Monday, January 27, 2020

Commemoration of John Chrysostom, Preacher

Today we remember and give thanks to God for John Chrysostom, Preacher.  Given the added name of Chrysostom, which means "golden-mouthed" in Greek, Saint John was a dominant force in the fourth-century Christian church. Born in Antioch around the year 347, John was instructed in the Christian faith by his pious mother, Anthusa. After serving in a number of Christian offices, including acolyte and lector, John was ordained a presbyter and given preaching responsibilities. His was one of the greatest preachers in the history of the Church and his sermons found an audience well beyond his home town. In 398, John Chrysostom was made Patriarch of Constantinople. His determination to reform the church, court, and city there brought him into conflict with established authorities. Eventually, he was exiled from his adopted city. Although removed from his parishes and people, he continued writing and preaching until the time of his death in 407. It is reported that his final words were: "Glory be to God for all things. Amen."

Collect of the Day:
O God, You gave to Your servant John Chrysostom grace to proclaim the Gospel with eloquence and power.  As pastor of the great congregations of Antioch and Constantinople, he fearlessly bore reproach for the honor of Your name.  Mercifully grant to all pastors such excellence in preaching and fidelity in ministering Your Word that Your people shall be partakers of the divine nature; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Mark's thoughts: Lutherans, don't date Christians. Date Lutherans*

In a recent CPH Blog The Truth of Dating Someone Who Is Not a Christian, Megan Pellock does a very nice job laying out the biblical and practical reasons that a Christian should date another Christian.  She observes:
My mom had always stressed to me that dating someone who shared the same religious beliefs as me would help the relationship. I always thought that my mom wanted me to find a nice, cute, Lutheran boy because it would just make life easier—he wouldn’t have to take the time to go through catechism classes and such to become an official member of the Lutheran church. Now, I understand what she really meant.
Megan shares her experiences of dating two non-Christians – a Jew and then an atheist.  I was very interested to learn at the end of the piece that Megan is now dating a Lutheran who actually grew up in the same Lutheran congregation. She concludes by saying:
After dating a Lutheran man, I can say how much I value a Christian relationship. Our values are very similar and, more important, we put God first. I am thankful that I can praise the Lord with a man who understands and shares those beliefs with me. My mother was right all along.
Megan’s mom was right.  And I think we can build on Megan’s brief post by speaking in the more specific terms of this blog post’s title: Lutherans, don’t date Christians. Date Lutherans*.  The term “Christian” includes a great variety of belief.  However, as Lutherans we believe and confess very specific beliefs because they are true to God’s Word.  Many of these are shared by other Christians as well.  However, it doesn’t take very long for crucial differences to appear: Is Holy Baptism a gift in which God actually does something to us, or is it something we do to show our faith and obey God?  Should infants be baptized or not? Is the Sacrament of the Altar the true body and blood of Christ, or is it just a symbol?  Does the Holy Spirit alone create faith, or can a person by their own reason and strength decide to believe in Jesus?  Is Scripture alone the source of Christian doctrine, or is it Scripture along with the Tradition of the Church? Are we saved by faith alone or are we enabled by God’s grace so that our works play a role in salvation?

These are not minor differences.  They cannot be reconciled.  When a Lutheran dates a Christian who is not a Lutheran, these differences in belief will become apparent.  We must ask how two people can join themselves together in marriage when they do not share the same beliefs about the most important One in their life – the most important One in the world.

In the glow of romantic love couples ignore these differences. They tell themselves that it’s really not that big a deal and that they will be able to handle it.  But once married, what church do they attend? Do they attend separate churches?  That hardly sounds like the shared foundation of Jesus Christ in their marriage. Do they take turns attending each other’s church?  But why would a Lutheran regularly attend a church that believes false doctrine?  Isn’t that a matter of putting a person and relationship ahead of the truth of God’s Word? Often the tension leads to the result that the couple simply doesn’t attend church and avoids the problem altogether.

The moment a child is born, the differences become unavoidable.  Will the infant be baptized?  In which church will the child be raised?  Will the family go to church together? Some parents have suggested that they will expose children to both confessions, and then let them decide which one to follow when they get older.  Yet this simply teaches a child that the Christian faith is not about truth – the truth of God’s Word.  Instead it serves to relativize the faith into a matter of choices.  And if it is just a matter of what one chooses, isn’t it easier to choose to stay in bed on Sunday?

The reality is that if you can’t commune with a person at the Sacrament of the Altar on the Sunday before the wedding, you shouldn’t be getting married.  The Sacrament is the sacrament of unity (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).  Those communing are confessing that they believe the same thing. There is no division among them.  This should be the truth about two people who are about to get married.

This means that Lutherans shouldn’t date Christians. They should date Lutherans*. Now after placing an asterisk behind “Lutheran” yet again, I certainly need to explain what I mean.  I am not saying that Lutherans should never go out on dates with non-Lutherans.  I would be a complete hypocrite if I said that, because I dated and ultimately married a person who was not Lutheran when we began dating.

I was a single seminary student, when a fellow seminarian introduced me to Amy.  At the time she was Methodist.  However, she was a committed Christian and I knew that she was familiar with the Lutheran church and had some interest in it.  As we started dating, I learned that she had begun attending the Lutheran church. This was encouraging.  Then one day she called me up. It was apparent that she had something important to say, and I thought that she was calling to break up with me.  Instead, she had called to tell me that she had been in Catechesis to join the Lutheran church and the date of her confirmation and reception into membership was approaching.  She hadn’t told me before because it was a decision she had already made prior to when we started dating, and she didn’t want me to think that she was doing it just because of our relationship. Amy is in fact an example of a common phenomenon.  Often people who did not grow up Lutheran and join the Lutheran confession later in life appreciate the treasures of Lutheranism even more than lifelong Lutherans.

So date Lutherans*.  Whenever possible, look to date someone who already shares your beliefs – someone who is Lutheran.  When the opportunity presents itself, be open to dating a committed Christian with the intent of seeing whether he or she will grow to embrace Lutheran doctrine and practice.  Yet do so in the recognition that in order for the relationship to move towards marriage, that person will need to embrace Lutheranism willingly and freely as his or her own faith.

This can lead to heart break.  I know a really great Lutheran young man who pursued a relationship with a lovely Baptist young woman. While they loved each other, time made it clear that each one believed their confession of the faith too firmly to become something else.  In the end, they had to acknowledge this fact and the relationship came to an end.  I praised the young man for his willingness to pursue things with a girl who had the potential to be a wonderful wife.  I praised him even more for having the spiritual maturity to recognize it could not lead to a marriage in which they shared the same confession and church, and therefore she was not the one.

If as Lutherans we really believe what we claim to believe, then it will be obvious that we will want to marry someone who shares the same faith. This will mean that the religious confession of an individual will be a key criterion – one of the most important – in determining the person we marry.  There will be times when everything else seems great, but it becomes apparent that the other person will not be willing or able to confess the faith as a Lutheran. Sadly, that is the moment when we need to recognize this is not a relationship that can proceed to marriage.  Yet we trust that the Lord remains in charge of directing our life, and so look for the next Lutheran* to date.

Note: In this piece I have used the term Lutheran.  Writing as a member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod I understand the term to mean those who confess the inspired authority of God’s Word, and the Lutheran Confessions as a correct exposition of that Word. Sadly this does not include the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) which has entered into altar and pulpit fellowship with a whole variety of confessions, and has rejected the teaching of God’s Word through ordination of women, and acceptance of homosexuality.


Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany - Mt 8:1-13

                                                                                                    Epiphany 3
                                                                                                    Mt 8:1-13

            Some of you know that I am the Circuit Visitor for our circuit of the Southern Illinois District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Our circuit encompasses as large geographical area.  It goes from Jacob in the west to Eldorado in the east, and from West Frankfort in the north all the way down to Olmsted and Golconda in the south.  It includes nine different places where congregations are located.
            Now essentially, the Circuit Visitor is the representative of the District President within the circuit.  The LCMS Handbook says that the Circuit Visitor, “shall serve under the direction of and be accountable to the district president and shall serve as his spokesman when so authorized and directed and shall assist him in doctrinal and spiritual supervision.”
            It is my job to keep in touch with the circuit pastors so that I know how they are doing and what is going on in their congregations. Whenever I learn information that is of concern, I pass this on to the District President.  When problems arise in a congregation, the Circuit Visitor will usually be the first one to deal with it. Especially during a vacancy – like the one that is about to occur at Trinity, Anna – the Circuit Visitor plays the role as the primary contact with the congregational leadership in assisting the District President.
            As the District President’s representative, the Circuit Visitor has responsibilities for the welfare and care for the congregations of the circuit.  However, in truth he has no authority. He can’t make anyone do anything.  If a congregation is mistreating her pastor, he can’t do anything to help the pastor directly.  If a pastor is not carrying out the responsibilities of his office, he can’t do anything to help the congregation directly. 
            On the other hand, people with authority can make things happen. The boss in a business can tell people to do things, and they have to do it or else they will be fired and lose their job.  The policeman can tell you to pull over and you have to do it or else you will get in serious legal trouble.  The military officer can tell subordinates do something and they have to obey the order.
            Authority is a central topic in our Gospel lesson this morning.  A centurion comes to Jesus who knows all about what it means to be under authority and to have authority over others.  Yet he recognizes in Jesus the One who has authority that goes beyond anything people have in this world.  He has faith that Jesus has authority over sickness itself.
            We learn in our text that when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came appealing to him saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.”  At this time there were no Roman legions in Palestine. And in fact there were no Roman auxiliary forces in the area around Capernaum. 
            Instead, this was part of the land that King Herod Antipas ruled.  Now there was no doubt that he obeyed the Romans and was under their control.  But the running of the kingdom was his own business and there were no Roman forces of any kind there.  Instead Herod had his own military forces. But since Herod could be called upon by the Romans to supply these forces to assist them, they were organized along the general lines of the Roman military.
            The centurion commanded a century, which despite its name usually had a strength of about eighty men.  Centurions were the backbone of the Roman military organization. We can presume that this man was very competent and skilled.  He was also clearly a Gentile.  It made sense that Herod had Gentiles in his forces because they would have no issue with killing Jews, should Herod need this done to maintain power and control his land. 
            The fact that this Gentile centurion addressed Jesus, a Jewish villager as “Lord” is striking.  Right from the start we see the faith he has in Jesus.  Not only this, but he entreated Jesus to help his servant who was ill.
            In the translation printed in the bulletin Jesus immediately agreed as he says, “I will come and heal him.”  However, the original Greek manuscripts did not include punctuation.  And there are a number of reasons to think that Jesus actually asked a question: “Shall I myself come and heal him?”  He calls into question the fact that the centurion has asked Jesus to come and heal the servant. Much like when Jesus deals with the Canaanite woman later in this Gospel, we see that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah.  As Jesus said on that occasion: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
            Understood in this way, the centurion’s reply is an even greater statement of faith. He was not offended. Instead he said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it.”
            The centurion recognized that in reality, Jesus had authority that completely surpassed him. He wasn’t worthy for Jesus to come to his house.  Instead, the centurion had faith that because of Jesus’ authority he only had to speak a word and his servant would be healed. After all, the centurion knew that was how real authority worked.  He knew it from being under the authority of his commanders, and of having soldiers and slaves under his authority.  People with authority make things happen when they speak. And he believed that Jesus had such authority that simply by speaking he could heal the servant. 
            When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And Matthew tells us that the servant was healed at that very moment.
            Christ praised the centurion’s faith.  He called Jesus “Lord” and believed that Jesus had such great authority that his mere word could cause the servant to be healed. This text leads us to consider our faith in Jesus’ word.
            We have even greater reasons to recognize Jesus’ authority and trust his word.  We know that Jesus Christ died on the cross in order to redeem us from our sin – in order to give us forgiveness. But death could not hold him.  Instead, on the third day God raised him from the dead.  Now as the risen and exalted Lord, Jesus exercises all authority.  He declared to the apostles after his resurrection, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
            So do we, like the centurion in our text, trust Jesus’ word?  Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”  Do we believe Jesus when he says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”?  Do we doubt that he will really care for us?  Or do we think that his version of caring for us simply isn’t enough – that we need more?
            Jesus Christ is the risen and exalted Lord.  He possesses all authority and so his word makes things happen.  And the good news is that he speaks his word toward all of the ways that we sin. When Jesus spoke about Christians who sin he said, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  He told his Church to speak his word of absolution. And because it is Jesus’ word spoken by the pastor it forgives all your sins.  Whether spoken in the group setting of the Divine Service or in the private setting with your pastor, Jesus’ absolution forgives sins because of his death and resurrection. He speaks through his called servant – he says, “I forgive you all your sins” – and those sins are gone forever. They no longer separate you from God.  They no longer can be used by Satan to cause guilt and doubt.
            In a few moments Jesus will take bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar.  He will say, “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you.”  He will say, “Drink of it all of this. This cup is the new testament in my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”  Jesus’ words will tell you to eat and drink his true body and blood, given and shed for you on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.  The risen and exalted Lord has the authority. His words do what they say – they make things happen.  And so when Jesus speaks these words through his called servant they cause the Lord’s body and blood to be present.  By eating and drinking in faith, we receive the blessing of forgiveness.
            There is always the danger that we will take Jesus and his word for granted.  Jesus says in our text, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
            Our Lord spoke these words in response to the Gentile centurion’s faith.  In the Old Testament, the language of being gathered from the east and the west referred to Yahweh’s action to return the exiles of both Israel and Judah.  But now Jesus applies it to the end time salvation of all people - Jew and Gentile alike.  And he issues a warning about the Jews who are rejecting him: “the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.” 
            By God’s grace, you are sons and daughters of the kingdom on account of Christ.  Yet this status is a gift.  It is a gift that has been given to you by Christ’s forgiving word.  If we take this word for granted; if we stop listening to it; if we stop believing it, we too will be cast out into that outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. That is true for you. That is true for me. It is true for every Christian.
            Instead, we need to take the centurion as our example.  He came to Jesus in faith.  He called upon the Lord for help, because he knew the problem he faced.  He trusted that Jesus’ word had authority to make things happen – to bring healing and restoration.
            Because of the ongoing struggle against sin in our life, we come to Jesus in faith.  We know that he is the Lord who has conquered sin and death by his cross and resurrection.  He is the risen and exalted Lord who possesses all authority.  And so his word has the authority to make things happen.  His word creates and sustains faith.  His word gives forgiveness and life.  His word will raise us from the dead on the Last Day to live with him in the new creation forever.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Feast of St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor

Today is the Feast of St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor.  Timothy was the son of a Gentile father and Jewish mother whose mother and grandmother were Christians.  St. Paul met Timothy on his second missionary journey and Timothy became a trusted co-worker who engaged in mission work in Greece and Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).  According to tradition, after Paul’s death, Timothy went to Ephesus, where he served as bishop and was martyred when he was beaten to death by a mob of pagans.

Scripture reading:
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:11-16) 

Collect of the Day:
Lord Jesus Christ, You have always given to Your Church on earth faithful shepherds such as Timothy to guide and feed Your flock.  Make all pastors diligent to preach Your holy Word and administer Your means of grace, and grant Your people wisdom to follow in the way that leads to life eternal; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany - Jn 2:1-11

                                                                                                Epiphany 2
                                                                                                Jn 2:1-11

            Now I already knew that Shelly Schiff is really wonderful person. She is a committed Lutheran.  She is intelligent, kind and caring, and it is enjoyable to be around her. Shelly is a great wife and mother for the Schiff family.
            But she took things to a whole new level two summers ago and surely earned “Wife of the Year” honors as she encouraged Josh to go to Israel for several weeks for an archaeological dig and travel in the Holy Land.  It wasn’t going to cost the family anything, because it was a funded experience available through the seminary.  However, it did mean that she was going to have to single handedly keep things running for their family while Josh was gone. 
            Despite the extra stress it would mean for her, she encouraged Josh to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity.  And as it turned out we were also the beneficiaries of Shelly’s action, because when the Schiff family was back to visit, Josh did a great presentation sharing what he has seen and learned during his time in Israel.
            I mention this because the dig Josh worked on was right in the vicinity of Cana in Galilee – the location of the events in our text this morning.  And the focus of the archaeological work was a location where they made the waters jars that are mentioned in our text.  It’s basically certain that the jars in our text were made in the location where Josh was involved in the dig, and he showed us a picture of what these jars looked like.
            Our text begins by telling us, “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.” Cana is located west of the Sea of Galilee, about eight miles from Nazareth and about sixteen miles from Capernaum. We learn that Mary was at the wedding, and the Jesus and his disciples were also invited.
            The wedding banquet was, of course, a big part of the wedding celebration.  Everyone wants their wedding to go well, with no major problems or mistakes.  But the families involved in this wedding were not so fortunate. In fact a crisis of sorts arose because they ran out of wine. This was an oversight that was embarrassing and threatened to leave a bad impression about the whole event.
            John tells us that when the wine ran out, Mary said to Jesus, “They have no wine.”  Now it seems evident that this statement by Mary was not just an observation. She said it to Jesus in hopes that he would do something about the problem.
            Our Lord’s reply at first seems rather brusque.  He said, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  Jesus reference to “his hour” alerts us to the fact that already at this early stage of his ministry, Jesus’ focus was on purpose for which he had come into the world.  On two occasions opponents are unable to seize Jesus because we are told, “his hour had not yet come.”  Finally, during Holy Week Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  In John’s Gospel, our Lord’s reference to “his hour” alerts us to the fact that this event is to be seen in relation to Jesus’ cross.
            However, Mary continued to trust that Jesus could, and would, do something.  She told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  John says that there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  As we know from Josh Schiff’s trip, they had been made right in the area.
            Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” so they filled them to the top.  Then he said, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”  You have to wonder what the servants thought about this instruction. But they did it, and when the master of the feast tasted what they brought, the water had become wine.  In fact, it was wine that was a better quality than the wine that had been served thus far at the wedding banquet.
            Jesus turned the water into wine.  And then John tells us: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” We have already seen the significant term “hour.”  Now John piles up language in which we see that this miracle is about more than just saving people from embarrassment at a wedding.
            We note three things. First, John calls the miracle a “sign.”  Second, he says that this miracle – this sign – revealed Jesus glory. And third, he says that as a result of this sign, the disciple believed in him.
            At Christmas we celebrated the incarnation of the Son of  God.  John began this Gospel by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then he said about the Word – the Son of God: “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.”
            Glory in the Old Testament was the perceptible presence of Yahweh.   John tells us that he and the other apostles saw this glory in Jesus.  And in our text, we learn that the miracle of turning water into wine was the first sign that revealed this glory.
            John describes the miracle of turning water into wine as a sign that reveals Jesus’ glory. Jesus reference to his “hour” has already pointed us toward the cross.  And John makes it clear that all of the signs by Jesus – all of the miracles – pointed forward to the cross for it is was there that Jesus’ glory was fully revealed. During Holy Week Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” And then John adds, “He said this to show” – literally, to sign by –“what kind of death he was going to die.”
            Jesus’ glory was revealed as he died on the cross.  It is paradoxical.  Our Lord’s most powerful action to save us occurred in the weakness and shame of death on a cross.  He cried out, “It is finished” as he died. We learn that to confirm he was dead “the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”  Jesus shed his blood on the cross for you, and John tells us in his first epistle that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
            We do indeed have sin.  We know the ways we put things first, and God second.  We know the ways we love ourselves more than our neighbor.  We know the ways we hurt and harm others.  Because we are sinners, we need the forgiveness that Jesus has won. And we receive it through faith in the Lord who died on the cross.  Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
            In the Gospel lesson, the sign of Jesus turning water into win leads the disciples to believe in Jesus. At the end of the Gospel John tells us, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
            In the Gospel we see the signs that reveal Jesus’ glory.  We see the signs that point to the great sign of his death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  These signs call forth faith in Jesus Christ.  They prompt faith which gives life, because the glory revealed in Christ is about more than just the cross.
            In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ hour and glorification is one upward sweeping movement that includes Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. As he introduces the Last Supper John tells us, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  After narrating the events of the entrance in to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, John notes, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.”  It was only after the resurrection that they understood.
            The witness of the Gospel of John – the signs recorded there – reveal the glory of Jesus. They reveal the glory of the One who gave himself on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  They reveal the glory of the One who rose from the dead on the third day. The reveal the glory of the One who has ascended into heaven.
            This glory is revealed in God’s Word and received in faith.  Yet in doing so they call us to us to faith in Jesus Christ who will reveal his glory for all to see. Jesus declared: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  For now, the signs call us to faith in Jesus that gives forgiveness and life.  But that faith will bring us to the day when Jesus’ glory will be seen by all as we rejoice in the resurrection he gives to us. 





Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sermon for the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord - Mt 3:13-17

                                                                                    Baptism of Our Lord
                                                                                    Mt 3:13-17

            I am currently working on the scenery for my model railroad.  It’s exciting as the layout begins to come alive – as it goes from plywood to looking like the real world.  I am working on main section where Matthew and I spend most of our time – the steel mill and the railroad yard that serves it.  When I get this portion done and the railroad is fully operational again, we’ll have another edition of “Cookies and Trains” to invite the congregation over so that you can see what your pastor has been up to in the basement.
            As I worked, I did run into one frustrating situation that slowed down progress.  The drain from the kitchen sink is right above the steel mill.  It was apparent that there was a small leak in the piping that came down into the basement, and this was causing a slow drip onto the tile of the drop ceiling.  First it stained the tile, and then it actually made flakes of the tile fall on the layout.  Obviously this needed to be fixed, and after my initial attempts failed, John Toler came to the rescue and helped his pastor out. All is now fixed, but I was frustrated by the delay that it caused.
            I was frustrated that is, until I heard about the experience of another model railroader. A good family friend in Bloomington, IN is an excellent modeler.  His model railroad is also in the basement of his house.  Recently a sewer line in his basement that goes over the model railroad broke and dropped its contents onto the railroad.  I won’t go into any of the details – you can imagine how awful the problem was.  After all, there is water, and then there is water that is so vile and filthy that you never want to deal with it.
            I begin by speaking about water, because today is the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. We are now in the season of Epiphany.  Epiphany is based on a Greek word that means “to appear.”  During the season of Christmas we celebrated that fact that the Son of God became flesh and entered into our world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  Now during Epiphany we see how Christ’s saving glory began to appear in the world – how it began to be revealed. 
            The Baptism of Our Lord is truly the beginning of Jesus’ saving ministry for us.  Matthew has already told us in this chapter, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”  John called upon all people to repent because the kingdom of heaven – the end time reign of God was about to arrive.
            As we have mentioned recently, the distinctive feature of John’s ministry was the fact that he baptized other people.  Matthew tells us that people came from all around to be baptized by John as they confessed their sins.  By submitting to John’s baptism, people were confessing their sinfulness as in faith they prepared for the arrival of God’s reign that John proclaimed.
            John announced that he was preparing the way for another – for One far more powerful than he.  This One would bring God’s end time judgment.  He declared: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
            With this background in mind, we can understand John’s shock when Jesus showed up at the Jordan River to be baptized by John.  John wanted to prevent it, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  After all, this was a baptism of repentance – a baptism people received confessing their sins as they looked in faith for the coming One. Why would Jesus, the coming One, ask to receive this baptism?
            However Jesus replied: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  Our Lord said that this baptism was necessary to fulfill all righteousness.  It was a necessary part of God’s saving action put all things right. God had given John and Jesus each a role to play in this.  John was to do the baptizing. Jesus was to be baptized.
            So John consented and baptized Jesus. Matthew tells us,   “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”
            The heavens were opened in a moment of divine revelation, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove on Jesus.  And then the voice of God the Father was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This moment was a fulfillment of what God had said in the prophet Isaiah. There in the first verse of chapter forty two God had said, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
            At his baptism, Jesus is identified as the Servant of the Lord.  Anointed by the Spirit he takes on the role of the Servant described in Isaiah. And in this recognition things that were puzzling to John the Baptist, begin to make perfect sense.  The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah, is also the suffering Servant.  He is the one of whom the prophet says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  He is the One about whom the prophet declares: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
            The Son of God, Jesus Christ, has no sins.  However, you do.  You get angry with your spouse, sibling or coworker.  You lust after a body that is not your spouse. You covet what others have.  You seek to get payback against those who have harmed you.
            At his baptism, Jesus went to the water of the Jordan to take your sins upon himself.  The Jordan is muddy – with good reason Naaman could not understand why the prophet Elisha told him to wash in it.  But for Jesus, this is not what mattered.  The Jordan was for him filthy like the water of a sewer line because he entered that water to take all of our sins upon himself. He the sinless Son of God took on the role of the Servant who would bear the sins of all.
            The baptism of Jesus was the beginning of his ministry.  From the moment of his baptism, Jesus’ ministry was directed towards one goal.  It was directed towards the cross where he would suffer and die as the Servant of the Lord who takes way our sin.
            This was his goal. This was his purpose. And he did so knowing that by dying he would bring the righteousness of God – God’s saving action that puts all things right.  He would receive the judgment of God against our sins.  He would offer himself as the ransom for many. He would be the suffering Servant.
            But Jesus knew that God’s righteousness did not end in death.  As Jesus said in the third of his passion predictions in Matthew’s Gospel, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”  As he predicted, Jesus Christ passed through the death of the cross to give us forgiveness. But on the third day God raised him from the dead, and so now he is the source of life that overcomes death.  He is the risen One who will raise us up on the Last Day.
            Jesus’ baptism began his mission as the Servant of the Lord to our bear ours sins on the cross and then rise from the dead.  In order to share the saving benefits of his ministry, Christ instituted Holy Baptism.  When you were baptized, the forgiveness Christ won was applied to you.  You received one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  Your sins were washed away.
            But while your baptism was a one time event, its significance for you is not.  Instead, it always stands ready to be grasped in faith, trusting in God’s promise that through the water and the Word of baptism forgiveness is yours.  How do you know you are forgiven?  You’ve been baptized!  Your baptism is ready twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, to give you the comfort of God’s forgiveness. 
            At Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon our Lord like a dove, and God the Father said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”  In baptism you were born again of water and the Spirit.  The Spirit’s saving work came to you as he made you a child of God because of Jesus.  God has given you his Spirit through baptism so that you can call upon him as Father.  St. Paul told the Galatians, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”
            In baptism you have received the forgiveness of sins because of Jesus. Through baptism you received the Holy Spirit.  And because God has done this for you in baptism, because of Jesus he now looks at you and says: “This is my beloved son, this is my beloved daughter with whom I am well pleased.”  That is true now.  It will be true on the day of your death.  It will be true on the Last Day.
            Jesus entered into the water of his baptism in order to take on the role of the Servant of the Lord.  He was baptized in order to serve us as the suffering Servant on the cross.  Living in Christ, our baptism now has similar meaning for us.  Jesus told the disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
            You are baptized. You are forgiven because of Christ and have received the Holy Spirit. And so now the Spirit leads you to serve others as Christ has served you.  He prompts you to forgive others as Christ has forgiven you.  He moves you to sacrifice for others as Christ sacrificed himself for you. 
            Your baptism is the source of the Spirit’s continuing work in your life.  And as the Spirit leads, prompts and moves us, we join our own efforts and intention as the new creation that the Spirit has made us in Christ Jesus.  We embrace the life of love that God has given us in Christ, even when it means inconvenience for us. 
            We live in this way because Jesus entered into the water of the Jordan to be baptized by John.  He took on the role of the Servant of the Lord – the suffering Servant. He took the filth of our sins upon himself in order to die on the cross and win forgiveness for us. And as the risen Lord he has now baptized us.  He has washed away our sins.  He has given us his Spirit so that we can live as forgiven people who forgive and serve others because of Jesus Christ.