Sunday, January 31, 2010

Epiphany 4 Sermon -- Luke 4:31-44 (LSB Epiphany 4C)

January 31, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“Jesus went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And He was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority. . . . And they were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’”

A Man walks off the dusty streets of a rural town and stands in its assembly hall. He reads from ancient writings in a stentorian voice, so that all can hear. Then He gives commentary about what He just read. But what comes from His mouth is unlike what the people usually heard. His words have gravitas. His statements carry the sense that what was told centuries before is completely true—true in the here and now. The people listen, enthralled by what the Man says because it hits them in their hearts, minds, and souls.

This is the depiction which the Gospel Writer gives about Jesus in the Capernaum Synagogue. Jesus teaches the people of that Galilean town. And what the people hear emanating from His mouth amazes them: “They were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority.” Jesus’ teaching was unlike what the Capernaum faithful usually heard on the Sabbath. They got no simple commentary from Jesus, no moralizing, no trite message of hope. Instead, as they heard Jesus speak, it was as if the author of the Scriptures was there retelling what He Himself had written.

“They were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority.” The authority was there because the Author of the Scriptures actually was standing in their midst. They were hearing the Incarnate Word of God speaking the Word of God. Jesus was speaking from His heart, mind, and soul to the hearts, minds, and souls of the Capernaites. And with that word came the full authority of the Lord God Himself. The faithful people of Capernaum heard the voice of Him who brought Creation into being through His words, who gives life to the dead, who calls into being that which did not exist.

As the people of Capernaum received Jesus’ teaching, they also received its benefits. Unlike the people in Nazareth’s synagogue who drove Jesus away, these people hear “the good news of the kingdom of God.” They are given the privilege of being witnesses of the Promised Christ’s work. And they are helped by it. For notice what else happened in Capernaum on that Sabbath Day! “And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘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.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm.”

The Capernaum synagogue sees the mastery which the Christ, the Holy One of God, has over the forces of evil. Jesus liberates one of their own from his bondage to Satan. The man is freed from that physical and spiritual affliction. Jesus demonstrates that what the demon said about His identity is true. Jesus proves that He is “the Holy One of God.” And this revelation astonishes again the crowd: “They were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’”

What is this Word, indeed! It is what Jesus is. Speaking and commanding from His essence, from His being, Jesus has dominion over the unclean spirits. And His authority spills out into the streets of Capernaum. Going into Simon’s house, He heals Simon’s mother-in-law: “He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.” Speaking from His being, Jesus has dominion over diseases. His words carry authority that nothing can resist or withstand. They accomplish what they say. So when Jesus speaks to benefit the people of Capernaum and they see what His word brings about, they are overwhelmed with joy and amazement.

The amazement and joy which the Capernaites had led them to welcome Jesus. The Gospel-Writer records: “When it was day, [Jesus] departed and went to a desolate place. And the people sought Him and came to Him, and would have kept Him from leaving them.” The faithful of Capernaum wanted Jesus in their midst. They wanted to keep His word among them. “But Jesus said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’” “His word that possessed authority” must be spoken in other places, so that others may hear, believe, and benefit from it. And so “Jesus was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.”

Everything that happened in Capernaum revealed Jesus’ identity. Witnessing with amazement, the people learned that Jesus is the Promised Christ, the One who would bring liberation and deliverance from what enslaved the world. Preaching authoritatively in the synagogue, Jesus works against doubt and unbelief. Commanding authoritatively, Jesus battles the demonic. Speaking authoritatively, Jesus overcomes disease and death. He is victorious over what had bound His creation. That is “the good news of the kingdom of God which Jesus discloses to the people of Capernaum.

But Jesus’ statement is vital: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” What happens in Capernaum doesn’t stay in Capernaum. It spreads to other towns where Jesus goes and speaks His authoritative word. It spreads to other places, wherever the authoritative words and works of Jesus are declared and proclaimed.

“The good news of the kingdom of God is spoken here in Mechanicsburg. For Jesus is preaching in the assembly halls of Pennsylvania. His authoritative word is here among you. It has been brought and left here according to Christ’s command. Jesus teaches here on the New Sabbath, the Day of His Resurrection. And as you hear His authoritative word, you also can be astonished and amazed.

This is what happens as the kingdom of God is expanded among you. Jesus achieves this through His authoritative word that He puts into the mouths of His servants. Just like He did with Jeremiah, the Lord God says to His servants: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have set you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” He authorizes others to speak His authoritative word with its full weight.

And so in this, your assembly hall, you may hear and be amazed. You have Jesus’ preaching and teaching repeated to you on Sunday and other days when the faithful of Calvary, Mechanicsburg gather. But it is more than a repetition—Jesus is speaking again, as He did in Capernaum! You hear His authoritative word cast out the spirits of the unclean, as spoken in baptisms: “Depart, O unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit!” And it is so. You hear Jesus’ authoritative word remove guilt, as spoken in the Absolution: “Your sins are forgiven you!” And it is so. You hear that same authoritative word rebuke the spiritual fever of hellfire and damnation: “You shall not have these disciples of Mine as your victims!” And it is so. On the Last Day, you will hear the authoritative word of Jesus say to the grave: “Open up and release My people!” And it will be so.

This is what the authoritative word of Christ brings about. And it is astonishing and amazing. It was amazing enough when it causes visible effects, as it did in Capernaum. The people’s eyes saw and were amazed. But it is even more astonishing when its effects are outside the range of vision, but still take place. Your eyes may not see and be amazed, but your hearts, minds, and souls know and realize that Christ’s authoritative word has had its way with you. They are astonished and overjoyed because Jesus has spoken in your midst, because His word—“the good news of the kingdom of God”—has come to you.

Because Jesus is the Holy One of God, the Son of God, His word accomplishes what it says. Nothing can resist or withstand it. And that Word says that you have benefited by what Christ has done, that you have been made part of the kingdom of God. So you have heard the good news. What Jesus does and what Jesus says is meant for you. He has come and has brought you the pleasure eternal. He has revealed His true identity to you—that He is your Deliverer, your Redeemer, your Champion over everything that enslaved you.

So you may pray with the Psalmist: “In You, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. . . . Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; You have given the command to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress.” His authoritative command has been spoken in your midst. Jesus says that you are His, that you have been saved, that your captors will be cast out. As Jesus speaks—as He speaks again here and now—so it shall be for you, just as it was in Capernaum and in every place where His people gather in His Name and hear His authoritative word.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

St. Titus Day Sermon -- Titus 1:1-9

January 26, 2010 at Philadelphia Circuit Conference – Blue Bell, PA

“In due time, God revealed His word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior. . . . [A bishop] must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.”

The letter the Apostle Paul sends to Titus begins with a solemn charge. Titus had been given a task to fulfill. And Paul doesn’t let Titus forget that: “I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” It’s a bit more than just a friendly reminder. Rather, it’s a repetition of the assignment. Titus’ duty is restated for emphasis. By hearing it again, Titus will be motivated to fulfill his charge, and everyone who would encounter Titus’ doing so would know that he had been given the authority to accomplish it.

But there is more in Paul’s words than instructions. Paul calls Titus “my loyal child in the faith we share.” Whether he had been negligent or faithful in “appointing elders in every town,” Titus still was Paul’s assistant, friend, fellow disciple, even student and son. The two share the same faith. They have been called to belief in the same Lord, the One who “revealed His word in due time.” And it is this common bond that underlies the task that Titus had been given to accomplish in Crete.

We commemorate Titus as Bishop and Confessor, a man called by Christ through His apostles to be a bearer of His word, a witness to His salvific work, a public defender of what had been handed down from Christ Himself. Like the Eleven on the Galilean mountain, Matthias in the Upper Room, and Paul on the Damascus road, Titus had been given the charge: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Like the Seventy-Two in today’s Gospel Reading, Titus was sent to proclaim Christ’s peace to sinners whom He had reconciled by His death and resurrection.

“Teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” So Titus did among the people of Crete. And as Paul’s own representative, even as the ambassador of the Risen and Ascended Christ Himself, this bishop was to entrust others with the same task and duty. Others were to take up this responsibility, so that the “making of disciples” could take place on that Mediterranean island, so people of that nation would be marked as the Lord God’s people, His holy name etched on their heads and hearts, minds and souls.

Ultimately, such a task is wrapped up in what Paul describes as the qualifications of a bishop. Who should Titus appoint? Who can take up the responsibility of “making disciples”? There are several qualifications that mark one as eligible for the office. But it boils down to the major criteria, the one that was found in the last verse of our Epistle Reading: “[A bishop] must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.”

“A firm grasp of the word.” Without it, there is no making of disciples. He who cannot keep hold of the teaching of Jesus can never instruct others to obey everything that He commands. He who loses grip of the teachings handed down to him loses “what is trustworthy,” and has no lasting foundation for conducting his ministry. He becomes the steward of his own ideas or philosophy, no longer “God’s steward.” That is true even for you who have been so appointed to be bishops and stewards.

Yet what Paul identifies as the qualities of a bishop is not meant solely for the clergy. Certainly the task of overseeing the Church is, as well as being the stewards of Christ’s mysteries are a bishop’s task. But holding on to Christ’s trustworthy word and testament is universal to all who are His disciples. Everything that has been commanded: that is what our Lord demands that we keep and obey. For in that—and nothing else—salvation is found.

So while we have assembled here for a conference of Circuit pastors on the commemoration day of St. Titus, we hear “the word that is trustworthy,” the word we are to declare to the people put under our charge, so they may keep and obey it. Gathered together in Christ’s name, we have Him in our midst. We have Him present here and in our congregations with His forgiveness, life, and salvation for us. That is what His teaching carries. It is the power that His word of the Gospel brings, even the testimony of promise that our Lord Jesus attaches to simple things of this earth to bear heavenly things for our benefit.

As Lutherans, we hold on to the great motto of the Reformation, the words of Isaiah emblazoned on coats of arms: “Verbum Dei manet in aeternum: the Word of the Lord endures forever.” An everlasting word, an eternal word—that is what Paul refers to in his instruction to Titus: “[A bishop] must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching.” As a bishop himself, Titus must cling to what Christ had entrusted to Paul and what Paul had, in turn, passed down to him. Equipped with that, Titus can go on with the task of “making disciples” in Crete. But he can do more; he can hand over that trustworthy word to a new generation of apostles, so that they can take up the mantle of bearing witness to Christ and carry salvation to others.

This is what we have received in our day. As bishops and elders, we have taken up the responsibility and duty that Titus was given and which he gave. The trustworthy word of Christ is what we have been entrusted with to deliver to the saints—both old and new—in our parishes. It continues to be present and active in our midst. It hits us as the sharp two-edged sword that cuts between bone and marrow. The Lord God speaks and we stand condemned. He speaks an indictment of substance, accurate in all counts. It crushes the bones; it leaves no one room to stand as the record of iniquity is read out. His testimony declares: “You have been measured and found wanting.” And that is most certainly true.

And yet, the trustworthy word of Christ conveys more. It also binds and heals. He speaks the greeting: “Peace be with you,” and you are reconciled to Him. Our Lord says: “I have called you by name,” and you belong to Him. Jesus declares: “Your sins are forgiven you,” and salvation becomes your possession. The eternal Christ speaks in our midst: “This bread is My body; this wine is My blood; both given and shed for you,” and you feed on the Bread of Heaven who continues to abide in you and you in Him for everlasting life. These statements are trustworthy and true, coming from the Son of God’s own lips. They have been carried by bishops and elders and brought to your own ears. And as you have been charged to declare these same trustworthy words, they are brought to the ears of those who hear you.

This is what Titus entrusted to those he appointed in Crete, just as happens everywhere Christ provides ministers for His Church. It is not an empty gesture or a pointless action. No, the trustworthy word is entrusted to another place and time, so that disciples are made, so that Christ’s salvation is brought to sinners who need it, who have been chosen from before time began to receive it. So it happened in Crete, as it has happened here in Blue Bell, PA and in every place that is represented in these pews.

In due time, God has revealed His truth through the proclamation of those who had a firm grasp of that word which is trustworthy, even today. It has been revealed even to you, so that you, His disciples, may have a firm grasp on that word which conveys forgiveness, life, and salvation. So it has been given to you, so may you hear it, believe it, and firmly grasp it. Then may you go and speak it with Christ’s own authority, as you have been charged to do.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

St. Timothy Day Sermon -- Matthew 24:42-47

January 24, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said]: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his Master has set over His household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his Master will find so doing when He comes.”

Servants are given orders by masters. That is simply how it works. That is the relationship which servants and master have. Orders are given, and they are to be followed. Obedience—fulfilling the task—and disobedience—not fulfilling the task—both have consequences. Those who obey are commended; those who disobey are condemned.

That is so, even in the Church. The Church has a Master-Servant relationship. Christ is the Lord, the Master. Of this, there is no doubt. Christ’s disciples are members of His household, cared and provided for by Christ, their Lord. Again, of this, there is no doubt. But within the household, there are some who are still under Christ, but who are set over the members of the household. These are the servants of Christ. Members of the household, yes; but they are given authority and responsibility over other members.

On this day, January 24, the Church commemorates one such servant of Christ: St. Timothy, Bishop and Confessor. Most of you have encountered that name before. At the very least, you know that two New Testament epistles are addressed to him—the not so creatively named First Timothy and Second Timothy. But many of you know more than that: you know that Timothy was one of St. Paul’s assistants in his missionary work and that he was set over Churches in Ephesus and Asia Minor as their bishop.

Details of Timothy’s identity were given to you in today’s First Reading: “A disciple was [in Lystra], named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium.” This believer of Jewish and Gentile ethnicity and of good reputation was seen by Paul as an asset to the Church. He was viewed as one able to be set over members of Christ’s household. So Timothy was given a task to deliver the Gospel to churches: “As [Paul and Timothy] went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.”

Timothy’s life changed in that choice. Through the Apostle Paul, Timothy was chosen by Christ Himself to be “a faithful and wise servant, whom his Master has set over His household, to give them their food at the proper time.” That was Timothy’s vocation, his calling given by his Lord Jesus. And that calling, that vocation, was why Paul would instruct Timothy: “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in His testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Timothy’s duty was clear: to guide and feed the people of Christ’s household, “to give them their food at the proper time.” But how are the members of Christ’s household fed? How was Timothy to accomplish this task? It isn’t by handing them bread from a baker or meat from a butcher, even though the Jerusalem Decree spoke of not eating bloody meat or the flesh of strangled animals. Rather, the feeding is done by handing over to Christ’s people His gifts through His Words. Feeding the members of Christ’s household is done by providing them what He has earned for them in the ways that He has instituted.

This feeding is described in today’s psalm: “My mouth will tell of Your righteous acts, of Your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is beyond my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come; I will remind them of Your righteousness, Yours alone.” That is what gives Christ’s followers strength and life. That is what feeds them. That is what Timothy gave to the churches he oversaw, even the churches near Derbe and Lystra that “were strengthened in the faith, and increased in numbers daily.”

The task that was given to Timothy is given to all who are set over Christ’s household. As with all servants, an order given by the Master is expected to be obeyed. Obedience or disobedience will have consequences. So that the servants can be reminded of their task, days like today are kept by the Church. All those who bear the same office as Timothy should be moved by what their Lord Jesus has spoken about them.

But St. Timothy’s Day is not only for those who wear the black shirts and white collars. Its commemoration is meant for your benefit, too. Though you have not been given the command that Christ’s servants have, you have heard the Master speak it. Hearing the orders given to the ministers of the Church allows you to know what to expect. Because the Lord Jesus has said that His servants will “give [the members of His household] their food at the proper time,” you have a proper expectation to be fed—to be fed the way that Christ has laid out. If that does not happen, then you know that something is amiss.

For your benefit, you heard the orders given to the Church’s ministers on this day. As you gather here as the members of Christ’s household, you can evaluate the servants who have been set over you. Do you hear them speak about the righteous acts of Christ, His works of salvation? Do you hear them reminding you of Christ’s righteousness alone, and not theirs or yours? Do you hear them proclaim Christ’s wondrous deeds? Do they speak of Christ’s might to another generation, His power to all who come? If so, you may know that those servants are being faithful and wise. If so, you may know that you are receiving the food that Christ has to give you.

On this day, you are being fed again at the proper time by one of Christ’s servants. For you will eat the bread and drink the cup and proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. You will hear the New Testament given by the Master of the Household: that through His Body given in death for you and His Blood shed for you, you have forgiveness, life, and salvation. What you need for true life is being given by the Crucified and Risen Christ through His servants. And as was spoken at the beginning of the Divine Service, that servant delivered forgiveness for your sins “in the stead and by the command” of Christ Himself.

Through these things, you are given what you need to be “strengthened in the faith” and to “increase in numbers daily.” It is not Christ’s servant accomplishing it, but what Christ does through His servant’s work. So it was for the people of Christ’s households in Derbe and Lystra. So it was for the people of Christ’s household in Asia Minor where Timothy served as bishop. So it is for Christ’s household here in this place. The location name might change, but what Christ gives to His people through His servants does not.

So Jesus says: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his Master has set over His household, to give them their food at the proper time?” It is Timothy and all who are diligent in preaching Christ’s Holy Word and administering Christ’s means of grace: Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Supper. “Blessed is that servant whom his Master will find so doing when He comes.” But blessed also are you, the members of Christ’s household, who receive what the Master gives—forgiveness, life, and salvation—through His servants. May you also be faithful and wise to follow in the way that leads to life eternal.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Epiphany 2 Sermon -- John 2:1-11 (LSB Epiphany 2C)

January 17, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.”

Jesus enjoys weddings. He is always present at them, always talking about them. This is so in our day, as Jesus makes Himself present at the weddings of His followers. It has also been true in history, as you heard in today’s Gospel Reading: “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus was also invited to the wedding with His disciples.”

Why does Jesus attend the wedding? It can be inferred from John’s account that Jesus was familiar with the bridal party. That His mother and His brothers were present implies that the entire family of Jesus knew the members of the bridal party. Perhaps the bride or groom was closely related to Jesus. Could this be the wedding of one of Jesus’ sisters? But His presence at the wedding is for more than social or family reasons.

Jesus’ presence at weddings—and His use of them as elements in His teaching—reveals something about His identity. You learn about who Jesus is by His attendance at weddings, especially this one in Cana. For at Cana, Jesus makes known who He is by His actions. What Jesus does at that wedding reveals who He is.

You heard that there was something wrong about this wedding at Cana. All the guests were there, so that isn’t it. The ceremonies assumedly were conducted without error, so that isn’t it, either. But during the banquet, the wine supply goes dry: “When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’” This is bad. It is socially awkward at best. It is symbolically damaging; as the wine represents the joy of married life, to have it run out at the banquet is a terrible sign. It would be what the guests remember forever about the ceremony, what they take with them from this event.

So what does Jesus do for this bride and groom that He knows? How does He solve their problem? First He responds to the news of the wine supply’s end: “What does this have to do with Me, woman?” Or more precisely according to John’s actual words: “What is there to both Me and you, woman?” That is: “What have we in common? In what way does this affect both Me and you the same?” And Jesus goes further: “My hour has not yet come” or “Has My hour not yet come?”

These are not dismissive statements to Jesus’ mother. Rather, with such a response, Jesus says that this is a problem that He must fix. The problem, the negative effects that the lack of wine will have on the marriage of the bride and groom actually affects Him. Jesus asks: “What does this have to do with Me, woman?” It has everything to do with Him. And His mother gets it, as is seen in her response to Jesus: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever He tells you!’” She knows that Jesus is going to act.

And act He does: “Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water!’ And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast!’ So they took it.” Jesus is acting here, using the creation that He has made and manipulating it for His great and gracious work. For the water loses its nature and becomes wine by Jesus’ direction for the benefit of the bridal party.

The Evangelist records: “When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now!’” What Jesus provides is very good. And this reveals something about His identity and character. As the One through whom all things were made, when Jesus acts He turns out good product. When Jesus acts, He does not do so half-heartedly, but to the fullest.

Knowing the value and character of Jesus’ actions is important for you. For by that knowledge revealed to you, you know what type of Savior you have. The One who does not act half-heartedly in this miracle is the same One who does not act half-heartedly for your salvation. No, He gives His all for you—even His own life—so that you may live. Such whole-hearted action will be seen in all the miracles, all the signs that Jesus does. For these testify about His identity and character as the Promised Christ; they reveal the glory that Jesus possesses and uses for you. This is what the Evangelist summarizes at the end of the miracle account: “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory.”

But let us return to Jesus’ response to His mother’s statement: “What does this have to do with Me?” As said earlier, it has everything to do with Jesus. The disaster that lack of wine will cause the bride and groom actually affects Him. And why is this so? Because of who Jesus is. He is much more than the One through whom all things were made, though His turning water into the best of wines demonstrates that. And Jesus is much more than someone who feels other people’s pain. Jesus’ concern over the bride and groom’s welfare stems from His identity as the Bridegroom. For being the Bridegroom is an essential part of who Jesus is as the Christ.

That aspect of Jesus’ identity is seen in the two portions of the Old Testament you heard today. In Isaiah’s prophecy about the Christ and His people, you heard the promise made: “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is In Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” The identity and the work of the Christ are described in these terms of wedding and marriage.

That same imagery is used in today’s Psalm. It speaks about Christ, the One “who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways.” His work is blessed. And as the Christ works according to His Father’s will and according to His own identity, He brings about true goodness. As the Bridegroom, Jesus is spoken of in this psalm. And so is His Bride, the Church: “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.” This is what Christ achieves, as He has brought salvation to this world and distributes it to countless numbers of individuals through His Church on earth. This is what Jesus is all about.

Because Jesus is the Christ, the Bridegroom, He is vitally concerned with weddings. That is why He uses them as examples in His teaching. For Jesus speaks from His own experience, from His own person and identity. It is why He makes Himself present at the wedding of Cana and all weddings of His followers. But this identity motivates Jesus to act on behalf of the bridal party in Cana. As the Bridegroom of all His people, Jesus will not allow their wedding at Cana disintegrate before His eyes. No, He acts to make it good again, to restore the joy that was lost in their anxiety about the wine supply’s end.

From that miracle done by Jesus, you learn about your Bridegroom who cares for and acts for you. For the joy of the wedding banquet is connected to Christ’s work for you. It is the way that He speaks of the salvation you will possess. The wedding banquet testifies about the joy of Christ’s kingdom, the kingdom of which you are an heir because the Bridegroom has married you. What Jesus promises to you is the fulfillment of all the prophecies. He will fulfill what was spoken of Him and you: “You shall be called [Christ’s] Delight Is In Her. . . . As the Bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall [Christ] rejoice over you.” That joy is yours to have, to have for all eternity.

The joy that Christ’s salvation brings to you is experienced in part now. Forgiveness of your guilt is brought by Christ and delivered to you through His proclaimed Word, His Baptism, and His Holy Meal. Jesus says to you: “My delight is in you! You are the Bride that I love and will always love! Whatever made you desolate, whatever made you think you were forsaken, I remove from you! I hear your plight. Woman, it has everything to do with Me.” And such statements from Jesus bring you joy.

Yet, the joy that Christ’s salvation brings to you is experienced in part now. It is fleeting in this world of sorrow, shame, and sin. But Jesus will still act for you again. What you see happening at the Wedding of Cana is what your Bridegroom will do for you at His eternal wedding feast. You have Jesus’ good wine now. But at the Last Day, the heavenly Master of the Feast—Jesus’ Eternal Father—will say to Him: “You have kept the best wine until now.” For there will be nothing to challenge, threaten, or lessen the joy of Christ’s salvation for you then. So it will be for you when the prophecies about you are completely fulfilled by your Bridegroom at His Return, when His hour has truly come, an hour that you will experience without end.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Epiphany 1 Sermon -- Luke 3:15-22 (LSB Epiphany 1C)

January 10, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”

“All the people were baptized.” That is what the Evangelist tells us. They came to the Jordan to hear John the Baptizer’s preaching. They came to have their faith in the prophecies about the coming Messiah revived, to have their trust in the Lord God’s mercy strengthened. Their longing for what the Lord God had promised had led them to be in full expectation, even wanting to know if John was the one: “all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ.”

But John was not the Christ, not the fulfiller of the divine promises. He is very explicit about this: “John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.’” His baptism was a way to prepare the people for the Christ’s arrival.

Yet, you heard that when the Christ arrived, He underwent John’s baptism: “Now when all the people were baptized . . . Jesus also had been baptized. . . .” Jesus is numbered among those who came to the Jordan and received the sign of repentance from John. But for Jesus, this baptism was not to admit any guilt or to receive forgiveness. No, it is an act undertaken as He delivers salvation to repentant sinners. Jesus is baptized, so that those who had believed John’s words concerning the Christ would believe that He is the “mightier One.”

Jesus’ identity is confirmed at His baptism. Recall what happened at that time: “when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven: ‘You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.’” Testimony about Jesus is given. In a visible way, the Holy Spirit comes to Him. In an audible way, the Father speaks well about Him. These signs show that Jesus is much greater than John, that the Baptizer’s statement about the Christ stands true: “the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

The appearance of the Holy Spirit is how Jesus becomes the Christ—“the anointed One.” He is anointed from heaven itself, not with oil, but by the Spirit. The statement spoken about Jesus by the Father shows Him to be the substitute for Adam and all Adam’s descendants. Standing in the Jordan as true Man, Jesus receives the divine endorsement that no person had received since humanity’s fall into sin: “with You I am well pleased.” In His baptism, Jesus is shown to be the One that the Old Testament prophecies—from the promise to Adam to the words of Malachi—were all about.

It is essential to know that. If you hear the divine message spoken by the prophets, including John the Baptizer, you will know the guilt that you possess. You heard John’s message during the Advent Season. He called you to repent, to admit your sin, to state with the Lord God that you are guilty of breaking His Law. You are called to recognize and confess that the Lord God is not well pleased with you, and rightly so. There will be no questioning in your hearts that you are deserving of curse and condemnation for what you have done.

But what about the divine message spoken by the prophets, including John the Baptizer, the message that promised someone to deal with your guilt? With that message, there also should be no questioning in your hearts. You are not meant to be left in the state of John’s audience: “all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ.” But John was not the one through whom salvation would come to the fallen, sinful world. No, that salvation comes through the One of whom the Father said: “with You I am well pleased.” It comes through the work of Jesus who makes up for Adam’s sin and your sin through His perfect life and His sacrificial death. You are called to recognize and confess that the Lord God is well pleased with Jesus, and rightly so.

As Jesus offers Himself for you, He becomes the perfect substitute for all your errors, for all your shortcomings, for all your transgressions. In His baptism, you see Jesus’ identity confirmed for you. In the anxiety that considering your sin and its deserved punishment brings, the knowledge that Jesus has been anointed by the Holy Spirit and endorsed by the Father brings you confidence that He is your promised Redeemer. You can say with certainty that the Father was not well pleased with me, but He was well pleased with Jesus, so whatever Jesus does for me is good and beneficial, worthy of salvation.

This is especially so with the sacrifice that Jesus makes for your salvation. He dies, so that the Father’s wrath may be assuaged. But He also rises to life again, showing the effectiveness of His sacrifice and becoming the source of your own life. This death and resurrection of Jesus is what St. Paul writes about. But not only does St. Paul say that Jesus died and rose again, he also testifies that you have participated in it: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the One anointed by the Holy Spirit and endorsed by the Eternal Father, is the source of your salvation. And in Holy Baptism, you have been connected to that source. It is the most intimate of connections, so that you may rightly say that in Holy Baptism you have died and risen with Christ: “For if we have been united with [Christ] in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” Through Holy Baptism, everything that the Father found displeasing with you has been replaced by what He found pleasing with His Son.

This is the divine message of salvation given and fulfilled for you. The Lord God speaks that it will be so, and He acts to fulfill His words. He promises you a Redeemer and makes good on that promise. He does not leave the identity of that Redeemer a secret, but in a most public way shows who He is. That is seen in the Baptism of Jesus. Similarly, the Lord God shows in a most public way that you have received this redemption. That is what you see in your baptisms and the baptisms of all Christians. You hear the Lord God declare to you that you are well-pleasing to Him because of His Son’s work done for you.

The Psalmist declared: “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. . . . The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.” That powerful and glorious voice was heard over the Jordan River, as it boomed down from heaven about Jesus: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” That same powerful and glorious voice was heard above the baptismal font, when the Lord God said the same about you, declaring you to be His children and heirs of everlasting life.

In the midst of your sin and imperfection, the Lord God says to you: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” He says that His divine promises have been fulfilled for you—fulfilled as He became flesh and dwelt among us, laying down His life and taking it up again. John prophesied: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” But you need not fear this, for with you He is well-pleased. And so He promises: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

Before dying and rising with Christ in Holy Baptism, you had everything to fear. But since He is the beloved, well-pleasing Son, Jesus’ death and resurrection means that you need not fear His wrath. Instead, you are recipients of forgiveness, life, and salvation. You need not fear, for the Lord God says: “I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. . . . Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.” Not only does the Eternal Father give, but the One that He gives is His Beloved Son. Giving that, He will not withhold anything good for you. For by baptism, you have been connected to the One baptized in the Jordan, crucified on Calvary, risen from the grave, and seated at His right hand. Precious in His sight, you are His children with whom He is now pleased.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Epiphany Sermon -- Matthew 2:1-12

January 6, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise Men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying: ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.’”

This Advent and Christmastide, you have heard much about the Christ’s being a light. Zecharias’ song praised the Christ whom his son John would go before: “Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Simeon’s song praised the Infant Jesus, identifying Him as the Lord God’s salvation—“a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.” And to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord, you heard John’s description of the Christ: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John’s statement about Christ goes further: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” That phrase—“which enlightens everyone”—is essential to the celebration of the Epiphany that takes place this evening. It complements the statements of Zecharias and Simeon. For these men testify about Christ’s salvific work—that it is meant for one group of people, those who are darkened, blinded, enshrouded. The Christ’s appearance is to bring deliverance to people who are afflicted by a communal problem: the lack of righteousness, the bondage of sin, the curse of God’s justice.

The Scriptures depict this universal affliction as darkness. It hovers over everyone. It covers all people. It is not limited to any ethnic group, geographic region, political territory, or even historical era. No, the darkness extends to all corners of the earth and endures for all moments of time. Because all are affected, all need to be treated. Because all are victims, all need restoration. Because all are afflicted, all need healing.

But what did we hear about the Christ’s birth? When the angel delivered the message to the shepherds of Bethlehem, it said: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And in response to this great event, “a multitude of the heavenly host [praised] God and [said]: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’” Everything surrounding the birth of the Christ indicates that His work was not limited to earthly segments of the population.

What takes place with the Visit of the Magi—what the Church celebrates on this Festival of the Epiphany that closes Christmastide—is the concrete evidence of that great truth about the Christ’s work. From Isaiah’s prophecy, you heard the statement made about the Christ and His work: “Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. . . . A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.” The prophet indicates that the Christ will draw people to Himself, people from all regions. There will be heirs of His salvation from all nations. And when they come to Him, they will bring their praises of the Lord God.

This is what first takes place with the Visit of the Magi. Recall what they said when they arrived in Jerusalem: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” They desire to see this promised Christ, but not simply to gaze upon His face. They go to offer their praises to Him. The Magi come to see the fulfillment of the divine prophecies, prophecies that stated that they would be recipients of His salvation. They know the words of Isaiah that you heard tonight and others, including that statement read at midnight on Christmas Eve: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” They know the words of Daniel, one who was counted among the Magi: “There came one like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was present before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.”

The Visit of the Magi marks part of the fulfillment of these prophecies. As they encountered the Divine Word, the promises made by the Lord God, and came to believe them, the Magi received the Christ’s salvation. Belief in the promises leads them to go to find the One of whom the Scriptures spoke. So they inquire: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” Seeing the star again, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Arriving in Bethlehem, “going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” The Magi worship the One who brings salvation to them—light to shine in the darkness of their sin and death, a light even greater than the star they followed.

So the words of the prophets and Zecharias and the angels and Simeon are fulfilled. John’s description of Christ stands true: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” The salvation that the Christ achieves through the offering of His perfect self for the sins of the world is not bound to any earthly segment of the population. No, it is meant for all who believe, just as you heard on Christmas Day: “But to all who did receive 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.” When the Lord God makes someone His child, all earthly divisions are invalidated. Being born of God trumps all ethnicities and nationalities. It makes one a member of a holy kingdom and grants a heavenly citizenship.

What the Visit of the Magi embodies is what Paul writes of to the Ephesians: “The mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Membership in the household of God the Father is granted to those who believe the promise of Jesus Christ. That is what makes one a part of God’s chosen people. And that is what makes this Epiphany Day significant for you. The Magi show how salvation comes to you: through belief and worship of the Christ who was born to save. They show you that Isaiah’s prophecy applies to you: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” The divine glory that Christ possesses is exercised for your benefit, so that you have the divine light of His righteousness shine upon you.

That Christ’s work is meant for the salvation of the Gentiles forms the basis of Paul’s statement that is for you: “This was according to the eternal purpose that [God the Father] has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him.” It is God the Father’s will that you also believe in Christ and receive the salvation that He has brought. His eternal purpose caused all these things to take place for you.

When considering what Christ has done and whether you are to benefit from it, you need not ask what nationality you are or whether you are in the right segment of the population. No, you need only do the same as the Magi. Do you suffer from darkness in your lives? Does sin enshroud you? Does the shadow of death haunt you? Do Satan and temptation constantly bring gloom to your days? If so, then Christ is for you. His light is meant for you. His salvation and forgiveness and mercy are for you.

Believing in His name, you have been made children of God. You are born of God. You are heirs of God. You are part of the household of God. That is what you have been made, what you have become because of Christ’s actions and the choice of His Eternal Father. The One born King of the Jews also has dominion over you. You are members of His Body. You have boldness and access through your faith in Him.

So like the Magi, you may come on this day to worship Christ. You may lay your gifts before Him. But more importantly, you may come to receive again the salvation that He has for you. “Darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you.” Christ’s light swallows the darkness of your sin, dispels the shadow of your death, expels the gloom of Satan’s chains. But it isn’t a future or past thing. It is for the present day. You need not go to Bethlehem, for Christ is here. In this place and you may worship Him. In this time you may receive His benefits for your salvation.

All of this is “according to the eternal purpose that [God the Father] has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is the great message of this Epiphany Day. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” May you so receive it according to the Word of Christ, just as the Magi did through believing the great prophecies about Him!

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.