Sunday, January 28, 2024

Sermon for Septuagesima - Ex 17:1-7



                                                                                      Ex. 17:1-7



          You and I never think about water.  We just assume that we will go to the tap in the kitchen for water to drink. We will have water for cooking. We can turn on the shower and there will be water for bathing.  The washing machine will have water for washing our clothes. During the summer we can water our flowers.  Water is simply a given in our lives.

          The only time we think about water are those rare occasions when there is a problem.  When there is a leak, we are reminded about how much we don’t like plumbing problems.  When there is a boil order, we are annoyed by the brief inconvenience.  Recently, many of us had to remember to let the faucets drip to make sure that our pipes didn’t freeze.

          However, the situation is very different in other parts of the world.  It is estimated that around 800 million people in the world do not have access to safe water.  Between two and three billion people experience water shortages for at least one month per year.  For hundreds of millions of people, acquiring water is a time consuming job that occupies each day.  People in places like Africa have to walk miles in order to get water and then carry it back home. Water is a central concern upon which life depends.

          In our Old Testament lesson we find that water was a crucial issue for the Israelites.  They had no water and the situation seemed to be life threatening.  However, rather than trusting in God they complained and put him to the test.  They questioned whether the Lord was among them or not.

          Our text begins by saying, “All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.”  It is important to recognize that the journey was made according to the Lord’s direction.  He was in charge.

          In the previous chapters the Israelites had encountered water that was not drinkable. The people had grumbled against Moses, and God had told Moses to throw a log into the water to make it drinkable.  Then when the people had no food, God had begun to give manna in order to feed them.  The Lord had provided for their needs.

          Now the people had no water.  Yet rather than trusting Yahweh to provide, they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”  Moses was not just any individual.  He was the one Yahweh had used to bring Israel out of slavery in Egypt. After God brought Israel through the Red Sea we are told, “Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.”

          Quarreling with Moses was rejecting God.  Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” However, the people chose to ignore what God had just done for them.  The people were thirsty and so they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

          The real issue here is not water.  It is a question of whether Yahweh was with them.  We hear at the end of our text, “And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?” 

          Yahweh had delivered them from Egyptian slavery in the Passover.  He had rescued them from the Egyptian army by bringing them through the Red Sea.  He was providing manna for the people to eat.  And yet, when faced with this new challenge the people questioned whether Yahweh was among them. In fact they quarreled with Moses and grumbled against him because they believed he was not.

          Yahweh had allowed this circumstance to arise. It was a moment when Israel was called to faith in God.  It was an opportunity for them to trust that God was with them, and that he would continue to provide as he had in the past. But Israel failed to trust. They failed to believe that Yahweh was among them.

          This experience is not unique to Israel.  It is something that we face as well.  We encounter times when we need to trust the Lord.  Health problems bring hardship to life and we wonder how long we will have to deal with these things.  Financial concerns cause worry and uncertainty. Questions about employment and other decisions in life produce anxiety.

          God allowed Israel to encounter the circumstance of no water.  He did it so that the people would be called to faith.  God allows the situations I have just mentioned for the same reason.  They become occasions that call us to trust in God.  They lead us to turn away from ourselves and toward him.

          We don’t want to hear it, but this is something that we need.  The old Adam in us doesn’t want to trust in God.  He wants to rely on himself.  He wants to ignore God and sail through life.

          God uses these circumstances to crucify the old Adam in us.  He uses them to force us to turn away from ourselves and towards him.  He leads us toward himself. We recognize as parents that sometimes the best thing for our children is not what they want.  Sometimes situations they don’t want are the best things for them in order to help them grow and develop.

Scripture teaches us that God acts like a father.  Proverbs says, “My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”  The writer to the Hebrews quotes this text and then adds: “Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.”

Israel was facing one of these moments as they questioned whether God was with them. They quarreled with Moses and he said to Yahweh, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”  God told Moses to take his staff.  This was the staff with which Moses had struck the Nile Rivers as God turned it into blood.  It was the staff he had lifted up when God parted the Red Sea.

Yahweh told Moses, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”  God said that he would be present and would demonstrate this fact.  He had Moses strike the rock with his staff, and water came forth for the people.  The people had tested God saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”  God had shown them again that he was.

Is the Lord among us or not?  It is the question that confronts us when we experience challenges and difficulties.  God has answered this question once and for all in an eternal way.  During Christmas we celebrated the fact that God sent his Son into the world.  The angel told Joseph, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  Then Matthew tells us, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’(which means, God with us).”

          Jesus Christ is Immanuel.  He is God with us.  He was God with us as he entered his baptism in order take our sins upon himself.  He made his way to the cross in order to be the sacrifice for us.  Peter tells us in his first letter that we were “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”  Because of Jesus’ death, you have the forgiveness of your sins. You are forgiven for the times you have failed to trust in God.

          Buried in death, God raised Jesus up on the third day.  Through Christ’s resurrection God defeated death forever.  Peter said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

          The risen Lord declared that all authority in heaven and earth have been given to him.  Then he promised his disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Ascended and exalted into heaven Jesus Christ is still Immanuel – God with us.  He has poured forth his Spirit who has called us to faith in the waters of baptism and now sustains us as the children of God.  The life giving Spirit is the presence of the risen Lord among us. He comes to us through the Word he inspired as we hear the good news about Jesus.

          And our Lord continues to be among us in a tangible way. The Lord is still the incarnate One.  He is still true God and true man.  In the Sacrament of the Altar he comes into our midst bodily as he gives us his true body and blood to eat and to drink. Through this body and blood he delivers the forgiveness that he won on the cross. Here he feeds the new man so that we are strengthened in faith.

          Is the Lord among us or not? Yes he is.  God has revealed the presence of his love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  Christ continues to be with us through His Spirit and Means of Grace.  In Christ we find the demonstration of God’s love and care.  Because of Christ we find that we can trust and believe in God no matter what is happening.

          We do this as we walk by faith.  But in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus we have the promise that the walk of faith will become one of sight.  John wrote, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”  We trust and believe in the Lord who will return in glory on the Last Day.  The Lord is among us now, and we look forward to the day when we will share forever in his resurrection.













Sunday, January 21, 2024

Sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord - Mt 17:1-9



                                                                                       Mt 17:1-9



          And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”  Our text begins by telling us that the trip up the mountain occurred “after six days.”  The natural question is, “Six days after what?”  It is an important question because it is only by looking back that we can understand the events in our text.

          We learn that when Jesus and the disciples came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus asked them the really important question as he said: “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus praised Peter as he said that Father had revealed this to him.

          Then Matthew tells us, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  Our Lord had just been confessed as the Christ.  Now he said that he was going to suffer and die.

          This was too much for Peter.  First century Jews had a number of different expectations about the Christ.  The one thing they all had in common was that the Christ would be mighty, powerful, and victorious.  Peter took Jesus aside and said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”  However, Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

          Jesus had spoken about his suffering and death. Peter had objected to this. So Jesus went on to say that suffering and death was not something that was only true of him. He told his disciples, “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.”

          Our Lord had said that he would suffer and die.  He had told the disciples that following him would mean suffering and even death. This was not exactly an encouraging message!  So in our text Jesus leads Peter, James, and John up by themselves on a high mountain.

          There Jesus was transfigured.  His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.  At Christmas we celebrated the mystery of the incarnation, as the Son of God became man.  He became man, but he did not cease to be God.  He was – and still is – true God and true man.  At the transfiguration Christ revealed his divine glory as true God.

          While our Lord was transfigured, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus.  Moses and Elijah had both encountered Yahweh at Mt. Sinai.  Now they appeared on a mountain speaking with Jesus as the Son of God shines in glory.

          Always ready to speak first, Peter said, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  Peter suggested that he should make the kind of booths that were made for the celebration of Tabernacles. 

          Yet while Peter was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them.  A voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  The bright cloud indicated God’s presence.  The voice of God the Father directed their attention to Jesus.  Peter’s statement seemed to place Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah.  However, the Father’s voice clearly indicated that all of their focus should be given to Jesus.

          The disciples were terrified by the voice and fell on their faces.  However, Jesus came up and touched them saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” When they lifted up their eyes they saw no one but Jesus.  They then began making their way down the mountain and Jesus commanded the disciples, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

          Six days earlier Peter had correctly confessed that Jesus was the Christ.  He had said that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise to send rescue and salvation for his people.  He was the One of whom Isaiah had said, “but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”

          Yet Jesus had then said that he was going to suffer and die.  How could this be?  Peter certainly didn’t understand as he tried to correct our Lord. But Jesus had rebuked him saying he was the voice of Satan.  Jesus had declared that the things of God were directed toward his suffering and death.

          Jesus has just spoken of his suffering and death.  Now he shines with divine glory.  The transfiguration of Jesus shows us that his suffering and death does not mean the absence of God.  Suffering and death is not a contradiction of God’s saving work.  Instead, it is the very way in which God accomplishes it.

The Father’s words should sound familiar. We heard them two Sundays ago at the Baptism of Our Lord. We saw then that these words refer to Isaiah chapter 42 where God says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him.”

          At Jesus’ baptism he was designated as the Servant of the Lord.  The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah is also the suffering Servant.  Jesus was identified as the One who would bear our sin.  He was the One upon whom the Lord laid the iniquity of us all.

          God the Father sent the Son into the world to bear our sin.  He did this in love because often we do not love him.  He did this in love because often we do not love those around us. We selfishly turn inward as we focus on me, myself, and I.  We put ourselves before God and our neighbor. 

At his baptism Jesus took up our sin in order to be the sacrifice on the cross.  The apostle Paul tells us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Jesus received God’s wrath and judgment in our place as he hung on the cross.  By his death he has redeemed us from sin – he has freed us from its power.

Jesus has just predicted his Passion. God the Father again speaks the words that identified him as the sin bearer – the One who would be the sacrifice for us.  Yet this occurs as Jesus stands there transfigured.  He reveals his divine nature as he shines in glory.

The glory of the transfiguration points forward to Christ’s resurrection.  It shows us what awaits on the other side of the cross.  Christ died on the cross as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  There was nothing glorious about the cross.  It did not look like anything was happening except the tortured death of an innocent man. It did not look like God was anywhere to be found as a terrible injustice took place.

But on Easter God raised Jesus from the dead.  In this event he showed that the cross had actually been God’s most powerful action to bring us salvation. The cross was not the absence of God.  It was instead God working through his Son to give us forgiveness.  We know that because of the resurrection.  Through his action God defeated death and gave us life.

Suffering and death were not the contradiction of God’s saving work.  It was instead the way that God worked through the Son in order to give us forgiveness.  God worked through the cross, and Christ’s way of the cross led to resurrection.  It led to glory.

Christ’s cross was the means by which he won salvation for us.  But the cross is more than just the means of forgiveness.  It also describes the life of those who believe in Jesus.  When Peter objected to Jesus’ cross, our Lord went on to say, “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.”

Christ calls us to take up the cross and follow him.  He calls us to follow him, even when this involves suffering and loss.  He tells us that following him will bring suffering and loss for that is why he calls it a cross.

It is hard to confess Christ openly in this world – to let others know that you are a Christian by what you say and do.  It brings the world’s disdain.  It causes division – especially in families – because one either believes in Jesus or rejects him. There is no middle ground when it comes to faith in Christ.

Jesus declared that it would be this way.  He said, Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.” 

But we follow Jesus and take up the cross because in his resurrection he has already shown us where the way of the cross leads.  It leads to resurrection and eternal life with Christ.  It is a way in which Christ’s Spirit strengthens us in faith through his Means of Grace.  It is a way in which Christ’s resurrection gives us the living hope that sustains us as we look forward to the day when the Lord will raise us up as well.

Jesus Christ shines forth in divine glory this morning.  He does so after predicting his Passion for the first time.  The glory of the transfiguration points forward to Christ’s resurrection.  It shows us that suffering and death do not contradict God’s saving work.  Instead, this is the very means by which Christ won forgiveness for us. Christ passed through the cross in order to redeem us from sin.  Then he rose from the dead as he brought us life.  Confident in this we now take up the cross and follow Jesus because Christ’s resurrection has shown us that this way leads to resurrection and eternal life.        
















Sunday, January 14, 2024

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


Epiphany 2

                                                                                      Jn 2:1-11



          This past summer my niece was married.  It was, as you would expect, a big family event.  The wedding was lovely and the reception was a fun affair.  Things went well. 

          However, that does not mean there was an absence of stress.  As part of the family I saw all the behind the scenes preparations and activities. I saw the pressure that was there for things to go well.  A woman has expectations and dreams about what she wants her wedding to be like.  Parents want the day to be special for their daughter.

There are so many different aspects that go into a wedding. There is food for the wedding rehearsal dinner.  There are the flowers for the wedding and wedding reception.  There is the dress for the bride and bride maids. There are the tuxes for the groom and the rest of the wedding party. There are the details of the wedding ceremony itself.  There is the food and the timing of the wedding reception.  There is the music and the d.j.  There are many moving pieces, and those involved want them all to be just right.

In our Gospel lesson this morning we hear about a wedding where things definitely did not go just right.  Instead, there was a disaster as the wedding party ran out of wine.  However, Jesus was there and this provided the occasion when our Lord performed his first miracle that John tells us about.  In this miracle, Jesus revealed his glory.

Our text begins by telling us that on the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus was also invited to the wedding along with his disciples.  Weddings are great social events, and this one was no exception.  People had been invited from surrounding towns.

However, at the marriage feast things did not go well.  The wine ran out.  Now we like wine, but wine played a larger role in the first century world than it does in ours.  A diluted version was consumed as a regular drink.  And for celebrations, wine was essential.  It was associated with the joy of the occasion.  To run out of wine at a wedding would be the greatest possible embarrassment for the family.

When the wine ran out, Mary said to Jesus, “They have no wine.” Mary knew about the unique status of her son.  She obviously believed that he could do something about it.  However, Jesus replied, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

We are probably surprised by Jesus’ reaction.  It doesn’t sound very helpful.  However, in the word “hour” we learn that what is happening here is about more than wine.  In John’s Gospel we learn twice that those opposed to Jesus were unable to seize him “because his hour had not yet come.”  Jesus’ hour is the time of his death – the time when he accomplishes the mission that the Father had given to him.  During Holy Week Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”

Jesus would carry out his work in his own timing.  Mary trusted our Lord and so she said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  We learn that there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification. They each held twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.

Next Jesus said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” They took it to him and he tasted the water that had now become wine.  Not knowing where it came from, the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”  Jesus had turned the water into wine – and not just wine but very good wine.  Then John tells us, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

John calls Jesus’ miracle a sign. He tells us that it revealed Jesus’ glory.  We hear about this miracle on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany.  The word Epiphany means “to appear.”
At Christmas we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ as the Son of God entered into the world. During Epiphany we see that Christ’s glory began to be seen in the world.  He began to be revealed as the One who had come to bring God’s salvation. 

John said about the Son of God, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  In the incarnation of Jesus Christ God’s glory was revealed.  John tells us that the miracle was a sign by which Christ began to do this.

John narrates seven signs that Jesus performed.  The signs reveal Jesus’ glory.  But the signs point us to the paradoxical way in which our Lord finally did this.  At the beginning of Holy Week Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  As he made his way to the Garden of Gethsemane he said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son, that the Son may glorify you.”

Jesus’ hour is the hour of his death.  Jesus is glorified by his death.  He reveals his glory by dying on the cross.  Our Lord said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Then John adds, “He said this to show – literally, ‘to sign’ - by what kind of death he was going to die.

The sight of a man dying on a cross did not look glorious.  But it is in this paradox that God revealed his saving glory.  This was Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  This was God giving his Son into death in order to save us.  As John tells us in his first letter, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

This revelation of God’s saving glory is good news for us.  It is because we are sinners who need forgiveness.  John warns us in his first letter, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world.” These things infect our lives.  We are turned away toward the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the eyes, and pride in possessions.  We are enticed by the world into the way of sin.

Jesus was glorified on the cross. His saving glory was revealed as he died for us.  But Jesus’ glorification did not end there.  John says about the events of Palm Sunday, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.”  Jesus’ glorification continued as he rose from the dead.

This too was a sign by which Jesus revealed his glory.  When Jesus had cleansed the temple the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body.  Jesus lay down his life, and on the third day he took it up again.

Jesus’ signs revealed his glory. They revealed the saving glory of the One who would die on the cross for us and then rose from the dead.  John says that Jesus’ disciples saw the sign and believed in him. The sign called forth faith.

We continue to see Jesus’ signs.  We see them in Holy Scripture.  Our Lord promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would be at work in them.  He said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  He promised that like the Spirit they would bear witness about Jesus.  Jesus said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

          We receive the Spirit’s witness through the words of John’s Gospel.  We behold the sign of Jesus turning water into wine as he reveals his glory.  We see Jesus glorified as he dies on the cross to give us forgiveness.  We see Jesus glorified as he takes up his life again in the resurrection. 

          Through these signs the Spirit sustains us in faith.  John says near the end of his Gospel, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  The signs narrated in Scripture are the Spirit’s means of creating and nurturing saving faith in Jesus Christ.

          The Spirit gives us faith and life as we see the crucified and risen Lord.  He shares God’s love with us.  John said in his first letter, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

          God loved us by sending his Son into the world to suffer death in order to take away our sins.  This love now prompts you to love those around you.  It moves you to support others who are in need.  It causes you to put the needs of others ahead of your own.  It leads you to serve others as you become the means by which God’s love passes through you and on to those around you.

          In our Gospel lesson this morning Jesus turns water into wine.  He works a miracle which John tells us is a sign that reveals his glory.  Our Lord’s miracles reveal the saving glory of Christ who was in the world.  They point to the glory that was revealed as Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.  Through this action Christ has won us forgiveness and life.  Now the Spirit uses the signs of Jesus’ miracles to give us faith as we continue to see his glory.  He sustains us as we look forward to the final revelation of Christ’s glory on the Last Day.