Pages

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Epiphany 4



Matthew 8:23-27 – Epiphany 4 – January 29, 2017
The Wind and the Waves Obey Him
                                           +
He whom the world cannot enclose
In Mary’s bosom doth repose;
To be a little Child He deigns
Who all things by Himself sustains. Alleluia! (ELH 136:3)
What a marvelous thing to ponder.  This beautiful hymn stanza was written by Martin Luther for Christmas Day.  With it we consider the marvel of the incarnation and the humility with which the Son of God chose to become true man.  Nothing was made without him.  He sustains all things he made.  He cannot be contained or limited by anything in all creation.  And yet to save us he submits to extreme limitation.  He joins his creation in the truest, most literal sense by becoming a real human being.  Taking both human body and human soul he is made true man.  He contains himself in the womb of his mother.  He who is himself the source of life relies for a time on Mary for the life he needs.  He sweetly rests in her lap.  Thus he deigns to visit man and rescue us and serve us in our greatest need.  Hidden in his weakness is the greatest power in heaven and on earth.  In a helpless display of infant slumber, he is at the same time preserving the entire universe.   

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Baptism of our Lord


Matthew 3:13-17 - Baptism of Jesus - January 8, 2017
God’s Love Revealed
+
Dearly beloved of God, grace, mercy, and peace be to you through God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. 
One of the most dangerous false gospels of our day is the lie that we must love ourselves before we are able to love others.  Hardly can any claim be more contrary and diametrically opposed to the Christian religion than this.  And yet it is everywhere.  The world makes many assorted claims that are contrary to the truth of God’s word.  And we must resist them.  We must stand up against lie after lie because our faith and salvation depend on it and because it honors our God to do so.  They argue.  We must argue back.  They make their case.  And we take our stand on the word of God.  But the claim that we must love ourselves before we can love others isn’t even argued anymore.  It’s just asserted as though no one in his right mind could possibly take issue with this self-evident truth.  But we must take issue with it.  Because it isn’t true.  And it’s very harmful. 
Now obviously, if one is going to exert energy to live a productive or happy life, he or she must have some sense of his or her own value.  The question then becomes: where do we find our value?  Is the value of our life found in how generally good we are and how worthy of love we are?  Well then, if that’s the case, by all means learn to love what you are, embrace it, and make it your goal to get others to embrace it too.  Exude unearned confidence.  Show no shame.  Isn’t that how the celebrities gain the adoration of the world? 
But if you actually believe that you are a wayward creature of God whose deepest problem is your own sin and selfishness, then you recognize that your eternal value in the eyes of your Maker has nothing to do with what you have made of yourself or of your potential or of your hopes and dreams or of how you have learned to express yourself. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Day


Luke 2:21 - Christmas Octave - January 1, 2017
Under the Law – Above Every Name
+
And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shep-herds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.   Luke 2:16-21
+
The incarnation of the Son of God is truly a wonderful mystery.  Like with those whom the shepherds told, it causes us to marvel.  It contradicts all human reason – that the infinite and limitless would be contained by the finite and limited.  Therefore since the question of how is clearly off the table for our consideration, we are all the more compelled to get to the bottom of the question of why.  Why did God become man?  And so asking, we delve into the pious and beneficial exercise of pondering in our hearts with the mother of God all those things that were spoken of her Child.  For surely we cannot begin to ponder the purpose of such a mystery unless we keep in mind what God says about it.  There’s nothing to investigate unless we set our mind on those things revealed in Scripture.  The Bible plainly teaches that the infinite God by whom all things were made became a helpless infant who depended on those very things that were made through him – including his own mother.  He who is eternally begotten of the Father with whom, in his very essence, he shares all things, including his substance and nature as God of God and Light of Light – this One now becomes a man like you and me who like us must lift his eyes above himself for those good gifts that come down from the Father of lights.  Why?  Why did God become man?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day


Micah 5:2-5a - Christmas Day - December 25, 2016
The Completed Puzzle



“The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).  So it has always been.  God hides his majesty and glory.  He always has.  “If God is real and so powerful – if God wants us to know him so badly and insists that everyone believe in him – why doesn’t he show himself and quit hiding?”  So says the fool.  He is a fool, though, not because such a request is necessarily unreasonable.  If aimed at our would-be rulers, this is a very legitimate question.   But no, he is a fool because he assumes that to know God is like knowing details of a celebrity politician and to scrutinize his credentials.  But God is not our equal.  He does not exist on our plain of existence.  He is not beholden to time or space, let alone scientific investigation.  And furthermore, he has no obligation to lay his cards on the table.  Nor does he want to be known by such minds that would insist that he cater to human demands of proof.  He wants to be known by faith alone.  Faith exists in humility.  To the proud he is terrifying.  So he must remain.  To the humble he is comforting.  And so it shall ever be.  God wants our knowledge of him to consist of humble faith, not impudent demands for evidence.  This is the whole point.  God wills to remain hidden to those who put God on trial.  But he chooses to reveal himself in kindness and love to those who know they’re on trial. 
The word of the cross is of course the message of the atonement. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve


Luke 2:1-20 - Christmas Eve - December 24, 2016
This Thing Which Is Come to Pass
+
This evening and tomorrow, people all over are celebrating.  Families are gathered.  Presents are opened.  Children are excited.  But what are they celebrating?  Christians celebrate by investigating what all the excitement is about.  We celebrate by hearing the word of God.  That’s how the shepherds celebrated Christmas.  The angel preached that a Savior had been born.  What made it good tidings of great joy was not simply that he was born, but that he was born to you.  He is your Savior.  Added to this wonderful news was the sign that was given.  The angel said: 
“And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” 
The point of the promise was not simply to give them something to ponder.  It was to give them God to worship.  God’s glory that shone around them and frightened them would no longer be found in the glowing or thundering of the sky.  No, the angel said to fear not.  Fear not, for now the glory of God in the highest is made known where he makes peace on earth and reveals his favor and goodwill toward men.  This peace and goodwill were found where God became a man.  His birth changed the Sabaoth of God’s mighty angels into sweet choirs of singing heralds. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Advent Nunc Dimittis


2 Chronicles 6:1-2, 6:41– 7:3, Luke2:25-33
Advent 3 Midweek - December 14, 2016
Nunc Dimittis Servum Tuum
+
The reason Joseph and Mary came to the temple with baby Jesus was because she had just given birth to a baby boy.  God commanded that any son who is the firstborn child of his mother had to be consecrated to the Lord and redeemed with a sacrifice.  Even among the animals, any firstborn lamb or calf that was male had to be sacrificed.  Certain animals and human sons, which of course God did not accept as sacrifices, were not sacrificed.  Instead they were redeemed with a lamb.  This was not a weird and arbitrary commandment.  It was actually part of their celebration of the annual Passover.  God instituted the Passover.  You will recall that each household was to sacrifice a male lamb and then eat it roasted with bitter herbs.  This was in commemoration of that first Passover when the angel of death killed all the firstborn sons in Egypt, and spared the firstborn sons in those Hebrew homes whose doors were marked with the blood of the lambs they roasted.  This was the Passover.  Thus, from then on all firstborn sons were holy to the Lord and had to be redeemed by blood.  This consecration was to be done as soon as the mother who just gave birth was ceremonially clean.  So 40 days after Jesus was born, Mary went with her husband and son to the temple, first to receive her own purification and also to consecrate her little boy to the Lord.  And they did. 
Two things here are really interesting. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent 3 Gaudete


Matthew 11:2-10 - Advent 3 - December 11, 2016
Refining and Purifying Christian Faith

Last Sunday our sermon dealt with the crosses that Christ lays on his Christians.  Crosses are hard to bear – whether they be something bad that God adds to your life or something good that he takes away.  Generally, because of the pain and personal nature of whatever hurts, folks would rather talk to some sort of professional counselor than to their pastor.  But the highest arts of sociology and psychology fall infinitely short of providing what the Christian most dearly needs in time of deep sorrow.  Oh, a counselor can help.   Please don’t get me wrong.  They are often well trained and experienced and can give wonderful and wise advice.  Sometimes all that’s needed is to have a discreet listener who will let you spill out your heart.  That can be, as they say, cathartic. 
That word cathartic means purifying.  It’s where we get the name Catherine, which means pure – a beautiful name!  God makes things pure by purging them.  Pure and purge come from the word for pyre or fire.  To purge is to cleanse by fire, usually in relation to metals like gold and silver or iron.  The Medieval Church entertained the superstition of purgatory where God, through pain, would purify those who died without being pure enough for heaven.  Of course this isn’t true.  What a terrible attack on the comfort of the gospel!  The Bible teaches that our purity is found in Christ by faith, and that this purity will be perfected in us in the twinkling of an eye on the Last Day when Christ returns.  Our pain doesn’t earn our purity.  Christ’s pain already has!