Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009 Third Sunday after Epiphany Matthew 8:1-13

And having come down from the mountain, great crowds followed Him. & look, a leper came, bowed down to Him saying, "Lord if ever You will, You are able to cleanse me. And having stretched out the hand, He touched him, saying, "I will; be cleansed." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, "see that you speak to no one; but you go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering Moses prescribed into witness to them. And He, having entered into Capernaum, came toward Him a Centurion, calling for Him, and saying, "Lord, my son is fallen in the house paralyzed, dreadfully tortured." and He said to him, "I will come to heal him." and answering, the Centurion said, "I am not worthy in order that under my roof You come; but only say a word and my boy will be healed." For I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers, and I say to this one "Go!" and he goes; and to another "Come!" and he comes, and to my slave, "Do this!" and he does. And having heard, Jesus was amazed, and said to those following, "Amen, I say to you, from no one, so great a faith in Israel have I found! And I say to you that many from east and west will come and recline at table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens, and the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness; there, will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." And Jesus said to the Centurion, "Go, as you believed may it be done to you." And was healed, the boy, in that hour.

Understanding authority is a tricky thing. We send our children off to school, under the authority of teachers, and all is well until they find out that sometimes teachers make mistakes. We turn 18 and are able to vote for our government authorities, yet soon some show themselves to be corrupt. A young woman marries her husband, takes his name, and lives under the authority of his household, and he sometimes abuses that authority and fails to manage his homelife as the its appointed head.

Our problems with authority occur when we fail to see God as the ultimate authority in our lives. God provides us with parents, and with teachers. God establishes governmental officials, and He joins you together with your spouse that you may be one. Now, any of these God-given authority figures may fail in their duties, that is true. But we also fail and sin whenever we try limit the authority of any person to his or her own perfect record. Their authority is never their own, it is perfect–it is God's!

And God's authority is different than that of temporal man. People may claim authority of their own, apart from God, and try to make others obey by fear of force, or by military might. But this is not how God's authority works. Your Lord Jesus does not rule His kingdom of heaven on earth–the church, by rules of Law. He rules without rules! Jesus' authority is not in what He can get us to do, but rather in what He chooses to do for His people, including the miraculous healings for lepers and the paralyzed.

How interesting that two military men are placed under the Lord's authority. The first, Namaan, finds God's requirements foolish and utterly useless for him to do. But washing in the Jordan worked! The second, the Centurion, understands God's authority as being different from what a soldier does. Soldiers receive commands from superiors and give orders to underlings, and expect men to obey. The Centurion expected Jesus not to even enter his home, but do it all himself, with only a word!

What did the Centurion realize, that the Syrian commander Naaman didn't? Simply that all authority belonged to God! Not only did God have authority to give commands to men, expecting them to obey His Law, but God also had command over sin, over sorrow, over death, over evil itself. The miraculous healing which God would accomplish was not about what people do or don't do. It was all about what He does, by His gracious love. The Centurion did nothing. He just believed and received.

So how about you, when it comes to God's authority? Do you foolishly try to help the Lord out by shaping up everyone else but yourself? Do you make the mistake of seeing God's authority only through the eyes of the Law of what we are to do or not do for Him? Or do you learn from the Centurion's faith, which trusted Jesus' authority as seen in what He Himself does for you by His grace? Do you believe and thus receive God's good gifts of grace by faith alone?

You are blessed to be cleansed like Namaan from your malady of sin, by the washing of water and Word in Holy Baptism. You are blessed to be those who hear the Gospel Word of Jesus which proclaims you forgiven and saved eternally. You are invited with those from east and west to dine with Jesus at His supper, feasting on His body given at the cross for you, and on His blood shed for you there. . .

Hymns for today from LSB:
#587 I Know My Faith is Founded

#401 From God the Father, Virgin Born
#510 A Multitude Comes

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, John 2:1-11

And on the thirrd day a wedding occurred in Cana of the Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and Jesus also was invited and His disciples, to the wedding. And wine having given out, the mother of Jesus says to Him, "Wine they do not have." Jesus says to her, "What to me and to you, woman? Not yet is My hour come." His mother says to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, you do." And there were there 6 stone pots for water, for the cleansing of the Jews, containing up to 2 or 3 metrates. Jesus says to them, "fill with water the pots." and they filled them up to the top. and He says to them, "You draw out now, and take to the chief steward; and they took it. And the chief steward, having tasted the water become wine, yet did not know from where it is, (but the servants knew, the ones having drawn the water), the chief steward calls to the groom and says to him, "Every man the good wine serves first, and whenever they have drunk freely, the poorer; you kept the good wine until now!" This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee & shown forth His glory & His disciples believed in Him.

Today, we have heard about Jesus' Epiphany coming out party, as it were–the very first miracle He performed. It was a relatively minor one–no one raised from the dead. No storm calmed; nobody healed or cured. Just water turned to wine. There is really nothing showy at all about this first miracle of Jesus, so much so that the chief steward doesn't know how it happened, or who is responsible.

Whether it's a relative or friend who invited Jesus to the wedding, we don't know. But his mother seems to feel some responsibility for rectifying the problem of no more wine, so she asks her son. His answer, "What has that got to do with me or you, woman!" seems like Jesus can't be bothered. But Mary knows better. She tells the servants to do whatever Jesus asks.

How about you? Are you willing to heed Mary's advice, and do whatever Jesus asks of you? You know that you should have faith which trust's your Lord's words, knowing that He would never require of you anything that wasn't good. Yet sometimes your faith is lacking, and the resulting faith-fulness never appears. After selfishness, lazyness, and other distractions have there way with you, excuse after excuse rear their ugly heads as to why you aren't able to comply with your God's desires.

But these are faithful servants who fill the ritual cleansing jars with water as Jesus bids. Then they draw out a most excellent wine from them to take to the party planner, who is amazed at the quality. Jesus has completed His very first miracle recorded in scripture, and the wedding celebration can continue. But that's not the real reason for this wonder. It is to show forth the glory of God in action on earth, so that Jesus' disciples and others will believe in Him as the God-man Messiah!

I know what you are probably thinking. "It sure would be nice if Jesus did miracles more often in my life!" But don't be too quick to be despondant. Who says Jesus doesn't do more miracles for you than meets the eye!? If you paused for a few moments each day to see the glory of God shown forth in your life, and to recognize the wondrous signs which Jesus does in your life today, you would then find yourself praising God for His miraculous works for you, and believe in Christ even more firmly!

The first *miracle* in your life was most likely your baptism. Oh, I know that on the surface, it didn't seem too amazing, some water and a bible verse. But consider the glory of God manifest to you that day, and what God accomplished for you at the font. You came as a dead-in-your-trespasses sinner, and emerged sin-free, forgiven & saved. You came as a child of an earthly family, but came forth from the font adopted into the family of your heavenly Father forevermore! Killed & raised with Jesus!

The next miracle in your life should occur when you are in confirmation, although shamefully it may not have. Lutherans, in addition to examining students on Catechism knowledge, also absolve each one privately. In the study of Confession, a faithful pastor takes each student into the sanctuary privately, to hear their confession and absolve them, forgiving each in the Name of Father, Son and Spirit.

A third miracle in your life is offered to you at the communion rail. It doesn't appear too amazing, simple bread and wine in a cup that wasn't changed from water. But what Jesus offers there is miraculous indeed! His body given in the bread, and His shed blood is in the cup for your forgiveness. The same body Jesus gave up to death for you on the cross, and the same blood he shed their to forgive you are given to you to eat and drink in the Lord's Supper.

Miracles abound for you! Daily bath of baptism. Opportunity for private confession. Holy Communion!

Hymns for today:
LSB #408 Come Join in Cana's Wedding Feast
#402 The Only Son From Heaven
#399 The Star Proclaims the King is Here

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sunday, January 11, 2009 Baptism of our Lord, Matt. 3:13-17

Then Jesus comes along from the Galilee upon the Jordan to John to be baptized by him. But John was preventing Him, saying, "I myself have need to be baptized by You, and You Yourself come to me?" And answering, Jesus said to him, "Let it be, now, for so it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he let it be for Him. And having been baptized, Jesus immediately went up from the water; and look, the heavens opened and He saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and coming upon Him; And look, a voice out of the heavens saying, "This is My Son, the Beloved, in Whom I have been pleased."

What is going on with this story about Jesus being baptized by John? Did the Christ need what John's baptism provided? Why didn't Jesus baptize John–the one who truly needed his sins washed away? And what does it mean that John just go ahead and baptize Jesus to *fulfill all righteousness*? And after all this, why does the Holy Ghost come down upon Him, and why does His Father declare His love for His Son in a voice booming down from heaven above?

Well, to answer these questions, first we need to begin by understanding John and his work. John was the fore-runner of Christ who preached and baptized almost exactly like Jesus Himself. He preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John's baptism was remarkably like the one Jesus would institute later on–one which gave repentance and the forgiveness of sins. John's baptism pricked the consciences of sinners that they be sorry and believe in God for their forgiveness.

Jesus came, willingly for a baptism that worked repentance and bestowed forgiveness to sinners. One problem though, Jesus was not a sinner, so he had nothing to repent of, and nothing to be forgiven. John knew who Jesus was, and was flummoxed that the Christ would come for such a baptism. He offered to trade places with Jesus, but to no avail. His Lord convinced John to baptize Him in the muddy Jordan with the simple words, "Let it be." John gave in to God's inexplicable will.

Then, as if to make clear what was most definitely not going on with respect to Jesus, the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit comes down alighting on Jesus like a dove would, and the Father's voice proclaims clearly that Jesus is *the Beloved* One, in whom the Father has been pleased. No mere sinner was being baptized this day, but a sinless One, God's Own Holy Son, all of Whom's works have been sin-free and pleasing to God the Father in heaven. So why is this sinless One baptized?

Jesus gives us one big clue in His additional explanation to John. He says that it is to *fulfill all righteousness*. How interesting. Baptism is all about getting rid of the wrongness of sins, and now Jesus introduces something more. You see, it is not enough that your heart be cleansed and made sin free in baptism. Such a heart may be clean, to be sure, but if forgiveness is the only thing considered, then it is a heart which remains empty. Jesus wishes to fill it with His righteousness!

This, Luther called the *blessed exchange*. Jesus trades His holy righteousness to you for your unholy sinfulness, which He takes upon His Own person on the tree. The muddy Jordan river is a type of Calvary, Jesus numbered there with the transgressors being baptized, just as He was crucified between two criminals. Jesus was at least waste deep in the sins washed from sinners in the Jordan, and He was fully immersed in the cup of the Father's wrath poured out at the cross.

Jesus seems to be saying to you, "Don't fear that I will shun you because of your sins. For I'll come to you in the muck and mire of your sinfulness and bear the burden of all its guilt and punishment for you." What a comfort to you this day to know that Jesus has already done just that for you in your own baptism. The sins washed from you flow from the filthy floodwater of the font directly onto Jesus at the cross, and His holy righteousness is now credited to your account, by God's gift of faith!

And if that were not enough, Jesus invites you to His Supper Table, to eat of the greatest of feasts– His righteous body given to death on the tree, and His holy, precious blood shed for you there. You eat and drink the righteousness of Jesus in Communion, your hungering and thirsting for righteousness quenched and satisfied by His holy body and blood in the bread and in the cup. He Who did all things right for your salvation feeds you with Himself at the Lord's Supper. All that God the Father may look down from heaven upon you and say that, in blessed exchange with Jesus, "You are my son, my beloved, in whom I'm pleased." Amen.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009 Christmas II Matthew 2:13-23

And they, having departed, look, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph according to a dream, saying, "Arise, take along the Child and His mother and flee into Egypt and stand there until I speak to you; for Herod is about to seek for the Child to destroy it. And he arose and took along the Child and His mother at night and departed into Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod; in order that the utterance of the Lord through the prophet be fulfilled, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son."... And Herod, having come to his end, look an angel of the Lord appeared according to a dream in Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Arise, take along the child and his mother and go into the land of Israel, for dead are those having sought the death of the child." And he arose, took along the child and His mother and went into the land of Israel. And having heard that Archeleus reigned in Judea in place of his father, Herod, he feared entering there; and being divinely warned according to a dream, he left into the region of the Galilee, and he came, resided in a city called Nazareth; that would be fulfilled the utterance through the prophet, that he will be called a Nazarene.

The Christmas story is viewed by most people as a rather light-hearted tale of the humble beginnings of Jesus–born in a manger, visited by lowly shepherds, then receiving gifts from eastern sages. Yet there was a very serious element to the birth of God in flesh. The first hint we get is how fearful the shepherds are when a warrior angel Gabriel, and his angel army manifest themselves. This was no choir with harps and halos. This was a battle regiment, waging war in defense of God incarnate!

For satan and his minions.meant serious business when it came to God manifesting Himself as promised seed of Eve. From the devil's viewpoint, it surely seemed like God had foolishly made himself vulnerable...killable. So that wily serpent of old pounced at the chance to kill God at His weakest. He tempted Herod with his own pride in order to get him to kill the infant Jesus. Herod did his worst, but it was too late. The devil failed, perhaps forgetting that he is God's devil after all.

Mary, Joseph and their young son flee for their very lives into Egypt. God running away from the devil...imagine that! But it was not that God was afraid of a battle with satan. It just wasn't time yet. Jesus would engage the devil face to face in the desert after forty days without food or water...and come out victorious by not giving in to a single temptation. And Jesus would seal that victory at the cross, where the Seed of Eve struck the death-blow upon the devil by His dying on the cross.

So, what do you think of God coming to earth as a young, vulnerable child? Do you think of it only as a sweet, cute story for children? Have you ever contemplated the seriousness of God coming into this evil world where the devil is prince, and where tyrants like Herod reek their havoc? Perhaps we should rethink our *nice* view of the Christmas season, and consider the gravity of God's humbling of Himself to be born of a virgin and to become the easy prey of a child who needs much protection.

The vulnerability of God, made manifest in human flesh is by design. That is why St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that God's power is made perfect in weakness. God's omnipotent power to save is hidden from view behind the human flesh of Jesus. But His almighty strength is there the whole time. It is ready to be unleashed at the very moment that is least expected. When Jesus goes to the cross, and dies for all mankind–at His apparent moment of weakness–there His power to save is unleashed!

For God made Himself killable, in order that by His death a great exchange could take place. Your sins washed from you in baptism, along with their wages of death, is given to Jesus at Calvary. His body given up to death on the tree, and His blood shed as the spear pierced Him through are traded to you for forgiveness, life and salvation in the Lord's Supper. By His death, He destroys death for you. Those who have died believing in Jesus, yet live! You who live and believe in Jesus will never die!

So what do we learn from this story of the flight into Egypt? Several things: first, that suffering and dying are not to be shunned as bad things, but embraced when they are God's will, for His Own Son or for the infant martyrs. second that God's will indeed does play out according to His timing, not man's (like Herod) and certainly not as the devil would have things done. Lastly, that God provides protection and a way of escape from things that are contrary to His plan for life and salvation.

From the get-go, Jesus' life on earth was serious business. From the humiliating circumstances of His birth, to those first few drops of blood he shed on the 8th day, to the flight from Herod as a young child. Rest assured, Jesus has not stopped His serious work for your salvation in word and sacrament.