3.26.14 – I AM the Teacher

On that same night when He was betrayed, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet and said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.”  – John 13:13

It is not the typical format or public setting of our other “I Am” sayings, yet we still have much to learn from Jesus saying, “I am your Teacher and Lord.”  What is a teacher?  What is a Lord?  What was Jesus affirming when he put these two offices together?  It is interesting to note that the word for Teacher was used in ancient Greece to denote a teacher, but more than a teacher – more like the choirmaster or the director, the conductor or the composer – someone who has the vision of the big picture and is able to get all the parts to work together. It is a title that had more majesty than it does today.

Lord, on the other hand, is the substitute word for the Name of God in the Bible, and so Lord today has perhaps a bit more reverence than it did then.  A lord is someone with authority.  Of course, Jesus was noticed as one who taught with authority. So perhaps there is a bit of added authority given these two titles together.  Jesus is Teacher AND Lord.

It is interesting that Jesus taught with more than words. In fact, He only claimed to be the Teacher and Lord after He had washed their feet.  First he showed them His love and service, and then He taught them that He wanted them to love and serve.

Of course, we cannot forget that this is the night that He is about to be betrayed and sent to the cross.  And what does He do in those final minutes with His disciples?  He teaches.

Teaching is very important, because we, by nature, do not know everything. In particular, we do not know how deadly our sins are, and how much damage they do in our relationship to God who made heaven and earth. The wages of sin is death. We know the verse, but we do not always feel the full weight of it.  And we cannot, by our own reason or strength, come up with a solution to our sin. We need the Teacher of Truth and the Lord of Life to help us.

In our Old Testament reading, we heard that sometimes our Teacher helps us in ways we may not expect. Listen again to these words: “And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” – Isaiah 30:18-22

We need the Teacher so that when we face adversity and affliction we know which way to go.  Adversity, affliction, weariness, heavy labor – probably not words you look for in a vacation brochure.  Yet God can use these things to teach us to rest in Him.  The disciples are about to have a tumultuous night.  What does Jesus do?  He washes their feet, and teaches them that power and authority are given so that we might love and serve others. The world sometimes gets this backwards. We imagine that power and authority enable us to make others serve us.  But that is not what Jesus taught. It is not what Jesus won for us. He died that we might be set free from sin. Free to love and live as His baptized children. Free to be a part of His Kingdom coming, and His will being done.

What is God’s will?  What does God want us to know? Listen again to these words from the Epistle reading: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” 1 Timothy 2:1-6

God wants us to know the truth. The Truth is that there is one God, and you are not it. The truth is that our sin makes us unholy and separates us from God.  The truth is that Jesus Christ came to be the mediator between God and men. He gave himself as a ransom for all.  Those who b y faith are ransomed by Christ and now given new life in Him.

The object I am supposed to use for this sermon is an apple.  The classic gift for a teacher – sweet, yet healthy, red like the blood Jesus shed for us.  If you slice an apple right, the seeds form a star pattern.  Jesus is our Star Teacher.  He let himself be cut and bruised, all the while proclaiming the sweet good news of the Gospel, the forgiveness of our sins.

1.6.2014 – Treasures

Treasures!

Were there treasures this Christmas season you enjoyed sharing? The children’s choir, a meal or cookies, a gift exchange, or extra family time? In the Gospel reading, we catch the magi opening their treasures.

“And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” – Matthew 2:11

I have heard the allegories of how the gifts point to Christ as prophet, priest, and king  – the culmination of messianic prophesy. But that is not explained in our text. I was encouraged to look at this reading from a more basic point of view this year, and the question that came to me was: Why did they do it? Why did the magi open their treasures?

In the text we read, “Opening their treasures; they offered him gifts.” But why did they give offerings to Jesus? Was this their plan all along? Did they know that the holy family was in need or would soon flee to Egypt? Is the God who made heaven and earth so foolish as to expose his needs to traveling foreigners? What kind of treasures can travelers carry? Will they be able to make it back home without what they give away?

Perhaps they had over packed…. Have you ever seen someone who over packed for a trip? I had hoped to go to an archery range on our recent trip to the front range, but there was no room for the big bow box. Can you imagine taking a trip that most likely meant months on a camel, a donkey, or backpacking? They couldn’t mail supplies up ahead to pick up. They needed to be able to provide for themselves on the way there and back again. And why would they risk such a trip in the first place?

Again, we are guided by the text. The reason given by the wise men is, “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  A biblical scholar suggested calling them “wise” prejudices the text. After all, these men were not so wise that Herod was afraid to try to trick them. And they seemed clueless about Bethlehem. The Greek word translated wise men in our text is “Magi”, the root for magician, but that is probably prejudiced in a different way. They were not following someone’s cards or some crystal ball. The book of Daniel talks about magi; that is why many assume these travelers in our text come from some remnant of the Babylonian empire. In Daniel, the king calls on the magi for advice, and to interpret dreams and signs. Yet aside from Daniel and his friends, the magi are not always seen as that useful. In fact, Nebuchadnezer ordered them all executed for their incompetence. Thankfully, Daniel was able to turn that around.

Going back to our text, these “travelers” saw a star and decided the risks and expense of their expedition would be worth it. Can you imagine what they must have said to their family and friends?  “We are going to follow a star to see a baby in Judah, well be back in a year or so….”

Have you caught on to what I am getting at? These wise men were not some part time-volunteers.  Visiting a back wood baby in Bethelhem would not advance their political careers. They were not trying to take over a new market. They were not trying to buy their way into heaven. They were not looking for a vacation spot. They were not even looking for a way to be charitable. They were men who believed the promise of God. They were men of faith who realized that God have given them all that they had, and they rejoiced to see that God is faithful in keeping His promise to send the Messiah.

Yes, you noticed that Herod, who called himself the king of the Jews, did not inquire where the king of the Jews was to be born, but where the Christ was to be born. These travelers from the east came to worship God’s promised Messiah: God-with-us Emmanuel.

So the treasures opened in worship in our text today did not begin with the wise men, but with God – God who planted his Word and promise with the prophets, God who kept his promise when He sent His son to be the king from the tribe of Judah, God who made the heavens and earth, who set the stars in their place and gives the wisdom of faith to those who seek him.

Yes, God is the one who provided the wise men with faith and fortune, so that they could come and attend to the holy family. These men of faith put their faith in action, they themselves became part of God fulfilling His promises. We read in the Old Testament reading today: “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”  And, “They shall bring gold and frankincense.” (Isaiah 60)

The text points out that this is not something they were forced into doing. This was the response of faith seeing God fulfill His promise. The text says, “They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

Yes, the wise men realized God was the source of all their treasure. They rejoiced to do what they were given to do. God loves a cheerful giver, and God gives cheerfully.

The Epistle lesson also points us to Christ as the central treasure. “This grace was given (to me), to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan.”

Jesus is God’s plan to save the world from sin and death, from selfishness and greed, from darkness and despair, from folly and destruction. Jesus gave Himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sin. He died on the cross so that we might live. As we just sang in the Hymn of the Day, “Your Word and Spirit, flesh and blood, refresh our souls with heavenly food. You are our dearest treasure!” (LSB 395)

The wise men set out to worship Jesus, and found that they had treasure to share. May the Lord’s Worship here today also be “Unsearchably rich in Christ.” Amen.

12.24.2013 – Good News Given

Luke2-10: “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them,’Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.’ “

Are you ready? It is the question of Advent. Although, sometimes in my house the question goes: “Are you ready yet?” Advent is the season of getting ready for Christmas. Are you ready?

Imagine, if you will, asking our question to the individuals in our Gospel reading. What about Caesar Augustus? In his day, he thought he was the center of the world. He wanted more money so he ordered a new tax. In all likelihood, Caesar Augustus had no idea that Jesus was born, and, if he did, he probably would not have cared much. I think he would be quite perplexed that 2000 years later he would only be remembered around the world as a mere backdrop for Christmas. Of all the things he did and said, he ends up only as quickly passed-over side material for the Christ child.

Unfortunately, there are people caught up with their own power and wealth still today. Some think there are too many poor babies in this world already, and that we would be better off if they just were not allowed to live. Some think their financial drain means we might have to give up some of our own luxuries. Rather than rejoice that the world is richer in the lives given to us by God, too many only think of themselves and how they, like Caesar, want more.

And what about Joseph? What was he doing to “get ready”? First, he found out that his fiancee was pregnant and that he wasn’t the father. When he decides he can maybe deal with that quietly, the angel visits. God told Joseph that “Mary is carrying My son, and I want you to take care of her.” Then the tax man calls, and Joseph has to close up the house, leave all his work, and go to Bethlehem. And you can guess that there were zealots out and about who did not want good Israelites cooperating with Roman taxes. Joseph would have to move very carefully. And this was not going to be a quick little Christmas Trip – they would be gone for years with a layover in Egypt to boot. He had to liquidate, consolidate, and get on the move. Most likely, he had relatives in Bethlehem, but everyone had come to town and there was little room. So for all this, Joseph had to roll with the punches, with not much he could do to prepare. Now what about that holy night? Normal men feel helpless when their wives labor with child. And imagine if your wife is bearing the Savior, you are in a new town, and there is no room? What do you do?

Yes, I think many today celebrate Christmas feeling a bit like Joseph. There is too much to do and time seems crowded. You try to live righteously, but survival itself seems to be a struggle. Be careful that you don’t get too busy with extras and miss what is really going on. God is coming among us!

Yet neither rich, self-important Caesar, nor poor, overtaxed Joseph are the characters featured in our theme verse for this evening, but it is the unnamed shepherds. Undoubtedly, they had made some preparations for the night. They were out in the fields. They were keeping watch over sheep. They had left family safe at home while they would brave the cold and the wild. They may have even said as they left home, “I’m ready for anything.” A good rod or staff, a sturdy knife, fire, perhaps a bow and some arrows, and they were ready for a night in the field…so they thought. But this indeed would be quite the night.

I will admit it, I am jealous of the Shepherds. They saw the angel of the Lord, heard the heavenly choir, and saw with their own eyes that God keeps His promise. Although, I imagine it would have been hard for me to return to the fields after that…. Isn’t that something? It is true – before that night they were shepherds, and after that first Christmas night they were still shepherds, but something was different. The text says they “returned glorifying and praising God.”

You see, it was not just the birthday of some poor carpenter’s son. What really set this day apart was the Good News. The angel came with “Good news of a Great Joy” … “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Christ the Messiah is God’s promised Savior. He came to this earth to save all who would hear and believe. He came to fix hearts infected with the love of money and to lift the burden of those weary and heavy laden. He came to face the curse of death head on, and bring God’s peace to earth. He came to live the perfect life we can not live, and then to die the death we fear to die. He died on the cross to take away the sins of the world, so that all who believe in Him have the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

Yes, the angels had good news of great joy to tell. And so did the shepherds.  And so do you and I!  For the Savior, Jesus, who came to this earth years ago, continues to come to us and dwell with us in his Word and Sacraments. Lord, give us ears to hear and eyes to see that you have kept your promise in sending Jesus to the World, and that you have shown your love for us by His cross. Fill us with the Good News that we might return to our place in life, glorifying and praising you just as the shepherds of so long ago.

9.1.2013 – The Narrow Door

Luke 12:24 – Jesus said, “Strive to enter by the narrow door.”

Last month when I was working through the text of the Gospel lesson, I was drawn to the image Jesus used of the narrow door.  It seemed to be an important part of the text.  Yet this week as I wrestled with the text in my day-to-day life, driving through downtown construction,  I was not too excited about “narrow.”  And when I added a door to it, I couldn’t help but think of the over sized refrigerator we just bought.  Great for a growing family, it fit the measurements for the space on the wall.  But… I didn’t measure the narrow door into the kitchen.  Is this the way the Lord disciplines the ones He loves?

Then, after watching a show about building the transcontinental railroad, I heard them say that the key to the whole project was finding the “door” through the Rocky Mountains.   From a distance, the mountains looked like an impenetrable fortress –  up closer, a labyrinth of ups and downs. The key to success was the “door.”  Well my friends, if you want to enter the kingdom of God Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”

Now we know that Jesus is the way and the truth.  No one comes to the Father but by Jesus.  Jesus is the narrow door.  The only way through the ups and downs of this life that opens to the kingdom of God is Jesus.  We need Jesus to get to heaven; we need Jesus to understand his Word, and Jesus is the narrow door to success for our Lutheran Day School.

The Old Testament reading comes from the prophet Isaiah.  And even though the book of Isaiah does not contain the words Jesus Christ, Jesus is the narrow door – the only way to understand Isaiah.  Jesus is the suffering servant and the “glorious sign” from today’s text.  Only flesh dressed in His righteousness can come before God’s heavenly throne to worship.  Those who try to enter by their own righteousness are left outside, or as the next verse of Isaiah puts it, dead on the rocky shore.

We also need the narrow door of Jesus to open for us the Epistle reading.  It is true that we are to count it a joy when we meet various trials in life because God is producing steadfastness in us.  But to truly understand the discipline of the Lord, we need His word.  You do not need to stand on the street corner and try to get persecuted to know God’s disciplining love.  But you do need to hear His Word of Law and Gospel.  Popular morals today say the Bible is too narrow.  God says His love for the world is [this wide] – The width of His son’s arms spread out on the cross.  Jesus bore the punishment for our sins in His body on the cross.  Any discipline God has for us must not be confused with punishment, but understood as bringing us back to Jesus. 

Did you know that the word discipline and disciple have the same root?  God uses discipline to make us disciples of Jesus.  In the Great Commission, Jesus said:  “make disciples … baptizing …  and teaching.”  He uses his Word and Sacraments to call us to repent of our sins and come to Jesus for forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Enter through the narrow door- Hear his word and receive the sacraments. Be His disciples.

The great thing about our Lutheran Day School is that Jesus is our door. The most important thing we do is share the Love of Jesus.  Some students come to us a bit lost academically and/or spiritually.  We have the privilege of walking with them through the narrow door of Jesus.  Lives are changed.  Disciples are made.

Yet, we need to take another look at the Gospel reading.  I do believe Jesus is the narrow door, yet the text also brings in the idea of the narrow window of opportunity.  There is a time factor to this narrow door.  A narrow time.  That time is now.  Now is the day of salvation. Christ message was never “in 10-20 years you might want to check where your life is heading.”  No.  He said, “Repent! For the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  So let me run through our list again, adding that word “Now.”

When Jesus comes in all His glory, to judge , it will be too late to enter the Jesus Door.  All those who chased after their “I”-dols and other false faiths will be locked out.  In the new creation, this old flesh will no longer drag us down.  We will be changed.  Then we will worship God in full communion – Face to face.

Looking again at the Epistle, we see that “now” is a bit painful. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) Yes, coming to church should be a bit painful.  If we are striving for the narrow door, we are willing to Hear God’s Holy word and repent of our sins.  But the trials in this world are not worth comparing to the fruits of righteousness and peace we have in Jesus.

 And on this rally day, we can bring this to bear on our Day School.  Every day, every class is narrow-door-Jesus-“now” time.  We begin the day memorizing a Bible verse.  He puts his word in our heart and on our lips.  And how blessed we are to have a Lutheran staff pledged to living out that word in their work together with the children.  Each day is now: a time to plant, a time to water, a time to grow, and a time to bear fruit.  Today is Now.  Do not wander off or try to rush around God’s construction projects.  Enter through the narrow door.  Jesus, Now for you. Amen.

5.19.2013 – Pentecost

John14:23Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him
… I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.

Grace mercy and peace to you from God our Father, The Lord Jesus Christ, and the Comforter– The Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today is a Special day – it is the day the Lord has made!  He has gathered us together like the apostles and Given us the Spirit so that we might make the good confession that Jesus Christ is Lord.  We are celebrating Graduation, Confirmation and Pentecost, and they go together quite well.  We celebrate what God has done for us, What He is doing in us, and what He will do through us.  And the Word that holds it all together is on the Banner: “Love.”

It is a great verse that Alexis picked out: “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”  The verse begins with God’s Love.  God is the author and source of Love.  If we want to have a love that keeps we need to Listen to God.  How does God show love?

God loved His Son and wanted to give him the Name above every name, so He sent Him into the world to save us all.  The Son loved the Father, so he came willingly and for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross and scorned its shame.  The Son loved those who would believe so He prayed for the Comforted.  The Holy Spirit works through the Word and Sacraments to produce the fruits of the Spirit and the top of that list is Love.  Truly God is love.

The world longs for love, seeks love, chases love, but the Holy Spirit produces love, grows love, shares love – Love that keeps.  I can assure you there are things in this world that don’t keep.  The first Kiwi fruit I ate was in Australia.  It was fresh;   there is nothing like fresh fruit.  But the fruit we get from trees here on earth doesn’t always keep too well.  It can ferment and go bad.  In a similar way, love grown from worldly human pursuits doesn’t keep too well.  Love based on human feelings, desires, or even courage, tends to last only a short time.  How many Christmas presents break before New Year’s day?  How many fishing rods make it through more than a season?  Do you have any kitchen appliances that sits dusty on the back shelf?  Oh, the fragility of worldly love.

There is a very typical example in our Old Testament reading. Some have suggested that Nimrod the great hunter let his greatness go to his head.  They say he was the one behind the suggestion  that the people should not go into all the earth and fill it like God commanded but they should build a tower up to heaven and from there they could tell God what to do.  Guess what Nimrod?  We learned in the Old Testament reading that, “The Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.”  The idea of a tower to heaven didn’t keep.  The classic Nimrod.  The people left off building it.  The Bible tells us that unless the Lord builds the house the people labor in vain.  Man’s vain loves don’t keep.  God our heavenly Father has something that does. He  keeps His Testament of love with all those in the world who believe in the Son He sent.  His love keeps us safe from sin, death, and hell.  His love does not fail, His Love is everlasting.  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  His love keeps!

Toward the end of the reading from the Gospel this morning, Jesus said He wanted the world to know that He loved the Father.  God kept his promise of Love in Sending the Son, and the Son accomplished the will of the Father, fulfilling that love.  “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”  Jesus wanted the world to know the Love that he had for the Father.  The Love kept Jesus through death and the grave and brought Him back to life triumphant.  Yet, there is more!
Romans 5:8 puts it this way, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Did your hear those words, “for us”?  It was more than the Father loving the Son and the Son loving the Father.  The love was “for us.”  We who fail love, who chase after vain love, who undermine love, we are the ones even when lost in sin who are Loved by God and offered forgiveness in Christ.

God is love.  His plan to redeem sinners shows what Love is.   The Holy Spirit produces/gives us love so that we might be united with Christ in showing God’s love for the world.  To help us ground ourselves, God gives us His word.  His word keeps us in His love; His love in us keeps us in the Word.  Jesus said if anyone loves Me, he will keep my Word.  He is not suggesting that we have to do so much keeping or loving before we can be saved, but He frees us from our self-absorption so that we might know Him.  He is love, and He is our Savior. And His love in us keeps us steadfast in the Word.  What a great blessing of having a Lutheran Day School where Love is kept in the Word!

In the reading from Acts which described the day of Pentecost, the reading culminates with these words, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  It is not our calling that is our salvation, but our calling is a response to the Work of the Holy Spirit, poured out on Pentecost and promised in Baptism and the Teaching of the Word, who makes Jesus known to us.

When Jesus commissioned the disciples, He sent them into the world to make disciples.  Disciple making requires baptism and teaching.  The Holy Spirit works in “Baptism and teaching” bringing us to the knowledge of salvation. For no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” apart from the Holy Spirit.

Today we celebrate that God, who began this good work in Alexis through the waters of baptism and brought her to this day of confession, will keep her in His word and surround her with His Love and build her up as part of God’s kingdom work here on earth.  Yes, we celebrate that you have embraced the teaching in the small catechism.  But you are not done with the Word.  You must keep it and It will keep you.

The word keep in Greek is ταρεω.  I like the translation keep.  Some have translated it as obey.  I was assigned to present this word in a class I had at seminary.  I was having a hard time trying to free it from works-righteousness of slavish obedience.   The night before my presentation, the baby was crying at 2:30 in the morning.  My mind was restless, my body was tired, but I kept that baby close to me and rocked her till she fell back to sleep.  And I thanked God for helping me understand ταρεω.  A love that keeps.

Alexis, and all you gathered here today, God has loved you.  He sent Jesus to win forgiveness for all your sins.  He has sent the Holy Spirit in the Word and the Sacraments so that you might know His love.  And that love bears fruit as you keep His word.  Love life. Serve others in the joy of salvation.   Keep His Love.  Amen.

3.31.2013 – Come to the Feast

On that day I will raise up the fallen tabernacle of David. I will repair their breaches, and his ruins I will raise up and I will rebuild it as in days of old. So that they will possess the remnant of Edom, that is all the nations over whom My name has been called,” declares the Lord who is doing this. “Behold days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When the plower will draw near to the reaper and the treader of grapes on the one who sows the seed. The mountains will drip sweet wine and all the hills will wave [with grain]. And I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel, and they will rebuild desolated cities and dwell in them and plant vineyards and drink their wine and work gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them in their soil, and they will never again be uprooted from the soil I have given to them,” says the Lord your God. (Amos 9:11–15)

Have you ever had to rush through a meal, or skip it all together just to get to the next event on your schedule?  I think we know that rushing through meals is not only bad for our physical health, it is bad for our family health too.  It is important to take the time and sit down and eat as a family.  There is not much better than good food and good friends for a good time.

Have you ever thought about how skipping meals might effect your spiritual health?   Do we think we have to accomplish so much in order to to impress God?  Or are we tempted to get so busy we forget Him all together?  The Bible says, “There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.”    Each day we need to receive our daily bread as a gift from God’s hand.  When we start to think that things are all in our hands that is when we get into trouble.

Can you imagine having to skip meals not just because of our schedules but because there was no food around?  The prophet warned that God was considering plagues of locusts and fire that would destroy crops.  With no crop, the people would go hungry and die.  And those people were going to die in their sins.  Yet, even after God punished the people He still had a promise.

“I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel, and they …  work gardens and eat their fruit.”  Here we have a Gospel Glimpse. God does not utterly forsake his people, but He saves a remnant and restores worthwhile work and productive Gardens.  He calls us back to the family that we might come and eat.

Prophets have warned that God sends famines, eart quakes,  and enemies to plunder in order to call the people to repentance.  It is God’s way of saying we need to have more family meals together.  Receive the gifts He gives us and be thankful for what He has done. Amos said that God would send Judgement so that the people would repent and that He could restore them.  In Amos,  after the judgment, God states, “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old” (Amos 9:11). Judgment will give way to mercy, and death will give way to resurrection. God promises to raise up the fallen tabernacle of David!

On this day we celebrate that He has done just that! There is nothing dead about Jesus.  John 1:4 – “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” John 6:35 – “I am the bread of life.” John 6:68 – “You have the words of eternal life.” John 10:10 – “I have come that they may have life.” John 11:25 – “I am the resurrection and the life.” John 14:6 – “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Climatically, Paul throws a triumphant fist up in the air and shouts, “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).

Did you hear? Jesus swallowed up the bad stuff so that we can have the good stuff.  Come and eat!
He does it all! Hear this promise in Luke 14:17, “At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ ” In Amos 9:13 the prophet confirms that God  prepares for a feast.  He writes that in the days to come the grain harvest will be so plentiful that the “one plowing” will be in the field with the “one reaping,” as if spring followed autumn and there was no winter. In like manner, the “one treading grapes” will be performing his work while the planting happens, as if there was no autumn. There will be double production in half the time. God provides it all, and this in great abundance!
Our Lord’s victory over sin and death is an abundant victory.  The Feast is well supplied.  Come  and eat!

Amos 1:2–9:10 is intended to burn and bury the world of power politics and phony religion as these were known in Amos’s day. The prophet knows all about messed up government, religion, businesses, and lives. Our sin messes up life in this world. Meals and marriages can be sabotaged by the evil one.  But our Lord, who swallowed up death, reverses the curse. Those in the dark now live in the light. Those long lost are now found. The blind see, and the dead are raised!  The hungry are fed!

God says, “Come and Eat!” The Father tells his servants in Luke 15:22–23: “Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Let’s have a feast and celebrate!” Our God provides the proper attire for all prodigal sons and daughters: Easter baptismal robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb.
Through Amos the Lord maintains that this feast will never come to an end. “I will plant them, and they will never again be uprooted” (Amos 9:15). This new life in the Promised Land was initially fulfilled by the remnant who returned from Babylonian captivity led by Sheshbazzar and David’s descendant Zerubbabel (Ezra 1:1–11; 2:1–2; cf. Matthew 1:12–13). Now, those who are “in Christ” (cf. Romans 6:11; 8:1; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:13), possess these promises because we have a land inheritance that can “never perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Peter 1:4), which is the new heavens and the new earth (2 Peter 3:13). While we wait for the Savior to be revealed in His second advent, Jesus promises that we will never be plucked from His hand (John 10:28; Romans 8:37–39). At His second coming, all believers will inherit this kingdom and will reign with Him forever (Revelation 1:5–6) in the heavenly promised land. And there we will celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb, which will have no end!

Today we celebrate that Jesus roared back to life like a lion victorious in the hunt. He has done it for you and for me.  Let us not skip the chance to dine with our Lord, but taste and see that He is Good.  Oh yes, with Amos we should restore the Roar.

“A feast of love for us You are preparing; We who were lost, You give an honored place! ‘Come, eat; come, drink, and be no more despairing—Here taste again the treasure of My grace’ ” (LSB 612:3).   Christ is Risen!

1.13.13: His Winnowing

Luke 3:17 – “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John the Baptizer was given the task to prepare the people for the Christ and to announce His coming.  On this first Sunday after the Epiphany, we look at the Baptism of our Lord.  In Luke’s Gospel, the announcement of the Christ that comes nearest the baptism is that the Christ comes with His winnowing fork in his hand.
What does this mean?  First we can review what a winnowing fork is.  The ones I have seen look like a pitch fork.  It is used to pitch the threshed grain in the air so that the breeze separates the grain from the lighter chaff.  But let me back up a bit.

In the parts of the world that still harvest by hand, the process is much the same today as it was back in the days that Jesus was baptized.  First, the weeds are pulled out. Then the grain is cut low to the ground.  The stalks with their heads of grain are bundled up and hauled to the threshing floor.  There they are spread out and threshed.  I once saw an ox tied to a center post, pulling a log over the grain to loosen the grain from the stalks.  Finally, it is time to put the winnowing fork to work -stick it in and throw everything up into the air!  The heavy heads of grain fall right back down to earth but the lighter chaff is blown to the side.  It can be exciting when you finally see the grain, the yield for all that work.  The final step is to gather the wheat into the barn and burn the chaff.

In Luke 3, the burning of the chaff represents the fire of judgement, and the wheat gathered into the barn represents taking in the harvest – glory with God.  John, whose favorite preparatory word was repent, gives us this picture as both a warning and a promise.  The Christ comes with great work to do: bring in the harvest.  The End is coming. Will you be part of the harvest, or will you be burned up with the chaff?  If Christ throws you in the air with his winnowing fork, will you come down with the fruits of the harvest or blow away with the chaff?

I read that the fastest growing category of religious affiliation in America today is “None”.  More and more people are forsaking the church either because they think they are fine on their own, or they  think they have no real need for God.  This is not good.  While it is true that each person must believe for himself, the truth is that man can not find God on his own.  Luther confesses in the small catechism that we can not by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord or come to him.  How then are we to be saved?  The Holy Spirit works in the Church through the word and the sacraments to call, gather, enlighten, sanctify and keep us in the one true faith.

God’s wonderful work of salvation not only prepares us for glory, but also helps us live here and now with a bit more gravity, or the more common Biblical term: the “righteousness of Christ.”  Perhaps one of the reasons people today are claiming no religious affiliation is because the church has abandoned who she is. She is not living in the righteousness of Christ as she should.

Of the Biblical metaphors for the church: bride of Christ, body of Christ, ambassadors for Christ, the harvest, catch of fish, the vineyard, the dwelling place, the army of God … I have not found one that is only an hour or so a month thing.  Being a member of Christ’s Church is more than your destiny when you die, it is about the forgiveness of your sins here and now.   You have been equipped as his soldier and given his name for your uniform.  In church, God creates clean hearts, and renews a right spirit within us.  He enlightens us with eternal truth, and covers us with righteousness.  He reminds us that He has prepared good work for us to do.  He gives our lives purpose and meaning.

Yet I must tell you it is not all fun and games.  The church has work to do. We have a mission.  We are commissioned to baptize and teach.  We are to bear the fruits of the spirit. Still, our mission, like Christ’s mission, begins with baptism.  Listen to these word from Romans 6:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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.”
“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. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”  (Romans 6:1-7 ESV)

Living as a baptized Child of God means that the body of sin is to be brought to nothing; we are to drown our old sinful self.  Abiding in Christ, we are pruned so that we might bear fruit. Living with Christ as our Lord, we do need to humble ourselves in His sight so that He can lift us up.  Living for His purpose, we sometimes need to set aside our own ideas and even live with what the apostle Paul called a thorn in the flesh, a weakness that prompts us to rely on God’s grace.  Yet, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, God is with us.  His grace is sufficient for us.  His word and sacraments accomplish what He has purposed and promised.  Christ has His winnowing fork in His hand and He intends to separate us from the fluff, the chaff, so that we might be fruitfully gathered, the harvest of righteousness.

12.3.12: The King Who Comes

Luke 19:38: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Last night was a good night for a parade.  Night time parades are a bit different, especially in December.  But a group of angels, shepherds and other singers walked the roads of Monte Vista last night, declaring the Glory of God in sending Jesus to earth.  We didn’t have palm branches, but we did prepare the way with some sweet smelling bristle cone pine branches!

The Gospel lesson today mentions another parade Jesus was in.  Why do we have parades?  Parades can mark a significant person or a significant event.

People today still long for significance.  Is life significant?  Is it worth living and celebrating?  Are those that have gone before us worth remembering?  Parade!

In the Parade in our text, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem.  The cross which formed the main support for the stable in last night’s Parade of Lights was also the destination for the parade in our text.  Jesus, the Son of David, was coming into Jerusalem to ascend the cross and attain the highest glory –  making peace in heaven and atoning for the sins of the world.

When Satan, the accuser, rebelled against God and tempted man into sin, the peace of heaven was upset. God, the righteous One, demanded Justice.  Jesus came to pay the debt of our sin and restore peace in heaven.  When Christ atoned for the sins of the world, the accuser no longer had any rights in heaven.  He was cast out.  That is good news for those who believe in Jesus and the forgiveness He won for us, but, it is also woe for the earth where Satan was cast.

This past week in religion class, we examined what usually happens when we find ourselves in conflict.  It seems very easy for us to be an accuser.   We can find other people to blame lickity-split.   We learned that blaming others does little to help resolve conflict.  We talked about the Bible verse which says “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

For Christians, we need to deal with the log in our own eye before we try to get the speck out of others’ eyes.  We need to acknowledge our own sin, and the sinful attitudes and desires behinds those sins, before we can help others.   Jesus came to help us by first bearing sin in His own body on the tree.

Jesus not only talked the talk, but walked the walk.  In the battle against the accuser, Jesus first submitted to bearing the weight of sin on the cross before he went to declare the resurrection victory over hell.  He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.   That is the sort of King we have in Jesus.  He is a king of word and deed.

When we take a close look at the reading, we see that both His words and deeds are important.  The first part of our reading shows the importance and validity of Christ’s words.  Jesus told His disciples how they would find a donkey when they entered town.  The text says, “those who were sent went away found it just as he had told them.”   It seems to me the disciples were impressed, because when it was their turn to repeat the words of Jesus, they did not put it in their own words; they did not summarize the gist of what Jesus said; they did not embellish it or try to explain it.  No, they quoted exactly what He told them to say.  His word freed the donkey for the needs of the Lord.   Jesus Christ was a man of His Word.

A bit later in the reading, we hear the importance of our Lord’s works.  As Jesus was riding the donkey, the disciples rejoiced and praised God because Jesus is a king who does mighty works.  The text says, “his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen.”

On this first Sunday in Advent, we use the parade in our text of Jesus entering Jerusalem to prepare us to celebrate His birthday and the parade of shepherds to see the baby laid in a manger.  There too the shepherds sang praise to God for what they had seen and what had been told them.   Jesus, the King of Creation, is a King who comes.   He came as a baby laid in a manger.  He came as the King riding the donkey and taken to be nailed to the cross.  He comes with His Body and Blood in the New Testament of Holy Communion for the forgiveness of our sins.  And He is coming again with a parade of the heavenly host to judge the living and the dead.

In this world, we normally think that the less important person needs to go see the more important person.   God knows that it is impossible for us by our own reason or strength to come to God.  He comes to us.  He left heaven.  He came among us in spirit and truth; He came to the cross to pay the price for our sin.  He has ascended back into heaven, where He prepares a place for all who believe.  He lived a life of significance because He was not obsessed with his own innocence, but He was willing to suffer to bring forgiveness and righteousness to the world that He loved.  If you long for a life of significance, look to Jesus, the King who came to win forgiveness and life for sinners -the King who came for you, and won the forgiveness of your sins.  He is the King who is coming again to bring all who believe to the glory of His eternal kingdom.

9.23.12: In His Arms

Mark 9 36: “And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’ ”

In the Gospel reading this morning, Jesus took a child into his arms.  I love the pictures of Jesus holding children.  In the one I have near my study at home, Jesus is at eye level with a little boy, while a little girl leans on his shoulder.  When I look at that picture, I think that Jesus taking time to care for the children means He will have time to care for me, too.  That is good news!  Jesus does indeed care for you and for me.  And in His mighty arms we are safe.  Yet in the Gospel lesson today, Jesus did not take the child into His arms to teach us about safety.

What was going on in our text?  Jesus was trying to teach His disciples about what was about to happen in Jerusalem – how His suffering, death, and resurrection would change the disciples’ lives.  Sometimes we outline the reading and forget to put the pieces together:  1.Jesus predicts His passion, 2.the disciples argue about who is the greatest, 3.Jesus takes a child in His arms.  listed as “1,2,3,” they do not sound that related.  Sometimes we outline our days and weeks, but forget that Christ and His passion changes everything.

The disciples in many ways are just like you and me.  They heard what Jesus said but didn’t quite know what to make of it.  So while they were on the way, their conversation drifted into self-comparisons.  Each disciple knew they were uniquely important (after all they were on some secret mission with Jesus), and, as we tend to do, they magnified themselves-causing enough of a row to garner our Lord’s attention.  He asked, “What were you discussing on the way?”   Zing.

On the way…”  So much of life is lived “on the way”.  You might even say our life here on earth is lived “on the way” to the Lord’s house where we will live forever.  So yes, Jesus is concerned about how life is lived and discussed  “on the way”.

The disciples had no response to our Lord’s question.  They knew immediately that they had strayed.  And the “I don’t want to talk about it” response was not an appropriate reply, either.  Their petty, self-promotion suddenly looked foolish when Jesus asked the review question.  The disciples’ study session had gone nowhere.  Or, to be more accurate, it had gone the wrong way.  They did not discuss what Jesus had told them; they did not concern themselves that He would soon be captured and killed.  They had only been interested in establishing their own greatness.

While I don’t think most of you go around telling others how great you are,  we all tend to look out for Number One.  Even thoughts like, “I’ll let the dog out when it is convenient for me,” really are arguments for greatness.  We think: WE are greater than the dog; MY time table is more important.

Now, contrary to what some today might teach, Jesus has nothing against greatness.  In fact He encourages the disciples to strive for greatness.  He gives them advice:  “If you want to be first…”  God who made heaven and earth, the only one begotten before eternity, has some pointers on how to be first!  And just what is His key for success?  “…Be last of all and servant of all.”  What????  How can you strive to be first by being last?   Jesus, you missed us!  We don’t get it.

Now at the beginning of this reading, Jesus was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”   Jesus the Christ, the center point of history, made Himself last and servant of all.  He died on the cross as the chief of sinners.  He served everyone by paying the debt of sin.  Listen to these words from Philippians chapter 2:

  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. “

So Jesus was a living example of what He was teaching.  Both by his death and resurrection and by His lesson review at the end of our reading.

In Mark 9: “And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’ ”

Jesus realized the importance of being sent.  He lived His life as the One on the way to the cross.  He had come on a rescue mission and He was determined to complete the great task.  He accomplished that greatness by making Himself last and servant.  He laid down His life for you.  Greater love has no man than this.

Do you want to be a great man?  Do you want to be a great woman?  Be a servant.  Need an example?  Receive children in the name of Jesus.  Take them to church, bring them to Sunday School, provide for a Lutheran Day School.  Celebrate baptismal life and the promise of God.  Many today think children, especially the pre-born, should be ignored and discarded.  That is not what Jesus taught.  He took them in His arms.  He takes you in His arms.  Be strong and courageous.  Do great things in Jesus name.

6.17.12 – The Full Grain in the Ear

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Mark 4:28The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.

The full grain in the ear.

In the Gospel lesson this morning Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of God, or as Dr. Gibbs would say, the “reining of heaven”.  Jesus wants us to learn how he does His thing in the kingdom.  Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom of God that mentions a man, a seed, and the earth.  And what do they have to do with “the full grain in the ear?”

I picked this phrase from the text because I thought it was an interesting play on words.  In English, the word ear is used to describe 1) those things on the sides of our face which we use to hear, and 2) the part of a plant that contains the grain seed, as in an ear of corn.  Over the years of confirmation instruction, I have put a lot into the ears of our students, and today we celebrate the full grain. They have made the good confession , sharing the faith — the miraculous fruit of the Holy Spirit.  But I have to tell you that as I studied the text, I became convinced that this is not exactly what this parable is about.  This is not about me and how my teaching is so successful.  It is not about me; the full grain is about Jesus.

When I look at the man, the seed, and the dirt, I am reminded that God made man out of the dirt.  Everything else was made by the power of His speaking.  God said, “Let there be …” and there was.  When it came to man, God did not merely speak but He got involved in a process.  God took earth, formed the man, and breathed into the dirt the breath of life.  In our parable this morning God involves three elements in a process, but this is not a parable only about a man, or the seed, or the earth.  It is about God the author who is involved in the process.  And the goal of God’s work in this parable is the harvest.

The first character is the man, the farmer.  The farmer scatters, sleeps, rises. He knows not how the seed grows,  and finally he sends the harvesters into the field.  The seed is scattered, it sprouts and then it grows.   Being scattered and sprouting?  Big deal; the earth produces the blade, the ear, and then the grain in the ear.

So….the dirt. What am I supposed to do with dirt?  Do I tell the congregation they are a pile of dirt??  And what does this mean?  What is Jesus trying to teach us?

The latest Lutheran Witness is titled “Believe it Your Way.”  In it are several articles that chronicle how many Americans today make up their own spirituality based largely on personal preferences.  It seems convenient that the do-it-yourself god neatly fits our self-indulgent lifestyles.  I want to assure you that consumer- based spirituality is a play of the devil.  In the Garden he tempted Adam and Eve away from God’s word and promise, and introduced the spirituality of “I want it my way.  I want it about Me.  I want it right now.”

Dear Christians, God’s kingdom, the church, is not a “my way right now” type of thing.  I know that there are some who say that the past is gone and the future does not exist, yet these people fail to see the big picture and the process that Jesus teaches in the parable this morning.  Life in the church is not just a “now” event.  While it is certainly good, right and salutary to celebrate the good confession in the lives of our catechumens today, if it is only about today we have missed the big picture: the full grain in the ear, God’s miraculous gift, promise, and prophecy.  Oh the devil’s minions may sound popular when they preach what itching ears want to hear, but in the end, when you peel back the husk they are an empty ear, not the full grain God designed.

The verses Faith and Miriam picked as their confirmation verse both point us to the full picture of God. When you think about it, who needs a god who only knows as much as we do?  It is a bit of a curious note in our text when it says that the farmer does “not know” how the seed sprouts and grows.  This points to the fact that God’s plan is bigger than our perception.  Since God is bigger than our problems, bigger than our times, bigger than our enemies, bigger than death, “we are always of good courage” as the Epistle lesson points out.

So considering Miriam’s verse, “Open the door.”  Jesus is the door.  He is the way in and out.   He knows who comes to steal, to kill and destroy, and He is able to defend us.  Miriam explained that last night.

And as we might be reminded in Faith’s banner, “Turn on the light” – the light of Christ who came so that those who dwell in the darkness of sin and death might see the light.  The light of Christ shines from the cross where Jesus offered His body and blood to atone for our sin.

There you have it.  You and I are sinners. We are dirt.  Not only are we spiritually immature, demanding that God do things “my way, now”, but our sins close the door to God and dump us in the darkness.  These sins that each one of us are guilty of are the sins that hamper true spiritual growth, robbing the ear of the full grain.  We are not a farmer who sleeps and trusts that God does the good stuff.  We are the enemies, sowing weed seeds of pop spirituality that strangle the grain God is growing.

In the Lutheran Church, we distinguish between the Law and the Gospel.  God’s process, which has as its goal the harvest, uses both law and Gospel.  The first work that God works in us is the knowledge of sin, that you are a pile of dirt. The truth is that sin has utterly destroyed our capacity for true spirituality.  True spirituality is not about me ,what I want right now, how I think right now, what I feel right now, or what I am doing right now.  True Christian Spirituality is about what the Spirit is doing as He has promised to do in water (there in the font), bread, wine, (there on the altar) and the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ left the perfect spiritual retreat of heaven came down to this dirty earth and became man.  He lived completely obedient to God.  He did what we could not do.  On the ear (the top of the stalk, the point or place where the fruit is born), of the cross He gave the full grain, the harvest of righteousness, so that your sins and my sins might be covered.  Jesus was taken down from the cross and buried in the tomb.  On the third day He rose again full of victorious life.

Today we confirm that Faith and Miriam have heard the law and the Gospel.  They both know they are sinners, and they both believe Jesus is their Savior.  He is the full grain in the ear.  Life in the “here and now” will continue to be obscured by the dirt of life. There will be things that we do not know how they happen, but we have a spirituality that is more mature than the “here and now”.  We live in our baptism, and are nourished by the meal which is a foretaste of the feast to come.  We are part of what God has been doing in and with the saints that have come before us, and we look forward in courageous faith to the future.  We are included in God’s plan, yet the grain in the head does not exist unless the seed is sown and the earth produces the blade.  Dear Christians, it is good news that God’s plan is bigger than you and me right now.  We Have His word on it – the full grain in the ear.  Amen.