Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Turning to the Gifts”
Text: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; Joel 2:12-19; 2 Cor. 5:20b-6:10

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

I realize that was not a usual Ash Wednesday hymn (LSB #602)! Not a usual hymn for a day when the paraments are black, the atmosphere is solemn, and the focus is on repentance. Not a usual hymn for a day when ashes are ground into our foreheads with the words: Dust you are, and to dust you shall return. To sing of gifts . . . it doesn’t quite seem to fit.

And yet, I submit to you for your consideration this night, that is exactly what this day is all about. For we have come here not only to begin this season of Lent by repenting of our sin, but to then receive the gifts Christ freely gives. His Absolution, His Word, and His Supper, wherein He gives His forgiveness, His life, and His salvation. We are here tonight to receive these gifts we need.

And we do because they are the gifts we have refused; turned away from. For that’s what sin really is: a turning away from God and His gifts, to a self-reliance on me and what I can get or do for myself. Repentance, then, is turning away from myself, my self-absorption, my self-centeredness, my wants and desires and what I think is best, and receiving our Father’s gifts again. For then we are in the right place. God gives and we receive; and thus receiving, we live in the image of God by giving to others.

So it was in the beginning. God made everything. He created a perfect world for His children - the man and woman He would create to live in it in His image. But they turned away from His gifts - His gifts of life, of good and abundant food, of each other in marriage, of being in His image, of relationship with Him - they turned away from all that to the allure of getting something for themselves. And the result of turning away from God and His gifts was death. Dust you are and to dust you shall return.

God’s answer to them, His response to their turning away, was twofold. First, He gave again. He gave them the promise of a Saviour. But secondly came the Law. For the Law comes when the gifts are refused. The Law which is now needed to protect the gifts of God from us who turned from receivers into takers. And also to show us our sin, that we turn away from ourselves and back to the gifts; turn away from taking and go back to receiving.

So consider the Holy Gospel that we heard tonight. Consider how it speaks of taking the gifts of God and turning them into something they were never intended to be. Righteousness is a gift of God. Prayer is a gift of God. Helping others is living in the gift of His giving image. And yet what happened? The Pharisees took these gifts and use them as opportunities for themselves - to be seen, to be praised, to get the admiration of others. Repentance was needed. 

It had happened in Joel’s day as well. God had brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and given them a land and a place for their own - all gift. And they turned away from Him. They believed in themselves, not Him. They began to worship the Baals, not the true God. They made much of themselves and little of God. Repentance was needed. Return, turn back to me and my gifts again, God called out through Joel. 

So what about us today? Do we fall into the same trap? Do we turn away from the gifts of God to something else? We want to say no; that’s not us. But the truth? We do.

We turn away from God’s gift of Absolution when instead of repenting and confessing, we try to justify ourselves, or explain and excuse our actions, or blame others for our sin.

We turn away from the gift of God’s Word when we believe what the world says and thinks and not what God has said is true; when we judge things by what seems to me rather than on what God has said.

We turn away from the gift of Baptism when our identity is no longer child of God, born again, born from above, by water and the Word, but instead is what I do, how much I make, how busy and important I am; and measuring our value by those parameters instead of my value coming from my Saviour.

We turn away from the gift of our Lord’s Body and Blood when instead of living as the Body of Christ that the Body of Christ makes us - the communion of saints! - Church instead becomes not who we are in Christ, but what we do for one or two hours on a Sunday morning. When the people who gather with us here are no more to us than the neighbor down the street, or the co-worker in the next cubicle, or the student in the desk across the room. 

And what of the other gifts our Lord has given? How have we used the gift of life He has given? The gift of family? The gift of prayer? The gift of our callings and work? And so many other gifts too numerous to list here. Have we turned away from these gifts? Or selfishly used them for me? Taking, not receiving. Taking, not giving. 

So tonight the cry goes out once again: Be reconciled to God. Repent and turn back to receive His gifts again. Receive Christ again, the one who for our sake He made sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God

Christ made sin for you. Christ made your sin, your turning away. And so when He cried out from the cross: My God, My God, why have You forsaken me? . . . Why have you turned away from me? . . . that’s the turning away we have done; that’s our situation in turning away from God, though we’re too dumb to know it. That’s what such turning away gets you; what it got Jesus in our place. Death. Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.

Except something extraordinary happened after Jesus was forsaken in our place and died - He did not turn to dust. He rose to life again. Just as the Spirit turned Adam from a lifeless lump of earth to a living being, so the lifeless body of the Second Adam was spirited to life, rose to life, from the dust of death, too. Never to die again. 

Which means that the forsakenness is over. There is none left for you. Though we turn away from God, He will never turn away from you. Satan wants you to think God has forsaken you, that the struggles you are going through are signs that He has forgotten you, or turned away from you, or will no longer help. But it is not so. Consider all the struggles of the apostles listed by Paul in the Epistle we heard: beatings, hunger, imprisonment, and much more. Yet Paul said this too - that they are: sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything. That is what it means to have the gifts of God in the midst of a world of sin and death. Our trouble and weakness and sorrow and death do not win, but are conquered by the gifts and strength of our Saviour.

Ash Wednesday and Lent, then, is not a time for us to buckle down, buck up, and conquer our sin. We can’t. You’ve tried. I’ve tried. We can’t. It’s too strong and we’re too weak. 

But these 40 days of Lent plus 6 Sundays in Lent is the time when we focus again on the One who did. That Jesus conquered the sin that we cannot in His death and resurrection, and conquers it in us now by applying to us the forgiveness and fruits of His cross through His gifts. So this is the time for us to turn - to turn back to the sin-conquering gifts of Jesus. To receive again from Him all that He has for us. That as we live in this world of sorrows and struggles, of pain and fear, of worry and uncertainty, of sin and death, we have hope . . . and the promise that we are not forsaken, not alone. The Son of God came to us; He came to us with life. He came to give us hope.

Tonight . . . starting tonight . . .  turn back. Turn back to the gifts, back to Christ. Receive the love, the forgiveness, the life, the hope, the strength, the comfort, the promises, and the joy you need. Receive Him. For He is here. With them. For you.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of The Transfiguration of Our Lord (February 8-13, 2016)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Romans 10:13 - “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #656 “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”
Hymns for Ash Wednesday: 419, 599, 602, 430
Hymns for Sunday: 913, 656, 540, 418 (tune: 524), 666, 424

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Monday-Wednesday are the Scriptures for the Ash Wednesday Divine Service. The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Joel 2:12-19
How do we return to the Lord? Where have we gone? Why is this important?

Tuesday:  2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
What does it mean to “receive the grace of God in vain?” How can you guard against this?

Wednesday:  Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
How can the good we do be so easily tainted by sin?

Thursday:  Deuteronomy 26:1-11
God gives. We receive and then give. Why? Does God need our offerings? Why do we give?

Friday:  Romans 10:8b-13
How do the Word of God and faith go together?

Saturday:  Luke 4:1-13
How do these words foreshadow what Jesus would do for us on the cross?

The Catechism: Daily Prayers: Returning Thanks after Meals – Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever. He gives food to every creature. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call. His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love. Then shall be said the Lord’s Prayer and the following: We thank You, Lord God, heavenly Father, for all Your benefits, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ a good and blessed Lent for all Christians.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Commission on Mercy.
+ the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Transfiguration of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Listen to Him!”
Text: Luke 9:28-36; Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

Those words must have been a shock to Peter, James, and John. And not just the fact that they heard them coming from out of a cloud. But here they are, seeing this amazing scene - Jesus, shining with a glory unlike anything in this world, and Moses and Elijah appearing with Him. And seeing this, Peter wants to stay and wants them to stay and to bask in this glory for a while. But it is not to this that they are to pay attention. This sight is wonderful, yes; but there is something even more important. Listen to Him, the Father says. That’s what He wants them to do. Words, not visions. Ears, not eyes.

For if they had been listening and not heavy with sleep, what they would have heard is not Jesus, Moses, and Elijah bantering with some small talk; idle chit chat. How’s your mom? How are things going? No, it was not small talk, but big talk. About Jesus’ departure. And not His departure from this glory or this mountain, but His departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem

We heard about Moses’ departure in the Old Testament reading this morning, how he got to see the Promised Land and all its beauty, but could not go in. And how he died like we die and was buried in an unmarked grave. There would be no memorial to Moses; no pilgrimages to his grave. But though he could not enter this Promised Land, he did enter another, a greater one, where he would never have to leave.

And some years, on this Transfiguration Sunday, we hear about Elijah’s departure in the Old Testament reading, and how he did not die like Moses, but was taken up to heaven in a glorious whirlwind, after fiery chariots and horsemen separated him and Elisha, who would take over for him. No grave or memorial for him either.

But they weren’t talking about those departures, but Jesus’ - the one He was about to accomplish on the cross. And perhaps they were talking not just about that, but also about how there would be no grave or memorial for Jesus either. For though He would be buried, soon after that His grave would be empty - nothing there to remember or take a pilgrimage to go see. And He would bodily ascend into heaven like Elijah - but wouldn’t need a whirlwind do to it. Death would not be able to hold Jesus, which is why it could not hold Moses or capture Elijah either. And also why it will not hold you. To do this is what He was chosen for. He is the Chosen One, sent to defeat sin and death with His death, and rise so that you rise . . . to life, in a Promised Land. And only the glorious Son of God could accomplish that.

That’s what they needed to listen to, for soon they would be back on a mount with Jesus and with two others - but instead of two prophets, it would be two criminals. Jesus’ appearance would be altered that day too - hideously. His body torn open from flogging, His head torn open by thorns, His hands and feet pierced with nails, and His holy, precious blood pouring out onto a sin-cursed earth. They would see that, too, but not want to stay. No tents that day. They would hide together, in a room, behind locked doors, in fear. The glory of the transfiguration a distant memory.

But if they had listened they would have known - this was glorious too. The glory of the Creator dying for His creation. The glory of God’s love which could not leave His children in their sin. You could not see that, at Golgotha. All you could see was death, hatred, blood, hopelessness. The transfiguration turned inside out. No vision of glory here.

But if you listened . . . Father, forgive them (Luke 23:34). . . . Today, you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43). Glorious words. Transfiguring words. Words which reveal the glory that is hidden. So notice what’s going on here: In glory, Jesus speaks of death, and in death, He speaks of glory. And so we are told: Listen to Him!

Good advice. That when you see glory in this world, or when glory comes upon you, to know that death will not be far behind. This glory will not last. 

But in the same way, when you see death, or when death comes upon you, to know that in Jesus, glory is not far away. Your death will not last, is not the end. You, too, will live.

Listen to Him. In the highs and the lows, in the good times and the bad times, in glory or in shame, when you feel cursed or when you seem blessed, when the wind is at your back or in your face . . . Listen to Him. His promises. His Word which is the solid foundation we need to understand right; to avoid the roller coaster emotions and troubles of life. His Word which assures us that that in Him is life for the dead, forgiveness for sinners, comfort for the mourning, strength for the weak, love for the unloved, glory for your shame, care for the distressed. Jesus has what you need and will provide. 

But as I say so often, that does not mean a life free from trouble - the devil is always lurking and eager to pounce, and we are pretty good at getting ourselves into sin and trouble, flirting with temptations and evil and getting burned. So no, you will not have a life free from trouble, but you have a Saviour who didn’t stay on the Mount of Transfiguration in His glory, but who came down to be with you in the trials and travails of life. A Saviour who was born as you are born, lived as you live, and died as you die, so that you rise as He rose, and live and He lives - confidently, triumphantly, and eternally.

So was Peter foolish for wanting to stay there, on the mountain, with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, in glory? Well, no, not so much foolish - it was unnecessary. They didn’t have to stay with Him - He came to stay with us.

And He still is. You’ll know it if you listen. That Jesus is here, for His Word is here. His glorious Word. You see here neither the glory of the transfiguration nor the gory of the cross, but it’s the same Word, the same Jesus. For here, too, you hear of His departure. We talk about it every week, all the time. And you hear His words of forgiveness. You eat and drink the Body and Blood of the cross, and His blood washes sinners at this Font. You hear His promises, receive His blessing. 

You hear, you know, you believe . . . so why are we not more like Peter? Why aren’t we eager to stay here? Why are we so easily kept away from this place? Why are we so quickly distracted? Why so heavy with sleep after the things of this world and life have so captured our attention and energy?

Here is your mountain. Not of Transfiguration nor Golgotha, but both. For the glorious one, the crucified one, the risen one, is here for you. Listen to Him. As He forgives you, as He feeds you, as He blesses you. Listen to Him. This is no small talk but big talk. Not better life talk but new life talk. Words that create. Words that are steadfast and true. Listen to Him.

And the time will come when you will see. When you will see not Jesus in glory with two prophets, nor Jesus in death with two criminals, but both. You’ll see Jesus in glory, with the scars of the cross, and with all the saints and angels on the Last Day. And you’ll hear joy. The endless alleluia of heaven.

But until that day, listen to Him. In the highs and the lows, in the good times and the bad times, in glory or in shame, when you feel cursed or when you seem blessed, when the wind is at your back or in your face . . . Listen to Him

And listen as we put our alleluia away today, and enter the season of Lent and begin our journey to the cross. As we hear of our sin and repent; but even more, to hear of our sin on Him, to hear our death slay Him, to hear our curse condemn Him. And then most of all, to hear His love that would do all that, take all that, and believe. Believe that in Him your sin is forgiven, in Him your curse is taken away, in Him your death is not the end, and in Him you are a glorious son of God. You can’t see that, but you’ll hear it. 

Listen to Him. For you won’t hear it from anyone else. And no one else can give you as much. 

Listen to Him. These are the words you need to hear. 

Listen to Him. For when you do, and when the time for your departure comes, then you will depart . . . from this place and from this life . . . in peace.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Epiphany 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A Word Unlike Any Other”
Text: Luke 4:31-44; I Corinthians 12:31b-13:13
(Jeremiah 1:4-10)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Imagine being in the synagogue in Capernaum that day. 

You’ve been there before, lot of times. Today, though, there was a guest preacher. And while you’ve heard lots of sermons - some good, and some . . . well, some better than others - you’ve never heard preaching like this before. This was different. He was different. He spoke with authority. Like He was the author, explaining what He wrote. Like He was speaking what He had spoken before. That He was somehow in these words, and these words in Him. It was astonishing. And unlike some other sermons you’ve heard, you wished it wouldn’t end. That’s how captivating it was. He was.

But that was not the only astonishing thing in synagogue that day. There was that man. You didn’t even know who he was. He looked normal enough, until he so rudely interrupted Jesus. And what he said . . . well, it was more than a little troubling. Like, he didn’t want Jesus to be here with us.“Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” That’s what he said. And, that’s what we were all thinking . . . kind of. That He was a holy one. But not to destroy us . . . Why would he say that? Was there something to it? Did he know something we didn’t? You’d heard the stories about priests going into the Holy of Holies in the Temple and not coming out alive. You didn’t mess with the holy. Was there something more going on here than we knew . . . ?

But then it ended as quickly as it had begun. And it was Jesus’ word again. He didn’t argue with the man, he simply told him to be quiet and come out of him. You’d heard about unclean spirits and people being possessed by them, but you’d never actually seen one before. That one could be so close to you and you didn’t even know it was kind of unsettling. Were there more? But it happened as Jesus said. The man didn’t say anything else - he simply fell to the floor and it was over. That was it. Jesus’ words were not only astonishing, but had authority. What He said wasn’t just true, they happened

At coffee hour after the service ended, we were all talking about it. Jesus didn’t stay, though. He went right to Simon’s house. But then it happened there too! Just as Jesus had rebuked the unclean demon, so He rebuked the fever that had kept Simon’s mother-in-law from coming to synagogue that morning; the fever that some said had her near death. Some people laughed, for who talks to a fever? But it came out of her too. Just like that. But it was more than that. For when I’ve had a fever before, it takes me a few days to get my strength back after the fever breaks. But she got better right away. She got up right away and served them, like she’d never been sick at all. His words happen. His words make things happen.

Well, once word got around about that, there was no stopping folks! Everybody and anybody who was sick . . . they came out of the woodwork. It was like gridlock in Capernaum that evening! Everybody trying to see Jesus. And Jesus saw them all. He was so patient and kind. He didn’t boast. He wasn’t arrogant or rude. He was not irritable or resentful. He was full of joy. So many before Him had said so much, but they were like noisy gongs or clanging cymbals. Jesus was different. He just kept giving. Giving Himself. He kept preaching and things kept happening. 

And He healed everyone. All who came. The Great Physician was the name your neighbor gave Him. But He was more than that. There were more demons, too. You didn’t know there were so many around us, did you? And they were calling Him the Son of God. But He didn’t want them to speak. It was like He just wanted to help. To make people better. To set them free. To give them hope. To love them. And He was good at it.

You watched for a while, but it got late, and it seemed like the people waiting to see Him was endless . . .  In the morning, you went to find Him, to hear more, see more, receive more. But He was leaving.“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” That’s what He said. It made you a little sad. That was one great day! And what about when you got sick? Sure would be nice if Jesus would be here for you then . . . 

But something else He said . . . I was sent for this purpose. But who sent Him? It wasn’t the Pharisees or Saduccees - they didn’t like Him very much. Jealous, I guess.  . . .  Maybe what the demons had said . . . you are the Holy One of God; you are the Son of God. Could the One, the Holy One who dwelt in the Temple and made it holy, be dwelling now in this man from Nazareth? Not to destroy, but like at the Temple, to cleanse, to forgive, to make us holy? 

It doesn’t seem possible, or even probable. For cleansing, forgiveness, holiness - you needed sacrifices for that. You needed blood for that. It wasn’t so easy, so available. It was costly. And you needed priests. You couldn’t just go into the Holy place - only they could. But there was no denying what you had seen and heard. People were being cleansed and forgiven and holied. What happened in the Temple was happening in Capernaum . . . and Nazareth and Samaria and Cana and Tyre and Sidon and . . . everywhere Jesus was . . .

The prophets, like Jeremiah, had talked about such a day, when God Himself would come and shepherd His people (Jer 31:10). And then you remembered those words of John the Baptist you’d overheard by the Jordan - Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). And then you remembered that Jesus was killed on Passover, when all the lambs were killed (John 18:39). And then you remembered what Jesus said on the cross - priestly words! Speaking forgiveness to those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34). Speaking comfortingly to that man hanging next to Him (Luke 23:43), just like He did in Capernaum. Jesus still, even while He was dying, even while men and demons were taunting Him, still filled with love. Still patient and kind, not irritable or resentful, delivering up His body to be burned under the wrath of God on the cross . . .

Yes, His words, even there, astonishing . . . and happening. That man would be in Paradise with Him that day. There was forgiveness now . . . for everyone. For criminals, for crucifiers . . . even for you. 

That day in Capernaum, it was like seeing dimly, but now you see it so clearly. Even more, you know He can see you. That day in the synagogue, you were just one in the crowd, yet it seemed like He was talking right to you. Because He was. He knew your heart, your sins. It was like He could see your through your skin. The fight you had this week. The harsh and hurtful words. The work you should have done but didn’t do. The impure desires you had. The jealousy, the anger. How you looked down on others in your heart even though you knew you were no better. How you didn’t pray because you thought it didn’t matter, and how reading God’s Word wasn’t as important to you as that book you wanted to read. 

He knew it all, and more. And yet still He spoke those astonishing words to you, today! I forgive you all your sins. And you were cleansed. It happened. Words with authority. And still He offers His body to you! His body once offered on the cross, and his blood shed there, now offered to you, to holy you. The Holy of Holies here. Take eat. Take and drink. The Lamb of God. The Passover Lamb. Today you will be with me in Paradise. And it’s true. For what He speaks, happens

For actually, you were there that day, in the synagogue, in Capernaum. Or actually, perhaps better to say, they are here with you. For the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven are here. For Jesus is here. For you. 

What else did you expect when you came here today? Indeed, why else come here today? For the preacher? You’ve heard better sermons. For friends? You’ve got them at home. For the food? I don’t even know if there is any today. For Jesus. Not because He needs you, but because you need Him. Because you need your unclean spirit expelled and its temptations silenced. You need to be healed of your sin-sickness. You need His love and hope, that when you die, death will not be the end for you. You need to hear words that happen - not the words of a skilled politician, but of a Saviour. You need comfort in your desolate place, a friend who will never leave you or forsake you (Deut 31:6). You want to be fully known, to give yourself completely, to hide nothing, to have no secrets, to rest in pure and unfailing love. And there’s only one place that kind of love is - a love that bears all things; a love that never ends. In the Holy of Holies. In Jesus. The One who gives Himself like that to you.

For He was sent for this purpose. Sent by His Father. To Capernaum and to here. To you. Not to destroy you, but to destroy your uncleanness. To make you sons of God, holy ones of God, in Him. And He has. You are. For what He speaks, happens. He has loved you. He has worded you. So now . . . you who have heard, you who have received, can live that love, and in that love, for you have been filled with such love. Filled . . . with Jesus. And where you are, He is; and where He is, you will be. He promised. And what He speaks, happens.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Commemoration of St. Timothy Sermon

[No audio this week - sorry!]

Jesu Juva

“The Good Confession”
Text: Matthew 24:42-47; Acts 16:1-5; 1 Timothy 6:11-16

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

I don’t know if Paul, any of the other apostles, or any other of the first generation of pastors which came after them, like Timothy, had to deal with snow and blizzards. Though I suspect they did. In some of the higher elevations of Asia Minor, they may have had to change their plans because of the weather. 

But that’s nothing new. We read about the weather effecting God’s people all through the Scriptures, from the flood in Noah’s day, to drought in the days of Elijah, to storms at sea for Paul. Sometimes God uses the weather to exercise His judgment, and sometimes for the benefit of His people, but at other times it’s just creation being creation, and something for us to marvel at. And to be thankful for the warm and safe homes our Lord has so graciously given to shelter us.

But in the readings that we heard today, there is another kind of dangerous storm that is really being spoken of - the dangerous storm of false doctrine. That was the real battle the apostles and those who came after them had to battle. A battle that is still going on today. And in the midst of that storm, the Lord has graciously provided homes to shelter us and keep us safe - our home which is called the Church. A place where we might be protected from the dangers around us: to be warmed by the truth in a cold and selfish world, and to be fed by our Lord’s Word and Sacraments.

And that is the picture Jesus gives the twelve as He teaches them, as we heard in the Holy Gospel. Jesus speaks of the master of the house, and the wise and faithful servant . . . the master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time. Jesus spoke those words to the twelve just a couple of days before His crucifixion, as they were having some time alone on the Mount of Olives. He is going to set them over His house, His Church, to care for them and feed them. The thief is going to be out there, lurking around, storming around, trying to steal from the Church - both her truth and her sons and daughters. So they must stay awake and be alert for him, and for the storms that will come. Like the forecasters that have flooded our ears with warnings all this past week, Jesus warns them of what is coming. And while our blizzard lasted only a couple of days and has come to an end, they will not know how long their storms will last; how long it will be till Jesus comes again. 

So with this admonition of Jesus, and after they receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the twelve begin to preach, and as we heard in the reading from Acts, the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily. And as they did, as the Church continued to grow, the apostles had to themselves do what Jesus had done - appoint servants over the houses, over the Churches; pastors to care for them and feed them in the midst of the worldly and doctrinal storms raging all around them. And one of those Paul appointed was Timothy. 

Timothy was from a mixed-marriage home, like so many today. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek and, so it seems, an unbeliever. Paul hand picks Timothy for this work, which perhaps made his mother proud and his father not so much. So maybe even early on there were storm clouds gathering in Timothy’s own house. And so Timothy accompanied Paul for some time, but then, according to tradition, Timothy was left to care for the Church at Ephesus. And if Washington, DC and this area was the bullseye for this storm, you could say that Ephesus was the bullseye of many a doctrinal storm that arose in those days. It was a city rife with false teaching and false religion.

But the greater the storm, the greater the need for the shelter and truth of the Church. Maybe we need to learn that in our country and its cultural climate today. Instead of wringing our hands as our culture continues to slide away from the truth of God’s Word, perhaps we need to be aware that with that, more and more opportunities abound - as more and more people are left out in the cold, are being buried under a blizzard of false teaching, and are starving for the truth. We have a shelter for them here. We have food for them here. We have hope for them here.

And so as Timothy labored to care for that house, that Church, Paul wrote to encourage him in his work. For it is easy to get discouraged, to look out the window at the blizzard raging all around us in fear and trepidation. So Paul encourages Timothy, and us. Fight the good fight of the faith. Don’t give up. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness . . . and not just for himself, but for the flock, for the Church. As their pastor. To shelter them and feed them and care for them. To continue to make the good confession, which Timothy had done before in the presence of many witnesses - perhaps a reference to his ordination. We don’t know how long the storms will last, Paul says. But we know they will one day end, at the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . at the proper time.

At the proper time . . . which means it will be no accident. Jesus will come again exactly as planned. And then the storms will end, when the Son shines again over all creation.

But until that time . . . well, Paul says something ominous to Timothy. Make the good confession, he says. Preach the good confession, just as Jesus did before Pontius Pilate. 

But you know the story - that good confession got Jesus crucified. And it seems to have gotten Timothy stoned and clubbed to death as well, as it had led to the martyrdom of Paul and ten of the twelve disciples - the only exceptions being Judas, who killed himself, and John, the only one to die a natural death. The satanic thief does not like the good confession.

Yet the good confession cannot be silenced. For the One who is preached, and the One who preaches today through His servants, defeated death. And so while the good confession may make the thief and world rage, it leads to life and gives life. In the midst of the storms of sin it gives forgiveness. In the midst of the darkness of false doctrine it shines the light of truth. In the midst of death it raises to life. For the good confession is Jesus. And it is Jesus who is really the good and faithful servant, caring for and feeding His Church - through His servants. They will die but He will not. They may stumble and fall but He will not. And as they speak and give, it is really Jesus speaking and giving. For it is His Word and His gifts . . . and His life.

So as we give thanks today for Timothy, we give thanks also for all pastors who have cared for us and fed us in the past, those who will do so in the future, and the One - Jesus - who is really working through them all. 

And that even as the good confession is made here, so it may sound throughout the world, and in our homes too. As all of us go out into the storms of this world and life, into our callings, and confess to those around us. Shoveling, plowing, through the lies and half-truths dumped around us. Confessing Jesus - His life, His hope, His truth. Blessed are those who hear. Blessed are those who speak. Blessed are you, in Jesus.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Epiphany 2 / Sanctity of Life Sunday Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Hope and Life in a World of Sorrow and Death”
Text: Isaiah 62:1-5; John 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

2015 was a mixed-year for the sanctity of life.

Planned Parenthood’s cruel and grisly practice of selling baby body parts was exposed. That the practice and the market were even there in the first place is evidence of a continuing and spectacular disregard for the sanctity of life. The outcry raised and the number of demonstrators who turned out to speak up for life, though, was a good and positive sign. 

The number of surgical abortions is down, but that may only be because of abortion pills, now so widely and easily available.

The practices of euthanasia and assisted suicide continue to expand and grow, with younger and younger people now choosing death and some now advocating for the ability to end the lives of some people against their will.

Terrorists and savages continued to place not little value, but NO value on life, beheading and murdering people at will.

Divisions to continue to grow in our country and in the world, as people increasingly look at one another not as people created in the image of God, whose life has value and sanctity, but as inconveniences to avoid at best, and opponents to overcome at worst.

In such a culture, standing up for and speaking for life seems as difficult and exhausting as trying to run up the down escalator. And maybe it is . . . but run we must. For a world that turns to death as an answer, as a friend, does so because it has lost all other hope; because it sees no other way; because they have no other answers. 

But we do. We have a Saviour who gives hope. Who gives forgiveness of sin when we have messed up life. Who gives strength when we are weak, when life beats us down. Who gives the promise of life when we’re surrounded by death. Who came to provide an answer and another way, a better way. A way of hope. 

Israel needed that hope. When God sent Isaiah to speak to them, things were not good. The kingdom was divided, idolatry was rampant, and foreign nations and their armies were threatening. It is not unlike how our country and our world seems today. Yet Isaiah says: For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet. He’s going to keep running up that down escalator. Because, he says, there’s hope. The time is coming when you shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate. Such words were living water to people thirsting for hope, and manna to people hungering for relief. A time of rejoicing, a time of glory, was coming.

And while life continued to be difficult after Isaiah preached those words - and maybe you could even say things got worse! - still there was hope. Something to believe in, something to cling to. And not just pipe-dream hope, but Word of God hope. Real hope. That God does not forsake His people. That He is with us and for us, even in the dark and difficult times.

Which is exactly the promise and assurance and hope we need today. It is easy - too easy - to just criticize and condemn those who turn to death for an answer, for relief. Yes, sometimes such criticism and condemnation is necessary - for the Law must still be preached; there is still right and wrong. But maybe sometimes we run there too quickly, when instead a word of hope is needed. A word of hope when someone’s world seems to be crumbling all around them. When life is so messy and hard and frightening that death - be it suicide, euthanasia, or abortion - in comparison, looks good, like a friend.

But death is no friend. In some cases, maybe there is some temporary relief when a frightening and unexpected pregnancy ends, when a disease-ridden body struggles no more, when a caregiver has time to rest and not be on edge all the time, when loneliness and despair come to an end - but what about the next struggle, the guilt, the regrets that often come. What then? More death? 

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet. No, in the face of death, the Church speaks a message of hope. 

It is the message of Mary, actually, that we heard in the Holy Gospel today. For she knew where to turn for help, for hope. When the wedding they were attending at Cana ran out of wine, she turns to Jesus. Now, compared to all the life issues we’re facing today, all those things I listed at the beginning of the sermon, and more, running out of wine . . . may not seem like much of a problem at all. And maybe by comparison, it isn’t - even if it would have been a bigger deal then than for us today. But though, perhaps, not a crisis, not an issue of life and death, Jesus helps. He manifested His glory, John says. He is epiphanied - revealed - as the Lord of creation, who has come not just to help the really important people and with the really big problems, but provides even this - joy at a wedding feast. And He who does that has come to bring hope and joy into our lives as well.

Which is what Jesus is speaking of when He tells His mother: My hour has not yet come. It seems strange that He says that one moment and then the next is doing what she wanted . . . unless He’s talking about something else, something greater, something that would also happen on the third day, as John began his report. And indeed He is. He is talking about His own wedding feast, when He would be the one Isaiah spoke of, the bridegroom rejoicing over [His] Bride, the Church. The rejoicing that would come when He defeats death in His resurrection from the dead, and takes home His Bride to the Feast that will have no end. Just as He provided for this wedding feast, so He will provide what is needed for His own - the forgiveness and cleansing of His Bride, and the joy of a life free from sin, death, and evil.

And so with Jesus there is hope - not just for the future, but for our “Canas” now. When we’re hoping for joy but get only sorrow. When we’re looking for wine but get only water. Jesus is here. It is not yet His hour to return and take home His Bride, but He is still here to help in our problems big or small. When life becomes an issue and each day a struggle. Death is not the answer - the One who defeated death is. The One who forgives is. The One who holds all power over creation in His hands is. And so to Him we turn.

And that is the message we proclaim to those with life issues. There’s another way. They may not know that. They might never have been told that. They maybe once knew but have been so beat down and beat up that they no longer believe it. Maybe fear and despair have blinded their faith and hope. Whatever the reason, whoever the person, Isaiah’s message of hope is just as true today as it was so many years ago. For the God of life has entered our life to give us who are under the curse of sin and death life again. New life in the water of the Font, the living water of the Word, and the wine made His Blood in the Supper. That we put our faith not in death but in His life.

Which doesn’t mean an end to all our troubles. As long as we live in a sinful world, there are going to be troubles and death. But it means that He is with us in them, as He was at Cana, and that there is hope. For He who turned water into wine can turn the water that flows as tears from our eyes and as sorrow from our hearts into blessing as well.

And He’ll use you, too. St. Paul told the Corinthians that there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. That Spirit was given to you in your baptism, and by the same Spirit you confessed again today that Jesus is Lord. But that is not the end of it. That Spirit has gifted you for the common good; to be a blessing of God to others. Maybe not with the extraordinary gifts that are often focused on - healing and tongues and prophecy and things that were common at the time of the apostles, but not so much today. But that doesn’t mean the Spirit is not working. He is. And through you. And as is our focus today, to be His blessing and hope to those with life issues. To speak and not keep silent. To point people to the hope we have of life. To help those in need. To provide for the needy. To speak a word of forgiveness to those wracked with guilt. To love the unloved, hold the hand of the unwanted, to be the strength of the weak.

But really, there is nothing ordinary about doing those things. They are extraordinary, too, in their own way. And life-giving, hope-giving, things. To people in need of life and hope. People you know. People like you and me.

So what will 2016 hold for the sanctity of life? No one knows but One - the One who holds all things in His hands, including you. The One who never changes; who is steadfast and reliable. 

But this we know: in 2016 He will continue to give life, though people continue to destroy what He has given. He will continue to redeem life through His Word and Sacraments, though people turn away from these, too. And He will continue to bless your life, as He did that day at Cana. As only He can. And as He promised to do. 

So we do not despair; we do not lose hope. Life won, when Jesus came into this world and life to be our Saviour. Life won, when Jesus rose from the dead. Life won, when you were baptized into Jesus and His victory over death. And life will win, when He returns on that Last Day, and you rise to life again. This we know. 

So we do not despair; we do not lose hope. Whatever your burden - be it struggle or sorrow or guilt - Jesus wants it, to carry it for you, and set you free. To give you life, and hope, and maybe even joy. A joy greater than the pain, greater than the fears. The joy of knowing you are not alone. Ever. The joy of knowing that your life, however it is, is precious and valuable and meaningful and useful, though we may not understand how. The joy of knowing the One who can change water into wine, who can change despair into hope, bring light into the darkness, and bring good even from evil - even from the cross. The joy of knowing that as Jesus showed us at Cana, the best is yet to come. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.