Wednesday, January 9, 2013

January 9 - Writing

In case you were wondering what words were replaced by the ellipsis for number one in today's TDP writing:

"A person who wants to live like a heathen or a dog and does not publicly repent should not expect us to administer the sacrament to him or have us count him a Christian. Let him die as he has lived because we shall not throw pearls before swine nor give to dogs what is holy [Matt. 7:6]. Sad to say, there are many churlish, hardened ruffians who do not care for their souls when they live or when they die. They simply lie down and die like unthinking hulks."

Martin Luther, telling it like it is.  Thank you to Rev. David Juhl for doing the research.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

January 6 Gospel - Luke 3

When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him like a dove, and the voice of God the Father announces, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”  It sounds like all that stuff is good for Jesus, but actually it all is good for us too.  Because if Jesus had not stepped into the Jordan River, then our Baptism would be meaningless, nothing but an empty ritual, and we would never be with Christ, but would burn in Hell.  But since Christ submitted Himself to baptism, Christ was there with you in yours.  As St. Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:3-5). 
Baptism joins you to Christ, and He to us, so that all that is ours becomes His, and all that is His becomes ours.  He takes our shame, and trades it for His glory.  He takes our death and gives us His life.  He takes our slavery and gives us His Sonship.  When the water splashed on you, Christ baptized “you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16) – not to burn and destroy you, but to cleanse and purify you to make your body His temple.  And on that day, Heaven was opened as Christ’s Father became your Father, who said to you, “You are my beloved Child; with you I am well pleased.”

Saturday, January 5, 2013

January 5 Gospel - Luke 3 (and Isaiah 65)

     The One John proclaimed as coming, He still comes to us and works in us today – to give us gifts of joy, to provide our lives with meaning and purpose, to fill in and raise our dark valleys of despair, to tear down the mountains of our pride, to straighten our crooked ways.
     What exactly will that look like in your life? It means different things for different individuals. John lets us hear that with his instructions for specific groups. The tax collectors were to stop cheating people out of money. The soldiers were to be content and not bully people until the soldier got what he wanted. And for everyone it means generosity, compassionate charity – giving food and clothing to the less fortunate for Christ’s sake. So what does it mean for you – as you live out such God-given roles as friend or father? Mother, neighbor, boss, brother, daughter, worker or retiree?  
     Whatever it may mean specifically, in general living out these God-given roles will be difficult. There will be unexpected twists and turns you never saw coming – over rough roads and rocky terrain and other places you would rather not be. The road of faith may even lead you out to some desert wilderness where it seems like you have to walk alone. You will work, and will not see any success for all your effort. Others who did not work might even get more benefit out of it. However, the Day is coming, declares the Lord, when
"They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of My people be, and My chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their descendants with them" (Isaiah 65:21-23). 
     As you journey to that new heavens and new earth where you will rejoice forever, you will never be by yourself. Psalm 139 says that even if I cross the farthest seas, even there God’s hand shall lead me and hold me. For this God has given us our faith, the God who baptized you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He has given you His Word so that you can be certain that He is with you always to the end of time, our Immanuel. He who gives His body for food and His blood for drink – He promises to do for you what you cannot do; not only there on the Cross when He earned Heaven for you, but also goes to work in your heart – to change you, renew you, and even straighten you out. And already now He promises that even though you may never see the results of your work in the Lord, your labor will never be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Friday, January 4, 2013

January 3 Gospel - Luke 2

(A revision of a sermon by Rev. Rick Stuckwisch)

            Simeon was at the Temple of the Lord that day looking to see Christ.  And after Anna sees the little Lord Jesus, she talks to all who are looking for redemption.  What are you looking for?
            Behind all your plans and pursuits, resolutions and wish lists; in all the movies you watch, games you play, books you read, music you listen to, and dreams you dream, what are you looking for?
            When you come here, to our smaller version of the Temple of the Lord, what are you looking for?
            Behind all of our short and long term goals, our choices, and voting, and the way we spend our cash and our time – behind it all is our desire for peace.  Not just an un-easy cease fire, or the absence of arguments – because then you worry about when the next outburst of conflict will come.  But real, honest to God peace, contentment, satisfaction in who you are and why you are here, true friendship with God and your neighbors.  The peace your restless heart looks for – because God created you to live that way with Him and each other. 
            In Colossians 3, today St. Paul tells us to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”  The almighty Judge who could destroy you for your disobedience, instead chooses in Christ to redeem you with such a great forgiveness of our sin.  The only right way to respond is to praise Him and to drop our grudges, replacing our hatreds with trying to live at peace with others – as far as it depends on us.
            If you do not have Christ’s peace ruling your hearts, nothing will satisfy you for very long.  You cannot control your inner turmoil – or even truly understand it.  And you soon find that it is controlling you like a puppet on strings.  Not a real boy or girl.  Not a real man or woman.
            Look for inner peace… and you will find it the same place that Simeon and Anna did – in the Temple of the Lord; in the Christ child, the Babe, the Son of Mary, who found no peace as He carried His cross for you.  You find it by the Spirit of God in the Word of God.  This is where you find what you are ultimately looking for, as your eyes see God’s salvation – the Peace of God that goes beyond anything you can understand, which guards your heart and mind from the Devil. 
            So how do you live this peace?  Well, for starters Romans 6 says that I have died with Christ in Baptism that I may now live with Him as an instrument of God’s righteousness.  And even though I will die, yet shall I live beyond the grave. 
            While we know the peace will be far better in Heaven with Christ, God still has His reasons for your life to go on here on earth.  He does not tell you all the details, but the Lord still gives a purpose to your life in this time and place, even as He gives you Christ’s peace.  For, as Philippians 1 says, whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.
            That is the first key to our Gospel text today, and to the peace that we share with Simeon, Anna, Mary, and Joseph – You are the Lord’s, because He has created you and yet more wonderfully redeemed you by Christ’s sacrifice of His body and by shedding His own blood at the Cross.
            It is why Mary and Joseph were there at the Temple in the first place, why all Jewish parents of those days went there with the firstborn son – to confess that their whole family belongs to the Lord us as they present their children in the Temple for life in the world to the glory of God.
            You and your children also belong to our Creator and Redeemer, as all the good things you have ever received are yours only by His grace.  And God sanctifies you for a life of service to your church and your world.  In whatever place God puts you, He calls you to live life not for your own sake, but for the sake of our Christ who died and rose again for us.
            Simeon tells Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).  The conflict and lack of peace in man’s heart that we try to keep hidden – it will violently show itself against Mary’s son for all to see.  Good Friday reveals the evil secret thoughts of how much man hates God.  And the Cross reveals the secret thoughts of the sin in your heart too.  It shines the light of Christ’s selfless sacrifice upon your selfishness and mine.  The Cross says that we need a better righteousness than our own because our goodness is not good enough – and our pride does not like that one bit.  As His cross puts our sin to death, you may be surprised by the monstrous ways you behave.
            However, it is Christ’s Cross.  And He has given Himself over to death ahead of you, to pay for our monstrous behavior, and to rescue you – or, actually better to rescue us from it forever.  For St. Paul tells us to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” so that you can live in the one body of Christ that is the universal Christian Church. 
            The peace that you look for is not only for your own comfort and calmness.  Anna speaks to all about the redemption of Jerusalem, and Simeon says Jesus is for all people – the consolation of Israel and salvation’s Light for the Gentiles.  You find the peace you look for in your neighbors, in your brothers and sisters in Christ, babies and old people.  As you love Jesus, you love them.  When you love them, you are loving Him – for whatever you do for the least of them, Jesus says He counts it as though you did it for Him (Matthew 25:31ff).
But what does it look like to love this way?  God’s Word is what guides us as Christians, so – for starters – we can see some examples in today’s Gospel reading.  God’s Word is what brought Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph with their baby to the Temple – and likewise the Word has brought parents with their children to this House of the Lord.  Parents, you are to raise your children to know the Scriptures, for they teach us Christ and His salvation.  Bring them to this House and present your children to the Lord in Baptism.  Let the Word of Christ dwell in them richly – not just here, but in your homes with family devotions, starting out with children’s Bible story books, morning and mealtime and bedtime prayers.  Teach them psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, prayers and thanksgivings to Our Father, and to Jesus who was once a little child like they are.  Prepare them to receive Christ in His Body and Blood.
If you are a husband or wife like Joseph and Mary, then live with your spouse in peace, until death parts you.  If you are widowed like Anna, then worship the Lord with prayer night and day, and you will strengthen God’s people as He answers your requests.  If you are a young man, or old like Simeon, see in today’s text how masculine it is to be in church, to pray and praise and wait for the Lord to answer in His time.  It is a manly thing to care for your family if you have one – and to care about what happens to the children of others, and even bless them as gifts of life from God like Simeon does here, happily taking the little Lord Jesus into his arms.
These are only a few ways that love acts as seen in today’s Gospel text.  There are so many other ways our Christian love should go toward God’s people – being patient with them, helping them through their troubled times, sharing their burdens, compassionately forgiving whatever good she failed to do or whatever evil he did do. 
There is peace and life and love in this forgiveness because it is the forgiveness that lives in Christ’s heart and flows out from Him to all members of His Body.  It flows to us even though you and I have not been righteous and devoted in our worship nor prayers.  Even though we have not faithfully sung His praises, spread His Word, nor shared His peace.  Even though you and I have failed in every relationship – from honoring our parents to cherishing spouses to caring for children to loving our neighbor as ourselves.  We have made a mess of it all. 
Yet nonetheless here is this little One, the Babe, the Son of Mary is your Peace.  He has performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, fulfilling the command to love perfectly, as we ought to love.  And in order to save you, Christ gives you the credit as if you lived in total obedience to God.  You will be received into Heaven – for, according to His Word, Christ has redeemed you from death as He bears all your guilt.  So now bless God, depart in peace, and live.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

January 2 - Gospel Luke 2

It's been a while, so here's something to get going again - the sermon I preached for Christmas, using a lot of thoughts from a Rev. William Weedon sermon.  Christ's blessings this Christmas season -

            Throughout Advent, we did not sing the “Glory to God in the Highest” at the start of the Church service.  But today we join with the angels we have heard on high in sweetly singing Heaven’s joy.
            The congregation that night was pretty pitiful – just a  few rough and smelly shepherds.  If they had been struggling to stay awake, that was soon not a problem.  Dangers to the sheep lurked in the darkness around them.  But in an instant, Heaven’s light brightly shone down on them and they no longer worried about their sheep.  They were terrified of losing their own necks.
            That is repeatedly the response of fallen man when confronted by Divine holiness.  The angel who confronted them came from the presence of the Holy God, and so he shared in that holiness.  The shepherds wanted to get away – but there was no escape.  And you should remember that they had no reason to escape as the angel speaks to them.
            “Fear not!  For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people.  For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you.  You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
            The angel had not come to frighten them, no matter how scared poor sinners get around that which is holy and godly.  The angel had not come to destroy them, but to bring them joy, to announce that God was giving them the One who would rescue them from destruction.
            Fear not!  For the Lord comes now to you as a little child, a weak and helpless baby.  Who could be afraid of such a little one?  God comes down to earth to reveal to the lost children the deepest truth of all – that God has never been against us, that He has always loved us, that He has desired nothing but salvation and eternal life.  And so God dares to come in poverty and helplessness, behind enemy lines, to lead His enemies from fear to friendship, from terror to peace.
            As the poor shepherds are trying to get over their shock and wrap their heads around it all, God cranks it up a notch.  Suddenly that angel is no longer by himself – but there are myriads, hundreds of thousands, shining and singing the “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
            The glory of God here is not so much about His power but in His strong love.  Love so great that He risks rejection as He becomes man to raise us to be children of God.  The glory of God that Adam lost in Eden, and so mankind began our foolish and senseless running away from the Giver of all good, our only Hope and Life – that glory is restored and shown in Bethlehem.  For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.
            And then the angel adds his prayer for peace on earth.  And that peace has something to say about the weapons nations use to blow up and shoot down each other, inspiring fear and terror.  But also the horrifying weapons you and I know how to use on each other – the cutting word, the biting look, the poisonous anger.  The angels pray that all of it is laid aside and peace would really be upon the earth.  That we would come to love each other with the same sort of love that lives and reigns in Heaven, where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in love for each other – and for the whole creation!  A peace the holy angels live in, a peace the evil angels rejected to their own destruction.
            And there is more to it, because this very Christ Child does not simply bring peace.  He is our peace between God and man, for in Him the Divine and Human is one, united for all eternity.  A Christian poet (Paul Gerhardt) wrote it well –
“Shall we still dread God’s displeasure
Who to save                             Freely gave
His most precious treasure:

To redeem us He has given
His own Son                 From the throne
Of His might in Heaven.”

            This Christ Child does not change how God feels toward you, rather He shows how God feels towards you.  He lets you know that God has loved you with a love that never stops.  Certainly if you insist on meeting God apart from the gift of the Christ of Bethlehem and the Cross – well then you will face total destruction.  But that is not what God really wants for a single soul, for He gives this Child for all.  The angel sang that this is “Good news of great joy for ALL people,” and he meant ALL people!
            Good will toward men is what God shows us in this Babe of Bethlehem – to us bunch of rebels who go on in our disobedient sins as if there was no judgment against our guilt, as if no answer had to be given to God for every one of our evil words, deeds, or thoughts.  To us comes this Gift from the Father’s love – Jesus the Savior!  Sent to forgive our sins, sent to free us from our hell-bent wanderings, sent to bring us home to the Father.
            And that is what causes the angels’ great joy that Christmas night.  They are absolutely giddy because God’s lost children are beginning to be rescued and restored to the family home.  And they honestly are thrilled that they get the privilege of serving God’s children – of protecting and shepherding us through this life until we share with them eternally in glorifying God as we live forever with them in Heavenly peace, enjoying the good will and love of God.  Amen.