Sunday, January 7, 2018

To Be Among My Father's Things

First Sunday after the Epiphany

January 7, 2018

St. Luke 2:49

To Be Among My Father's Things

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The shame of the Virgin Mary
An obedient child is easy to neglect. And so it is that Our Lord’s parents assume He is with them.
And when the Virgin Mary found Him in the Temple, she felt the shame of having left a twelve-year old unattended for three days. Perhaps the shame was compounded because the Temple was the last place they looked.
Because of that shame, she lashed out. She accused Him of having made her feel that way, claiming that it was His fault.
We choose to feel the way we feel. We choose our reactions. We may be provoked, but that doesn’t excuse us. No one makes us angry. Rather, we give in to our anger. We blame others at every step. It is possible to have righteous anger. Jesus did not sin when He cleansed that very same Temple years later.
But most of the things about which we’re angry, if we examine them, reveal our self-righteousness. We have a tendency to think that we know more than people in authority. We think that we are smarter and have more common sense. We assume that our motives are good and those of others are self-serving. We give in not to righteous anger but to self-righteousness.
Having done one bad thing, neglected her Son, the Virgin Mary made it worse by panicking and then blaming Him.
His rebuke was gentle. He did chastise her when He says: “Why were you looking for Me?” That means, in part, “how is that I came to be lost? What went wrong? Whose responsibility was it?”
But it also hinted at the answer. They were looking for Him not just because He is their charge and He was lost, but also because He is their Savior and they were lost without Him.
The next bit has bite as well. He wants them to remember that contrary to Mary’s heated accusation, Joseph is not His Father according to the flesh but only His guardian.
Mainly, however, our Lord confesses who He is and what He is about. He must be among His Father’s things.
Why were you searching for Me? Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?”
LUKE 2:49 NIV 1984

The things of My Father
Our translations here all fail. I don’t know why. St. Luke doesn’t record either the word “house” or “business.” He also doesn’t render it in the first person. It is not “I must.” Rather it is simply “It is necessary.” So literally rendered it would read: “Did you not know that it is necessary for Me to be among My Father’s things?” (οὐκ ᾔδειτε ὅτι ἐν τοῖς τοῦ πατρός μου δεῖ εἶναί με;)
It is necessary to leave “it is necessary” in that form. That form indicates prophecy. Here our Lord announced the necessity of His betrayal, beating, and crucifixion. It's not that translating “I must be in My Father’s House” is way off but it misses the nuance and fails to connect this saying with the predictions of the crucifixion—connections that need to be made—for the Virgin Mary and for us.
The next problem is rendering “things” as either business or house. Business is not that bad, but not that good. House is terrible. House simply inserts the idea from the space and not from the words. The idea is not all bad, but it misses the edge of the sword, and swords are all about the edge.
Jesus is not in His Father’s House. He is among His Father’s things. What things? The lampstand, the altar of incense, the altar for whole burnt offerings, and the like. He is there among the stuff of sacrifice, in the midst of the stuff that renders God’s people clean through blood and reconciles them to the Father that they might bring their prayers and petitions to Him. The entire purpose of the Temple was to give God’s people safe access to Him. God doesn’t need the Temple. We do.
Jesus is not simply there near and around that stuff, among His Father’s things, rather the point is that is what He is.
He is one of the Temple things, one of His Father’s things, one of the things that God gave for cleansing and forgiving the people. In fact, He is THE Thing.
He is where He belongs, not simply in His Father’s House, but on the Altar, as the Priest and the Victim. Where else would He be?

We live in the third day
Here is another little clue from St. Luke that this is about more than a lost child: they find Him on the third day. That is not accidental. Luke isn’t merely foreshadowing the Resurrection, though He is doing that, but He is also telling us where to find Jesus.
We live in the third day, post-Resurrection, when every day is Easter.
So where is Jesus?
Just as He was finished with cleansing the Temple in His good and right anger, the Jews confronted Him.

The Jews then responded to Him, “What sign can You show us to prove Your authority to do all this?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and You are going to raise it in three days?”
But the temple He had spoken of was His body.
After He was raised from the dead, His disciples recalled what He had said.
Then they believed the Scripture and the Words that Jesus had spoken.
ST. JOHN 2:18–22 NIV

The new temple is the Gospel, received by ear and mouth
He is among His Father’s things.
But isn't the Temple gone? No, it isn’t.
They tore it down and He built it again on the third day. That is the Temple of the Lord, that is where God dwells and abides with men, where men have safe access to the Father—in Jesus Christ, who is the new and greater Temple—risen from the dead.
So where is He?
He is present in His Body and Blood, in His Holy Word, in His gathered people, in the preaching of His Gospel, and the Holy Absolution. Here is where you find Jesus, where He remains for you.
So it is that our Lord welcomes back His mother Mary. He even submits to her.
He welcomes you as well. He didn’t die in vain. Your sins, even your fits of angry blame, do not stop His love. He is faithful to the end, patient and long-suffering. His mercy endures forever. Treasure these things up in your heart, bend the knee and submit to the grace of God in Christ Jesus, be fed, be forgiven, be here.

In Jesus' Name. Amen.
God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Thanks be to God!

With thanks to the Rev. David Peterson.
His Epiphany preaching was the basis of this sermon.

A Gift for the Magi

Feast of Epiphany
January 6, 2018

St. Matthew 2:1–12
A Gift for the Magi

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were the gifts that the Magi brought from the East to present to Christ. But the most important Gift given in that house in Bethlehem was Christ Himself.
This King was God's gift to the world. This Baby Boy came to offer Himself as the sacrifice that would restore humanity from evil to righteousness. By faith in this Gift, this Immanuel, we are no longer God's enemies; we are now His children.
So the gifts the Magi gave to the Gift were entirely appropriate, perhaps more fitting that they realized at the time.
The gold is always a good gift for any king and this treasure doubtless paid for the family's escape from Herod's murderous clutches down to Egypt.
The frankincense reminds us of Jesus' deity—using incense was a key part of the worship in the Lord's Temple. The smoke went up to heaven, symbolizing the prayers of God's people, that would be answered in this promised Child.
The myrrh pointed ahead to Jesus' sacrifice on the cross that killed Him. Myrrh was used as a painkiller and was mixed with wine and offered to Jesus on the cross, which He refused to drink.
And upon His death myrrh was used, along with aloe, to wrap His dead body in linen, before being placed in the new tomb, which in three more days would empty again.
Christ is the King of kings and the Answer to our prayers and the One who died to save us.
All of this makes Him the Gift for the Magi and for the whole world. He was and is and ever shall be for us.

In Jesus' Name. Amen.
God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Thanks be to God!

The Name That Saves

Sunday after Christmass
December 31, 2017

St. Luke 2:21
The Name That Saves

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise Him, He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before He had been conceived.
LUKE 2:21 NIV 1984

On the eighth day of Jesus' life, His destiny is revealed in His name and in His circumcision. On this day He was given His name that His angel had delivered to His guardian and caretaker:

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
MATTHEW 1:20–21 NIV 1984

The name “Jesus” in those days was a popular name. There are examples of others named Jesus in the Bible. But God's Son picked Jesus to be His name not because it was popular, but because He would make His name come true. Jesus means He saves.
This saving began with His conception by the Holy Spirit in blessed Mary's virgin womb. It began there because Jesus had to become what He was going to save. He had to become a human to save humans.
Consider this pencil. It is not greedy. It is not lustful. It is not envious of anyone. But what does its perfection do for you? Nothing!
Jesus would not save us by being a perfect pencil or a sinless angel or a faithful dog. He had to become a human to save humans. And the only way to save us was to offer His perfect blood to pay for our guilt and sin. God became a man so that He could bleed for us.
So on this eighth day of Jesus' life, He was circumcised. Now it might seem strange to celebrate this event in Jesus' life, since for most people these days circumcision is simply a medical procedure done without any fanfare. But from the time of Abraham to the time of Jesus, circumcision was the symbolic guarantee of the unity between God and His people.

God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
GENESIS 17:9-14 NIV 1984

Based on the promise of the coming Savior that was already as good as done in the time of Abraham, circumcision was established by the Lord God to make Abraham's children His children.
In our day, the Lord has given us Holy Baptism for all sinners of all ages, for boys and girls. Baptism has replaced circumcision, which was only for Israelite boys. St. Paul explains:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
COLOSSIANS 2:9–11 NIV 1984

Jesus Christ was both circumcised as an Israelite baby boy and our sinless Savior was baptized as though He was a sinner. This is because He serves as the vital link between the time of His promises—what we call the Old Testament—and the time of His fulfillment of His promises—the New Testament. He said He would be born and die in our place; He did.
And so Simeon holds the New Testament in his sinful hands. In his hands is Salvation Himself named Jesus, the One who saves us. So it is right, good, and salutary for us to pick up Simeon's chorus after we have received the Lord's Supper for our eyes have seen the Lord's salvation, which He has prepared before the face of all people. Like Simeon you hold Salvation Himself in your hands and receive Him on your tongue. You hear the One who saves as He promises that His body and blood forgives your sin and unites you to His body, the holy Christian Church.
Like Simeon you now depart in peace because Christ came not as a pencil or angel or dog, but as a true man for your salvation.

In Jesus' Name. Amen.

God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Thanks be to God!

The Two Miracle of Christmass

Christmass Morning
December 25, 2017

St. John 1:12–13
The Two Miracle of Christmass

In the name of the Father
and of the + Son
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Even though the world reshapes the miracle of Christmas for its own purposes, they are still aware that a special baby was born in Bethlehem a long time ago. The world does not know or recognize Jesus, but news of this special baby has gone out to the four corners of the earth.
But this conception in Galilee and birth in Judea is more than special. It is singular. For the first time no sinful man was involved, only the holy God and a sinful woman, as we confess:
conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary.
The first miracle of Christmas is that is a unique and singular birth: a virgin gives birth to a Child. And this Child is not just singular because of His way of coming into the world, but that He is perfect, holy, and righteous in every way before His Father in heaven.
He is God in the flesh. He is the living Word of God.
To put St. John directly:
1In the beginning was [Jesus], and [Jesus] was with God, and [Jesus] was God. 2[Jesus] was with God in the beginning. 3Through [Jesus] all things were made; without [Jesus] nothing was made that has been made.
ST. JOHN 1:1–3 NIV 1984
The Creator of the World and the One who keeps galaxies spinning throughout the universe was born with ten fingers and ten toes and has a belly button. Singular.
But there is a second miracle that is just as stunning and just as significant to sinners like us. This second miracle is that we actually believe the first miracle!
The world and its scientists can describe how a baby is born down to microscopic levels, they cannot say why life comes alive. So every baby is a miracle.
But the baby Jesus is singular. No one else was ever born in this way; no one will ever be born in this way again. The impossible truth is that God has come down from heaven. Miracle number one.
And the second miracle is that we believe what is impossible. Miracle number two is that we know God and we receive Him as He is.
12Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
JOHN 1:12–13 NIV 1984
God gives us this right to become His children. It is a gift, the miracle of faith. Our trust in Christ for us prevents us from reshaping Jesus or Christmas into what He is not. The full manger is not an abstract idea of hope for the future or good cheer for the present.
The full manger is the singular historic event that changed the world. The baby will grow in stature, the boy will become a man, and the man will die. Just as Jesus doesn't deserve to be a feed box made of wood, neither does He deserve to be nailed to a wooden cross. But He was. And He was born and He died for you. This is unbelievable, but you, born of God, believe it.
In Jesus' Name. Amen.
God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Thanks be to God!

Christ's Praised His Prophet Who Refused to Pretend

Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 24, 2017

Isaiah 40:6–8 and St. John 1:20
Christ's Praised His Prophet Who Refused to Pretend

In the name of the Father
and of the + Son
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

John could have tried to be Jesus. For a while John could have said that he was the Christ. And it's a good bet that many people would've believed him, at least for a while.

John would have been able to return to civilization and gotten a haircut. He could have gotten free home-cooked meals instead of eating grasshoppers and honey. He could have put on comfortable clothes instead of his animal skins.

He could have had it all, but when asked directly if he was the Christ, he said,

I am not the Christ.
JOHN 1:20

Perhaps his conscience prevented him from claiming to be the Son of God. But he could have settled for being Elijah. That would have been good. The Pharisees would have been interested in meeting an 800-year old Elijah, back from the dead. They would have listened to that prophet. But John said he wasn't Elijah, either.

Instead he quoted a different prophet, Isaiah, and used his words to point these men to the true Christ.

I am the voice of one calling in the desert, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”
JOHN 1:23

John patiently explained to his Jewish cousins that the Lord was coming soon. Therefore, it was time to get ready for His arrival. The Jews who heard John quote Isaiah would have known the words that followed this straight-way making.

A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”
ISAIAH 40:6-8

We get ready for Christ just as John did. We confess freely that we are grass, just fading blades of grass. Our lives are short, 70 or 80 years, if we have the strength. Our lives make no lasting impact. You will be remember for three generations, four if you're lucky, but no further. Some humans grasp for legacy through art, politics, medicine, or exploration.

And we do know some names: Michelangelo and John Wayne, Lincoln and Kennedy, Salk and Crick, Armstrong and Grissom and Ed White. Schools and buildings and bridges bear their names.

And you do know a few things that they did, but you don't really know them, so you can't really remember them as a fellow human being. So even our most famous fellow blades of grass are forgotten and in the end they changed nothing essential to our human life. Sure Neil and Buzz landed on the moon, and we got Velcro® out of it, but nothing really has changed.

We are just blades of grass. While occasionally a blade of grass might end up on your kitchen floor and that little bit gets a bit more attention than the billions of other blades that are mowed and left to rot in the field, in the end it too dries up and blows away.

So it is odd that Jesus praised one of these blades of grass.

John had freely confessed that he was grass, here today and gone tomorrow. John said that he was not even worthy to untie Jesus' sandals. He refused to pretend to be anything more than grass.

Yet Jesus praised John.

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.
MATTHEW 11:11-14

John had said that he wasn't Elijah, but Jesus said that he was! Jesus didn't mean that John was the dead Elijah brought back down from heaven. He meant that John was the promised prophet who spoke boldly like Elijah of old. He was the forerunner whom God had promised would arrive before the Christ and announce His coming.

John is the promised Elijah; Jesus is the promised Christ.

Jesus didn't need John (or Elijah, for that matter). But He chose to need John. He gave John life in the womb of his barren mother. He put John under orders to go out and preach repentance and baptize sinners. John didn't go on his own. Christ chose to need John and sent him out.

With the same mercy Jesus chooses to need you. He sends you out, but not into the wilderness. He sends you back into your life. He sends you into His Word to confess freely that you are a blade of grass who is joyfully waiting for the coming Christ. Paul promised that the Lord is near. These final days of waiting will pass quickly and so we rejoice and are glad. John had been dead for many years when Paul wrote his letter to the Christians in Philippi, but surely they capture John's joy in the coming Christ. Our joy, too.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

In Jesus' Name. Amen.

God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Lift Up Your Heads

Second Sunday of Advent

December 10, 2017

Luke 21:28

Lift Up Your Heads

In the name of the Father
and of the + Son
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Lord commands us to do several things in today’s Gospel:

lift up your heads;
know that the kingdom of God is near;
watch yourselves;
stay alert.
LUKE 21:28,31,34,36 EHV

Jesus' commands all revolve around seeing and believing and correctly understanding what is happening.
We are expected to be able to see the distress of nations, the decline of civilization, and the degradation that comes with fear as clearly as signs in sun and moon and stars. Yet we are told not to run and hide, but to pray and to straighten up and lift our heads.
These horrors are to be interpreted like buds on a fig tree. It is not winter that is coming, it is summer. It is not destruction and desolation and famine that is coming.
The fig tree is budding.
Your redemption draws near.
The devil, the world, and our fallen flesh are thrashing about in death throes. It is horrific, terrifying, devastating. But they will pass away. Thanks be to God: they will pass away, but the Word of the Lord will not pass away.
So watch yourselves, says the Lord, so that you don't think that the worst thing that can happen in this life is physical death. Watch yourselves so that your second worst fear is unhappiness.
But everything is going to be okay, because Christ has died for you.
And now our redemption draws near.
If they must, then let the seas rise and the poles melt and the earth itself burn.
Our redemption draws near.
Take they goods, fame, child, and wife, take they food, music, and laughter: they yet have nothing won. The Kingdom ours remaineth.
Our redemption draws near.
So straighten up. Raise your heads. Look not to the things of this world or to politicians or to movements or even to the doctor’s sad news. Look not to Facebook or Instagram.
Our redemption is drawing near.
It is not just Christmas that is coming. The Last Day, the time when heaven and earth pass away, when horrors and terror will be on every hand, that is coming.
But it will not be a horror for the Baptized who are now trapped in prison, caught in the web of our sins, waiting for our redemption to draw near. Soon we will rejoice and exult and lift up our heads.
And it isn’t just the Last Day that is coming, even now, right now, the Lord Himself comes. He comes here, now, into the midst of our guilt, our fears and our sorrows.
Lift up your heads.
Your redemption draws near now, here, in this place. He speaks in His Word. His Spirit stirs your heart and you believe. His Absolution presents you to His Father as His own dear, immaculate and holy bride.
He comes now, in His Flesh, and enters into you with His risen Body and Blood consummating the marriage, strengthening your faith, and forgiving your sins.
Echoing the Lord’s words from today’s Gospel the pastor turns to us each Sunday and commands “Lift up your hearts” and we say: “We lift them up to the Lord.” What we mean by this is that we want to stop thinking about other stuff. However inattentive we’ve been to this point in the Service, whatever grudges we might have been holding, whatever lusts or fantasies we might have been indulging, let us forsake all sin now.
Let us repent and come before the Lord’s risen Body and Blood with awe and joy and thanksgiving.
We lift our hearts up to the Lord where they belong, not high in heaven, but we lift them up to the Altar, not to be sacrificed, but we lift up them to the altar where He promises to be for us in order to receive the benefit and blessing of the One who Sacrificed Himself for us on the Holy Cross. We lift them up there, now, here, to receive Him as worthily as we might, that is with faith and confidence that His Word is true, that His invitation is valid and makes us worthy, and that He is here for us and truly forgives our sins.
This is your redemption, your Christ, who draws near. The one who died for you and has declared you righteous before His Father comes now in Word and Sacrament to bless you and encourage you. Soon He will also come in glory. He will finish the good work He has begun in you.

In Jesus' Name. Amen.

God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Thanks be to God!