Friday, December 13, 2019

Commemoration of Lucia, Martyr

Today we remember and give thanks for Lucia, Martyr.  One of the victims of the great persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian, Lucia met her death at Syracuse on the island of Sicily in the year A.D. 304, because of her Christian faith. Known for her charity, “Santa Lucia” (as she is called in Italy) gave away her dowry and remained a virgin until her execution by the sword. The name Lucia means “light,” and, because of that, festivals of light commemorating her became popular throughout Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries. There her feast day corresponds with the time of year when there is the least amount of daylight. In artistic expression she is often portrayed in a white baptismal gown, wearing a wreath of candles on her head.

Collect of the Day:
O Almighty God, by whose grace and power Your holy martyr Lucia triumphed over suffering and remained ever faithful unto death, grant us, who now remember her with thanksgiving, to be so true in our witness to You in this world that we may receive with her new eyes and without tears, the crown of light and life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Sermon for second mid-week Advent service - Gen 21:1-7

                                                                                                Mid-Advent 2
                                                                                                Gen 21:1-7

            Abraham had not intended to end up in Haran.  When he left Ur in Mesopotamia – modern day Iraq – with his father Terah, the goal was the land of Canaan.  Yet in making the long circular trip to Canaan that avoided the desert, they stopped in Harran – modern day Turkey – and for some reason never continued.  Instead they settled there.
            We learn in Genesis chapter eleven that Abraham made the trip to Harran with his wife Sarah, at that time called Sarai, as Abraham was called Abram.  We are told that “the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai.”  And then the very first thing we learn about her is: “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.” 
            Many of us know women who have struggled with infertility.  Women were created by God to bear children.  They were created to want to bear children – to want to be a mother.  When for some reason this doesn’t happen for a wife, we feel deep empathy for her pain.  In a culture that valued children even more than we do, Sarai’s condition was the greatest of tragedies.
            While in Haran, Yahweh called Abraham.  He said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 
            God promised to make Abraham into a great nation. And he promised that in Abraham all nations would be blessed.  Through his call, God identified Abraham’s offspring as the means by which he would fulfill the first Gospel promise that we heard about last week. This One would be the seed of the woman – he would descend from Eve and would defeat the devil.
            Abraham was seventy five years old when God called him and he went to Canaan, where God promised that his descendants would possess the land. God had promised to make Abraham into a great nation.  Of course, there was a problem with this plan. Sarah was barren and did not seem to be able to have any children.
            Years passed, and during that time God said to Abraham, “I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.”  It sounded great … except Sarah continued to be unable have any children.
            And so it was later that that the word of Yahweh came to Abraham in a vision saying, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”  But this time Abraham replied, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”
            Yahweh responded to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." God brought Abraham outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be.” Then we are told, “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” God makes a promise that is contradicted by past and present experience.  But Abraham believes God’s word – he believes God is able to do it. And God reckons – he counts this faith as righteousness.
            St Paul tells us that Abraham had faith in God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” He had faith in God, “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” and so, “That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’” And the apostle tells us: “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
            Abraham is held up as a great example of faith.  We know that we are not always able to be so strong. There are times we doubt God and fail to trust in him. We question him because of the way things are going, and wonder whether he really is there; whether he really does care.
            It turns out the Abraham and Sarah were no different.  In the very next chapter we learn that when Abraham was eighty five years old, Sarah was still barren. A decade – ten years – had passed since God first spoke his promise about Abraham being the father of many nations. And in spite of God’s repeated promises affirming this, nothing had happened.
            So Sarah came up with her own plan.  She had a servant named Hagar, and she said to Abraham, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And we learn that Abraham listened to Sarah. Abraham and Sarah ignored God’s promise and tried to do things their own way. Abraham had sex with Hagar. She became pregnant and gave birth to Ishmael. But by ignoring God’s word and doing things their own way, it actually just made things worse as Hagar and Ishmael became the cause of hurt feelings and anger for Sarah. That’s what usually happens when you ignore God’s instruction and try to do things your own way.
            Then, when Abraham was ninety nine years old – twenty four years after God had first made his promise - Yahweh appeared to him and said about Sarah, “I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”  This was too much for Abraham.  He fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 
Yet Yahweh affirmed, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.”  In fact God added, “I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”
            Finally, Yahweh and two angels came to visit Abraham. God said to Abraham, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Moses tells us that not only was Sarah old but that she was in menopause. And so seemingly with good reason Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?”  However Yahweh said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 
Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”
            Tonight in our text he hear, “The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.”
            Our text says that God “visited Sarah,” which is a term loaded theological meaning in the Old Testament.  It describes God’s saving attention directed toward Israel and her people. This visitation was God enabling Sarah to become pregnant.
            And note how the verse in parallelism says the same thing twice: The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised.  Twenty five years earlier, God had spoken his promise. Year after year passed as Sarah remained barren.  She was at a stage of life when physically it was no longer possible for her to have children.  Yet just as God had promised – and then just at the time God had said – Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac. God kept his promise.  God was true to his word.
             A hundred year old man having a child is unusual. But in our own day it’s not unthinkable.  The oldest recorded age of a man having a child is Ramjit Raghan who did so at ninety six years old in India.  There are at least eight other well known examples of men who have had a child in their eighties or nineties.
            However, elderly women in menopause don’t conceive children.  It never happens.  And yet at the critical juncture when God promised that he was acting to bless all nations; at the time when he began to fulfill the promise of the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head, God used a barren menopausal woman to give birth to Isaac. God acted in an unexpected way.  For as God said to Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”
            God’s promise to Abraham took many years to be fulfilled. When it was, God did it in an unexpected way - a way that reveals is creative power. During Advent we are preparing to celebrate that God kept his promise about the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head.  Here too, it was many years before God’s visitation. But God kept his promise.  He was true to his word.
            In Sarah God used the dead womb of an old woman.  In Mary God used the fertile womb of a virgin, who became pregnant without ever having intercourse with man.  Yet after all, nothing is too hard for the Lord.
            Abraham and Sarah had both laughed at the idea of Sarah bearing a child. Yet after she had given birth Sarah said,
“God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” Now they would laugh as an expression of joy over the crazy, amazing thing that God had done for Sarah.
            As we prepare to celebrate Christmas we do not laugh at the idea of virgin giving birth to the sinless Son of God.  We do not laugh at the premise that a single man dying on a Roman cross was God’s powerful visitation bringing us forgiveness and salvation.  We do not laugh at the witness of the apostles that God raised Jesus from the dead.  Instead we laugh for joy that God had has done these amazing things through the seed of the woman to give us redemption.



Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent - Populus Zion - Lk 21:25-36

                                                                                                Advent 2
                                                                                                Lk 21:25-36

            Before Thanksgiving, the city of Marion had put up their Christmas decorations on the light poles around the square and downtown.  Before Thanksgiving, I saw Christmas trees and Christmas lights up in my neighborhood and around Marion.
            For many people, that seems too early. And so they wait until after Thanksgiving.  That seems to be the “official” start of the Christmas season for many Christians.  This was in fact a topic of discussion at our family gathering during the Thanksgiving holiday.  Everyone there – with one exception - thought that the day after Thanksgiving was the time to start playing Christmas music.  When we returned from Thanksgiving Amy and Abigail led the charge in saying that it was time to put up the Christmas tree.  And now with tree up they have gone into full blown Christmas decoration mode around the house.
            As a pastor, I fight a losing battle every year as I try to emphasize that it’s the season of Advent, not Christmas.  Now when you look around the nave today you will see the violet color of the paraments, which is the color for Advent.  You will see the Advent wreath.  You will see a banner, also continuing the violet Advent theme, that focuses on God’s saving promises and plan in the Old Testament that was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ.  You don’t see anything directly associated with Christmas.
            But even here at church, Christmas does show up early.  We had our congregation Christmas party last night - a fun event that takes place early in December so that it doesn’t conflict with the many other events that crowd the calendar this month.  The Christmas tree will in fact be up next Sunday because that is the day of the Sunday school Christmas program.  To have a Sunday school Christmas program, you need children to be here to take part, and if we had it any later families would already be leaving town to celebrate Christmas.
            But it is indeed Advent right now in the life of the Church and not Christmas.  Advent is not the celebration of the birth of Christ.  It is a time when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. The celebration of Christmas itself is a twelve day affair that only begins on Christmas Eve.
            The name Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means coming.  We prepare to celebrate the Lord’s coming.  But this preparation is not focused solely on the Son of God’s coming as he was incarnate through the work of the Holy Spirit upon the virgin Mary.  Instead it also focused on his second coming. Advent has a broader scope than just the birth of Jesus Christ. We prepare to celebrate his birth, but this preparation sets the coming of Jesus at Christmas within the whole of our Lord’s saving work.
            This morning, the world around us in total Christmas mode. Everyone is getting into the “spirit of the season” as Hallmark Christmas movies run seven days a week.  As Christians too, we are fired up about Christmas as our houses are decorated and we seek to finish our Christmas shopping.
            It’s looking like Christmas everywhere you go, and then in our Gospel lesson this morning Jesus Christ talks about the end of the world.  People are focused on sentimental decorations that evoke “Christmas feelings,” and Jesus is talking about apocalyptic signs of cosmic distress that will announce his coming on the Last Day.  People are putting out crèche scenes with a cute baby Jesus in a manger, and Jesus is talking about the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
            Our text this morning is part of the conversation that Jesus had with his disciples during Holy Week. We learn that some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings.  Jesus replied to this, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”  He spoke about the destruction of the temple.
            Later Jesus said, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.”  And he gave instructions about what they were to do – they were to leave the city and flee to the mountains.  Our Lord spoke about the event that did in fact occur in 70 A.D. when the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, took the city, and destroyed the temple.
            In the Old Testament the prophets often spoke about the “Day of the Lord.” These were acts of judgment by God against Israel or her enemies.  Yet these historical events were often described in language that pointed forward to something even bigger.  Each act of judgment by God – and when directed against Israel’s enemies this was rescue for his people – pointed forward to the great and final Day of the Lord.
            In the same way, Jesus shifts from talk about God’s judgment against Jerusalem in 70 A.D. through Roman army to the final and great Day of the Lord. We know this because he begins to speak about apocalyptic signs of cosmic distress that will come upon the whole world.
            Our Lord says, “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”  Jesus describes a frightening scene as creation responds to the approach of the end – the Last Day.
            Yet these cosmic signs are simply the preparation – the announcement of a coming that will change everything.  Jesus says, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”  Our Lord describes his coming on the day of judgment. 
            Jesus is the divine Son of Man first seen in Daniel’s vision of chapter seven. There Daniel sees a vision of God’s end time judgment. He sees the Ancient of Days taking his seat on the throne, surround by thousands of angels.     After this he sees one like a son of man coming to the Ancient of Days as he receives an everlasting dominion, kingdom and glory that all peoples and nations may worship and serve him.  Jesus declares that he is the Son of Man who will come in a cloud with glory to judge.
            How are the believers in Christ to respond?  Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” While others are fainting with fear, Christians are to straighten up and raise our heads looking in joyful expectation because our final redemption is drawing near.
            We don’t know when Jesus Christ will return.  However, our Lord tells us that there will be no doubts about the sign of when it is coming.  We hear in our text, “And he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
            Guess what?  When there are signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world, and the powers of the heavens are shaken, Jesus is about to return.  When the cosmic apocalyptic show starts, you know the kingdom of God is near – you know that Jesus, the Son of Man, is about to return.
            Now God’s kingdom, his reign has in fact already come.  We are preparing during Advent to celebrate its arrival as the Son of God entered into the world.  In the person of Jesus, the reign of God was present to defeat sin and death.  It was the powerful and mighty work of God. Yet paradoxically, it never appeared this way.  The Lord, the Savior will arrive at Christmas as a tiny, helpless infant in a manger.
            And as Christ’s saving work reached its culmination this appearance never changed. God’s reign arrived as Jesus was mocked, scourged and crucified.  He was lifted up on a cross to die by the most humiliating means that the Romans had at their disposal – a means of execution the Romans embraced because it was horrific, painful, slow and public.  It was a warning to all who passed by – don’t mess with us or you will end up like this pathetic schmuck.
            That is how God worked in Christ to bring his saving reign for you.  Jesus died in weakness and humiliation.  Yet the external, physical appearances only reflect a glimpse of the true spiritual depths of the event.  For Jesus the sinless Son of God died on the cross as The Sinner.  He took all your sins.  He took the sins of all who will ever live and received God’s condemnation against them as he died for you.  And then they buried him in a tomb.
            But on the third day – on Easter - something happened that demonstrated once and for all that the cross had not been weakness and failure.  God raised Jesus from the dead. For forty days the risen Lord was with his disciples as they ate and drank with him.  In the resurrection God the Father vindicated Jesus as the Messiah – as the Servant of the Lord who had conquered sin and death for us by passing through it. And then in his ascension he was exalted to right hand of God.
            During Advent, we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ first coming at Christmas.  But let us now forget about how that time of Jesus’ visible presence ended. The book of Acts tells us about the ascension: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” After the resurrection Jesus had the ability to appear and disappear in rooms. Why didn’t he just tell the disciples that this was the last time they would see him for now, and then disappear?  Why does he ascend until a cloud takes him out of sight?  It is because Jesus the risen and exalted Lord is the Son of Man who will come in a cloud with power and great glory.  Jesus first coming took place in weakness.  It ended in a way that that pointed to the fact that his second coming will be one of power, might and glory.
            Jesus will return in power and glory on the Last Day. But we don’t know when that day will be. So what does this mean for us? Jesus tells us at the end of our text when he says, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” 
            Jesus warns against getting caught up in the pleasures and cares of life – where they become our focus instead of Christ; where they crowd out our attention and devotion to Christ. This is the same thing that Jesus described in the parable of the sower when he said, “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.”  The cares and riches and pleasures of life? That almost sounds like the “Christmas season” that surrounds us.  We need Advent to prepare us for Christmas, because ironically, all that is associated with the “Christmas season” in our world today easily becomes something that dulls our focus on Christ.
            It is Advent, not Christmas.  We prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ – his first coming – by considering his second coming.  The One who came in humility and weakness in a manger, will come as the Son of Man in a cloud with power and great glory. We must be ready for him, focused on Christ in faith, and not distracted by the world. When we bear this in mind, we are prepared to celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ – the entrance of the Son of God into the world to bring God’s reign as he died on the cross and rose from the dead for us.


Friday, December 6, 2019

Commemoration of Nicholas of Myra, Pastor

Today we remember and give thanks for Nicholas of Myra, Pastor.  Of the many saints commemorated by the Christian Church, Nicholas (d. A.D. 342) is one of the best known. Very little is known historically of him, although there was a church of Saint Nicholas in Constantinople as early as the sixth century. Research has affirmed that there was a bishop by the name of Nicholas in the city of Myra in Lycia (part of Turkey today) in the fourth century. From that coastal location, legends about Nicholas have traveled throughout time and space. He is associated with charitable giving in many countries around the world and is portrayed as the rescuer of sailors, the protector of children, and the friend of people in distress or need. In commemoration of “Sinte Klaas” (Dutch for Saint Nicholas, in English “Santa Claus”), December 6 is a day for giving and receiving gifts in many parts of Europe.

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, You bestowed upon your servant Nicholas of Myra the perpetual gift of charity.  Grant Your Church the grace to deal in generosity and love with children and with all who are poor and distressed and to plead the cause of those who have no helper, especially those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief.  We ask this for the sake of Him who gave His life for us, your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who live and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Sermon for the first mid-week Advent service - Gen 3:1-21

                                                                                                Mid Advent 1
                                                                                                Gen 3:1-21

            When you think of young children, you think of mothers.  Now certainly, we are not so foolish as to forget that only in the one flesh union of a man and a woman can a child be created.  We also know that just as it takes the complimentary contribution of a man and a woman to create a child, so also it takes the complimentary contribution of a father and a mother to raise a child.  Men and women – fathers and mothers – are different, and each brings unique characteristics that are necessary for the healthy upbringing of children.
            That being said, mothers and children are closely associated in our minds.  That is because after the father’s brief contribution, only the mother’s body was created to carry, protect and nourish the growing child for nine months.  Only the mother’ body can give birth to the child.  Only the mother’s body can feed the newborn.  And after carrying the baby inside her for nine months, and then after giving birth, there is a unique bond between mother and child.
            During Advent we are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  Yet the conception of this child was unlike any that has ever taken place.  A young virgin became pregnant as her child was conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit. The virgin bearing the holy child is the focus.  Joseph was not involved in any way.  His “only” role was to take the child as his own, and so include Jesus in the lineage of King David.
            In our text this evening we hear the first Gospel promise.  And we find that here too it is the woman who is the focus. Adam is not even mentioned.  We learn that as a woman had a central role in the Fall, so also she will have a central role in God’s plan of salvation. 
            In the first two chapters of Genesis Moses has described how God made a very good creation. As the crown of his creation, he created man – male and female – in his own image. We learn that God created Eve from Adam as the helper who corresponded to him. They were the perfect compliment for another as they lived in the Garden of Eden God had created for them.
            Before Eve was created, God had told Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” God gave every tree in the garden to Adam.  But he held one back, and in so doing he provided the means by which Adam showed that he feared, loved and trusted in God above all things.
            In our text, we learn that the devil approached Eve in the form of a serpent.  He is a liar and the very first words we hear him speak twist the truth and call God into question as he said, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Eve replied with the information that Adam had delivered to her.  They could eat of all the trees except the one in the midst of the garden, for if they ate of it they would die. 
            And then the devil called God’s word into question.  He said to Eve, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  The devil said that God was holding out on them.  They could be so much more if they would just ignore what God had said.
            Eve saw that the tree was indeed good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise. And so she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. The devil had said their eyes would opened, and they were.  Yet all they saw was that they were naked, and so they sought to cover themselves. They realized that everything had changed because now when God came to them in the garden they were afraid.
            Everything changed for Adam and Eve.  And everything changed for us.  The entrance of sin in the Fall meant the loss of the image of God.  Of ourselves, we no longer know God as God wants to be known. We no longer, by nature, live perfectly according to God’s will. Instead, we are all too ready to listen to the devil as through the world he leads us to question God’s word.
            When God asked the couple if they had eaten of the tree he had commanded them not to eat, Adam blamed Eve and God as he said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” When God said to Eve, “What is this that you have done?”, she blamed the devil as she replied, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
            So God said to the serpent – the devil, “The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.”  And then he went on to add: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
            God said that there would hostility between Eve and the serpent. There would be hostility between her offspring – her seed – and his.  God said that there would be conflict between Eve and her descendants and the devil and his host. 
            “Seed” – offspring – is a collective term. It refers to a group. Yet then God added, “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  Beyond the mere existence of hostility between humanity and the devil, God declared that a particular descendant of Eve would bruise or crush the devil’s head, even as he himself was harmed in doing so.
            Certainly, Adam receives blame in the Fall.  In fact he receives even more condemnation because he had failed in his role of headship.  God had told Adam his command, and in his vocation of husband, Adam had instructed Eve about God’s Word.  Yet in the moment of temptation Adam had listened to Eve rather than God.  Adam had allowed himself to be instructed by Eve.  He abandoned the role God had given him.  As God said: "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it.’”
            At the same time there is no getting around the fact that Eve was deceived first. St Paul points this out when he tells Timothy, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” 
            However, we learn in our text that the one whom the devil used to initiate the Fall is also the one whom God would use to defeat the devil.  The man is not even mentioned.  Instead God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring.” We learn about the offspring of the woman, ““he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
            Adam – man – was not involved in bringing this one into the world.  Instead, God worked through a woman – through the virgin Mary.  The Holy Spirit came upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadowed her.  The Son of God, begotten of the Father from eternity, became incarnate in her womb. Through the work of the Spirit, Jesus Christ who is true God and true man was conceived within her. For nine months Mary carried him in her womb and nourished him.  And on Christmas Eve she gave birth to him.
            The incarnate Son of God - the seed of the woman, the seed of Mary – went forth to defeat the devil.  He fulfilled the Father’s will, the very words we find in our text.  Sin entered into our lives and world through the fruit of a tree.  Jesus Christ offered himself on the tree of the cross as the sacrifice to redeem us from every sin.  He crushed the devil’s head – he defeated his power as he died for our sins, but then was the raised from the dead on the third day.
            As the offspring of the woman, Jesus has won the victory to give us peace with God.  In his resurrection he has begun the renewal of all things. And so now as we prepare to look back and celebrate his first coming, we also look forward with eager expectation to his second coming.  We look for the day when he will return in glory as the risen Lord who will transform our bodies to be like his, and will make all things very good once again.      

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve - Deut. 8:1-10

                                                                                                Thanksgiving Eve
                                                                                                Dt. 8:1-10

            It’s not hard to figure out why this text from Deuteronomy was chosen for Thanksgiving.  Near the end, it contains a wonderful description of the land that Yahweh was about to give to Israel.  We hear: “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.”
            And after describing this amazing place, Moses tells the Israelites how they are to respond to it.  He says, “And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.”  Indeed, it sounds like directions for you tomorrow afternoon after you have finished your Thanksgiving feast.
            However, there is far more in our text than just the simple message that we should give thanks for God’s blessings.  For starters, there is the reminder that all of these blessings are purely a matter of God’s grace.  In the first verse of our text, Moses says: "The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers.”
            Yahweh wasn’t giving the land to Israel because they had earned it or deserved it.  Instead, he was going to do so because he had promised their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he would do so.  And his promise to them was not based on anything they had done.  Instead this was purely a matter of God’s grace – his undeserved favor.  It was by God’s grace that he had called Abraham in the first place.  And it was by grace that he had promised to give the land to Abraham’s descendants.
            The blessings that God has given to you are no different.  In the Small Catechism’s explanation of the First Article of the Creed, Luther reminds us that God has given us everything, that he has given us our body and soul, eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason and all our senses, and still takes care of them.  Then after mentioning our very body and life, he goes on to describe how God gives us everything else we need and have.  He also gives us clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all we have.  He richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life.
            God does and gives all of these things.  But it is not because we have deserved or earned them.  Instead, Luther adds, “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.  For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
            At the same time, most of our text is not about giving thanks for the blessings of the promised land.  Instead, Moses is looking back on what Israel had experienced and us describing how Yahweh was at work to test and teach Israel.  This was preparation that was meant to lead them to be faithful to Yahweh.
            Moses says: “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” God had humbled Israel, and he had done this in order to lead Israel to the understanding that they needed to rely on God.
            They needed to understand that life was about more than food.  Instead, true life began with faith in Yahweh as they listened to his word.  Life was found in the covenant he had made with Israel.  Moses says in our text: “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” 
            Israel was God’s son, and Yahweh had dealt with Israel in the same way a father treats his son. We hear, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.”
            This was the goal.  It was necessary because of the very blessings God was about to give Israel.  Yahweh was about to graciously give them this good land. And immediately after our text Moses warns Israel about what they needed to avoid.  He said: “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 
and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
            The same challenge faces us.  We allow the blessings God gives to us to become temptations that insulate us from God.  Secure in the provision of the things we need to live, we cease to think about God as their source.  The Giver is forgotten. Or worse yet, we turn the blessing themselves into false gods.   They become the focus of our lives. They become the source of our security and sense of well being.
            Israel did this.  We do this.  And because this is so, God sent his Son, begotten from eternity, into the world.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, the incarnate Son of God lived in our world.  As true man, he too needed daily bread.  He too received the blessings that God provides for our lives.
            Yet as the sinless Son of God he never ceased to know that the Father was the source. He never allowed the blessings of this world to supplant the Father and his will.  After fasting for forty day in the wilderness, our Lord was indeed hungry.  The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  Jesus had come to serve and carry out the Father’s will, not to use his power to benefit himself.  He would not allow even the need for daily bread to turn him away from faithfulness to the Father.  Instead, he responded using words from our text as he answered: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
            Where Israel was an unfaithful son, Jesus the incarnate Son of God was faithful all the way to the cross.  He was faithful to the Father’s will as he took our sins upon himself – every way that we fail to give thanks and acknowledge God as the source of our blessings; every way that we treat the blessings as false gods.  He took our sins and received the judgment of God that we deserved. By his suffering and death he redeemed us – he freed us from sin and the devil. 
            And then on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. In Jesus the resurrection of the Last Day has begun.  In Jesus the new creation has begun.  And through the work of the Spirit in Holy Baptism we are now a new creation in Christ.
            Christ’s Spirit leads us now to see God as the source of every blessing.  He moves us to give thanks to God who so richly supports us in this bodily life.  He aids us in the struggle to fear, love and trust in God above every blessing that God gives.  For when we give thanks to God; when we see God has our greatest good, then we can receive God’s gifts as true blessings.
            And Christ uses the blessings of creation to give us the spiritual blessing that we need.  In the Sacrament of the Altar he uses bread and wine to give us his true body and blood.  Just as our Lord gave thanks when he instituted the Sacrament, so also we give thanks for the forgiveness he now delivers through his body and blood that we eat and drink.  Here we are forgiven for failing to be thankful.  Here we are forgiven for putting God’s blessings before God. And here Christ nourishes the new man in us so that we can be thankful to the God we fear, love and trust in him above every blessing.
            As we celebrate Thanksgiving our text reminds us about the many blessings that, like Israel in the promised land, God has given to us.  We have received these by Gods’ grace.  Yet there is always the temptation to take them for granted, or to place them before God.  We give thanks that in his Son Jesus Christ, God has acted to forgive us for these failures.  We give thanks that in the holy food of the Sacrament of the Altar we receive forgiveness, and are strengthened in faith to receive God’s blessings with thanksgiving.