Friday, March 31, 2017

Commemoration of Joseph, Patriarch

Today we remember and give thanks for Joseph, Patriarch.  Joseph was the son of the patriarch Jacob and Rachel. The favorite son of his father, he incurred the jealousy of his older brothers, who sold him into slavery in Egypt and told their father he was dead (Genesis 37). In Egypt he became the chief servant in the home of Potiphar, a military official.  Because Joseph refused to commit adultery with his master's wife, he was unjustly accused of attempted rape and thrown into jail (Genesis 39). Years later, he interpreted dreams for Pharoah, who then freed him from prison and placed him in charge of the entire country. When his brothers came from Canaan to Egypt in search of food, they did not recognize him. He eventually revealed his identity to them, forgave them, and invited both them and his father to live in Egypt. He is especially remembered and honored for his moral uprightness (Genesis 39) and for his willingness to forgive his brothers (Genesis 45 and 50).

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, You have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of Your servant Joseph, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at last we may with him attain to Your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sermon for fourth mid-week Lent service - Gal 3:26-29

                                                                                    Mid-Lent 4
                                                                                    Gal 3:26-29

            In the Church of the fourth century A.D. the candidates for baptism received catechesis during the weeks of Lent.  If they were from outside the city where the cathedral was located – the church of the bishop – they would go to that city and remained there during the season of Lent.
            Baptism itself at the Vigil of Easter took place in the baptistery – often a separate building adjacent to the cathedral.  The individual descended into the font which held water that came up to about the waist.  They entered wearing only their undergarment, and in some places wearing nothing at all. Then the bishop poured watered over their head as they were baptized. After baptism, as they emerged from the font, they were dressed in a white garment.
            Those who had been baptized were then led into the cathedral in a procession wearing their white garments. There, the other Christians were waiting for them.  When they arrived, the Service of the Sacrament took place as the newly baptized received the Sacrament of the Altar for the first time along with the other Christians.
            The baptized came to church on Easter Sunday wearing their white baptismal garments.  However, they weren’t done with church services when Sunday was over.  Instead, they attended services each day during the week of Easter and also received further catechesis that unpacked what they had experienced.  During the services of that week, they wore their white baptismal garment each day and sat together as a group at the front of the church where they could be seen by all.  Their presence provided a name for this time that was used in some parts of the Church: they called it “white week.”
            The use of baptismal gowns in the Church has a very long history. And it has been prompted by Paul’s words in our text tonight where he tells the Galatians, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” 
            The apostle’s words provide yet another way that the Scriptures describe the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  I like to compare this sacrament to a diamond.  When you look at the diamond from different angles it provides a different appearance as the facets reflect the light. And yet of course each view is showing you the same diamond.
            During our mid-week Lent homilies we are considering the different ways that the gift of baptism is a blessing to us. We have seen that in baptism we receive the forgiveness of sins, we are buried with Christ and we receive rebirth.  Tonight we learn that in baptism we have been clothed with Christ.  And we find that when Paul says this he is using it to prove deep and central truths about the Christian faith and life.
            Paul says that in baptism we are clothed with Christ.  The background for understanding this is a verse like in Isaiah 61 where we hear: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
            In baptism, through water and the Word the Spirit applies the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection to us. To be clothed with Christ in baptism is to be covered by his holy sacrifice for us.  It is to be covered by his righteousness.  And so when God looks at us, he does not see our sin.  Instead he sees Christ and what he has done for us. Because of Jesus, we become in God’s view something that we are not! And because this is so we are saints – we are the forgiven people of God.
            There is no time when we want to remember this more than at the death of a Christian.  We need to be reminded of the assurance we have that because of baptism this person is a forgiven child of God.  And that is the role of the funeral pall that is placed over the casket at the beginning of the funeral service.  Like the garment at baptism, it is there to serve as a visual reminder that this individual was clothed with Christ and his righteousness in Holy Baptism.
            Paul says in our text, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  The word “for” here is important because it tells us Paul is using this statement about baptism to establish or prove a point.  And his point is stated in the previous verse: “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
            Jewish Christians had come to the Gentile Galatians and told them that if they really wanted to be part of God’s people and be saved, they needed to do the works of the Law of Moses.  They needed to be circumcised, follow the food laws, and observe the Jewish religious days.
            Paul is telling the Galatians, that this is all wrong.  What we do is not involved in any way in our salvation. Instead we are justified by God’s grace through faith in Christ.  Paul has said in the previous chapter, “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
            The Galatians believe in Jesus and his death and resurrection.  And because they do, they are already the sons and daughters of God.  They may not descend from Israel, but because of Jesus they are the sons of Abraham.  Earlier in this chapter Paul told them, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’  So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”
            God had made the promise that in Abraham’s seed – his offspring - all nations would be blessed. And then Paul identifies this offspring as being Jesus Christ.  He writes, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”
            Jesus Christ is the offspring of Abraham promised by Scripture.  The Galatians have faith in Jesus.  They are in Christ – they are joined to him and receive the blessing of his saving work. They are sons and daughters of God.  How can Paul say this for sure? They’ve been baptized!  That’s why Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
            As those who have faith they have been baptized into Christ.  They have been clothed with Christ.  They are therefore justified by faith. They are therefore in Christ. And if they are in Christ the offspring of Abraham, then they too are the offspring of Abraham.  Paul concludes in our text by saying, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”
            We find it easy to forget that this is who we are – that we are in Christ; that we are sons and daughters of God; that we are heirs according to promise. We are prone to suffer from a spiritual amnesia.  Instead, we live like we belong to ourselves.  We live like we belong to the world as we take up its ways of thinking and acting.
            And that is why we must always be returning to our baptism; why we must always be holding up baptism before us.  We do so because when we look to our baptism we are reminded that we have been baptized into Christ. We have been clothed with Christ. And because this is so we are people who are in Christ.  We are sons and daughters of God.
            This status is ours and it means that we are forgiven for all of the times and ways we forget.  It also means that the Spirit who was at work in baptism to make us people who are clothed with Christ is still at work in us so that we can live like people who belong to Christ.  Reminded that we are sons and daughters of God through baptism and faith, the Spirit prompts and leads us to live like people who are.
            You have been baptized.  That means you have been clothed with Christ.  His saving death and resurrection covers your every sin and allows you to stand before God as a saint – a holy one in Christ – a forgiven sinner. That is true now.  It is true on the Last Day.  And so you can live confidently in the knowledge that in Christ and through faith you are the sons and daughters of God.   


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent - Laetare - Ex 16:2-21

                                                                                                Lent 4
                                                                                                Ex 16:2-21

            I certainly didn’t realize how easy I had it.  My experience of meals during most of my life required no thought on my part – no effort.  When I was growing up I just knew that mom would make dinner.  It didn’t matter what else was going on..  When it was dinner time, I knew that a meal would just appear on the table.  It would be there – you could count on it.
And it would be good … very good. My mom is a great cook and we had so many tasty meals.             
            When I went to Concordia College in Ann Arbor, MI I lived in a dorm all four years and ate at the cafeteria.  Once again, I never had to worry about what I was going to eat, and on the whole the food was good.  When I went to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis as a single student I was required to live on campus in a dorm.  I lived in that existence of a monastic frat house and ate at the cafeteria.  Yet again, I never had to worry about what I was going to eat, and during my time there the food was quite good.
            Things did change when I married Amy.  But it was a good change.  Amy is a good cook and I helped out where I could.  I became the household grill master and discovered the joys of grilling.  It was just the two of us, and if schedules made things difficult it was easy to improvise and make do. 
            And then we added four children.  There are now six mouths to feed – and while I am trying to eat less, the four of them keep eating more and more.  The schedule is also busier than it ever was before with sports, school and church activities.  Keeping enough food in the house, having ideas for meals and then actually carrying out those plans in the time constraints of our schedule is a challenge.  I didn’t realize how easy I had it all those years.
            In the Old Testament lesson today the people of Israel ask what they are going to eat.  They grumble against Moses and Aaron and complain that they had it so much easier when they were back in Egypt.  They say, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
            Now when they complain they are ignoring two key pieces of information.  First, they were slaves in Egypt. They were used by the Egyptians as forced labor.  They suffered and the book of Exodus tells us that “Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.” And this leads to the second thing they are ignoring: God has just rescued them in a dramatic and amazing way.  He had sent ten plagues on the Egyptians, while sparing Israel. In the Passover he had forced the Egyptians to release them and then he had delivered the people of Israel by bringing them through the Red Sea.  Yahweh had just given them water to drink in a miracle as he made bad water into that which was sweet and drinkable.
            Yet here they are, grumbling against Moses and Aaron. And in our text Moses calls the people to account when he reminds them that he and Aaron are only Yahweh’s servants as he says, “Yahweh has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him--what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against Yahweh.”
            It shouldn’t be all that hard to understand how this text applies to you.  We do the same thing as Israel – in fact we cut out the middleman and just grumble directly against God. We look at our circumstances and decide that they just aren’t good enough.  We want more.  We want better.  We ignore the many blessings that God’s has given to us.  Being thankful for the ways that God provides us with daily bread is beneath us. We expect so much more than just those things needed to sustain our body and life.  After all, look at what my neighbor has! Look at the trips my friends on Facebook are taking! Why isn’t my life like that?
            God knew Israel’s need.  He also heard Israel’s grumbling.  And in our text Moses says, “At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD.”  Yahweh said that in the morning they would see the glory of the Lord.  And right then the glory – the perceptible presence of God – showed up in the cloud that accompanied Israel as God said through Moses, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’”
            In our text we learn that in the evening God provided quail that came upon the camp.  And then each morning he provided something they had never seen before.  They called it manna, which in Hebrew means “What is it?”  In answer to the question Moses told them that it was the bread Yahweh had given them to eat.  It was what the Psalms would later describe as the bread from heaven.
            We need to stop and ponder this manna – this bread from heaven.  God says that in it his glory is revealed.  It is after all, a miracle as God provides for his people.  Yet when the people first see it, they don’t even know what it is.  And later, they complain about it and say that all they have to eat is this worthless manna.  God’s glory is revealed in a miracle, and yet the nature of this miracle is such that it can be overlooked and even spurned.
            This is how God works.  And this is how God worked in his greatest miracle – the incarnate Son of God.  In the first chapter of his Gospel John tells us about Jesus, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  John tells us that in the One conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, God was revealing his saving glory.
            Jesus showed this in the feeding of the five thousand recounted in today’s Gospel lesson.  He took five loaves of bread and two fish and used it to feed a huge crowd.  He provided food in such abundance that there were twelve baskets full left over.
            The next day the crowd sought out Jesus.  He said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
            In spite of the fact that Jesus had just fed them in a miracle, they asked what sign Jesus would do so that they could believe him.  After all, Moses had given the Israelites manna in the wilderness.  But our Lord replied: “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  And when they asked for this bread, Jesus answered, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
            Jesus Christ, true God and true man is the true bread from heaven.  He is the bread who gives life to the world.  Jesus went on to say, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
            The Word –the Son of God – became flesh in order to offer himself on the cross.  He came in the flesh to die for your sins – to die for all of the times you ignore what God provides to you and grumble about what you don’t have.  He came in the flesh to die so that in his resurrection on the third day he could defeat sin’s evil progeny – death itself.  By his death he has given you forgiveness and life.  He has given you eternal life with God – a life that will include a resurrected and transformed flesh when Christ returns on the Last Day.
            Jesus said to the people, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”  We learn that the answer by many of Jesus’ disciples was to respond: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” And after this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  They left Jesus. The saving glory of God was being revealed in Christ, and yet they found it easy to overlook and reject him.
            It is the same today.  In Jesus Christ the saving glory continues to be revealed.  He is the bread that has come down from heaven – the bread which gives life to the world.  He continues to be someone that many find easy to overlook. They find him easy to reject because he speaks hard sayings about who we are as sinners and that no one can come to the Father except through him.
            But in Jesus we do see God’s saving glory.  In his crucified flesh we find forgiveness for the times we grumble against God. In his risen flesh we find eternal life that will include our whole life – body and soul.  In his love for us we find the love with which we now love one another.
            In order to give all of this to us, Jesus Christ has instituted the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus who said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day,” uses bread and wine to give us his true body and blood.  We come to his altar because here we receive the bread of heaven.  Here the saving glory of God is revealed to us.
            Like the manna in our text; like Jesus himself it is possible to overlook and reject this gift.  But all who believe in Jesus and his word find here the gift of forgiveness and life. We find the guarantee of our own resurrection. We find the love that enables us to love others. So let us now come to the Sacrament for here we see the glory of God.