Tuesday, March 31, 2020

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.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent - Judica - Gen 22:1-14

                                                                                                Lent 5
                                                                                                Gen 22:1-14

            Timothy was our first born child. That means our experience with him will always be unique. There is only one first time through all of the new things that come with a baby.  You can only be first time parents once. When Timothy was born, I didn’t know how to put a diaper on a baby. After Amy showed me how, the repetition soon made it second nature, and it was for every child after that.
            Timothy was our first born child.  And then there was a time we thought that perhaps Timothy would be our only child.  Timothy is four years older than Matthew and Abigail.  None of that was what we expected.  There was a baby that we never got to know – a child that was lost through miscarriage when Amy was in the second trimester.
            We grieved for this child, but had to accept that God’s ways are not our ways. And so after the appropriate time had passed, we began trying to have another child.  Now trying to have a baby is not exactly what I would call a hardship. But the dynamic begins to change when month after month after month there is no baby.  When the term “infertility” begins to arrive on the scene things have changed. And it was at that point that I began to wonder if Timothy was going to be our only child.
            A first child is one thing.  An only child is something very different.  Every child is precious, but if you have only one, then all of the hopes for the future are tied up with that single child.
            No one knew that feeling better than Abraham and Sarah.  Yahweh had called Abraham when he and Sarah were old and childless.  God told Abraham, “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.” He promised to make Abraham into a great nation, and to give the land of Canaan to his descendants.  Yahweh promised to make Abraham’s descendants numerous like the dust of the earth and the stars of the night sky.
            They waited for years, but eventually Yahweh kept his promise. Sarah, who was far beyond the age when it was possible for her to have a child, did in fact give birth to Isaac. It was a miracle that brought joy to Abraham and Sarah.  In Isaac, their only child, they could see God working out the fulfillment of all his promises.
            And then we learn in our text that God tested Abraham as he said to him, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”  Our text says that God tested Abraham. This is a reminder that God actually cares about what we do.  It really does matter to him, because our actions demonstrate what is in our heart. They show the place that God holds in our life.
            God has made a promise to Abraham.  And now he commands him to do something that contradicts that promise – that destroys the promise. The language used hammers home this fact.  Abraham is told to sacrifice “your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.”
            In our text we learn that Abraham obeyed Yahweh.  He cut wood for a burnt offering, and took Isaac and two of his servants.  We learn that on the third day Abraham looked out and saw the place from afar.  We realize that for three days Abraham travelled knowing what he was about to do.
            For three days he bore this burden as he journeyed.  It would have been easy to come up with reasons not to go through with it.  But Abraham believed and trusted in Yahweh. Martin Luther commented on this: “I have stated what Abraham’s trial was, namely, the contradiction of the promise.  Therefore his faith shines forth with special clarity in this passage, inasmuch as he obeys God with such a ready heart when He gives him the command.  And although Isaac has to be sacrificed, he nevertheless has no doubt whatever that the promise will be fulfilled, even if he does not know the manner of its fulfillment.”
            Like Abraham, we too live on the basis of God’s promise.  He has promised that we are his forgiven children because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has promised that we belong to him, and that he loves and cares for us. Luther commented that, “These events are recorded for our comfort, in order that we may learn to rely on the promises we have.  I was baptized. Therefore I must maintain that I was translated from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God.”
            Because this is so, Luther goes on to say, “One must act similarly in all other trials.  Wherever we experience the opposite of a promise, we should maintain the assurance that when God shows himself differently from the way the promise speaks this is merely a temptation.  Therefore we should not allow this staff of the promise to be wrested from our hands.”
            Luther’s words are particularly relevant for our situation, because they were made in 1539 when a plague had struck Wittenberg.  In fact the disease had just killed a law professor at the university, and Luther took the orphaned children into his own home.
            In our text we learn that Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. As Isaac bore the wood he asked an obvious question to Abraham: “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  And in poignant words filled with irony, Abraham replied: “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
            Finally, they arrived at the place God had indicated.  Abraham built an altar, placed the wood on it and bound Isaac. He drew the knife, ready to kill his son, when the angel of the LORD called Abraham by name from heaven and said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
            Then Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw that behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. And so he called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide,” because God had provided a sacrifice in place of Isaac.
            Abraham obeyed God because he had faith in God’s promise.  He continued to trust that God would be true to his word.  During this time of a global pandemic that has disrupted all of our lives and caused concerns about our health and that of those around us, we are reminded that we live by faith in God’s promise.  But it is a promise tied to what God has already done.
            In our text Abraham is told to sacrifice “your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.”  These words call to mind what we heard God the Father say at Jesus’ baptism during the season of Epiphany: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We hear today about how Abraham laid the wood for the sacrifice on Isaac, as he carried it to the place of sacrifice. In Jesus Christ, God gave his only Son whom he loved as the sacrifice for our sin.  Jesus carried the wood of the cross to the place of sacrifice – to the place where he was nailed to the cross to die as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
            Jesus’ dead body was taken down from the cross and buried.  Yet God’s saving action through his Son was not done.  Instead, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  In Christ he provided atonement for our sin. And in Christ he defeated death itself. The risen Lord Jesus is the source of forgiveness now, and resurrection life on the Last Day.
            Through his Spirit, God has called you to faith in the risen Lord.  In your baptism you were buried with Christ.  But to share with Christ in his death is also to share in his resurrection. St. Paul told the Colossians that we have “been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
            You were once dead in sin. But now, everything has changed.  Paul went on to say, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.”  Through baptism and faith your sins are forgiven and you are a child of God.
            Because of Jesus Christ, you have the living hope of the risen Lord. This is God’s promise to you. And it is this promise that allows us to face every challenge.  In our text we see that Abraham trusted God’s promise, and put that trust into action.  We now do the same thing, because we know the promise of the forgiveness and eternal life we have in Jesus Christ.
            We face the uncertainty of these days confident of God’s love and care.  We trust in his promise because we know what he has already done in Jesus Christ. There is no virus that can overcome the risen Lord.  He has conquered sin.  He has conquered death. Through his gift of baptism he has given us forgiveness and our resurrection future. This is the One who holds our times in his hands, and so we can face the future in faith and trust in God’s promise.


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Sermon for the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord - Lk 1:26-38

                                                                                                Lk 1:26-38

            You thought you were coming to a Lent service tonight. But surprise! We aren’t doing Lent this evening.  Instead today, March 25 is the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord.  The reason for the date is very simple: March 25 is nine months before December 25 and Christmas.  The date of the Annunciation means that it almost always takes place during Lent.
            This creates an unusual situation.  We are in the season of Lent as we prepare for Holy Week and the death of Jesus Christ. Yet the Annunciation is about the beginning of his life as a human being.  It is about the beginning of the Incarnation.
            Lent has a very somber tone with its focus on repentance and the preparation to remember the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. But the Annunciation is a joyous celebration of the mystery of the incarnation.  However, what holds these two together is the fact that the wonder of the incarnation that we celebrate tonight had Holy Week as its goal from the very beginning.  The baby in the womb of the virgin Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit in order to suffer and die.
            Our text begins by telling us, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.”  The phrase “sixth month” tells us that this was sixth months since Gabriel had appeared to Zechariah and informed him that his aged wife Elizabeth was going to have a son. That itself was quite amazing.  But even more remarkable was the fact that this child – who would be named John – was going to be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.  He would go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. 
            Now Gabriel appeared to Mary, a relative of Elizabeth and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Gabriel announced that Mary had been shown favor by God. But Mary didn’t feel very favored.  Instead she felt greatly troubled as she tried to figure out what sort of greeting this might be. 
            However Gabriel told Mary not to be afraid because she had found favor with God.  He announced that she would conceive in her womb and bear a son, whom she would name Jesus. Then Gabriel said about this son, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 
            What Gabriel said about this child was stunning.  He was telling Mary that her son would be the fulfillment of God’s promise to King David.  Yahweh had told David that his son Solomon would be the one to build a temple for God.  He said, “He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
            Gabriel was telling Mary that her child would be the Messiah, the descendant of David promised by God.  He would reign over Israel and his kingdom would have no end, which meant that he would be the fulfillment of all the promises God had made about a descendant from David’s line who would bring God’s end time salvation.
            Yet Mary had a question. She was betrothed to Joseph who descended from king David, but she was not married. And so she asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Gabriel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
            Gabriel had already said that this child would be called “Son of the Most High.”  Yet in the setting of God’s promise to David this only meant that the descendants of David would stand in a unique relation to God. God would bestow this status on them. They would be his “son” in an adopted sense.
            However, this was something completely different.  Mary’s child – Jesus – would have no human father.  Instead the Holy Spirit would cause him to be conceived within the virgin Mary. And therefore the child to be born would be called holy--the Son of God. This was not a matter of being “adopted” by God.  Instead this child would be the Son of God in his very being.  He would be true God.  Yet as the One conceived by the Spirit in Mary he would also be true man.
            This is amazing, wonderful stuff.  And yet nothing in our text tonight leads you to expect that there will be a season of Lent.  Nothing in our text makes you think that this child will grow up to suffer and die on a Roman cross. After all, he is the Son of God, conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit.  He is also the son of David, the One who will have the throne of his father David, and will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and will have a kingdom with no end.
            And that is the surprising thing about the way that God chooses to bring us salvation.  He sends his own Son into this world in the incarnation.  He sends him to be numbered with transgressors – to take our place as the object of God’s wrath against sin. Suffering and death await the child conceived in Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit.
            This is not how we would do things. And in this we learn an important truth.  God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.  God’s ways are not our ways.  God works in surprising ways that often look like failure.  He works in ways that often look like the opposite of success.  He works in the way of the cross.
            This is true not just of his plan of salvation. It is also true of our own lives as God allows failure and suffering.  Certainly there are joys and successes.  But those times tend not to be when we think about God most.  Instead, it is hardship that causes us to think about God’s will for our life.  It is suffering that causes us to look to God.  As fallen people, this is often what is needed to get us thinking and acting in God’s ways. And so indeed, God uses it for our spiritual good.
            On Good Friday Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins.   He was wounded for our transgressions.  He was crushed for our iniquities.  He died and was buried.  Yet the words of Gabriel to Mary about Jesus were true because God did not allow his holy One to see corruption. Instead he raised him from the dead on the third day. And the risen Lord opened the minds of the disciples to understand what God had been doing.  He said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
            Gabriel had told Mary that the Lord God would give to Jesus the throne of his father David, and that he would reign over the house of Jacob forever.  Yet when Jesus’ saving work was completed, his exaltation proved to be far more than this.  Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heave and was seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Fifty days later the exalted Lord poured forth the Holy Spirit on his Church.
            We have seen in Jesus that the cross was the means by which God was at work to save us, and that the cross was the way that led to glory for Christ.  Because we have seen this in our Lord, we are able to trust God in the midst of the circumstances that are difficult and challenging for us.  Because of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Lord, we know that such times are not the absence of God, but rather God at work in and for us.  Because of Jesus Christ we know that the story of our lives can only end in one way – resurrection with our Lord, the Son of God.



Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord, in which we celebrate the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that the Holy Spirit would conceive within her the Son of God. We observe this feast of the incarnation on March 25, nine months before celebrating Christ’s birth on Christmas Day, December 25.

Gospel reading:
 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

Collect of the Day:
O Lord, as we have known the incarnation of Your Son, Jesus Christ, by the message of the angel to the virgin Mary, so by the message of His cross and passion bring us to the glory of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent - Laetare - Jn 6:1-15

                                                                                    Lent 4
                                                                                    Jn 6:1-15

            “All you can eat.” There was a time in life when that phrase was music to my ears.  When I was Matthew and Timothy’s age – my high school and college years – there was nothing better than a restaurant that was going to give you as much food as you could eat.  Usually this happened in a setting where they had something that I wanted to eat a lot of, like pizza or fried catfish.  What could be better? And actually I felt that way until I turned forty at which point, as if a switch had been flipped, prodigious eating suddenly showed up on the scale and didn’t go away. Alas, how I miss the days of “all you can eat”….
            In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus serves an “all you can eat meal.” That’s exactly what our texts says: “Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.”  This “all you can eat meal” is a sign that reveals who Jesus is and what he has come to do.
            Our text begins by saying: “After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.”  The Gospel of John describes Jesus’ miracles as “signs.” In the second chapter of the Gospel we are told: Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.” It was the signs that brought Nicodemus to see Jesus.  He said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
            Jesus and his disciples went up on a mountain and sat down.  When the Lord looked out, he saw a large crowd that was coming towards him.  John tells us the Passover was at hand.  Jewish pilgrims were making their way to Jerusalem and so a large crowd had gathered.
            Jesus asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  John tells us that Jesus said this to Philip to test him, because the Lord already knew what he would do. To Philip, the situation was hopeless.  He commented that two hundred denarii – two hundred days wages – would not even buy enough for each person to get a little.
            Surprisingly, Andrew noted that there was boy who had five barley loves and two fish.  One wonders why he bothered to mention it since he himself commented, “but what are they for so many?”  However Jesus had the crowd sit down, which numbered five thousand men, not counting women and children.
            Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish and all received as much as they wanted. Then he had them gather up the leftover fragments of bread, and they filled twelve baskets.
            Our Lord had worked a great miracle in feeding the crowd of more than five thousand people using five barley loaves and two fish.  It was another great sign.  However, crowd’s reaction to the sign is not what we expect, and it reveals a great deal about how they viewed Jesus.  John tells us, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’”
            The Passover was a remembrance of how Yahweh had dramatically rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt.  As Israel found herself under Roman domination, it was a time that caused people to think about what God might do again to free them. These kinds of thoughts were the very reason why the Roman governor, who normally resided in Caesarea on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, came to Jerusalem with extra troops at the time of the Passover.
            In Deuteronomy Moses had said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers--it is to him you shall listen.”  There were many forms of end time expectation among the Jews in the first century.  Some of it was focused on this prophet like Moses promised by God.
            Jesus recognized that in their excitement, the people were about to come and take him by force to make him king.  This had nothing to do with the reason the Father had sent Jesus into the world, and so Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
            All of the signs performed by Jesus pointed to the great sign of his death and resurrection. They called forth faith in Jesus Christ who had come as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But this is not what the crowd saw in Jesus. The next day the crowd tracked Jesus down in Capernaum.  Our Lord 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.”  Jesus said that their interest in him was not about faith.  It was about their stomachs.  They wanted Jesus to be their meal ticket.
            Sometimes we aren’t all that different from this crowd.  Our interest in Christ becomes wrapped up with what he can give us – what he can help us with.  And the things we want are the things we want.  Jesus seems to be really important when we are concerned about our health – like when a global pandemic comes calling in southern Illinois.  He seems really important when circumstances threaten the income from my job or the investments that I have in the stock market.  But where does he rank when things are going well?  How do Jesus and the gifts of his Means of Grace stack up against our sports, our hobbies, our interests?
            Jesus said to them, “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.”  Jesus promised food that endured forever. So they asked him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” And Jesus responded very directly: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  Jesus called them to faith in himself, because he is the One who gives life – eternal life.
            Our Lord told them to believe in him. So they responded, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?” They asked for the proof of a sign. After all Moses had given Israel manna in the wilderness.
            Jesus had just worked the sign of feeding more than five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. And yet now they ask him for a sign!  So Jesus said, “ 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.”
            The Father sent the Son into the world to give us life.  Jesus came to overcome sin and death by being lifted up on the cross and then rising from the dead.  Jesus told them, “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 give his flesh for the life of the world.  The sign of feeding the five thousand, and all of the miraculous signs that he did, pointed to this single great event as Jesus cried out “It is finished” and died on the cross for us.  In order to defeat death for us, he passed through it himself.
            But in John’s Gospel, Jesus death and burial is part of one single arc that swings back up to resurrection and ascension.  Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
            Jesus Christ took his life back up again on Easter and then he ascended in glory.  He has conquered sin and death, and now he gives us life.  He gives us life with God – life as the children of God.  He gives us eternal life – eternal life that is already ours now. And he promises that he will give us resurrection life on the Last Day.
            He gives this life to us now.  He does it through his Word as the life giving Spirit sustains us in the life of faith.  And just as we see the miracle with bread in our text, he continues to do so in our midst this morning.  In the Sacrament of the Altar our Lord uses bread and wine to give us his life giving body and blood, given and shed for us.
            In this chapter Jesus goes on to say, “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.”
            Notice how our Lord promises that all who eat his flesh and drink his blood “have eternal life.”  It is already yours now and you can live in the confidence that nothing can change this – not even some virus that comes from China. And so while we should not act in irresponsible ways that are a threat to our neighbor or ourselves, we also cannot live and act in fear. We are the people who already have eternal life with God and not even death can change this fact. We have life in Christ and so we can live confidently in the present.
            And we also live as the people who know that bodily death is not the end for our body.  Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of our own resurrection.  And in the Sacrament, it is the risen Lord who gives his body and blood into our bodies.  This is the pledge and assurance of our own resurrection.  For our Lord will return and raise all those whose bodies have received his body and blood.
            In our text today, Jesus works a miracle – a sign – as he feeds more than five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. This sign points to his death, resurrection and ascension for us.  Jesus is the living bread – the bread that has come down from heaven and gives life.  He gives eternal life to all who believe in him because he has given his flesh for the life of the world. And now in his Sacrament he gives us his body and blood so that we may continue as people who have eternal life and know that he will raise us up on the Last Day.   



Thursday, March 19, 2020

Feast of St. Joseph, Guardian of Jesus

Today is the Feast of St. Joseph, Guardian of Jesus.  St. Joseph has been honored throughout the Christian centuries for his faithful devotion in helping Mary to raise Jesus.  Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Joseph was a righteous man, who followed the angel’s instructions and took the already-pregnant Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:24).  In the Gospels, Jesus is referred to as “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55).  This suggests that Joseph had building skills with which he supported his family.  He followed the angel’s instruction in taking the Mary and Jesus to Egypt in order to escape Herod the Great’s murderous plot (Matthew 2:14).  Joseph last appears in Scripture when he and Mary faithfully take the twelve-year-old Jesus to Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 2:41-51).  Joseph, the guardian of our Lord, has long been associated with caring parenthood.

Scripture reading:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
(Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, from the house of Your servant David You raised up Joseph to be the guardian of Your incarnate Son and the husband of His mother, Mary.  Grant us grace to follow the example of this faithful workman in heeding Your counsel and obeying Your commands; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Sermon for the third mid-week Lent service - Jn 15:18-25

                                                                                                            Mid-Lent 3
                                                                                                            Jn 15:18-25

            “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”  Now there are some cheery words to brighten your evening.  Jesus says, “if the world hates you.”  But the word “if” doesn’t indicate that this may not happen if you are lucky.  Instead, Jesus says that the world has hated him.  As one who believes in Jesus Christ, therefore the world will hate you.  If the world doesn’t hate you, then you are doing something in this Christian faith thing wrong.
            When the Gospel of John refers to the “world” it is describing our culture and all of the ways it is warped and twisted by sin. The world we live in is run by sin and therefore under the control of the devil.  John says this directly in his first letter when he writes, “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
            The world hates Jesus, and the Gospel of John tells us exactly why.  Earlier in the Gospel we hear about the world’s response to the incarnate Son of God: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
            Jesus declares the world to be what it really is – a sinful and evil place.  The world thinks it is shining and wonderful.  Jesus reveals that it is covered in poop.  And the world does not want to hear this. Jesus says in this Gospel that the world “hates me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.”
            The coming of Jesus has changed everything.  In our text Jesus says, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.”  And then he adds, “If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.”
            You can’t undo the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  You can’t pretend that the word of Jesus Christ has not gone out into the world.  A person can choose to ignore it, but that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus Christ’s life and witness confronts them through his word. And that is why he world hates Jesus.
            In our text, Jesus returns to something he had said earlier as he states, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”  Our Lord says that if we believe in him, then we must expect persecution. 
            We certainly do see persecution of Christians around the world.  In places like China, North Korea and Iran our brothers and sisters in Christ are imprisoned because of the faith.  In countries such as Nigeria, Sudan, Libya and Egypt Christians are killed.
            We thank God that we do no face the threat of physical harm where we live, and that we are free to worship the Lord.  But persecution is present in other forms. The world sneers at the idea that there is an almighty God who has established what is right and wrong. It mocks the very idea of sin. In particular, in the area of human sexuality it stands ready to attack anyone who opposes homosexuality or the notion that there are only two sexes – male and female – and that you are born as one or the other.
            These views are developments that many of us have seen occur in our own lifetime.  We are surprised and shocked to find that the world now attacks us on these things.  But we shouldn’t be. After all, Jesus says, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” The nature of this persecution and the points of pressure may shift and change over time, but it has always been there.
            It will always be there.  It will because you are not the person you once were. You were conceived and born as flesh – as sinful and fallen.  In that state, you were a perfect fit for the world.  However, in our text Jesus says, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
            Jesus Christ chose you.  He called you by the Gospel. You were born again of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism.  Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  You have been born again of the Spirit and so you are no longer flesh.  You may be living in the midst of the world, but you are no longer of this world.  You don’t fit in here.  You know that the deeds and ways of the world are sinful and evil. And for that reason, the world hates you, just as it hated Jesus.
            In our text the Lord says, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”  Then he adds, “But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”  The world will persecute us because of Jesus. But this action simply reveals a deeper ignorance: the world does not know the Father.
            In the prologue to the Gospel, John tells us about the Son of God, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  He declares, “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.” And then he adds in the last verse of the prologue: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.”
            It is only Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who can reveal the Father. But at the same time, to reject the Son is to reject the Father who sent him.  Jesus says in our text, “Whoever hates me hates my Father also.”
            You have been chosen by Christ.  You have come to Christ because the Father has drawn you.  You have been born again of water and the Spirit.  And so while the world hates Christ, and while the world hates you, you know about the true love that gives forgiveness and eternal life.
            The Father sent the Son in love.  He did it in love for you.  He did it in love for the whole world. We hear in chapter three, “For God loved the world in this way, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
            In love the Father sent forth the Son.  Jesus said to those who opposed him, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not come on my own initiative, but he sent me.”
            The Father sent forth the Son.  And during Lent we are preparing to remember and observe again the reason he did so.  Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
            The Father sent forth the Son to lay down his life for us on the cross.  Jesus came to lay down his life by being lifted up on the cross. Our Lord 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.”
            Jesus offered himself for our sins.  He was lifted up on the cross where he cried out, “It is finished!” and died.  And then in his resurrection he began the eternal life is that already ours through faith and baptism.
            The world hates Jesus. The world hates us because we believe in Jesus.  But in Jesus Christ we have received the Father’s love. We have received the forgiveness won by the Son as he obeyed the Father and offered himself in our place.  We have been chosen by Jesus so that we are no longer of the world.  Instead, we are the children of God who possess eternal life.  As John commented on this in his first letter, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called the children of God, and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, but because it did not know him.” The world doesn’t know Jesus in faith, but we do. And so we rejoice in the eternal life that is ours now as we look for Jesus Christ’s return on the Last Day.