Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 30, 2011 - The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany - St. Matthew 8:23-27

I'm not sure what sort of help the disciples were expecting from Jesus. It must have been a pretty bad storm to scare these fisherman. Maybe they thought He'd help row or grab a bucket and start bailing. What they apparently didn't expect is for Jesus to stand up and tell the wind and the waves to quiet down! “Who can this be that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” And that's the question. Who can this be? It's the question every person has to come to grips with. When you consider what is most important and central to the Christian faith it's really the man this question is talking about. So who is He? Jesus answers their cry for help by saying, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Faith is all about the answer to this question. Who is this man? Who is this Jesus? The answer matters. It matters for us who believe. It matters for a world that refuses to hear it. Who can this be that even the winds and the sea obey Him?

Who can this be? Well for starters, He's the One who can stand up in a boat and tell the winds and the waves to be silent. The only One who can do that is the One who created them in the first place. Ever notice that when a hurricane approaches the coast we can't stop it. Or a tornado or some other disaster. But here is Jesus standing in the boat telling the wind and waves to pipe down. This power right there tells us that this Jesus, whatever else He is, is the Lord of creation. He is true God who made all things. Jesus is God. When we talk about God, we should be talking about Jesus. Of course we also confess the Father and the Spirit and the teaching of the One in Three and Three in One. But right here, on the Sea of Galilee, God the Son who is in the flesh is the One stilling this storm. This sets our faith apart from the rest of the religions of the world. Understand that. To confess that Jesus Himself is God is to deny everyone's opinion who thinks that Jesus is just some good teacher or religious prophet like Buddha or Mohamed. No, Jesus is not just a man. He is God Himself stilling the storm.

Who can this be? Notice that God doesn't speak from heaven to stop this storm. The Lord is standing in a boat. Which reminds us that this God is also a man too. Jesus is God. Jesus is man. And as if the fact that the God who made everything is standing in a boat is not amazing enough, the reason why He is there is truly astounding. He's there to save them. Despite their unbelief, He stands up and calms the storm. He doesn't say, “Look guys, I'm God and I'm really tired. Can you just go bail the boat out yourselves?” He doesn't do that. He DOES call them on their unbelief and then does what He does because He's their Savior. He saves them. And not just from the assault of some waves and wind. He's there in the flesh in the first place to save them from the assaults of sin, devil, death and hell. Jesus saves because He's a Savior, not just from storms but from everlasting death. That's why He's there in the flesh. So He can bear our sins and carry them to the cross. On Calvary is the Lord's reply to the cry, “We are perishing.” He goes for us. He sinks down into the depths of our sin and death and destroys then. Who can this be? It's the God in the flesh who saves sinners by being the sacrifice for their sin.

Who can this be? This is the God-man who doesn't just take the hit for us. He's the God-man who stops the storm. Quiets the wind. Calms the sea. Of sin. Of death. Of judgment. He does it by His resurrection which declares to the world: the power of sin and death are over. Done with. Paid for. Conquered. Overcome. Taken care of. There's something even greater than, “Who can this be whom even the wind and waves obey?” It's, “Who can this be who was dead and is now alive?” THAT is the heart and center of our faith as Christians: that Jesus isn't dead but alive. Who can this be? It's the One person who has died and come back to life on His own. Even unbelievers acknowledge the fact that that tomb was empty on Easter. But why? Because the One who lay dead in it is alive. Calming storms has got nothing on stopping death in its tracks. For that is what the Lord did. He rose to show that sin and death are taken care of. Who can this be? It's the God in the flesh who has calmed even the storms of sin and death and hell.

Who can this be that even the wind and the sea obey Him? I'll tell you: It's the same Savior who calms the storms of your life and delivers you through them all. There is nothing in your life so bad, not even death itself, that can destroy you. You are God's child in Christ. On the day of your baptism, the Lord spoke to calm the storms that threatened to sink you. When sin lashes out at you with hurricane force to drive your troubled conscience to unbelief and despair, your Lord speaks the calming Word of Absolution. When the things of this world come at you and threaten to sink your boat, Jesus isn't in the back sleeping. He's here in His church standing among us with His Body and Blood to speak to the things that would harm us and drive them away. Think of all the disasters and difficulties you have faced and how the Lord has brought you through them all. Even when it seems as if He's asleep, He is with you by His Word and Sacraments to give you forgiveness, life and salvation. Who can this be? It's the God in the flesh who calms even the storms that threaten to swamp you and drown you.

The disciples surely weren't expecting Jesus to stand up and make the storm stop with just a word. Then again, we would never have expected God Himself to become man in order to suffer and die for us. Or to rise from the dead. Or to save and forgive us all. Who can this be? As the Gospels go on we find out. This is not just the One who can stop a storm with a word. This is the One who is God with us in the flesh. Who gives Himself as the payment for our sins. Who rises from the dead. Who washes and feeds us. The Savior of sinners. The Calmer of storms. The Lamb of God. Confess that, dear Christians, for that is your comfort and peace. He is your comfort and peace. Never doubt the answer to that question, Who can this be? It's Jesus. True God. True man. All Savior. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January 26, 2011 - Wednesday of Epiphany 3 - 2 Kings 5:1-15

Naaman asks a pretty good question, “Aren't the rivers back home in Syria better than the Jordan River?” Seriously? Dip in the Jordan River? The backwater of some rinky dink little kingdom? To all appearances, the Jordan River's got nothing on the mighty rivers of Naaman's own country. To all appearances, a little splash of water in baptism doesn't seem to have anything on the great spiritual experiences people seem to have. Hearing God or some agonizing feelings of conversion or some peaceful feeling that makes you think God must love you: that's what people are looking for. There are so many strange and powerful experiences people have regarding religion that it doesn't seem like Baptism is really a big deal at all. But here's the thing. The Lord did not tell Naaman to dip in the waters of his home rivers to get rid of his leprosy. He told him to dip in the Jordan River. And He doesn't tell us to go looking for Him in some strange experience or burst of feelings. He tells us that being washed with water and the Spirit is what makes us a new creation and takes our sins away. In other words, the big deal isn't what LOOKS like the big deal. The big deal is the the thing to which the Lord attaches His Word and promise.

The devil always wants to lead us to look for God in our experiences and feelings rather than where His Word promises Him to be for us. That's the religion that Naaman starts with. “I thought he would come out and call on the name of his God and wave his hand over my leprosy.” Yeah, Naaman, that's how they do it on TV. That's what the devil wants us to look for. Something flashy. Or fancy. Or that looks spiritual or religious or miraculous. People love to “experience the Holy Spirit” or get wrapped up in strange History-channel religious puzzles or have some sort of dream or vision and think, “This must be God doing it.” Even if we don't go to those extremes there is still the temptation for us to try to figure God out from the way things are going in our lives. Something good happens and we cry, “God is good!” Something bad happens and we wonder, “Where was God?” But the Lord rescues us from all that sort of thinking by giving us His Word so that we can be certain where He is and what He is up to.

We know from today's Gospel reading that what Jesus says happens. He told the centurion his servant was healed and so the man was healed. When Naaman is told to dip in the Jordan, the Jordan washes away Christ's Word does what it says. But since Christ is Himself the Word made flesh what Jesus says and does is so. Make sense? If Jesus says it, it happens. If He does it, it is accomplished. Naaman would be surprised again. The world doesn't get it. Instead of a powerful shining in glory God who makes sure everyone knows He's God, Jesus is arrested, beaten, tortured, crucified. Doesn't look like God there does He? He doesn't look much like God when His corpse is being taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb. Aren't the rivers of Damascus better? Isn't some good feeling in my heart better? Nope. God dead on a cross. That's what takes away your sins. That's where God saves you. That's where He's most God, when He looks least of all like God and is doing everything for you. That's not the kind of religion Naaman believes in. It's not the kind of religion we'd go for either.

But pay close attention to Naaman. He walks into the water of the Jordan an unbeliever and comes out a believer. That water and Word and promise of God turn Him from one who denies God's truth to one who receives and believes it. He goes in an unbeliever and a leper and comes out a clean-skinned believer. He goes in as an enemy of God and comes out as one of the faithful of Israel. That is the power of God's Word and the water. It's the same power that works when a person is splashed with water and God's Word at the holy font. We bring an unbelieving baby who is stained with the leprosy of sin and they come away healed, forgiven, a child of God. That's what God's Word says happens. It doesn't look like anything fancy. The baby or person doesn't look any different after than before, other than being wet. But what is not seen is what God's Word says: a new name, a new creation, forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil and eternal salvation! Now what does Naaman say? “There's no other God than the one in Israel!” The Lord did that. With His Word.

Your life will be filled with good and pleasant things that may tempt you to conclude that God loves you and is happy with you. Your life will also have its share of troubles and awful things that the devil will use to persuade you that you are doomed and God is against you. The devil will stop at nothing to try to convince you from your experiences or feelings something other than God wants you to know and believe. So learn from Naaman that there is nothing more solid than Christ's Word which does what it says. It can take a river like the Jordan and turn it into a leprosy-erasing bath. So learn from the centurion's servant that when Jesus speaks a thing, it is what it says it is and it gives what He says it gives. Thus you will be freed from trying to “read God” in the experiences and feelings of your life to trusting in Him surely and certainly by the promises He gives in the word and water of Baptism, the words of Holy Absolution and the Words of Institution of His Supper. For those words all say that you have the forgiveness of sins for His sake. That you are a child of God in Christ. That you are a new creation by His Word. That you have eternal life and a God who loves you, no matter what's going on around you. Jesus says it and that makes it so. For you to be certain! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23, 2011 - The Third Sunday after the Epiphany - St. Matthew 8:1-13

It's funny how we deal with authority. When we're under authority, we don't like it. Yet when we have authority, we like to make sure others know it. Take parents for instance. When our kids challenge us, we give the time-tested answer: “Because I said so.” That is, we expect children to listen to us just because we're their parents and we have authority. But then consider when your boss tells you to do something you don't like or you get pulled over for speeding. When authority is over us, then we don't like it. We expect others to honor OUR authority but we chafe when someone tells US what to do. It happens this way in our marriages, in our families, in our jobs, in society. We want others to do things our way but we don't want to be told how to do anything.

When Jesus heard the centurion, He said, “I have not found such faith in Israel!” What does that mean? “Such faith.” Well, the centurion knew his place. He knew he was under authority and he had authority. There's no ignoring authority in the Roman army! If the centurion's superior told him to do something, he did it. If he told his troops to do something they did it. No fooling around there. In the Roman legions, you obey authority or you're in trouble. And because he understood this sort of authority, he understood that Jesus was under authority too. The centurion is under no illusions that he is worthy of Jesus coming under his roof. Worthiness doesn't enter into it. He doesn't ask Jesus to heal his servant because he deserves it. He asks him to heal the servant because Jesus is under authority. The authority of the Father. The Son of God did not come into this world because He liked what He saw. He didn't come because He thought we were worth saving. Look at this world: everyone for themselves. No, the Son of God came into the world because He is under authority. The Father's authority which sends Him to save sinners. Jesus comes because His Father has sent Him. And He fulfills that calling and work faithfully and without fail.

This is good news! Good news for sinners! It means there is no sin so large, so horrible, so wicked, so awful, that the Son of God can say, “Well that's it. I'm out. Not gonna do it.” He obeys His Father and comes to stand with sinners. To shed His blood for sinners. To die on the cross for sinners. To rise for sinners. Whoever said, “Lord, please come and save us?” “Lord, we are your people. We deserve for you to come and die for us. You owe us, Lord.” That's not faith. Faith doesn't say, “Well I'm not the world's worst person, so I guess the Lord can love me.” Faith doesn't say, “There must be something in us God loves enough to cause Him to send His Son. There must be something worthwhile in me.” Nope. Faith clings to Jesus' obedience. “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Lord, I am not worthy of anything. My sins condemn me. But you are under authority. The Father sent you. You obeyed Him and therefore I am saved.” Faith clings to what Jesus does and that rescues us from the devil's game of trying to show us that we're not worthy. When the devil comes and says, “No way you can be a child of God,” you just answer and say, “Duh. No surprise there. But I am because Jesus is under authority and He obeyed the Father and saved me from you and your lies.” Jesus comes to saves sinners on the authority of His Father and that is as solid and sure a foundation as you can get!

Notice how the faith of this centurion operates. He doesn't trust in His own worthiness. He doesn't trust in Jesus feeling up to it. He simply clings to the promise that Jesus is under authority and therefore His Word will have authority. Let that be the lesson for our faith! On the one hand, don't have the thought in the back of your mind that you're living a good enough life for God to do anything for you and that what you have is what you deserve. On the other hand, don't tie God to your feelings as if when you're down and out then God can't or doesn't love you. Rather, cling to the WORD. The authority of that Word that Christ demonstrates. Know that Christ has taken away your sins no matter how big or small and has made you a child of God. This is why the means of grace, the Word and Sacraments, are so important. They aren't just churchy things we see done. They are the very way in which Christ speaks to us to heal us and forgive us. When Christ's Word declares that centurion's servant healed, then the servant is healed. Because Jesus says so. When you are baptized, your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life. Because Christ's Word says so. When the Words of Holy Absolution are spoken your sins are forgiven. Because Christ's Word says so. When you eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus, you will be raised up on the Last Day. Because Christ says so.

So what does that mean for us authority-hating and authority-abusing types? It means this: Just because we say something, doesn't make it so. People under our authority may or may not obey. When we are told to do something, we may fall into the sin of disobedience. But when pastor speaks with the authority of Christ and declares your sins forgiven, they are. Because that's Christ's Word. He has to forgive you because He's under authority. He can't get out of it! But then, with such forgiveness, you pass that forgiveness to those around you. You can declare to another person that you forgive them. Not by YOUR authority but by Christ's. What is most sure, most certain is not whether we FEEL forgiven or not but that Christ's Word declares it to be so. What is most sure isn't whether we deserve anything from God but that He gives us all things through His Son. What is most sure isn't whether we can figure out what God is thinking somehow. We know in and through Jesus Christ. He stands under the authority of the Father and has saved us and given us everlasting life.

It would be great if everyone would do what they're told. If we could give orders that got followed and we could take orders without making a fuss. But our sinful natures rebel. But Christ came under orders, under authority, to save us. He comes with all the authority of being True God and true man so that no one can cancel out or contradict His Word. With the very Words of God Himself, Christ speaks forgiveness, life and salvation. He goes to death by the orders of His Father and accomplishes your salvation. The centurion knew this and so he knew Jesus would heal his servant. That same faith is yours, which clings to a Jesus who does what He says: gives you forgiveness and life. Orders in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 20, 2011 - Funeral Sermon for Mary Mydler - St. John 11:17-27

Dear Roy and Alan, Wade and Jane, Royce and Char, Amy and Marcus, Kathy, Nancy, Karen and Andy—all of Mary's family and friends: Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

It was Good Friday. I got a call that Mary was in the hospital. Bad case of strep throat. But it wasn't. It was leukemia. And how many times did Mary have to go to St. Louis and suffer treatments and come in peril of her life and bounce back? You know a person's been too long in the cancer hospital when they know how to sneak into the hotel next door and get to the Applebee's without walking outside! And yet after all that it was some other kind of cancer that took her life. We want to say with Martha who told Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here she would not have died.” The thought has perhaps crossed our minds: why it is the Lord let cancer take Mary? Why did she die? Why did she go through all that treatment and in the end it didn't save her? And the answer to that question is the one Jesus gives: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, even though they die, they shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Our question is the wrong one because we get wrapped up thinking that somehow death is the worst thing ever. Oh, it hurts. It makes us cry. It takes our loved ones away. But it is not the end. It doesn't get the final say. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He gets the last word.

On that Good Friday that Mary began her long ordeal, the church celebrated her Savior nailed to the cross for the sins of the world. Sin brought death. And Mary was a sinner. She told me so herself. She would get annoyed when people would ask “How can a good person have all this happen to them?” She knew that whatever she had from the Lord was a gift. Not earned and deserved but given by grace. Mary knew that her only hope in this life and through death was that Savior, the Son of God nailed to the cross for the whole world and for her. Mary knew that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and therefore death is not the end. Not the big deal. That's what our Scripture readings today all say. They teach us that where Christ is, death has no dominion, no power. Job says it. He declares that even though he dies, he's going to see God in his own body. St. Paul says it. He says nothing, not even death can separate us from God's love in Jesus Christ. Then Jesus Himself says it. He says to Martha and to us, that to those who believe in Him, even though they die, they shall live. So that's what we say about Mary. Even though she died, she will live. On the Last Day at the resurrection of our bodies, when Jesus returns in glory. Jesus died on the cross so that Mary's sins were wiped away. Then Jesus rose again on Easter so that Mary's death would not keep her down.

It is what Jesus did that was Mary's comfort through all this cancer. All these ups and downs. One day I went to visit her and she said, “Pastor, I've thought about this. I've realized that everything that is wrong has already been taken care of the day I was baptized.” Everything that is wrong has already been taken care of the day she was baptized. The day Mary was baptized, she was made a child of God and her sins were wiped away. She was given Jesus' own promise that He would raise her up on the Last Day. Ever since then, it was Christ's Word of forgiveness that strengthened her. It was His Body and Blood which nourished her. It was His Body and Blood by which Jesus lived in Mary and did so many good works through her for others. Our comfort today is not in what Mary did or how she lived. Our comfort is in what Christ has done. His perfect life for Mary. His death for Mary. His resurrection for Mary. His baptizing, absolving and feeding her which gave her comfort and strength in the roughest days of her illness and is now her sure defense against death. That pall on her casket reminds us that what the Lord began in her the day of her baptism will be finished when she is raised again on the Last Day. And that pall is a reminder of exactly what Mary said, applied to death: On the day she was baptized, her death was already taken care of by Jesus.

So Mary's all taken care of by her Lord. On her baptismal day, His washing of water and the Word made her a saint. A saint because Jesus makes her holy. But there is a way for us to honor her and remember her and to celebrate her life. And it is this: let her confession of faith be an example to you. For Mary, the comfort of Christ was a lifelong gift. Don't let this comfort of Jesus be a just-for-today sort of thing. Don't make sitting through this service something for Mary's sake. Rather, be found in Christ, in His church, where His Word and Sacraments are. Be where the preaching of Christ crucified and risen is delivered for the comfort of sinners. Be where you have the care of a pastor given for when you suffer the struggles of this life and for when death draws near. Learn as Mary did that religion isn't about her but about Jesus and what He has done. What joy it was a couple of days ago to pray with Mary the last prayers commending her to Jesus before she died. I pray the Lord will grant each of you, in His church, a faith which clings to Jesus Christ alone and a Christian death in Jesus, like Mary's!

Today is a day of sadness. There will be plenty of tears. There will be lots of laughter and remembering too. It is a day full of all kinds of emotions. But above all it is a day when we hear Christ's promises that death cannot come between Him and us. He has defeated death. He has defeated Mary's death. And while it is a good thought to think that those in Christ will see Mary again in eternity, the true Good news is that we, along with her, will be with our Lord forever. And that is why even though we cry today we rejoice. You can't ask for a better death than one like Mary's, to fall peacefully asleep in Jesus. Jesus is the Conqueror of sin and death. For Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. The Savior of sinners. Mary's Savior. The One who will raise her up on that Last Day. She sleeps now and is with the Lord. On that Day she will rise again. Jesus has said so. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

January 16, 2011 - The Second Sunday after the Epiphany - St. John 2:1-11

Our Lord' first sign. His first miracle. At a wedding. Why at a wedding? St. Paul gives us a clue: because Jesus came to have a bride, the holy, Christian church, for whom He gave Himself into death to cleanse her and make her holy. When the Lord first made man and woman, it began with a wedding when the Lord brought Eve to Adam. Now, with this miracle at a wedding, we learn what the Bible says elsewhere, that this Jesus is the new Adam. The old Adam brought death but the new Adam brings life. And there's going to be a wedding. A heavenly bridegroom and a beautiful bride. That wedding doesn't take place in Cana but this first sign of Jesus done at a wedding points us to that fulfillment and eternal wedding feast that is coming and begins at the cross. In fact, Jesus' turning water into wine points us in many ways to His accomplishing our salvation on the cross later on.

But first, a wedding. I want you to consider something: weddings back then have this in common with weddings today: they are an occasion to party. And consider this: Jesus' first miracle is essentially what we would call an “open bar” at a wedding. Let's first declare quite simply, in contrast to the folks around us, that when Jesus turned water into wine, it was wine. Good wine. The best wine. Not grape juice. Wine. Because, as the Psalmist says, “You make wine to gladden the hearts of men.” Jesus came to gladden our hearts. That means make us happy. One gift for that is a bunch of good wine at a wedding. The fact that it was a wedding is also important as it means that even in this sinful and fallen world, marriage is still a blessing from God. With His first sign of wine at a wedding, our Lord is teaching us that He came to save what He created. Wine and weddings are good things. They are not bad. They are not evil. They are gifts from God. And so the first thing our Savior teaches us by His first sign is that the things the Lord makes and gives to us are to be received with joy. Enjoy wine. Enjoy marriage. Enjoy creation! The gifts your heavenly Father has for you are to be enjoyed. Received with thanksgiving. The physical gifts of this life that God has given to you: marriage, your kids, your hobbies and sports and food and drink—enjoy those things as gifts that were meant to be enjoyed!

And there lies our problem. Our heavenly Father gives us all kinds of good gifts and we depise them or abuse them. Take wine for example: there's nothing wrong with wine. But when we abuse it and begin hurting others, we've taken God's gift and ruined it. Or take marriage. Our heavenly Father gives us a husband or wife and we treat them not as a gift but as a burden. So much so that often it seems easier just to end the marriage than learn to love the ones God gave us. Or our kids. They are given us to love and train up in the faith and instead we treat them like annoying inconveniences. Take your pick. Whatever our heavenly Father gives us, instead of cherishing it, we despise it. We reject it. We want something else. Something different. If you've ever given and given and given and gotten nothing in return but rejection for your efforts, you have a glimpse of how we treat the Lord and His gifts. Here's some repentance! Take a moment and realize how ungrateful you are for the things and people the Lord has given you. It's why we need a Savior

What we need, instead of being left to work things out of ourselves, is an arranged marriage! So the Father arranges the marriage of His Son with the church. The Lord's miracle at the wedding of Cana points in many ways to what He's going to do on the cross. First of all, the jars. Those jars were Law jars for the ritual cleansings according to the Law. They are filled to the brim. Jesus fulfills the Law on Calvary when He pays the price the Law demands for sin: death. Then water into wine. It reminds us of the water and blood that flowed from the Lord's side when it was pierced with that spear after He died. Now, let's back up and see how all this relates to marriage. When the Lord made Adam a wife, He caused Adam to sleep, opened His side, took a rib, and made Eve from that rib. Adam's wife was “born” from His side. On the cross, Jesus leaves behind His mother and His side is opened: water and blood came out. Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar. The Sacraments which gives us life and sustain our life. The church's sacraments. So from Jesus' side comes His Bride, the holy church. See? The cross is about the Lord having Himself a Bride. A Bride who is washed and cleansed of every spot and stain. A Bride whom the Lord looks at and sees no sin. A Bride whose selfishness and sin is covered by her husband. A Bride who is given birth from our Lord's side at His holy font and nourished and fed at His altar by His own body and blood. Having such a Savior who has such a Bride, it's no wonder our Lord first shows His glory at a wedding!

And then there is Mary, who has always been a picture of the church, trusting her Son to take care of the running out wine problem. Even when Jesus seems to say to Mary that it's not His problem, she still tells the servants to do what Jesus says. That's faith which trusts in Jesus. That's our example of faith. The truth is, the Lord often lets things in our lives get to the point where we seem to have “run out of wine,” that is, we can no longer rely on or trust in ourselves. There are times when it seems the only answer the Lord has for you is, “Not my problem.” But it IS His problem to take care of in His way and time. And the Lord's gifts are always the best ones. They're the kind of gifts, when we receive them, that we can't help but say, “Wow! You saved the best wine for last!” What else should we expect from such a Bride groom who came from heaven to redeem us and make us His own beloved Bride? After all, He loved us and gave Himself for us. He made the wine flow at a wedding. He'll take care of you too in every part of your life.

You, dear Christians, dear church, are Christ's holy Bride. You have been made from the side of your Lord. Born in the waters of baptism and made glad with the wine of Christ' blood, you are a Bride who is holy and precious in His sight. When your Lord looks at you, He doesn't see your sins, faults, spots, blemishes or imperfections. And where you see empty jars, He fills them with the wine of His forgiveness, life and salvation. Our Lord's first miracle. Done at a wedding. Because He came to take a Bride. Jesus came for your. And when He comes again, it will be the wedding day, the eternal feast in celebration of the union of Jesus and His church. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

January 12, 2011 - The Baptism of our Lord (Wednesday) - 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

It just doesn't make sense. Jesus is the Son of God. John is baptizing sinners in the Jordan River. What on earth is Jesus doing standing there in the water to be baptized? John is the sinner. Jesus is the Savior. Jesus should be doing the baptizing. John is not even worthy to untie Jesus' shoes and He wants John to baptize Him? The fact is: when we focus on God's glory and power and majesty and might and awesomeness, we get religion all wrong. Paul tells us that God uses the foolish and despised and weak things of the world to shame the strong and mighty. He uses the things people think aren't worth anything to accomplish mighty things. That's what Jesus getting baptized is all about. Nobody would have suspected that God Himself would stand in the water with sinners to be baptized as if He were one of them. But St. Paul explains it in our epistle lesson: Christ has become for us the wisdom of God, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. How does God save us from sin and death. It starts with His Son standing in the Jordan River which the world wouldn't consider a big deal at all. But that is where He takes on our sin to take it away.

You talk about foolish? How about the cross? We are so used to the cross being a symbol in the church that we forget it was a brutal and torturous form of execution. How foolish is that? How weak or silly is it that the most important symbol in our religion is an instrument of capital punishment? The notion that the Father would sacrifice His Son and that Jesus is true God and true man who is sacrificed for our sins is just ridiculous. Yet it is in this way that the Lord accomplishes our salvation. To overcome our sin, He takes our sin upon Himself. To overcome death, He dies and rises. To defeat the devil, He goes head to head and resists all temptation and robs the devil of his power to accuse us. All this He does by letting Himself be handed over to evil men to suffer not only physical tortures but the crushing weight of the wrath of the Father. Thorns, nails, spear—these aren't the things people think of when they think of God's glory and might. But the Lord chose these instruments of pain and death to use in rescuing us all from sin and death. What is lowly, despised, looked down upon, foolish, crazy—what doesn't make sense—this cross—is what the Lord has chosen to shame the devil and everyone else by using that cross as the means of our salvation.

But there's more foolishness to be had. The Lord doesn't blast people with lightning bolts to save them. Glowing cosmic energy doesn't engulf people. The Lord doesn't work the way we imagine or that put in movies. He doesn't come to us now with flash and sparkle. Nope. Water. Bread. Wine. Words in a book. All around the world people get wrapped up in amazing and strange religious things. They flock to the big box thing in Mecca. They meditate peacefully in a mountaintop Buddhist monastery. They shake and shriek in some so called Holy Ghost revival. You can find a million different ways people try to get some spiritual something or other. But God just uses water, bread, wine and words. Water. It doesn't seem like much but in that Baptism you have been given a holy calling as a child of God and a disciple of Jesus. At the altar, Christ Himself is present, not to our eyes but the eyes of faith as we receive His Body and Blood. A man in a robe reads and preaches from a book that's 2000 years old. Does any of that sound impressive? To the world, not at all. It's a joke. A curiosity. Something foolish. But to you, who have been called by the Holy Spirit, St. Paul tells us that these simple things are used by God to shame the wise and mighty. For it is by these things that we have the forgiveness of sins, the promise of everlasting life and the sure knowledge that the Lord Himself is with us.

The world, whenever it has any religion, has it for the purpose of getting some knowledge about secret things or things that can't be seen. For the world, religion is a way to try to figure out God and what God is and how to get to God. For many, religion is a way of experiencing something they call God. It's also a way to make yourself feel better because you aren't like all the rest of the poor people out there who don't have your secret knowledge. Or perhaps religion is just a way to feel better when things are going badly. Whatever it is, the religion of the world is about flattering us mightily. But the true faith, the Christian faith, the faith of Jesus, is not any of those things. Rather, it is Jesus Himself, coming to us in His church to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Christ has become for you the wisdom of God that is, the way of eternal life, by His life and death and resurrection. Christ has become your righteousness by taking your sins and being baptized, crucified, and risen for you. Christ has become your sanctification and holiness because it is by His blood that you are made holy and it is Christ who lives in and through you. Christ has become your redemption by paying the price for your sins and setting you free. It all looks so simple and common but it is the very power of God unto salvation. Where the religions of the world run after glory and exalting themselves, in His Church, Christ saves sinners by common and ordinary things that He uses for His holy purposes.

No, it doesn't make sense that Jesus the Holy One should be getting baptized. But then it shouldn't make sense that splashing some water on you should give you eternal life. Welcome to the Kingdom of God where things don't work the way WE think they should, but in a way that casts down all that we thought was important and mighty and gives to us forgiveness and life in Christ. Were you noble? Rich? Popular? I don't think so. Doesn't matter. The Lord has called you and made you His own. And that calling to life in Christ is better than anything the world has, though the world can't see it. But for you that calling means forgiveness of sins and eternal life. It is what God gives through His gifts which are foolishness to the world but your life. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

January 9, 2011 - The Baptism of Our Lord (First Sunday after the Epiphany) - St. Matthew 3:13-17

The Christian life is not ABOUT Christ. It IS Christ. What do I mean by that? I mean that being a Christian isn't about knowing some facts about Jesus. It's about being in Christ and Christ living in you and transforming you into a new creation by His forgiveness and life. We are surrounded with churches that teach that Baptism is just a symbol, a sort of public ceremony that you've grasped some facts and accepted something. But the Scriptures teach us that our Baptism is something else entirely. Baptism is GOD'S work. When you were baptized, it is the Lord who did something. He draped you with Christ and stamped His Name on you. He washed your sins away and claimed you as His own. He took you, who were destined for everlasting death and hell and rescued you and gave you eternal life. Baptism is the amazing work of God by which you are united with Christ so that all that He is and has becomes yours. So your life as a Christian isn't about you. It's about Jesus. Oh, we want to make it about us. But it's not. It's about what Christ has done for you and what He does now as He lives in and through you. Everything that Jesus has is yours. Everything He does is yours. His life. His death. His resurrection all become yours in Holy Baptism. Let's take a look and see how this is so.

John's got it nailed. Jesus should be the one doing the baptizing. John is the sinner. Jesus is the Savior. But Jesus has it backwards. He's acting like He's the sinner. THAT is righteousness. Jesus taking on our sins. Jesus is as much as saying, “I am indeed the Savior. And I save by becoming the sinner. Taking the sins on. Making them mine. Getting rid of them for you.” He will take those sins and carry them to the cross of Calvary and there bleed and die for them. That's righteousness. The sinless Son of God becoming sin for us. For you. So now, in your Baptism, that sinlessness gets put upon you. In His Baptism, Jesus takes on your sins. In your Baptism He puts on you His perfection and holiness. It's a trade. An exchange. What's His for what's yours. That's righteousness. Learn that simple and clear definition of this big church word. Righteousness is Jesus taking your place. Say it: “Righteousness is Jesus taking my place.” Now no one can ever say they don't know what “righteousness” is when I ask! It's Jesus taking your place. That's what's going on in the Jordan River and at this font.

But there's more. A dove landing on Jesus. Doves go with floods and floods mean the Lord is killing and saving. When the Flood happened, the Lord destroyed a whole earth of sinners. But Noah, the only guy who trusted in God's promises is spared, for the sake of God's promises. The Lord couldn't very well bring a Savior into the world if everybody was gone, now could He? When the Flood, the punishment of God's wrath was over, there was a dove. A dove means God's wrath is done. It's over. So there's a dove at Jesus' baptism to say that because of Jesus, God's wrath is done for. Now there is peace with God. And it's on the other side of the Flood. When the flood is past. More baptismal stuff! Just as Noah came through the flood, Jesus comes up out of the water and there's a dove. Landing on Him. This is the one who brings peace. So now, in your Baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon you and that means you have peace with God. No more thinking God is going to pay you back. No more making silly deals with God to bail you out. No more thinking you're not really God's child because of your sins. The Holy Spirit who descended upon you at the font says otherwise. He says there is peace with God. The price has been paid. The war is over. Olly olly oxen free. God is not going to get you. The dove has landed on you. Peace with God because the Spirit landed on Jesus the bringer of that peace by His death and resurrection.

But there's still more! The Father's voice from the heavens: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!” A divine “That's my boy!” The Father loves the Son because the Son does what He tells Him too: dies for sinners. God the Father asks only one thing of His Son: to become man and save sinners. And the Son does it without fussing or arguing or pouting or any of the other things we do when our parents tell us to do something. The Son does what He came to do: save sinners. On the day of His Baptism, the Father loves His Son because His Son is standing with us sinners. How could the Father be proud of a Son who is hanging out with such people? Because He does so to save them. To redeem them. To make us the children of God. So now, in your Baptism, the voice speaks about you: “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!” Jesus is beloved and that means you are beloved. The Father is pleased as punch with His Boy and so now He is pleased with you, too, in Christ. By your Baptism. Never worry or doubt whether God loves you. Whether He forgives your sins. Whether you are His child. He has said so on the day you were splashed at the font with His water and word. Your Baptism connects and joins you to Jesus Christ. So if He's God's beloved Son, so are you!

So you see? The Christian life isn't ABOUT Jesus. It IS Jesus. No trying to living righteously enough: Jesus has done so by trading places with you. No more trying to get God off your back. Jesus has brought the Spirit of peace to you. No more trying to impress God with your life. Jesus has made you His beloved Son. So no more living as if the Christian life is about you. When it's like that, then there's no room for God and your neighbor. Just you trying to do it. But Christ has already done it and does it now living in you. Brothers and sisters in Christ, when we live as if knowing Christ is just some book knowledge to pin the name Christian on ourselves, that is no good to anyone. But when Christ lives in us and through us; when HE is our righteousness, our peace and our sonship, well then God is glorified and our neighbor will be served and loved. On this day, Jesus was numbered with us sinners when He got down in the water. So that when you have come from the water of your Baptism, you stand as a righteous, at-peace, child of God. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Epiphany of Our Lord (observed; Wednesday) - January 5, 2011 - Ephesians 3:1-12

Access. Do you have access? If you have an “all access pass” to a rock concert, you get to walk backstage and even meet the band. No one can just go up to the President of the United States and engage him in a conversation. You've got to have “access.” You can watch a show like “Access Hollywood” because you can't go behind the scenes of the rich and famous but their cameras and reporters can. Access. Gotta have access. Well if it's that hard to get the ear of the president or a close up pic with a superstar, how much more difficult is it to have access to Almighty God? The birth of Christ and the coming of the Wise Men happened for this purpose: so that we would know we have access to God. St. Paul says it: “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.” To have God's ear, to speak to the Lord, to come to Him, you need only Christ. You don't have to be Jewish in the bloodline of Abraham. You don't have to make an appointment with His secretary. Because of Jesus you have access not to the fleeting starlets and politicians of this world but to the Lord and Creator of all the universe. In Christ, you have access to God.

Epiphany, the coming of the pagan Wise Men from Babylon or Persia or wherever, is God's promise that His Son was born for all people. The birth of the Son of God in the flesh is His promise that it doesn't matter where you're from or what you've done, His salvation is for you. What is it that gives access to Jesus for these Wise Men? It's the Word of God. The Lord puts a new star in the sky to guide them and they go and learn the Scriptures which say the Baby is born in Bethlehem. When they get to the house in Bethlehem, there's no guards to get by or papers to fill out. Just Baby Jesus to be worshiped as the King and Savior. Access. This Baby isn't like other Kings. You don't have to have special access. He came to be the King and Savior of these Wise Men and the shepherds who came when He was born and for you too. The fact that Jesus was not born in a palace with guards or kept under lock and key in some fortress is a sign that He is born to give access. And it is with boldness and confidence that those magi open their gifts and give them to the Child.

The reason for this access and boldness that St. Paul speaks about is what this Child will grow up to do. In the Old Testament, nobody entered the holy part of the Temple without some blood being shed from a sheep or goat. Just so, the access to God that Jesus gives us isn't accomplished by Him waving His hand but by having His hand nailed to the cross. We do indeed come into the Father's presence through Christ but only because He has paid the price for our sins. We can only enter the Holy Place because what is unholy in us has been forgiven by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. And Jesus died for all. Shepherds. Wise men. Jews. Gentiles. Everyone. There is no one who is left out of shedding of Christ's blood for sinners. The coming of the Gentile Wise Men on Epiphany is your reminder that you too are the ones for whom Christ was born and died and rose.

St. Paul writes to the Ephesians that he was made an apostle for the sake of the Gentiles. He was sent to preach to everyone that they now had a Savior. So in the church today the preacher does the same thing: preach that you have a Savior. Here it is: You have a Savior! And the ways in which that Savior delivers His forgiveness are what give you that boldness and confidence to come before God as His beloved child. Your Baptism. It means you're a child of God and your sins have been washed away. Absolution. It declares that nothing stands between you and the Lord. The preaching and teaching of the Scriptures: the unchanging promise that for Christ's sake the Lord won't turn you away. The Lord's Supper: the very blood of the Lamb by which we have access to God the Father. In these ways you can stand before the Lord with all boldness and confidence instead of fear of judgment. This is why Jesus came. It's why he gives you forgiveness in His church. So you can stand before Him as His own dear child.

You're surely seen the kinds of prayers that people pray in the movies. “Dear God, I'm sure you're busy right now. It's me, little Bobby. I know my problems aren't that important but if you're not too busy...” And so on. No! To pray like a Christian is to come before God with boldness and confidence because we have access in Christ. It is to pray this way: “Lord, I am not worthy to be called your child or ask anything, but you sent Your Son for all people and that includes me. He shed His blood so that I can stand before your throne in the Holy of Holies. He washed me and gave me His own body and blood. So pay attention, Lord! Listen up, Father, for I ask your blessings and help!” That's what it means to have access with boldness and confidence. Because of Jesus you can bend the ear of God and have Him pay complete attention to you and never turn you away. You may never get to chat with the President or hang out with a movie legend. But in Christ, you have infinitely more: access to God Himself. That access is granted by Jesus who shed His blood to open the way to you. And now, in Him, you are right there with the Lord as His own dear child and friend. Access. With boldness and confidence. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Epiphany of Our Lord observed) - January 2, 2011 - St. Matthew 2:1-12

“The heavens declare the glory of God and the earth shows forth His handiwork.” So the creation itself testifies to the glory of God in Jesus Christ and a star is employed to guide pagan magi to the infant Christ. That's the historical bit of Epiphany: Magi, Wise Men, Persian astrologers—whatever you want to call them—came at the sign of a special star, knowing that a king was born. But Epiphany isn't just that the magi came and the church put it on the calendar! Epiphany means something. The Epiphany Gospel teaches us once again that Christ was born for all people, shepherds and kings, for all sinners, for you and me. After all if pagan magi can receive Him, there's hope for you and I! And not only was He born for us but the Lord will never fail to bring us to His Son so that we have forgiveness of sins and salvation from sin, death, devil and hell. The Epiphany Gospel teaches us where we shall find Jesus and also teaches repentance for seeking Him anywhere other than the places He has promised to be.

Jesus said of the Holy Scriptures, “These are they which testify of me.” And to the disciples after Easter he “showed them in Moses and all the Prophets the things concerning Himself.” Recall our Gospel reading, dear Christians. Where does the star lead the Wise Men? Does it lead them straight to Jesus? It does not! Rather it leads them to the place where they may hear the Holy Scriptures. And it is the Holy Scriptures which tell the Wise Men where the Child is. Do not pass lightly over this point, brothers and sisters. It means this: There is no coming to Jesus apart from the preaching of the Holy Scriptures. Even the Lord who brought forth a miraculous star to guide them didn't guide them straight to Jesus. Even the Wise Men learn that to receive Jesus, we must hear the preaching of the Holy Scriptures. It is those Scriptures which sent the Magi to Bethlehem. It is those same Scriptures which send us to receive Jesus in His holy church, where He comes to us in the washing of water and the Word, in the absolution and preaching of the Scriptures, and in the Supper He instituted. The Lord comes to us nowhere else to be our Savior and to deliver the forgiveness of sins. And the Scriptures point us nowhere else to receive Him.

And there is our Epiphany repentance, because we by nature ignore the Scriptures and seek Jesus somewhere else than He has promised to be for our salvation. Notice something. Did Herod and the all Jerusalem know the Christ has been born? Did they understand that Israel's long-promised Savior had finally come? Absolutely! Did they hear and understand the Scriptures? Herod asked where the Christ was to be born. The chief priest and scribes all said with the certainty of the Scripture, “In Bethlehem.” But why did they want to know? So that they could get rid of the Christ! Herod and “all Jerusalem” show us that to simply know the Scriptures is no guarantee of anything. Even the Devil knows the Bible inside and out! Herod and “all Jerusalem” did not have faith which trusted in the infant Christ for their salvation. They wanted their own righteousness. Their own power and authority. Themselves being the big deal. They had the Scriptures but they didn't want to have Jesus. And there's our repentance! How often that is our confession, that we “know all that stuff already” and therefore have no need of learning the Scriptures, growing in our Catechism and advancing in the faith beyond where we were when we were confirmed years ago. Who wouldn't love to follow some spectacular star zooming around the sky? But search the Scriptures? Hear and learn what God's Word has to say? Grow in your knowledge and understanding of God's Word? Forget all that! This, dear Christians, is the religion of the world and the bulk of most of so-called “Christianity” today. It's even most of what you hear in the good ol' Missouri Synod anymore: We find Jesus where we want to find Him. We look in our hearts or lives. Where we don't want to look is to where the simple words of Scripture point us: to His church, to the means of grace, to the ministry of the Gospel under the care of a pastor. Dear Christians, let us repent of despising God's Word and hear again the Holy Scriptures which point us to Jesus and the Gospel and Sacraments in which we receive Him.

“Arise, shine, your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” Dear Christians, the Lord will never leave us in darkness. By the pure light of His Word, He “calls, gathers and enlightens us.” As He did the magi, bringing them to the place where Jesus was. There they presented Him with their gifts: gold frankincense and myrrh. All gifts which confess who this Child was. Gold which surely helped Joseph and Mary escape. But it would be this Child's holy precious and blood and His innocent suffering and death—not gold or silver—by which sinners escape from their sins. He who was given gold as a Child spills His lifeblood on Calvary for the sins of the world. For the sins of the magi, for your sins and my sins. Incense which was used in worship and represents the prayers of the saints. Here in this Child and Him alone we can pray. Only in Christ do we have access to the Father. Only in Christ do we learn the Father's will which is not to destroy but save us, not to condemn but redeem us, not to punish us but to set us free in His Son. Myrrh. The spice of burial foreshadowing the death of this Jesus for sinners. So the Three Kings presented their gifts. And they did so not because they owed this Child, but because their gifts confessed that this Child was the King and their salvation. So we, dear Christians, also make offerings. We give our treasure, we come to church, not because God “expects” or “demands” such worship, but because such worship is the confession and testimony and exercise of our faith, that our only hope, our only salvation is the Child who grew up to be King on the cross.

“Nations will come to your light and the Gentiles the brightness of your rising.” So speaks Isaiah the prophet, foretelling that the nations will come to see the Lord's light and glory. But where? Among God's people! For that is where Christ dwells. Anyone who sees the Lord's light and glory sees it only in His church, where Christ is found in His means of grace. The prophet's words teach us that we don't go looking for the Lord just anywhere, but where He has promised to be, and that is where the Scriptures point us: among God's people where the means of grace are. What ever happened to the Magi? The church has believed for a long time that it was St. Thomas the Apostle who made his way to lands of Persia and actually baptized those magi! Of course that history is not recorded in the Scriptures, but the fact that the church has believed it teaches us that not even magi are converted by simply showing up at Jesus' house, but through the preaching and baptizing that Jesus Himself commanded His church to do after His resurrection. Just so there is no salvation for us in trying to find Jesus' childhood house or going to Calvary and looking for bits of the cross. No, to be certain of our salvation, to receive forgiveness of our sins, we look no other place than the holy church in which Christ Himself dwells. The church is the house wherein Jesus lives and to which the Scriptures direct us and to which the stars of our pastors point us. There is your forgiveness, dear Christians: in the water of the font, in the words of your preacher and in the body and blood of the Christ in His Supper. Never despise His Word and never look anywhere else, but receive Him there for your salvation and comfort.

“In Christ we have boldness and access with confidence by His faith.” By Christ's faith. St. Paul, who was called by God so that the Gentiles would hear the preaching of Christ and believe and be saved, testifies to the Ephesians that it is through the church that the Lord's mystery is made known, the mystery which is our salvation in Christ. What is Epiphany all about? It's about learning where Jesus is and knowing how we know where Jesus is. The Magi were led to the Holy Scriptures which told them where Jesus is. So you, dear Christians, have the Holy Scriptures, which direct you not to a house in Bethlehem, nor to a cross on hill, nor to your heart or the changes in your life or any place like that. No, the Scriptures the Holy Spirit has written through His apostles direct you here. To this house. To this font. To this altar. To your pastor. Here is where Christ is. Now worship Him, not as one who owes Him something, as if you could ever repay! Rather, worship Him by receiving Him, by grasping in faith those promises of the Gospel which declare your sins forgiven. The promise of your Baptism which says that as Jesus is the beloved Son of God, so are you His beloved child. The promise of His body and blood that He lives in you and you in Him and He will raise you up on the Last Day! Christ was in the house for the Wise Men to see. Now He is in this house, His church, for you and for your salvation. Happy Epiphany! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.