Third Sunday after the Epiphany

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany

January 26, 2020

Matthew 4:12-25

“Light For The…Closet?”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew chapter 4.

I ever tell you about what happened back in 2017 after Hurricane Irma? I might not have, since I was at home recovering from my knee replacement. After Irma, my house was without power for a week, and at night it got dark. One night I felt my way through the darkness into the closet where I keep the candles. Sure enough, there they were, right where I had left them when I moved in. So I took a match and lit all three of them.

“Wow…how great it is to have light!” I said out loud, and then spoke to the candles. “Just wait till I get you out where you’re really needed! I’ll put one of you on the kitchen table so I can eat. I’ll put one of you on the table next to my chair so I can read. And I’ll set this one in the living room where you can light up the whole area.” Sure…I felt a bit foolish talking to candles, but what are you supposed to do when the power goes out?

I was turning to leave with the large candle in my hand when I heard a voice,

“Hold it right there.” I stopped. Somebody’s in here! I thought. Then I relaxed; highly unlikely anyone slipped in without me knowing it. I started walking again. “I said stop!” “Who said that?” “I did.” The voice was near my hand. I looked at the candle I was holding. It was burning a strong, golden flame.

I lifted up the candle to take a closer look. You won’t believe what I saw. There was a tiny face in the wax. (I told you you wouldn’t believe me.) Not just a wax face that someone had carved, but a flesh-like face full of expression and life. “Don’t take me out of here!” “What?” “I said, don’t take me out of this closet.” “What do you mean? I have to take you out. You’re a candle. Your job is to give off light. It’s dark out there. I keep stubbing my toes and walking into walls. You have to come out and light up the place!” “But you can’t take me out. I’m not ready,” the candle explained, “I need more preparation.” I couldn’t believe my ears. “More preparation?” “Yeah, I don’t want to go out there and make a bunch of mistakes or offend anyone. I’m reading the new bestseller on responsible use of light in an ever-irresponsible world “That really sounds inter-” I caught myself saying. What am I doing? I’m in here talking with a candle in the darkness!

“Fine,” I said, “You’re not the only candle in here. I’ll just blow you out and take the others!” Then I heard other voices. “We aren’t going either!” Apparently, I had a candle mutiny on my hands. I turned and looked at the two other candles; each with flames dancing above a miniature face. I was beyond feeling awkward about talking to candles.

“Look…you are candles and your job is to light dark places!” “You may think we have to go, but I’m too busy.” “Busy? You’re a candle! Listen, I appreciate what you guys are doing, but for goodness’ sake, you have been in here for 3 years!

“And what about you,” I asked the last candle, “are you going to stay in here also?” The last candle said, “I’d like to help, but lighting the darkness is not my gift. I’m a singer. I sing to other candles to encourage them to burn more brightly.” The candle began a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine,” and the other two joined in, filling the closet with singing. I shouted above the music, “Come on, you guys. There’s plenty of time for this later. I’ve got a darkness crisis on my hands out here.” They wouldn’t stop. I put the big candle on the shelf and took a step back and considered the absurdity of it all. Three perfectly healthy, capable candles singing to each other about light, but refusing to come out of the closet and give light where it was needed. Ridiculous. One by one I blew them out.

I walked back out in the darkness, bumping into one of my heavy kitchen chairs. What was up with those candles, right? Then I remembered. They’re church candles. I had bought them back in Minnesota at a garage sale from a church that closed down because no one wanted to do the ministry of the church. That’s when I finally understood.

In our First Lesson for today, Isaiah spoke of a people who walked in darkness, but have seen a great light (verse 2). In today’s lesson from Matthew 4, Matthew re-states that same prophecy. We are those very same people. We are the people of God upon whom His light has shone. In and through that light we have seen the great merciful works of God at work in our lives and in the lives of others. We are called to witness to the source of our light. We have been called to witness to the One who calls us to repentance for our sins against God. We have been called to witness to the One who calls us to follow Him in discipleship as He called those fisherman as His disciples. We have been called to witness to Him who is the light of the world and how His light changes lives; it sure changed the lives of those epileptics, paralytics, and possessed people that Jesus healed. And you know full well how Christ Jesus has, by faith, changed your life for the better. You are His light in this dark world in an ever-darkening age; we are the light amid the crisis of darkness in our world.

Are you, then, content to allow your light to shine in your closets? In just your homes or around here? Around the table at dinner time? We often fail to tell others about Jesus because we worry our human failings or that we might offend so we stay silent. We excuse our silence by telling others we aren’t ready. We justify “staying in the closet” by rationalizing that it’s Pastor’s job to tell people about Jesus, not ours. There are far too many Christians today who do not confess Jesus Christ to a very dark world. I ask you…what is more ridiculous? Talking candles at my house…or keeping totally silent about your saving faith in Jesus Christ?

Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us that “(Jesus) went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread.” This is the same Jesus who lived and died for you and the forgiveness of your sins so that you might have the promise of eternal life. Are you helping that fame to spread even further? What possible excuses are keeping your light in the closet, and not allowing it to shine for Him in the world around you where YOU are really needed? My friends, be His light. Live by His light. Reflect that glorious light so that all might be saved and coming to a knowledge of His saving truth.

Amen.

 

 

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany

January 19, 2020

John 1:29-42a

“Questions…Part II”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel text from John chapter 1.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

3 years ago on this same festival I preached a sermon on this very same text and the sermon was called “Questions.” If I recall correctly, it was a particularly moving and wonderful sermon that you no doubt recall with great joy and fondness. In fact, I want to say that I received a standing ovation after the sermon was over… or maybe you just stood because it was time to stand. But I digress. Anyway, in that sermon called “Questions,” I posed 3 questions from this text to answer by the sermon. The three questions were: “who is this?”, “What do you want?”, and “where are you staying?” Again, if memory serves me clearly, I answered those questions with stunning brilliance and eloquence like this pulpit has never heard before. Well, okay maybe it wasn’t THAT good.

Today we have the same text to consider and I’ve already preached one sermon on questions found within John 1:29-42a, but you know what? Here it is 3 years later and after careful study I’ve uncovered 3 MORE questions for us to consider…tougher questions…questions that dig deep into our faith…questions that need answers because ultimately these questions and answers impact both our faith and our lives as Christians.

First question for us to consider: what does “Lamb of God” mean? In today’s Gospel there are a lot of titles given for Jesus: Son of God, Rabbi, and Christ, and Messiah to name a few. But in verses 29 and 36, John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God.” “Well, of course John called Jesus Lamb of God because He IS the Lamb of God” you might say. But did you know that these are the only 2 specific references to Jesus as “Lamb of God” during His earthly life and both are John the Baptist? Calling Jesus Lamb of God is not an automatic Old Testament reference. In fact, it kind of confuses the issue.

We think of Jesus as the Lamb of God because He is the perfect, sacrificial Lamb who dies to take away our sin. However, if you read the Holiness Code in Leviticus chapters 4-6, the specific sin offering when you sinned against God or your neighbor was to be a male or female animal without blemish: bull, ram, goat, dove, or pigeon. A lamb was not one of the primary animals prescribed to be given as a sin offering in the Old Testament sacrificial system. So why is Jesus the “Lamb of God?”

Jesus is the Lamb of God in the sense that one day He would be the sacrifice that would atone for the sin of the world and redeem all mankind from death. In Genesis 22, Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the lamb as a sacrifice. Additionally, there is a well-known Old Testament referent to a Lamb that saves people from death and that is the spreading of the lamb’s blood on the doorposts of the homes of the Israelites to save them from the 10th plague while they were in Egypt (Exodus 12). In the New Testament, Jesus’ shed blood on the cross enables Him to become the Lamb of God who does take the sin of the world away and saves us from eternal death, but before the cross that association would have been hard for Jesus’ contemporaries to make;. It shows tremendous, divine insight by John the Baptist.

Secondly, why did the disciples – Andrew and an unnamed disciple want to know where Jesus was staying? (verse 38). That’s kind of a creepy request. Are they stalking Jesus? Do they want to rob Him or something? Of course not. But this is a very interesting little turn of events. Consider for a moment that Jesus had no place of His own to show them. Matthew 8:20 reminds us that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The closest thing Jesus would have to a home would have been Mary and Joseph’s home in Nazareth, but John 1:28 tells us these events took place at “Bethany on the other side of the Jordan River,” some 20+ miles from Nazareth. John 1:43 says that the next day Jesus left for Galilee, so He obviously wasn’t going to take the 2 disciples 20 miles on foot and back again to see His childhood home just so He could leave the next day. So what gives?

This request of Jesus – “where are you staying” – is the disciples’ attempt to get an invitation to follow Him. In Jesus’ day it was up to the Rabbi or the teacher to call his disciples to follow him in discipleship. Andrew and the other disciple, although we don’t know for sure, realize that following John the Baptist wasn’t critical; it’s about following Jesus.

And that brings us to our third and final question for today. Just why did those 2 disciples follow Jesus? Jesus only said 2 things: “what are you seeking,” and “come and you will see,” yet the two decided to follow Him (verse 37). Why? This one is tougher to answer because no answer – no reason – is given in the text. Jesus doesn’t say anything…He doesn’t do anything…but the 2 disciples up and follow Him, actually seeking an invitation to follow Him in discipleship. What’s up?

I think that there is no answer given on purpose, because it is now up to us to provide the answer. When a person considers everything that has happened in these theologically- rich 14 verses, we too feel the pull to follow this Jesus guy, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (verse 29). When the disciples ask about where He is staying, Jesus responds by saying “Come, and you will see” (verse 39). Jesus has no intention of showing them His living quarters, but rather He wants them to come, follow Him, and see what He as Lamb of God can and will do for His people.

Ultimately, that is the same invitation for us, too. Jesus Christ is a Savior who calls us to closely and lovingly follow Him, and we all have our reasons why we do. Your living Savior calls you to have a true, lasting personal relationship with Him; a relationship that touches not only your head, but also your heart.

He answers all questions. He ends all doubts. He dies to save you from your sins and sets you free from death and damnation into the promise of heaven instead. He is the Lamb of God who lived, died for you, and rose again to secure eternal life for you. And to you He asks no questions…He only bids you to come and see the eternal life that He has prepared for all who believe and follow Him in faithful discipleship. There. That should hold you over for another 3 years or so. And yes, I plan on being here for that festival 3 years from now too. I’ll be here to explain John 1:29-42a as long as the Lord wills it. No need for a standing ovation this time.

Amen.

The Epiphany of our Lord

The Epiphany of our Lord

January 12, 2020

Matthew 2:1-12

“Things Are Not Always As They Seem”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us on our celebration of Epiphany is the Gospel lesson from Matthew 2.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Things are not always as they seem. A person can live each day every day following their same old routine just going about life’s business completely unaware – absolutely oblivious – that a tumour, an infection, a blockage grows and grows and grows inside of them. A relationship that was validated with the permanent words “until death parts us” becomes “I don’t want to anymore;” forever can very quickly become never because things are not always as they seem. The person sitting in front of you or behind you or maybe even next to you might look calm, cool, and collected, but they may be worried sick about their finances or their family or their future even though they look perfectly fine on the outside. Oh, most assuredly, things are not always as they seem.

Case in point…today’s Gospel lesson and the coming of the wise men or the magi from the east. I can imagine that you have a mental image or an expectation about the wise men. I would be willing to guess that your mental image includes three men of mixed race and age coming to the manger late at night on Christmas Eve. You see it in every Sunday School Christmas program and on every Christmas card. But again, things are not always as they seem.

The Bible does not say how many wise men there were. It simply says “magi” in the plural form. We know there were at least 2 wise men, but it is only tradition that says there were three, based on the three gifts given to the infant Jesus. The number of wise men really isn’t important…what is important, what we remember during our Epiphany celebration, is what the wise men were there to do. They had come to worship Jesus.

We also may think that these wise men whether it was 2 or 12 or 22 came on Christmas Eve and knelt down to worship newly-born Jesus as he lay in the manger. Again, things are not always as they seem. That’s our mental image, but it is not correct. It took the magi many weeks to travel over 1000 miles after they had seen the star. Even if the caravan could move at 2 MPH, with stops to sleep, it would have taken a minimum of 40 days to walk that far. Matthew points out that by the time the magi got there, Mary, Jesus, and Joseph were living in a house (verse 11) and were no longer in the manger.

But again, when they arrived is not as critical as why they arrived…and that was to worship the baby Jesus, the new-born King. And that is why we have come here today…to worship Jesus, our King. He is the Holy One of Israel, the One who died on the cross and rose again to deliver us from the punishment for sin that we deserved. We deserve that punishment and death, but things are not always as they seem. Christ endured that punishment for us so that you don’t have to.

Based on that fact alone, you would think that everyone would want to worship this King, but again things are not always as they seem. Case in point, King Herod said he wanted to worship the King of the Jews (v. 8), but things are not always as they seem. Herod didn’t want to worship that King; Herod wanted to kill Him instead! Herod was not above having people killed in an effort to protect himself, his crown, his throne. Herod was furious when the magi politely informed him that they had come in order to worship the new-born King (verse 2). Wait a second! Wasn’t Herod the king? Obviously Herod was very upset, and when Herod was upset, all of Jerusalem was upset as well (verse 3); no one knew what Herod might do in his anger and fear.

Herod didn’t want to worship Jesus. He hated the thought of another king, and wanted Him gone. So also, in our own age, many want Jesus “gone,” that is, to go away and not be the only Saviour of the world. That claim is too exclusive; we have “no right” to say that anyone is a sinner in need of grace. The best way to achieve their goal is a painfully easy method…one of the oldest tricks in the book. Tragically easy to make Jesus “out of sight, out of mind;” to keep Him out of our schools, out of public places, out of our pledge of allegiance and off our currency, to ridicule those who bear His name, and even to keep Christ out of Christmas if need be, which is ludicrous (“Happy Holidays…NOT!”). All this talk of “sin” and “Saviour” doesn’t play well in our “woke” world.

To worship Jesus means to acknowledge Him as God and yourself as a sinner. Herod, and many today, cannot and will not do that. Can you? I know you’re sitting in church and all, but hey…things are not always as they seem. Can you admit that you are a sinner, deserving death and hell on judgement day were it not for Christ?

You probably thought that today you were going to give Christ the Lord something in your offering envelope and giving your prayers and praise. That is true, but again, things are not always as they seem. Whether you realize it or not, God is giving you a gift today. He gives to you today and every day the gift of forgiveness. He gives you the free gift of salvation by grace. He gives to you the gift of the promise and the hope of eternal life through faith in Christ. He gives to you the gift of the Holy Spirit who brings faith and life. He gives you Himself in His body and blood; bread and wine? No…things are not always as they seem. In response, what gifts do you bring to the King today? Are you willing to offer Him your love, your devotion, your service, your humility, your commitment, your burdens, your pain, your worry, your prayer…your life?

All these gifts He gives for free, for they are gifts that have already been paid for by Jesus’ sinless death on the cross and His glorious resurrection. These may not count for much in the eyes of the world, but again things are not always as they seem, because in the eyes of God, one who was willing to sacrifice His only Son for you, they are as precious as gold, frankincense, and myrrh – the gifts given on the event we celebrate today and know as the Epiphany of our Lord.

Amen.

2nd Sunday after Christmas

2nd Sunday after Christmas

January 5, 2020

Luke 2:40-52

“Let’s Go to Jerusalem”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us for the first sermon of a brand-new calendar year is the assigned Gospel lesson for today from Luke chapter 2.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Hey…I’ve got an idea. It’s a brand new year, right? In late May-early June this year I’m going on my first-ever overseas trip/cruise to Greece and Turkey to follow in Paul’s footsteps. So…what do you say? What would you think of a little “warm-up” trip? In 2020 let’s go to Jerusalem!

But, okay, before you jump up to find the sign-up sheet, I did some research. You cannot fly directly to Jerusalem from Sarasota. You have to fly to Tel Aviv and it’s going to cost each of us about $1400 round trip just in airfare. If we fly Delta we’ll have to fly to Atlanta first, and then it’s also gonna take us 18 hours of flight time. Also, you’re going to need a valid passport and you may want to convert some of your money to shekels. If we leave soon it’s still winter there, which means it’s about 40-50 degrees outside; you’ll still want a coat…and a hat…and maybe some gloves. On second thought, maybe a trip to Jerusalem might not be that great of an idea. I have no experience in organizing or leading a trip like this. I’ve never done it myself! Maybe we should leave this up to the professionals, so let’s not plan the trip. But that’s okay. Besides, we have a Savior who went there for us.

Today’s Gospel lesson from Luke 2 is unique. This is the only – the ONLY – narrative we have of Jesus as a teenager. In all the Gospel accounts he goes from being an infant to being a 30 year old man in a matter of a verse or two. But St. Luke provides us with a unique and special glimpse of a trip that Jesus and His family took to Jerusalem for a very special purpose. Verse 41 tells us they were going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover – a significant OT festival. Suffice it to say, their trip to Jerusalem was not for seeing the sights, but for a very special purpose…and a very special purpose for us too.

They didn’t have “amber alerts” – alerts raised when a child goes missing – in Jesus’ day, but if they did, one would have been initiated! The family had made the trip from Galilee to Jerusalem as was their yearly custom (2:41) to celebrate the Passover. Typically many pilgrims made this journey together and they traveled in large groups for companionship, support, and protection. When Passover was done, the group headed north back to Galilee but Jesus, unknowingly, stayed behind in the temple. When his folks realized he was no longer with the group, they did what they could since they lacked amber alerts and cell phone tracking technology. They went back to Jerusalem. For three days they didn’t know where He was (out of sight for 3 days…hhm…wonder when THAT might happen again). After 3 days they find Jesus and He’s in the temple and He is teaching the teachers. He’s only a child – He’s 12 – but everyone including His parents are amazed and astonished.

Obviously, His parents want to know what He’s doing there. In verse 49, we get the following translation of Jesus’ answer: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” I’m sorry…but that is not an accurate translation. In fact, I looked at 10 different translations, from the King James to The Message and, oddly enough, it is The Message that comes closest. Most translations add the word “house” or business.” The Message come close: “didn’t you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?” Neither the word “house” nor the word “business” are found in the original Greek text, but there is one critical word there in Greek…“dei”. So what does this mean? Why is Jesus in the Temple? Because it is necessary that He be there; it is a divine imperative that Jesus be where God is found to give attention to God’s Word.

   Jerusalem is not a new place for our Lord. As an unborn infant, Joseph and Mary would have passed through Jerusalem on their journey southward to Bethlehem. Jesus’ earthly parents brought Him to Jerusalem every year for the Passover (2:41). And as a 33 year old man, He will once again come to Jerusalem, this time of His own free will for another very special purpose. In Luke 18, Jesus says to His disciples, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again” (31-33, NIV).

As a child Jesus grew and became strong. He increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man (2:52). As He grew in that wisdom and knowledge, He knew where His path was leading. As a child He grew in wisdom knowing that one day He would return to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, but afterwards He would die upon the cross. Can you imagine the pain of living with that burden every day of your life?

But He also knew there was a purpose…a divine plan. Jesus knew that God’s wisdom was that He would be the blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. He knew God’s will, He knew the importance of His sacrifice, and He recognized the value of being found where God Himself is found. He did so as a teaching moment for Jerusalem’s religious leaders and for all of us who believe in Him by faith. If it was necessary for Jesus to be found where the Word of God is found, then what does that say for our worship life in 2020 and every year for that matter? Worship is not so much an optional thing as it is a divine necessity.

So you’re not ready 18 hours in a plane to get to Jerusalem? No big whoop. You’re already there. You are where Jesus says it is necessary that you be: you are in the house of God surrounded by the things of the Father – His Word and Sacraments – and that makes a difference. Dr. Kenneth Korby once said, “We go to the Sacrament as if going to our death so that we may go to our death as if going to the Sacrament.”

Our Lord’s wisdom becomes our wisdom. His values are our values. His integrity and insight becomes our integrity and insight. His love becomes our love. His divine plan changes us in how we treat ourselves and treat one another outside this building. Jesus didn’t go to Jerusalem for the food or to see sights. He went there to teach, to lead, to be an example, to die, to rise again. And we can be eternally thankful that He did.

Happy new year, everyone. Welcome to the year of our Lord 2020.

Amen.

3rd Sunday in Advent

3rd Sunday in Advent 2019

December 15, 2019

Matthew 11:2-15

“Why I am Happy This Christmas”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The sermon today is based on the Gospel lesson from Matthew 11.

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

My favorite Christmas movie, and one of my favorite all-time movies, is the 1983 classic A Christmas Story. It is set in the 1940’s in Indiana where young Ralphie only wants one thing for Christmas: an official Red Ryder 200 shot range model air rifle…he wants a BB gun. Of course any boy that has ever wanted a BB gun at any time knows what mom is going to say. “You’ll shot your eye out” is the classic mother “BB gun block” that kids cannot overcome! One method Ralphie uses in an effort to get his present is to write a theme for school entitled “What I want for Christmas.” It is a classic piece of American prose and I want to share it with you. Without further ado, here is Ralphie’s theme: “What I want for Christmas is an official Red Ryder 200 shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time. I think that everybody should have a Red Ryder BB Gun. They’re very good for Christmas. I don’t think that a football makes a very good Christmas present.” Ralphie is convinced that his theme is so good that he’ll be excused from theme writing forever and mom will have no choice but to get him the Red Ryder BB gun. Sadly, Ralphie instead gets a C+ on his theme, plus his teacher also believes he’ll shoot his eye out. Ralphie is devastated. His hope for a Red Ryder BB gun is crushed. Even Santa tells Ralphie the same thing – “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” Ralphie was becoming more and more unhappy as Christmas approached.

I don’t have a Christmas list this year; there is really nothing that I need or really want for Christmas. Unlike Ralphie Parker, I am happy this time of year as Christmas approaches. And I have a good reason to be happy this year…and you do too. And so, as an homage to my favorite movie, without further ado, this is my personal Christmas theme: “Why I Am Happy This Christmas.” It’s a little longer than Ralphie’s, but I am a man of many words.

Are you happy this Christmas? Maybe it doesn’t feel like it. Maybe instead, for you, it seems like the days leading up to Christmas are just an endless string of unhappy days, one more sad than the next. Maybe you’re unhappy because of your spouse or your children or your grandchildren lack thereof. Maybe you’re concerned about your health or the health of a loved one. Maybe you’re concerned about your future, your past, your present. Maybe there will be no one for you to gather around the tree with…if you even had a tree. These things can really make a person unhappy as Christmas approaches!

But I am happy this Christmas. Does that mean my life is perfect and free from pain, worry, and anxiety? By no means! Last year was my first Christmas as a separated man and this will be my first Christmas as a divorced man. But there are still plenty of reasons to be happy this Christmas! A big reason is found in Matthew chapter 11.

John the Baptist had been put in prison not for anything he had done wrong, but because of what he did right. He had been put there by King Herod Antipas because John had spoken up about Herod marrying his brother Philip’s wife Herodias. When John said it was not lawful for Herod to have her as a wife, Herod threw John in prison. So, from prison, John sent word by his disciples to Jesus to ask a very important question, maybe the only one he’ll ever be allowed to ask. He makes it a good one: “Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?” (11:3).

Jesus’ response is enough to make EVERYONE happy at Christmas: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” Do you think that’s what John wanted to hear? Think about it. John is IN PRISON…he is languishing away wondering if he’s going to get out, and so he asks THE question on his mind.

What did John want? To be out of prison? No, in fact he would die there (14:10). No miracle will deliver John from imprisonment or save him from execution. Instead, John was told that the poor in spirit have the Gospel preached to them, and that was “miracle” enough for John. Straightening out crooked bones, restoring hearing and sight, and curing leprosy are difficult, and raising the dead is impossible. More important than all these physical miracles is that the poor in spirit have the gospel preached to them. True faith feeds not on miracles, but on the Gospel.

Knowing what Jesus has said, and more importantly done, we face the unhappiness, the let-downs, the disappointments, the unfilled wishes of life with confident hope because as know what’s important about Christmas – it’s what makes us happy at Christmas – that Jesus Christ was born, but then suffered, died, rose again, ascended into heaven, and will come again.

Being happy at Christmas has little to do with the celebration (trees, gifts, cards, tinsel, etc.). It has everything to do with the circumstances. You have many reasons to be happy this Christmas – reasons verified by angels no less!: “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” THAT makes us happy at Christmas. And among other reasons, that is why I am happy this Christmas.

In A Christmas Story, Ralphie opens all his gifts under the tree on Christmas morning and there is no BB gun. At the lowest point of his despair, Ralphie’s father points out a long, skinny box hidden behind a nearby desk – a gift that “Santa Claus” must have left. And yes, inside is the Red Ryder BB Gun that Ralphie so badly wanted. You can see the joy and happiness in his eyes as he draws the gun from the box, and there isn’t a dry eye in the house.

Ralphie, as the adult narrator, called the BB gun “the greatest gift he would ever receive.” Whatever does or does not happen for you this Christmas, remember that you have a great reason to be happy this Christmas because the greatest gift has already been given to you to secure your eternal salvation, and that knowledge and hope makes us happy at Christmas and always.

Amen.

 

2nd Sunday in Advent

2nd Sunday in Advent

December 8, 2019

Isaiah 11:1-10

“Like No Other King”

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The sermon today is based on the Old Testament Lesson from Isaiah 11.

 

My dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The situation on the political front is not that great these days, starting at the top. People seem to either love or hate Donald Trump, including other world leaders. It trickles down from there. Republicans don’t trust Democrats. Democrats don’t trust Republicans. People have a general lack of faith in our leaders either because we don’t like their party affiliation or we don’t like them as an individual.

It wasn’t always that way, you know. There once was a time, a time I am sure some of you can remember, when politicians and leaders were “larger than life” and role models and heroes to the young people of our nation. John F. Kennedy. Tiger Woods. Generals Douglas MacArthur and George Patton. FDR. Mickey Mantle. Bertha Palmer. Reggie Jackson. These people were leaders…heroes.

I know that our military and law enforcement personnel are “heroes,” but today we are really lacking any kind of person or persons who are true leaders; heroes and role models that everyone looks up to. Why is that? Why have people become so cynical when it comes to leadership and our heroes and role models – people to emulate and be like?

Maybe it’s because so many of them have let us down. Our heroes have let us down by their conduct and disappointed us by their behavior when their private mannerisms and scandals are made public. We admired long home run blasts from Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire, but then we learned that steroids influenced those homers. Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, Martha Stewart, Bill Cosby, and too many others have all taken us to dizzying heights only to drop us face-first into the muck and mire of their scandalous behaviors.

Isaiah 11 contains a call to God’s people to look for true leadership that was coming. For the people of Isaiah’s day, they also needed a hero or a leader or someone who would provide hope in the face of the rampant hopelessness they were experiencing. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had made an alliance with Syria in an effort to hold off the ever-growing and dangerous Assyrians. Rather than join the Israel-Syria coalition, King Ahaz of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, actually struck terms of agreement with the Assyrians. To solidify that alliance, he gave the Assyrian king gold from the temple and had a duplicate pagan altar built in Jerusalem. Great move, Ahaz, thanks a lot! Just another example of how the leader of the people let the people down.

But Isaiah’s words here in chapter 11 tell of a king, a leader, a role model, a hero that was like no other king. There was a king coming that would make a difference. This king would not let His people down. In fact, when this king comes He brings a new, better kingdom the likes of which have never been seen. The kingdom of the new king, a leader that people can truly follow, brings perfect peace.

The new Messiah king is not swayed by the rich or the powerful unlike so many leaders in our modern world. He rules like no other king. The new King doesn’t accept money from lobbyists and doesn’t take bribes or kick-backs. And perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of the new king is that He gets results. So many politicians make campaign promises on top of promises, but they break them faster then we can change TV channels with the remote control.

The new Messiah king to come gets true results. Isaiah pointed out that under the new king, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; the cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra” (v. 6-8). Um yeah, that’s results. Because of sin those results and never been since, and that’s the kind of peace and security that the new King brings.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our coming King, the King promised of old, the King who comes from the stump of Jesse, is a King like no other king. Unlike human kings or role models, He is the King that makes a tremendous difference in our lives. He is a ruler, a leader, a king that we can truly have faith in for He will not disappoint us or let us down! EVER!

As King, Jesus’ word defeats our every enemy and liberates us especially from the dreaded forces of sin, death, and the devil. Human kings and leaders speak and talk endlessly about what they’ll do for us, but our King Jesus, the One that Isaiah foretold, does more than just talk about what He will do for us as His subjects. He takes action…action that leads Him from the manger to the cross to an empty grave, and by doing so he creates dramatic, eternal changes for our lives.

The leaders of this world will come and go. They already have and will continue to do so. There will be a time when Donald Trump – love him or hate him – will not be our president. There will be a time when all the countries of the world will have different leaders because that is the nature of human existence; people come and people go no matter how popular or unpopular they are. But Isaiah told the people of his day that a leader would come one day that would not disappoint; he would bring true righteousness and justice and peace that would reign forever. The King’s name was to be “Immanuel” – God with us.

The coronation of that king took place on a hill outside of Jerusalem. Surrounded by jeers and taunts from his “subjects,” the promised King was crowned with a crown of thorns and He was given three nails as a coronation gift. But without the manger, without the cross, without the tomb, without His resurrection, then we would still be lacking our One and only true King, the King like no other king.

Amen.

1st Sunday in Advent

1st Sunday in Advent

December 1, 2019

Matthew 24:36-44

“Are You Ready?”

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you all in the name of our Triune Advent God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The text that engages us is the Gospel lesson from St. Matthew.

Dear fellow redeemed brothers and sisters in Christ,

So, how are you doing as far as getting ready for Christmas? Did you spend lots of time shopping on Thanksgiving or on Friday? But Thanksgiving is over and now there’s so much to do to get ready for Christmas, right? There are the cards to send, the gifts to buy, the decorations to put up, the gatherings to plan, and so on. On this first week in Advent in our Gospel lesson, Jesus is also urging you to get ready, but in a much different way for a much different event. This time Christ is not talking about his first Advent, his coming to Bethlehem. What we need to be concerned with, and what Jesus is addressing, is his second Advent, his second coming at the end of time. As a new church year begins, our focus is on getting ready for the coming of Christ. This is more than getting ready with cards and parties and shopping and decorations. It is seeing the first coming of Christ as a reminder that he comes to us today in Word and Sacraments, and that prepares us for the end of the age.

Our Gospel lesson is taken from a large section of teaching that Jesus provides to his disciples. Jesus told the disciples as they left the temple that the time was coming when that very same temple (70 AD) would be destroyed. Arriving at the Mount of Olives, the disciples asked when this would be and what was the sign of the end of the age? (24:3). In response Jesus spoke of things that will happen to remind them of the end both of the temple and the age. With this teaching, Jesus is not giving out secret codes, a timeline, or hints regarding the time of his coming. Instead, Jesus is calling his church, his people, to live in constant readiness because his coming will be at an hour when we do not expect him.

But that is not how everyone understands this text. Matthew 24:40-41 are some of the biblical verses on which much of the “rapture” theory is based. This is a belief that Christ will actually have two returns. The first return is a secret “rapture” in which believers are instantly taken away to spare them hardship before the end of the world. Many are “left behind;” one in the field and one at the mill are “taken” while their partners are not. However, these verses have nothing to do with a secret “rapture,” but everything to do with vigilance prior to the coming of Christ! We are instructed to watch because we don’t know the day or the hour when he will return.

If you ask people if they’re getting ready for Christmas, you’re bound to get various answers. But would you say that you are ready right now to meet the Lord when he returns at the end of time should it be today? Do your daily activities and decisions and priorities in your life reflect your state of readiness?

Jesus did tell us that he was coming back to take us to be with him, but that was 2000 years ago, and he hasn’t come back yet. That must mean that there’s plenty of time, right? Don’t be too sure about that. We are a people of sinful procrastination; we put things off until it is convenient or necessary for us to give it our attention. We’ve convinced ourselves that we are busy people, we’ve got a lot to do. We’ll find the time later to think more about getting ready.

Well, that’s exactly how the people of Noah’s day thought. Jesus uses the illustration of those people who were busy eating and drinking and marrying and they “knew nothing” about the flood until they were completely washed away by an event they didn’t even expect. Jesus doesn’t point out that these people were evil or wicked, but that they were caught up in the routines of life and ignored the warnings of Noah and the big honkin’ boat in his front yard! Constant vigilance is vital. We must be ready and ready NOW, not tomorrow for tomorrow never truly comes. Even as the flood caught the people of Noah’s day unaware, so the coming of the Son of Man will shock an unbelieving world. There is no time to put off our preparation; the time is now.

   There is an old fable in which 3 apprentice devils are going to be sent to earth to test their skills. Satan called in each one to interview them on their strategy. The first one told Satan, “I will tell them there is no God.” Satan rejected that strategy explaining that everyone knows there is a God. The second said, “I will convince people that there is no Hell.” Satan also rejected that strategy because everyone knows that Hell exists. The third approached Satan and said, “I will convince people that there is no hurry to believe.” “You will win many,” Satan complimented him.

So then, how do you prepare for the unexpected? How do you get ready for something that you cannot foresee? Primarily, we prepare by knowing that it is your Lord that is coming. It was your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who was born as a baby in Bethlehem. Born as a flesh and blood man and yet still fully divine so that he could pay the penalty for our sin. The promised seed of the woman, through the line of Abraham, through the line of David, comes the promised Messiah. You and I are a part of the fulfillment of God’s promise; sharers in the deliverance brought to us by the Christ-child born all those years ago; you are the reason Christmas happened in the first place.

As recipients of the Savior, you have been blessed beyond imagination: blessed with numerous physical blessings which we remembered last week on Thanksgiving, blessed with pardon from sin, blessed with victory over Satan, blessed with hope for eternal life. Believing that Jesus came to live and die for you is the best preparation for Christmas and for his second coming you can do!

Today is the beginning of Advent. We now wait in eager, joyful, and slightly restrained expectation of the celebration of the coming of Christ to the manger stall. But this celebration is also a reminder that Jesus will also come again someday. The call to “watch and be ready” is a call to put our lives, our hope, our faith in the hands of your gracious and one-day-returning God. Our prayer of this new church year is the same as every year: “Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly,” because we’re ready. Right?

Amen.

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

November 17, 2019

Malachi 4:1-6

“Dead Man’s Curve”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the First Lesson from Malachi 4, the final words of the Old Testament.

My dear friends,

When we moved to extreme northern Minnesota from Nebraska, my folks built a home right on the Rainy River. It was a beautiful spot…right on the water with Canada on the other side. Our house, though, was located on a sharp curve in the highway that sat at the junction of 2 long straight stretches. You can just about image the number of motorists who slid into the ditch because they were drowsy having been “hypnotized” by the long, straight road and they didn’t react quickly enough or the curve was icy which was the case about half the year. We got so good at watching the cars out on the highway we could tell from ¼ mile away whether they would make the curve or not. Some folks in our area jokingly called it “Dead Man’s Curve” because that was literally true. Tragically, a 16 year old kid, Michael Hervey, didn’t make the curve one night and crashed out in the field in front of or house. My brother Mike was first on the scene and he did the little he could. Michael Hervey died in the hospital later that night as a result of his injuries. Yup, I grew up on “Dead Man’s Curve.”

The prophet Malachi reminds me of that curve, only the view is not from a sudden deadly curve on Highway 11, but from the sudden return of Jesus on the Last Day. For Malachi, this great and terrible day was just around the curve. It was certain to happen, and Malachi urged the people to snap out of their spiritual hypnosis and drowsiness caused by the monotony of life and prepare for the final day of judgment. When Judgment Day came, you either made “Dead Man’s Curve” or you didn’t.

If you were judged wicked and arrogant, and then thrown out, that day would be terrible…talk about “crash and burn.” Malachi sees it like being thrown into an oven or furnace. Malachi sees the Last Day for those judged wicked as being burned to less than ash. Sound like a good eternal destination to you? No thanks.

However, if you are judged righteous by faith in Christ, if you made “Dead Man’s Curve,” that day would be one of joy, wholeness, and victory. As you might know, there was a small controversy over the statue in downtown Sarasota called “Unconditional Surrender.” It’s a statue of the iconic picture taken back in 1945 after the Japanese surrendered officially ending World War II. Some complained that the statue glorified sexual assault. Uhm…not quite. Instead, it is a reflection of what the total joy of absolute victory feels like. For believers, the Last Day will bring that kind of joy magnified infinitely.

Malachi pictures it like a calf jumping in spring. Okay…not as cool as a big statue, but it is what it is. I’ve seen calves do that. Not only was our home on the river, it was also adjacent to my grandparent’s farm and they had cattle. Especially in the spring, the calves were so happy. They’d jump around, kicking up their hooves, suddenly running for no reason. It is pure, raw joy as they discover the world around them.

On the Day of the Lord, those who are righteous – those saved by grace through faith in Jesus, will be like that…having survived “Dead Man’s Curves,” we’ll be so excited, so healthy, so awake and so alive! No more pain or tears. No more “Dead Man’s Curves.” No more ridicule by unbelievers about our faith or our church, no more sin to make us feel as though God is distant from our lives. It will be just the opposite; on the Last Day He will become our lives…for all eternity. That’s not a bad thing…WAY better than being reduced to ashes, right?

Malachi’s words make the heat from the furnace on the Last Day just too close for comfort; like the awful concentration camp images from World War II. Maybe that’s the way it should be. And that’s the way it would be for everyone except for the hope that Malachi provides when he mentioned two key figures: Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah…Elijah and Moses…men who lived several hundreds of years apart, but once stood together on one very special day. We call it Transfiguration.

More than 900 years after Elijah lived, Jesus went up on a mountain. The disciples Peter, James, and John are with him. Jesus was transformed right before their eyes with dazzling, bright white light. And who else was there? Yup…Elijah and Moses! And Peter says, “Master, it is good that we are here” (Lk 9:33). And Bingo was his name-o! How right he was! For Jesus then proceeds to navigate them right through “Dead Man’s Curve.”

How? Watch as Jesus comes down that mountain and heads straight for another big, important day of the Lord…a judgment day like no other. This day is Good Friday…the ultimate “Dead Man’s Curve.” On the cross, Jesus takes the judgment against us on Himself. Our sin, our wickedness, doubt, anger, rebellion, and arrogance become His, and “the sun of righteousness” (v 2) gives us His righteousness.

Then comes another calf-jumping, big, important day: Easter. Jesus rises from the dead, and His victory becomes ours. By the resurrection, Jesus sends death itself rocketing off “Dead Man’s Curve” never to return. The resurrection makes “Dead Man’s Curve” nothing more than a minor bump in the road.

Just like Peter said at Jesus’ Transfiguration, it is good for us to be here, in church, because every time we worship it’s a Day of the Lord because He is here and we are with Him and we are strengthened for all of life’s dangerous stretches and curves. What a difference that makes in our worship! It’s not about you or me. It’s about Jesus. It’s about coming to hear His Word. It’s about growing closer to Him. It’s about surviving the journey of life another week in order to approach the altar and being so close to Jesus that you take His body and blood into yourself during the Lord’s Supper. Yes, most assuredly, it is good to be here because Jesus leads us safely through all of the “Dead Man’s Curves” of life.

Malachi 4:1-6 is the end of the Old Testament. How does the New Testament end? From Revelation 22:20-21: “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.”

Amen.