Sunday, February 11, 2024

2 Kings 2:1–12; The Transfiguration of our Lord; February 11, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take away your master from over you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.” (2 Kings 2:1–12, ESV)
(From a Sermon by Glen Nielson, Winter 2012 Concordia Journal) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today is transfiguration. We have the picture of Jesus, Moses and Elijah standing together discussing Jesus’ work, especially what he was going to be doing for forgiveness through the cross.

The Old Testament reading is about Elijah, one of those having today’s discussion with Jesus. Elijah was really and amazing fellow. Some of things that God did through him are simply incredible. He lived about 850 years before Jesus. He had a 15 year ministry, before that we don’t know much about him. But his calling from God was to turn the people way from the worship of Baal.

We heard about the end of his ministry in our first reading today. Even that was incredible. There at the Jordan River Elijah gave his cloak and struck the water, it spread apart and they walked across just like the Children of Israel did with the Egyptians hot on their trail.

Earlier he was ministering in Israel. There was a drought and food was scarce. Elijah met a widow and her son that were starving. They had enough food for one more meal, then death. Elijah asked the woman to use all they had to make him a meal. She did. But God made a miracle. Elijah told her that her oil and flour wouldn’t run out.

Then the widow’s son, her only son died. She wasn’t very happy with Elijah. She blamed Elijah of bringing her sins to God’s attention. But what happened next was incredible. Elijah raised the boy from the dead. He had done one incredible miracle right after another. The widow believe that Elijah was great prophet of God.

Elijah’s biggest challenge came in his dealings with the king. Ahab was an evil king. His wife was even worse. Her name was Jezebel. She was a worshiper of the false gods Baal and Astroth. Ahab didn’t do anything to prevent her from setting up the false religion in Israel. She had hundreds of prophets for Baal and a bunch for Astroth.

God had Elijah challenge the prophets to a contest to see whose god was the true god. Elijah and the prophets (850 of them!) met on Mount Carmel. The test was simple. Build and altar, put wood and a sacrifice on it and pray. The God who lights the fire is the true god. The prophets of Baal started early in the morning and made a ruckus all day long, calling on Baal to light the fire. Elijah taunted them. “Shout louder, maybe he can’t hear you because he’s sleeping, or in the bathroom.” Nothing happened. Then it was Elijah’s turn. He rebuilt the altar, with the wood and his own sacrifice. He prayed, and immediately fire came down from heaven and burned the sacrifice, the wood, and the stones of the altar and left only a black charred spot on the ground. The God of Israel proved himself the only true God. Elijah took a sword and killed every one of those false prophets that day. Incredible.

Then came the end of Elijah’s ministry. Time to set his servant Elisha in his place. It was an incredible thing again. A fiery chariot came and took Elijah from the earth. He didn’t die. He was just scooped up and taken straight to heaven. The next time he was seen was standing on the mount of Transfiguration talking with Jesus.

Elijah was an incredible prophet who did incredible things. It seems like a long time ago, and very different from our day to day lives. It was a long time ago, 2900 years or so. Elijah’s life and ministry were incredible.

Our lives seem rather uneventful. Routine might even be the word. Children have to be taken to school, meals have to be set on the table. Food is plentiful for us, but we don’t often have the time to eat it. Not because things are incredible but because our lives are filled up with regular everyday things. Empty nesters have days that aren’t incredible but incredibly the same. Eat, clean, TV, errands. Apply, lather, rinse repeat. But sometimes out-of-the-ordinary things happen. A trip to see the grandkids. A concert. A mission fest at church. A surprise party. A night out. But the excitement fades back to the routine. It all flies by quickly and we are back to the same old same old routine again. Nothing like Elijah’s excitement. We are still talking about the incredible events of his life 2900 years later!

Elijah—incredible. You and me—uneventful.

Except… Elijah was more like you and I than we might know. If you push past all the excitement you find a man who was most often lonely and afraid. Are you surprised by that? You would think that after all God had done through him, after all that he had seen he would be strong and confident. He had his moments, like on Mount Carmel. But much of the time he was alone. After he had killed all the prophets on the mountain he had to run for his life. Even after God’s great showing he thought he was the only person faithful to the true God. Elijah the incredible prophet had moments of weakness and doubt. Now weakness and doubt I can relate to, how about you?

There’s a cartoon. In it a young girl is talking on her cell phone. She’s surrounded by her classmates. And yet she says, “I’m so glad you called, I’m so lonely.” That’s life today, isn’t it? We are lonely in a crowd. We’re busy connected by Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), Pintrest, TicTok, and Snapchat, but still alone in a crowd. We have so many ways to keep in touch but we are still lonely.

We are also afraid of many things. Most of them we can’t control. What are your greatest fears? Do they involve your children? Your health? Your job? Crime? Finances? Elijah was afraid. We are afraid.

Well, we are a bit like Elijah after all. He’s not quite so distant after all.

Back to the Transfiguration. Jesus is on the top of the mountain with his disciples and something incredible happens. Jesus changes. He is unbelievably, dazzlingly bright. Jesus’ glory, his divine nature, his God-ness shows out. He shows them clearly that he is in fact God-in-the-flesh. And Moses and Elijah appear. They talk with Jesus, but they aren’t the center of attention. Jesus is. God the Father speaks out of heaven, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” Moses and Elijah disappear and Jesus is left alone.

Jesus is the focus. Even when Elijah was doing all those incredible things all those years earlier it was the same. He did it all to show who the true God was. He did all that to bring people back to worship him. Elijah stands with Jesus to call our attention to him as the only true God. He was standing with Jesus, talking to him.

What were they talking about? Incredible things. Not the things that Elijah did, but the things that Jesus would soon be doing. Incredible things in Jerusalem. When Jesus comes down from the mountain, he heads straight for Jerusalem and the cross. He does those incredible things for you and me.

Jesus is alone when he does these things. The disciples start out with him but they fall asleep and flee like rats at the first sign of danger. Jesus will go to the cross alone. But there something incredible happens. Jesus takes our fears and loneliness. He takes our sins and our grief. He takes are moments of weakness. He holds them on the cross and takes them into his death. He makes them his sins instead of ours.

And then, as if that wasn’t incredible enough, something else happens. Jesus appears in glory again. Jesus’ grave is empty. He has risen from the dead. He is alive. And he promises to never leave us. It’s a bit like Elijah standing by Jesus. Jesus is always standing by us. He is ready to listen to all our troubles.

Yes, Jesus is standing beside us in all our uneventful, every day, dull moments. Errands, fast food, empty places at the dinner table and all. He standing with us when we have the same old, same old day we had before, and when something exciting happens. But most of all he’s standing with us in our loneliness and doubt. He with us in our fear and anger.

Now think again about Elijah. Even though he did some incredible things, I think he might tell us the most incredible of all was standing with Jesus on the Mount of the Transfiguration, talking to him about saving you and me through the cross. Elijah wouldn’t want us to focus on him, but rather “Listen to Jesus.” He would want us to focus on Jesus standing right beside us. He never leaves us, or forsakes us. That is very incredible indeed. Amen.

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

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Mark 1:29; Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; February 4, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” (Mark 1:29–39, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

You know, there’s a time in everyone’s life when they face suffering. When it happens to you, you don’t like it. Who would? The thing is that suffering is a regular and expected part of life. You know the old saying; “the only sure thing in life is death and taxes.” I think you can add suffering to that list. You know people who are suffering; I know people who are suffering. There are people suffering across the street, down the block, in the next town, state country and continent. You may be suffering yourself. You may be the only one who knows about it. But you should know that you are not alone. It is a constant in the universe. Suffering…

Think about that old testament guy, Job. He's a guy that knows suffering. He is deep in suffering. Disease has racked his body, the scabs, the worms, the sleepless nights, that’s suffering. Some of you have suffered like he is, as cancer has invaded your body, or pain from an unknown source, and the doctors scratch their heads, afraid to say what they don’t know. Afraid to admit they have no answers. Job wants his suffering to end, just like you and I want our suffering to end. But we suffer none-the-less, like Job.

You may have noticed that we’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark for the last several weeks. The Gospel of Mark, as a matter of fact, is going to be our emphasis for the whole year. Almost all of the Gospel readings will be from it. Notice one important thing about today’s Gospel, it’s still in chapter one. It all started back in December with Mark 1:1 and we are only at 1:29. We’ve already seen John the Baptist, Jesus tempted in the desert, Jesus calling some of his disciples, and Jesus casting out a demon. Mark keeps the pace going; in fact his favorite word is “immediately.”

Last week we heard about Jesus in church, casting a demon out of a possessed man. “Immediately,” Mark tells us, “Jesus goes to Peter’s house for dinner.” But, the problem is that Peter’s mother-in-law, the person who would be serving the meal is sick with a fever. It doesn’t stop Jesus, he tenderly takes her hand and she recovers. You know how you feel when the fever finally breaks? Well, she didn’t, she got up and served dinner as if she’d never been sick. News spread quickly that small town of Capernaum. By nightfall, the “whole town” has gathered outside of Peter’s doorway. They want to see this man who is doing these wonderful things. What’s more, the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town the sick and the well are standing at Peter’s door peering in at Jesus.

These are people just like you and me. Remember, suffering is a constant. They had friends with cancer, sons and daughters who were injured in accidents. There were women who had lost their husbands, and men who were divorced. These were people who saw the unknown looks in doctor’s eyes. They were human beings, just like Job, just like you and me, who had an intimate relationship with suffering. And just like us, they wanted their suffering to end. And that night at Peter’s house it seems that Jesus healed them all. Good for them.

They got what they were looking for. They knew where to go to be healed. And even Job eventually got what he wanted too. Job had a whole book of the bible of suffering. Nothing works out for him until the last six verses. So Job was healed, he didn’t have to suffer with the scabs and the worms, the people of Capernaum didn’t have to suffer because they went to Jesus. Jesus even took away the fever from Peter’s mother-in-law so that they wouldn’t have to go to someone else’s house to eat. It’s nice for all of them, but what about me, and what about you. We’ve come here today to see Jesus. We have faith in what he does for us, why do we have to keep suffering. Why are we lonely, and hurting?

I don’t know. God hasn’t given me a magic book, or visions in my dreams to make me able to tell you why you are suffering. I do know that suffering in the world is caused by sin. Sometimes we suffer because of specific sins we have done, sometimes we suffer because of the sins of other people. But, mainly we suffer because the world is broken. It isn’t the wonderful paradise that God created it to be. When human beings rejected God, and we are all guilty of rejecting God at one time or another, everything fell apart. The strongest sign of the brokenness of this world is suffering. Remember Job? In that whole book he never finds out why he is made to suffer. God doesn’t send him friends that have a magic knowledge of why his children died. The friends that come to Job just make his suffering worse. You’ve felt that too, when a friend offers suggestions at to why you are suffering. But the answer isn’t really there. Your question is “why?” and the truth is you may never know the answer.

I’d like to make a suggestion based on our text for today. The people of Capernaum looked for Jesus to help them with their suffering. And Job too, turns to God in his suffering. “Remember!” he says to God, “Remember me! I’m suffering and I can’t bear it any more.” That’s where we too should turn. “Remember me! Lord. I can’t live with this pain anymore.” Because that’s the truth, we can’t bear it, and there is nothing we can do. You see; sin will have its way with you. There is nothing you can do; pain, illness, and suffering are going to be a part of your life. What’s more, it will all eventually come to death. You can’t bear it. It is too much for you.

I’m also not going to tell you that if you have enough faith you can stand up and be strong in the face of your suffering. You see, God doesn’t require us to be strong; in fact he wants us to be weak and needing him.

We are all guilty of thinking that if we are just strong enough we’ll survive. We even say, “My faith will get me through.” When what we really mean is “I’ll get through with the strength of my faith.” But Faith isn’t strength. Faith is weakness. Faith isn’t turning into ourselves, or looking to something inside of us to get through. Faith is looking to God. It’s submitting to God. It’s Trusting in God. It’s Job saying, “Remember me!” It’s the crowd of people pushing toward Peter’s doorway, “Remember me!”

God never promises to always heal. The question isn’t “Why must I suffer?” The question is “Where is God in my suffering?” And that question I can answer. He is right there in the midst of it. God knows suffering. He understands suffering. He knows how you are suffering. When Job said, “Remember me!” When you say to God, “Remember me!” Jesus answers, “I remember. I know your suffering; I suffered just as you do. One dark night in Jerusalem, before I went to the cross, I was lonely, I was afraid of pain, and I was even afraid of death. And there on the cross I suffered for you. In that suffering I won the victory for you. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor 12:9) You don’t have to be strong. Just look to me, I remember you.”

There is more to what Jesus did for you than to be sympathetic to your suffering. His death is the remedy, the fix for the broken-ness of the world that is caused by sin. If it were only sympathy we’d be left to suffer for all eternity. But, Jesus lived and died to do more than that. He came to restore. He came to heal. It isn’t that we look to the suffering of Jesus on the cross and receive power to fix ourselves. The cross shows us that we can’t help ourselves at all. He remembers us. He dies for us. He suffers for our sin. Jesus suffering there is the only answer for those who know that they are dead without him.

You will have suffering all your life. God doesn’t want you to “buck up and be strong.” He doesn’t say to you, “If your faith were stronger you’d not have to suffer like this.” He wants you to take your suffering to the foot of the cross of Jesus. He wants you to take your weakness to the foot of the cross of Jesus. He wants you to shout to Jesus there, “Remember me!” Amen.

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

Saturday, February 03, 2024

Mark.1.21-28; Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, January 28, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Shut up!” Yea, that’s what I said, “Shut up!”

Well I’m only quoting Jesus in this passage. He tells this daemon to shut up! And he’s not using it the way kids use it these days, saying something like “That’s unbelievable.” He’s actually telling this guy to shut his face and stop talking. It seems rather rude. It doesn’t seem much like the Jesus we’ve been raised on; Jesus meek and mild; Jesus only loving never harsh; Jesus the ultimate metro-sexual.

It’s a bit like when Peter was rebuked by Jesus. You remember the account. Jesus asks the disciples “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples give a long list of prophets. Elijah, Moses, etc. Jesus then turns the question to the disciples. “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers for the whole group. And amazingly he answers the question correctly. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” “Blessed are you Peter, flesh and blood did not reveal this to you.” “Great job, Peter. You’ve got it right. What you are saying is a good thing. God has giving you a good word to say. This is good stuff! This is the faith that the church is gonna be built on.” Jesus then goes on to tell Peter what it means to be “The Christ.”

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21, ESV)

Now Peter reacts in a different way. He “rebukes” Jesus. “No way Lord. That’s not going to happen to you!”

“Shut up!” Jesus says. “Get behind me Satan. You don’t have in mind the things of God but the things of man. Shut up!”

These are powerful words from Jesus lips. He won’t let Satan speak. Satan whispers in Peter’s ear that Jesus doesn’t have to die. Things are going too well for that. And Peter is a good Satan listener and speaker. He speaks up for Satan. “Not this time Lord! No way Jesus! Not gonna happen. We’ve got too much at stake.”

“Shut up! Satan.”

Well, with that all in mind we need to look again at what our text for today says.

[Jesus] entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. (Mark 1:21b-22, ESV)

It is very important to know that Jesus is speaking “as one who had authority.” He’s in the church, he’s speaking with authority. What does that mean? Well, it means that Jesus taught without footnotes. He said things like “You have heard it said… but I say.” That’s not like the teachers of the day. The scribes taught by repeating the writings of other scribes. Their teaching was never original. They backed up what they said with lots of support. Jesus doesn’t. He speaks his own Word. Here’s an example:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:27-29, ESV)

The scribes would have qualified the sin. “It’s not adultery if you don’t look too long.” “Porn isn’t sinful, as long as it makes my sex life with my wife better.” God really wants’ me to be happy doesn’t he?” Jesus says “Shut up!” Adultery isn’t just activity. Adultery is in the heart. It is wanting what is not yours to have. It’s the breaking of promise you have made or promises you will make to your spouse. It’s replacing God’s Word with human words, Satan’s word.

Jesus speaks from God, because he is God. Jesus word is God’s Word. It has God’s full backing and authority. You can tell just from the way Jesus speaks it.

Ya, but… Isn’t this text just a bit different from all that? After all the daemon is speaking the truth, isn’t he? “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” Shouldn’t Jesus agree with him? Doesn’t Jesus agree? Isn’t a good thing to confess who Jesus is? Jesus shouldn’t have been so harsh, instead of “Shut up!” maybe something a bit less offensive.

Well, it is like the writer of Ecclesiastes says, there is…

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; (Ecclesiastes 3:7b, ESV)

It is interesting... Just because someone says "Jesus" doesn't mean they are telling the truth. Peter confessed "you are the Christ" he confesses from faith. The demon calls Jesus, "the holy one of God" from fear.

There are lots of preachers out there who claim to speak for Jesus. They say things like "Jesus wants you to be wealthy." What he really means is "Jesus wants ME to be wealthy." He speaks pretending to confess the true Jesus. Sometimes he even says true things about Jesus. But he speaks it for his own purposes.

The demon doesn't confess Jesus from faith but for his own purposes wanting to manipulate Jesus. He thought that if he used Jesus’ real name, he’d have power over him. He speaks Jesus full name and title; he wants to control Jesus and prevent Jesus from "destroying" him.

It’s a bit like the teenager who uses God’s name to validate the truthfulness of something. "I swear to God, Bob is gay!" Sometimes it is even used when they are lying.

And sometimes we use God's name to manipulate him. Instead of “Thy will be done.” Its “MY will be done.” This is the thinking of a lot of mainline Christianity “Ten things to say to make God do what you want him to do.” “If you use God’s name, He has to do what you want him to do.” It’s just like the demon. "Jesus won't dare rebuke/destroy me if I speak the truth about who he is and say his name." God cannot be manipulated.

It is Jesus who speaks with authority. He speaks the Word. In fact, He is the Word. St. John says:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1, ESV)

What Jesus says is always true. He does what he says he does. He has authority.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV)

And yet the demon speaks the truth. The words, “have you come to destroy us?” could also be translated as a statement. “You have come to destroy us!” It is the truth. Jesus speaks the same himself. He becomes a human to die on the cross and bring you and I forgiveness of sins. He doesn’t want us to listen to demons. He wants us to listen to him.

Jesus tells us we are forgiven. He says "I forgive you in the name of the Father..." These are Jesus’ words not the pastors. The words are spoken for him so that you hear them with your own ears. He uses a pastor’s voice. Through a person God delivers to you the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross. Even the poorest preacher on his worst day accurately reading and proclaiming Jesus death and resurrection has infinitely more power to change people lives than the most showy evangelist proclaiming work harder to change your life!

Jesus has given us pastors to speak for him, but he also speaks privately Christian to Christian. "I forgive you for hurting me." When we speak those words to someone who has hurt us, they are true... even when we don't feel forgiving. Our thoughts might be on payback, or anger, but forgiveness of Jesus isn’t based on our hearts but on Jesus’ Word and promise. If you find yourself saying something like “I’d like to forgive you, but I can’t right now.” Or “Someday I’ll be able to forgive you.” Jesus could say to you, “Shut up! The forgiveness I won for you on the cross is also for the one who has sinned against you. Speak my words of forgiveness to them. Then turn to me with your un-forgiving heart and receive forgiveness for that sin, too.” Real forgiveness comes from the cross, without any strings or demands or false words. This is what real forgiveness is.

I like proverbs:

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10, ESV)

The man isn't righteous because he earns it, he is righteous because God declares him to be righteous. The WORD says it is true. Offering forgiveness is a proper use of Jesus name. It is Jesus’ name spoken in faith, not fear. In Jesus name we are safe, forgiven, and able to forgive.

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

Mark 1:14-20; The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany; January 21, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
And Jesus said to them, “Follow me” (Mark 1:17a)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Follow me.” I wonder if the disciples knew what they were getting into. There were, of course, all the miracles. There were also the teachings that made them scratch their heads. And then there was the whole passion of Jesus. To follow Jesus wasn’t going to be easy. I’m sure they didn’t know.

This call of Jesus is very interesting. In those days, people who wanted to be disciples of any Rabbi, would come to them. In other words, the followers chose the teacher. But for Jesus, he calls his disciples. He chooses them. It is of the same fabric as God’s call has always been. God calls Abraham. God calls Elijah. God calls Jonah. God calls David. God calls Jesus’ disciples. God calls Paul. And, in fact, God calls you, just as he calls the whole church. From Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles Creed.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise up me and all the dead and will give eternal life to me and to all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

Luther emphasizes the call through the Holy Spirit. He links it to the Word, the Gospel. The disciples were called directly by the Word of God, Jesus himself. We are called through Jesus also, through his Gospel.

Luther carries it from St. Paul. He uses the word “called” frequently. Specifically, speaking about Christians.

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30, ESV)

Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.” (1 Corinthians 7:20, ESV)

Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.” (1 Corinthians 7:18, ESV)

including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:6, ESV)

And many more. When Paul uses this word, he implicitly means baptism. It is the time when God works to bring you faith and make you a part of Jesus Christ.

What then is the call of the Gospel? Simply to believe in what Jesus has done for you. That he was conceived and born of the Virgin. That he lived his life walking among us. That he did miracles. That he taught about himself. That he was arrested and crucified. That he rose again from death. The call of the Gospel is to believe that he did all this, and that he did it for you. And since you now belong to him, he gives you the forgiveness he won by his life, death, and resurrection. Simply put the call of the Gospel is to believe that Jesus lived and died for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.

Was that call different from the disciples call “follow me”? Decidedly not. To believe that Jesus forgives your sins and that he has made you his own, is to follow him. They left their nets immediately, St. Mark says. But they didn’t yet understand what it meant.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34–39, ESV)

The disciples would take up their crosses and follow Jesus. They all died brutal deaths . When you follow Jesus, when you received and believe the call of the Gospel, you make a horrible enemy of Satan, the World, and your own sinful flesh. That struggle is what Jesus means when he says take up your cross.

It is far from peace to struggle against Satan. He is a powerful enemy. He is out to kill you and send you to hell. He knows what he is doing, not because he is all powerful, but because he has seen all struggle in human beings, and he knows what works.

Peter says it in his first epistle:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:8–9, ESV)

Notice how St. Peter says to resist, “firm in your faith.” In other words, lean on your calling. Trust in Jesus all the more.

It is far from peace to struggle with the world. This struggle is filled with hate.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18, ESV)

Why does it hate us so much? Because the world doesn’t want salvation by Jesus. It doesn’t want to live under accountability to God’s law. So, they strike out against the sheep of the shepherd.

Earlier in John, Jesus says this,

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27–29, ESV)

Through your calling, you are his sheep. You hear his voice, his calling. Jesus gives eternal life, no one in the world, or out of the world, will be able to snatch you out of his hand.

It is far from peace to struggle with your own sinful human nature. This is the most difficult. It is a struggle that comes from within. When you were called by the Gospel, your sins were forgiven. You were declared by God to be without sin. Your sinful nature wants to sin, and it wants to justify itself. The struggle against sin is a daily one, hourly one, minute by minute even. But you have the trump card. You are called by the Gospel. You are baptized.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4–7, ESV)

God poured out the call upon you. You were collected into eternal life. Even your sinful flesh falls to such a call. Use this in your struggle against your sinful nature. Say “but I am baptized, that is not how a follower of Jesus would act.”

And when you fail, and you will, often. Remember what Jesus said,

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”” (Revelation 21:5, ESV)

He is making all things new. Continually recreating you in his image. Continually, forming you though the Holy Spirit. You are called, you have received that call. Jesus died for your sin on the cross.

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11, ESV)

So, I leave you with Paul, who describes what it looks like to follow Jesus, according to his call.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:1–7, ESV)


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

1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20); The Second Sunday after the Epiphany;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. And the LORD called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”” (1 Samuel 3:1–10, ESV)
Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Eli had two sons. They were priests and they were wicked men. They abused their power, extorted the people, and made a mockery of God (the text says “blaspheming God”). This needs to be understood to come to an understanding of what the text is saying. Context, context, context. It seems the people who defined the pericope (pericope is a Greek word that means to cut out) took the word to heart and cut out all the context in favor of the line “Speak, for your servant hears.” But what the excised is what the Lord says and the context of Eli’s sons.

So, Samuel becomes a prophet, and this is the account of him coming to hear the Lord’s word. God was going to call him to a difficult task. “The Word of the Lord was rare in those days.” What that means is that God had not chosen a prophet for some time. We often get the idea that miracles and God’s Word were everywhere in Old Testament times. But this text shows us that it was not. There were times when life went on without God appearing in that way. And this was one of those periods of time. Samuel was dedicated to serve in the temple by his mother, Hannah, in response to God answering her prayer to give her a son. And Samuel was serving Eli, the chief priest, in the temple. Eli was getting old, and his eyesight was failing. In the evening “before the lamp of God had gone out.” Samuel and Eli had gone to bed. Samuel heard a voice call to him. He naturally suspected that it was Eli calling. So, he went to his master and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Eli said he didn’t call and sent him back to bed. It happened two more times before Eli realized what was happening. Apparently, his blindness wasn’t only in his eyes. He told the boy, “Next time you hear it say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.’” And Samuel went back to bed.

“And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’”

Did you notice that the first two times I read the text? “The Lord came and stood.” In other words, God came in a physical presence before Samuel. He spoke directly to him. He said his name.

This only seems unusual because we have this idea that God was physically far removed from the people of the Old Testament. But when God appeared it was often in a physical form. Many of the books of the prophets begin with “The Word of the Lord came to…” And some to the time, at least, as we read on, we find it was a physical presence. That is the case here, as God, physically appears to Samuel to deliver a message. What was the message?

This is why I think the folks who set up the pericope cut it off after Samuel’s response, “Speak, for your servant hears.” You see, it is bad news.

Then the LORD said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” And Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the LORD. Let him do what seems good to him.” And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD.” (1 Samuel 3:11–20, ESV)

It was about Eli’s wicked sons, and Eli himself for not restraining them. Because they had all made a mockery of Service to the Lord, the whole family would be totally wiped out. It was not just the sins of the sons, but the sins of the father who spoiled them and allowed them to do the evil things they were doing. And then the text tells us what it is all about.

And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD.

In other words, God established Sammuel as a prophet of God’s own Word. And thus, the Word of the Lord was no longer rare.

So, is this text telling you what to do when your toddler comes to you in the night wanting a drink of water? It is an interesting idea, “Go back to bed and when you hear the voice again, say ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” I don’t think that’s going to work. Instead, we look to the book of Hebrews.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV)

This is one of the various ways and times that God spoke to a prophet, and then to the people “long ago.”

“But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

“God told me that…” Is a phrase you hear in modern Christianity, if not normally in our circles. What is meant is something like what happened to Samuel. “God spoke directly to me, and you can’t disagree because it is God’s desire.”

Well, the truth is, grounded in Hebrews 1:1, God doesn’t work that way anymore.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.

During his ministry one of the things Jesus did was firmly establish the Hebrew scriptures as God’s Word. We have recorded at least seven times that he quoted the Old Testament directly, with many more allusions to it in his teaching, preaching, and confrontations. And on the road to Emmus he taught the disciples that the Hebrew Scriptures were about him.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27, ESV)

Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”” (Luke 24:44, ESV)

And the New Testament is established by Jesus as God’s Word also. In the Gospel of John, he tells his disciples,

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26, ESV)

So, the whole bible is God’s Word, Jesus’ word. It is everything we need to know to gain our salvation. And we shouldn’t expect anything else.

The first objection you will often hear when you say God speaks today only through his Word, is that you are limiting God. I am not limiting God; God is limiting himself. God works objectively, from outside of us. That is people are saved by hearing the Good News about Jesus spoken to them. Everything Jesus did he did in history, outside of human beings, objectively. God’s Word is outside of us written on the page. It is the only source of faith and life for the church, objectively. It is outside of us, and verifiable.

The problem with “God spoke to me” is that it is subjective. It is inside of me. It is unverifiable. It is not the way God has chosen to work. The first thing you ask a person who has said “God said to me” is “Book, Chapter and Verse.” In other words, if what is said agrees with scripture we can agree. If not, we must reject it. We should expect no new revelation. Everything that is revealed has already been revealed in the Scriptures. Holy Scriptures are the only norm for faith and life in the Church.

God works “extra nos” outside of you. He did it most importantly through sending his son. Jesus became a complete human person. His life, death and resurrection are done for you outside of you. It is true that the Holy Spirit indwells Christians. Luther describes what he does in his explanation of the Apostles Creed.

But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

Calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies. All these are outside of us also. He calls through the Gospel. He gathers us in the Church. He helps us to understand what scripture means when we hear it. And he makes us holy through faith in what Jesus has done. He doesn’t defy God’s Word; he fully agrees with it. It is just as the Word says,

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17, ESV)

There is great comfort in our faith being founded on what is extra nos. What is inside of us is sinful. Jesus said,

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19, ESV)

Without the work of the Holy Spirit through the hearing of God external Word, these would reign in our lives.

God provides the truth of it all from outside of us. He provides Holy Baptism water poured over you with God’s Word, to give faith in Jesus. He provides the church, where we gather with other Christians to consol and comfort one another, especially around hearing the Word of Christ. In the church, he provides the word spoken into your ears to strengthen your faith. He provides the Lord’s Supper to pour into you the forgiveness Jesus won at the cross.

Christianity is extra nos. It comes to us from outside of us in the form of God’s Word written by prophets and apostles. It is not subject to the whims of society, as many churches claim. It is not subject to the evil that resides in the human heart. It is not subject to the feelings and desires of preachers. It is testable and sure. Doctrine can be and should be frequently tested against the Word itself.

Christianity is the only religion in the world that is extra nos, verifiable. Jesus Christ, the Son of God did come into the world on a cold winter’s night, born of a virgin. He did walk and preach on the dusty roads of Palestine. He did suffer under Pontius Pilate was crucified, dead and buried. He rose from death again. And he is coming again to judge the living and the dead. He did all of this for your salvation, for the forgiveness of your sins. He did it to bring you to himself to live with him forever. If he didn’t our faith is in vain. But it isn’t in vain. We have God’s sure Word, written on a page. Amen.

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

Matthew 2:1-12; The Festival of the Epiphany; January 7, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “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.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “ ‘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.’ ” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And 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.” After 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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And 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. And 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.

Now this seems quite unlikely. What in the world would bring these rich men across the dangerous roads of the middle east to visit a baby, even if he is the King of the Jews? Not to mention that they are pagan magicians, astrologers. There is no indication that they are believers in YHWH, the God of the Jews. Yet they come guided by only a star. There had been no natal announcement from the current occupant of the throne in Jerusalem. And in fact, when they arrive, Harod is totally surprised and must ask his chief priest and scribes about it. The gifts they bring are not a trifle. Gold, Frankincense and Myrr. All rare and expensive. Herod lies about it, and sends them on their way to

And [Herod] 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.”” (Matthew 2:8, ESV)

And the star reappears and hovers over the house where the baby is staying. They give their gifts and return home by an alternate route.

And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” (Matthew 2:12, ESV)

Of course, the Magi weren’t kings, despite the popular hymn, “We Three Kings.” In so many ways, it seems just too much.

So, did it really happen? Is the account accurate?

Well, given there is no proof external to Scripture, yes, it did happen, and the account is fully accurate. We who believe in the inerrancy of God’s Word must take it so.

There are several things I’d like to point out. Firstly, the effect of the Israelites in captivity in Babylon, namely, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Do you believe that their public witness to the reality of YHWH, the God of Israel went unnoticed? After Daniel was retrieved from the lions den unharmed, King Darius made a decree.

I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end.” (Daniel 6:26, ESV)

And Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the same. After they were retrieved from the furnace,

Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.”” (Daniel 3:29, ESV)

And those who accused Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego met with the fate they desired for them. Oh, and their accusers were likely predecessors of the Magi.

So, is it any wonder that Magi, from the East, whose predecessors had seen God at work, would hold YHWH, the God of Israel, in high regard and seek to honor the newborn king. Not to mention that the Magi were known for studying text from all religions. These kinds of trips by foreign dignitaries were common in the ancient world.

And even more important, when God breaks into the world in human flesh, what kinds of things would you expect to see? Given John’s statement 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)

Would it be strange to say, that many similar things happened that are not written, when Jesus, the Son of God became flesh?

So, what is important about this account? The Magi were pagan, worshipers of many gods. The things they practiced in were not always God pleasing. And yet, through the miracle of a star (in my opinion likely an angel, its actions belie a natural explanation, and angels are also called stars in other places in scripture), God summoned them to recognize Jesus as the King of the Jews. And even more than that. The fact that Matthew tells us they “Worshiped” him, tells us that they saw him as more than an earthly king.

God in the Flesh, Jesus Christ, born in the manger, visited by Magi a year later in a house, was sent for all people, not just the Jews.

The baby in the manger would do many miraculous things. Most important of which, was his death on the cross for sinners. He was born only for sinners in fact. He came for all sinners. The visit of the magi bears this out. God directed them to Jesus as the means of their salvation from sin and they worshipped him. It shows us that Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose again for sinners such as you and me.

Jesus isn’t only the king and savior of the Jews; he is the world’s savior. He died for pagans, magi, Jews, Chinese, Americans, Republicans and Democrats, for all. He provides the only way of salvation for all sinners, through faith in him and all that he has done.

So, we revel in this true account of Magi visiting the baby and bringing him gifts and worshipping him. (Even without external collaboration). It shows us very clearly who Jesus is. It shows us God’s plan for salvation includes pagan Magi from the East, and sinners like you and me.

Epiphany, when we recognize Magi from the East, who came to visit Jesus Christ, has been called Gentile Christmas. We rejoice in God’s plan of salvation that included us, gentiles as objects of God’s love. We rejoice in Jesus, King of the Jews, and Savior of the whole world. Amen.

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

Luke 2:22-35; First Sunday after Christmas; December 31, 2023;

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 a 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 crowded 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 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 sacrificed 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 beegesus 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 newborn. 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 every day 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 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 at 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.

John 1:1-14; Christmas Day; December 25, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marias, MN
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1–14, ESV)
(From a devotion by Ed Grimenstein)

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

It is Christmas morning. From last night to today we have gone from the dark candlelight of Christmas Eve, celebrating the newborn babe in the manger, to the brightness of Christmas morning. Last night we stood around the manger in awe that to you a child is born who is Christ the Lord. Born in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This morning we are left to ponder what it means that God the Word who created all things has become flesh to dwell among us.

How is it exactly a word becomes flesh, anyway? We don’t usually think of words as physical things. We think of them as ideas or symbols. A word is something that is said, it forms on the lips and the tongue and is projected through the air. It is heard by other people and interpreted. It isn’t something hard and fleshly, but ideas and thoughts. And yet here John’s Gospel says that The Word becomes flesh. And it says that this Word was the author of creation and life. God spoke the universe into existence by the power of this Word. And this Word is now a baby lying in a manger.

I think the text from Hebrews this morning helps fill in what’s going on. Listen again:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV)

The Word that created the world is the 2nd person of the Trinity, the Son, Jesus Christ born in the flesh in the manger. Long ago, and bit by bit (a more literal translation), God spoke to people through his prophets. But the relationship was one of distance and separation. He spoke of his promises to remove the distance and separation, to set right again everything that was broken by sin. God doesn’t want to speak in a long-distance relationship forever. He wants to be very close to his creation and his creatures. He doesn’t want his words just floating in the air. So God becomes flesh and dwells among us. God’s Word actually walks on the ground, touches the sick, opens blind eyes, weeps at death, and speaks life back into dead friends. The Word become flesh speaks a final word at the cross, “It is finished!” The Word become flesh also becomes sin.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

Jesus on the cross is God’s Word of promise fulfilled. God’s sacrifice for sinners. God speaking forgiveness into human sin. God doesn’t just become flesh to be close and have a conversation over coffee. He becomes flesh, one of us, so that he can pay for our sins through his death on the cross and restore our relationship to God.

And the Word become flesh is still present here with us. The Word made flesh is presented every time we gather in his name and hear the Word of God read. He is present every day as his baptized children live out their calling in the world according that Word. He is present as he speaks the wonderful Good News of forgiveness of sins through a simple, sinful pastor. Jesus is still coming to you to heal, and to forgive, just as he came in the womb of Mary. Jesus wants to be near you, not just words in your ear, but in your heart and life, as you live every day holding on the promises God has made to you in Holy Baptism.

God’s Word becomes flesh every time a pastor speaks the wonderful word of release to you, the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus on the cross. God’s Word becomes flesh every time water is splashed on a sinners head and he becomes God’s own child, given God’s very name. The Word becomes flesh every time a believer receives forgiveness through the very physical body and blood of Jesus, in, with and under the bread and wine in Jesus’ supper. And God’s Word becomes flesh as Christians faithfully live out their vocations every day. Bakers baking bread, teachers teaching, farmers farming, parents parenting, mechanics mechanic-ing and grandparents spoiling their grandchildren.

Jesus is God’s Word made flesh. He is touchable, God with us, Immanuel. He comes to us in Word and Sacrament, he comes to us and through us to the world to tell the Good News of the love of God and the forgiveness offered through, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Matthew 1:18-25; December 24, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. ” (Matthew 1:18–25, ESV)
(Thanks to Paul Robinson, Concordia Journal, Volume 36, Number 4, Page 365-366)

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

Are you afraid of angels? Well, maybe you should be. After all over the past few weeks we’ve heard about angelic visits in the accounts in the bible leading up to Christmas and they all seem to elicit the same response. The first thing the angels say is “Fear not!” Just look at what happens to people when angels speak to them. The Magi traveled great distance. Young Mary would have a very special baby. Joseph was told to go ahead and take Mary as his wife in spite of how the local town’s folk’s tongues would wag. When angels speak peoples lives are turned upside down. When angels speak, important God events, life changing events happen. We should be afraid, especially since we so often value the world’s stuff rather than God’s. We should be afraid because we bask in the glow of technology, security, and the honor and praise of today’s society.

Just look at Joseph again. He decided to save his reputation and divorce Mary quietly. It was the right thing to do. It would save him the embarrassment from those who would count months. But there’s more. Joseph was also very concerned for Mary. A public accusation would lead to more than public embarrassment for her it was more than a matter of loss of honor, but likely a loss of her life. The quite divorce would allow her to flee to another place where the child could be born in secret. But this isn’t what God had planned. The angel’s words to Joseph turned his life upside down. He was told that there was more going on here than meets the eye. He was to marry his betrothed just as he had planned, but not just for her sake, or his, but because it was all part of God’s plans to save the world. This child, unique in every way, is more than a human being. He is God himself, Immanuel, God-with-us, born to save God’s people from their sins.

Joseph took the angel’s words to heart. But that didn’t make things easy. How did he explain the baby to his friends and family? We don’t know. The marriage didn’t end his troubles either. They were required to travel to Bethlehem when Mary was far along in her pregnancy; a crowed town that afforded no shelter for his family; and a nighttime flight to Egypt to protect the child from the murderous King Herod. The announcement by the angel was just the beginning.

All of this trouble points to the whole purpose Jesus is born. It all points to the cross. Martin Luther says the text here is the creed. “…conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary…” and soon after follows the cross. “For as soon as the Christian life is begun or anything else of Christ, the next thing, the cross, is at hand.” (WA 27:475-76)

In our lives the cross is always at hand. We see it very clearly at this time of year. The season of joy is often interrupted by trouble. We let our focus shift from Jesus born for our forgiveness, to what we are told is much more important; success; comfort; money; things. These can never satisfy. They leave only the desire for more. The season of joy is often interrupted by sorrow and loss. The empty place at the table, the missing loved one, weather it is the first year or the tenth, is highlighted by the season. Fake joy doesn’t fill the emptiness. The season of joy is often interrupted by uncertainty. Every year it seems that the true God, found in Jesus Christ alone, is more and more sidelined. How long until we are forced to choose him or our way of life?

But just like Joseph we have the word of God in the midst of all this trouble, sorrow, and doubt. The words spoken by the angel to Joseph were not only for him. It is good news for all people. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”

This promise, God-with-us, stands even today, even as the Christmas season brings fear, pain, trouble, doubt and loss. It stands because God-with-us is God himself come to deliver us from the cause of it all. Jesus Christ, “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried.” Again Luther makes it plain:

What does this mean?

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord,

who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death,

that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness,

just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

This is most certainly true.

It is because of cross and Jesus death there for the forgiveness of our sin, that this season is really a season of joy. Forgiveness sets us right with God. Forgiveness sets us right with each other. And forgiveness is what the angel is telling Joseph is about to come. This is the real reason for the season. This is the real joy. Amen.

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