Sunday, July 30, 2023

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity - Mt 7:15-23


Trinity 8

                                                                                      Mt 7:15-23



          David Koresh was the spiritual leader of the Branch Davidians, the group that was located near Waco, TX.  Koresh was not the founder of the group, but he managed to advance himself into the position of leadership over time.  He was able to do this because he had a persuasive personality that was grounded in the confidence that he was God’s chosen instrument.  Koresh combined this with a prodigious knowledge of Scripture – reportedly he had large portions of it memorized.

          Koresh taught the Branch Davidians that their compound was the Davidic kingdom and that it would be at the center of God’s end time work.  He predicted that this would be a great conflagration which would fulfill the Book of Revelation. The Branch Davidians prepared for this by amassing a large arsenal of weapons and ammunition.

          Koresh led the Branch Davidians to believe that he was a manifestation of God – a Messiah figure predicted for the Last Days.  As such, he claimed to have a special authority.  In time he said that all marriages in the group were dissolved and that all the women could be his “wives.” 

          Eventually the ATF investigated the illegal weapons possessed by the Branch Davidians and launched a raid in 1993 that resulted in a gun battle in which four agents were killed.  The raid was a failure and a 51 day stand off ensued.  Eventually the FBI’s attempt to breach the compound and end the situation resulted in a fire that killed 79 Branch Davidians – including many children.  Koresh himself died of a gunshot wound to the head.

          It’s not hard to conclude that David Koresh was a false prophet.  He is certainly a spectacular example.  But our Lord warns us in our Gospel lesson that false prophets are not always so easy to spot.  Instead, he says that they often come to us in appearances that look harmless.  Because this is so, we must be on our guard as we examine the fruit that they produce – the teaching that they share.

          Our text is found at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus has just said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” 

          In the ancient world, the gate was the entrance to a city.  It was the goal of a trip.  It was the destination.  Christ teaches us that we must be aware about the final outcome of our life.  He warns that the way that leads to destruction is wide and easy.  It’s not hard to go in the way of sin.  It’s not hard to walk in the way of the world.  And sure enough, many follow this path that leads to destruction.

          In our text, Jesus warns us about a threat that can lead us on the way to judgment.  He says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”  The danger of false prophets is that they often don’t appear to be false prophets. The David Koresh’s of the world are not hard to spot – he was a nut job who said a place outside of Waco, TX was the center of God’s end time plan. But the false prophets Jesus describes are far more deceptive.  They have the appearance of being harmless, when in fact they are spiritually deadly.

          How then do we recognize false prophets?  Jesus says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.”  You can look at what they produce and this will reveal their character. Jesus goes on to say, “Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.”

          Our translation says “diseased tree,” but in Greek it is really a different word for bad.  You want to know what a bad tree looks like?  It’s a sweetgum tree.  Any of you who have had the misfortune of having one of these on your property will know what I mean.

          By all appearances the sweet gum tree looks like a good tree.  It grows well and quickly.  It gives shade. But the “fruit” that it produces is a prickly, hard sphere.  And it makes lots of them.  They serve no purpose for us. They are ugly. They are a pain to rake up and take away. They make you sorry the tree is there.

Jesus warns about false prophets: “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”  The fruit a false prophet produces is his teaching. It is the teaching, and in turn the results that this produces in the lives of those who receive it.

Our world is filled with false prophets.  They appear to be harmless because they are found among those who identify themselves as “church.”  They talk about love and acceptance and what could be better than that?  But what they accept breaks the God’s law.  They lead people on a path to destruction.

We live in a world that says you can use sexuality in any way that you want.  But it’s not merely the world.  There are churches who openly embrace and promote this.  They fly the rainbow flag as they advertise that they accept homosexuality.  They accept the belief that a man can be a woman, and a woman can be a man.

And at the same time, there is an even more insidious false prophecy.  It is the false prophecy of action when a church no longer cares whether people are breaking the Sixth Commandment. This is announced not with a rainbow flag, but with a wedding ceremony.  The man and woman living together are married in the church as if cohabitation was a good and God pleasing thing.

This is nothing new.  It is old as Israel.  Jeremiah complains about the false prophets in our Old Testament lesson. He says, “They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

Simply speaking the name of Christ does not make one a Christian.  Jesus says in our text, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  He says that people who claimed to have done things in Jesus’ name will be in for a surprise when Christ says, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

What matters then is doing the will of the Father.  What is the will of the Father?  It is to repent and believe in the One he has sent.  Jesus began his ministry by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  He came to call sinners to repentance. 

Jesus calls us to repentance.  The problem with Sixth Commandment false prophets is that they fail to listen to God’s Word.  They ignore the parts of Scripture that contradict our culture.  Yet we must be careful that we are not doing the same thing in other areas.  We must listen to the whole Law of God. 

Just before our text Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Christ summarizes the second table of the Law with his statement that we are to treat others the way we want to be treated.  But do we?  Do we defend the reputation of others?  Do we explain things in the kindest way?

Do we condemn those who break the Sixth Commandment, while at the same time breaking it ourselves in other ways?  You think homosexuality is sinful.  Well and good.  But do you look at the pornography in which the internet is awash?  Do you pursue lustful thoughts, ignoring the fact Jesus states in the Sermon on the Mount, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Doing the will of the Father requires us to confess the sin in our life.  And then we believe in the One he has sent. The angel told Joseph that Mary would give birth to a Son who would “save his people from their sins.” That is why the Father sent the Son into the world.  Jesus came as the perfect substitute who died in our place.  That is the role that he took on in his baptism.  Christ suffered and died on the cross as he received God’s judgment against our sin.  He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” as he bore God’s wrath that should have been ours.

Our sin brought judgment and death to Christ.  But that was not the end.  Buried in a tomb, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  By his resurrection Jesus has defeated death. His resurrection is the beginning of the resurrection that will be ours on the Last Day.  Because Jesus has been raised we know that we have forgiveness and eternal life now, even as we look for our Lord’s return in glory and the resurrection he will share with us.

Already now this victory is ours.  Baptized into Christ we are the forgiven children of God.  The Spirit has made us a new creation. Therefore we receive Jesus words as the way we want to live.  Immediately after our text, Jesus concludes the Sermon by saying, Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”

          By explaining the Law, Christ has taught us about how God has ordered his creation.  He has taught us how to live well – to live the life God intended. We will never be able to this perfectly, but through the work of the Spirit it is our goal to live in this way more and more.  This is the fruit produced by the Spirit within us.

          Jesus warns us this morning, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”  False prophets come in ways that appear harmless and even helpful.  But they are temptations to enter through the wide gate and easy way that leads to destruction. 

          In our world some who claim to be church are false prophets as they accept behavior that breaks the Sixth Commandment. They ignore what God’s Word says in order to embrace the easy way of our culture.  This way leads to judgment and destruction.

          Christ calls us to test all teaching against the Word of God.  We test the teaching, and also test our own lives to see the sin that is present.  We do the will of the Father as we confess this sin and turn in faith to Christ.  And then through the Spirit’s continuing work in the baptized we seek to listen to Christ’s word and to do it.








Sunday, July 23, 2023

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity - Mk 8:1-9


Trinity 7

                                                                            Mk 8:1-9



          How could they not remember?  That’s the first question that arises as we listen to our Gospel lesson this morning.  It’s not as if the disciples had never faced this before.  Today’s text involves a large crowd and the need to feed them.  But this is actually the second time they have encountered this situation.

          In chapter six we learn that a great crowd had gathered to hear Jesus.  When he saw them, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  So Jesus taught them.  He taught all day long.

          When it was getting late the disciples came to Jesus. They pointed out that it was a desolate place and the hour was late. They told Jesus to send the crowd away to the surrounding villages to buy food. But Jesus had another idea.  He told them, “You give them something to eat.”

          The disciples protested that the cost was too much. They couldn’t possibly buy food for this many people. So our Lord had them check and see how much food they had.  There were five loaves of bread and two fish.  Jesus took the food, blessed it, and gave it to the disciples. They gave it to the people, and in a miracle the food never ran out until all were fed.  Jesus used the five loaves of bread and two fish to feed more than five thousand people.

          Our text this morning refers to that prior event as it begins, “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat.”  Mark introduces the event in a way that immediately calls to mind the feeding of the five thousand.

          While there are similarities to the prior feeding, there are also differences. This time Jesus initiates the conversation as he calls the disciples and says to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” The people had been listening to Jesus for three days and any food they had with them was exhausted.  Our Lord saw this, and he had compassion on them.

          When Jesus raised this concern, the disciples responded, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”  Instead of the cost, this time the disciples pointed out that they were not in a location where it was possible to buy food.  Apparently, it never occurred to them that they had faced this situation before, and that Jesus was the answer.

          Once again Jesus asked how many loaves they had. He told the crowd sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, and when he had given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples.  He also blessed a few small fish and gave them as well. Once again Jesus worked a miracle as the bread and fish satisfied the crowd which numbered four thousand.  In fact, there was such an abundance that seven baskets of left overs were gathered up.

The obtuse response by the disciples is actually not entirely surprising.  Immediately after feeding the five thousand, Jesus had the disciples return across the Sea of Galilee in a boat, while he dismissed the crowd.  Later when the disciples were facing a difficult wind, Christ came to them walking on the water. He got into the boat and the wind ceased. Then Mark tells us, “And they were utterly astounded,

for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”

          Their hearts were hardened so that they didn’t understand what the feeding miracle revealed about Jesus. Yet that is not the end of references to their hardened heart. Immediately after our text, the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign from heaven in order to test him.  Christ rejects their unbelief and has the disciples get into a boat.  We learn that they brought only one loaf of bread with them. 

          Jesus said, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”  But rather than understanding Jesus’ reference to the teaching and influence of the Pharisees, the disciples began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 

Jesus said, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” Then Jesus had them review what had happened when they were with the five thousand and with the four thousand in our text.  He reminded them about how many baskets of left overs had remained each time.

The disciples didn’t recognize that Jesus was the answer because their hearts were hardened.  Although they had seen his miracles, they did not understand who Jesus is.  Because this was so they failed to trust in Jesus to provide yet again. 

The disciples’ response alerts us to the danger of forgetting who Jesus is – of forgetting what he means for us. 

When troubles and difficult circumstances like illness strike our life, it is easy to lose sight of Christ.  It is easy to focus on the problems and fail to trust Jesus to care and provide for us.

          Jesus provided bread in a desolate place.  This reminds us of how God provided manna – bread from heaven – to Israel as he brought them through the wilderness to the promised land.  This was part of God’s mighty action to fulfill the promise that he had made to Abraham to give his descendants the land.

          God’s saving action with Israel pointed forward to the even greater salvation that God would provide in Jesus Christ.  Our Lord’s second feeding miracle is part of his ministry to bring the kingdom of God – the reign of God.  Jesus has compassion on the people.  But he does more than just feel for them.  He also has the power to do something about it.  He uses seven loaves of bread and a few fish to feed four thousand people.

          All of Jesus’ miracles point to the culmination of his ministry.  In this same chapter we learn, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”  Jesus said that he had come to die.  He had come to give his life as a ransom for many.  He had come to redeem us from sin – to free us from its slavery.

          In the miracle in our text, Jesus uses what seems insignificant.  In the face of four thousand hungry people, he has before him seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. Yet because of who he is, this is more than enough to feed them and have left overs remaining.

          Jesus’ death on the cross seemed to be insignificant.  It appeared to be the death of one more Jew who was crushed by the might of the Roman Empire.  The sight of a man dying in helpless agony hardly looked like God’s mighty work.  However, because we know who Jesus is, we are able to understand what was really happening.

          The One on the cross was a man.  But he was not just a man.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary he is also the Son of God.  He is true God and true man.  As true man, Jesus stands in our place.  As true God his life is a sacrifice for our sin that provides forgiveness.

          It didn’t look that way on Good Friday.  Just as the disciples failed to understand who Jesus is in our text, so they did not understand when Jesus died.  But on the third day God vindicated Jesus as he raised him from the dead.  The risen Lord appeared to the disciples and demonstrated that he was alive.  In these encounters they came to understand who Jesus really is. They came to understand what Jesus means for us in the midst of every circumstance.

          The disciples hearts may have been hardened during our Lord’s ministry.  They didn’t understand who Jesus was. But the resurrection changed everything.  In the resurrection they came to understand exactly who Jesus is.  And they would never forget it.  They became Jesus’ witnesses who have shared him with us. 

          In our text, Jesus gives the food to the disciples and the disciples give it to the people.  As Christ’s apostles, they have done the same thing for us. They have received the Gospel from Jesus and have given it to us.  They met the risen Lord and shared him with us.  The apostles have acted as his authorized representatives who have revealed Jesus and the miracles that he performed in their midst.

          Through their word Jesus has called us to faith.  In order to sustain us in faith, Christ continues to work a miracle in our midst every Sunday.  This miracle partakes of the same character as Jesus on the cross. He uses what appears to be insignificant means – just like the seven loaves of bread seemed to be completely incapable of feeding the four thousand people. 

          In that miracle he used bread and fish to feed a great crowd.  In the Sacrament of the Altar he uses bread and wine to give us his true body and blood.  He places into our mouth the very price he paid for our salvation – his body and blood given and shed for us.  Though the means appear to be insignificant, Jesus’ word causes it to be what he says.  His word causes it to be far more than it appears, just as Jesus on the cross was far more than he appeared.

          Jesus does this to strengthen and sustain us in faith. He does this because his call to receive the Sacrament reminds us about who he is in our life. He is the Lord who suffered and died for us, and then rose from the dead.  Because he has done this for us, we can trust our Lord to care for us no matter what may be happening in our life.  We can entrust our present to him, even as we know that our future promises resurrection and eternal life with God.














Sunday, July 16, 2023

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity - Mt 5:20-26


Trinity 6

                                                                                       Mt 5:20-26



          It was an amazing story – almost too good to be true.  In 2003 the nineteen year old Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford University to found the company Theranos.  Holmes had an aversion to needles growing up, and her idea was to develop a machine that could run a whole series of tests using a very small amount of blood.

          It was an attractive concept and Homes proved to be very persuasive as she was able to raise more than $700 million dollars from venture capitalists and investors.  Her Silicon Valley located company went public and at its peak in 2014 the company was valued at $10 billion dollars.  Because of her stock in the company, Holmes was personally worth $4.5 billion dollars.  She was lauded as a genius entrepreneur and for almost a decade was a media darling.

          There is a saying that is often applied to the practice of Silicon Valley companies: “Fake it until you make it.”  Companies make claims about what they will do in order to raise investment in the hopes that eventually they really will be able to deliver. 

          It turned out that this is literally what Holmes and Theranos were doing.  Their machine did not work, and they were faking results in order to give the impression that it did.  The company might have been valued at $10 billion, but the reality was that it was worth nothing.

          In 2015 the whole scheme was exposed and by 2018 the company had shut down.  Holmes went from being worth billions of dollars to being worth nothing.  Worse yet, she was found guilty of wire fraud and was sentenced to eleven years in a Federal Prison Camp.

          Holmes appeared to be worth a fortune, but in reality she was worth nothing.  In our Gospel lesson today we hear about the Pharisees.  They appear to possess great righteousness. But we learn that because it is not based in Jesus, their righteousness is really worth nothing.

          Our text this morning is found in our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus has begun the sermon by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The poor in spirit are those who humbly acknowledge their spiritual status.  They are those who know their sin and confess it before God.

          You are the poor in spirit.  You just confessed this at the beginning of the Divine Service.  You said that you are a poor, miserable sinner who confesses all your sins. You acknowledged before God that you deserve nothing but his present and eternal punishment.  You admitted that you have nothing to bring to God – you have not merit that you can offer before him.

          Jesus says you are poor in spirit.  But the good news is that he says that you are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is yours. The “kingdom of heaven” is a Jewish way of saying “kingdom of God.”  It describes the reign of God that that arrived in Jesus.  Our Lord began his ministry by declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

          Jesus said that in his person the reign of God had arrived. It had arrived and Jesus was the means by which God would defeat sin and death.  Jesus brought God’s reign as died on the cross.  He said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  By his sacrifice Jesus received God’s judgment against our sin.  Dead and buried in a tomb, he rose on the third day in order to defeat death.

          You are poor in spirit. But Jesus says that you are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is yours. Baptized into Jesus’ death you have received God’s saving reign and belong to him.  Only in Jesus is this forgiveness and salvation possible.

          This truth helps us to understand our Lord’s statement at the beginning of our text: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  The beginning of the sermon has already taught us that entering the kingdom of heaven is not about what we do.  It is in fact a gift that is provided in Christ, not something that is earned by achieving a certain level of righteousness.

          Now the Pharisees certainly appeared to be righteous.  They lived according to an understanding of the Torah which in some ways went over and beyond. They required that rules intended for priests be followed by ordinary Jews.  They followed this tradition of the elders and they presented themselves as being pious. 

          However, Jesus will say later about the Pharisees, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others.”  We get a picture of what this looked like in the next chapter.  Jesus says about prayer, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

          The Pharisees wanted to appear righteous before others.  They wanted this to give them status.  But Jesus says that in fact their righteousness is worth nothing.  It is worth nothing because they are rejecting Jesus who is the only true source of righteousness.

          Our Lord says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  The good news is that the way a person has more righteousness than the Pharisees is by having more Jesus than the Pharisees.  Faith in Jesus the crucified and risen Lord provides the righteousness that counts before God.  Baptized believers already have the reign of God now. They possess it now and because they do they know that death has been defeated.  Nothing can take the kingdom of heaven away from them.

          You have received the reign of God in Christ Jesus.  This means that we now listen to our Lord as he teaches us about how to live as God’s children.  Jesus says in our text, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’”  In this and five others that follow, our Lord takes up teaching that was common at his time. 

          The meaning here seems quite straightforward. Murder should be punished.  Yet then Jesus says, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Our Lord teaches us that anger is the source of murder, and that the presence of anger breaks the Fifth Commandment.  This commandment is not only about physical harm done to our neighbor. Instead, anger in our heart brings God’s judgment. 

Now we want to hold onto anger.  We like to speak about “righteous anger.”  Because we have been wronged, we think that we have the right to be angry.  But Jesus teaches us something very different.  He says that anger brings God’s judgment.

Our anger always get twisted up with sin.  James warns us, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  Our anger is sinful and does not produce what God considers to be righteous.  It only generates more sin.

Our response to anger is to turn away from it rather than seeking to kindle it.  Paul told the Ephesians, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”  We cannot view anger as a good thing in our life.  We are fallen people and so incidents will cause the feeling of anger.  But when this occurs we cannot give in to this feeling by embracing and nurturing it.

Instead of anger, Jesus teaches us to be reconciled.  Our Lord says in our text, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Reconciliation sometimes requires us to confess where we have sinned.  It also means that we must forgive those who have wronged us.  How can we do this?  Here we return the manner in which Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  You are forgiven because the kingdom of heaven is yours. This means that now you share this forgiveness with others. The Holy Spirit who had worked faith in you leads and enables you to forgive as you continue to receive forgiveness through the Means of Grace.

This is true of our dealings with all people.  But it is especially true of the Christians who gather in this place. It is true of your family and friends here at Good Shepherd. 

We gather here every Sunday to receive the true body and blood of Christ given and shed for us.  In the Sacrament of the Altar we receive the forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross.  Jesus gives his body and blood to you, and to everyone else who communes.  In doing so he unites us as the Body of Christ.  He joins us together in the Sacrament of Unity.

Anger and division cannot be present at the Sacrament.  You cannot refuse to forgive another; you cannot refuse to be reconciled to another even as you commune with him or her at the altar. Instead, our Lord says that we are to be reconciled. We are to forgive one another so that we can commune together as the forgiven people of God.  We are forgiven people who forgive because we have received the saving reign of God in Christ Jesus.

In our text today we learn that our righteousness must exceed the Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.  At first this sounds like an impossible task.  But the Pharisee’s righteousness was not based on Jesus.  What we need is not more of our own righteousness, but more Jesus.

The good news is that you have already received this through baptism and faith. The kingdom of heaven is yours in Christ Jesus.  You have forgiveness and the assurance of eternal life with God.  Because this is so we resist the urge to give in to anger.  Instead, we forgive and seek to be reconciled with others.      





Sunday, July 2, 2023

Sermon for the Feast of the Visitation - Lk 1:39-45



Lk 1:39-45



          What kind of reception would Mary get?  The thought had to weigh on Mary’s mind as she made her way from Galilee to Judea.  Mary’s trip had been prompted by remarkable circumstances to say the least.  The angel Gabriel had appeared to Mary. She had told her that she was going to give birth to the Messiah. Gabriel had announced, “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."

Of course as a virgin who was betrothed but not yet married, this did not seem possible. However, Gabriel had told 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.”  Mary would conceive through the work of the Holy Spirit, and she would give birth to the Son of God.

          Then Gabriel had gone on to explain, “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.”  This too was amazing news.  Faithful Elizabeth had never been able to have a child, and now was too old to have one.  But Mary learned that God had acted to bless her with a child.

          This was joyous news!  And so Mary went with haste to visit her relative Elizabeth.  She went to celebrate Elizabeth’s pregnancy, but she had to wonder what kind of reception she would get if she shared her news.  Should she tell Elizabeth about her own pregnancy?  After all Mary was not married.  It certainly looked like she had broken the Sixth Commandment.  Would Elizabeth believe what Mary had to say about the pregnancy?

          Any concern that Mary had was immediately removed.  We learn that Mary entered the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  She greeted Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s child John leaped in her womb. Then Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

          Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. This means that the Holy Spirit caused her to make an inspired pronouncement.  She addressed Mary as the mother of her Lord, and explained that the child in her womb had leaped for joy because he was in the presence of Mary’s child.

          Elizabeth did not know that John was already fulfilling the words that Gabriel had spoken to Zechariah when he announced that John would be born. Gabriel had said that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.  He had said that John would go before the Lord to make ready a people prepared.  Even in the womb, John was already the instrument of the Holy Spirit bearing witness to Jesus.

          Rather than condemning Mary or raising questions, Elizabeth provided a Spirit inspired acknowledgment of Mary and her child.  Then she concluded by saying, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  She praised Mary who had believed the Lord’s word.

          Today we are celebrating the Visitation, as Mary went to see Elizabeth.  On the surface, this event is about Mary and Elizabeth.  But in truth, it’s really about Jesus and John meeting for the first time.  Even before birth, John is carrying out his role of bearing witness to Christ. And this points forward to the key role that John will play for Jesus.

          Jesus and John would meet again some thirty years later.  John would prepare the way for Christ by proclaiming a baptism of repentance.  He would be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 

John called people to repent because God’s judgment was coming.  He was preparing the way for One more powerful than he.  John proclaimed, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Then Jesus came to John to be baptized by him.  The Spirit descended upon Jesus as a dove and God the Father said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  With these words God identified Jesus as the Servant of the Lord.  At his baptism Jesus stepped into the place of sinful humanity. He became the Servant of the Lord – the suffering Servant of Isaiah chapter 53 who received God’s judgment in our place.

Jesus met John the Baptist at the Jordan in order to take on this role.  The baptism of our Lord pointed his ministry in only one direction – towards the cross.  By his death Jesus has redeemed us from sin.  Jesus was able to die because he was true man.  He was the child of Mary, born in this world. 

Yet Jesus was more than a man.  As we hear Elizabeth say by the Spirit in our text: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  The baby in the womb of Mary was the Lord – the Son of God. The second person of the Trinity entered into our world in the incarnation.  Jesus came as the One who is true God and true man.  He came to be the sacrifice that alone could break the hold of sin.

Jesus was present in the womb of Mary as she met Elizabeth.  True God and true man, he was present in the flesh.  The Son of God had taken on humanity in order to die.  He bore our flesh in order to be the sacrifice that takes away sin.  Yet he also bore our flesh in order to do more than that.

Jesus came to die, but Jesus also came to rise from the dead.  By his resurrection our Lord has defeated death.  In his resurrection he has transformed humanity so that it can never die again.  He is the first fruits of our resurrection.  Jesus bore our flesh in order to pass through death and give us resurrection life in which we will never die again.  He has begun this in his own resurrection, and will give us a share in it when he returns in glory on the Last Day.

In our text, Elizabeth says, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  Mary received a word from the Lord through Gabriel.  It was a word that turned her life upside down.  Yet she believed God’s Word and trusted him.  She trusted there would be a fulfillment of the Word and in faith she believed that God was at work in her life.

This is something that we often struggle to do.  We hear God’s Word that declares his forgiveness and continuing love for us.  Yet when illness arrives, or circumstances we didn’t plan on, we struggle to trust God. Our tendency is to doubt God’s Word.  We focus on what we see in life instead of God’s promises.  In doing so we sin for we fail to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Elizabeth’s words about Mary call us back to trust in God. We follow Mary’s example because the baby in her womb grew up to die on the cross and rise from the dead.  God has revealed the death and resurrection of Christ to us. In the midst of circumstances that appeared to be failure, God was working our salvation through the cross.  We know this because Jesus rose from the dead on Easter.  This allows us to trust in God in the midst of all the circumstances we don’t understand. The resurrection of Jesus shows us that God’s Word is true – his promise to care for us will not fail.

God’s Word teaches us how we are to view our life. And it also teaches us where we are to see life. In the Visitation the pregnant Mary meets the pregnant Elizabeth.  The unborn John bears witness to the unborn Jesus by leaping for joy in the womb.  Our text shows us that those in the womb are living children.

We dwell in a state that violates this basic fact as it allows and promotes abortion.  Sadly, every week children are being killed just down the road in Carbondale.  You do not have to be a Christian to believe that life begins at conception.  The scientific facts make this point.  But as Christians we are especially committed to confessing this fact. God’s Word teaches us that Jesus and John were individual human beings in the womb. This means that every unborn child is a human being. Each is a creation of God who needs to be cared for and protected.

The Son of God cared for us by entering into the world as an unborn child in the womb.  True God and true man, he was present when Mary visited Elizabeth.  John was present too, and while still in the womb, he began his prophetic ministry.  We see in our text that two meet before they are born, and this points forward to the day when they would meet at the Jordan River. 

Through John’s baptism, Jesus began his ministry that took him to the cross to win forgiveness for us.  Yet Jesus was in the flesh in order to defeat death and transform our humanity into one that can never die again.  He has done this through his resurrection, and this resurrection gives us confidence to trust in God no matter what is happening.  In the risen Lord we find the reason that we can follow in Mary’s steps as we trust God’s Word in the midst of all circumstances.