Immanuel Lutheran Church LCMS
Fairview/Allen, TX
Sermons
Series A, 2019-2020


 

Matthew 5:21-37

Epiphany 6A

It’s been quite the fad these last few years where people have safe spaces. Areas where you can’t criticize a person for their personal beliefs and opinions. Made popular on our countries so called places of higher education. Safe spaces. A place where you can be wrong with no consequences for your beliefs. A college student believes in abortion and you tell them a unborn child can feel pain and they say, “Be quiet you can’t speak in my safe space.” Someone believes marriage and divorce is of no consequence. Jesus says there are grave consequences.

          Today God isn’t so concerned about political safe spaces, but to consider where do we try to find safe spaces with sin?

Today God invades your safe space. God encroaches upon your personal space. God breaks into your circle of trust. God knows your thoughts. He hears your heart and today Jesus says, It aint pretty.

          You see it appears that many people in Jesus’ day thought that they could be angry with someone and not forgive them. As long as they didn’t physically harm the person they weren’t breaking the 5th commandment. Their mind was their safe space from God that they could harbor thoughts of anger and think, “Well I didn’t act on it so I’m safe from sin.”

          Men thought they could gaze upon a woman with lust and as long as they didn’t touch they were safe from the 6th commandment. This goes for women too who would lust after a man.

          All other religions would congratulate you on not acting. What self control. What chivalry! How well behaved. They wanted to commit adultery, but didn’t. Isn’t that a great accomplishment? Shouldn’t that account for something? Jesus says, “Pathetic.” “Lost” “Liable to the judgement of God and being sent to hell.”

          Luke 16:15 “For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”How’s that for a safe space? Christianity is all about finding a true safe space, not a safe space of pride or anger, but a safe space that rescues us not only from our outward sin, but also those sins we may think aren’t so bad. In Christ Jesus is our safe space, or rather forgiveness, complete forgiveness.

          And so Jesus today is asking us to consider what we might consider our safe spaces.  Do you talk about people when they aren't around when you should speak highly of them? Commonly known as gossip. You might say, “I don’t say anyone’s name pastor…or I was just kidding.” Jesus says if you just think ill of your neighbor.

          This even applies to social media. Do you lament people openly on Facebook or Twitter war?

          Do you lust for that which God has not given you? You all have safe spaces. Places where you would claim no sins, no faults.

          Look what Jesus says in v.23, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there 

remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift 

there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then 

come and offer your gift. “

          Jesus says don’t even try to offer God a sacrifice if you aren’t reconciled to your fellow man. God doesn’t just approve of a sacrifice just because you do it. God cares about your heart.  “If someone has something against you”. Jesus here is destroying this notion that outward behavior is the only standard for sin. It goes much deeper. Sure you have friends in your circle of trust, your safe space,  and every once in a while you have a little disagreement and make up. That’s easy. Jesus wants to set the stage though for you and God. What about your enemies? Do they have something against you?

          Usually we might be tempted to think, “If they have a problem, they should come and talk to me.” Jesus says no. You must leave your safe space of thinking you’re innocent and be reconciled! You must abandon your safety net of thinking you have nothing to confess yourself. Isn’t it the case so often when someone sins against us we really notice it? However when we’re the ones who sin we like to trivialize it. “I’m not perfect but you did this…” Did you hear how Jesus described the wickeness of sin? Your neighbors sins don’t blot out yours. All sin is wicked and deserving of hell. The fact that we’re willing to trivialize our sins shows that there’s something terribly wrong with us.

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. Jesus says this twice! That’s how wicked sin is. And Jesus’ point is that you could cut out eyes, cut off your hands but really cutting off body parts won’t save you from hell. The old carpenter joke, cut it twice and it’s still too short. My grandfather always said that and I think I’ve finally found a theological point for that!

          Cut it twice and it’s still to short. You cutting yourself will do nothing. You sacrificing your body will do nothing for your sins because God has something against you.

          That’s the crux of the matter. Who of us could give a sacrifice? Jesus is pointing us to himself. For it is only he who was without sin. It is only Jesus who can say there is nothing against him. Jesus was perfect. Jesus didn’t need a safe space. He was willing to let God invade his heart. For God to measure his life.      

This is why we come here to God’s house to first confess our sins. To leave our safe space. We say to God, “Forget our body parts oh God, we deserve to be wholly cut off from you. There is nothing in us that is good. We have sinned against you in thought word and deed.” Don’t play around with that confession my friends it’s serious business. Sure we sometimes might read through it without thinking but that’s not the problem of the liturgy. That’s you!

So drop your safe space. Stop claiming innocence. The devil is the accuser God is the judge. Come to terms quickly with your 

accuser while you are going with him to ourt, lest your accuser hand you 

over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

How is it that we could pay to God enough for our sins? What will you give to God? Jesus has paid the last penny on the cross. God sent his son not to condemn the world, but to save the world. Jesus intentionally gave up his innocence and took your guilt. The cross is the opposite of a safe space.

Jesus speaks so harshly today so that we would turn from sin. That we would be disgusted by sin, not so much everyone else’s but first our own. Jesus speaks so harshly about the depth of our sins so that we would know how complete his forgiveness is. Yes Jesus even forgives the wicked thoughts you have had. All of it wiped clean by his cross. He has purchased you from your sin, from the devil our accuser has been silenced. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

When Jesus baptized you he promised you a safe space in him. A place of freedom from worry. Freedom from sin. Yes we do have a safe space in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

God has invaded our safe space this last week with the death of our dear sister in Christ Charlene. Our safe space of maybe taking for granted our time with each other. Our safe space of thinking life will just go on as it is. Our sister Charlene is truly now safe. She is safe from sickness. Safe from even her own sin. She has run her race. We are still here, though the day you will see Christ is closer today than it was yesterday. Do not look for safe spaces in this life except where Christ’s forgiveness is found, his word and sacrament. Do not neglect to be reconciled with others. Paul warns against the safe places of the flesh, jealousy and strife. Let that not be the case for you.  

Let God water you by his forgiveness that’s his safe space. Let him grow you, you are God’s field, God’s building. No matter where you are, even standing over your grave and death, wherever you are you are safe. No one can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Purification of Mary and Presentation of Jesus - Luke 2:22-40

Mary’s purification teaches us the depravity of our sin. The presentation of Jesus teaches us that he has come to serve God on our behalf and to cleanse us from all sin.

          What an odd thing to spend a Sunday considering. The purification of Mary and the presentation of Jesus. The scriptures record this event so it is important for us to study it. John wrote “there were many other things that Jesus did 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.”

          St. Paul writes to the pastor Timothy “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

          So my goal for us this morning is to pray the Holy Spirit would give us wisdom to know why in the world we are reading about the Purification of Maryand presentation of Jesus?

          Mary’s purification teaches us the depravity of our sin, that we are born sinful and unclean. The presentation of Jesus teaches us that he has come to serve God on our behalf and to cleanse us from all sin.

          It’s a weird topic, I get it. A woman gives birth and when a child is born there is lots of blood.  According to the OT ritual purity laws the Jewish mother not only had to have her son brought to the temple for circumcision on the 8th day but then 40 days after birth a sacrifice is offered on behalf of the mother to make her ritually clean.

          You see after a woman gives birth she is considered ritually unclean. She is unclean because of all the blood. Whenever blood was in the wrong place or someone else’s blood touches you, whoever the person who was touched by it was considered unclean and could not be in the temple. Whenever blood is not where it is supposed to be God’s law says this is not right.

          That’s what the law of God does it tells us something is not right. If you are one of those people who is squeamish when you see blood you know what I mean. WE aren’t supposed to see blood. We know its there in our bodies and when it’s doing it’s job we are not too worried. But hit an artery and it’s a fountain of all kinds of wrong.

          Get hit too hard and you see it in a bruise. A bruise would disqualify a man from entering the temple. The law of God takes no prisoners. Even if your blood was shed or you contracted a disease of no fault of your own God’s law says you need to be cleansed. The 10 lepers you remember, they were living outside the town, quarantined like they had Coronavirus. God’s law said, unclean. God does not care if it offends you when his law calls you ritually unclean. God’s law is brutal. The law doesn’t hold any punches. The law is like that television doctor from a couple of years ago House MD. He had no bedside manners. He told you exactly how it is, he didn’t care if it offended you. He may be offensive but he was honest and that meant he knew how to cure you. The law says there is none righteous.

          The temple would offend most of us because of the amount of blood and the smell. Police officers, firemen, soldiers, they all say similar things when they find a crime scene with a lot of blood, the smell. I’m told you never forget it. Well the temple, where we find ourselves in our gospel reading today would have PETA in an uproar if they could even stomach the smell to get close enough to see.

          The sacrifices date all the way back to the garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve at from the tree they knew they had done evil. They tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. However fig leaves do not have blood, they are not human. Fig leaves were not an acceptable sacrifice to make up for what mankind had done. God found them and made the first sacrifice. Animal skin to cover Adam and Eve’s shame.

          Can you imagine the scene? Adam and Eve had not seen shed blood to this point. Then right in front of them God takes an innocent animal sheds it’s blood. Most of us probably remember the first time we saw death. Now death is regular, but it was never part of God’s creation.

          Consider the contrast. Here is the temple of God, the most holy of holy places and it was covered in blood. This the place of sacrifice. Because sin has entered the world that which was glorious is now offensive. Since mankind has rebelled against his Lord by sin, even shedding the blood of one another in anger.  Day in and day out, twice a day everyday sacrifices to pay for the sins of the people. The temple was offensive. Sacrifices, blood dripping off the altar running down onto the floor.

          It is an intentional scene. It is suppose to be offensive to your sensibilities. When you would think your sin not so bad close your eyes and consider the worst crime scene imaginable and then see your fingerprints everywhere.

          When a woman gave birth to a child God’s law said, “You are ritually unclean. You cannot be in the presence of God.” Remember God also said after the fall that because of sin now childbirth is difficult, painful, bloody. This ritual uncleanliness was a temporary thing of course after a sacrifice was made. God demanded a lamb but if the family couldn’t afford a lamb, they offered a pair of doves. This is what Mary and Joseph are doing today. We see they are poor but they still offer the required sacrifice. Mary would now be able to return to life in the temple. But what about the child?

          40 days after birth the mother and father would sacrifice for the mother’s uncleanliness. Many think this refers to the 40 days and nights that it rained for the Flood when God was cleansing the earth. At this time the nonLevitical family also redeemed, or purchased their first born son from serving God as a priest in the temple. The people paid this redemption price as a remberance that God redeemed his people from Egypt. The Isrealites owed God their firstborn for him rescuing them because they couldn’t rescue themselves. God though gave them a way to purchase their firstborn back, pay 5 sheckles of silver. Purchased from the law, the number 5.

          Before Luke mentions the completion of the law a man named Simeon comes and says my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared. That’s sacrificial language taking us back to Eden. The first sacrifice God prepared and offered. Now we have a first born, being given by God himself, prepared and now offered. He is without blemish. But you notice that Luke doesn’t mention the 5 pieces of silver required to purchase the son from priestly service. Luke may be teaching us about the priestly role of Jesus who is also the sacrifice.

          This is why our OT reading is from the dedication of Samuel as a priest. Today Jesus is presented but not redeemed from service to God. In fact Jesus will give himself as the price for your sins. The blood you’ve shed of your brothers or sisters by murdering them in your heart. The stench of your sins follows you. But you know we don’t literally smell our sins but if you’re anything like me I can’t stand the stench after an argument with someone.

          We can’t smell our sins but to God they are unbearable. So he sent his Son Jesus to be the temple. To be the place where your sins are dealt with. Consider the contrast, the most holy one of God covered in your sins. And this temple Jesus was covered in blood but not your blood but his holy precious and innocent blood. It was our sins that God placed on him and they didn’t bruise him but killed him. He was a stench to his father so you would be forgiven. You are innocent of all crimes.

          He who knew no sin became sin for us that we would be the righteousness of God. The crimescenes in your life whitewashed. Jesus was the sacrifice from Eden. The innocent lamb. And you and I and all who believe and are baptized are covered in his innocence.

          His blood now has been spilled for you. His blood doesn’t make us unclean but his blood now cleanses us from our sins. The opposite. We drink his sacrificial blood! Strange,yes. Even to some offensive. But God is not incumbered by our sensitivities.

          Many are offended by the blood of the Lamb because they think their blood isn’t corrupted by sins. But here the priest and sacrifice cleanses you completely by believing his words, given and shed for you. 

          Mary’s purification teaches us the depravity of our sin, that we are born sinful and unclean. The presentation of Jesus teaches us that he has come to serve God on our behalf and to cleanse us from all sin.

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Epiphany 3A – The first sermon of Jesus

Jesus comes to fulfill all prophecies to show he always keeps his word and that word is continually proclaimed to us so that we know he will save us.

          It’s a curious thing that Jesus does when he hears that John the Baptist has been arrested. “When Jesus heard of John’s arrest he withdrew into Galilee.” Not really what you might hope Jesus would do when you are arrested for preaching the gospel. Instead of withdrawing wouldn’t it seem more appropriate for Jesus to go and break John out of prison?

          Do you ever feel that way? That Jesus is withdrawing when you would hope he would come down and really bring his kingdom? Especially this week as we remember the anniversary of Roe v Wade. If you’re like me you are constantly praying for Jesus to not withdraw from us but to come and bring light to this dark time when the smallest among us is the most despised.

When Jesus heard John was arrested he withdrew into Galilee. Remember we are early in Matthew’s gospel and people are still being taught about the identity of Jesus. They don’t really know what Jesus is going to do. Now as the gospel is facing opposition will Jesus turn tail? Reason and common sense would tell us to go and help our friend who’s been locked up, but no Jesus goes the opposite direction.

          Maybe Jesus is a prophet like Jonah. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and Jonah tried to get away from God’s call. Instead of going to the dark city of Nineveh Jonah went the opposite direction. Is Jesus just another prophet like Jonah who’s first reaction is to run away? Was Jesus running away from John’s problems?

          Jesus is not running away. In fact Jesus is doing what he was prophesied to do, to come to those living in darkness, particularily those in in the lands just described. Matthew is showing us how Jesus is without a doubt the promised Messiah. That God keeps his word. The one who is to fulfill every prophecy.  However it wasn’t just to them that Jesus had come. Today Matthew is pointing out that Jesus is fulfilling the Isaiah prophecy. To be the light, not just for John but for all people. Jesus had not come to free John from all his problems in the earthly sense. Jesus has not come to relieve all your suffering in this life and that is a hard thing to hear. It is difficult today to hear John was arrested and Jesus went about his business.

          Does it feel like that for you sometimes? This is our challenge as Christians. To walk by faith when it seems that God is just going about his business without a real care to how things are going down here.  But you see Jesus wasn’t just going about his business. Jesus was even in our reading today, as he is fulfilling the OT prophecies he is also setting himself up for how he will continue to work for his New Testament people. How he works for us now when our questions and darkness seems to not have an answer. For on one hand Jesus is showing God’s faithfulness to answer every question from the OT but even more he is now setting himself up for how he will provide an answer for the age to come.

          It is important for us to hear this readin gin Epiphany because just as Jesus fulfills Isaiah 9:1-2 he is starting a new era of his presence. John the Bapitst prepared the way for Jesus and now his role is coming to an end. John closes the era of prophecies and now as Jesus steps forward he begins a new era.

          Last week we heard John’s most remembered and oft quoted sermon, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 13 words. Now today we hear Jesus’ first sermon. The first recorded public words of Jesus to the public. What does Jesus say in this inaugural address?

          Does Jesus say, “Hey it’s party time everyone!”

          How about, “Let’s change the world.”

          Maybe a sermon our world would like to hear is, “Don’t worry about changing your life. Keep doing what you want to do and I’ll just kind of be here when it is convenient for you.”

          No. Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

          Like John the Baptist. Short but not so sweet. 9 words this time. You never get a second chance to make a first impression and what an impression. If people were hoping they would get a break from John's constant call to repentance they were sorely dissappointed in Jesus when he comes and says the same thing John has been preaching. Repent.

          And he says that to you and me today as well. And don’t we sometimes think the repent sermon is a little overused? When there’s so much other evil going on, really Jesus, Repent is all you can come up with? Shouldn’t you come down and just end all that bothers us in this life?

          But you see that is what we should be most bothered about, our sins and the fact that we think repentance is not vital our lives as Christians. The problem is that we prefer the darkness of our own hearts as long as we’re not too bothered with difficult things in this life. That is the darkness that the people were living in when Jesus came to them and that is our darkness too. Thinking that when Jesus says the kingdom has come near that his kingdom is of this world. That here in this life we will win every political battle. That we will be able to convince people to be Christian if we are just winsome and articulate enough. If we just change this or change that about the Christian church then we can turn the downward trajectory of our world. If we just try harder we can find some magic plan so we don’t have to work so hard. Our children will never make bad decisions, our bosses won’t give us a bad review, next year we won’t have to worry about making enough money. That my friends is the darkness, despair thinking God is just withdrawing. But do you see what Jesus is doing?

          God has in Christ Jesus fulfilled all that he said he would do. Jesus is not a Jonah running away but when he withdraws into Galilee he is working for John’s rescue, not necessarily from his political imprisonment but his inprisomnent of sin. And that is what Jesus is doing. Jesus is winning his victory that has an eternal freedom attached to it. By fulfilling all of God’s demands Jesus is giving an answer for the darkness of your sinful heart. All the love you have of the kingdom of this world, Jesus goes to the cross to free you even from your pet sins. Pet sins that you might think are safe and sound in the darkness. No Jesus comes as the light of the world to expose your sins and forgive them by his word. Not to free you in this life from all suffering but to give your suffering meaning. That when Jesus seems withdrawn it is because he is purifying your faith. He is taking away the things you trust the most so you would see only him.

          Jesus not only withdraws into Galilee to fulfill prophecy but he then calls his disciples. These men who would carry his word and be Jesus’ presence with us to this day by his word. Jesus said when people hear you they hear me. Jesus says to us, I am with you always, where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am. Jesus keeps his word. And so today’s reading shows us that no matter what you suffer Christ will never withdraw away from you. That your suffering is not without reason. To lead you to continue to repent.

          Jesus will not give you any suffering to destroy your faith but to show you in the end he is faithful. That when you pray to him to end your suffering he will one day do just that. Not only end your suffering but raise you to reign with him as a king. All of us baptized believers who don’t give up the faith will end the end see our suffering as trophies or glue that kept us from becoming too proud or comfortable in this kingdom.

          Jesus doesn’t call you to repent because it will hurt you but for you to rejoice in the end. When we see all things and all our enemies meet their end, we will receive our reward.

          Jesus will not withdraw from you to save himself. By going to the cross he was bringing us inot his light. When he says this is body and this is my blood it is not to hurt you but to give you the holy spirit so you are more ready to withstand the attack of the devil and not fear to stand in opposition to this evil age.

          Jesus called his first disciples and they dropped what they were doing. They gave up what seems a steady and lucrative career fishing for fish and they have caught us. Fish we are. Fish who sometimes don’t want to be caught. Fish who would rather swim in darkness of sin but down in the darkness is also the unknown and unseen predators. Jesus brings us to the surface, to the light and it might seem like he is hurting you but it is only because he will show his glory all the brightly in the resurrection.

          Jesus will not be distracted from his task when he withdrew to Galilee nor will he be distracted from keeping you in the faith. Only don’t let go of him. Don’t neglect repentance, being sorry for your sin and believing that Jesus has taken away all your sins. Despite the dark places you continue to go. Jesus has saved you. Jesus loves you.

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Epiphany 2A - The Sacrifice of Jesus is the answer to all questions and unknowns. God answers for your sins in Jesus.

          John the Baptist didn’t have a funny joke nor did he have an engaging story for one the most popular sermons ever preached. John didn’t spend pages articulating minute points of doctrine. 13 words. “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The two disciples who heard him say this and they followed Jesus.

          Short and sweet and to the point, but loaded with doctrine. The holy Spirit doesn’t need a certain number of words but he does use THE word and sinners are converted. However these weren’t the only words these men had heard in regards to the Messiah. A life of Passover readings and Sabbaths and home catechesis had led to this point. Look the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Year after year, reading after reading these men were no strangers to lambs what their role was in Israel. They were the sacrifice. Things did not end well for the lambs in OT Israel and yet these two disciples followed him. By following him were they too going to be sacrifices? Why did they begin to follow Jesus and not John? John wasn’t a lamb, he was a prophet from God who spoke with mighty words and now they follow a lamb.

          Jesus too was interested in what they were seeking. “What are you seeking?”

          An important question for us to ponder as well. We have heard preaching. The sermons you hear are a few more words than the 13 John preached. We are what you might consider Jesus followers. What are you seeking from Jesus or are you here reluctantly?

          IT is the season of epiphany where we study the ways in which Jesus is revealed, but today God is asking us to reveal something to him, What are you seeking?

          It’s not that God doesn’t know the thoughts and motivations of your heart but in asking us and these first disciples he is doing two things. First he is asking not for his own knowledge but for us to learn to repent. Second he is asking so that we might proclaim who he is and what he has done.

          They heard the sermon, “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Now the question Jesus asks as they follow him, “What are you seeking?” or translated into Lutheran lingo, “Are you just here for the potlucks and beer?” No, Jesus essentially asks, “what does this mean?” What does it mean to you that I am the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?

          This isn’t the first time God asks people a question about what they are seeking. God asked Adam and Eve after the fall, “where are you?”

          God also asked Elijah after he showed his power on Mt. Carmel. Elijah had the showdown with the prophets of baal involving sacrifices and blood. After this Elijah was afraid and  fled to the caves and was hiding. God asked Elijah, “Why are you here?”

          God asked Solomon, after Solomon taught Israel to seek God and they offered thousands of sacrifices and the blood flowed. God came to Solomon, what do you want me to give to you?

          Also later in Jesus’ ministry he asked the disciples who were talking about the crucifixion of Jesus on the road to Emmaus, “What are you guys talking about?”

          God asks not for his own knowledge but to pull out of us a confession of who he is and his mercy. It is a priviledge to confess the identity of God. It is a cosmic event to proclaim the name of God, Jesus, he will save his people from their sins. At the name of Jesus every knee will bow. So why are we so afraid to share that name? Why is it we are so shy to share this fact? Why are we so reluctant to put aside all other things that we think are so important in our lives and come to our rabbi and he asks you, “what are you seeking?”

          Now surely we can answer this question with all genuine and say, “Lord I seek you above all things.” But would your actions match that? What are you seeking in word and deed, what do you spend time contemplating? Where is it that your heart stays? Is it worry? Do you worry too much?

          Are you anxious about many things or perhaps one big thing? Is that where you stay too often? Worry about your loved ones, worry about health. Worry about the Christian church and whether or not we will weather the world’s attack on us. Worry, that is no place for a disciple of Jesus to stay.

          John preached Jesus as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Maybe that’s where you stay too often, in the world. It comes to easy to us to speak as people of this world instead of disciples of Jesus and for that we should repent. John preached in language of the scriptures confessing Jesus, we don’t do that enough. We should speak the truth in love to one another but we must first speak the truth about our own sins. This is what these discples did when they heard who Jesus was.

          These disciples confess their need for Jesus. Rabbi, teacher. Sure they confessed they had a lot to learn but really they wanted to know what this lamb business was all about. Steeped in the language not of the world but in the OT they knew what lambs were for, sacrifices for sinners. They wanted this lamb to dwell with them.

          The discipes on the road to Emmaus said to Jesus, “Lord Jesus abide with us, stay with us.”the same thing the disciples today ask of Jesus. You see that’s where sinners want to be, with Jesus. But also remember that if see you are too often dwelling or staying with the world or your sins hear again John’s sermon, The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

          If you find yourself too close to the world take heart. John didn’t say the lamb of God who takes away the sins of those who have it all under control. John didn’t say the lamb of God who takes away the sin of those who have it all figured out. The lamb of God who takes away the sins of those who never falter in their faith. No. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That includes you. The Lamb has come for those with sins that need to be taken away!

          But also hear who it is that is sacrificing, it is God’s lamb. Given by God, sacrificed by God. Not because he needed it but because we do. We don’t sacrifice to God to earn our salvation, we are saved in believing that Jesus’ death on the cross was all sufficient for us to know for certain that our sins are gone!

          Look, see, behold, the lamb! Not just once but every time your sins seem to get the upper hand. Look, behold, Jesus the lamb. Jesus the sacrifice. These disciples knew what lambs did, they died for the benefit of others. The lamb had no sin of it’s own but the lambs were sacrificed, their blood spilled so that sinners would go free. This is Jesus, the lamb of God.

          Every other religion in our world requires you to sacrifice to whatever god they advertise to make yourself right with their god. Christianity is unique in that it goes the other way around. God doesn’t need anything from us but God sacrifices his own precious son so that we are made right by him. Your salvation is sure because God did all the work. God did all the sacrificing and raising of his son, the lamb.

          Each time God asked a question in those examples I gave you there were always sacrifices in the immediate context. Adam and Eve were covered in the first sacrifice when God gave them clothes. Elijah went and found Elisha and sacrificed his oxen. Solomon had sacrificed nonstop. We don’t sacrifice Jesus again but now we eat the sacrifice and God still asks questions. What is it that you seek? Does Christ dwell with us still in his body and blood with the bread and wine? Do you seek this out to have Christ dwell in you?

          What a relief to confess our sins to a God who doesn’t hold our sins against us but forgives. You need not fear except that you grow cold to the warmth the blood stained fleece gives to those who have ben clothed with Christ in baptism.

          There were many who heard the sermons of John but yet they didn’t see a need for a lamb of God, they didn’t care where Jesus would stay. Let that not be the case for you. Our salvation is closer today than it was yesterday. Keep the faith. The disciples were ready to follow the lamb that they too would be living sacrifices. Follow the lamb, dwell with the lamb daily by prayers and do not grow weary of doing good. For all of us will have to answer for where we dwelled in our life. But be sure, when God asks you the question, there will be his lamb, the sacrifice who has answered and says I dwell with them so they may dwell with you forever.   

           

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          The first day of school for me in first grade did not end how I would have hoped it to. I was so excited to leave kindergarten and move on to the more advanced years. When I arrived home after the first day of class though I was not very happy. My mom asked why I was frustrated and I replied, “I didn’t learn how to read today.” I had expected to learn how to read in one day and even the first day. I did not want to have to learn, I wanted to be given this wisdom by a miracle. I didn’t want to be a student.

          Today’s gospel reading is so great for the baptized because it gives us hope when we get frustrated with learning, when we don’t want to be students of God’s word. Comfort for when things don’t always make sense to us, we walk by faith and lean not on our own understanding.

          Notice a few things first about Jesus’ family life. Last Sunday we heard how rough it was from the very beginning, the devil hates children and he tried to kill Jesus at every turn. The holy family had to flee to Egypt and finally Nazareth. The family traveled quite a bit. And that’s where we find them again in today’s reading. Traveling was a regular part of their life because that’s what faithful Jews did for the major feasts.

          Before we get to the traveling though we hear Luke tell us, the child grew and became strong and filled with wisdom. This is a profound mystery but one that is not too far fetched. IT seems that Jesus when he was born did not know everything. That Jesus who is our brother in the flesh had to learn things. Can you imagine? God, the creator of all things puts aside all his wisdom and knowledge in order that he might know what it means to learn. Jesus was a student, there were things he didn’t know, “the child grew strong” just as Jesus’ body grew from being an infant to a 12 year old so too he grew mentally. This also has partly to do with their traveling.

          After Luke tells us that Jesus grew and was filled with wisdom we see where Jesus did his learning, “his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover every year.” While in Jerusalem part of the Passover is when the children ask the very Lutheran question as part of the Passover in Exodus , “What does this Passover mean?” You are to answer them, “'With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” So Jesus heard the story of the Passover every year. Jesus like us, followed a church calendar. And his parents went up every year to Jerusalem for the major feasts. But you can imagine as Jesus heard the same bible verses and the same teachings on these verses that he was given wisdom on exactly what it means that his cross is the fulfillment of the Exodus. We can’t read Jesus’ mind, we don’t know exactly what he knows when, but we do see that Jesus and his parents regarded teaching the faith and repetition by asking questions as very important.

          I think we can for ourselves gather from this the importance of our regular attendance and hearing the word of God. Not only that we learn hear but also that we teach our children at home and if you don’t have children you provide support either by teaching here or by your money. This is a better investment than any stock market or real estate. But don’t we put more effort into the things we can’t take with us into eternal life? Our children are the only gifts we take with us into eternal life.

Jesus’ life was always in danger, even as an infant and yet Mary and Joseph traveled because they lived by faith in God’s promises of his word. Isaiah 55:11 God says his word does not return to him void, without purpose. SO even in the Old Testament God’s people lived by faith knowing that God’s word teaches us salvation. It’s more than about just delivering information to those God gives us to teach and for us to be students ourselves.

          I’ve unfortunately heard well meaning Christians say, “I don’t need to come to church or Sunday school, I know everything I need to know.” Today we read that Jesus repeatedly went to learn and that he sat at the feet of the teachers. Jesus wanted to hear the word and be a student to grow in wisdom. Mary and Joseph went through great pains and inconvience to make sure they were faithful parents bring their son up in the word of God. They knew that Jesus was the Son of God and yet they still brought Jesus up as a normal boy who needed to learn. What a temptation though, “Jesus is the Lord of the most high, he doesn’t need to go to Passover this year. He already knows everything. He wrote the scriptures. Let’s just go have a picnic. The countryside is beautiful at the time of the Passover.” No. It is the opposite, the stronger your faith the more you realize you need to learn more. Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew the importance of being faithful Jews who believed in the promise. But this reading is not about the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph but Jesus.

          We can imagine the fright that Joseph and Mary might feel. They’ve been having to hide Jesus running from one part of the country to the other because the threats on Jesus’ life and now, “when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him They returned to Jerusalem.”

          No angel comes in a dream to tell them where Jesus is. No star in the sky to find him. They search because they know they lost Jesus. An obedient child is easy to overlook. Should we also not search to find Jesus? Do you know that the devil is constantly trying to take Jesus from you? He doesn’t do it in open and obvious ways. And he doesn’t try to do it all at once. Little by little is how I often see the devil work to weaken people’s resolve. Is it not true that we are not as dedicated as Joseph and Mary to hearing the word of God? Do we not also chafe at having to learn God’s word?  Isn’t there always some better way to spend your time? Search out Jesus. Don’t look for an angel or star in the sky, where is Jesus found? His father’s house. Wherever two or three are gathered in my name I am there.

          After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 

          Jesus is where his word is. Yes the author is learning his word. At age 12 a Jewish boy could then address the rabbi publicly. This is where we find Jesus. Mary finds Jesus too but misses the mystery of Jesus being born from her own womb. It is necessary that Jesus be in his father’s house.

          That’s a fine translation but I like this translation better, “Do you not know it is necessary that I am doing my father’s business?” Jesus spoke this same way at his baptism when John the Baptism didn’t want to baptize Jesus. Jesus said, “It is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.” There are things that Jesus must do and being in his father’s house being taught and teaching the teachers is that very thing.

          This is the great thing about this text today, where we sin and just can’t seem to always hunger for God’s word as students, Jesus does. Jesus is the perfect student and teacher on our behalf! When we might get bored in church or Sunday school, Jesus never did. His desire was to succeed where you have sinned.

          Jesus’ life was lived perfect in every aspect so that he may give his life to you. His righteousness in your place. Jesus was patient even in the face of not knowing everything. Jesus even admitted he didn’t know all things when he was asked when the last day was Jesus said only the father knows. Jesus was ok with not knowing all things and being a student who lived by faith. Even for us, when we don’t exactly understand God’s word, rejoice in being a student. Rejoice that Jesus has purified your ignorance by baptism. Rejoice that salvation and the assurance of our salvation does not depend on how good of a student we are but on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That he was perfect. He earned your place in heaven. He was an obedient child to his earthly parents Joseph and Mary. This was all being about his father’s business. God is in the business of saving you.

          There will be then another three days when everyone thinks Jesus is lost. That death has claimed him, that sin and the devil had won. But today’s reading is a preview that another Mary will find Jesus 3 days later, raised on Easter and as Mary pondered the events of today’s gospel so too we should ponder in our hearts and continue to learn the completeness of the love and forgiveness of Jesus. Your sins of laziness in learning God’s word, your losing patience as a teacher, your teenage years, all of it is forgiven in Jesus. That we too would not avoid being students but would with Solomon daily ask for wisdom. For wisdom is none other than Jesus himself. Jesus submits to Mary and Joseph, they lost him but he forgives them and he forgives you as well. It's not so much that Mary found Jesus, but Mary as she pondered these things was found by Christ. He didn’t die in vain, he has guaranteed that he has found you.

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Advent 4A

          Have you ever asked God for a sign? By a sign I mean something that happens that you have attached special meaning to. Like God if I should do the dishes make a ufo crash in my yard. Have you ever bowed your head in all seriousness, settled your thoughts in your head, really focused and said, “God if I should take this job, give me a sign?”

          Or “God if I should ask this girl out, give me a sign?”

          Sometimes in life it can be hard to make decisions. Whether it be because we’re nervous or maybe we don’t feel like we’ve had enough time to reflect on certain decisions. We humans love certainty. Who can blame us in a world full of such uncertainty. Joseph surely thought he had his life on somewhat a certain path. He had found a woman who was marriage material. She was even of the lineage of David, royalty you could say.

          You can imagine how happy Joseph was when Mary’s parents agreed to the marriage arrangement. That was Joseph’s certainty and answer to his question and probably prayers to God, “Should I marry this woman?” God gave him a sign by their faithful parents agreeing to the marriage. Now Joseph had a set amount of time to establish a home for he and Mary before they were fully married in the eyes of God. Joseph now had to show his worthiness to take Mary to be his wife. This was a sign to Mary and her parents that Joseph was a good man. A man of certainty. A man who was truly just.

          Just when life was certainly going to go one way, Mary is found to be with child before they had come together. Now Joseph’s certainty had gone out the window. What he was certain of now was that Mary had been unfaithful. He was certain what his next steps in life were going to be. He didn’t need a sign to know what to do, divorce., he had God’s word. Sex outside of marriage is a sin and Joseph knew Mary was now not what she appeared to be.

          There was no question Joseph was to divorce Mary, but what he finally decided was that he was going to do it quietly. You see Mary’s parents had given their approval, they gave a sign to Joseph, a promise with money attached to it that their daughter was a virgin and that they wouldn’t marry her off before giving Joseph a chance to prove his faithfulness and that he could provide a stable home. If they did allow Mary to marry someone else after this agreement, or Mary committed adultery, Joseph would get the money and Mary’s family name would be scorned. Joseph would have the right to publicly shame Mary’s family for their unfaithfulness.

          Joseph though does something odd. He resolves to divorce her quietly. Quietly meaning though Mary won’t confess the truth of her supposed unfaithfulness he forgives her. He forgives her but will not marry her. He though will not punish her for her sin. Notice when he resolves to do this, before the angel comes to him and gives him a sign. Joseph is a just man. He is not a weak man, he still is faithful to God’s word, the divorce must happen. Joseph desires to be faithful to God’s word however he will not put Mary up for scorn. Maybe it’s because he thinks Mary might be telling the truth. He was a just man after all, a Christian, someone who believed God would send a Savior from the house of David of royal blood. Could Mary be telling the truth?

          Before he can act though God gives Joseph a sign. Joseph didn’t even ask for a sign and God gives it. How gracious and merciful God is, giving so often before we can even ask. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” God’s word attached to something, a sign.

          Perhaps part of the reason we are so willing to ask for signs from God is because we have a yearning to connect with God in real ways. In a world of uncertainty to have something certain. Something to grab onto, something, if you will to be the object of our faith. What sign would you ask for to tell you, everything is going to be alright? Don’t worry.

          God has given signs all through history. There was the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden. God attached his word to that tree, “Do not eat, you will die.” There was also the tree of life.

          God gave a sign to Adam and Eve, “Your offspring will crush the head of the serpent.” A sign with a promise attached.

          There was the Exodus and Moses asking God for a sign that he should go to pharaoh. God said, “Throw down your staff.” And it turned into a snake. Put your hand in your cloak, it turned leperous.

          God gave the Israelites a sign that he was with them, the parting of the Red Sea, the cloud by day and fire by night.

          This brings us to our OT reading. You even hear the word sign. God tells King Ahaz, “Ask me for a sign.” God is inviting Ahaz to ask for a sign! And God puts no restrictions on the sign. As high as heaven, as low as Sheol. God has promised Ahaz he will bring them through these hard times the kingdom is facing. What does Ahaz do?

          Ahaz was the king of Judah, the southern kingdom. God had told the kings of Judah and Israel, “Do not look to foreign kings for protection. Live by faith in my promise to protect you.” But Ahaz would rather not live by faith. Ahaz wanted the securities of the other foreign kings. It wasn’t that Ahaz didn’t live by faith, it’s an uncertain world you have to believe in something, but what was the object of his faith? What did he want to trust in? He trusted in the kings, the power of his political posturing, he trusted in what his eyes wanted. Don’t we do the same? Isn’t it the things and powers of this life that allure our attention?

          When the uncertainties of life rear their ugly head what is the temptation?

          The temptation is to doubt God’s provision. To not hear God’s word, like Ahaz. To find signs of certainty in ourselves or in riches. To doubt his signs. God even gives Ahaz the chance to name the sign. God gives Ahaz the opportunity to hear the gospel! Ahaz should’ve asked to hear again the promises of God that would come true because God always keeps his word. But Ahaz didn’t want to hear that God is reliable. God is more trustworthy than any gift you will get this year. He is more dependable than anyone you’ve trusted in life. He will be good to his word.

          This life is full of uncertainty. I’ve felt it and I know you have too. Many of you express your frustration, your uncertainty. You have shared with me the struggles, the uncertainties. The devil is active. He hates you. He hates God. He wants you to be uncertain. He wants you to not hear the word of God. He wants you to think you don’t really need God that there are more reliable things, like sleep or what you can buy or drink to deal with your uncertainty. But those are all uncertain in themselves. Or to repay hate with anger. To pretend like you have not caused uncertainty for someone else. WE’ve all done it.

          But the thing for you to know is that you are not alone. Joseph wasn’t alone. Mary wasn’t alone. Even Ahaz was not alone. God is with his people and he loves to give signs. So what sign would you ask for? To know that everything is going to work out? To know that all your struggles all your stress. All your uncertainty? To know you are not alone. What sign from God would you ask?

          Are you Ahaz? No I don’t want a sign. I’ll find my own false god. Well imagine that even before we have asked God has given a sign that he will not forsake you. The sign is not in the shape of a dollar sign. It’s not in the shape of power or might or the comforts in this life. The sign of God is the cross.

          There is the sign for the whole world that God is merciful. That in Jesus Christ crucified for the sins of the world the uncertainty of sin and doubt is gone. Jesus was dead but is now alive.

          In a world of uncertainty there is one thing that is always sure, God loves you. He gave his son to show you. The sign of the cross is that Jesus is true man and true God giving his life for your forgiveness. certainty that stands over all time and space.

          What sign would you ask for to know that everything that God desires you to have he gives to you. Even before you ask for a sign? How about baptism? How about the Lord’s Supper?

          This is why in all generations where uncertainty has shown it’s wickedness, the church runs to kneel at the altar of her Lord and asked the Lord for a sign of forgiveness. Knowing that God has not forsaken you. For the forgiveness of your sins. That is certain! Why doubt him?

          God cannot lie. His faithfulness is to all generations. His faithfulness is to you!

          So it is not out of God’s character to give a sign to Joseph. His word of promise. So he still now gives signs of his faithfulness. God doesn’t leave it up to us to ask for a sign, he gives us a sign written with the blood of his son. That’s what we see in this reading, God keeps his word. God keeps his promises and he still promises us just as he did to Joseph.

          Ahaz didn’t want to trust God, Joseph did. Ahaz didn’t want hear of God’s promises. Joseph was glad to trust God. God’s promise, the sign he gave to Ahaz and to all who heard the word of God came true. A virgin conceived. What a sign! Would you have asked for a sign like that? Probably not. Too impossible. Too crazy. It’s not possible.

          With God all things are possible. But what is even more amazing is the sign of the cross. That sinners are completely forgiven! That you dear saint can be certain. God has forgiven you. That your eternal life is certain. Death is not certain for you but life.  That sinners are washed clean in water. Water that has a promise attached to it. That bread and wine give forgiveness of sins! These signs are the certainty of God’s love and mercy in an uncertain world.    

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Advent 3A – Rejoice for Christ is judged for your sins and you are free in him.

We suffer in life so that we are evermore being knit together with one another and grown in our faith.

          Suffering for a crime you didn’t commit is considered one of the worst expiriences someone can go through. Emily and I went and saw the Mr. Rodgers movie, which was great, but in the previews we were shown a movie about an African American lawyer fresh out of law school in the 1980s who took it upon himself to go into the prisons beginning in Alabama and help free wrongly convicted black men. The movie is called Just Mercy and it looks like a great movie. The premise is part of what makes this such a great movie. That the innocent are treated as innocent and the guilty pay for their own crimes.

          Today is rejoice Sunday. You’ve maybe noticed the candle we light today is pink instead of purple. Rejoice Sunday is a break in our somber advent reflections to remember that our advent frame of mind, that of repentance and making ourselves right to meet our Savior, is not how we will always be. When we die or Jesus returns, we no longer need to prepare ourselves to meet him. We will have run our race. Rejoice, your suffering is not long but short and what is it compared to the glory that awaits those who believe!

          John the Baptist rejoiced when he first met Jesus, well, sort of. Luke says John jumped in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary’s voice was heard. John was in utero and was given faith by the Holy Spirit. John hadn’t seen Jesus, he couldn’t he was still in the womb. John was still being formed and knit together grown by God until his birth. John heard, before he even saw, and he rejoiced.

          Today our gospel reading is a little bit curious. Again, John is not seeing Jesus because John is in prison. But again, John hears, he hears about the deeds of Jesus. However, John isn’t quite ready to rejoice. It seems John is wondering what is going on with Jesus. Here John is in prison and perhaps he’s wondering if Jesus is the real deal. If Jesus is the Messiah why is he acting so un-Messiah like?

          Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?

          John had been preaching and baptizing. His advent greeting was not happy advent, happy holidays or even merry Christmas. John greeted folks with a hearty, “Repent you brood of vipers.” John had put his life on the line for preaching God’s word. He is in jail for telling Herod to obey the 6th commandment and not marry his brother’s wife. Herod arrested John and now John knows what is possible to happen to him. He’s basically on death row for following the law. The innocent in prison.

          So you can imagine John’s question, “Are you the one to come or shall we look for another?”

          Have you every poured energy and time into a project at work or even maybe at home or church for it to just go unnoticed or even not appreciated? You work weekends, you give your time, you tell your kids you can’t play with them or go to a birthday party, you pour yourself into something and the boss says, “Toss it. No good, in fact, you’re off the project.” We think this may be part of the doubt rising in John’s mind in regards to if Jesus is truly the Messiah.

          Look at what John had dedicated his life to. He preached repentance. He called folks out to the Jordan to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. He dressed in strange clothes. And what had all this got him? Jail and the murmurs that Herod’s illegal wife Herodias wanted him dead. Thanks a lot Jesus, if you are God you sure have a strange way to treat your best preacher. John had dedicated his life to preaching God’s word and look where it landed him.

          There is a little comfort in these doubts of John for you and me. If John the Baptist sometimes wondered if God knew what he was doing, that means I’m in good company. You are in good company when you wonder, “Is God really helping me?” “Does God care?” “Is God there for me, because I sure don’t see him.”

          Consider how Jesus addressed John’s doubts, the same way he brought John faith while they were both still in their mother’s wombs. Jesus preached the gospel to John, to knit him together, to grow him in faith, faith comes by hearting. Jesus announced to John while he was in prison, the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”Jesus preached about his identity just as Mary did when she greeted Elizabeth and John was given faith by the holy spirit. “tell John what you see…” Tell John. Not break him out of prison. Not pay his bail but preach to him. Tell him of the mighty works of God. So for you and me. We are still if you will being grown in our faith by hearing the gospel. We still need to hear of who Jesus is, because this is how the Holy Spirit works.

          We are in good company with John when we wonder about Jesus, “Is he the one or should I look for another?” We ask that same question when life may not be going as good as we hoped. Is Jesus my God? Am I ready to endure all and suffer for the sake of Jesus? Even suffer for doing what is right…1 Peter 3 says, “But even if you should suffer for doing right, you are blessed.” John is suffering for doing right, are you willing?

          Kind of interesting that Jesus says today, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” You can rejoice when you suffer, even if you’ve done nothing wrong. How is that for reason to rejoice on this Pink Candle Sunday? This is offensive to our flesh. We think we are innocent. We believe we don’t deserve any suffering but that is a lie. It is precisely what we deserve for our sins. But God doesn’t finally judge us as guilty for our sins, Jesus was judged for your sins on the cross.

          Jesus didn’t throw John in prison because he had done anything wrong but precisely because Jesus desired to knit John together in faith even more. To grow him as a child grows in her mother’s womb. So too you and me. In this life we are grown to trust God all the more by suffering. The more we suffer the more glorious salvation will be when we see indeed Jesus is who he says he is!

          John rejoice. Why? Because Jesus is the promised one. Blessed are you John for you are suffering for doing right. Jesus will do offensive things. He will let you suffer. He calls you to repent. He will let you be defeated. But the most offensive of all in the eyes of the world, Jesus lets you off free from your sins. You who are guilty are freed! As if you have never sinned against God. The sinner forgiven. You released from your doubts and fears. Yes, this is already true for you today but you might sit in your prison with John a little while longer while Christ knits you together with each other. You helping one another and your neighbor. In Col 2 St. Paul tells the church, “hold fast to Christ the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

          Rejoice, for your Savior comes to help you now through his word and sacrament. The same Holy Spirit that comforted and carried John in prison and in his mother’s womb comes to you. Not to make you acceptable to the world or help you make excuses, but to make new your hope. To knit you into his holy church. To re-new you in Christ’s baptismal promise of forgiveness. 

          Even in all sorrows chrisitans do rejoice. Joy is confidence that God is taking care of things. Joy doesn’t leave us content with this life but content to have God’s promise of forgiveness and deliverance.

          A great movie is when the innocent are freed from being wrongly convicted. How much greater is it when the guilty are declared innocent? Not even Hollywood goes that far. Christ confessed to your sins for you to go free. Christ is your advocate, he has come to your defense by his cross and baptizing you into his innocence. Though you may suffer, rejoice for you will see God’s faithfulness.