Two Hearings of the Word

Epiphany 3C: Nehemiah 8:1-10, Luke 4:16-30

There are but two hearings of the Word of God – faith and unbelief. There is no middle ground. No cool, detached critical view high up in the bleachers. It is either faith or unbelief. You either hear the Word of the Lord and rejoice in the goodness of God who has mercy on the sinner, or you deny the Word and despise the goodness of God and want to silence it.

This is why reading the Bible as literature ultimately fails. Yes, the Bible is literature. A wide variety of different kinds of literature, in fact. And the Bible certainly can be read for its literature and its history. But the Word of God is living and active. It kills and makes alive. It does not return empty but accomplishes the purposes for which it is spoken. The Word is a sharp two-edged sword of Law and Gospel that doesn’t sit idly. When you deal with the Word, you are dealing with some live wires, the power of God for salvation.

One of our problems in the church today is that the church has grown Word-weary. Complacent. Bored even. Our ears are dulled by all the noise of this world. We want to be entertained, amused, inspired. We seek relevance and meaning for our lives. We look for answers to all our questions. The competing voices are loud and strong. Media and movies and internet. We are bombarded by information and communication, but there is very little wisdom and communion. Dots are left unconnected. We think in little sound bytes. Our theology is reduced to bumper stickers and slogans and social media postings.

Luther warned his generation that the Word is like a local rain shower. It falls for a while in one place and the soil soaks it up. And then the soil becomes saturated and the water runs off and the rain moves on. Luther foresaw the day when the Gospel would move on from the land of the Reformation to other places, which in fact happened. And some would say it’s happening here. For all the religious fervor and the religious broadcasting and media, there is precious little in the way of the Word of God. Continue reading

Posted in Epiphany, Luther, sermon

Baptism: The Happy Exchange

1917627_1129242513767432_6497441041312307270_n.jpgDearly beloved, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We have worshipped the Infant in the manger with shepherds. We’ve worshipped the Child with the Persians who followed the star. Today we make a huge leap – thirty years later. We are on the banks of the Jordan River with John the Baptizer. Today is the Baptism of our Lord. Until His baptism, Jesus was recognized and worshipped only by a handful of people. Shepherds at His birth. Simeon and Anna in the temple when He was 40 days old. Wise men from the east when He was a toddler. The neighbors in Nazareth probably didn’t have a clue. To them He was the carpenter’s son, working in his father’s shop. He grew up like every Jewish boy of his day. Attended the synagogue with his family. Went to Jerusalem for the feasts.

And then one day, He stood in the water of the Jordan River, shoulder to shoulder with the people who came to John confessing their sins to be baptized by him. What a day this is! Christmas joy becomes baptismal joy. No longer do we celebrate the birth of a baby, now we rejoice in His baptism.

With the account of Jesus’ baptism, Luke’s Gospel narrative makes a change in direction. Continue reading

Posted in Baptism, sermon

Epiphany: Following the Word

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

images-1There has been all kinds of attempts to explain and tell about the Wise Men. Part of it is because it seems so unexplained. How did they know to follow the star? Why would they come at the birth of this king yet it is no recorded that this was common at the birth of other kings? What was all this going on, why does it seem so random, and why does it seem so important most of us think really think of this as part of the Christmas narrative rather than something that was likely a year or two later?

First the star. What was this star and what led these wise men to follow it? As much as some have attempted to explain that they were astrologers who came because the star was so great and act as if no one else could have seen the star or thought to follow it, it just doesn’t flow. These men had the Scriptures to tell them the child born is the king of the Jews. How so? When God punished his people by letting Nebuchadnezzar destroy Judah and Jerusalem, starting in 599 BC, he brought them to Babylon for seventy years of exile. During that exile the prophets Daniel and Ezekiel lived among the people. From these prophets we can be sure that the wise men of Babylon and Persia would have learned the Scriptures. They would have learned of the Exodus, the promise of God’s covenant to redeem His people.

How can we be so sure of that? Simply because God’s people tell their friends and neighbors about the Savior. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew the difficulties and joys of telling others about the Messiah.

The Magi would have known and heard the prophecy of Balaam in Numbers (24:17):

I see him, but now now;

I behold him, but not near;

a star shall come out Jacob,

and a scepter shall rise out Israel.

Continue reading

Posted in Christmas, Epiphany, Old Testament, sermon

Two Greatest Words of Christmas!

Luke 2:1-20

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of 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.’”

linus-van-peltIt’s the greatest Word spoken to man. It’s kinda difficult to not picture good ol’ Linus Van Pelt and even hear his voice as those words are proclaimed. It’s the greatness that comes in Charlie Brown and a greatness that while you’ve likely seen it dozens of times we often miss.

It comes right in the middle of proclaiming Luke 2. Linus speaks not just with his words but with his actions. Linus is best known for one thing, his trusty blue blanket. Everyone at some point or another tried to get that blanket from Linus. It is his source of comfort, he is willing to endure ridicule while holding it fast… until the moment we all missed.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Christmas Eve Early

Matthew 1:18-25

Are you ready for Christmas?  You’ve been asking others, haven’t you, over these past few weeks.  And you’ve been asked the question, too, I’m sure.  It’s the social equivalent of chatting about the weather, in these latter days of December.

imagesIf you actually consider the question, however, what would your answer be?  Are you ready for Christmas?  You’ve tried to be, to whatever extent, whether with your best effort or half-heartedly.  It’s hard to avoid or ignore it, when all your circles are revolving around it for a month or more.

Continue reading

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Two Prophets, Two Priests, Two Women: Advent 4

Two expectant mothers get together, which isn’t all that unusual in and of itself, especially considering they are related. They form quite an amazing picture, these two women – a pregnant Virgin and an expectant mother old enough to be a great-grandmother. Truly, nothing is impossible with God! And just as truly, God doesn’t take the easy or the expected, way. His ways are definitely not our ways; his thoughts certainly not our thoughts. And sometimes God’s way is simply bizarre.

But consider this for a moment: one is in the third trimester of her pregnancy even as she’s in the senior years of her life. And the other has just begun her pregnancy as a virgin. We might describe what occurs there in Zechariah’s house as an exchange between two prophets, two priests and two beautiful women. Continue reading

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Watch and Pray: Mouths Open, Tongues Loose

Midweek Advent 3:

In the year 1532, Martin Luther preached a sermon about John the Baptist in which he said this:

“The real reason for observing St John, is not because of his austere life, not because of his phenomenal birth, but because of his beloved finger, because of his message and his office.”

The most important thing about John the Baptist was his finger!

St. John the Baptist was a unique man. He is rightly called the last of the Old Testament prophets. He is the last one to preach the Gospel before the Savior came. John is also the first of the New Testament preachers. His calling was to point out Christ for the world and to identify, for the people, the man who is God in the Flesh, Jesus, the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Some people would like to remember John simply because of the strange circumstances surrounding his birth: the angel’s announcing his coming to his father, Zechariah, and striking him unable to speak until his birth; the birth of John to Elisabeth, who was well beyond her childbearing years. Some think John should be remembered for the kind of life he lived: a harsh and strange life dressed in camel’s hair, eating locusts and wild honey. Some remember John for his harsh preaching against the self-righteous Pharisees. Many would say that John’s death by beheading by King Herod was what made John most famous.

We are going to cast all of these aside today and remember St. John the Baptist for his finger. Continue reading

Posted in Advent, Luther, sermon

Gaudate! Rejoice!

Advent 3c

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion…Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.

Dear Advent worshippers of the Son of God: What a refrain of joy! The third Sunday of Advent, the only Sunday with a true “meaning” and a noticeably different candle, a rose candle and with readings jam-packed with joy! It is known as “Gaudate” which simply means “rejoice.”

The Holy Gospel reveals that John the baptizer is in prison. Yet it joyfully trumpets to John the good news that Jesus preaches to the poor. Even if His forerunner is imprisoned, the good news of Jesus merits beautiful flute music worthy of dancing!

St. Paul said it this way: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice! Even those words of joy come while in chains and in prison.  Continue reading

Posted in Advent, sermon

Watch and Pray: The Angel Appears

Midweek Advent 2

Last week we began looking at Luke’s account of Jesus. Luke begins by insisting that his account is true and trustworthy. Read it, listen to it, and you find certainty.

The introduction, however, isn’t over. We have 82 verses to go until Jesus turns up. But with the story of John the Baptist, his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth, Luke writes to get us excited.

“God is back on the scene,” says Luke. “He’s at work. Things are happening. Guess who’s coming!”

There are two stories going on here. There is the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, a childless couple in their later years, and God gives them a child.

The personal story involves promises. The angel delivers God’s promise of a son, and the drama is that Zechariah doesn’t believe Gabriel’s words. He doesn’t take the LORD at his word. That’s unbelief. Faith is: “you say it, I’ll believe it and live as if it’s true.”

God makes a promise and keeps his promise.

There is a bigger story of which they are one chapter. The story that began when God made the world, the story of God saving a people for himself. There are lots of little clues here to show that this story of a small family is big part of that greater story.

One of the enjoyable parts of a good book or movie or series is seeing how earlier storylines later on make more sense. Small details from early episodes suddenly became significant parts of the overarching plot. Continue reading

Posted in Advent, Angels

Watch and Pray

(Midweek Advent 1: This service was done in conjunction with the Bach Cantata, Wachet! Betet! Betet! Wachet!)

Dear children of God, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text from Romans tonight begins, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” And then concludes, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

In this the first week of Advent this is certain appropriate as the meaning for the first Advent candle is that of prophecy and hope. The hope of the world is found in the covenant to the God’s people. It’s been there throughout all of history. Just as there were people who didn’t always see it beforehand, so still many do not see it. But it has been and always will be there. It was always God’s plan to provide the hope of all nations.

For indeed, the hope of the Gentiles has come through the fulfillment of the promise to the patriarchs. Eve’s seed, Abraham’s offspring, the root of Jesse – this is Christ Jesus our Lord. He came as the Servant of the Lord, filled with the Spirit, to bring in God’s kingdom of blessing. And as the Suffering Servant, this same Jesus incurred the wrath and opposition of sinful men, who conspired and plotted to destroy him. And they did–so they thought. They took hold of Jesus and sent him off to be killed. Death by crucifixion. But this again was one of God’s ironies. For in that very act of murderous injustice, God used that death of his own beloved Son to bring about the basis for our hope. Christ’s death was the payment for our sins. It brings us forgiveness, and with that removal of guilt before God, so also is death overcome. The resurrection of Christ shows that this is so, for all we who are baptized into Christ will share in his resurrection and his eternal life.

What’s more, God has sent out the good news of this Savior and this salvation to all the ends of the earth. Our ancestors heard about it and were brought into the saving ark of the church. You and I have hope. There is a future in front of us to look forward to. No longer do we face the grim grave and an unknown eternity. Now we have the solid hope of the bodily resurrection and an everlasting future, bright and glorious, joyous, with our Jesus, with our God, with all those patriarchs and prophets, and apostles and ancestors, and grandparents and parents, who shared with us in the same promise of salvation from our gracious God.

Hope. Not in a way that you hope for something for Christmas, but as Luke records in the opening of his Gospel, that you may certainty concerning the things you have been taught. It is the certain hope of Christ. It is the saving Gospel given for you, the narrative that we will read through the coming Sundays and Wednesdays of Luke’s Gospel, the narrative that begins well before the birth in a manger but from the foundations of the world. The certain hope that will carry you through all the pain and adversity that you will face in this life. Even the grave cannot extinguish this hope that God gives you. The light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

And now: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Amen.

Posted in Advent, End Times