2nd Sunday after Pentecost - Confirmation for Alexandria and Ascher Willard
No matter where you’ve grown up or how long ago you were young, I’m pretty sure you knew a bad kid. Or maybe as a parent there was one kid that just rubbed you the wrong way and you warned your kids, “don’t be like her.” Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory movie was built on this premise. In fact almost every movie has that bad character.
Or thinking back again to your school days, I remember the class bully…or three. You never wanted to lock eyes with this guy, he would zero in on you and the beatings, either physically or verbally would commence. This dude was a bad egg and everyone knew it.
You can hear the townspeople warning their children, “you don’t want to end up like that weird guy who lives in the cemetery. Now eat your spinach.”
Or the children who heard stories of a man so strong he could break handcuffs and no matter how many times he was arrested they could never rehabilitate this guy.
He was known by all in town for his antics, his rebellion. It’s quite easy to paint a picture of someone else we can associate this demoniac with. But to rightly read the gospel reading today we would be smart to listen to our parents or teachers who warned us, “Youre behaving like you’re possessed by the devil.” No? You never heard that...must just be me.
For you see this man who lives amongst the dead unable to control himself is a picture of every one of us to some degree.
This man was real and this is indeed a real story. We can relate to some parts of it because evil and demons are real and in our own lives we’ve seen evil. Whether it be the latest school shooting or the all too common murder of unborn children in our nation, evil seems to have the upper hand in our world. We can hear about this man possessed by a legion of demons and feel sorry for him for he is not able to control himself. He’s a world away and there is something familiar in all this. He is under the possession of demons but we are not. So we certainly don’t do the things he did…do we?
We can have pity on this man, a far away place, a long time ago, yet we each must also bow our heads in repentance for we aren’t possessed and but do we not too often let evil get the upper hand in our own lives?
The demon possessed man preferred to live among the dead rather than the living, the tombs, the cemetery. Don’t we also often prefer what this dying world has to offer us rather than the living breathing word of God? Are our kids more versed in the latest YouTube stars and pop music artists than they are with Martin Luther or even St. Paul? We aren’t forced to watch filth on our televisions yet we sort of feel more at home with watching whatever garbage Hollywood decides we should fill our heads with. Kind of like staring at a car wreck on the side of 75, we just can’t look away. But you can and you must. We are children of the light, so walk in the light.
The demon stripped this man of his clothes, no shame for him, no hiding. Our world makes a mockery of dressing modestly and God’s gift of marriage, no demon forces us to strip our clothes and commit adultery. What this man’s naked terror and burden we think is recreation and fun.
These things this man was forced by legions, a legion was around 5k in the Roman army at that time. 5k demons perhaps and us…not even one. And we act as if we or even someone we don’t get along with is possessed. We think theyre so horrible we murder them in our hearts with wicked thoughts. Do we have pity on this man or would this demon laugh at us? He needs not even advance against us because too often we do not fight against temptations to sin but walk right in. We have our own sins that isolate us, strip us of our dignity and we just don’t seem to be in our right mind. Chaos seems to have the upper hand.
The demon shows his hand though when Jesus asks his name. The demon says, “Legion.” He shows us that there is so much more going on here than just a man who is possessed and exposes our sins. The demon puts this meeting between him and Jesus into military language telling us he knows why Jesus has come. “We are legion.” They had conquered this man. He was helpless. He was a prisoner to sin. Doesn’t if feel that way sometimes?
Jesus is ready for the battle, yet he doesn’t even raise a weapon but with the sword of his word he casts the demons into the pigs. This one God man, defeats the legion. But greatest of all, even in the midst of casting these demons out, Jesus preserves the man’s life. In fact Jesus gives the man a new life.
The pigs are now possessed and driven into a watery grave and with them all the uncleanliness of this man. If you recognize your weakness against the devil and even your own desires to sin, take heart. Jesus came not to drive this man away but to drive the devil and all his sins away. Into a watery grave does all this man’s uncleanliness go. His death, his nakedness, his desire to live amongst the dead, his solitary confinement, his rebellion against authority. All of it gone and rinsed away. What Jesus did for that man, no longer a lonely prisoner, he does for you.
Jesus removes the sins and demons from the man and he removes your sins and wickeness away from you. Yet instead of your wicked sins falling pigs, they fall on Christ himself. On the cross comes the end to the war. The very death of Christ Jesus is our victory over even death itself.
We should see the connection to our own baptisms. It was there that you were firmly and completely clothed in Christ! That’s why St. Paul says today, as many of you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. No demon, no devil, not even death can take away the clothing which Christ covers you in the waters of baptism. It was a death to your sins and a giving to you of a new life. Even as you now sin, your baptism still stands. Not so that you may sin, but so that you would daily die to your sin and walk in newness of life trusting that Christ’s death on the cross was the end of the war between God and the devil.
And can you imagine now, this man when he saw the waters of that lake, what did he remember? He would probably remember the grace and love of Christ. So too we should look upon this baptismal font, every body of water and remember our baptism. That when Christ came to you, he washed you and promises you that you belong to him.
Alex and Asher, you belong to Christ. Today you have as the man in the story confessed of the good things God has done for you. But I also want you to take notice how the towns people who are supposedly healthy views Jesus in this story. Even after Jesus has healed their fellow citizen they are afraid. They tell Jesus to go away. If those who are healthy and not bothered by their sins tell Jesus to go away, how much more will the world tell us to walk away from Christ? To convince you and me that Jesus is not worth following, that there are more important things in this life. And when you do sin against your Lord be sure and know that he doesn’t push you away but calls you back to him.
All of us should see where the forgiven and healed man wants to be, he desires to be with Jesus. Would that we follow his example? Not only to be near Jesus but to speak of all the good things God has done for us!
Your parents have brought you here because they know that isolation from Christ is a bad thing. Confirmation isn’t a magic ceremony that makes you a super Christian. I have seen many people confirmed and they don’t really then come back to church. It is sad. Confirmation is not the end of confirmation class but the beginning of a life where you take it upon yourself, with the help of your parents to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn his word. To let the Holy Spirit feed you. You confess what Christ gave you in your baptism and how he continues to feed you and take care of you.
In your life you will be tempted to not gather with your family who gathers in God’s house. To be like this man today who when possessed by sin and the demons thought being in Jesus’ presence meant torture. Perhaps some of my classes were torture or even some Sundays perhaps seem like torture. But being at Jesus’ feet is not torture. It is freedom because Jesus brings forgiveness. Confirmation is a day that you acknowledge that life as a Christian is a life of being at Jesus’ feet. Like in our reading today the man found true freedom in Christ.
Today you are gathered with your family. Turn around. Look at these people. You are not alone. You are never alone. No matter where you end up the next few years as you look forward to high school and beyond, you always have a home, you always have a seat in God’s house at his table. You will sin. You will sin big time in the future, we all have. But don’t see solitude from Jesus as the answer. Solitude from Christ is prison, for your sin will possess you. But Jesus is here in his word and sacrament to free you from your sins.
Easter 5C - Rev. 21:1-7; John 16:12-22
Stay thirsty my friends.- The Gospel and the reading from Revelation teach us that we need to stay thirsty for what Christ gives. We need to see how each of us drink bad water and we pray the Holy Spirit will continue to teach us where to find the pure water of life.
There was for a few years one of my favorite commercial series done by the beer Dos Equis. If you remember it was an advertising campaign built around a manly character, a James Bond of sorts who was known as the Most Interesting Man in the World. The sayings were quite clever, “If he patted you on the back, you put that on your resume. When in Rome, they do as he does. Cuba imports cigars from him. Mosquitos do not bite him because they respect him. He is, the most interesting man in the world. – At the end of every commercial he would say, “Stay thirsty my friends.”
During the Easter season our 2nd reading during the church service is always from Revelation. We do this because the book of Revelation reveals to us what the resurrection of Jesus has guaranteed us who believe and are baptized. St. John is given a peak if you will, not into the life of a man of mystery, but the long promised messiah who was a mystery until Easter Jesus is revealed in his victory and what that means for us. As we hear today this man, Jesus Christ who is far more interesting than a beer a commercial, although probably not funnier, we hear today what Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.”
Jesus tells us from Revelation that he is going to give us living water and so we should stay thirsty. We should heed this promise of Jesus as a promise of comfort but we should also hear the warning in it as well. We as Christians should stay thirsty. Not thirsty for beer, but thirsty for what Christ gives, living water. That living water is the forgiveness of our sins.
How do we stay thirsty? If it were up to us to stay thirsty enough for Jesus we would be in trouble. It can be too easy to satiate our thirst on other things besides Christ. You know as well as I how easy it is to give into the cares of this life at the expense of faithfulness to God’s word. We are to sacrifice our lives for others and how bitter it tastes when it is inconvenient for us. God has given you so many gifts, do you think he gave them to you for you to just receive worship and adoration because you’re so great?
No, God gives you time, God gives you money, skills, many gifts to use for the benefit of others. So that others can receive his living water. Mothers and fathers are given the faith, the pure water of Christ to teach their children. As a parent though where do you teach your children to return to as a pattern of life? It’s easy enough for us to claim to be Christian but what wells do we get nourishment from? Perhaps it’s sports and entertainment. That is the well of nourishment for our day. Or Perhaps it’s traveling to exotic places and being at the well of Christ’s church can happen when it’s convenient. Or maybe just plain laziness.
It is no secret that Christianity in America is in decline. Last week I pointed out how we are like the Jews of Jesus’ day who thirsted for political power and influence at the expense of their faith. We find ourselves more comfortable fighting for our political parties rather than the party of Christ. This is mostly due to the fact that we know too little of the pure water of Christ’s word. Hosea 4:6 God says, “My people are destroyed for their lack of knowledge… they have forgotten the law of God, I will also forget their children. What do you desire above the pure water of Christ’s word?
First we must ask ourselves why we keep returning to the same wells and expect a new outcome. We have a responsibility to seek out the pure water of Christ and to live our lives for each other. It may be difficult, and we might suffer for a little while because of it. But do we want to be known as the generation that let go of her Lord?
Second we must ask what are we afraid of when it comes to making hard decisions in regards to being faithful? It is because we’re afraid to suffer. To experience a little grief. To turn away from pleasing our flesh. Today’s gospel has the theme of suffering. Jesus told his disciples they will suffer. They will see him be arrested, tortured and murdered. He will disappear from their sight into death and they will weep and lament. The world though will rejoice at this. Jesus tells them to not give up though. Not to give up on him. They should give up on themselves, they, like us should see that all suffering and sadness is because of our sin and repent that we cant fix our sin and shortfalls. That we keep returning to the well of sin. What do we expect to find in the well of the world?
Just a few chapters earlier in John’s gospel Jesus met the woman at the well. She didn’t thirst for Jesus until she had first seen her sin, how dirty and polluted the water was that she was living in and how thirsty she really was. The same old wells of comfort in life had dried up and so will all the things we chase. We need to be taught and reminded how dirty the water of our sins are. We are too use to giving into our sinful desires and the water seems normal. The pleasures and the cares of this life seem like good clear, wonderful water, able to satiate our thirst but they cannot. Only one thing can help you, the pure water of life flowing from Jesus’ side.
This is the water that Jesus gives. Not from the world or things created but the pure life from God himself. So how do we stay thirsty for this water? Suffering. Suffering keeps us from falling in love with the decrepid water that our sinful flesh seeks after so much. Suffering keeps us thirsty for Jesus.
Jesus takes the discussion of suffering with his disciples and compares it to a woman giving birth. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. The joy that Jesus teaches us about is delayed. And the suffering we experience here in this life only makes our joy more complete in the resurrection.
No one gets through life without suffering. Each and every one of us suffers in a unique way personal only to us. The student is not greater than his master and if Jesus is your master than you too will have a cross to carry.
When a Navy SEAL finishes his training he is very proud but in the midst of training he suffers a lot of mental and painful torture. In the middle of his training if you ask him if he wants his commanding officer to go easier he would likely say yes. He wants the anguish to end. But When he graduates he rejoices because of how hard things were. He and his classmates will even brag about how hard it was. He hasn’t forgotten how hard it was but he cannot go back to the anguish and pain. So too our suffering in this life as Christians.
Our suffering is training for righteousness. Our suffering whether brought to us by God maybe in our health or taking care of family or even here at the church he has made you a part of, the suffering only makes your joy more sweet and pure in the gospel. And while we may not always get it fully here in this life, if we stay thirsty we will fully rejoice and see how good for us our suffering is in the resurrection when we drink from Christ’s hand in our flesh.
You see Jesus is the woman in labor. He is the one who took his cross, not because of his sins, but because of ours. Jesus suffered willingly so that he may birth us into eternal life. Who of us suffers perfectly? Who of us rejoices at our suffering? No one. Only Christ is faithful and to think it wasn’t even his sins that he suffered for! Much like a mother’s love. She suffers so that a new life would be brought into this world. It was Christ’s joy to endure the cross for your sake and so by his forgiveness and life he perfects our suffering.
Christ suffered so that we would be birthed from his side, baptismal waters giving us a new birth. Blood flowing so that by the Lord’s Supper we would have the purest drink. By faith we are saved. By faith we drink of Christ’s righteousness. He did this willingly and now he rejoices that he comes to forgive you. So now in this life we thirst for his righteousness above all else. We seek him and he promises we will find. Not here but in the resurrection. If you are constantly seeking Christ here and long for his drink, he will not only satiate you here but in the resurrection your joy will have grown exponentially. Your suffering will all make sense. Like the mother who sees her child and all the agony and anguish made the cry of the child so much more glorious. So too when we finally receive the living water from Christ’s hands and we see him again and our joy will never be taken away. Stay thirsty my friends and Christ will give to you unmeasurable joy beyond all belief. Alleluia Christ is Risen!
Lent 3C- Luke 13:1-9
Where do we find shelter in a world of bad news, God’s mercy in Christ.
The 24hr news cycle. CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, it is nonstop. As a kid I dreaded when the news would come on because it meant the fun afternoon of playing football and basketball was coming to an end and it was time to come inside.
If it bleeds it leads. If it's bad news it makes for good news and I'm sure you've lamented the news. It's only bad news but we can't help but watch. Like a train wreck or car accident, it's terrible but we can't help it. Got to know what's going on so we watch.
24hr news especially when there is a tragedy. A terrorist attack, like in Christchurch New Zealand or Islamic terrorist beheading 21 Christians in Egypt, or genocide in Africa. So quickly we are sure to point out who the enemy is. And we even now have commentators who will tell you who to blame. It is President Trump. No it was the yrs of Obama policy. The terrorists. Hey man, like don't you know it’s the man putting us down? It's global warming. Wouldn't it be nice if we had a trustworthy news source to teach us how to respond, who to blame and where to find safety?
Today Jesus is our news commentator and he reports on where to find safety even in sudden tragic death, God’s mercy in Christ. How about that? Today we get Jesus' response for a news story, the top of the headlines. If it bleeds it leads and there was blood in the streets, even human blood in the temple.
They told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices… Doesn't get more political, nor religious than this story. The Roman govt actually murdered Jews during the Passover as they were offering their lambs for sacrifice in the temple. The govt forced its way into the house of God and claimed it's superiority. You think your God can save you? We will prove you wrong.
So the people offering their sacrificial lambs themselves became the victim. Reporting this newsworthy story to Jesus the people gathered around probably were anticipating Jesus to rail against the Roman government. To speak about how the Jews would one day be free of all tragedy. Identify the enemy Jesus, we all know who to blame. Or how about the Roman’s opinion of the whole matter? We want to be fair and balanced right?
The Jews knew what they were getting into living in an oppressive regime. Don’t break the laws and Caesar will leave you alone.
Investigative journalism. 24hr news. Jesus takes the mass gossip and says, “Don’t worry about who is really at fault, how about you?” Jesus doesn’t play into the people’s questioning of him to find who is at fault when a tragedy takes place. Jesus lifts up a mirror and says, “Consider how quickly and out of the blue these people lost their lives. How about you?”
In a way our human nature loves to be told who to blame in all these tragedies. The reason is often because if we can find someone to blame that absolves us of any of the blame. If we can be focused onto an enemy besides the one we see in the mirror then there is no need to worry. If we can be distracted enough in pointing out the bad guys we will become complacent with our spiritual condition.
We work and work and prepare ourselves for retirement. What about eternal life? “Oh I can wait another day there is always tomorrow. There is always next Sunday.” Jesus says no, you do not know when that day may be. Tonight perhaps.
We weigh and plan our schedules and activities, to make use of the time we have. What about training in the word of God? We’ve all heard in the news learned about very wealthy parents who worked back channels to get their kids into 1st rate schools, how hard we work and are concerned with our kids schools, universities, what about the teaching in the faith? For some reason church and being a lifelong student of God’s word is always second fiddle. what about preparing our kids for their death for they’re days are not guaranteed either. What about you producing fruits of the faith? This is why Jesus mentions what will be the news headline tomorrow.
How about this news story Jesus says, “‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”
When a fig tree was planted it was not expected to produce fruit for three years. The fourth year is when the farmer comes looking for fruit. So we find our fig tree 6yrs old, 3yrs where the farmer should’ve cut it down but he doesn’t. That is point of the parable. God is patient beyond imagination. Merciful past any time frame we would even consider a good investment, but do not put him to the test. The tree was costing him precious real estate. He could’ve had two crops by the time he came. And yet the farmer, God, is merciful. That is the lead story. The mercy of God in Christ Jesus.
It’s not news to us, we are the withering tree. We have not found proof of much fruit if we are honest. Fair and balanced, how does your good fruit weigh against your sins? Can you claim a righteousness before God that outweighs your evil thoughts? Do you find it easier to get the run down on the days news or will you search God’s word for what truly matters? Are you more conversant with others about that over reaching government or are you willing to share the gospel?
Why does Jesus speak the parable? Because he wants to give commentary on the mercy of God. When the owner comes investigating the tree what does the vinedresser say to the owner? Let it alone, this is not good though. In the Greek Jesus says the vinedresser says, “Forgive it.” Completely. Let it start again, as if it had not been so empty. Forgive the tree, and he does. But do not put him to the test.
Christianity is not easy. Not because we are saved by our fruits but because our sin is constantly rotting our fruit! Our sins are the repeated lead story, but even greater is the mercy of God and the death of Jesus on the tree. From that tree comes fruit that perseveres to eternal life. Feeding you forgiveness giving you life. The blood of Jesus cries out to God, forgive them father.
He sent Jesus not to just give us good fruit but to be the vine, to graft us into him. The one who produces the fruit the father loves. To work through us. To live in us by faith, to be planted in us by baptism. To give us the assurance that we will produce fruit, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” How does Christ remain in us? By his word. By literally receiving his body and blood he dwells in you. For all the empty fruit you’ve produced, for all the sinful laziness you’ve tasted and eaten the fruit of the devil, Christ forgives you.
Instead of cutting us down, the owner allows us to remain only because of the work of the vinedresser Jesus. It is his work, it is his labor that saves us. And that labor of dying for us on the tree that spares us the cutting down we deserve.
The vinedresser says, Put the blame on me for the lack of fruit and I will tend to it. And Jesus takes the blame for all your hollow repentance. Your fake love. He takes the blame for all your sin, even being lazy and thinking there are more important things in this life, he who knew no sin became our sins so that we would become the righteousness of God. Not looking for others to blame, but to stand before God and say, “I have no fruit. Me, I alone am to blame. I a poor miserable tree.”
This is the fruit the father looks for! This is the fruit of faith! This is the beginning of wisdom. For those who by faith claim no righteousness of their own are given the fruit of Christ’s righteousness.
The labor and the work of Christ Jesus, his death being the very manure that establishes your place in the vineyard. His life given for you. His fruit given for you to give you life. Only don’t turn again to hollow fruit. Don’t go looking for the fruits of the world, that fruit only brings destruction and death. Look to Christ, both in word and deed. Let him tend you and your family by his word and sacrament. This promise is for you and your household.
Tragedy above all other tragedies, the innocent son of God cut down so that we may remain in the vineyard, growing. This tragedy the greatest/worst news every heard, perhaps only surpassed by the tragedy of those very ones he died for refusing to repent.
This is the true good news! Jesus Christ has died for your sins and forgiven you. What a story, not just on Sunday but 24hrs a day. A cycle of repentance and forgiveness growing fruit! You may not always see it, but it is there and your father in heaven sees the work of Jesus, the fruit he produces in you. Amen
In fact, you can believe and trust in what Jesus says because He, IN FACT, is risen from the dead.
Epiphany 6C - 1 Cor. 15:1-20; Luke 6:17-26 - v20 - "But in fact, Christ is risen from the dead..."
St. Paul preaches today in his sermon to the congregation gathered in Corinth using only facts. This is why he writes to them one of the first creeds of the New Testament. IF you notice in v3-4 this is the pattern we have set for our creeds. We are a creedal church because these are the facts. Our faith is not based on feelings or sentiments. Like most people we have a desire for facts. We want to know the facts. We want to know the truth. With every political story now we have the so called “fact checkers.” Mark Twain wrote that facts are stubborn things. There are a few stubborn things we can call facts. Fact 1, Don’t pay your taxes and you can be sure Uncle Sam will come knocking. Fact 2, you are getting older. Now that’s not so bad, except getting older means death. In fact, as hard as we might try, death is coming for us all. Sorry to bring such a downer to our gathering this morning, after the great Sunday School class, hey as a reminder, we have about an hour or so set aside before church for you to come and learn about God’s word with fellow Christians. You are invited!
After such a great time in Sunday School I almost feel I have to apologize, but facts are stubborn things. Try as you might, spend as you can, run as fast as you can muster, death is one heart beat away. One breath, one step, one slip. In fact, 105 people have just taken their last breath in this last minute. Facts, how fun. Lest you want to fact check my statistic, that little fact was from the Ecology Global Network. Uncle Sam will come knocking looking for his fair share of your taxes but so will his more sinister and more persistent partner death. There is no arbitration, there is no payment plan. In fact, death demands payment in full.
Now there are many ways you can try to avoid the tax man. In fact, you can try to disappear. Move to Mexico. Get off the grid as they say. You can declare bankruptcy but even then there are technicalities that Uncle Sam will get his share.
In a world of unknowns and fake facts we don’t always know what to believe, in fact out of desperation we have the saying "nothing is sure but death and taxes". People try to be very creative and hide from taxes but the scriptures even teach us, “Pay taxes to whom taxes are owed.” But what about death? How can we hide from death?
Well believe it or not this is one connection between our Gospel, OT and epistle reading. Beginning with Jeremiah we hear the prophet utter the words of God, ““Cursed is the man bwho trusts in man and makes flesh his strength”. Cursed is the man who trusts himself or what man finds security in. In fact, cursed are you when you believe that the rewards in this life far outweigh the rewards of knowing Christ in eternal life. St. Paul writes if you only follow Christ because in this life it gets you places of honor, you are to be pitied above all. And finally in the Gospel reading Jesus shows us that chasing honor in the way of the world may bring temporary happiness but that happiness is not truly happiness. It may seem like joy and blessing but in reality it is rotting away your soul with false security.
Like the person who spends mounds of money on expesive cars and jewels and thinks that that is where life is, yet they watch it all get reposesed and they have nothing but a jail cell when the tax bill comes. In fact, none of it was theirs to begin with. Just a figment, not reality. In fact all along they had nothing because what they owed was far more than what they could pay.
Facts are stubborn things when it comes to taxes and death. What do you owe? Do not fear I am not working for the IRS and despite current opinions on the matter I am not trying to kill you with long sermons. The fact of the matter is that no matter how high and mighty we might feel because we always pay our due or we always meet budget, there comes the bill for your sins of failing to see the world as Jesus does. How do we try to hide that little fact? How we look for honor and security in the things of this life. When things go well we think, In fact, I have nothing to worry about. Our sinful nature leads us to trust in the gifts of God rather than Christ. In the end we begin to look just like the unbelieving world.
The rich that Jesus proclaims woes upon are those who have no need for Christ. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or don’t have, do you recognize the true riches in Christ? Do you trust your comforts in this life more than Christ? It is generally the case that when we have money to spare we begin to trust in it a little too much.
The full are not necessarily those who have plenty to eat, that would disqualify all of us pretty quick. It is those who don’t recognize the ongoing need to be filled with Christ. Specifically the need for the Lord’s Supper. If you see no need for the Lord’s Supper you are missing out on a gift that Christ gives to fill you with his righteousness. In fact, if you are numb to the Lord’s Supper you are the full Jesus warns about.
All of these blessings and woes are intimately connected to our daily lives yet are also spiritual. Jesus hits us right between the eyes with stubborn facts in Luke 6. Blessed are you when you are poor, hungry and when you are weeping. Blessed are you when people revile you on account for being a Christian.” Jesus doesn’t just say endure it, he says, “Leap for joy in that day because your reward in heaven will be great.” Of all the things we pursue in this life none of them will measure up to the joy we will see in heaven. In heaven we will see what we only behold by faith now.
Jesus can encourage us to endure these things because he has seen the worst the world can throw at him. In fact Christ took the judgment for your sins on the cross. Christ not only took the world’s judgment for being faithful but he also took on God’s judgment for your sins. Jesus doesn’t teach us to hide from our sins. Hiding from Uncle Sam is a terrible burden. A life on the run is punishment enough. Imagine trying to hide from God! Jesus doesn’t show us where to hide, but he pays our bill. He cancels our debt. He suffered and died without God coming to his aid. Fact, this was the punishment meant for you. For all the shallow chasings after the pleasures of this world. Thinking that when we are comfortable we don’t really need Jesus. That forgivness of sins is some trivial thing in this life. That we try to cheat God by not sharing with those around us or we don’t pray and give thanks after what he has given to each of us. So often we forget that all that we have is a gift from God. We begin to think that God owes us things in this life. By God I’ve worked hard for my money, my prestige, my professional portfolio, my 401k. Jesus says blessed are you when those things fail. Why?
Because when we place our hope and trust in things other than Christ and his resurrection from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins we are in jeopardy of losing our faith. Fact, is it better to lose a little in this life and yet gain eternal life and all the riches of Christ Jesus or is it better to gain the worship of those who are going to hell?
Jesus is pretty matter of fact describing how it is in this life if we are to be faithful to him. Do you see his example? Do you remember how the world treated Jesus? He wasn’t fawned over by the politicians and rich celebrities. He was laughed at. He was scorned. And you and I try so hard to win the approval of the world. Fact, you cannot have two masters. He was thought a joke but he has the last laugh. In fact, Christ Jesus was raised from the dead.
And because Jesus Christ was risen from the dead, death is no longer a certain fact for those who are found in Christ. He feeds us life. He gives us riches. He teaches us to laugh at the devil and his attempts to take away that which Christ has given us by his death for our sin. Forgiveness. Our riches and security, our joy, our fullness is his word and sacrament delivering God's grace to you!
And that brings us to the fact, the undisputable fact that St. Paul writes for us today, In fact, Christ was raised from the dead. That fact upsets all that we think is factual in this life. When we suffer we think that that is in fact the worst that can happen. But Jesus says no.
This is why we say amen to what Jesus says in our Gospel reading even though it sounds so contrary to fact. In fact, Christ was raised from the dead. He knows that none of the things we think are so factual are actually enduring. So our faith is not based on emotions or some warm feeling you get when you see a beautiful sunset or watch an infant child coo in your arms. Christianity is based on a singular fact, Christ is raised from the dead.
So no matter what, fact, consider yourself blessed when you suffer. Consider yourself blessed to be hungry, consider yourself blessed to mourn. He may take away your false Gods, but He will never take away his love for you. This is why we continue to confess the creeds. They are the facts we believe in. If a church no longer confesses the creeds she is a church in danger of believing in a false Jesus. A Jesus not supported by facts but a Jesus invented by their own desires. Often that Jesus begins to show his approval in big audiences, riches in your life, living your best life now. The problem is that is contrary to what Jesus says today in verse 23. Your best life is not now but with him in heavenly bliss lived out in the resurrection. That is our best life and that is the life we want even for our enemies. You can trust Jesus when he sounds so "contrary to fact" in his blessings and woes because IN FACT, He is risen from the dead and his faithful will rise again. We have nothing to fear.
Epiphany is God taking upon himself our identity not to protect himself, but to give us life. To protect us…from ourselves. To protect us from our sins.
As of Jan 6 we have once again changed church seasons. The 12 days of Christmas are over and we are in Epiphany. Christmas shows us and teaches us that this baby who is born from Mary is the eternal God. That even though this child is fully man, he is also divine. At Christmas we are taught about Jesus’ divinity.
Epiphany shows us that Jesus is also one with humanity. Jesus is divine, the eternal word made flesh. Epiphany is the time of year we focus on the identity of Jesus being revealed in various ways. God was also truly man, one of us. This is what the baptism of Jesus reveals to us. God comes down to be one of us.
In our world there are many times famous people try to hide their identity. When checking into hotels or making reservations celebrities use an alias. They do this of course to protect themselves from being noticed. When robbing a bank people often wear a disguise to protect themselves. This happens in the Bible too. Abraham and Sarah were traveling in Egypt and Abraham was afraid the Pharaoh would kill him to take Sarah so they told Pharoah that Sarah was his sister. They used a false identity for their own benefit. To protect themselves.
Jesus doesn’t use his divinity to protect himself to stay far off from sinners but Jesus comes to be baptized with sinners. To show us and the world that he has come to be one with sinners. Our reading begins with Luke telling us that The people were in expectation. Why? They thought John a good Messiah, or at least pretty close. What are you in expectation for? A new you for 2019? New job? I was hoping for a Cowboys Superbowl but that expectation has been stopped rather quickly. What are you in expectation, eager expectation for more that following Christ's word this year? What do you think about that? Have you reflected on the sin of desiring an identity that the world considers more valuable than following Jesus?
John lived a life of solitary confinement being out in the wilderness. John’s life was one of rebuke. Calling people to repent. He reminded them of Elijah. He brought a message of God's wrath. That because of sin man is far from God’s righteousness. Many believed this is how God should be, far away from sinners. That each person should find their way to God in heaven. That God has done his part, now you must do yours. But John says this is not how it will be.
When asked if John was the Messiah John says no. He is not the Messiah. rhe who is mightier than I is coming, sthe strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.
This would fit most people’s idea of God. HE is so above humanity we can’t even stoop down to untie his sandals. Look at John’s humbleness. How we should learn from John how to repent of our pride with respect to the identity of God.
John doesn’t even consider himself worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. John doesn’t pretend he is perfect. John doesn’t claim a perfect identity because he knows that is a lie. When we are accused of wrong doing the first thing we do is make excuses. “It’s not my fault.” John puts us fallen sinners in our place by preaching the truth. That indeed we aren’t worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. Don’t claim innocence when you have sinned against someone. Confess your sins to one another. And when someone has done wrong to you forgive them for they are not any different from you. People thought john was the Messiah and John didn’t use this to build himself up above others but he teaches us how far we have fallen and calls all sinners to repent. Not to claim innocence like some false identity. that we can trick God by claiming innocence. Perhaps we can trick others, but not God. God knows us better than we know ourselves. If others around us knew the thoughts that run through our minds we would be ashamed to even show our faces in public and we believe we have a valid argument in claiming innocence.
John baptized with water a baptism of repentance. But the Savior will come and He will baptize you twith the Holy Spirit and ufire.17 His vwinnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to wgather the wheat into his barn, xbut the chaff he will burn with yunquenchable fire.”
John baptized all who came to him in at the Jordan river for repentance. All types came out to him. If a person was a sinner, they qualified for this baptism. Who could be worthy for the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire? Verse 17 sounds more realistic for us sinners who are far from God, to be burned with the chaff.
But next we hear how John continued to preach the good news. That Jesus comes to himself be baptized with a baptism of repentance. Jesus was baptized to show John and us that Jesus is indeed the one who is the Savior. The odd thing about this Savior is that he doesn’t use his identity to protect himself from the result of sin. Jesus is baptized to show how he is truly one who shares in humanity with us. Jesus comes to be your sin. To take your identity as sinner to the cross. Jesus will stand before the Father wearing your sin saying this is mine.
While we might use an alias to protect ourselves, or we might lie when confronted with our sins to protect ourselves, God becomes true man in order that he would be one with sinners. When Jesus is baptized the spirit descends on him and this is God showing all that Jesus is the sinless one. Jesus is perfect. The one with whom the father is pleased. The perfect one to rescue humanity. You see Jesus takes an identity that is not his, Jesus stands with other sinners being baptized. Jesus takes the alias of sinner. At his baptism Jesus is singled out by the Spirit to be baptized again but baptized on the cross.
Later closer to his crucifixion Jesus will speak of his cross as a baptism. One way to look at this is to see how on the cross Jesus is covered with the father’s wrath. That Jesus is drowned into God’s fiery wrath at sin when he is crucified and dead. The result of Jesus’ baptism on the cross is that the world is purified. God’s wrath at your sin is absorbed fully by Jesus.
So this is how we can read the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. That when we are baptized into Jesus we are given the Holy Spirit and our sins are burned away. Baptism brings faith and forgiveness. We are not left alone. We are not left to find our way to heaven but God becomes one with humanity to bring humanity back to him. To forgive you. For because of Jesus becoming man becoming your sin, he gives you his righteousness and he will never take that away.
Celebrities use their identity as a reason to separate themselves from sinners, the unimportant reserving for themselves all the goods. Jesus uses his identity as God to bring us with him up again to a place of honor far above any earthly glory we might desire. Jesus doesn't stay away from us but forgives us so that we would be identified as sons of God!
SO now you do have a new identity. Being baptized your old sinful self is burned away and all that remains is a forgiven child of God. This is why St. Paul says, being baptized into Christ We know that wour old self1 xwas crucified with him in order that ythe body of sin might be brought to nothing,” baptism gives you a new identity that was not yours. You are given the identity of Jesus. It is the work of God, that’s why we talk so much about baptism. God places his name on you, no matter your age. He claims you. You are one whom the father is well pleased with because the burning that took place on the cross purifies you. So everytime you see your sins repent and know that God does not consider you according to your sins but according to your new identity. This is no alias it is a reality. God, unlike Abraham, unlike you and I, cannot lie. We may fool ourselves into doubting our new identity but your sins are not held against you. It is as if you have never sinned. For Christ’s sake God says, “you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, …Fear not, for I am with you;
God doesn’t use his divinity to stay far from us sinners. It is precisely his divinity that enables him to come to us and rescue us. This is a guarantee of your salvation. Jesus’ baptism teaches us that Jesus has taken upon himself our humanity to give us his identity as a son of God.
Advent 2 - Luke 3:1-14
God calls us to come to the wilderness repenting of our sins that we may bear fruits of repentance.
There is something about being in the wild that makes us humans believe we are getting closer to God. Pushing away the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The solitude. The silence. The call of the wild.
Being out in the middle of the wilderness. Nothing to bother you. Just you and God. Except for today the Advent lesson of John the Baptist we might assume the wilderness to be a place where we choose to meet God. I would like for you to consider why people like escaping to the wilderness because it is not only there that the cries from your boss to work more efficiently or your parents or your kids ask for your time, but really it is also the place that God does not speak. There is no condemnation for your sins. No call to change. I believe that we sinful humans believe that we are closer to God in the wilderness precisely because we are away from God’s accusing word. Or if we do take a Bible with us, we can think what we want about God’s word. We can be our own little church and have a god of our own choosing.
Now I’m not saying there’s no benefit to retreating to a silent place, even going out to find solitude, Jesus even did that. Jesus did that for an opportunity to rest and pray. That is good and right. We should do this. However, our text today presents us with a lesson concerning where God’s word is found and what that means for our lives.
The reason we hear from John the Baptist during Advent because we find him in the wilderness. A place of fasting. A place of losing the comforts of regular life. A place where we look afar and see the city where life is easy, a place where the people revel in the pleasures of their flesh, eating drinking being merry. We do not find John the Baptist in the city with all the pleasures the city offers.
We find John in a place where God’s people often find themselves. The OT with Moses the Exodus from Egypt, no water. No food. No luxuries. Adam and Eve banished from the Garden driven into the wilderness. Elijah fleeing Jezebel, reflecting on his failures and how there seemed to be no other believers. Churches were empty and Elijah said God just kill me now. The wilderness is a place of discipline. A place where God strips away all the comforts of life and it is a place of desperation. Jesus too, out into the wilderness and who did he find? Not Smokey the Bear but the devil. To fast, to be tempted but to finally find himself in prayer.
So you want to go out to the wilderness to meet God? You think you will find solitude? Today we hear what you will find, you will find John the Baptist. Well we might not find him today in person, but you can’t help when you are all alone, when things are quiet to reflect on your life. When we do this we should assess our life in regards to God’s standards. Do you get angry or lose your patience? Do you find it more satisfying to get a good deal on Christmas gifts than receiving the gifts of God’s forgiveness? Do you think your sins are no big deal? Just a little mistake…You know better than that because you’ve probable got sins that haunt you.
John the Baptist is a relief because he brings the truth to our wildernesses. He is a doctor who accurately diagnosis us. A park ranger who sees the fire and points it out. He preaches a God who is not satisfied with your sins. In the wilderness you do not find a God who accepts you as you are. The wilderness is fine and dandy when the trees are green there’s no storms but the wilderness can also be the most dangerous unpredictable place when it is on fire as we’ve seen in CA. When we venture into the wilderness of God’s law we need to prepare and that is the Advent lesson for us as John beckons us out to find him. John doesn’t say find solitude he says listen to him. God sends him to us to rightly teach us how to meet God.
John is the forerunner to Christ. As a forerunner he tells us how to prepare. He’s the scout leader making you double check your supply list. He is your dad asking if you have enough gas to get home. Your mom asking if you have clean underwear. Your grandma asking why you don’t have more food, here wait I’ll get a sandwich for you to take along, you’ll get hungry. John gives you what you need. First and foremost John says repent.
God directs us and all those people in Judea out to the wilderness. Leave your good deeds. Leave your possessions. Leave your family. Your friends. Your house, don’t worry about cleaning, leave it. Leave everything. It is like death. What will you take to the grave? That’s your packing list. Go. Go and listen.
And what does John say? You brood of vipers! What?!! That’s not very nice John. Matthew says John said this to the scribes and Pharisees. Luke leaves the target of the sermon open, meaning Luke wants you to hear it addressed to you. For if John preaches this to the well respected people of his day, those who were morally upright, the well to do, the folks who everyone wanted to be like. The highly respected, almost royalty, Luke says, “Where does this leave you?” If John addressed this to those who did not have faith but whose lives were admired by all the people because of their dedication to God’s law this leaves us the faithful no excuse for living sinful lives of neglecting God’s word and being lazy.
Out in the wilderness God is not silent on this day. The wilderness is roaring. The wilderness is God’s fiery wrath come to meet you dressed in camel hair clothes and a diet of locust and honey. 400 yrs the wilderness was silent but here in John the Baptist God’s word goes forth. God would not have his people be unprepared for his coming. So in preparing for Jesus John tells us to drop dead.
John says come to the Jordan river out into the wilderness, don’t prepare by gathering together the things that make you so prideful. This is one instance that God does direct his people to go into the wilderness but that is because that is where his preacher is. This is where God is present, leveling the mountains of your pride and filling the valleys of your despair over our shame. John brings the proud down and lifts the desperate up. Malachi says he is like a purifying fire. There is a fire in the wilderness a fire that is 0% contained. Johns preaching of God’s law burned away all that was not pure.
To those who were being refined John had a hydrant of God's mercy, a baptism of forgiveness. All the sins they committed burned way by the waters of God’s purifying promise in the Jordan water. Then what was the result?
John laid the groundwork for Jesus to bring his baptism a greater baptism because when Christ institutes baptism in Matthew 28 it is into the fully revealed name of father, son and holy spirit. The water is not tied to the Jordan nor a man John. Jesus gives a baptism that spans time and space and places us in him.
Because in Jesus the fire of God's wrath is fully contained. Jesus contains that forest fire of God’s wrath at our sin on the cross. Christ was driven out to the desert to be tempted and he did not fall. Christ takes all your shameful sins and gives you his glorious life. Christ’s whole life was not one where he withdrew for his own benefit but always for ours so we would have a savior. Christ was called out into the wilderness not because he was stressed or tired or just needed to recharge, Christ was driven to the wilderness to show his faithfulness to you. There he was alone, the wilderness of temptation, the forest fire of his cross and he was burned up for your sins, big sins, little sins and those that might haunt you. Your baptism was also a refining. A placing of you with Christ in his death and raising you with him as well. Out of the wilderness and into the oasis of God's mercy.
After John had baptized those at the Jordan with a baptism of repentance for forgiveness what did they do? What is the voice of faith? It is not how can I live a life of solitude, but what must I do? John says “Serve your neighbor where God has placed you faithfully.” John didn’t make them all prophets nor did he make them all preachers but he did tell them to go and sin no more. Be faithful where God has placed you. “What shall we do?” is the question of faith and one you should be asking yourself regularly. Notice John doesn’t tell them to quit their jobs, but to bear fruits of repentance. Let your life show evidence of faith. Even the vocation of soldier is blessed here in God’s word.
So return to God’s wilderness often. The place where you leave all your pride, the place you go carrying no supplies but bring your sins to confess. Here in God’s house is the wilderness for you now, the Jordan river the baptismal font. For it is here that his preacher is calling you to repent that you receive mercy in Christ. It is here he is preparing you for when he returns again to take away all the wildernesses all the loneliness all the sadness all the death and bring us into his glorious city come down from heaven.----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Advent 1 - Luke 19:28-40
In our sin we treat Christ’s word like last years presents lose interest. Christ however is no throw away savior. He comes to us as a humble king to forgive our sins and assure us of life eternal.
In the last few years, our society has been called a throw away society. That we have come to such opulence and affluence that we have no reason to try and reuse things once we've used them. You as well as I have heard people gripe, "I had my first washing machine for 30 years and now appliances don't last 10. They break and it's cheaper to replace than repair." Or plastic grocery bags, food containers, disposable cameras. These things were not around many years before. Being a child of this era of throw away, I was completely dumbfounded when I ran into someone who washed ziploc bags to get multiple uses out of them! My mind was blown.
We want to be the first to use something. There is something to being the first to use an item. To break it in. New cars are one of these items. You know what they say, "There's nothing like the smell of a new car payment." I mean "there's nothing like the smell of a new car." It's true. Being the first. The first to visit a hotel, the first to ride an amusement park ride, the first to eat at the new restaurant, the first in line for Black Friday sales. There is a sort of regency involved with being first. You almost feel like royalty.
Today's Gospel reading has this sense in it also. We hear Jesus say, "…you will find a colt tied, hon which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. " Is Jesus the beginning of this throw away mentality? "A used donkey will not do. It has lost it's "new donkey" smell." No. Jesus is making a statement that perhaps passes us by if we don't slow down being too anxious with God's word. Instead of passing over this reading, which you've heard many times and might be tempted to think you can just use it, hear it and let it go like a BigMac wrapper. God's word is not like an appliance or electronic device that once we've used it is not as good.
When Jesus speaks of a colt, a donkey that no one has ever sat on he is indeed making a statement of royalty. This whole scene is one of regency and the coming of a king. When Israel consecrated and received a new king that king would come riding on a donkey. Similar to Ari Force one or the presidential limo. No one else has one like it. The king is coming to you. He is not elected but he comes for your benefit to protect and defend. Our OT reading from Jerimiah was God preparing his people for a special king.
Jeremiah prophesies that there will be a king who comes to rule God's people. Going back to the days of David, before God's people were torn in division between Israel and Judah. God says through Jeremiah, "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah." God has made a promise to his people that their division will be healed. God's people will no longer be divided. There will not be a king in the North and South who is not able to join the people together. In this king will be unity again.
So who is this king? Who will be the first to really bring unity to God's people again? Luke begins to teach us about this king.
When you watch a good movie, one cinematography technique is to bring you to a very important event at the beginning of a movie. The event portrayed is very important but to the viewer the event doesn't look important. So the rest of the movie is about the background of the event that the movie began with. It would be like starting a movie of your life with your last days before going to heaven and then the director would go back and say why it was important that you spent your last days with God's word being spoken to you and Jesus' body and blood being given to you as you see the end of your earthly life coming.
This is what we see today in our Gospel. This is why, even though it is the beginning of our church year, we go to the end of Christ's life as he enters JErusalem during holy week. Why is it important that he comes to Jerusalem? Why is it that it is during the Passover days? Why does Jesus ask for a donkey that has not been sat upon? Why are the Pharisees angry at the disciples for worshipping Jesus?
The rest of our church calendar is meant to teach us these things and more. The church calendar isn't a throw away practice. We use it and keep using it because in ordering our lives by the life of Christ we are like the earth that rotates around the sun receiving it's light and warmth at the right times. Our life, if not daily, is a returning again and again to Christ to receive from him forgiveness. But this king seems like a throw away king when we begin to be tempted by the flashy new things our sinful flesh likes to chase after.
Jesus asks for a colt that has not been sat upon because this king comes to his people in a new way. It is a new way, but it is also a very old way. Like when you take a favorite recipe that the family has loved for many years and you make it better. A cover of an old song but you hesitatingly admit, "I like the new one better." Jesus comes on a colt like David and the kings of the OT did. The king came to the people on a donkey. Not a war horse but a donkey. The king isn't come to destroy the people and conquer them like a general on a warhorse in the battle. No Jesus comes as a king but a new king. A different king.
Jesus comes in a royal way but don’t be fooled into thinking everyone thought that way. I mean Jesus didn’t come as a worldly king, he even had to procure his own animal for transportation. Even the owners of the animal didn't offer the colt, they didn't know or care what was going on. And don’t think that everyone thought highly of this event. There were no other royalty there. It wasn’t the famous and rich that came out. Jesus came humbly and our world isn’t so impressed with humble kings. Jesus came to his people but it was only by faith that they saw who Jesus really was. A humble king. He has come to do battle but not the old way in conquering earthly kingdoms or people. So, since he is a king who has come to battle with? Where is his battlefield, who is his enemy?
The enemy is the devil and all who side with sin.
Jesus has not come to do battle with you. Even though you may have acted like an enemy of Christ, he has not come to destroy us. This is why he comes on a donkey. Donkeys are not for treading people down. They are beasts of burden. And so Jesus comes as a king to serve us. To give his life.
Now maybe you have treated God's word as a throw away. An old appliance that isn't useful for your everyday life. Perhaps you have considered the way of this king as an old appliance. Like an old record player that gets stuck playing the same song over and over. You have found in the world new things that seem better. Whatever your pleasure is this year was probably not what you were concerned with last year because the joys of this world are fleeting and not permanent. But what is? This king’s kingdom will never fall and his gifts will never expire. While we might tire of this king he never gets tired forgiving you and promising you he will not cast you out.
This king then also does something new again. You see the donkey was his coming to us, he comes humbly. This king though where is his battle? Where is he on a warhorse? It is on the cross. This king is victorious by doing a new thing. He is crucified for you. Even your sins of chasing the cares of the flesh and sinning against your fellow man. He comes to forgive you in real ways.
So it is no surprise that this king lays in a new tomb that has never seen death. Or better yet, death has not seen a king as this. A king whose reign does not end in death but it is his victory. The new, never sat upon colt brought this king to his people so that the new, never laid in tomb might bring us to him.
This is your king. He comes, he advents to us. And like that day he went into Jerusalem, you will not find this advent king among the well to do. This king comes among the faithful. He comes in humble means still. Not a colt, but in his word and sacraments. The means that he advents to us still does not sparkle in the eyes of the world. Bread, wine and water. The world does not lay a red carpet out for him. But you and I should with repentant hearts welcome Christ as he comes to us humbly still. He comes for us to lay our treasures aside that we may this season receive him rightly believing his words, he doesn’t throw you away but takes your sins and they are gone. So reuse him. Christ is no one use redeemer.