Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!


Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Cleaning Day: Leaven Removed and Washing of Feet - Ash Wednesday - February 26, 2020 - Texts: Ex. 13:3-8; Matt. 26:17-19; John 13:1-11

This evening we begin our trek, once again, to the cross. The cross is the focus and center of our faith and life as Christians. The beginning of the world, the creation of the universe, the fall into sin, the promise to send a Savior all point to the coming of the cross. As Christians, our Church year cycle, the Advent, Christmas and Epiphany season, the Lent and Easter season all look back at the cross. The cross is the focus because all who believe in Jesus Christ, and only those who believe in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross, are saved.
This year we will work our way through the celebration of the Passover Seder to help us in focusing our attention on the cross, the reason for the cross, and the fulfillment of the cross. We begin briefly with a reminder of the original Passover. The original Passover took place as the last plague before the children of Israel were driven out of Egypt. The homes of the children of Israel were marked with the blood of the lamb that was killed, sacrificed, so that when the angel of death saw the blood on the door post and lintel it passed over those homes not killing the first born who lived in those homes. Instead, the angel of death killed the first born of those homes not marked. This last plague of Egypt marked the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage of slavery to the Egyptians.
After the children of Israel were safely out of Egypt, God called them to remember the night of their deliverance. Thus, the celebration of the Passover was instituted as a time to remember. Why is remembering so important? Remembering is so important because we have a tendency to forget. Or at least we have a tendency to forget those good things our Lord does for us and gives to us. We need a constant reminder of our Lord’s gifts, lest we forget and despair.
We are still called on, even today, to remember all the good gifts and blessings our Lord gives to us. How do we remember today? We remember today in much the same way as God’s children throughout history remembered, namely through ritual. In our divine service we remember through the ritual of our liturgy. As our liturgy is permeated with the Word of our Lord, so our Lord works through the very means of the Word to give us the gifts He has to give. It is just as important for us to remember today as it was for the children of Israel and for all people throughout time to remember.
This evening we remember the first Passover and Lord’s giving of the celebration of that feast and the ritual which accompanied it. We also remember how we are given something new from the Passover as we celebrate the giving of the Passover by Jesus Himself and His giving us a new ritual, even a sacrament which He draws out of this ritual feast. The original Passover celebration began with the removal of Yeast. Yeast was the symbol of sin and the sin had to be removed from the house where the Passover would be celebrated. Jesus sent His disciples ahead in order to get everything ready so He might celebrate the Passover with His disciples. Certainly removing the yeast was one of the things they did in preparation.
During the celebration of the Passover with His apostle’s, Jesus, arose, took off His outer garment, wrapped a towel around His waste and began washing the feet of His disciples. When Jesus got to Simon Peter, he refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet, or at least he protested at the gesture. It was only after Jesus assured him of the importance of what He was doing that Peter relented and allowed Jesus to wash his feet. Because he did not completely understand what Jesus was doing, Peter asked that he be completely washed to which Jesus reassured him that only his feet needed washing. With this example, Jesus told His disciples and He tells us that this is the way we are to be toward one another, that is we are to serve one another as a reflection of the love with which He first loves us.
Today we might rightly connect this ritual with the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Notice I did not call baptism a ritual, because it is more than simply a ritual, it is a sacred act through which our Lord works to give the gifts He has to give.  Through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism we are washed, our sin is removed, our guilt forgiven. And notice too that this washing does not need to be an emersion, as God does not prescribe the mode of baptism or the amount of water needed. Simply a sprinkling of water with God’s name works mightily in giving the gifts God has to give.
We continue our need for and our work in using the ritual of the liturgy in our divine service today. We begin our divine service with an invocation, an invoking or inviting of our God, who is a triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be a part of and to bless our divine service. This invocation serves well to reminder us of our own baptism because at our Baptism our Lord’s Trinitarian name was put upon each one of us with the water.
Following our invocation we continue our divine service with confession and absolution. Certainly we know that we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness and most certainly as we come before our Lord in divine service we will want to begin by cleansing our hearts and mind. This confession and absolution thus, reminds us of sins and even more it reminds us of our forgiveness.
The celebration of the Passover reminds us of the importance of ritual even of our liturgy. Because we are sinful human beings, because we are conceived and born in sin, because we are spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God, because we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness, we tend to be very forgetful especially when it comes to recognizing and being given the gifts our Lord has to give to us. Thus our constant need is to be reminded of who we are and whose we are, even the fact that we are at the same time sinner/saint.
Just as the Passover celebration served as a reminder and as a teaching tool for the children of Israel, so our ritual, our liturgy does the same for us today. Our liturgy teaches us the importance of the means of grace as the means of grace permeates our liturgy. Because we believe the means of grace are so important our whole divine service is filled with them. Even if we do not have an actual baptism we are reminded of our baptism, through the invocation and the benediction. In our divine service we have confession and absolution reminding us of our need to confess our sins and our need to hear our Lord’s most beautiful words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven.” Through the liturgy of the divine service we speak back to God the very words He has given us to speak as we speak and respond even in the chanting of the liturgy. We hear the importance of God’s Word as it is proclaimed from the pulpit. And we understand the importance of our Lord’s body and blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins as we celebrate His Holy Supper. Because these means are important they permeate our divine service. Because they permeate our divine service we understand how important they are.
Because God works through means we understand the importance of the means of grace. It is through these means that our Lord gives us the gifts that He has to give. And what are the gifts that are being given? They are the gifts of faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. They are the greatest gifts anyone can imagine, because without these gifts we would be lost and condemned persons, we would be without hope, we would be the most to be pitied.
So we are taken back to the cross. The cross is where Jesus paid the price for our sins. The cross is where He earned our forgiveness. And then we are directed back to His means of grace, the place where His gifts are given out. As we walk through the Passover this year, may the Lord direct us to remember. And may He bless our remembrance as through His means of grace He gives to us the gifts He has to give. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

It Is Good to Be Here - February 23, 2020 - The Transfiguration of our Lord, Last Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Matthew 17:1-9

Just eight and a half weeks ago we celebrated the birth of our newborn King, Christ, the Lord. For the last few weeks we have been hearing Jesus, as an adult, preaching to us His Sermon on the Mountain. This week we conclude our Gentile Christmas season, or the season of Epiphany as we call it. This week Tuesday is what is known as Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday and the end of Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is the celebration of the flesh that takes place prior to our time of personal reflection and penance, what we call the season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. What I am telling you in human terms is that you have three days left, counting today, to get out all your sinning before we begin the season of Lent and repenting. Well, that is one theory, at least. The other theory is that very much like the swift passing of each day of our life, so are the weeks of the church year, a constant reminder of the shortness of our life here on this earth. Today we celebrate the transfiguration of our Lord, but what is this transfiguration and what are we to do with it?
We celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord as that event which marked Jesus as true God and true man; which marked Jesus as God’s Son who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets; and which marked Jesus for His journey to Jerusalem and the cross of Calvary.
I want to take the time this morning to walk with you through the events of that day of transfiguration, step by step. You might want to have your Bibles open or take out your bulletin and follow along. Our text is Matthew 17:1-9. Our text begins, “after six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves” (v. 1). Jesus had come into the region of Caesarea Philippi and He had been talking to His disciples about who He was and about His mission, to die on the cross. And now, after six days, Jesus took all of His disciples to the mountain, but only the inner circle of His disciples, Peter, James and John, the brother of James, did He take to the top of the mountain. These are the three that we see go with Jesus often times where the other disciples did not go.
Our text continues at the top of the mountain, “there he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus” (v. 2-3). Jesus was transfigured, He was changed. And this was not a vision. The word in our text is the word metamorpho, which sounds like a modern term, and really, it means about the same thing today as it did in Jesus’ day. He was morphed, or changed so that He was seen in His heavenly glory. The disciples were getting a glimpse of what Jesus will look like in heaven. His purity and holiness shown through in His face, which “shone like the sun.” His clothes were bleached whiter than any bleach we might know. Again, this was Jesus as He was and will be in His heavenly glory.
Also, with Jesus we see Moses, the Law giver, and Elijah, the prophet. These two represent the Law, which Jesus came to fulfill, and the prophets who foretold all the events of Jesus life, death and resurrection. Now they are here, on the mountain, conferring with Jesus, making sure that all the Law and prophecies have been fulfilled, giving Jesus encouragement for the work which was still ahead, namely His suffering, death and resurrection.
Our text continues, “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah’”(v. 4). You remember Peter, the guy who speaks without thinking, it seems he always had something to say, but here he is speechless. Peter realizes that he is witnessing a great event and he does not want it to end. Personally, I do not believe I would want it to end either and I am sure my words would be just as inadequate as Peter’s in asking for this experience to be able to continue. Interestingly enough, did you notice that Peter knew who Moses and Elijah were without having to ask. Possibly in our glimpse of Jesus in all His glory, we see that there will be perfect knowledge in heaven, no one will have to ask who anyone is because we will all know each other (we won’t need name tags). Peter might not have known what to say, but he knew that he was enjoying this experience and that he did not want it to end. His suggestion is to build three shelters, one for each of these heros of faith, so that this experience might continue on.
Unfortunately for Peter, just as he asks, the experience comes to an end. For “while he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’”(v. 5). A bright cloud covered them and a familiar voice from heaven was heard. The voice of God the Father was speaking familiar words, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” This happened that we might know for sure that Jesus is who He says He is, the Christ, the Son of God, true God and true man.
So, “when the disciples heard this, they fell face-down to the ground, terrified”(v. 6). I do not know about you, but I believe that if I were there, I might have fallen face down a long time before hearing the voice. The disciples fell to the ground in fear and in awe in the presence of perfection. This was indeed an amazing sight and event of which they were witnesses. This was indeed what we would call, “a mountain top experience.”
When it was all over we are told, “Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’”(v. 7). Jesus comforts, encourages, and reassures the disciples. What a grand experience they have been privileged to witness and of which they have been privileged to be a part. A terrifying, yet awesome event. And now it was over and they were there, still trembling.
“When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’”(v. 8-9). What a wonderful, “mountain top,” experience and I am sure they were ready to burst with excitement and ready to tell everyone what they had just seen and heard. Yet, Jesus brings them back to earth and instructs them to tell no one, at least, not until He has been raised from the dead. In the Epistle lesson for today we read Peter’s account of this event as he writes in his letter. He was finally able to tell of what he saw. What a wonderful experience and we have Matthew’s description of this account so that we can be a part of it.
But, what does it mean? And what does this mean to us? As we have noted as we were looking at this event, one thing we see, quite clearly, again, is that Jesus shows Himself to be who He says He is, true God and true man, the Savior of the world. This fact is important because Jesus had to be true man in order to give His life for us and He had to be true God in order to die and rise from the dead.
Jesus’ transfiguration shows us the greater picture of God Himself. God sent His only Son, full of grace and truth, to come into our world to fulfill the law and the prophets. Certainly, seeing Moses and Elijah with Jesus was a sure sign of the resurrection. These two had been long gone, so to speak. Moses had died before the children of Israel entered the promised land and Elijah was taken to heaven in a whirlwind, but that was many years earlier. Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets so that He might give His life as a ransom, to pay the eternal death penalty for each one of us and He did.
Jesus came to do for us what we could not do. Perfection is what is demanded of us, yet we are unable to be perfect. Jesus came to live perfectly, for us in our place. And just as He lived perfectly for us in our place, so He also makes His perfection ours. By grace, through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, He clothes us with His perfection so that we may come before Him on His eternal throne.
Jesus received strengthening through His transfiguration in order to face the trip to the cross. Certainly, Moses and Elijah gave Jesus words of encouragement. And the words of God the Father, spoken through the cloud, His words, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him,” reassured Jesus in His humanness that He was doing the will of the Father in heaven and He was doing it to His glory. And as He received strengthening, so He strengthens, comforts, encourages, and reassures us. He gives us comfort in our time of need, because we know that He has already suffered all things. He gives us encouragement to know that our sins are forgiven because He has given His life, He has paid the price, He has shed His blood as payment for our sins, so we can live guilt free lives. He gives us reassurance to know that our sins are forgiven and we can share that forgiveness and His Gospel message with others.
The transfiguration reminds us that Jesus gives us all things. Peter’s words in the Epistle remind us that Jesus did all that He did for us. The events that took place were not random events, but were events that were planned and were for a purpose. The events that took place did so according to God’s divine plan and purpose, they are not stories, they are not human wisdom, they have nothing to do with humanity, except that it was God’s plan to save humanity. In other words, your faith in these events is not what makes them true, nor does your lack of faith make them false. These events happened as God planned them.
The term, “mountain top experience” is used by many people in our world to express an experience that was so uplifting that it made a difference in their lives. Unfortunately, if you speak with these same people they will tell you that most mountain top experiences are followed by a dip into the valley, in other words, most emotional highs, mountain top experiences, are so great that when they are over they leave you feeling rather low, because you have to go back to “reality.” Jesus’ mountain top experience with His disciples was certainly the same. Jesus emotional high on the mountain is to be followed by His journey to the cross.
Our text for today reminds us once again that not only did Jesus come as one of us, He also experienced all of life the way we do. Jesus came as an example, but more than an example. Jesus also fulfilled the example that He set for us and now He works to help us to follow His example. There is a saying which goes something like this, “Seven days without worship makes one weak (w-e-a-k).” Our greatest need and desire it to make regular and diligent use of God’s means of grace through which He comes to give us all His good gifts and blessings, to forgive us our sins, to strengthen us to help us make it through each day. As we have seen, Jesus has been to the mountain. Jesus, then left the mountain, He also left all the glory that was His as true God. He took on human flesh. He lived as one of us. He suffered and died as one of us. He rose again and He defeated, sin, death and the devil. As we have been to the mountain with Jesus so we descend that mountain and with His help we face the everyday world in which we live, strengthened, encourage, and assured that He is with us every step of the way.  To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Surpassing Righteousness - February 16, 2020 - Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Matthew 5:21-37

We continue this week, hearing Jesus preach to us as we hear more of the sermon on the mountain. Last week we heard Jesus tell us how we are the salt and the light of the world, that is, how our Christian faith is shown in our thoughts, words and deeds. We also were reminded that all of the Bible is a gift from God, that it is His Word and that it is able to make you wise for salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). This week we want to begin where we ended last week, so we go back and pick up our text at verse twenty from last week. In verse twenty Jesus tells us that our righteousness should surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. We read, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20). Last week we came to understand that if we compare our righteousness, or goodness, our good works alone to that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, that our goodness is nothing. However, we also came to realize that the goodness of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law was merely an outward goodness, a civil righteousness, not a true goodness, not true good works in God’s eyes. Praise the Lord that our goodness, our righteousness, our good works do surpass that of the Pharisees and teacher of the law, not because we are good, but because our goodness is Jesus’ goodness made ours by faith and we know that goodness, that righteousness far surpasses the goodness, that is the righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
Moving on to our text for today Jesus speaks to us about the fifth, sixth and second commandments. Listen carefully, because Jesus’ point is not so much the commandment as it is in the way we sin against these commandments. And the way we sin against these commandments is not necessarily the way you and I might think. Jesus begins by saying, “you have heard that it was said,” meaning that we have heard from the Pharisees and teachers of the law and implying that their words might not be completely reliable. We read beginning at verse twenty-one, “21You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother  will be liable to judgment; whoever insults  his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell  of fire. 23So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny” (v. 21-26).
Now, let us put Jesus’ words into our modern language and I hope this is something that you learned in catechism class. Jesus says, you have heard it said that the fifth commandment refers only to actual killing, or murder but I am here to tell you that the fifth commandment refers not only to actual killing, not only to murder, but also to anger, to name calling, and to angry cursing. In other words, killing and murder is merely the final stage of sin, sin which began in one’s heart. Sin which began with anger, then escalated to name calling, grew more intense with angry cursing, and ended with actual murder. Jesus’ words remind us that all sins, no matter how small we might think they are, are sin. For Jesus, there is no degree of sin. Maybe you have heard it said this way, in God’s eyes, a sin is a sin is a sin.
Jesus reminds us that we sin not just in our actions, by what we do or do not do. You might remember that we sin sins of commission, when we do an actual sin and we sin sins of omission when we sin by not doing something we should be doing. Not only do we sin in action but we also sin in our words and in our very thoughts. Sin has its beginning in our heart, in our thoughts, in our mind and soul. Jesus reminds us that all sins, no matter how small we may think they are, all sins are serious offenses in deed, in word or in thought, so much so that it might hamper one’s own worship.
With our sins in mind Jesus reminds us with His “therefore,” therefore Jesus says we are to settle our earthly accounts of conflict before attempting to bring an offering to His altar. Yes, you heard Jesus right. If you are about to put your offering in the offering basket and you remember that you have sinned against someone, or that someone has sinned against you and those sins have not been reconciled, do not put your offering in the basket. Here again we are reminded that our giving back to the Lord is a privilege. And Jesus continues by telling us that we are to settle our earthly accounts of conflict lest, ultimately, they are carried over into heaven where we will have to settle them before the eternal judge.
Jesus continues with His next, “you have heard,” again implying, by the Pharisees and teachers of the law, beginning in verse twenty-seven. We read, “27You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. 31“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (v. 27-32).
I am sure that these words of Jesus do not set well in our world of hedonism, our world of “if it feels good, do it,” our world of “We’re living in the twenty-first century.” Jesus tells us that we commit adultery even if a physical act is not performed, because we can commit adultery simply with our eyes. How often does one commit adultery in the course of watching a thirty minute television show? Or a two minute commercial for that matter? But pastor, you say, you do not expect us to give up television. Do not look at me, I am not here to tell you what to give up, I am merely passing on Jesus’ words. Like the fifth commandment, so with the sixth commandment, Jesus reminds us that adultery begins in the heart, mind and soul.
The problems of Jesus’ day sound very much like the problems of our own day. In Jesus’ day it was thought that it was okay to simply write a certificate of divorce, even for bad cooking, or bad dressing. What are our reasons for divorce today? Incompatibility, irreconcilable differences, whatever fancy word you want to use to say, “we despise the commitment we made to each other before God.” Jesus says that the only reason, the only reason, for divorce allowed before God is the reason of marital unfaithfulness. I will leave it with that, those are Jesus’ words.
Our text has one more “you have heard” beginning at verse thirty-three. We read, “33Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (v. 33-37).
The problem of Jesus’ day, and of our day, is that people were not keeping their word, were lying and in order to persuade others to believe them they were swearing by anything they could swear by, except God’s name and thought that if they broke their oath that would be okay because they did not swear by God’s name. However, Jesus tells us that we should not break any oath. And especially, He reminds us that we should not swear recklessly. In other words, we should not say something like “I swear to God, stick a needle in my eye,” or “cross my heart and hope to die,” or “to tell the truth,” or, “to be honest with you,” or simply, “I swear,” and the list goes on. Any of these and all of these are not needed. Jesus reminds us that our word is backed up by our actions, let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” Your word is as good as you keep your word, and if you keep your word you do not need to swear to emphasize or suggest that now you will really keep your word. If you keep your word you will be known for keeping your word and your “yes” or “no” is all that will be needed.
I guess by now we have all been convicted by the words which Jesus has for us today, which is the point of Jesus’ words of law, to convict us. Jesus words remind us that we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness, which, again, is the point of the law, to show us our sins and how sinful we truly are. The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law tried to narrow the definitions of the commandments in order to convince themselves that they were able to keep them. Thus, if we are able to keep the commandments ourselves, we have no need for God. Jesus broadens the definitions of the commandments showing us how sinful we are so that we clearly see our need for a Savior. Jesus’ Words remind us that we sin by killing in thought and word, hatred and name calling. We daily sin much by our lusting after others. We daily sin much by our swearing by all the earth. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. Fortunately for us, Jesus is also the one who is giving us His Word and His Word includes words of “Your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more.”
It is only after we hear the law which shows us how sinful we truly are that the words of the Gospel, “Your sins are forgiven,” can truly be sweet and mean so much to us. It is just as we confessed at the beginning of our service, “8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9).
Jesus came into our world to deliver us from sin, death and the power of the devil. He did that, delivered us from sin, death and the power of the devil by sacrificing Himself on the cross for us, in our place. And now He works in us, through His means of grace, the Word and the sacraments, to help us to overcome the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful nature. It is Jesus who reminds us that sin begins in the heart, and it is Jesus who works in our hearts to overcome sin and temptation. It is Jesus who reminds us that we are not perfect and as long as we are on this earth we will not be perfect, and it is Jesus who reminds us that He has overcome the world. Each day then, we wake up, we remember our baptism, we remember that we have been washed by Jesus, we have been forgiven. Each day we get a fresh start because all our sins have been paid for and Jesus will help us to go out and sin no more. Strengthened by Jesus’ Word, we go out in faith and confidence and live lives that say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

I Have Come to Fulfill the Law - February 9, 2020 - Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Matthew 5:13-20

Our text for this morning is a part of Jesus’ sermon on the mountain. Because last week Sunday fell on the Presentation of Jesus and the Purification of Mary, what we did not hear was the readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany which last week’s Gospel lesson was the beginning of Jesus sermon and the “Beatitudes.” So, unfortunately we missed that reading, but this week we continue listening to Jesus’ message to those who gathered around to hear Him speak. This week we get two “snippets” or “sound bites” from His sermon, one talking about salt and light and the other about the fulfillment of the Law.
First, Jesus talks about our being the salt of the earth and about our being lights of the world. We begin at verse thirteen, “13You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 13-16). In verse thirteen Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” And He asks the rhetorical question, “But if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” Our first thought might be that if salt loses its saltiness then it becomes tasteless and worthless. However, our second thought might be to come to the conclusion that salt does not lose its taste because the only way for salt to lose its taste is to no longer be salt and that is Jesus’ point. Jesus is talking about the Gospel and the fact that the Gospel does not lose its taste or affect. Jesus is reminding the people and us that the Gospel is God’s indestructible gift to His people in Christ. The only way we would lose our saltiness, the only way we can lose the Gospel, is if we would lose our faith altogether and are no longer Christians.
Jesus then moves on to elaborate on this point by comparing our faith to that of a shining light. By our simply wearing the name “Christian,” that is, by others knowing that we are Christians, we bear witness of what it means to be a Christian. We bear witness by our actions, our thoughts and our words of what Jesus means to us. Which means that we either make a good witness or we make a not so good witness. Either way, we do make a witness to others of what it means to us that we belong to Christ. It is a natural thing, just like salt being naturally salty, otherwise it is no salt at all. We as Christians act like Christians, otherwise are we really Christians at all?
Finally, Jesus exhorts us to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” The thing about our good works is that they are good works because they are done to praise our Father in heaven. To use a different analogy, I believe that Jesus is telling us what is a natural cause and effect. It is much like the sun and the moon. The moon has no light of its own, it merely reflects the light of the sun, so when we see moonlight, it is sunlight that we are really seeing. So, if there is no sun shining on the moon, then there is no moonlight. God is like the sun and we are like the moon. We have no love of our own, within ourselves. When God shines His love in our hearts, we reflect that love to others. When we have no love to reflect to others it shows that we have rejected God’s love and have kept God out of our hearts.
Which brings us to the second part of this text, the part that reminds us of the importance of God’s Word, its efficacy and its unchangeableness. Picking up at verse seventeen, “17Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (v. 17-19). In verse seventeen we are reminded that we worship an unchanging God. Jesus came to fulfill all the Old Testament, He did not come to change it or to abolish it. Jesus did not come to change or do away with the Ten Commandments, He came to fulfill them. He did not come to change or do away with the tithe, He came to fulfill it. He did not come to change or do away with any part of the Old Testament, rather He came to fulfill the whole Old Testament.
Jesus’ words to us this morning remind us that none of Scripture has been changed or abolished. It is still all God’s Word. It is still God’s gift to us. All of scripture is valid for us today. I think we need these words of reminder as we defend our faith against those individuals and denominations who vote on the truth and validity of God’s Word or of certain portions of God’s Word. It is becoming more and more difficult in our so called “tolerant” society to proclaim faith in a God who is intolerant of sin. It just does not make for good publicity. So what happens? People, individuals, and denominations begin to vote out the old, intolerant Word of God and vote in an new, user friendly God. If you do not like the Word of God, change it. Today we want to stay away from talking about the real needs of the people, sin and forgiveness, instead we want talk about their felt needs, how I can keep from feeling guilty about what I have been doing and what I am about to do without having to compromise doing what “comes natural.”
Of course, we may ask how can anyone do that, but it is really quite simple, instead of believing that the Bible is the Word of God, we will say that it contains that Word of God. Or we will say that some parts of the Bible are culturally or timely, period-ly, valid. In other words, we place ourselves over the Word of God as the authority and in essence we become our own gods, judging God’s Word and instead of allowing God’s Word to mean what it says, we say it means this or that, in other words, we make ourselves our own little gods determining what is God’s Word and what is not God’s Word. What happens is there are no longer any absolutes and truly, no longer a Word of God.
Jesus teaches us that to teach that some of Scripture is not of value is to be called least in the kingdom of heaven. Unfortunately, in our world today such a person who speaks against Scripture might be thought of as being a great thinker or as being innovative, but not so in God’s kingdom. As I read and reread these words of Jesus, I am reminded of the importance of the Word of God. It is the Word of God which is one means that He uses through which He gives us His good gifts and blessings; faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness of sins, life in this world, eternal life and salvation. It is the Word of God which is His Word, which is an absolute, which is what permeates our time together in Divine Service. I will be the first to admit that my sermon is not the most important part of our divine service. Rather, it is the readings, the liturgy, confession and absolution, being reminded of our baptism, the Lord’s Supper, those parts of our service which are the means of grace are the most important parts of our divine service, because it is through His means of grace, His Word and Sacraments and confession and absolution that God gives us His good gifts and blessings. My sermon is only as effective as the Word which it proclaims.
Which brings us to the last verse of our text, the one that reminds us that there are two ways to get to heaven. Verse twenty, “20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20). One way to get to heaven is by being perfect, that is by our own good works being perfect, which means that because of the sin that is born in us, we would be doomed from the start if we tried to be saved by our own good works. Which leaves the only other way of salvation which is God’s free grace and favor. The example that Jesus gives is that of the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. Their righteousness was great in that they followed the letter of the law. However, theirs was a civil righteousness, not God’s righteousness. And their righteousness did not save them.
If we were to try to be saved by our own righteousness, we would be doomed as they, yet, Jesus reminds us that our righteousness does surpasses theirs, not because we are so good, but because of our faith in Him. By faith in Jesus, faith which He gives to us, God’s righteousness is made our righteousness.
Again, God’s righteousness is made ours by faith in Jesus. Thus, it is God’s righteousness that works in us so that we do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10). And they are truly good works because they are motivated by Him, done in and through us by Him, and done to His glory. And truly, these are the good works that more often than not we are not aware that we are doing.
To sum up this morning, I would simply redirect you to God’s Word. Just as Jesus spoke personally to the people of His day, so He speaks just as personally to you and me today through His Word. With that in mind then we are reminded by Jesus that the Old Testament is needed and is valid today.
We are reminded by Jesus that the Bible, all of the Bible is God’s gift to us, is needed by us, and is applicable to us, today, in total. We are reminded by Jesus that His Word and His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as well as confession and absolution, are the means that He uses to give us all His good gifts and blessings, which reminds us of the importance of making regular and diligent use of these means.
And we are reminded by Jesus and from God’s Holy Word that His righteousness is made ours by faith, is worked in us so that we are the salt of the world, that our lights do shine before all the world to see, that we do live our lives according to all of God’s Word, because He moves in us to do so.
Jesus’ message to us today is a message of a super-natural occurrence. Jesus gives us life at conception. He gives us new life through His Word and Holy Baptism. He gives us strengthening of life and faith through His Word and the Lord’s Supper. He gives us forgiveness of sins and eternal life through confession and absolution. And He gives us the ability and stirs in us to respond to all His good gifts and blessings so that we might live our lives in such a ways that they say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Jesus Is the Christ - February 2, 2020 - The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord - Text: Luke 2:22-32 (33-40)

Today is one of those rare occasions in which we get the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord falling on a Sunday. Today we move back in our readings to forty days after Christmas. Today our Gospel reading is the Gospel reading we normally hear in Series C for the First Sunday after Christmas. So, once again, forty days ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus. Today we fast forward from Christmas to what is called the presentation of Jesus in the temple. Our text begins by telling us, “22And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (v. 22, 23). The purification rite after the birth of a son required the mother to wait for forty days before going to the temple to offer her sacrifice for purification. The sacrifice was to be a lamb and a pigeon or dove. If the person could not afford this sacrifice, then the sacrifice could be two pigeons or doves. This morning we journey with Mary and Joseph as they present Jesus in the temple, in accordance with the Law, to fulfill the Law.
Next, our text introduces us to Simeon. “25Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28he took him up in his arms and blessed God” (v. 25-28a). Simeon, we are told, was a righteous man and he was devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel. In other words, he was waiting to see the one promised from God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Luke tells us that it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the “Lord’s Christ,” the Savior. By the way Luke recounts these events we would believe that Simeon is now rather old and is waiting to see the Savior so that he might die in peace. And so, not by any coincidence, but by the action of God moving in Simeon, he went to the temple at the same time that Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus and for Mary to make her sacrifice for purification. Have you ever wondered about what we call coincidences? I believe there is no such thing as a coincidence, instead what we are seeing is God’s, usually, unseen hand acting in our time to make something happen to His glory. Such is the case with the events of our text. Simeon, moved by the Holy Spirit, came into the temple to see the consolation of Israel.
As Mary and Joseph enter the temple Simeon is there to receive the child. He takes the child and by inspiration of the Holy Spirit he gives to us the words which we sing in the Nunc Dimmitus, or in English, the Now Dismiss, “29Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation 31that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (v. 29-32). Simeon praises the Lord because He has allowed him to see the Savior of the world. Simeon’s words are words of faith. He is now ready to be dismissed. Literally, He is ready to die and be taken to heaven because he has seen the one who was promised and who has come into the world to save the world. Notice that Simeon’s words are not just focused on God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, but are words which reveal that Jesus came to save all people, Jew and Gentile alike as he says that Jesus is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.” Here we are reminded, once again, that God has always had one covenant with the people of the world, not two covenants. Jesus came to save all people, even and especially us, you and me.
Luke continues by telling us that “the child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him” (v. 33). I think that might have been an understatement. Yes, God had revealed to both Mary and Joseph that Jesus was God born in human flesh, but still, for Mary and Joseph, these events would all be quite “marvelous,” unexpected and maybe somewhat dumbfounding.
But Simeon does not stop with the Nunc Dimmitus, he continues by speaking to Mary and Joseph. He tells Mary in particular that Jesus is “appointed (or as some translations put it, “destined”) for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce your own soul also),  so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (v. 34, 35). Jesus is destined to be the one who will save many people and at the same time, to those who do not believe, He will be their fall, they will be doomed to eternal death, hell in other words. Jesus is a sign. He is the one who came speaking about His Father and His relationship with His Father. Many would not believe that He was God, that He and the Father were one. The hearts of the unbelievers was shown through their speaking out against Him. And this continues to be the way it is in our world today. Many people do not believe in Jesus. Many do not believe He is God in flesh, as He shows and tells us in His Word. Many do not believe and instead are destined to eternal death in hell and this is not God’s fault nor Jesus’ fault as some attempt to blame Him. Those who fall, those who are destined to hell are destined because of their own fault, their own refusal and rejection of Jesus as the Savior.
Probably the hardest words that Simeon speaks, however, are the words to Mary that a sword will pierce her own soul too. Mary, who pondered all these things and kept them in her heart is, after all, the mother of this child whose destiny is a cross. She will watch her own child be cursed by others, be hated by others, be deserted by all His friends and be hung on a cross. She will watch her own Son die, for the sins of all people. Certainly a sword of pain will pierce through her own heart.
Luke, the faithful Doctor and Historian shows us that Jesus is the Messiah, but if Simeon’s words are not enough “proof” if you will, he also introduces us to Anna, who is also in the temple. Luke says, “36And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 36-38). About Anna we are told that she was “very old” and that she was a widow since the time of her husband’s death which occurred after only their seventh anniversary and that now she was eighty-four years old. She now lived her life in the temple. Luke tells us “she did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and praying night and day.” And again, like Simeon, she did not come into the temple at this time by accident or coincidence, but by the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Anna came up to Mary and Joseph and said a prayer of thanks to God and spoke about this child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem, that is to all those who were still looking for the coming of the promised Messiah, those who had not given up hope. Like Simeon, her words confirm the fact that Jesus is the one who was sent from God to save, not only the children of Israel, but all people, of all places of all times, you and me included and I would say, especially.
Finally, our text tells us of one final fulfillment of Holy Scripture, “39And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (v. 39-40). So, Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth. Notice, Luke writes with a purpose. His purpose is to give proof of Jesus and who He is. He shows us that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and that He fulfilled the Law perfectly. His parents did what was required. Again, we are reminded that the fullness of the Gospel is seen in the fact that what Jesus did He did for us, in our place, everything that we are unable to do. He fulfilled the Law perfectly, for us, in our place, because we cannot. Even more, Jesus came to fulfill the Law perfectly for the whole nation of Israel, again, because they could not, even as God’s chosen people.
We are told by Luke that Jesus moved to Nazareth, thus was fulfilled the promise that He would be a Nazarene. And we are told that the child grew and became strong. He was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him. And as we know, as we have seen, as we continue to rehearse in our history of the life of Jesus, after this event we do not hear of the events of Jesus’ life until we hear the account of Him in the temple at the age of twelve.
This morning we have Luke’s accurate account of these events as an assurance of our faith in Jesus. Luke’s words assure us that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the one promised by God. He is the one who fulfilled all the law perfectly, for us, in our place, because we are unable to.
Luke’s words assure us that Jesus came to give His life. How comforting to know that we will not be held accountable for our sin and their punishment. The wages of sin is death and Jesus paid that price for us.
Luke’s words assure us that we have forgiveness of sins. Because of what Jesus did, because He lived perfectly for us in our place, because He took all our sins upon Himself, because He suffered the eternal punishment of hell for our sins, because He gave His life for ours, because He paid the price for sin, by faith in Him, which He gives to us as well, we have forgiveness, which means that when God looks at us He sees Christ’s perfection.
Which means that Luke’s words also assure us that we have life, eternal life. By faith in Jesus, His death has become our death, His life has become our life. By faith in Jesus we have forgiveness of sins and life, life in this world and eternal life in the world to come, heaven. By faith in Jesus, when we pass on from this world, we will be robed with His robes of righteousness as we are gathered together will all the saints in heaven.
Have you ever wondered why Simeon’s words of the Nunc Dimmitus are so appropriate after we have dined on the Lord’s body and blood in His Holy Supper? As we sing Simeon’s words we rejoice in the fact that as we have come to the Lord’s table, we have seen the Lord, we have tasted that He is good, He has become a part of us, so that now we too are ready to die. We are ready to enter His heavenly kingdom to live with Him forever. Indeed, what wonderful, fitting words of faith and thanksgiving.
This morning we come to worship our Lord. We come to rehearse the events of old. We come to hear the good news of salvation. We come to see, once again, as an assurance of our salvation, that Jesus is the One promised of old. This morning we come to be strengthened in our faith and being strengthened in our faith we are moved to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.