Friday, June 29, 2018

Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul

Today is the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.  Peter was a fisherman who was called as one of the twelve apostles and accompanied Jesus during His entire ministry (Matthew 4:18-22; 10:1-2).  He confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God and Jesus recognized the role of leadership that he would have in the Church (Matthew 16:13-20).  However, he also rebuked Jesus when our Lord predicted His passion (Matthew 16:21-23) and denied Jesus three times (Matthew 26:69-75).  Forgiven by our Lord and commissioned again to care for the flock (John 21:15-19) he was an important leader in the early Church (Acts 2) and God used him to indicate that the Gentiles were being received as part of the people of God (Acts 10).  He wrote two letters that are included in the New Testament.  According to Church tradition, he died a martyr when was crucified upside down in Rome.

Paul, originally named Saul, was a zealous Pharisee who persecuted the Church (Philippians 3:4-6; Galatians 1:13-16; Acts 9:1-2).  The risen Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus and called him to be an apostle who would proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:3-18).  Paul engaged in three missionary journeys to Asia Minor and Greece (Acts 13-14, 16-18, 18-21).  While in Jerusalem he was arrested and then imprisoned by the Romans at Caesarea (Acts 22-26).  As a Roman citizen, he appealed to Caesar and at the end of the Book of Acts he is in Rome under house arrest waiting for his case to be heard (Acts 28:30-31).  Paul wrote thirteen letters that are included in the New Testament.  We have little information about the chronology of the end of Paul’s life (it may be that he was released from Rome and then was later arrested again after doing further missionary work). According to Church tradition, he died a martyr when he was beheaded in Rome

Scripture reading:
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. (Acts 15:1-12 ESV)

Collect of the Day
Merciful and eternal God, your holy apostles Peter and Paul received grace and strength to lay down their lives for the sake of your Son.  Strengthen us by your Holy Spirit that we may confess your truth and at all times be ready to lay down our lives for him who laid down his life for us, even Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Commemoration of Irenaeus of Lyons, Pastor

Today we remember and give thanks for Irenaeus of Lyons, Pastor.  Irenaeus (ca. A.D. 130-200), believed to be a native of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey), studied in Rome and later became pastor in Lyons, France. Around 177, while Irenaeus was away from Lyons, a fierce persecution of Christians led to the martyrdom of his bishop. Upon Irenaeus' return, he became bishop of Lyons. Among his most famous writings is a work condemning heresies, especially Gnosticism, which denied the goodness of creation. In opposition, Irenaeus confessed that God has redeemed his creation through the incarnation of the Son. Irenaeus also affirmed the teachings of the Scriptures handed down to and through him as being normative for the Church.

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, You upheld Your servant Irenaeus with strength to confess the truth against every blast of false doctrine.  By Your mercy, keep us steadfast in the true faith, that in constancy we may walk in peace on the way that leads to eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Commemoration of Jeremiah, Prophet

Today we remember and give thanks to God for Jeremiah, Old Testament Prophet.  Jeremiah was active as God’s prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah around 627 to 582 B.C.  As a prophet he predicted, witnessed, and lived through the Babylonian siege and eventual destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.  In his preaching he often used symbols, such as an almond rod and a boiling pot (Jeremiah 1:11-14), wine jars (13:12-14), and a potter at work (18:1-17).  His entire prophetic ministry was a sermon, communicating through word and deed God’s anger toward His rebellious people.  Jeremiah suffered repeated rejection and persecution by his countrymen.  As far as can be known, Jeremiah died in Egypt, having been taken there forcibly.  He is remembered and honored for fearlessly calling God’s people to repentance.

Collect of the Day:
Lord God, Heavenly Father, through the prophet Jeremiah You continued the prophetic pattern of teaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness.  Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son: our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet, whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

                                                                               Nativity of St. John the Baptist
                                                                               Lk 1:57-80

            Let me begin by saying this morning: Don’t panic.  I know you don’t have your Christmas shopping done.  You probably haven’t even started.  But everything is ok. You have plenty of time.  It’s not a week or two until Christmas.
            It’s true that our hymn of the day that we just sang, “When All the World Was Cursed,” is an Advent hymn that we normally sing on the Third or Fourth Sunday of Advent.  During the Communion distribution we are going to sing “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” which is more of the same. But its ninety degrees outside, and winters in southern Illinois are never that mild.  It is in fact June and not December.
            Today we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist.  And while this day falls at the end of June, the reason it does so involves December.  Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, is of course, December 25.  If you go nine months earlier, you have March 25, the Annunciation of Our Lord when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be pregnant with the Son of God through the work of the Holy Spirit. At that time, Gabriel told Mary that her relative, the aged, Elizabeth was also pregnant.  In fact, it was the sixth month of her pregnancy.  Add three months to the Annunciation and you arrive at today, the end of June as we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist.
            In the Gospel lesson for today we hear about the naming of John who had been born to Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Luke describes them as pious and faithful Jews – in fact Zechariah was from the priestly line and served in the temple when it was his turn.  Yet in spite of this, they had not been able to have any children.  Their prayers had remained unanswered for many years.  Now they were both old, and Sarah was long past her child bearing years.
            As Zechariah was serving in the temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and announced, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” This in itself was amazing and wonderful news!  But then the angel proceeded to tell Zechariah that this son was going to have a unique role in God’s plan of salvation.  He said, “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
            Zechariah doubted the angel’s words.  And so Gabriel said that Zechariah would be unable to speak until the child was born.  In our text we hear the moment when this occurred.  At the naming of John, Zechariah spoke.  But he didn’t just speak.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.
            As parents, we all have hopes and dreams for our children.  We may not know exactly what they are going to do, but we want them to have success and to live fulfilling and meaningful lives.  Zechariah had no doubt about this because of what God was doing and the role that his son John would play in this.
            The aged father announced: “"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.”  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Zechariah declared that Yahweh was now fulfilling the promises spoken by the Old Testament prophets.  He was sending the Messiah – the descendant of King David who would bring redemption and salvation to his people.
            This was the pivotal moment in God’s saving action.  And his son John had a key role to play.  Zechariah says in our text: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
            Zechariah was right.  Some thirty years later, John showed up in the wilderness area along the Jordan River proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  This baptism administered by John was unusual. The Jews were very familiar with various ritual washings. But these were all self-administered.  John was different because he applied this washing to others.  It was so distinctive that it soon provided the designation by which John was known: John the Baptizer.
            John prepared the way by calling people to repentance as they looked for the imminent arrival of God’s kingdom – his end time reign.  He declared: “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
            We have great stuff in our Gospel lesson today.  God’s miraculously blesses a faithful, aged couple with a child.  He announces through Zechariah that he is sending the Messiah descended from David to bring redemption and salvation.  We are told that John will prepare the way for the Lord to give the knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.
            Yet all here is not as we might expect. John the Baptist called people to repentance - all people, including the king, Herod Antipas. Luke tells us, “But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother's wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.”  Jesus the Christ was baptized by John, and began his ministry.  Miracles were done, but the Last Day didn’t arrive.  And so from prison John – the prophet – experienced confusion and doubt.  He sent the question to Jesus, “Are you the coming One, or should we look for another.”  And finally, after her daughter performed what amounted to a pole dance for Herod, the vengeful Herodias received the martyred John the Baptist’s head on a platter.
            Today we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist.  But while John was the great prophet who prepared the way for Jesus Christ and the reign of God, his story also turns out to be one of confusion and doubt; of suffering and death.  We need to ponder this, because at times our lives are too.  Things don’t go as we expect and plan.  There is suffering and death.  These circumstances generate confusion and doubt about God’s love and care.  Perhaps they even create anger at God as we question his ways.
            In these situations we find ourselves tempted and falling into sin.  When this happens, don’t try to explain it away in the attempt to justify yourself.  Instead confess your sin to God.  And turn in faith to the One for whom John the Baptist prepared the way.  In Jesus, God did indeed visit and redeem his people.  Yet he did this not only for Israel.  He did it for all people.  He did it for you. By Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead he has freed you from sin.  Through baptism you have been buried with Christ.  His saving death has become yours. And in your baptism you also have the guarantee that you will share in Jesus’ resurrection when he returns on the Last Day.
            In Jesus you receive forgiveness.  And in the Lord you also have the reason that you are now able to face unexpected circumstances - times of disappointment, suffering and death - in faith.  If you look at our text, you won’t find anything about suffering and death.  When you look at John the Baptist’s preaching, you won’t find it there either.
            Jesus Christ is the One who has accomplished all that the inspired Zechariah expresses.  But he did it in the way of the suffering Servant – he did it in the way of suffering and death.  The Lord responded to John’s question from prison by saying, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  Jesus acknowledged that things were not going exactly as John expected.
            Above all, we see this on Good Friday.  When the Son of God hung dying on a cross, mocked by those below, it did not look like God was at work.  It did not look like God was anywhere to be found.  Yet because of Christ’s resurrection we now realize that this was actually God’s greatest action to save us.
            Because of our faith in the crucified and risen Lord, we are now able to look at circumstances we don’t understand – things we don’t want – and trust that God is still present and at work in our lives.  The God who worked in unexpected ways in order to give us forgiveness and salvation can be trusted when everything about your life seems unexpected and unwanted. This is so because you have already seen what he did in Jesus for you and how he did it.  The resurrection of Jesus is the shining light that illuminates our darkness.  He is the great “Yes!” from God that drives away fear and doubt, even when we don’t understand.
            Jesus Christ does this for us. And he also gives us hope.  In our text Zechariah refers to the “tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  Because Jesus is the risen and ascended Lord we have hope as we look for the sunrise from on high of the Last Day when the Lord returns in glory.  We live knowing that the times of disappointment, suffering and death will end. In confidence we look toward the day when our risen Lord will put an end to the darkness of death forever, and will guide our feet in the way of eternal peace.