Transfiguration of Our Lord – “Come to an End” (Luke 9:28-36)

C-29 Transfiguration (Lu 9.28-36)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

It seems, at times, that some things are never going to end. For instance, the red light seems as if it will never turn green, or that cold you have acts as if it has set up permanent shop and you will never be healthy again. Or there are those times that seems like our struggles will never end and that things will never go right for us. Turning to today’s Gospel, Jesus has a message for us about things that will end and things that will not end.

Luke begins this portion of his Gospel by saying, “Now about eight days after these sayings….” We need to ask the question: what were these sayings? About eight days before, Jesus had asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter had responded with that great confession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” So far, things seem to be going good.

But what Jesus said next must have sounded anything but good to the disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Needless to say, that’s a lot for the disciples to take in. Being raised from the dead, that must have sounded mysterious. The part about being killed, well, that was all too clear of a message.

They barely had time to digest what Jesus just said when He followed up with words that were even more difficult, words that applied directly to them: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” That was what lay ahead for these men. Their Messiah would be killed and they would have lives of daily cross-bearing.

And now that brings us back to today, some eight days after our Lord spoke these ominous sayings. He takes with Him the “Big Three” of the disciples – Peter, James, and John. Their destination – a mountain to pray. Nothing out of the ordinary here, just Jesus and the disciples going to pray. It seems like just another, ordinary day; that is, until they get up to the mountain: “And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

Great men of old, dead for hundreds of years, faces unknown to the these disciples, are immediately recognized as Moses and Elijah. God’s Word is fully revealed here on the mountain: the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel all in one place at one time. What joy it must have been to be there on the mountain and to see all of this take place. Here on the mountain, God peels back the lid of His shekinah, His glory, and the disciples get a small glimpse of the true majesty of God as revealed in the Word of God made flesh.

If you could pick one event that you don’t want to end, this would be it. To be in the presence of the fathers of the faith and in Jesus in His full glory, who would ever want to leave? But alas, things cannot stay like this forever. Things must go back to the way they were before. In doing so, Jesus gives His disciples a much-needed lesson in things that will last and things that will not last.

Unfortunately, Jesus will not be with the disciples forever. The time is drawing near that Jesus will set His face before Jerusalem, and when He does, there is no turning back. Despite the disciples’ best efforts, Jesus can not be tempted, Jesus cannot be convinced to turn away from Jerusalem and what that means for Him – it means His death.

What lies before Jesus is suffering and death. It means the disciples will be without their Leader, their Friend. It means that the world will be left without its Messiah, or so it would appear.

Remember the words that Jesus speaks to the disciples as He commissions them to go out and preach the Gospel: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Though Jesus does not remain in body, His work ever remains present in the salvation that He wins for us upon Calvary’s cross. His Word remains present for us, a word that speaks salvation to all who hear and believe it, a Word that gives life to those who are dead in sin and trespasses. He remains ever-present in the life-giving waters of Holy Baptism and in His eternal life sustaining body and blood in His Holy Supper.

Just as Peter declared to Jesus that it was good for them to be there, so it is good for us to be here today. We come today to where God has said He will be found. We come together so that we may hear the words of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus; the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel. We come here today to receive from the Lord’s bounty forgiveness of sins that have been won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross. We come here today to receive the very body and blood of Jesus. We do not come merely because God commands it but we come because He invites us. He invites us to come before Him, to confess our sins and to hear that word of absolution pronounced upon us. We come because Jesus Himself invites us to His Table, feeding us with the bread of life.

A moment like the Transfiguration would not be complete without God Himself being present. He comes with His almighty voice, speaking to the disciples: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” Hearing the voice of God was usually reserved for those of great stature, such as Moses, Abraham, David and other prominent leaders of the Old Testament. Yet God saw fit to come to Peter, James, and John to tell them to cast aside any fears, any doubts that they may have, both today and in the future.

Just as He did at the Baptism of Jesus, God the Father addresses mankind. This man Jesus is the beloved and chosen Son of God. At that point, God establishes for mankind who they should listen to; not the things of this world, but to the Son of God. How easy it is for us to give in and listen to what the world says because it’s what our itching ears want to hear. We don’t always focus our attention on the things of God, the promised salvation that comes through His Son, the love shown by Christ for the Father, a love willing to be put to death so that creation would once again belong to the Father. But the words that Jesus speaks to us are the words that we need to hear. Today, we boldly say, “Master, it is good that we are here.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 4 – “By Christ’s Authority” (Luke 4:31-44)

C-23 Epiphany 4 (Lu 4.31-44)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Authority is everything when it comes to respect. If you lack authority, one tends to lack respect as well. In today’s society, authority is something that can be taken advantage of or something that can be given up. The one to whom authority is given is the one to whom we should obey, but as we often see, that is rarely the case. As we look at today’s Gospel, it’s all about authority: who has it and who does not.

When we find Jesus today, He is in the city of Capernaum and teaching in the synagogue. As He was teaching, Luke says, “they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” The people listened to Jesus’ words, even though they may not have fully understood what He was saying. They didn’t need to know everything that Jesus was saying because they knew that what Jesus was saying had authority behind it. He wasn’t like any other teacher in the synagogue. No other teacher could stand before them and tell them what He did, for He had the authority that the teachers did not – the full authority that comes from God Himself.

Strangely enough, it wasn’t the teachers of the Law who declared that fact, but rather it was the demon-possessed man. He declared, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” Jesus’ authority comes from God, not from man. The teachers of the Law, though they had been given authority to preach and teach, did not exercise that authority properly, for what they preached and taught did not agree fully with what Jesus taught. They taught that the Messiah would come, while Jesus taught that He was the Messiah. They taught that in order to be saved, you must keep the Law in its entirety. Jesus taught that man could not keep God’s Law and so He comes to keep the Law in man’s place.

Jesus’ authority is in more than just preaching and teaching. His authority is also seen in actions. Jesus commands the demon to be silent and he is silent. Jesus commands the demon to come out of the man and he comes out. His words lead to actions being done. Once again, the people stood in amazement; not because the demon left the man, but because how the demon left the man: by Jesus telling the demon to leave. The people were so impressed with His authority that they spread the word of Jesus far and wide.

Once Jesus leaves the synagogue, He proceeds to Simon’s house, where Simon’s mother-in-law was ill. With a simple request of Jesus, the fever left her and she began to serve those in her house, probably as she normally would. The people saw what Jesus had done and other people with illnesses began to show up desiring to be healed. Jesus exercised His healing authority to heal those who were infirmed. By His powerful Word, He rebuked the fever and by His personal loving care with His hand of compassion, He healed them.

The common thread through all of these events is the power and authority of Jesus. He taught with power and authority. He rebuked demons with power and authority. He even rebuked a fever with power and authority. Jesus speaks to nature and nature listens and obeys. Jesus speaks to spiritual powers and they listen and obey. A little word from Jesus has power and authority over all things.

Jesus brought His power and authority to us in order to undo the damage that sin had done to His creation. Every sickness that He healed, every demon that He cast out, every person that He raised from the dead was a reversal of the curse of sin. Every healing was a sign that pointed forward to the ultimate healing that Jesus worked for us.

The ultimate, eternal healing that Jesus worked for us happened on a cross. On that cross, Jesus suffered the final, eternal consequence of our sin. He endured the full punishment of sin for us. He endured the full wrath of God in our place. He satisfied the judgment of God against our sin. As Isaiah writes, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

The message that needs to be heard—shouted from the rooftops and shared and lived out in all of everyday life—is the message of Christ’s all-redeeming suffering, death, and resurrection. This is not just religious truth, but whole Truth. It’s not just true for Lutherans or Catholics, Baptists, or even Christians. It’s not just true on Sunday mornings. Christ suffered and died for the entire world! This trumps everything, for there’s nothing more important than this: Christ Jesus bore and suffered the sins of everyone for all time, and that even includes the people you don’t like or those you don’t think deserve God’s mercy. Contrary to popular belief, you and I don’t deserve God’s mercy either, and yet He extends that mercy to us. We must remember what Paul writes to the Romans: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The healing that Jesus gives to us was authenticated by His resurrection from the dead. Through His resurrection we have the promise that all His work – His perfect life and His sacrifice on the cross – all His work is for us. He promises that we shall rise just as He rose. He promises that we shall also live with Him in heaven forever.

What is Christ’s teaching that Jesus gives to us? It was Jesus’ authoritative teaching that first caught the attention of those in Capernaum. It is the very Word of God that leads you to forgiveness in His name. The teaching is of God and what He has done for you, namely forgiven you of all your sins. His teaching is not of anything that you have done because whatever it is that you do, it will never equal the atoning sacrifice that was made on your behalf.

Through this Word, the Holy Spirit changes unbelieving enemies of God into faithful children. We cannot produce faith, our own or anyone else’s. Instead the Holy Spirit calls us by God’s word. He gathers us all together in one, holy, Church that is eternally united with Jesus Christ.

Christ’s Word is powerful. It has what we need. It does what it says. Christ’s Word has power and authority – the power and authority to rebuke demons – the power and authority to rebuke fevers, but ultimately, the power and authority to forgive your sins and save your soul. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 3 – “Fulfilled in Your Hearing” (Luke 4:16-30)

C-22 Epiphany 3 (Lu 4.14-21)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Imagine for a moment that I said that instead of me preaching this morning, we would have guest preacher. What would your thoughts be? You might be happy or you might be saddened by the fact of a guest preacher. But what if I told you that the guest preacher would be none other than Jesus Christ Himself. Wouldn’t that be marvelous, to hear a message straight from God in the person of Jesus Christ?

That is precisely what we see happen in our Gospel reading for today. Jesus enters His hometown of Nazareth and goes to the synagogue, as was His custom. Instead of merely being a participant of the worship service, Jesus becomes the leader and reads from the scroll of Isaiah the following words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This in and of itself is not the issue. The Jewish Scriptures of the day were the Old Testament. Focusing on the words of the prophet Isaiah regarding what the coming Messiah would do would be seen as a good thing, keeping before the Jewish people who the Messiah is and what His work would be.

After He reads it, rolls up the scroll, returns it to the attendant and sits down, but now all eyes are on Jesus, almost as if He is expected to do something, and He is, for you cannot have Scripture read without explanation of what the Scripture means. And so Jesus interprets the prophecy He just read: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What a statement to make. He just said that the prophecy speaks of Him, that He is the one who fulfills it. And the people’s response was one of marveling at what He said. Jesus just hit the sermon out of the ballpark! But before we start celebrating, the tone of the people in the synagogue change. They say, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Jesus must be out of His mind to say that Scripture has been fulfilled in Him because He is nothing more than a carpenter’s Son. That’s who they know Him to be, and so it must be that way.

Here’s the problem that the people have: they cannot accept Jesus as Messiah because He doesn’t fit their ideal vision of the Messiah. It is just too hard for the people to believe that this ordinary hometown Jewish man is infact, God’s own Son. Regardless of what the people think or don’t think about Jesus, He is the long-awaited Messiah that Isaiah had foretold of long ago, the Messiah that Isaiah speaks of and the Messiah that Jesus fulfills.

Jesus speaks an omen of sorts with regards to prophets, Himself included: “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” What does Jesus mean here? Has He gone from claiming Himself the Messiah to being just a prophet? Not at all, for Christ as Messiah is indeed Prophet, Priest and King. Rather, it is that ominous declaration that He will not be taken seriously by His own people – not just in His hometown, but speaking of the Jewish people in general.

Jesus is on the losing side here. No matter what He says about Himself, He’s going to lose. They don’t recognize Him as the Messiah. They don’t regard Him as possibly being the Messiah. He is no more a prophet than what the regular person in the synagogue was. At the end of the day, Jesus was just the Son of Joseph, nothing more than a carpenter like His father.

Times have not changed that much from the time of Jesus in the synagogue until now. People still hold Jesus up as anything BUT the Messiah! Some religions speak of Him as being a prophet, but not the Son of God. Some will attribute good deeds, good sayings and the like to Him, but at the end of the day, Jesus died and He stayed dead. Even those within Christianity do not want to go so far as to say that Jesus is the sole means of salvation or ascribe Him as less than true God.

You can call Jesus whatever you want to call Him. You can call Him the Messiah, or you can call Him a man. You can call Him the Savior or a savior. You can call Him the Son of God or you can call Him the son of the carpenter, Joseph. You can call Him whatever you want to call Him. Just remember one thing before you call Jesus anything: there is only one appropriate response for salvation that you can call Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Alas, for the people of Jesus’ day, Jesus’ claim fell on deaf ears. In fact, Luke records that the people were filled with wrath, rose up and drove Jesus out of the synagogue, but that wasn’t enough for them. They “drove Him out of town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.” They don’t like what Jesus said so much that they wanted to throw Him off of a cliff. If they got so worked up over saying that He has fulfilled prophecy, I can only imagine what the response would be if He told them point blank that He came into this world to live a sinless life for them, die on the cross for them and then three days later rise from the dead, all so that they would have eternal life.

It is fortunate for us that Jesus was not thrown from the cliff and that He continues to preach and teach what He has come to do, that is, be our sacrificial Lamb to take away our sins. Jesus wants to give us the gifts that He purchased for us with His holy life, His suffering, and His death. He wants to give the gifts that He won with His resurrection from the dead. He wants to tell us how His death on the cross has freed us from our captivity, opened our eyes to His salvation, and liberated us from sin’s oppression.

He comes to us as He came to the people of Nazareth in their synagogue. He has given us His teachings in the words of the Bible. He has promised that when we hear His words, the Holy Spirit will work in us to establish and strengthen our belief in Him. He has promised to put the very name of God on us in Holy Baptism. He has promised to come to us in His very body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Jesus truly is the fulfillment of God’s promises. He is the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah. He has preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God. He has shown us the light of His salvation. With His life, suffering, and death on the cross, He has freed those oppressed by sin. With His resurrection, He offers the Lord’s favor to us. He gives these things to us through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith, promising all these things to us and today, they are fulfilled in our hearing. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 2 – “Miracles” (John 2:1-11)

C-21 Epiphany 2 (Jn 2.1-11)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

At weddings, wine is more than just a festive beverage – it’s a sign. In the Old Testament, wine was a sign, a symbol, of God’s grace – of joy and abundant blessings and even hope for the future. Wine is an invitation to make merry, with appropriate moderation, of course. Wine is sometimes seen as a sign or symbol of the couple’s joyous future life together; for wine takes time, loving care, patience, and the payoff is down the line, something to enjoy to the fullest extent a little later than right now.

Turning to our text for today, John records for us Jesus at a wedding feast. But all the fun and festivities are soon to come to an end, for the supply of wine has ran out. Obviously things were not well planned, for a wedding feast could last upwards of a week. The last thing you want to do is cancel the wedding feast because you have ran out of wine, and that is exactly what has happened. Mary, Jesus’ mother was a guest also at the wedding and finds Jesus to inform Him that the supply of wine has ran out.

One might wonder why does Mary notify Jesus of this problem. What does she want Him to do? She states the problem and she points to the One who can provide the needed wine. But Jesus’ response is one of “eh.” He says, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My house has not yet come.” In other words, Jesus is saying why is this His problem.

Jesus has an appropriate response. Why is it His responsibility that the host of the wedding feast did not plan accordingly and make sure they had enough wine to last the entire celebration? What is Jesus supposed to do about the problem? Apparently, He is supposed to find another source of wine.

One might deduce that Mary is somehow helping out at the wedding because she tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” She had no idea what Jesus was about to do, but whatever it was, she trusted it to be the right thing. By the way, this is the last direct quotation from Mary in the Bible and they are words that all people should heed, but that’s for another sermon.

Jesus tells the servants to take six stone water jars and fill them up with water. Now each jar could hold between twenty or thirty gallons. That translates into somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons. This was not going to be a short and easy task by any means.

Once the water jars are filled, Jesus commands them to “draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” It’s ironic that these water jars once used for the ritual washing is now turned into the new wine for the wedding feast. In a very symbolic way, we see the old faith coming to an end and the new faith being birthed, all centered on and around Jesus.

What we see take place at the wedding at Cana is the first miracle our Lord performs. Changing the water to wine was a sign that the coming Messiah was here. Somewhere in the process of filling the jars and taking a sample of the water to the master of the feast, the water became wine. It wasn’t just any wine either. The master of the feast was surprised that the groom had waited so long to serve the good wine.

In the grand scheme of eternity, why is it important? Scripture interprets Scripture. John himself tells us of the goal of his Gospel at the end of chapter 20: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Here John reveals the objective of the signs in his account of the Gospel. The signs are there in order to make the case that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. For John knows that faith in Jesus receives eternal life.

The Holy Spirit inspired John to make the point that all of Jesus’ signs point to Jesus as the Anointed One, the Son of God. He is the Anointed One who takes away the sin of the world. He is the Anointed One who takes our sin to the cross and endures the punishment our sins deserve. He is the Anointed One who will give us the greatest sign – the sign of the empty tomb of our risen Savior.

John informs us that this was Jesus’ first sign, the first certification that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. These signs point to the spiritual truth of the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One who took on our flesh, lived among us, and experienced everything that we experience. They reveal Jesus, who, while fully human and like us in every way, except without sin, is also fully God. These miracles are signs that reveal Jesus for who He really is, namely, the Word made flesh, who created all things and who upholds all things in Himself. They reveal the glory of the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ.

In the waters of Baptism, Jesus makes us His own. By His suffering and death on the cross, He has earned the forgiveness of sins. Then by His promise and command, He joins that forgiveness to ordinary water. By His promise and command, baptism delivers the forgiveness of sins from the cross to you. For it is written, “Baptism . . . now saves you.” Baptism is a “washing of regeneration,” a re-creation. We were dead in sin, but Baptism re-creates us in newness of life in Christ Jesus.

In the same manner, the Lord’s Supper is a sign of our redemption in Jesus Christ. The miracle of Jesus’ true body and true blood in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine reveals the mystery of our salvation in a blessed and holy sacramental union with Jesus. Jesus gives His body and His blood into our mouths and so grants us the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus has given signs to us. At Cana, at Calvary, at the empty tomb, in the font, and on the altar, Jesus gives us signs of His glory. In the font, and on the altar, our Lord has given us signs of the renewed creation won for us on the cross at Calvary. Here Jesus reveals that His life and death are ours. Jesus reveals that His body was given for us and His blood was shed for us for the remission of our sins. Jesus reveals to us His glory, the glory of His death for our righteousness. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Baptism of Our Lord – “Baptized into Death and Life” (Romans 6:1-11)

C-20 Epiphany 1 (Lu 3.15-22)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

We gather here today to rejoice. We rejoice because you have died. And we are truly glad that you have died, for you have died in Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism. And because you have died, you have been born again. And that fact makes us even happier than the fact that you have died, for you have been united in Christ.

As St. Paul writes to the Romans, a lot has been going on in that community. Rome was a large territory with everything under the sun at your disposal. That also included every type of religious teaching you could think of. He writes his letter to the Romans as a precursor to his visit there. The Church had been in existence there in Rome for quite some time and Paul makes mention of many acquaintances there in Rome, some 26 names mentioned in the greetings to the Roman Church. But alas, things are not perfect in Rome. Pagan teaching, false teaching and the like have crept into the teaching of the Church. But what Paul focuses on in our text for today is one of great importance to the Romans, and for the entire Christian Church, for it is a doctrine of the work of Christ in Baptism.

Paul begins with a problem that many in Christianity have, and that is sin. The problem isn’t that we are sinners, but the problem is we keep on sinning. Paul asks the question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” You see, the popular thought of the time was that the more you sinned, the more forgiveness you could get from God. So, if you sin a little, then you get a little forgiveness. But if you sin a lot, then you get a lot of forgiveness. But there’s just one problem with that thinking: IT’S WRONG! God does not forgive in measure of degrees. You are either forgiven or you are not forgiven. You can’t be forgiven any more or any less than another forgiven saint of God.

But when you look at our text, that’s not where Paul places the majority of his emphasis. Instead, he places it on Baptism, and rightly so. Paul speaks so much of Baptism in just a few verses, namely, what Baptism does and what Baptism means for the one who is baptized.

He begins by saying, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” These words of Paul are spoken in our funeral liturgy to remind us that we have been baptized into the death of Christ. In that death dies all of our sin; past, present, and future. Because Christ has died, He has defeated death once and for all. And because Christ has died to death and defeated it, He rises from the dead in triumphant victory over sin and death. That means you and I rise from the dead and walk in a newness of life, a life that is forgiven of our sins, a life that is founded in and centered in Jesus Christ and His all-atoning work of salvation for us.

We know that to be true in what Paul tells the Romans: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” That is not a statement to be taken lightly. That is not a statement to be overlooked. And unfortunately, that was what was happening in Rome. The victory of Christ over sin and death was losing to the popular erroneous teaching of the day. The life of a Christian does not end when they die. The death that we experience is a death of the body, but not of the soul, for we already experienced the death of the soul in our Baptism where our sins were washed away by the blood of the Lamb upon Calvary’s cross.

Listen again to what Paul says: “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him…. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Death for the Christian only leads to life, life that is Jesus Christ. When we were baptized in Christ, we die to sin. Our old, sinful natures inherited from our Old Adam are drowned. Though the Old Adam rears his ugly head, we have the assurance that our sins have been forgiven and those sins sink to the bottom of the font and are washed away and the new life that is Christ Jesus rises anew in us.

As baptized children of God, you and I are sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. We are marked as ones ransomed by Christ. It is by Christ’s perfect life, death and resurrection that we are ransomed by Christ. It is by Christ’s shed blood on the cross that you and I received redemption of our sins. It is by Christ and Christ alone that we are made children and heirs of the Father. It is the baptized children of God that are promised full redemption, to be perfectly renewed at the Last Day and raised incorruptible to live with Christ forever.

What the Roman Church forgot and what we tend to forget is that we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Here’s what that looks like. Are we sinners after our Baptism? Yes. Will we keep on sinning after our Baptism? Yes. Should we revel in our sin? Absolutely not! It goes back to Paul’s earlier statement: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!”

Mankind is satisfied to live and function in this perverse thinking and doing. But Paul reminds the Roman Church and us that this kind of perverse thinking has no power over us. Our sin has been drowned. We have been set free from all these sins, not because they don’t matter, but because Jesus died for them. We are forgiven because Jesus took all these sins to the cross. When we repent, when we turn away from those sins, we no longer bear the punishment we’ve earned. We’re delivered from hell to heaven, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Baptism into Christ offers to us this new life, a life that is different because God’s name has been placed upon us. Does that mean we won’t sin any more? No, but it does mean that those sins we commit have been forgiven on account of Jesus Christ.

As we see the sinful crowds along the banks of the Jordan in our Gospel lesson, Jesus does not shun sinners, but comes to be numbered among them. In your Baptism, Jesus has come to you, to number you with Him. He has declared that He does not shun you for your sin, but rather He has died to take your sin away and has risen again. He has joined you to His death and resurrection, and so you have eternal life. This is the joy that we have received because of the Baptism that Christ received, the Baptism that we have been Baptized into. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Pastoral Year in Review – 2015

2015 is in the books. I had some down time following Christmas and its marathon of services. Now it’s time to jump in, arms swinging, in 2016.

2015 marked another year for me at Trinity Lutheran Church in Gillette, Wyoming. That makes 10 1/2 years here. A lot has changed since I arrived, and yet it can still feel new at times.

And with that, now let’s get on to the pastoral “stats” for 2015:

Sermons: 62 (not counting Advent and Lent sermons)
Weddings: 0
Funerals: 3
Baptisms: 13
Junior Confirmation: 9
Adult Confirmation/Affirmation of Faith: 5

Also this May, I was elected to be Circuit Visitor for the Powder River Circuit of the Wyoming District.

And so, 2015 is in the books. 2016, here I come…

Christmas 2 – “In My Father’s House” (Luke 2:40-52)

C-17 Christmas 2 (LHP) (Lu 2.41-52)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

When we last left the Holy Family, they had just gone to the temple to purify Mary and to consecrate Jesus. Simeon and Anna saw God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Since that time, twelve years have passed and it is the Feast of the Passover. This was one of the major feasts for the Jews. Every Jew who was able would journey to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, marking the yearly remembrance of how God spared His people from the devastating plagues while they were slaves in Egypt.

When the feast had ended, the Holy Family did what everyone else did: pack up and head home. They were traveling in a large caravan with other family and friends on the multiple day journey and after a days worth of travel, Joseph and Mary noticed that Jesus was not with them. Was this something to be alarmed about? No. Traveling in a caravan like this, if Jesus wasn’t with His parents, then He was surely with other family members in another part of the caravan. It was likely that they didn’t see other members of their extended family very often so why not let Jesus play with His other family members? Eventually it was determined that Jesus was nowhere in the caravan and so Joseph and Mary returned to Jerusalem in search for Jesus.

Even after the Passover busyness had ended, Jerusalem was still full of people and that meant because of the crowds, it would take a while to find Jesus. After the first day of searching, there was no sign of Jesus. After the second day of searching, still no Jesus. Surely their luck was going to improve on the third day. Luke doesn’t record when on the third day they found Jesus, other than the fact He was found. Where He was found might have seemed like an unlikely place for some, but the obvious place for others. He was found in the temple.

While Jesus was in the temple, just what was He doing? According to Luke, Jesus was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Now, the first part of what Luke says wasn’t surprising. Jesus was 12 years old. That meant He would have been of the age of study so listening to the teachers of the law and asking questions would not have been out place. However, it’s the second part of Luke’s account that is out of place. Everyone who heard Jesus was amazed at His understanding and answers. Jesus was nothing more than a mere child. He had no right to be doing anything other than listening and definitely not doing anything resembling teaching.

Jesus had no authority to be teaching anything, especially teaching the teachers of the Law. Not only was He teaching them, they were amazed at what He said. One can imagine the teachers hanging on every word that Jesus spoke. Out of the mouth of a twelve-year old boy came such great wisdom. In one sense, you wouldn’t expect much to come out of Jesus because of His age. He was nothing more than a boy who is at the right age to study in the synagogue. Yet on the other hand, He was the Son of God who had all the answers because He knew all the questions. Everything that the teachers and those gathered could ask, Jesus had an answer for them. Jesus has come of age. He has found His voice and taken His place. And that voice and place, we learn, are “in my Father’s house.”

When Mary makes a fuss of looking for Jesus and how they were treated, He responds, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” In these short utterances of Jesus we see the beginning of His break away from familial attachments in order to identify more intimately with God the Father. He is doing so in the immediate presence of His parents, presumably for the first time. His commitment to the Father now transcends His love for the family. Jesus knows that He is here for a purpose – to do the Father’s will.

To do the Father’s will. One can imagine the pressure placed upon Jesus. Here is a boy who could appear to be torn but in reality is not. To do the Father’s will may mean continue in the family business as a carpenter, since after all, Joseph is a carpenter. It would make sense for Jesus to continue in His father’s footsteps. But Jesus is not talking about being in His earthly father’s house. Rather, He meant being in His heavenly Father’s house, in the temple. And what does that mean? It means doing all that God had ordained for Him to do. That means living a sinless life among a world of sinners. That means facing the scorn of humanity when He did nothing wrong. That means accepting the sins of all when He committed no sin. That means going to cross and dying in order to redeem creation. For all of that and more, that’s why Mary and Joseph find Jesus in His Father’s house.

Jesus’ words not only convict Mary and Joseph, but they also convict us. We too try to search for Jesus and can’t find Him. We find ourselves with Mary and Joseph in that we too are looking in the wrong places. Jesus said, “ I must be in my Father’s house.” Never the less, we look among the things of this world. We look to earthly security, wealth, power, popularity, and so forth. We look for Jesus everywhere He is not.

Today, we must be our Father’s house looking for Jesus. We need to look for Him in worship, where His Word is proclaimed, and His gifts are given – in the absolution, in the waters of Baptism, and in the Holy Supper, which He lays before us every Sunday for our refreshment, and for our forgiveness, and for our blessing, and our strengthening. Here, in His holy Word. Here, in His body and blood is where you need to look. Here in the fellowship of His people – His holy body – is where He is to be found, and nowhere else.

All the work that Christ does for the Father culminates on the cross. That’s where the true intersection takes place between God and man. It takes place in Christ on the cross. Holy, perfect, and almighty God Himself gave up all of heaven in order to come down to this fallen and sinful world and take on our fallen and sinful flesh. However, Christ—in the flesh—did what fallen and sinful man can never do, no matter how hard we try. Christ Jesus lived the perfect life. He kept every one of God’s laws perfectly. He did this for us, in our place, precisely because we cannot do this. Christ Jesus took every single sin of the entire world upon Himself, taking every single one of those sins to the cross so that they would be put to death, once and for all.

This account of Jesus today gives for us a wonderful illustration of Jesus and His dedication to the work of His Father, even from the earliest of ages. He is about the Father’s work from the very beginning of His life until His death. In today’s Gospel, we might be tempted to say that Jesus was lost. In fact, Jesus was exactly where He was supposed to be. It was really Mary and Joseph who were lost. In a similar way, we are also lost – lost in our trespasses and sins. It is God who finds us and places us among the things of the Father. There the Holy Spirit works faith and makes us people of the Father. Since Jesus said, “ I must be in my Father’s house,” that means we are with Jesus. That is exactly where we are supposed to be. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer, Dec. 29

“God became Man that man might become God!” This truth, cast in parallel phrases, summarized the Christian mystery to the Christians of old. It impinged itself deeply in their spirituality; in almost identical words the truth occurs frequently in the Fathers and in ancient liturgical texts. God assumed a human nature to effect man’s participation in the divine nature; God became a Child that we might become children of God. The birthday of Christ inaugurates our divine birth. With Christ we were born God’s children. God became Man! This truth is utterly incomprehensible to our puny human minds. That the eternal God, whom heaven and earth cannot contain, who bears the world in His hand as a nutshell, before whom a thousand years are as one day–that this eternal, omnipotent God should become Man! Would it not have proved His loving mercy had He appeared for a mere moment in the splendor of His majesty, amid thunder and lightening, as once on Sinai? No! Such would have shown far too little of His love and kindness. He wanted to be like us, to become a child of man, a poor child of poorest people. He wished to be born, in a cave, in a strange land, in hostile surroundings. Cold wind, hard straw, dumb animals–these were there to greet Him. The scene fills with amazement. What can we do, other than fall down in silence and adore! God put on the beggar’s garb, became a tiny, crying Babe in order to offer man His divinity. In paradise, a fallen angel had promised: “Eat of this fruit and you will be like God.” Man ate and became a prisoner of hell. On Christmas night another angel, the Church, stands before man, offers him a Food and says: “Eat of this and you will be like God.” For the divine Food, the Flesh of the incarnate Son of God, makes us “partakers of the divine nature.””

–Pius Parsch

From Treasury of Daily Prayer, December 29

Christmas 1 – “Simeon’s Song” (Luke 2:22-40)

C-15 Christmas 1 (LHP) (Lu 2.22-40)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

The Law of Moses is fairly clear. Concerning the first born, it states: The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”

When God freed the Children of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, He sent the angel of death to slaughter the first born of every man and animal in the land of Egypt. The angel of death only spared those households that had the sign of the blood of the lamb painted on their doorposts. From that moment on, God claimed the firstborn of every man and animal. As Mary’s firstborn, Jesus had to keep this law. The law required Mary and Joseph to bring Jesus to the temple and consecrate Him to the Lord.

The law also spoke about mothers who had just given birth. Concerning these mothers, it states: The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed.”

So, we have one reason for Joseph to take Jesus to the temple, and another reason take Mary to the temple. The simple thing was to kill two birds with one stone: perform the presentation of the firstborn and the purification of the mother on the same day. So it is that today’s Gospel informs us that Joseph brought Mary and Jesus to the temple in order to perform these rituals.

Something ironic happens here. The temple itself is the place where God dwells with His people. That means that the baby that Mary and Joseph carry into the stone temple is, in fact, the living temple of flesh and blood, Immanuel, God with us. So Mary and Joseph are bringing the living, breathing temple into the stone temple. There are all kinds of amazing things happening as the infant Jesus enters His holy temple.

We meet two Old Testament saints waiting for Jesus, Simeon and Anna. The Holy Spirit had given Simeon a special promise: “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Anna, a prophetess, was also ready for “she did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.”

People often wonder about the faithful who live at the time of Jesus. The Old Testament Christians are saved by faith in the Christ who will come sometime in their future. The New Testament Christians are saved by faith in the Christ who has already come in their past. But what about the faithful people who lived between the time Jesus was born and the time He ascended. What are they to believe?

Simeon and Anna provide one answer to that question. The Holy Spirit guided Simeon into the temple at the exact right time so that he was waiting for Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought Him into the temple. Anna was always in the temple, so that she was also ready when the Lord came. These two remind us that God never abandons His people, but always preserves them in His salvation.

Apparently Simeon knew exactly who he enfolded in his embrace. As he looked down into the face of this infant, he prayed, not to the heavens, but to the baby in his arms, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Simeon’s faith was in the baby who lay in his arms.

Simeon’s service in the temple as a watchman waiting for the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises is at an end. The watch is over; the servant can retire in peace. With the eyes of faith, Simeon sees more than a babe in his arms; he sees a Savior dying on the cross; he sees salvation for all people, both Israelite and Gentile. This is Simeon saying goodbye. For him, this is a not a sad goodbye, but rather a joyful goodbye. He is able to leave this world now, not in sorrow over what may or may not have occurred, but instead leaving this world in joy at seeing the promised Christ.

How is it that Simeon saw all of this in this child, just a little more than a month old? Mary and Joseph were an obscure poor couple and Jesus looked no different than any other 40-day old male child. Simeon could see all of this because “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” He could sing this wonderful song because God opened his eyes.

Simeon had a word for Mary and Joseph as well. Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Even in this account from Jesus’ infancy, we already see God preparing Mary for the road ahead. The Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of Simeon to begin preparing Mary for that day when she would look upon this Son as He hung on a cross and paid for the sins of the world.

What an example of faith that Simeon had. Simeon fully believed that God was going to make good on His promise and save His people from all their sins through the Savior He would personally send into this world. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, Simeon was promised by God that he would behold the Messiah with his own eyes in his lifetime, before God would call him home to heaven. Simeon waited. He was faithfully patient, trusting that God knew what He was doing and was doing it all according to His divine timeline, working all things for the good of His people. Simeon had faith that God would work this promise and plan when the time was right. Now having personally beheld God’s all-redeeming plan of salvation in the flesh, in his arms, Simeon was joyously relieved. It doesn’t matter whether Simeon was 25 or 95 years old. He could now die perfectly happy and content, fully knowing and trusting that God was keeping His promise and actively saving His people from all sin, death, and damnation. He knew what was really important in terms of life and salvation, and he knew that he was holding it right there in his very arms.

The church today joins Simeon and Anna as we too celebrate the coming of the Lord to His people. We even join in Simeon’s song as we also have seen and even tasted the Lord’s salvation as He comes to us in His body and blood. Just as the Holy Spirit worked in Simeon to bring him into the temple to see the Lord’s Salvation, so also the Lord has given us His Sacrament so that we may also see the Lord’s salvation as we eat His body and drink His blood. So it is that the Lord will always dwell with His people and give them His gifts, gifts that come through His Son, Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Nativity of Our Lord – John 1:1-14

C-14-Christmas-Day-Jn-1.1-14.pngGrace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

This is the most important of all the Gospels of the Church Year, right up there with the birth narrative from Luke’s Gospel. The major theme that John brings out throughout the Gospel account is very much related to today’s celebration of the birth of the Christ child. This theme emphasizes the fact that the little baby whose birth we celebrate on this day, the little baby lying in the manger, is God in the flesh. The little human baby who looks like any other human baby is, in fact, the Lord through whom all things were created.

The Evangelist John, who by divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit penned the words of the Gospel reading appointed for this day, included no account of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ. In the opening verses of John’s Gospel, one does not hear of Joseph and the Virgin Mary being visited by the angels. Nor does one hear of the events that took place in Palestine in order to fulfill the prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament. No, John begins his Gospel in a time before the nativity of Christ and even of John the Baptist, for that matter. In fact, the opening words of the Gospel of John are set in a time that precedes the genesis of the universe itself; a time when there was only the Word.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the very first verse of his Gospel, John cuts to the chase in revealing the identity of the Child who lay in the manger at Bethlehem. He takes his hearers back to creation, and reveals that the Word who was with God was God. He declares that Jesus, the Christ, or Anointed One of God, is the everlasting Son, who was with the Father from all eternity. And John further declares in verse 3 that this same Jesus is the Creator of all things. The little Lord Jesus who lay down his sweet head on the hay in the manger is in fact the Almighty God who fashioned and created the heavens and the earth! The little Child, to whom the wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh in that humble stable at Bethlehem, is the Lord God of Israel, who had chosen the Israelites as his people.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. You can’t get nearer than that. The Word-who was in the beginning with God, who was God, and through whom all things were made-became flesh. Without giving up an ounce of His divinity, He also became fully human, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary, to dwell with us. “Dwelt,” says the English. St. John says it better in the Greek: “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” is what he says. The Lord had been present with His people in the tabernacle for centuries; now He was flesh and blood, living embodied among His people.

The Word became flesh – not just to be nearer, but to fulfill the Word. Long ago, God had promised that the Seed of the woman would be born to save; now the Word was flesh for the salvation of all nations. He preached, He taught, He fed, He healed. He fulfilled prophecy after prophecy, proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that He was in fact the Savior, the Son of God. As He had throughout the centuries, God had come near to save His people.

Therefore on Calvary, man tries to silence the Word once for all. Despite their best efforts of rebellion, rejection, betrayal and scorn, the Lord rises again on the third day. And despite the same, He does rise with a vengeance, but with salvation. He restores His disciples, forgives them for their sins; then He sends them out to all nations, to baptize and teach-to declare His salvation. The Word sends them to proclaim the Word, and He does so with this promise to them and to all His people: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

In other words, God still comes near to you.

Despite a world that is hell-bent on rejecting the Savior, the Word made flesh still comes to you. We speak, of course, of His means of grace: The Savior promises that He is present with you, really present, by His Word and Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. This has been the theme of the sermons throughout Advent and Christmas: The Word made flesh is not far away from you. Jesus is present with you in His means of grace, freely giving you salvation.

Jesus is present with you in His means of grace, freely giving you salvation. This is an awesome Scriptural truth. The Lord is consistently faithful to His people, as He has been since Adam and Eve. He still draws near to save, despite so much sin and utter rebellion in the world today. He still comes, though so many do not even pretend to receive Him. In His faithfulness, the Lord does not abandon this sinful world. Hear this remarkable statement of salvation: As many as receive Him, to them He gives the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name. You are now His children: Not by blood or genetic heritage; nor by your plans, works or will; but by His work of saving you on the cross.

This the miracle in which we constantly rejoice: The Word made flesh still comes near to save-save us by His blood, by His work, by His sacrifice, His grace. The Lord still comes near.

“In the beginning was the Word.” That’s how this sermon began, with the Word with God, being God, creating all things-a bit difficult to grasp. But here is the joy that you have: That almighty Word became flesh to dwell among His people, to go to the cross for you. From the cross, He descended into hell, rose again, and ascended into heaven. His travels for the sake of forgiveness are not done, for He comes near to you. And drawing near, the Word made flesh proclaims His Word that you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.