Sunday, February 27, 2022

Sermon for Quinquagesima - Lk 18:31-43



                                                                                       Lk 18:31-43




          When I was thirteen years old, I realized that when I was at the baseball field sitting in the dugout, the numbers on the scoreboard located just behind the outfield fence were blurry.  I also realized, more importantly, that when hitting I wasn’t seeing the ball as well as in the past.

          It was that summer I learned that I needed glasses for seeing distances. I have worn glasses or contacts all of my life since then.  Over the years the prescription for those has had to become stronger as my vision has gotten worse.  I like to joke that when I get up in the morning, without my glasses I am blind.

          Then, about two years ago I noticed that when I was working on my model railroad, I was starting to have trouble seeing the very small pieces with which I was working.  This had never been a problem in the past – I could see anything no matter how small it was. But about a year ago I had to go the drug store and buy some reading glasses that I use while modeling.  Now my model railroading experience includes the frequent question: “Were on the train layout did I leave my glasses?”

          We take vision for granted … until there are problems.  And while issues of being near sighted or far sighted can be dealt with relatively easily, more serious issues that threaten sight are scary.  We all know how important sight is, and how difficult life is if we lose it.

          In our Gospel lesson we meet a man who had no sight.  He was blind.  We don’t know anything about how or when this had occurred. However, we find him in the location, doing the activity that we would expect of a blind man in the first century world.  He was sitting alongside the road begging for money.

          He heard that a crowd was going by and asked what was going on. When he was told, that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  The blind man called out to Jesus and addressed him with a term that identified him as the Messiah.  He had one urgent plea “Have mercy on me!”, which is a cry for help. 

          However, those who were in the front of the group rebuked them man.  They considered him an annoyance and told him to be silent. Yet the man would not be silenced, instead, he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” We don’t know how the man knew about Jesus. But he had heard the Gospel.  He had heard that Jesus was the Son of David.  He knew that Jesus worked miracles of healing as he brought God’s reign. And he believed. He had faith in Jesus, and in faith he cried out to the Lord.

          Jesus stopped, had the men brought to him, and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.”  Jesus replied, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” We learn that immediately the man recovered his sight.  He responded to this this by following Jesus as he glorified God.  The man’s faith in Jesus did not end because he had gotten what he wanted.  Instead, he now followed the Lord and praised God.

          The faith of the blind man stands in contrast to what precedes in our text.  Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and we learn that he took the twelve apostles aside and said to them: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

          This is now the third time that Jesus had told the apostles about his upcoming passion.  This one is the most explicit as he described his humiliation, suffering, and death.  However, we are told, “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”  The apostles didn’t understand.  They had not understood before. And now we are told that it was hidden from them.  Only in the events that were about to take place could they come to an understanding about who Jesus was and what he meant for them.

          When the blind man asked what was happening, he was told “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” The reference to Nazareth recalls the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when he went to his hometown on the Sabbath. There he read these words from Isaiah chapter sixty one: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” Then Jesus announced, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

          In healing the blind man, and in his other miracles, Jesus was the presence of God’s reign. He was the Messiah – the Son of of David – who was anointed not with olive oil, but with the Holy Spirit at his baptism.  He had come to bring liberty to the captives, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.

          And that means you.  You were captives to Satan, sin, and death.  Conceived and born as children of Adam, you were spiritually dead – Satan was your lord. As the apostle Paul told the Ephesians, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”

          In our text Jesus describes how he will suffer and die. He says that they are going to Jerusalem so that “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.”  This reference is important because it emphasizes that Jesus goes to Jerusalem to fulfill God’s saving will.  He goes to fulfill what God had revealed in the Old Testament.  At the Last Supper Jesus said, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”

          Our Lord quoted the words of Isaiah chapter fifty three.  There Isaiah described the suffering Servant and said of him, “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.” We saw during Epiphany that when Jesus was anointed with the Spirit at his baptism, he took on the role of the suffering Servant – the One who would bear our sins and receive God’s judgment in our place.

          Jesus Christ went to Jerusalem and suffered and died exactly as he had said.  He died on the cross to win forgiveness for you.  But in Luke’s Gospel the phrase “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished” also points forward to what happened after Jesus died.

          Jesus died on Good Friday.  But on Easter, he rose from the dead.  On the evening of Easter he appeared to his disciples in the locked room and said to them, These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “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. You are witnesses of these things.”

          In fulfillment of the Father’s saving will, our Lord Jesus suffered and died to win forgiveness for us.  Yet, also in fulfillment of his will, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we have forgiveness before God, and we know that death has been defeated.  It cannot separate us from God.  And Jesus will transform out bodies to be like his resurrected body on the Last Day.

          This is what God has done. This is the good news – the Gospel- that God has revealed to us.  It is through this Gospel that the Holy Spirit has called us to faith.  Because we know this we now live by faith in our Lord.  And here, the blind man provides us with a model to follow. When he heard that Jesus was coming by he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” When others tried to silence him he called out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The man trusted and believed in Jesus.  He called out to him for help.

          This is what our life looks like as well.  It is because we are people who continue to struggle with sin. Though through the work of the Spirit we are in Christ a new creation, the old Adam still drags us back into a failure to put God first and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We don’t ignore this sin or try to make excuses for it.  Instead, we repent and confess our sins.  We cry out “Jesus have mercy on me!”, as in faith we return to our baptism through which we shared in Jesus’ saving death and have had our sins forgiven.

          The same thing is true as we encounter the challenges, difficulties, and sufferings of this life.  We cry out, “Jesus have mercy on me!”  In faith and trust we turn to the Lord who died for us and rose from the dead.  We ask for his help, confident that the One who has revealed his love for us in his cross and resurrection, continues to love and care for us now.

          And in turn, the love and help God has given us leads us to love and serve others.  We learn about the blind man, “And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God.”  The man became a follower of Jesus and glorified God.  We have cried out, “Jesus have mercy on me!” and have received forgiveness and life through our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We are now followers of Jesus who glorify God by sharing his love with others in the vocations where God has placed us.

          The blind man in our text turned to Jesus in persistent faith as he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  The Lord healed him as he experienced the reign of God that was present in Jesus Christ.  The apostles in our text hear about how the saving reign of God will reach its consummation – in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus everything that is written about him by the prophets is accomplished.

They do not understand. In fact, at this point it is hidden from them. But it would not be hidden forever.  Jesus has accomplished all that he said.  At Easter and for forty days afterwards the disciples encountered the risen Lord, as he gave them insight into how he fulfilled the Scriptures and taught them about the kingdom of God. They have been his witnesses to us, so now we also rejoice in the forgiveness, life, and salvation which we have received in our crucified and risen Lord.



Thursday, February 24, 2022

Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle


Today is the Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle.  Matthias is one of the lesser known apostles.  He was chosen by lot to fill the vacancy in the twelve apostles left by the death of Judas.  The account of his election (Acts 1:12-26) tells us that Matthias had been a follower of Jesus Christ during His whole ministry – from the baptism of John the Baptist until the day of the ascension.  Church tradition indicates that he engaged in missionary activities and was martyred.

Scripture reading:

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)  “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

“‘May his camp become desolate,
and let there be no one to dwell in it’;


“‘Let another take his office.’

 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:15-26)

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, You chose Your servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve.  Grant that Your Church, ever preserved from false teachers, may be taught and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.




Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Commemoration of Polycarp of Smyrna, Pastor and Martyr


Today we remember and give thanks for Polycarp of Smyrna, Pastor and Martyr.  Polycarp was a central figure in the early church.  According to his pupil the church father Irenaeus, Polycarp was a disciple of the evangelist John. After serving for many years as bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp was arrested, tried, and executed for his faith on February 23, c. 156. An eyewitness narrative of his death, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, continues to encourage believers in times of persecution.  When given the chance to recant his faith in Jesus Christ, he replied, “For eighty-six years I have been His servant, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme by King who saved me?”

Collect of the Day:

O God, the maker of heaven and earth, You gave boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior and steadfastness to die for the faith to Your venerable servant, Polycarp.  Grant us grace to follow His example in sharing the cup of Christ’s suffering so that we may also share in His glorious resurrection; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Sermon for Sexagesima - 2 Cor 11:19-12:9



                                                                                      2 Cor 11:19-12:9



          There is no NFL quarterback of any era who would want to get into a competition with Tom Brady when it comes to comparing accomplishments.  Brady is widely recognized as the “GOAT” – the acronym for “greatest of all time.”  And while “greatest” is an adjective that is thrown around in sports so easily today in a world that has no sense of history – in Brady’s case there is no doubt about it.

          Tom Brady holds almost every major quarterback record such as passing yards, completions, touchdown passes, and games started.  He is the NFL leader in career quarterback regular season wins, quarterback playoff wins, and Super Bowl MVP awards.  Brady holds the amazing record for winning seven Super Bowls, and playing in ten of them.

          Like Tom Brady, no one should have wanted to get into a competition with St. Paul when it came to comparing oneself with his work and suffering for the sake of Jesus Christ. And yet, people showed up in Corinth who boasted about their work for Christ and invited just such a comparison.

          We learn that men had arrived at Corinth bearing letters of recommendation.  They claimed to be authoritative and important teachers.  In fact, Paul mocks them as the “super-apostles.”  However, there was no doubt in Paul’s mind about what these teachers really were.  He wrote at the beginning of chapter eleven: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”

          These men proclaimed false teaching, and while they might appear to be pious, Paul was very direct in his evaluation of them when he said: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”

          The Greco-Roman world’s education system was based on teaching rhetoric – the accepted rules for constructing and delivering speeches.  Paul granted that this was not his strength.  His education has been in the Jewish setting that focused on Scripture and its interpretation.  But while the apostle did not have the rhetorical skills that the world prized so highly, what he did have was authoritative knowledge from God. And so just before our text he writes: “Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.”

          Paul makes it clear in our text that he was not one to boast. This was not the way of Christ. However, because of what the false teachers were saying, the apostle saw that he had needed to shut down their argument.  He says in the verses just before our text, “I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not with the Lord's authority but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast.”

          Paul says in our text, that when it comes to Jewish pedigree that he can match up with anyone.  Then he adds, “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one--I am talking like a madman--with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.”  This kind of boasting is not what Paul wants to do.  But has been left no choice, and so in our text he provides an incredible list of the hardships he endured as a faithful apostle of Jesus Christ: again and again he has risked his life and suffered in order to proclaim the Gospel.

          In the midst of the list about beatings, shipwrecks, and danger, Paul introduces a theme with which he will culminate our text.  He says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”  As we will see, Paul says that instead he will boast of weaknesses, because to boast of these is to point to the presence of the power of Christ in his life.

          In the second half of our text, Paul goes on to talk about visions and revelations of the Lord.  He focuses on one experience in particular that had happened fourteen years ago in which he had been caught up into paradise – what he describes as the “third heaven” – where he had he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

          Then the apostle reveals, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” We do not know what this “thorn in the flesh was.” There has been much speculation, but there is no way of knowing.

          What is clear is that this was a great hardship and burden for Paul.  The apostle says that “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” But the Lord’s answer was not to take it away.  Instead he told Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And then Paul returns to the thought we heard earlier as he says: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” And he goes on to add in the verse just after our text: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

          Paul says that he will boast in his weakness.  However, we don’t like to experience weakness.  We don’t want to experience weaknesses, insults, hardships, and calamities, and we certainly find it difficult to be content in the midst of them.

          Why can the apostle Paul speak this way?  He can because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Earlier in this letter the apostle writes, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Paul says that one died for all, therefore all have died.  By this death God has reconciled us to himself, because through the death of Jesus God has judged our sin.  The apostle adds, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

          Christ died to remove the sin that cut us off from God. Because of Christ, we have been reconciled to God.  Yet Christ’s saving work – his work freeing us from sin – could not stop in death.  As we just heard, Paul says that for our sake Christ died and was raised.

          When the Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead God demonstrated that he had been at work in the midst of weakness. He had been at work in the midst of the suffering, shame, and humiliation of the cross.  And now the resurrection life of Jesus is at work in us through the Spirit.  Paul says in this letter, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

          As those who have received the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit in baptism, this living power is at work in us.  It is God’s power – the power of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.  It is Christ the risen Lord sustaining us through his Spirit.  In the midst of our weakness, it is the life of Christ given to us by the Spirit that manifests itself. 

Paul expressed this very strongly earlier in this letter when we spoke about his ministry and of those with him like Timothy as he wrote: But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

Paul wanted to be freed of the thorn in the flesh. Of course he did!  No one chooses suffering and difficulties.  But the Lord’s answer to him was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In our weakness we find that we must to rely on God, and so God’s power reaches it consummation and goal.  God’s power is the power of the resurrection of Jesus.  It the life that has begun in Christ and now is shared with us by the Spirit.  It is the life that will find its final outcome when Jesus raises our bodies from the dead on the Last Day, and transforms them to be like him.

Just after our text Paul adds: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  In our weakness we trust in the strength of God revealed in Jesus Christ’s resurrection. 

The apostle said something very similar to the Philippians when he wrote, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” This is followed by the famous verse in Philippians 4:13 which is often translated as, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  This very smooth translation gives the false impression that the apostle is saying God’s strengthening power enables us to do anything.  Instead, a more accurate translation is, “I have strength with respect to all things in the One who strengthens me.” The “all things” are the plenty and hunger, abundance and need that Paul has just mentioned. The apostle says that through God who strengthens him, he has the ability to live with all the things that occur in life.

The Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Paul’s conclusion drawn from this is, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The apostle’s inspired words teach us that Jesus Christ the risen Lord is the source of power and strength for our lives. The One who became sin for us to reconcile us to God died on the cross.  But on the third day, God raised him from the dead by the work of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Christ – is the resurrection power at work in us.  In the midst of weaknesses, hardships, and challenges we find that we do not have the strength to cope. Instead, like Paul, we rely and trust on the power of God – the power of Christ – present in our life through the Spirit.

If we are to live in this way, then we must focus our lives on those ways – those means – by which the Spirit of Christ comes to us. We must make God’s Word a center piece of our life. We need to be reading Scripture during the week, for the Spirit who inspired those words uses them as the means by which he gives us the strength that can only find in Christ.  We need to be dwelling in faith on our baptism as we think about the promises God has attached to water and the Word.  And of course, we need to be coming to the Divine Service to receive the word of absolution; to hear God’s Word proclaimed to us; and especially, to receive the true body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar which is food for the new man.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The weakness of our life is where we find God at work to give us power and strength.  We know this is true because God has given us forgiveness in the death of Jesus Christ. We know this is true because God raised Jesus from the dead, and the Spirit who did that is now at work in you the baptized child of God. The resurrection life of Jesus is at work in you now to give you power and strength in the midst of weakness. And our Lord will destroy all of your weakness when he raises you up on the Last Day. 


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Commemoration of Philipp Melanchthon, Confessor


Today we remember and give thanks to God for Philip Melanchthon, Confessor.   Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) was a brilliant student of the classics and a humanist scholar. In 1518 he was appointed to teach along with Martin Luther at the University of Wittenberg. At Luther's urging, Melanchthon began teaching theology and Scripture in addition to his courses in classical studies. In April of 1530, Emperor Charles V called an official meeting between the representative of Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism, hoping to effect a meeting of minds between two opposing groups. Since Luther was at that time under papal excommunication and an imperial ban, Melanchthon was assigned the duty of being the chief Lutheran representative at this meeting. He is especially remembered and honored as the author of the Augsburg Confession, which was officially presented by the German princes to the emperor on June 25, 1530.  It is the defining confessional document of Lutheranism.

 Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, we praise You for the service of Philipp Melanchthon to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church in the renewal of its life in fidelity to Your Word and promise.  Raise up in these gray and latter days faithful teachers and pastors, inspired by Your Spirit, whose voice will give strength to Your Church and proclaim the ongoing reality of Your kingdom; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


(Treasury of Daily Prayer, 1214-1215)


Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Commemoration of Philemon and Onesimus


Today we remember and give thanks for Philemon and Onesimus.  Philemon was a prominent first-century Christian who owned a slave named Onesimus. Although the name "Onesimus" means "useful," Onesimus proved himself "useless" when he ran away from his master and perhaps even stole from him (Philemon 18).  Somehow Onesimus came into contact with the apostle Paul while the latter was in prison, and through Paul's proclamation of the Gospel he became a Christian. After confessing to the apostle that he was a runaway slave, he was directed by Paul to return to his master and become "useful" again. In order to help pave the way for Onesimus' peaceful return home, Paul sent him on his way with a letter addressed to Philemon, a letter in which he urged Philemon to forgive his slave for having run away and "to receive him as you would receive me" (v. 17), "no longer as a slave, but as a beloved brother" (v. 16). The letter bears witness to the power of the Gospel as it unites people in Christ and forges the one people of God and was eventually recognized by the Church as one of the books of the New Testament.

Collect of the Day:

Lord God, heavenly Father, You sent Onesimus back to Philemon as a brother in Christ, freeing him from his slavery to sin through the preaching of the apostle Paul.  Cleanse the depths of sin within our souls and bid resentment cease for past offenses, that, by your mercy, we may be reconciled to our brothers and sisters and our lives will reflect your peace; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


(Treasury of Daily Prayer, 1211-1212)


Monday, February 14, 2022

Mark's thoughts: "Love" in the Commemoration of Valentine, and Valentine's Day


Sometimes history is messy – the facts aren’t as clear as we would like.  Monday, February 14 is the Commemoration of Valentine, or as the world knows it, “Valentine’s Day.”  There is in fact evidence for two individuals named Valentine.  The first was a Roman priest who was martyred around 269 A.D. under the Emperor Claudius, for whom a basilica was built on the Flaminian Way where it meets Rome.  The second was a Roman bishop from Interamna (modern day Terni) who is also said to have been martyred in 269 A.D. while visiting Rome.  A basilica was built for him in Terni on the same Flaminian road.


Unfortunately, the other available evidence of martyrologies (list of martyrs) and hagiographies (biography of an ancient Christian) are contradictory and contain information that is historically questionable.  Included among these are the claims that Valetine secretly performed Christian marriages and provided hearts cut from parchment as a reminder of the marriage vows and God’s love.  Another says that he left a note for the child of his jailer that was written on a piece of irregularly shaped parchment. Both traditions provide a basis for aspects of Valetine’s Day as we know it. The Feast of St. Valentine became associated with romantic love during the late medieval period.


The common features shared by the two Valentines suggests that there was probably one Valentine who was martyred, and whose remains (which were very important in early and medieval Christianity) became associated with two different locations.  On the other hand, those elements that have helped give rise to today’s Valentine’s Day have a far weaker claim to historical accuracy, or developed quite late.

The Commemoration of Valentine and Valentine’s Day are both about love.  While the same word is used, the referent of that word could not be more different. The love described by Valetine’s Day is, in the final analysis, a selfish thing.  While “romantic love” may talk about love for another its real payoff is the way it makes me feel. Who does not enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling of “being in love”?  We love to be in love, because it feels good. 

The Commemoration of Valentine is about the love of Christ and the response of love worked by faith in Christ.  St. Paul wrote: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

Christ’s love was expressed in sacrificial action as he died on the cross and rose from the dead to give us forgiveness, resurrection, and eternal life.  The love for Christ shows through in the way we love others.  Jesus said at the Last Supper: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).  While this love certainly has an emotional component, it is defined by action.  As he is about to use Jesus as the ultimate example of what he means, Paul tells the Philippians, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

Even more so, this love is seen in the confession of Christ and the Gospel. It is a love that loves Christ more than one’s own life.  Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).  To love Christ is to confess him as the crucified and risen Lord.  Jesus said, “So everyone who confesses me before men, I also will confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-32). This confession is a witness.  The English word “martyr” is based on the Greek word “witness.”  A martyr is one who has given witness to Jesus Christ as Lord by dying.  He has loved Jesus more than his own life.

This was the love of Valentine.  We don’t know much about him, but it seems clear that he died as a martyr.  The Commemoration of Valentine points to the confession of Jesus Christ’s love for us.  Through the Holy Spirit, Lord’s self-sacrificial love now causes us to love others through service.  It prompts us to confess Jesus as Lord in our lives, even if that means enduring derision and suffering. We can do this because Jesus is the risen and exalted Lord who has defeated sin, Satan and death.  Jesus assures us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).











Sunday, February 13, 2022

Sermon for Septuagesima - Mt 20:1-16



                                                                                      Mt 20:1-16



          I maintain that nursing is a great profession.  Now it certainly is a calling – a true vocation.  Not everyone can do it or would want to do so.  But for those who find themselves drawn to this area, it a job that pays a good wage. There is often flexibility in scheduling.  During the years when Timothy was small, Amy only scheduled herself to work on Mondays, my day off, so that one of us was always with him.  That way she continued to earn some income, kept her skills sharp, and had a chance for adult interaction outside the home.

          And if you are a nurse, you are never going to have trouble finding a job, no matter where you go.  During the last few decades there has almost always been a shortage of nurses.  No matter where we have gone during the course of our married life, Amy has never had any problem finding a nursing position.

          That is especially true right now, for two reasons.  First, there was already a general shortage of nurses before Covid arrived on the scene.  And second, the experience with Covid has prompted some nurses to retire and others to leave the profession.  So what had been a shortage has become a crisis that has produced uncomfortable situations.

          Hospitals are having such difficulty finding nurses, that they are hiring traveling or agency nurses to supplement their own staff.  To attract these nurses and get them to come and work, hospitals pay them a much higher wage.  And so you have the situation where nurses who are on the staff of the hospital are working with these nurses.  They are doing the same job.  In many cases, the staff nurses are the ones who have to carry a heavier burden because they are the ones who know the doctors and how everything works at the hospital. 

And yet, these nurses who have been brought in on a temporary basis are often making almost three times as much money as the hospital’s own nurses.  Needless to say, that is not very fair. Nurses at the hospitals see this, and so they are leaving hospitals to go work as traveling and agency nurses, so that they too get these higher wages. Who can blame them?

An unfair pay arrangement stands at the center of our parable this morning that Jesus tells as he teaches about the kingdom of heaven – the reign of God.  Our Lord describes a situation that is absolutely not fair.  And in so doing, he teaches us a central and critical truth about the grace of God.

Our text this morning is closely connected with what has just happened at the end of the previous chapter.  Jesus had been approached by a rich young man who asked, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  Our Lord told him to keep the commandments. And when he confidently responded that he had kept all of these, and asked what he lacked, Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

The man left sorrowful because he was rich and he wasn’t willing to do this.  Jesus had found his true god. Then our Lord added, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

Now this was shocking to the disciples.  It was assumed in first century Judaism that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing – an indication that a person stood in a good relation with God.  But Jesus said instead, that wealth is a spiritual threat.  It inherently draws attention to itself as deceptively and easily it takes on the role of a god in a person’s life.

The apostles had certainly not gotten rich following Jesus.  So Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”  Our Lord acknowledged the unique position of the apostles as he said, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Jesus made it clear that they will have a distinctive role in the end times.

But before the apostles could get smug about their future, Jesus added: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  Jesus expanded the scope to include all Christians who have sacrificed for the Gospel.  They too would be blessed abundantly. Those who have it easy seem to be first right now, but in fact those who have sacrificed will receive blessing.

This should lead us to contemplate our own lives as Christians.  We do not have to worship in secret.  We do not risk imprisonment or even death for being a Christian, as our brother and sisters in Christ do in nations like China, North Korea, Pakistan and Iran. Their commitment to living the faith should encourage us to be more faithful in our own setting.  And Jesus makes it clear that God acknowledges this commitment that results in loss and hardship.  In the new creation he will bless those who have sacrificed for the sake of the Gospel. As Jesus says in the verse before our text, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Yet just as Jesus immediately qualifies the statement made about the apostles, so also in our text, he does so about the reward that will be given to those who have sacrificed for Christ. The first verse of our text is directly tied to the statement Jesus has just made about the first being last, and the last being first.  As printed in the bulletin, the English translation leaves out one important little Greek word that begins our text: “for.” It is in fact present in the ESV translation when you look it up in the Bible. Jesus says, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.”

The word “for” tells us that Jesus’ parable is explaining further what our Lord had just said.  The statement also tells us that the parable is teaching us about how the kingdom of heaven – the reign of God – works.  The basis for comparison is a land owner who goes out to hire men to work in his vineyard.  They agreed that he would pay them a denarius – the standard wage for a day’s work, and he sent them to work in his vineyard.

Now we would expect that landowner’s day was done.  But then Jesus adds, “And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went.”  After hiring the first group of workers around 6:00 a.m., the master now went out around 9:00 a.m. and hired more workers.  Note that no wage was agreed upon.  He promised to give them what was right, and they trusted him to do it.  The land owner must have had the reputation in the community for being a fair individual.

Yet the master still wasn’t done.  He went out at 12:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. to hire more workers. Finally, he did so again at 5:00 p.m.  This was only an hour before the work day ended.  And yet he hired still others and sent them to work in his vineyard.

We learn that when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.” Those who had been hired at the eleventh hour – at 5:00 p.m. – and had worked only one hour received a denarius. The workers hired at the beginning of the day were excited!  Surely, they were now going to receive more. But they too received a denarius.

When they did, they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But the master of the house responded: 

Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” And then Jesus added, “So the last will be first, and the first last.”

          Our Lord’s parable teaches us about the incredible character of God’s grace.  He the just God, is completely unfair.  And we are thankful for this.  He gives us each what we don’t deserve.  He gives us forgiveness, salvation and eternal life in spite of the fact that we are sinners who don’t deserve any of these things.

          These gifts from God are free.  But make no mistake – they had a great cost.  In the verses immediately after our text we read: And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 

‘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.’”

          Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, took your place in receiving what you deserve.  He suffered and died on the cross as he received the judgment against your sin.  He was forsaken by God the Father because of you, so that you never will be. But then, as he had told the apostles, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. In that resurrection he defeated death.  Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, you now have forgiveness and peace with God.  You have salvation and eternal life – a life that will share in Jesus’ resurrection when he returns on the Last Day.

          In our text and what precedes it we find the paradoxical truth that God will bless those who suffer for the Gospel, and yet all receive forgiveness and salvation for the same reason – as a gracious gift from God that they don’t deserve. We are called to take up the cross and follow Jesus in whatever form God determines.  God understands and knows what we suffer on account of Christ and he has promised that he will bless in the new creation for this. But faith, forgiveness, and salvation are themselves an unmerited gift. The life long Christian who suffers for the Gospel and the death bed conversion receive the same thing. This not unfair, because neither individual deserves salvation. Both have received it purely as a gift from God.  God acts on the basis of grace – his undeserved loving favor which he has shown to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

          And now God calls us to deal with others on the basis of this same grace.  Not only does Jesus teach us to pray to our Father, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” but in the very first words after the Lord’s Prayer he goes on to add: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 

but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

          Remember, when things run in the way of God’s reign, the last will be first, and the first last.  God has done this for you by giving you forgiveness.  Through the work of the Spirit this grace now runs our lives as well as we forgive others – even those who won’t admit that they have done wrong.  God has called us to faith in Christ.  He has given us what we did not deserve – forgiveness and life. Because he has, we give this same forgiveness to all around us.  We live as those who have received the kingdom of heaven – the reign of God – in Christ Jesus.