Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sermon -- 1st Sunday after Christmas (December 30, 2012)

LUKE 2:41-52

In the name + of Jesus.

     There has often been a lament that we hear next to nothing about Jesus’ childhood, his teen years, and his early adulthood from the Gospels.  It is not a new complaint.  The eagerness to hear such stories is one of the reasons Christians are curious about the Gnostic Gospels.  In the Gospel of Thomas, for example, we hear of some of the alleged miracles that Jesus performed as a child.  One of those miracles was that Jesus killed another child who had run into him while they were playing.  The early Church recognized that these writings were fraudulent.  While they did not suppress them, they did condemn them.  But that leaves us right where we were.  We have almost no information about Jesus from age 2 until age 30.  The twelve verses we heard in our Gospel are it. 
     St. John tells us that Jesus’ first miracle was the changing of water into wine at the wedding of Cana, so we should not expect any writer to uncover any infant miracles of Jesus.  The amazing thing about Jesus is not that he could do miracles.  (Moses and even Pharaoh’s priests did too.)  The amazing thing about Jesus is that he is God in the flesh.  Therefore, this one account of Jesus gives us much to marvel at and much to ponder on.  Already at twelve years old, Jesus testifies that he is into his Father’s things.
     It was at age 12 that Jesus was first under the obligation of the Law to journey to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.  Jews from all over the world traveled to Jerusalem to remember God’s mercy and God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt.  There, they rejoiced before God and praised him that, through the blood of an unblemished lamb, the Lord delivered the Israelites from death.  The Israelites ate of the lamb’s body and unleavened bread.  They drank wine from the cup.  They feasted.  Then they departed in peace.
     As they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:43)  As Jesus later explained to his parents, this was no act of rebellion.  Jesus knew what he was doing by staying in Jerusalem and by going to the temple.  He talked with the priests who presided over the sacrifices.  He plied with questions the scribes who had copied the sacred words for the new scrolls.  He studied the rabbis who taught in the synagogues.  What do the Scriptures say concerning the Christ?  How does he fulfill the Passover?  The sacrifices?  The priestly office?  Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms all testify of the Christ.  How will he fulfill these words?  What does the Father promise that his Son will be?  What does the Father say that his Son will do?  The boy Jesus had stayed behind in Jerusalem.  Jesus was into his Father’s things.
     Meanwhile, you can imagine the panic that filled Joseph and Mary when they could not find Jesus in their caravan.  When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.  After three days they found him in the temple…  And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so?  Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” (Luke 2:45-46,48)  You can just as easily imagine Jesus’ stunned innocence as he replies, “Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) 
     The phrase Jesus spoke is more literally “It is necessary that I be in the things of my Father.”  Yes, that means the Temple.  But it also means the sacrifices, the Scriptures, the priests, the prophets, the festivals, and the fulfillment.  It was necessary that Jesus would be here.  All things in Israel’s religion pointed to Jesus; and Jesus came to fulfill all these things.  That is still the way it is.  Everything in the Church is still about Jesus—whether Christmas, or hymns, or ceremonies, or architecture.  It all points to Jesus, because that is what reveals the Father’s mercy to us.  Jesus is into his Father’s things so that he can give us the Father’s things. 
     Mary and Joseph were frantically looking for Jesus.  Jesus chastised them.  They should have known where to find him.  He could only be in his Father’s things.  This is also the only place you will find the peace, hope, and security you long for.  Your life is filled with angst and worry and grief.  You continue to trust in things that are not trustworthy.  You lean on things that are not stable.  Your money can’t save you.  Your job gives you no guarantees.  Your friends can fail you.  Your family disappoints you.  You remember the security and peace of the good ol’ days and you wish you could have that back.  But as you get older, you realize more and more that all the traditions, all the customs, and even all the people you had enjoyed and relied upon are taken from you.  They change.  They die.  They are lost.  Everything in life is unstable and unreliable. 
     When Jesus went to the Passover, it was not to try to relive the good ol’ days when God paid attention to his people and acted for their good.  God had come to earth because he was mindful of your plight.  He came to act for your good.  The reason Jesus came was to be into his Father’s things.  It is the Father’s business to have mercy on sinners.  That is why he sent his Son for you. 
     The only peace and hope and security you are ever going to find is in Jesus Christ.  He is into his Father’s things and did his Father’s work.  He delivers peace to you by taking all guilt and torment and death and hell from you.  He is the Lamb slain for you.  His blood covers you.  Death passes over you.  God is merciful.  And Jesus grants you the security you crave.  His forgiveness is no momentary or fragile thing.  His compassion does not change.  Therefore, your salvation is not something that can be swept away by the next disaster.  God’s goodness which was revealed in Jesus long ago is delivered to you here and now through the word and sacraments.  You do not have to long for what was, because God delivers his mercy to you in what is here.
     That is the only place you will find Jesus.  He is in his Father’s house where the word is preached.  He is the sacrifice slain for sinners.  He is the body and the unleavened bread upon which you feast in the joy of forgiveness.  He is the curtain which was torn in half to grant you access to the Holy of Holies.  He is the one who made the good ol’ days good, granting you those blessings brought peace and security.  He is the one who makes your future eternally peaceful and secure.  And he is the one who will bless and sustain you in God’s mercy until you enter your heavenly home.
     St. Luke sums up Jesus’ early years rather succinctly: And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them….  And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:51-52)  Jesus was into his Father’s things.  This sums up Jesus’ life from infancy to when he began his public ministry at age 30.  He did not check in to be your Savior and substitute when he felt like it.  He lived for you from his conception through his crucifixion. 
     Jesus is into his Father’s things.  Where else would you expect him to be found?  Mary and Joseph needed that reminder that Jesus was not just God’s gift to them.  Jesus is the Son of God who has come to be the Savior of the world.  For, God so loved the world that he gave his Son for you.  Jesus devoted himself to his Father’s things, so that he could give the Father’s things to you.  Like Mary, we take all this to heart and ponder it.  That is our marvel.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sermon -- Christmas Day (December 25, 2012)

JOHN 1:1-14

In the name + of Jesus.

     God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)  The highest point of God’s creation was the people he had formed.  Everything in the world was formed for man and woman to enjoy—from the shrubbery to the stars.  God had blessed them with both abundance and variety.  God poured out his love upon them.  They, in turn, knew the Lord, and they were able to respond with grateful service and loving obedience.
     But man was not content to be what God had made him to be.  Though the devil laid the trap, man willingly walked right into it.  Satan had promised that there would be great benefits to defying God’s command and eating from the forbidden tree.  “You will not surely die,” he hissed.  “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5) 
     Ah!  The chance to be like God!  It was the first temptation.  It has been recycled for generations.  And it has worked repeatedly.  On everyone, in fact.  Like Adam and Eve, you are not content to be what God has made you to be, either.  You do not want to be a remarkable creation under God, following his decrees and submitting to his will.  Oh, sure, there are some sensible things in God’s will.  And if everyone else would follow them, the world would be a better place.  But when defying God’s will is more convenient and more beneficial for you, then you no longer want to be under God.  You would switch places.  You want to have God be under you.  You want God to submit to your will.  You want God to apologize for calling you wicked for gratifying your carnal desires.  From Adam and Eve until this very day, all people are idolaters.  All want to be God in their own little universe.  And therefore, all are rightly cast out of Paradise and into the darkness.  All are justly marked for death and for weeping and gnashing of teeth. 
     But into this world of darkness, Light has dawned.  Into this world of sin, a holy man has come.  Into this world of death came one who is not merely alive, but is Life itself.  Into this world which is ruled by time came one who is timeless.  He was with God in the beginning because he has always existed.  Indeed, he has no beginning. 
     Dear Christian folks, rejoice!  Jesus Christ is born.  He is the Word, the Logos.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)  More than that, God has become like one of us.  Or to be even more specific, God has become one of us.  He was not banished from Paradise, but willingly left his heavenly glory to walk and dwell with sinners.  The true light, which enlightens everyone, (has come) into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. (John 1:9-10) 
     He is Christ the Lord.  He is the one who has made Adam and Eve and who issued the Commandments.  He is the one who has created you and granted you every blessing you know—from eyesight to music to honey-baked ham to milk chocolate to family members.  And though you have sinned against him and should rightly be despised by him for your idolatry, he does not despise you.  He does not even disown you.  He does not come to smite you, but to save you.  For, you are still his creation.
     The Word has become flesh.  God has become one of us.  He makes himself part of his creation.  He subjects himself to divine Commandments and to Satanic temptations.  He submits himself to the aches and pains of a broken world, to the sorrows and frustrations of those living in darkness.  But this is not just so he can sympathize with us.  While sympathy is often appreciated, sympathy fixes nothing.  God has become like one of us not to sympathize, but to save. 
     Jesus Christ is born!  The Word has become flesh!  God has become like one of us so that he can take up our cause.  The first Adam rebelled against God’s commands, resulting in the curse that had rested upon us.  But the second Adam, Jesus Christ, lived willingly under God’s Commandments and won the approval of the Father in heaven.  The first Adam brought sin upon all mankind, but the second Adam brings righteousness to all mankind.  The first Adam brought death upon all mankind, but the second Adam brings life to all mankind.  God had made himself like you to take up your cause.  He took up your sin.  He took up your curse.  He took up your death.  And so, in Jesus Christ, we have a man who has kept God’s Commandments and we have God who has died for all mankind.
     Rejoice, dear Christians!  Jesus Christ is born.  The Word has become flesh.  God has become like you to redeem you.  To you who have received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)  You are the Lord’s creation, but now he has made you a new creation.  Jesus has made you children of the heavenly Father.  You were born again of water and the Spirit, baptized into Jesus’ name and adopted into God’s family.  Therefore you are heirs of heaven.  You have the keys to his house.  You wear the family name and have been given all the blessings that come with it.  No longer are you banished.  Paradise is open.  The Tree of Life is yours. 
     These blessings do not begin when you die and are taken to heaven.  The fruit which hangs from the Tree of Life is Jesus Christ, and he invites you to the feast now.  The flesh and blood Savior gives you his body and blood for your salvation.  The blessings are yours.  You have the joy and the peace now.  You enjoy the mercy and the comfort here.  The Light now shines in your heart.  The Life already dwells within you.  And so, you get to be content and to enjoy what God has made you to be.
     You are God’s children who receive all good things from the Lord who loves you and blesses you.  You get to enjoy the blessings he pours out upon you.  You have nothing to fear.  You don’t have to wonder if you are good enough; for Jesus has answered for you.  You don’t have to be seduced by Satan’s lie that there is something better and greater waiting for you if you would only give in to temptation.  For, you are God’s blessed creation.  You are children of the Most High God.  You are heirs of eternal glory.  How could you be better than that?
     Rejoice, dear Christians!  God has become like one of us.  The Son of God became the Son of Man so that we would be sons of God.  God has become flesh so that, like him, our flesh will rise from the grave and overcome all death.  Heaven has come to earth to make sure that we will receive heaven.  Rejoice, dear Christians!  Jesus is our Immanuel, “God with us.”  And he will forever be our Immanuel, for we will dwell with God eternally. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Nutcracker Suite -- Guitar Style

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.  In the interest of seasonal music, I offer you the following.

This is perhaps one of the coolest arrangements of the Nutcracker Suite, performed by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet.  Phenomenal!!!

Sermon -- Advent 4 (December 23, 2012)

LUKE 1:39-55

In the name + of Jesus.

     Mary came to the home of Elizabeth.  Each had conceived.  In the days before ultrasounds, each already knew she would deliver a son.  Elizabeth miraculously conceived in her advanced years.  Mary miraculously conceived while maintaining her virginity. 
     Can you imagine Mary’s fear?  She was not yet married.  She was young, perhaps mid-teens.  She was sent away from Galilee to Judea.  Did she tell her parents about the Gabriel’s message before she left?  Is that why she was sent away?  Gabriel had told Mary that Elizabeth was also bearing a child given by God’s command.  Would she understand?  Would she believe that God had two messages?  Would Elizabeth believe that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit and not because of some foolish night where she let her passions win out over her chastity?
     Mary does not have to wonder too long.  Her fears are erased and her heart is soothed as soon as Elizabeth greets her.  Elizabeth did not even wait for Mary’s news.  She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  …And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken from the Lord to her.” (Luke 1:41-42,45) 
     A three-fold blessing!  There was nothing scandalous about the news to Elizabeth.  Blessed is she whom God chose to bring the child in the world.  Blessed is the child who comes for the whole world.  And blessed is Mary for taking God at his word.  A three-fold blessing!  The child which Mary was carrying would carry all of our sins.  The child which Mary would bear would bear all of our punishment.  The child which Mary would labor to deliver would labor and suffer and die to deliver us from evil to his heavenly home.
     And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46-47)  He is your Savior, too.  For, you need to be saved from the sin that resides in you, and you need to be saved from the sins that pour out of you.  Out of you pours impatience with others, resentment of God’s gifts, living as if life is about the collection of goods and gadgets, and despising people who take your time and attention.  Within you resides exalting yourself, your problems, and your opinions above everyone else.  The worst of sin resides in us.  How often it comes out!  While Christmas is supposed to bring out the best in people, it often brings out the worst in us.  Humble yourselves.  Repent.
     The Lord brings you down, showing you to be nothing for good reason.  You have no excuses to make, only confessions.  But, as Mary sang, he is mindful of the humble.  Jesus comes with a three-fold blessing.  He lifts up the lowly.  He takes up your cause.  He saves you.  Jesus comes with a three-fold blessing.  He is born to live for you, to die for you, and to rise for you.  He takes away the curse by becoming the curse.  And then he turns the curse into blessing.  A three-fold blessing!  In mercy, he takes away your condemnation.  In grace, he grants you a place in heaven.  In love, he is your eternal help and hope.  Blessed are you whom the Lord remembers.  Blessed are you who have believed God’s word.  Blessed are you whom the Lord fills with good things. 
     All the scandals are erased.  All the sins are forgiven.  All the fears are alleviated.  All death is destroyed.  All who believe are redeemed.  All whom the Lord has called are blessed.  Magnify the Lord.  Rejoice in God.  Your Savior has come. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sermon -- Funeral of Lois Rapson (December 22, 2012)

For the funeral of
+ Lois Jane Rapson + 
(November 14, 1929-December 20, 2012)

In the name + of Jesus.

     For better or for worse, you will always associate Christmas time with the death of Lois Rapson.  While most would say that is for the worse, I submit to you that you can think of it for the better.  After all, Christmas is often associated with the giving of gifts.  Now, Americans have a strange idea about gift-giving.  If you were to go through the Christmas season or a birthday and not receive any gifts, you would feel ripped off.  If you feel cheated when you do not receive a gift, can you really call it a gift?  It sounds more like an obligation that was supposed to be met or a pledge that was supposed to be honored.  When someone makes a pledge like that and fails to honor it, then you have the right to feel ripped off.  But not so with a gift.  A gift is given freely by the giver.  It is not deserved.  It is not even asked for.  It comes as a pleasant surprise, and the receiver can only be thankful for what was given.
     So it is Christmas time.  And great gifts have been given to Lois Rapson.  The Lord has given Lois more than she ever could have asked for or imagined.  St. John described the magnitude and magnificence of the Lord’s great gifts.  St. John saw the saints who were gathered around the Lord’s throne in heaven.  They were waving palm branches, which symbolizes victory.  They were dressed in white robes, which symbolizes purity.  They sang songs of joy and praise to the Lord who had given them so many good things.  St. John describes those good things.  He does not necessarily tell you what will be in heaven.  Rather, he tells you what is not in heaven.
     The elder who was escorting John through his vision told him that those whom John saw in heaven are they who have come out of the great tribulation ….  They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.  Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:14-19) 
     Lois knew her share of difficulties.  She had shed her share of tears.  She had bid farewell to many loved ones, most dear to her being her husband Neil.  She longed to be reunited with him.  She longed to have a life without a frail body or severed relationships.  While she was thankful for the blessings the Lord had given her in this life, she was also ready to be done with all of life’s aches and pains.
     Those aches and pains come because the world is a sinful place.  And Lois was a sinner in this sinful place, just like any one of us.  I understand why you would only remember the good things about Lois.  That’s the way it should be.  But like all of us, Lois was not perfect.  She confessed that freely.  She did not want to have to try to convince God that she was good enough to earn a place in heaven.  Sinners don’t deserve heaven.  Sinners don’t deserve mercy; for mercy is never deserved.  And so Lois did not put her faith in her manners or in her sweetness – and I don’t think anyone would deny that she was a very sweet lady.  Lois put her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who has given great gifts to her.
     At Christmas, we often see gifts wrapped in colorful paper.  The wrapping paper suggests that there are good things in the package.  When our Lord came into this world to save us from our sins, he was wrapped in flesh.  It was not flashy or colorful.  Our Lord came in humility and weakness.  He came subject to the same frustrations and pains that we know.  But he subjected himself to our frailties so that he could deliver us from them.  Jesus has delivered Lois Rapson from sin and every evil.
     The Lord has given great gifts to Lois.  Lois’ place in heaven is a gift—not deserved, but given by a merciful and loving Savior.  Lois did not have the holiness that is needed to set foot in heaven.  No one does.  But the holiness that God demands, Jesus supplied with his own innocent and obedient life.  And regarding the sin that God condemns, Jesus took care of that, too.  Jesus took up Lois’ sin and, through his crucifixion, took all of the punishment and condemnation that sinners deserve.  So, that which we deserved Jesus took for us.  In turn, Jesus gives what we do not deserve.  The Lord has given great gifts to Lois.
     Before Christmas, people often make up a list of items they would like to receive under the tree.  Some of those lists can get long and rather elaborate.  But just saying that you want something does not automatically mean you will get it.  While everyone wants the glories of heaven, just wanting them does not get you inside the gates.  Gifts have to be given.  And the Lord has given great gifts to Lois.
     St. John noted how those gifts were given.  St. John asked about the saints in heaven, and this is what the elder replied: These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)  This washing was done in Holy Baptism.  When Lois was baptized into the name of Jesus, she was washed and cleansed in his holy blood.  The blood that atones for sin was poured onto her.  In baptism, Lois was clothed in Christ and, therefore, was deemed holy and blameless.  Therefore, she became an heir of eternal life and a daughter of the resurrection from the dead.  That blood was also poured into her when I came to visit her and give her Holy Communion.  The Lord continued to forgive her sins, to pour out his mercy, and to assure her of her place in his kingdom.
     The Lord has given great gifts to Lois.  Her soul has gone to be with her Savior.  He has graciously delivered her from a world of sin and sadness.  He has gladly welcomed her into the glorious and victorious feast in heaven.  Never again will she know sorrow, pain, grief, frustration, or stress.  The Lord who was born into this world to redeem her has taken her from this world to be with him.  Her Christmas this year will be merrier than any moment she has ever known.  And she will have this joy without interruption and without end.
     While the Lord has given great gifts to Lois, one gift waits to be given—the resurrection from the dead.  Lois’ spirit is with her Lord.  Today we commit her body to the ground.  But fear not.  Even this body awaits a gracious gift.  On the Last Day, the Lord will recall this body from the grave.  And God will grant one more beautiful gift to Lois.  He will give her a body that will enter the gates of heaven.  Her body died because it was corrupted with sin.  That is why it became sick and weak and frail and finally gave out.  But the Lord will raise her up glorious, incorruptible, immortal, and imperishable.  Jesus was born with a body and soul to redeem us who are body and soul.  Jesus died and rose for us, and so all who die in the Lord will also rise to live forever.  Therefore, body and soul, Lois Rapson will live with the Lord forever—forever free from any pain or problems.  She will not even need her Kleneex anymore.
     At Christmas, we recall how the Lord sent his Son into the world so that he could purchase all of these gifts for us.  The cost was his life, but it was a price he gladly paid for you.  His salvation is a gift gladly given to Lois.  The Lord has given great gifts to her. 
     Merry Christmas, Lois.  Enjoy God’s gifts.  They are yours forever.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sermon -- Advent Vespers 3 (December 19, 2012)

…So Sin, Death, and Hell May Be Exterminated.

In the name + of Jesus.

     When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying for all of the blessings our Lord Jesus Christ has to give.  Those blessings come through the Gospel.  His word reveals the innocent life and the sacrificial death which atone for our sins and bestow God’s grace upon us.  The sacraments apply those blessings to us personally.  Therefore, if you ever wonder if you are truly forgiven, you only have to say, “I am baptized!”  This is the confidence that the Lord has washed you clean of all your sins.  The Lord has clothed you in the pure, white wedding garments in which you stand before him without stain or spot or any blemish.  Therefore, you shall feast at the eternal wedding banquet in the heavenly kingdom.  God’s kingdom has come to you; its blessings are yours.
     There is one blessing for which we still wait.  St. Paul wrote, “(Christ) must reign until he has put everything under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26)  So far, it appears that death reigns.  We are convinced of it because we know that everyone is going to die.  We try to delay that for as long as we can, but exercise, diet, and prescriptions will only work for so long.  Even the person who holds the distinction of being the oldest person on earth does not get to enjoy that title for very long.  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and sooner or later everyone gets to payday.
     While many tell you that death is natural, that is not really true.  Yes, death comes to all, but it comes because of a curse.  Death came into this world because sin came into this world.  Sin brings death and decay to all things.  Death is only natural in the same sense that the flu is natural, or hurricanes, or mold, or rust.  Death is a curse, and that is why everyone fears it.  Death is cruel, and that is why everyone weeps at it.  Even our Savior wept at the grave of his friend, Lazarus.  Death rips apart bonds and relationships that we had enjoyed.  Death brings about a separation that we cannot repair and a loss that we cannot replicate.  It is a bitter reminder that we are sinners, that all are sinners.  And that reminder often comes in sudden and tragic and merciless ways.  That is life in the kingdom of the world.  And, sadly, life in this kingdom means death. 
     And so we pray, “Thy kingdom come!”  The coming of the Lord’s kingdom means that sin, death, and hell are exterminated.  Jesus baited sin, death, and hell into taking him in your place.  Satan had hoped to destroy the Son of God—and then ultimately the whole world—with sin, death, and the grave.  And so Jesus let Satan swallow him up at the cross.  But it is Jesus who destroyed sin, death, and hell once and for all.  As the great fish had swallowed up Jonah, so also death swallowed up Jesus in the grave.  But as the great fish had to spit out Jonah on the third day, so also the grave had to give up Jesus on the third day. 
     The risen Savior has exterminated sin, death, and hell.  Jesus’ death is the full payment for sin, so sin cannot condemn anymore.  Jesus’ resurrection renders the grave an empty threat.  Death has been conquered.  Hell has no hold on him, either.  Jesus declares, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:18)  These are not just big words.  Jesus demonstrated that this is a fact by his descent into hell.  Jesus victoriously descended into the very depths of hell to declare his victory to Satan’s face.  He crushed the serpent’s head.  Jesus holds authority over all things.  Even death must answer to him.  And that means that those who die in Christ are not lost at all. 
     You do not need to despair at the death of one who dies in the faith.  Death has won no victory.  Jesus still calls them his own, and they still live in his presence.  You do not need to fear your own death.  Sin cannot condemn you.  Hell cannot claim you.  And death cannot hold you.  Jesus holds the keys to death and Hades.  He will come for you to set you free, to raise you up, and to grant you life forevermore.  
     “Thy kingdom come,” so that sin, death, and hell may be exterminated forever and ever.  St. John had received a glimpse of it—the death of death.  The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.  Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death. (Revelation 20:13-14)  Though you may feel helpless at the bedside or the grave side of a loved one, you are not hopeless.  Your Savior still has all authority.  Jesus will summon all the dead, and the grave must give them up.  Ashes and dust will become body and soul.  The weak will become glorious.  The dead will be raised immortal.  Those who had succumbed to death will see that death succumbs to the words of Jesus who will raise you up to glorious, everlasting, victorious life.  That is because Jesus has the final word.  Since you have received full pardon for all of your sins, you need not fear the flames.  They have been doused in the waters of baptism.  Your faith saves you.
     This is the faith that pleads, “Thy kingdom come.”  We pray for Jesus’ coming because we know that we will receive good things in his glorious kingdom.  When Jesus comes again, we will not merely say, “Good-bye,” but shout, “Good riddance!” to a world that is stained with sin and infested with death.  We will be done with a world where death and mourning and crying and pain are considered natural.  Jesus will take sin, death, hell, and everything associated with them and heave them once and for all into the lake of fire.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26), and Jesus will finally put death to death.
     But you, dear Christians, will receive life and blessing and salvation from your God.  You will receive a kingdom whose glories cannot be measured and whose joys cannot be diminished.  It is impossible to try to describe what unending and uninterrupted blessings will be like in his heavenly kingdom.  Perhaps it is easier to ponder the extermination of sin, death, and hell and everything that comes with them.  You are receiving a kingdom that knows no problems.  You will never again have to pray for patience with strangers or plead for forgiveness from loved ones.  Never again will the bonds of loved ones be strained or severed.  You will never need to take a pill or grab a Kleenex.  You will never suffer the frustrations of bad hair days or spilled coffee or paper cuts.  And you will never run out of time.  For, the blessings will not expire.  The curse is done.  All the enemies will be destroyed.  Eden is restored.  Paradise is open again.  The wedding feast is ready, and the Lord has given you the appropriate garments.
     The Church cries out, “Come, Lord Jesus.  Thy kingdom come” so sin, death, and hell shall be exterminated, and so that God’s redeemed shall rejoice without end.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Here is a magnificent setting and performance of "Go Tell It on the Mountain" by the Martin Luther College choir. 

One of these days, I will figure out how to embed the video right to my page.  In the meantime, please click the link below.  Great stuff!!!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Advent (December 16, 2012)


In the name + of Jesus.

It has been a hard few days.  People all over the USA are trying to make sense of something so senseless.  The slaying of so many young, innocent children is heart-breaking and mind-boggling.  All of the grappling for answers is going to leave you still scratching your head and wiping your eyes.  We can come up with theories about what moved a lonely, young man to act so brutally.  Whether they are answers or guesses, they don’t help.  The news reports won’t change.  The holiday plans for many, many families are obliterated.
     And though we are far removed from Newtown, Connecticut, we still grieve for them.  This tragedy, like other senseless tragedies in Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, and Northern Illinois University, leaves us feeling vulnerable, scared, and confused.  Newtown, Connecticut was supposed to be safe.  So was a movie theater.  So was a suburban high school.  We think of our own children and we wonder and pray.  We wonder if we are really safe.  We pray for answers.  We try to make sense of the senseless.  We are frustrated, and fretful, and fearful.  This is not what the holiday season is supposed to be.  But this year, it is.
     In the midst of all of this, St. Paul urges you to do something that seems out of place.  Certainly, it seems ill-timed.  But St. Paul not only urges you to do this, he urges you twice: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4) 
     You must understand that St. Paul does not say this as a man who is in an easy chair, reclining by a cozy fire-place and sipping hot cider.  St. Paul did not live in some fantasy world where he was protected from the angst and anguish that we endure today.  St. Paul wrote these words from prison.  And he wrote this to a church that was enduring persecution for the Christian faith.  While their hardship may be different than yours, they knew what it was to pray to God, “Deliver us from evil.”
     Nonetheless, St. Paul from his cell wrote: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)  You wonder: Rejoice in the wake of such deadly violence?  Rejoice in the uncertainty of safety and security?  Rejoice when life seems to be regarded so cheaply and is so quickly and easily taken?  We want someone to do something.  We want someone to stop the insanity, to provide a solution, to prevent more suffering, or at least to give us an answer.  We want the broken world fixed.  We want the shattered lives mended.  We want the sadness and pain to end.  And St. Paul wants us to rejoice?!
     St. Paul does not peddle empty clich├ęs.  He does not tell you to bet your bottom dollar that the sun will come up tomorrow.  He does not insult you by saying, “Everything happens for a reason.”  Sometimes the reason is that people are evil.  Or deranged.  Listen carefully to St. Paul’s encouragement.  It is not clouded in a fantasy; it is cemented in a promise.  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)  Even when the world is falling apart, the word of the Lord still stands.  Even in the midst of tragedy and pain and heartache, St. Paul’s encouragement remains: Rejoice!  The Lord is near!
     St. Paul reminds you that you have a heavenly Father to whom you can pour out all of your cares and concerns.  Your Father in heaven knows the world you live in.  He knows that it is broken.  He knows that you are victims of evils—those brought on by natural disasters, those which are self-inflicted, and those which are crafted by wicked men.  The Lord knows the pains and the frustrations you endure.  It is he who taught you to pray, “Deliver us from evil,” so he is aware that you dwell in a world of evil.  Sometimes that is more obvious than others.
     Rejoice in the Lord, even when these evils come.  For, you are not forsaken.  The Lord is near.  Your Father in heaven knows your plight, and he has taken it upon himself to do something about it.  He does promise you a world that is not broken.  He does tell you of a life without crime or disaster or sorrow.  He does not merely tell you to pray, “Deliver us from evil.”  He actually provides deliverance.
     John the Baptist prepared the way for this Deliverer to come.  In order to get you to recognize how much you need him, John the Baptist highlighted not the evil in this world, but the evil that dwells in you.  John the Baptist called to repentance the ultra-righteous religious leaders, the burly and brutal soldiers, the corrupt and criminal tax collectors, and average tradesmen and herdsmen.  From the high and mighty to the poor and lowly, whether famous or infamous or anonymous, all are the same.  Whether you are a violent or peaceful person, and whether you die a violent or peaceful death, you are all sinners who have to give an account to the Lord.  You may be disturbed by the heinous actions of a man in Connecticut, and rightfully so; but you do not have to answer for him.  You can only answer for yourself.  You are only responsible for your own sin.
     Rejoice; for the Lord has come to deliver you from the judgment that rests upon you.  He entered our corrupt and broken world to be broken for you.  By the calculated actions of wicked sinners, Jesus was put to death.  By the calculating acts of a holy God, Jesus was condemned for the sins of the world.  He made himself sin for you.  He made himself a sin offering for you. 
     Rejoice, for Jesus provides you an answer for all of your sin and guilt.  No excuses, but instead forgiveness.  He provides you the answer you need when you must answer for your life – not that you must behave better than you have, but that you are washed, cleansed, and purified from all evil and unrighteousness.  Jesus was crucified for your sins and raised to life for your justification.  That is your confidence.  It’s not that Jesus makes this world better, it is that he delivers you from it.  He puts an end to the evils by delivering you out of the world to a glorious home in heaven.
     Rejoice!  The Lord is near.  He is coming again soon to bring you to a place that knows no shooting sprees, no deranged minds, no grieving parents, and no tear-stained communities.  You see, dear Christians, that is the Lord’s answer in all of this.  He will deliver you from evil, once and for all.  And even in Connecticut, he has delivered at least some of his children to their heavenly home.  Granted, their departure from this world was violent and tragic.  But in God’s kingdom, they have mercifully been spared many evils, and they have been lovingly delivered to their heavenly Father’s arms.  Nothing can harm them anymore.  Nothing.  They enjoy a peace which we cannot truly grasp, and which will never be taken from them.
     This peace is what you yearn for too.  It comes when Jesus comes, and his coming is not that far away.  Rejoice!  The Lord is near.  Deliverance from all evil is near.  Deliverance into glory is near. 
     In the meantime, the Lord remains as near to you as his word and sacraments.  This is where he forgives your sins.  This is where he bestows his blessing.  Here, he sustains you in a wicked world until he takes you to his glorious Paradise.  That is the answer you crave.  That is the peace you have, even when the world is broken and when your heart is breaking in it.  The Lord knows your pains; but the Lord provides his peace to soothe you and his promises to encourage you.  You will not dwell in a bad, broken, depraved, and dying world forever.  Peace is yours.  Salvation is coming.  Rejoice!  The Lord is near.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Good Shepherd's tree is decorated with symbols known as chrismons (from the Latin Christi monogramma, meaning basically "monogram, or symbol, of Christ").  Chrismons are useful in keeping us mindful that our tree is not merely about being pretty.  Everything in our church should proclaim Christ.

While some symbols are fairly obvious to the average church-goer, some remain a but more mysterious. Here are a few chrismons and their meaning.

This is a Chi-Rho (the X is the Greek letter "ch" and the P is the Greek letter "r").  These are the first two letters in the Greek CRISTOS, or Christ.

The Ihs which you see in this chrismon represents the first three letters in the name of Jesus.  In Greek, it looks like this: IHSOUS. 
Because English has no letter that looks like a sigma, S, the symbol adopts either the sound of the letter (S) or the English letter that appears closest to the sigma (C).  Therefore, the symbol may appear as either IHS or IHC.  Both refer to the name of Jesus.  Our chrismon also has a cross behind it, remind us what Jesus came to do for us.

This is the hand of blessing.  It comes down from the Lord to bless the earth.  The three fingers are extended to depict the Trinity, although the hand is often used as a symbol of just the heavenly Father.

This hand gesture is also used by the pastor at the Benediction (though held upward instead of downward).  It is also used by Christians when they make the sign of the cross upon themselevs, the three fingers again used to confess the Triune God.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sermon -- Advent Vespers (December 12, 2012).

LUKE 11:17-20
…To Put Down the Devil’s Kingdom.

     The Lord has taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”  But if the Lord’s kingdom must come to us, that means that we are not automatically in it.  And that is, indeed, the case.  The world is the LORD’s…and all who live in it (Psalm 24:1), but Satan seized it back in the Garden of Eden.  Once he coaxed Adam and Eve into defying God’s will and into doing his bidding, the devil laid claim to this world.  All people are conceived and born in sin – with hearts and minds bent on wickedness.  We are the devil’s offspring and we do the devil’s works.  That is not a flattering image, and it is a wretched judgment, but it is what the Lord says: “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (1 John 3:8) 
     We have made a practice of sinning.  In fact, we cannot stop ourselves from sinning.  Our selfishness affects our actions and our love grows cold.  Our jealousy affects our thoughts and we assign the worst motives to others.  Our bitterness affects our words and we speak with condescension and sarcasm – “Hello!?”  We live in a world which shows little patience, kindness, and mercy, and we have adopted its practice.  We do not follow God’s will, and it steams us when God demands that we must.  We do not want God to be God to us.  We want him to answer to us.  This is precisely what Satan got Adam and Eve to believe, and this is how he got them to eat the fruit God had forbidden with a curse.  We still crave the forbidden fruit.  The curse still stands.  Satan is still the prince of this world.  And we are still doing his works.
     But Jesus came to overthrow Satan and his kingdom.  St. John wrote, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)  Jesus demonstrated his overthrow of Satan throughout his ministry.  As soon as Jesus was baptized, Satan tempted him in the wilderness.  Jesus overcame him every time.  The kingdom of God overcame the kingdom of the devil.  When Jesus came across demon-possessed men, he neither desired nor needed the confession of demons.  Therefore, Jesus commanded them to not testify that he is the Son of God.  The kingdom of God overruled the kingdom of the devil.  To free those who were possessed, Jesus exorcised the demons from them.  They had to submit to the divine commands of the Son of God.  The kingdom of God overran the kingdom of the devil. 
     Now, that proves that Jesus is divine and that his word has authority.  It proves that Jesus is stronger than the devil and that his rule will stand.  But you will only be comforted by this news if you know that Jesus’ might, authority, and rule are done for you.  If they are not, you are still in Satan’s kingdom.  You are still lost.  But Jesus has come not just to demonstrate superiority over the devil, but to free you from him.  And so we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” so that he will put down the devil’s kingdom.
     Jesus revealed that the kingdom of God had come by casting out devils from those who were possessed.  Jesus’ enemies accused him of being in league with the devil in order to deceive people.  Jesus highlighted the folly of their argument.  How does Satan gain an advantage by having demons cast out of people?  That means he has lost control.  But if it is the finger of God at work casting out demons, then the kingdom of God has come.  And that is why Jesus had come: to put down the devil’s kingdom, to cast out Satan, and to rescue those who have been held captive by him.
     To do this, Jesus made an exchange.  He substituted himself for you.  He let Satan accuse, condemn and kill him.  He has taken up every accusation that Satan could level at anyone.  He suffered all the taunting and jeering and mockery that Satan’s offspring could hurl at him.  When Jesus stood on trial, he did not bother to refute any of the charges.  He let all accusations stick.  When he was mocked and taunted, Jesus offered no retort.  He refused none of your sin, but silently suffered in your place.  He willingly died under God’s curse for you.  This is how Satan tried to lay permanent claim to you – by killing off your Savior once and for all.
     Yes, Jesus was put to death – but not as a victim claimed by Satan.  Jesus was the innocent, sacrificial victim, the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world.  His condemnation means that all guilt has been taken from you.  His death means that all punishment has been removed from you.  The Lord has only blessing left for you.  Satan hoped to claim the whole world by taking Jesus.  But Jesus ended up atoning for the sins of the world by his death.  And then, not even death could hold him.  Jesus rose from the grave to claim you from Satan.  He has put out the kingdom of the devil and he has established his kingdom as your eternal refuge.
     Jesus’ kingdom has come, and he brought you into it when you were baptized.  On that day, the finger of God, the Holy Spirit, touched you and drove out the unclean spirit from you.  You have been cleansed of your sin, and the Holy Spirit dwells in its place.  That is why you flee from the practice of sinning.  You no longer crave what the Lord forbids, knowing that it means banishment and a curse and death.  But what God gives you freely and generously means blessing and life in his kingdom.
     You pray, “Thy kingdom come,” so that you have a faithful shepherd-King who instructs you, guides you, and protects you day after day.  And though you still succumb to temptation and fall into sin, your loving King corrects you and works repentance in you.  You despise yourself for your sins, for you do not want to be the devil’s lackey.  You are a child of God and you want to live like it.  And if you despise what is of the devil and love what is holy, then the kingdom of God has come to you.
     Jesus’ kingdom has come; for he has put down the devil’s kingdom.  Satan no longer owns you.  He does not control you.  His kingdom has been put down.  Now you dwell in God’s kingdom.  Oh, the devil will still scoff at you and try to torment you with doubt and guilt.  But do not fear him.  Do not give him a moment of your time.  Have you sinned?  Sure.  Acknowledge it.  And then tell Satan to ask Jesus what he has done with your sins.  And he will flee from you.  For, Jesus drives out the devil and all the fear, guilt, doubt, and afflictions he would bring to your soul.
     God’s kingdom has come to you, and the devil’s kingdom has been put down.  Now you are free to serve and to live without fear.  You don’t have to go about your life wondering if God is pleased with you or what it will take to make God pleased with you.  Jesus has set you free from such fears.  Jesus reigns; his word is supreme.  And he tells you that God is pleased with you.  He has delivered you into his kingdom so that you may dwell as his own in joy and peace now and for all eternity.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.