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ Jesus. We are baptized into his death. We are baptized into his resurrection. We are promised a resurrection from the dead. When I used to speak to \preschool kids about baptism I call it a "special bath". A bath that washes away your sins. A bath where God makes promises to you. In holy baptism God makes true for you Jesus life and saving death on the cross. He takes your sin and punishment to the cross. He has punished for your sin there. In baptism Jesus’ death and punishment is yours. And his new life is poured over you with the water poured over your head in God's name. Although Franklin would never say it this way, we can use his quote to think about it. In Christ we hang together on the cross. Jesus bears the burden of all our sin and punishment. Or we hang separately, without faith in Christ, when we die in our sin, we must receive our own punishment. That punishment is eternal hell. Holy Baptism is God's mark on you that says you hung to death with Jesus and are promised new life, that is no hell for you. We Christians are united together by this promise.
All this unity goes against our American mentality. We think we are the rugged individual. We want to think we don't need anyone. We look at our faith as "me and Jesus". St. Paul puts us in a family of forgiven sinners all. And that forgiveness comes to us by God's gift. There is nothing in us that God looks at and says, "I see something good in that one so I'm going to save him." We are all only sinners deserving hell. God saves us by no merit or worthiness on our part but by grace. The definition of grace is God's undeserved love. The baptism of babies and young children is the perfect picture of this. They do nothing but lay there in their mother's arms while God uses human hands to pour water and speak his name and give all the gifts of Holy Baptism. Baptism is not something we do, but something that God does to us. Baptism is our collective connection to the cross of Jesus Christ and all that it brings. And the fact that faith is a gift of God's grace not based on anything in us or anything we do is the great equalizer. God saves us purely by grace and therefore we are all the same. There are no lesser parts and greater parts. We are a family with different abilities, but all are needed and all are called by God equally to do what we are given to do. This is our common salvation in our common Savior. We are in this together. As Franklin said, "we all hang together."
St. Paul's analogy of the body goes even further. Not only are we all the same but we need each other. If every part of the body were an eye there would be nothing but seeing and the body couldn't function. So, the eyes should look at the ear and rejoice that there is an ear for hearing. For without hearing the body could not function as a complete and whole body. And the eye looks at the foot and rejoices because without the foot there would be no movement. The hand looks at the eye and rejoices because without the eye we would not be able to see the wonders of the created world. The Christian church is this way also. We are called to rejoice in our varied gifts. Some are good at teaching. Some are good at caring. Some are good at meditation and prayer. These are all gifts that strengthen the body as a whole and make it function as a whole body. But we can apply this more broadly also. Congregations are different. They have different strengths and abilities. Some are large, some are small. Some are given many resources some are given few. But because of our unity in Christ large congregations are not more important than small ones, nor are small ones more important than large ones. We all hang together in Christ. God places congregations in specific locations to accomplish the tasks that he calls them to do with the abilities he has given them. And so, we rejoice in the variation of God's calling. Our congregations need each other. What some lack can be found in others that do not. And we will function as the body of Christ more completely when we see this unity. St. Paul says this by speaking about how when some suffer all suffer and when some are honored all are honored.
And so, as Christians united together in Christ we confess our faith to the world. We speak about the Jesus who lived died and rose again for the whole world. And we call people to faith in his saving work. We do it with a gifts and abilities that he has given us and, in the places, where he has placed us. And we do it is the body of Christ. Or as Franklin said, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."
The Christian religion, though scattered and abroad will in the end gather itself together at the foot of the cross. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German poet)
Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone, rather think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you and you are standing among them in a common, united petition, which God cannot disdain. Luther, AE 43:198
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Isaiah 43:1-7; The First Sunday after the Epiphany; January 9, 2022;

Isaiah 43:1-7; The First Sunday after the Epiphany; January 9, 2022;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”” (Isaiah 43:1–7, ESV)
Grace and peace to you, Precious… Honored and Loved Children of God, from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
She knew it was there… somewhere… it had to be. How could she be such a fool as to lay it down? How could she forget where she laid it? The room, now in shambles, had been scoured from top to bottom in search of her precious treasure, but the wedding ring was no where to be found. And now, she peered over the edge of the sink and gazed in to the blackness of the drain in the middle of the bowl. It was the only place left… it had to be there. Determined she walked to the closet and dragged out a plastic bucket. Tool handles poked up from its rim. Wire and nails rattled as she dropped it next to the sink. She plopped down beside it, and looked over the collection. It was clear nothing would fit over the drain pipe to disconnect it. There was only one solution left in her mind… she had to get the ring. Slowly she began to drag the saw back and forth just above the drain trap. Tiny metal filings began to litter the space below. It would take time, it would be expensive to replace the pipes, but no cost was too high. It was her wedding ring, she had to get it back.
The desert sand blew up from the hot ground and bit Greg’s face. He didn’t want to be there. “Guard that oil well with your life!” Sarge had said. “… with your life!” echoed the final three words in Greg’s mind. How was it possible that that oil was so precious? How could that black slimy gunk be worth more than his own life? Oh, he knew that oil was critical to the war. He knew that factories lived because they had it… he knew that tanks drank it… but what was one single well, more or less, to the effort… what made that one particular well so precious that he was to give his life guarding it? He peered out over the sand, wondering if anyone were out there. Would anyone really kill him for that seemingly insignificant spot in the whole desert? “Would I really kill them,” he wondered, “prevent them from taking it?”
Amy sat, perched on the edge of her couch, with her eyes flickering back and forth from the glowing gray of the television to the brightly colored precious square of cardboard she pinched in her fingers. “… if only this time the numbers match… if only this time, some of the numbers match… then things in my life will be different.” She thought. She had waited almost a week for this one night. This had to be the night that her life would change.
Bob tried to rub the pain from his mind with his fingers, as he sat in the darkness of his kitchen. He couldn’t believe the last 8 hours, they were something from a dream… a bad dream.. No, it was more like a nightmare. Only a few hours ago his little girl was sleeping on the couch, but now… he would give anything to see her lying there peacefully breathing… but now, that just wasn’t possible, his precious little girl was gone. He remembered the horrible sound of the screeching tires and then the dead silence that followed. “Oh my God!” came the voice of the driver as he leaped from his seat to the front of the car. “Somebody please help!” he screamed… Bob dragged himself from the images in his mind back to the darkened kitchen. His eyes passed through the shadowy space, as usual there was a pile of plates waiting to be washed and an opened fruit can on the counter. The milk was on the table… it hadn’t been put away again. All of it blended into the grayness of the room and Bob’s mind. But there was one thing that drew his eye. A beam of light from the street peered in the window and half lit a white crumpled piece of paper on the refrigerator. On that one spot in all the room there was color. Several purple and red lines ran out of the light to form some picture in the darkness. Bob walked to the white box and moved the picture so the light could brighten it all. “Dad” it said with a shaky green line over a stick figure with bulbous hands and a scribble beard. Just as Bob felt he would fold up on the floor in sheer pain, his daughter’s picture spoke again. There were more letters near the top of the page. “Jesus died for me,” they said in red, and below that was a quickly drawn green cross. A child’s faith, marked out in red and green wax. Nothing had ever been more precious. “Thank you, Jesus.” Bob said from his knees.
It was the most precious thing he had ever seen. A small squirming pink mass in the blanket wrapped up in his wife’s arms. Jeremy looked at his wife… she had never looked more beautiful. After all the work… all the time.. all the money… finally they had a child. For them adoption was the only way, something about mumps when he was a boy. But, all the struggle, money, and worry, now fell deep into his memory, this moment was worth it all. Here, right here, was a child to raise, a child to teach, and a child to love. He brushed a finger across her soft cheek, she was so tiny, and she would need him very much.
We know what it means for something to be precious. We have precious things all around us. We may even know what it means for us to be precious in someone’s eyes. I think though, that often we have a hard time seeing that we are precious to God. After all, fears are right here… our troubles are right here… our sins are right here… our lives are right here and God often feels so far away.
It isn’t a new feeling. Isaiah the prophet was dealing with the same feelings when he wrote the words of our text today. The Children of Israel had put some distance between themselves and God. They quit listening to what God had to say. God even called them deaf and blind. And now, says Isaiah, they were in for trouble. Their land, the land that God had given them, would be taken away. And they would be dragged off into exile. Separated from the land they loved and separated from their own people. There would be a lot for them to be afraid of… when they were literally looking down the barrel of the Babylonian army. But in all that, with all that to look forward to, God tells the people to remember who they are… and remember who he is. He gives them a very personal word, to remember that they, despite all that was coming, where his precious people.
Isaiah begins by reminding them who is speaking to them. God, the one who created them. He, the one who formed them with the same care that a potter uses to mold and form a clay pot. They went into Egypt, 12 brothers, and came out a great multitude. He molded them through trials in the desert, water from rocks and manna from heaven. He formed them into a great army that was feared by all the kings they stood against. He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt, and he would again free them from exile in Babylon. Just as they passed through the red sea unharmed, again they would pass through troubled waters that would not destroy them completely. And just as a fire led them in the desert, so they would walk through fire, protected by God. Why does God go to such lengths to tell them this…? because they were his precious people… I am YHWH, he says using the name he gave Moses at the burning bush. “I am your God, and your only Savior. You are precious to me because I have put my name on you. Don’t be afraid, I am with you."
But the real beauty of this text isn’t that it tells the story of God’s love for a group of people who lived so long ago. People long dead, individuals long forgotten, and relegated to words written on dry dusty paper. The real beauty of this text is this… In these same words God is telling us that we too are his precious people.
We are reminded that this God, the one who is speaking here to us, is the one who created us. He carefully knit us together in our mother’s womb, a precious treasure. But he did even more than that, His act of creation continued because of Jesus Christ, and all that he has done for us, his life, death and resurrection. We, just like his precious Israel, have been called by name. We have been Baptized and given his name. He said, “Welcome to My Family, my precious child. I give you my name” I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Fear not, for I am with you, he says. When our fears flood over us threatening to drown us, when our troubles threaten to burn us up, when we face the fact that we are sinful, and God feels far away. He says, "Remember who you are and how precious you are to me my child."
We are more precious to God than a lost diamond in a dark drain, barrels and barrels of black gold, or even a multimillion-dollar lottery ticket. And the proof is as simple as a few words scribbled in red crayon, “Jesus died for me.” We are so precious in God’s eyes, that he sent Jesus Christ, to be a king’s ransom. His life in exchange for ours. He said fear not, I am with you. He sent Jesus to be with us, literally, to walk the earth, to smile and laugh, to eat and sleep, and to suffer and die, for us God’s precious children. He came to be with us right here, right where we are with our fear, right here with our troubles, and right here with our sins. And Jesus promises that he is always with us. “I am with you always to the very end of the age. Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am with you.” You see, it’s the same promise given to us that was given to the children of Israel.
Ok, so we are God’s precious children gathered, in his name, in his presence, to be reminded that we are precious to him. We all need to be reminded often that we are precious to God. Take advantage of what God offers you here in this place. Open your ears, hear the precious good news of Jesus proclaimed to you. Open your mouth, receive the body and blood of Jesus, the very same that hung on the cross for you. Open your heart, Jesus is here for you his precious child. Where Jesus is, in His Word and Sacraments, he comes with forgiveness. Your sin, all of it, is forgiven. You are so precious in God's sight he is provided everything you need to have your sins forgiven and live forever with him. You are precious to God, and he wants to remind you of that again and again.
The Lord says to all his people, “You are precious and honored in my sight, and … I love you.” Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen