Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sermon for Trinity Sunday (May 27, 2018)

Trinity Sunday (May 27, 2018)

“Angels Bearing Witness to the Trinity” (Isaiah 6:1-8)

            In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I once heard a true story about someone who was raised as a Christian, baptized, confirmed, the whole package.  Later, she married someone of the Jewish faith.  She went to synagogue with her husband, was instructed, and eventually became a convert to Judaism.  Why was she so willing to do this?  Here was her answer: “When I was confirmed, kneeling in front of the altar, with the pastor's hand on my head, I didn't see any angels, so I figured it probably wasn't true.”  If I had been there, my response would have been, “Did you see angels when you converted to Judaism?”  I highly doubt that she did.

            By converting to Judaism, this woman turned away from her baptismal grace and her confirmation vows.  She denied that the Triune God and his promise of forgiveness had anything to do with the water that was poured over her head.  She went back on her word to be faithful to God for the rest of her life, the promise she made when she was confirmed.  Sadly, she now rejects Jesus Christ as her Savior.  To her, Jesus of Nazareth is not God.  He is not the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  To her, he was just a man … a wise teacher, yes … but just a man.  But as you know, Jesus doesn't leave us that option.  If he was such a wise teacher, how would you explain that he made the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the dead to live?  How could you explain that he turned water into wine, fed the five thousand, and stilled the storm?  If he was such a wise teacher, how could he make such claims as to be equal to God?  Wise teachers give credit where credit is due.  They don't claim to be God, as Jesus did.

            Now, I’m fairly certain that none of you have ever seen any angels when you come before this altar.  Not when you were baptized.  Not when you were confirmed.  Not when you kneel here to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus.  There was someone, however, who once did see angels as they stood before God's Altar.  It was the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah had a vision in which he was standing in the temple.  He saw the Lord sitting on a throne, and the train of his robe filled the whole temple.  Above the Lord were angels, or seraphim, as they are called.  Seraphim means “flaming ones” in Hebrew.  Perhaps this means that they burned brightly with holiness and zeal for God.  In Isaiah's vision, they had six wings.  With two they hid their face, as if to say, “As holy as we are, even we don't deserve to look upon the glory of God.”  With two wings they covered their feet, a sign of modesty and humility … their wings would reach around to cover their feet, and in so doing would cover their entire body.  With the two remaining wings they flew, signifying their swift readiness to do God's will.

            What can we learn from these seraphim, these “flaming ones,” these holy angels?

            First, let's consider their name: seraphim, flaming ones, burning with holiness and zeal for God.  Does that describe you?  As God's baptized child, the Holy Spirit empowers you to live a God-pleasing life with a heart eager to do God's will.  But you and I still have our sinful nature that tries to snuff out any flame of faith.  Sometimes we are more like a smoldering wick than a fiery flame.

            Let's now look at what they did with their wings.  With one pair of wings they covered their face and with another they covered their feet.  In the presence of the Lord God himself, they showed reverence and awe.  If even the holy angels in Isaiah's vision covered their faces and feet in humility, then you and I ought to approach the throne of God with humble hearts.  Too often, however, I think we take God's love for granted.  We worship and pray half-hearted instead of humble-hearted, remembering that we don't deserve any of God's gifts, but that he gives them to us out of pure grace.

            With the third pair of wings, they flew.  In the Bible, angels were God's messengers.  That's in fact what the word “angel” means … messenger.  In Greek mythology there was a god by the name of Mercury.  He was the messenger for the other gods, and he is often pictured with wings on his sandals.  This describes his swiftness in delivering his messages.  Likewise, these angels in Isaiah's vision have wings with which they fly.  Now, angels are spirits, so they don't literally have wings.  But they are indeed quick to respond to God's call and to deliver his Word … just like Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Savior, like the angels who announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds, and like the angel at the empty tomb who said, “He is not here, but has risen.

            What about you and me?  Are we quick to respond to God's call and deliver his Word?  We're more like Moses, who found himself tongue tied and afraid to speak.  An acquaintance or a classmate says something, and there's a part of us inside that says, “Wow, what a perfect opportunity to talk to them about Jesus!”  But we hesitate, because we might be afraid of what they will think of us.  They might think we're weird.  Or they might ask a question about our faith that we can't answer, and we'll be embarrassed.  And so the moment passes, and we don't say anything.

            As we see these angels today in Isaiah chapter 6, worshiping God with their three-fold “Holy, holy, holy” … pointing us to God’s Triune being: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … you and I and all the rest of us gathered here know that we're more like Isaiah than those holy angels.  Isaiah stood before God's altar, and knew that he didn't deserve to be there.  And so, each one of us can say right along with him, “Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of  unclean lips.

            Thankfully, Isaiah's vision didn't end there.  One of the angels still had more work to do and a message to deliver.  He went over to the altar where the priests offered the sacrifices in the temple.  He picked up a hot coal and flew over to where Isaiah was standing.  Touching Isaiah's lips with the coal from the altar, the angel declared, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for."  Isaiah was forgiven.  The sacrifices on the altar in the temple covered over his sin.

            Other than the angels in our text today, you don't get to see any angels.  Two young people will be confirmed next week in our late service, and I can guarantee that they will not see any angels as they kneel before the altar to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus for the first time in their lives.  No angel is going to place a hot coal on your lips today, and I bet you are glad of that.  But you do get to hear this messenger from this pulpit talking about another sacrifice for sin.  Your Savior Jesus gave up his life for you at the cross.  He shed his blood so that your sins are covered over.  He forgives us for the ways in which we are not very humble or reverent, for the times when we are slow to do God's will, for the times we close our mouths when we should be delivering the message about Jesus.  Because of Jesus, our guilt is taken away and our sin atoned for.

            And then, to assure you of your forgiveness – and to deliver that forgiveness to you in a very personal way – this messenger goes over to this altar, picks up some bread and wine which are the very body and blood of our Sacrificed Savior, and touches them to your lips, as you hear these words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.”

            Isaiah was forgiven, and then he was sent out for service.  The angel touched his lips with the hot coal and announced God's forgiveness.  Then Isaiah heard the Lord say, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?  And Isaiah was swift to respond, “Here I am! Send me.  And in a similar way, you and I are forgiven and sent out for service wherever God places us, in our various stations in life, whether it’s clergy or congregation member, parent or progeny, teacher or student, employer or employee.  Together we can respond to God's love in Christ Jesus and say, “Here I am! Send me.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost (May 20, 2018)

The Day of Pentecost (May 20, 2018)
“The Spirit Poured Out” (Acts 2:1-21)
            If you were a good Jewish man in the first century, you’d do your best to make it to Jerusalem for the big festivals three times a year, if you had the means and ability to do so.  There was Passover in the Springtime.  There was Succoth, sometimes called Tabernacles or Booths, in the Fall.  And in between, there was Pentecost, sometimes called the Feast of Weeks.  It celebrated the wheat harvest.  It also commemorated the giving of the Law to the nation of Israel at Sinai.  It was called the Feast of Weeks because it fell at the end of a seven-week period following Passover.
That’s why there were so many people gathered in Jerusalem as described at the beginning of Acts chapter 2.  “Devout men from every nation under heaven.”  That may be a bit of an exaggeration on the part of the author St. Luke.  He probably means every nation known at the time.
And there were the disciples of Jesus gathered there.  A rather small band of 12 apostles – the Eleven minus Judas and the newly-minted Matthias – and a little over 100 others.  They were sitting down, so apparently, they were listening to someone preach, as would have been the custom in those days … just like our custom.  And as they sat there, hearing the Word of God, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them.  There was the sound of a mighty rushing wind, perhaps like the sound of a waterfall.  Just think of the times you may have been to Snoqualmie Falls in the height of the rainy season here … or if you have ever been to Niagara Falls.  It doesn’t necessarily sound like water … it sounds like a powerful wind, not to mention the spray that you feel as the water pounds down upon the rocks below.  This was not just a trickling down of the Holy Spirit, a tiny little drip-drop-drip.  This was a major outpouring, the one promised by Jesus before his crucifixion.
And there were tongues of fire that rested upon the disciples.  This signified the purifying presence of God, as did the pillar of fire at the tabernacle so many years before.  And they spoke in other tongues, other languages, the languages of the people who were gathered there.  Each person heard them declaring “the mighty works of God” in their own native tongues.  What these “mighty works” were we’re not told, but I have a hunch it was centered in Jesus and his death and resurrection.  Jesus told the Twelve earlier that “when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth … he will bear witness about me.  And you will also bear witness” (John 15:26-27).  This was the reverse of Babel, when God confused the languages of the people.  Now, although the disciples spoke in different languages, the Church was united with one voice, directed by the Holy Spirit.  Everyone heard the same message.  Luke says they spoke, “as the Spirit gave them utterance.”  These were God’s words proclaimed, Spirit-filled, Spirit-directed, prophetic words from the mouths of the disciples.
            This was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, inspired by the Spirit, several hundred years earlier.  Peter quotes Joel to say that these are the Last Days … the entire NT era, from that day forward until Jesus returns in glory.  The Spirit will now be poured out on all flesh … without limit … upon Jews and Gentiles, men and women, young and old.  There should be no comparing Christians and saying that this person is more Spirit-filled than that one.  The Spirit will be poured out on all.  And all are given the privilege to declare the mighty works of God … to proclaim the Good News of Jesus.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could experience what those disciples experienced?  A new, mighty rushing wind blowing in our lives.  Clearing out the sinful dust and debris that get in the way of our relationship with God.  Filling our sails so that the wind of God moves us along his way rather than our own way.  We get stalled in the doldrums, feeling like we have no purpose, no direction at all.  We get bored.  We grow lazy.  We know this is not how we’re supposed to be.
            We often wish that we could see evidence of God’s presence, like a verifiable miracle, perhaps a flame of fire on our head, the ability to suddenly speak in another language without the use of Google Translate on our smartphone or Rosetta Stone on our computer.  We wish for signs of God’s presence, but it seems as though he is absent.  Shall we go looking for him in experiences like the day of Pentecost?  Maybe we can find a way to stir something up on our own, to get ourselves more excited about being a follower of Jesus.  But this leads to even more guilt than we may already have … when the excitement doesn’t arrive.  Besides, Jesus never told the disciples to get themselves all stirred up.  Rather, he told them “to wait for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4).  There was nothing that they were do.  Simply wait.  The pouring out of the Spirit would happen according to God’s timing and in his own way, not theirs.
The Holy Spirit is still poured out upon us today, in God’s timing and in his own way.  He is poured out through the preached Word of the Gospel.  It may not sound like a mighty rushing wind, but we are filled with the breath of God nonetheless, like those dry bones enlivened through the preaching of Ezekiel.  He is poured out through the waters of Baptism.  It may not be the pounding of a waterfall, but God’s promises are connected to even a mere handful of water.  He is poured out through bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar.  The Spirit works through the Words of Institution to deliver what it is … the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus which deliver forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in his Name.
God never promised us a Pentecost like the one in Acts, that is, with accompanying signs such as speaking in other languages and prophesying.  It happened in a similar way on three other occasions recorded for us in the Book of Acts … to the Samaritans, to Cornelius and his household, and to a group of disciples of John the Baptist.  But emotional highs or ecstatic experiences are not evidence of the Spirit.  Speaking in tongues as it is understood today and other miraculous events are not assurances that you are a true Christian … although you will hear this in certain circles.  Scripture does not say, “Everyone who speaks in tongues is a true believer.”  Nowhere does it say that.
What it does say is this: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And we can only do this when the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us. “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:3.  In a Pentecost sermon, Luther said this: “The kind of Pentecost people the Holy Spirit produces [are] people who know that they have a gracious God and Father in Christ, and who boldly proceed to confess Christ before the whole world, and are prepared to suffer for his sake” (Complete Sermons, VI: 161).
And what do we see at the end of the chapter after Peter’s Pentecost sermon?  People were cut to the heart.  Peter called them to repentance and to be baptized.  And that’s exactly what they did.  Nothing spectacular.  No sound of a mighty rushing wind.  No tongues of fire.  No speaking in other languages.  Just the simple – yet most certainly Spirit-filled – beginnings of the New Testament Church by repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  And they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And so have you.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sermon for the Ascension of Our Lord (May 10, 2018)

Ascension 2018 (May 10, 2018)

“God Has Gone Up with a Shout” (Psalm 47)

Psalm 47 is our text this evening.  It has been labeled an “enthronement” psalm.  Picture the ark of the covenant taking its place in Jerusalem after dwelling in the house of Obed-edom.  2 Samuel 6:15 records for us, “So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.”  God sits there on his holy throne, as the ark is described earlier in the same chapter, “the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim” (2 Sam. 6:2).  As an “enthronement” psalm, it’s appropriate that we sing it tonight as we celebrate the ascension of our Lord Jesus forty days after he rose from the dead.  A cloud received Jesus from the sight of the apostles, and he takes his place at the right hand of the Father, his divine royal throne.  Not a literal place in the heavens, but the position of all rule and authority in the universe. 


God has gone up with a shout.  He was enthroned upon the ark of the covenant as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The psalm presents him as the King of the Jews.  It refers to the conquest of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua.  “He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.”  It also refers to the “Promised Land” and how the land was apportioned to each of the tribes.  “He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves.”  And the point in all this is that Israel did nothing to deserve any of of this.  They were not superior to any other nation.  They had done nothing to earn God’s favor.  It was all a gift of his grace.

But he is not merely the King of the Jews.  He is the King of the Nations.  “The Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth … God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.”  Not just Jerusalem.  Not just the Promised Land.  He is King over all, whether the subjects realize it or not.  He sets up leaders and nations and brings them down according to his will.

Think of all the nations and kingdoms that have come and gone over time.  Egypt was once a great world power, but not longer has the same authority it once did.  Babylon was mighty, but its territory has been divided.  Even the discovery of massive oil resources has failed to restore any of the nations in that region to dominant positions on the world stage.  Greece and Rome, once wonders of mankind, faded away and fell to other conquering states.  In more recent history, the Soviet Union seemed to topple overnight.  And even our own United States, though at the pinnacle of its power, is in serious moral decline and may not escape the divine law of history, as recorded by King Solomon, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).[1]

            There’s another way of looking at this phrase, “God has gone up with a shout.”  It could refer to the lifting of the cloud of glory from the ark in the tabernacle.  When they were camped in the wilderness after the Lord rescued them from Egypt, they were led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  When the cloud lifted from the tabernacle, it indicated that God was leading his people forward.  It was time to set out for a new place of encampment on their way to the Promised Land.  When the cloud settled down once again over the ark and the tabernacle, the people were to settle down (see Exodus 40:36-38).  God always went before his people to lead them.  As long as they relied on him, it was the Lord who fought the battles for them and was victorious for them.


            Jesus went before us.  From his baptism and temptation in the wilderness all the way to the cross, he fought the battle with Satan, sin, and death for us … and won.  He was victorious for us.  Now, he has gone before us in his Ascension.  His Ascension is his enthronement as King of Kings.  He is still present with us, as he promised, “I am with you always.”  He is present with his Church through the preached Gospel and the Sacraments.  And he continues to lead us forward.  We head out to new places of encampment, to ventures unknown, all the while knowing that the Promised Land in eternity awaits us … the new heaven and new earth that God has promised to all who are baptized and who trust in Christ as Savior.  In the Ascension of our Lord, we get a preview of what awaits us.  This is how one of our Ascension hymns puts it, one that we’ll be singing on Sunday:

On Christ’s ascension I now build

The hope of my ascension;

This hope alone has always stilled

All doubt and apprehension;

For where the Head is there as well

I know His members are to dwell

When Christ shall come and call them.

Since Christ returned to claim His throne,

Great gifts for me obtaining,

My heart will rest in Him alone,

No other rest remaining;

For where my treasure went before,

There all my thoughts will ever soar

To still their deepest yearning. (LSB 492:1-2)

            We can rest in the grace of Christ now.  Confident in his care.  Confident in his control.  Confident in the power of his Gospel to save us.  This is why “repentance and forgiveness of sins [are] proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).  This is why we support our congregations where that message is proclaimed and our missionaries who bear that message near and far.

            We will rest once and for all when Christ returns.  He will return just as he departed, as the two men in white robes said to the apostles, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you in to heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  He will come on the clouds, just that cloud of glory in the wilderness, a sign that all who are baptized into his death and resurrection and who trust in him will finally be able to settle down in the eternal Promised Land.

On that day, everyone will bow before him.  Some in joy.  Some in terror, if they have stubbornly resisted the truth of Jesus.  But ultimately, there will be people from all tribes and nations gathered as “the people of the God of Abraham.”  Toward the end of the psalm, we hear that “The princes of the people gather as the people of the God of Abraham.”  This was foretold all the way back in Genesis.  The Lord told Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).  We are all children of Abraham by faith in the Messiah, as St. Paul says in Romans 4, “the promise [rests] on grace and [is] guaranteed to all his offspring – not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16) … the faith that trusts God’s promises and which is counted to us as righteousness.

So, clap your hands, all peoples!  Shout to God with loud songs of joy! God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  And Christ has ascended and now rules and reigns for the good of his Holy Church.


[1] Thoughts in this paragraph adapted from Boice, J. M. (2005). Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (p. 396). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord (February 11, 2018)

The Transfiguration of Our Lord (February 11, 2018)
Mark 9:2-9
Fairy tales have imaginary stories of people or objects being transformed or transfigured into something else. Cinderella is transformed from a grimy, enslaved, abused step-daughter into a candidate for princess by her fairy godmother, along with a pumpkin turned into a carriage and mice turned into horses that will pull the carriage and take Cinderella to the royal ball. Beautiful Belle meets up with a prince and the residents of his castle who had been cursed by a witch. The prince was turned into a beast, his butler into a candelabra, his steward into a clock, his maid into a feather duster, his housekeeper into a teapot, along with a few other transformed characters in the story.
            But the account we heard in the Gospel reading today is no fairy tale. The transfiguration of Jesus really happened. Peter, in fact, makes this clear in one of his letters. In 2 Peter 1, he writes, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was born to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18). We were there. We saw it. We saw it all. We heard it all. That’s what Peter wants to get across. That this event really happened.
Jesus walked up the mountain appearing as a man, which he, of course, is. But his human flesh was transfigured. His appearance changed. His glory as God began to shine through his human body. His clothes became “radiant, intensely white,” whiter than anyone could bleach them. Matthew says “his face shone like the sun” (Matt. 17:2). Moses and Elijah appear there talking with Jesus, two of the greatest saints of the Old Testament. God’s Law was revealed to Moses, the Law that Jesus came to keep in our place … because in our sin we are incapable of keeping the Law and thus are under God’s condemnation apart from Christ’s perfect obedience on our behalf. Elijah was the prophet that John the Baptist was compared to, and John was the final prophet to appear on the scene and to announce the arrival of the Messiah. And Peter wanted to make three tents for each of these men, tents like the tabernacle where the Israelites worshiped and offered sacrifice. Peter would have loved to stay there for a very long time. Peter may have had good intentions, but, as St. Mark tells us, Peter was so scared he didn’t know what he was saying. A cloud, then, overshadowed them and a voice came out of the cloud, echoing what was spoken at the Baptism of Our Lord, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Lastly, Jesus was left alone with the disciples and tells them not to say anything about this event until after he is raised from the dead.
What was this event all about? Why did Jesus choose to reveal his divine glory at this point in time? This was the beginning of Jesus’ final march to the cross, the final march that we will be contemplating during the season of Lent that begins this week. Jesus would come down the mountain and face his opponents who would mock him, flog him, and crucify him. Two of his closest friends would deny him and betray him. All along the way to the cross, Jesus would suffer tremendously. He would pray earnestly to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. St. Mark records for us that he was “greatly distressed and troubled” … that he was “very sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:33-34). Jesus prayed if there was any way possible to avoid such suffering and agony. Yet, as you know, Jesus prayed to his Father, “Not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). And so, it seems as if at this point, looking forward to the cross, Jesus reveals his hidden glory as a source of encouragement for his followers. It’s as if he wants to get across the point to Peter and James and John that “This is not all there is. This is not the end. We will go down the mountain and, yes, there will be trouble. There will be more opposition. There will be suffering and pain. There will be death. But behind the veil of my flesh, there is glory. Beyond the veil of death, there is eternal life and resurrection. Behind the cloud with its shadow, the voice of the Father offers his assurance of love … love for me as the one sent to do his will, love for you as I die on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for your sins.”
            Knowing the identity of Jesus as he suffers changes our perspective on his suffering. We see that there is more than meets the eye. There is divine glory behind all of it. There is divine love behind all of it. The Father’s love for his Son. The Father’s love for you because you are united to his Son in Holy Baptism. And his suffering is not without purpose. It has meaning. It has a goal. It is meant to absorb all the sin that has ever been committed and put an end to God’s condemnation over our sin, because Jesus bore that condemnation for us at the cross.
            Knowing the identity of Jesus as we suffer changes our perspective on OUR suffering, whatever it may be … addiction, arthritis, depression, dementia, congestive heart failure, cancer … whatever has invaded our lives, stolen away our joy, and threatens to snuff out the flame of faith. But there is more than meets the eye. In spite of your pain and discomfort, in spite of your doubts wondering where God is when you hurt so much, remember that there is divine glory and divine love behind all of it. You are not defined by your disease. Your identity is not wrapped up in your ailment or addiction. You are defined by your baptismal identity, as one who is dearly loved by God for the sake of Jesus. And he transfigures your suffering and gives it purpose even when it seems so purposeless, even when you feel so hopeless. He uses our suffering to draw us closer to him and to his Son’s cross, even as we look to him with the eyes of faith hanging on the cross, struggling for breath and bleeding to death. Listen to the words of the author of Hebrews: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons … For [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [our Heavenly Father] disciplines us for our good that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:5-11). Moreover, the same author declares that because Jesus suffered so much, he also really and truly understands when we suffer. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).
            Some folks today who respond to suffering are much like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration. They speak without really knowing what they are saying. They mean well. But what they say is dead wrong. They may say things like, “If you just have more faith, things will get better” or “you must have done something wrong … that’s why this has happened to you.” People may have good intentions with these statements, but these statements are faith destroying lies. We live in a world broken by sin. That’s why bad things happen. We endure the consequences of sin … sometimes our own, sometimes that of others. But God does not punish us because of our sins. That was already taken care of by Christ on the cross. Things may get better. They may not. People are not always healed, whether by miracle or medicine. The amount of faith you have is inconsequential. Besides, how do you measure faith? Faith can’t be poured out into a measuring bowl or set on a scale to be weighed. Faith is a gift, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.
            But even if our bodies or our minds are not healed, we are still being transformed into the image of Christ. The verses that were omitted in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians speak of this. There Paul is talking about the veil that Moses covered his face with after coming down from Mt. Sinai. He compares that veil to the veil that covers the hearts of the unbelieving Jews of his day. Then, he writes, “But when one turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:16-18).
Many people still have a veil of unbelief over their hearts. God the Holy Spirit removes the veil from our hearts and gives us faith to trust in Christ. Then, he continues to daily transform us into the image of Christ as we view his glory with the eyes of faith. To our natural eyes, things can look bleak and dim and hopeless. To look at the humble body of Jesus, you would see a mere man. But behind his humble body the glory of the Son of God was waiting to shine forth at just the right moment. To see the cloud overtake them on the mountain, you would see shadowy darkness. But behind that cloud was the Father with his voice expressing love for his Son, and he directs us to listen to him.
Jesus goes down the mountain to face the cross.
But we have been with him on the mount of Transfiguration. And so we know that behind the cross and behind his suffering, there is glory. Resurrection is on the other side of the valley.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (February 4, 2018)

Epiphany 5 – Series B (February 4, 2018)
Looking for Jesus … Going On for Jesus” (Mark 1:29-39)

Everyone is looking for you,” said Simon and the others to Jesus. Jesus had been busy in Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Healing the sick. Casting out demons who had taken up residence in people. Not permitting the demons to speak. Apparently, Jesus did not want them to identify him as the Holy One of God. Instead, he wanted to draw forth faith and worship from people based on his word and work.
After such a busy time, Jesus went off to a quiet place for some solitude and prayer. Jesus needed to recharge his batteries, too. But his times of solitude never seemed to last long. People always demanded his attention. And that’s the way it was here in Capernaum. Everyone was looking for Jesus.
Wouldn’t that be great if that was the case today? Everyone looking for Jesus. The whole city of Capernaum was gathered together at the door of Simon’s and Andrew’s house. Can you imagine if the whole population of your city was gathered together at your door? Or at the door of our church? Our church would be filled, overflowing even. No more concerns with meeting budget. No more feeling inadequate when we compare ourselves to other larger churches. We could finally build a bigger building, a nicer building. We would HAVE to, if we wanted to fit all those people inside, to have enough pew space and classroom space and gathering space.
But why was everyone looking for Jesus? They had heard about his healing powers. They, too, wanted to be healed or to have their loved ones healed. They wanted to be released from the demonic powers that oppressed them. It soon becomes apparent that this is the only reason that the crowds were searching for Jesus. When they heard some of his more challenging teachings, the crowds began to dissipate. For example, in John 6, Jesus taught that he is the bread that came down from heaven, the Bread of Life. He said that the bread that he will give for the life of the world is his flesh, and that whoever feeds on his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life. All this was too much for his hearers. Many turned away from him and were no longer his disciples. This prompted Jesus to turn to the Twelve and said, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” The Holy One of God. The very same title which Jesus forbade the demons to speak. And yet a short time later, Peter and the other disciples turned their backs on Jesus, hiding in fear. Jesus was finally left all alone … hung in solitude on the cross, giving his flesh and shedding his blood for the life of the world.
Crowds still come out today for similar reasons. It’s not so much about repentance. And the harder teachings of Jesus are often avoided … the ones that make people turn away. Instead, people simply want something from Jesus, as if he’s a heavenly vending machine. Just pray hard enough, believe hard enough, and like an Amazon delivery, God’s gifts will be sent straight to your doorstep. Healing, either physical or emotional. Help for my family, either financial or relational. That’s not to say Jesus never heals or helps. He certainly does, although his help is not dependent on using the right formula in prayer, nor is it dependent on the strength of your faith. His help is always a gift of grace and is given – or perhaps withheld – for your good, for molding and shaping you into the person God desires. And we can offer this same kind of help here in the Church, as we support one another and pray for one another and direct people to resources that can help them such as counseling or medical care. But this is not the sole reason Jesus came to be our Savior. Jesus came to die for your sins and to rise to life again, giving us everlasting life and the promise of resurrection and wholeness when he returns on the Last Day. His miracles are a foretaste of that wholeness … that Shalom … that we joyfully anticipate.
Is everyone looking for Jesus? There are still some very big churches out there … megachurches with over a thousand attendees with rock star pastors and a Sunday morning experience in an auditorium that looks more like a rock concert than a worship service, and all kinds of staffed programs for children, youth, singles, and every other demographic you can think of. But is everyone looking for Jesus? We are increasingly seeing this not to be the case. For instance, in a recent study, the Barna Group stated that “rates of church attendance, religious affiliation, belief in God, prayer and Bible reading have all been dropping for decades.” The study went on to list the top 10 “post-Christian” cities in America. The Seattle-Tacoma region came in at number 9 on the list. To qualify for the list, the people surveyed had to meet a series of factors, some of which included
  • Do not believe in God
  • Identify as atheist or agnostic
  • Disagree that faith is important in their lives
  • Have never made a commitment to Jesus
  • Disagree that the Bible is accurate
  • Have not donated money to a church in the last year
  • Have not attended a Christian church in the last 6 months
  • Have not read the Bible in the last week
  • Agree that Jesus committed sins
  • Do not feel a responsibility to share their faith
  • And so on…
Fewer and fewer people are coming to church. Fewer and fewer people are inquiring about matters of faith. There is a waning interest in spiritual matters, Christian or otherwise. And really, we shouldn’t be all that surprised when you consider the godless evolutionary viewpoint that is taught in our state schools … how that viewpoint teaches us that we are all the product of impersonal forces and natural selection that somehow, some way have brought us to this point … and that means that our lives are really pointless.
But the Church has a message, the message that we are not the byproducts of ooze and goo that somehow managed to become you. We are special creations of the Triune God, dearly loved by him, loved so much that even when we failed to live faithfully as his creatures, he promised to send a Savior, his only Son who would become flesh for us and suffer and die for us so that we might become one with him again.
The disciples find Jesus and tell him everyone is looking for him. And he says, “Let’s go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also for that is why I came out.” Jesus makes it clear that he didn’t come to be a miracle worker. He came to preach. To bring the Word of God. He went on from there and preached in other synagogues, the gathering place of each Jewish community, and would cast out demons, proving his divine authority as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel. Because when the Word of God is preached, demons flee. The kingdom of God advances. Enemy territory is recovered. And that still happens today. Consider our baptismal rites where the candidate renounces the devil. “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?” the candidate or sponsors are asked. An optional rite in the Agenda which the pastor uses actually has an exorcism … but not the kind you’re thinking about. There’s no head rotating around or levitating bed. It’s the simple, straightforward words, “Depart, unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit.” These words are not necessarily saying that the person being baptized is possessed by Satan. What they are acknowledging is that it is important to take sides against Satan. This is no child’s play. You are either with him or against him, in his kingdom or in God’s kingdom. And the devil becomes your lifelong enemy when by water and the Word the Holy Spirit takes up residence in you and gives you faith to believe in Jesus.
Why are you looking for Jesus? For healing? For feeling better about yourself and your life? For a Sunday morning pep talk to get you through the week? That’s all well and good. But above all else, we look for Jesus and look TO Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, forgiveness in particular for forgetting and neglecting our role in preaching the Good News, for turning our congregation into a social club, for not making this a welcoming and hospitable place for visitors, for not being concerned with those not in the inner circle, those not here with us worshipping and praying to the One True God.
So, let us go on to the next towns to preach the Good News. I’m not talking about Everett or Snohomish or Arlington. The “next town” for us may be in our own family. It may be that person you see every day whom you know could use some Good News in their life. It could be far away across the globe, as we support the work of missionaries sent out to preach the Gospel. However we do it, whenever we do it, we do it prayerfully, relying on the Holy Spirit to work powerfully through the Word of God … bringing forgiveness and wholeness … and sending the devil and his demonic forces away from us.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany (January 21, 2018)

Epiphany 3 – Series B (January 21, 2018)
“The Kingdom of God is at Hand” (Mark 1:14-20)
Jesus announces the arrival of his kingdom.  The time is fulfilled.  The wait is over.  The Messiah is here.  Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  God is on the scene in the flesh of Jesus.  He is staring you right in the face.  God has visited his people.  That’s what the priest Zechariah said when it was announced to him that he would have a son: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68).  Zechariah’s son John would grow up and be the one to preach to the people and prepare them for the arrival of the Messiah.  Many people from Judea and Jerusalem went to him in the wilderness, confessed their sins, and were baptized by John in the Jordan River.  That’s why we call him John the Baptist or John the Baptizer.
But John stirred up more than just the water in the Jordan.  He got Herod Antipas ticked off at him.  At the time, Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee – up north – and Perea, the region to the east of the Jordan River.  John had been publicly criticizing Herod for his incestuous marriage to his brother’s wife, who also happened to be his niece.  And for all this, Herod locked John up in prison.  When you publicly speak out against the ruling authorities, you better be prepared for the consequences … even if you are speaking the truth, as John was.
Our text today begins after John was arrested.  Mark has Jesus heading into Galilee after John’s arrest.  It was time for him to begin his public ministry.  You’d think that Jesus would head to Jerusalem, the place of the temple and the religious establishment.  But for Jesus, it was not yet time to confront the leaders in Jerusalem.  That was coming, certainly.  Perhaps he decided to go to Galilee specifically at this time to challenge the authority of Herod Antipas, in his own territory.  Jesus goes to the place of Herod’s rule and reign to announce and to demonstrate the rule and reign of God.  Galilee does not belong to Herod.  It belongs to Jesus.  Jerusalem does not belong to the scribes and Pharisees or even the Romans.  It belongs to Jesus.  The whole world belongs to Jesus.  The whole universe belongs to Jesus.
But you and I and every other sinner in the world like to be in charge of our own kingdom.  We like to be the center of our universe, not God.  We like to rule and reign our own lives, doing what we think is right, doing what feels right.  The watchwords of the day are “listen to your heart” … “follow your heart.”  This, in spite of the fact that the prophet Jeremiah rightly declared, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).  That does not sound like a sound source of direction.
We are also tempted to fear the kingdoms of this world more than we trust in God and his kingdom.  There are authorities and authority figures who challenge God’s authority constantly, who permit things that are contrary to Holy Scripture.  And as God’s representatives, Christians are caught in the crossfire … sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally.  We are to obey the authorities over us insofar as their laws do not conflict with the Word of God.  But when they do conflict, we must obey God rather than men.  The authority of Jesus challenges this world’s authority even today.  Both our hearts and our consciences must be captive to the Word of God.
The kingdom of God is present in the presence of Jesus.  How should one react?  If God is present, what is our rightful response?  Repent and believe the gospel.  It’s time to repent.  Don’t waste time in doing so.  Can you hear the urgency in Jesus’ words?  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.”  Can you hear the urgency in Paul’s words in today’s Epistle?  “The appointed time has grown short … the present form of this world is passing away.”  Paul and the other disciples were under the impression that the return of Jesus was imminent.  And even if the return of Jesus is still hundreds of years away, we should still have the expectation that he will return at any moment.  So, what do we do with the time we have?  Are you making the most of the time God has given you?  There’s nothing wrong with leisure and rest and vacation time, for sure.  We need that … to recharge and refresh.  Even Jesus got away sometimes to deserted places.  But laziness or complacency have no place in the kingdom.  If Jesus rules and reigns now, and if he is coming again soon, then this should certainly affect the way we live now.
So, what do we do?  We do what Jesus says.  Repent and believe the Gospel.
Repent.  That is, turn away from your sins.  Have a change of heart and mind.  Repent like the people of Ninevah did when they heard the preaching of the reluctant prophet Jonah.  Repent of our sins of laziness and complacency when it comes to the things of God and his Word.  Repent of the ways in which we have followed our heart when it has led us in courses of action that are not God-pleasing.  Repent of our failure to confess Christ clearly as individuals and as a church because of our fear of how the secular society around us will respond.
Repent … and believe the Gospel.  That word means “Good News.”  Now, I assume you all know what the Gospel is.  But before we say why it is good news here, I want to talk about how Mark unpacks it for us.  He doesn’t quite define it for us here … not just yet.  The Gospel for Mark is the reign of God in Jesus demonstrated, unfolded, unpacked in the chapters following today’s reading.
It begins with the kingdom being reconstituted through the call of the first disciples.  Today, Jesus calls four Galilean fisherman to follow him.  He calls more later…eight more, to be exact, to be his Apostles.  Twelve men … corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel, to be the beginnings of the New Israel, the Holy Church sent out to fish for men as they proclaim the Gospel … to catch people in the net of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.  And the Holy Spirit by the power of the Word pulls in to the boat those whom he will.
            The kingdom is reconstituted in the Apostles.  Then the rule and reign of God is demonstrated in the works of Jesus.  Jesus casts out demons to prove his power over Satan’s opposition to God’s rule and reign.  Jesus heals the sick, makes lepers clean, makes a paralytic walk, reversing the effects of living in a sin-broken world.  Jesus forgives the sin of that same paralytic, and thereby comforts the hearts of all those who think that they are broken because of their own particular sins.  Jesus has power over nature.  He feeds the multitudes.  He calms the raging storm.  All creation groans now, but Jesus pictures for us the way in which God will one day restore all things.  A new heaven and new earth is coming.  Jesus also raises the dead.  This is a preview of our Lord’s own resurrection and the resurrection to eternal life that he promises to all who believe in him.  All of this is a preview of the wholeness of body and soul and all creation that will finally be made complete when he returns.
Yes, all this is Good News.  It is the Good News demonstrated all the way to the cross.  Jesus foretold his suffering and death three times in Mark’s Gospel … in chapter 8, chapter 9, and chapter 10.  And finally, in chapter 10:45 – right before his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem – Jesus reveals the meaning of his death.  He says, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  It’s only through the death of Jesus that our sins are atoned for.  It’s only through the death of Jesus that our sins are forgiven.  It’s only through faith in this death that we receive his forgiveness.  It’s only through faith in this death that we can enter into and live in God’s kingdom, now and in eternity.  And this kingdom is near to you today … present for you … staring you right in the face … in these words you have been hearing, and on this altar today. The kingdom of God is at hand. God is on the scene here in the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you.
God visits his people today. Repent and believe the gospel.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany (January 14, 2018)

Epiphany 2 – Series B (January 14, 2018)
“Knowing the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:1-10)

Hannah was the childless wife of a man named whose other wife had children.  Hannah was tormented because of her barren condition.  Every year, she and her family would travel from their home in Ramah to Shiloh where the tabernacle was at the time.  This was many years before David built his palace in Jerusalem and Solomon built the temple there.  There, at Shiloh, Hannah and her husband would worship the Lord.
On one particular visit, she prayed to the Lord with such fervor and with such tears that Eli the priest thought she was drunk.  He tried to shoo her away, but Hannah explained to him that she was “troubled in spirit” and was “pouring out [her] soul to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:15).  What she had been praying for was, of course, a child.  Moreover, she promised the Lord that if she was given a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord’s service for the rest of his life.  And that is exactly what happened.  Hannah had a baby, and she named him Samuel.  After he was weaned, she brought him back to Shiloh and gave him to Eli to raise in the Lord’s service.  You may be wondering, “Didn’t Samuel need a mothering hand, too, rather than just an old priest?”  There were probably other women who served at the tabernacle who helped take care of Samuel, perhaps Eli’s own wife.  But Hannah also returned every year to visit and to give Samuel a new robe which she had lovingly made.  And the Lord continued to bless Hannah.  In 1 Samuel 2, we are informed that, “the Lord visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters.  And the young man Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord.”
Yet, in our text today it says, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord.”  How was this possible?  We just heard that he was “in the presence of the Lord.”  He lived with Eli the priest.  The first verse of our text says that Samuel “was ministering to the Lord.”  That probably means he performed some service in the tabernacle, perhaps like acolytes today or altar guild members.  He helped Eli with his priestly duties.  We also learn that he slept in the tabernacle itself, near the ark of God (3:3), where God promised his very presence would dwell.  Chapter 1 of 1 Samuel even says, “He worshiped the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:28).  With all this contact with the things of God, how is it possible that Samuel “did not yet know the Lord”?
It appears that Samuel served as Eli’s “eyes” in his old age, since the text mentions Eli’s eyesight that had “begun to grow dim.”  Perhaps that’s why Samuel thought that it was Eli who was calling him.  Eli probably often called to Samuel for his assistance getting around and taking care of things in the tabernacle.  But Eli’s failing eyesight points us to something else.  There was also a failure of spiritual sight, since there was “no frequent vision” from the Lord.  This is reflected in the way that Eli failed to rein in his sons.  The previous chapter of 1 Samuel tells us how sinful they were:  they misused the offerings that people brought to the Lord.  They slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tabernacle.  Eli’s sons certainly “did not know that Lord,” and that is the way they are described (1 Sam. 2:12). How, then, can the same thing be said about Samuel?
What does it mean here to “know the Lord”?  For Samuel, it meant that God’s Word had come to him in a personal way, and he responded to it in faith and trust.  Before God had revealed himself, Samuel might have been like those people who have a mild familiarity with the way things operate in church, but only have a surface relationship with God.  They come to church every Sunday, but they still don’t know the Lord the way he wants to be known.  They hear God’s Word, but it goes in one ear and out the other. They sing the liturgy, but their hearts and minds are not in it.  They come to the Lord’s Table, but they still hold deep-seated, hateful grudges in their heart against someone.  They come to the Lord’s Table, which is meant to forgive us and strengthen us, but they really don’t intend to amend their sinful life.  They return home on Sunday afternoon and things go on just as they always have.
“Knowing the Lord” is more than just knowing ABOUT him.  It’s more than just acknowledging that he is there.  “Knowing the Lord” is to be in a daily, penitent, prayerful relationship with him.  “Knowing the Lord” is to submit to his claims on our life.  It is a heartfelt trust and a desire to draw closer to him through his Word.
There is a danger in thinking we are so near, yet so far away from him.  Unless we hear and answer his call, like Samuel … and the disciples, in today’s Gospel lesson, where Jesus comes to them and says, “Follow me,” then we are no more alive than the walls of this building upon which God’s Word echoes.  We are spiritually dead and deserve nothing but God’s wrath over our sin.  We don’t really “know the Lord.”
And in fact, we can’t know the Lord unless He reveals himself to us first.  But our God is gracious and forgiving to call us in the first place.  He doesn’t have to call us to faith through water and the Word.  He is under no obligation to call us to be his followers.  He could just let us go off in our sin and self-satisfaction.  But he loves us so much that he doesn’t leave us to our own devices.  He knew us first, just like he knew Nathanael.  Nathanael asked Jesus, “How do you know me?”  Jesus replied, “Before Phillip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Just like he came to Philip and Nathanael and called them by name, Jesus comes to us personally in Holy Baptism and calls us by name.  Jesus comes to us through his Word … in the Bible, on the lips of your pastor, on the lips of whoever has told you about Jesus.  Jesus comes to you through his Word and says, “I love you.  I died for you sins.  I am alive forever.  Now come, follow me.  Be my disciple.  Be a life-long learner from me and my Word.  And I don’t just want to be a casual acquaintance of yours, someone about whom who you think only once a week on Sunday morning at 8 or 10:45.  I want to be close to you.  And the way that happens is for you to be in my Word all week long.”
You can hear the voice of Jesus calling you in His Word.  You don’t have to wait for “frequent vision” from the Lord, that which was lacking prior to the Lord calling Samuel to be a prophet.  We hear God’s voice, not in dreams, not in visions, but in the voice of Jesus.  Hebrews 1:1 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”  We hear the voice of Jesus in the apostolic testimony given to us in Holy Scripture.  In the Bible, we hear his call, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  Our hearts have been opened to hear God’s Word, to listen to it carefully, to meditate on it. 
Samuel came to know the Lord in a way that Eli’s sons never did.  In fact, the Lord graciously revealed himself to Samuel in a way he never did to Eli.  Note that the last time God called Samuel, our text says, “the Lord came and stood.”  This seems to be another one of those moments in the Old Testament where the Son of God appeared visibly, even before his incarnation … another “theophany.”  God personally appeared to Samuel like he did to Moses in the burning bush.  He called Samuel for a specific purpose … to be his prophet to carry his word to the people, to be God’s authoritative representative.
Even more so, the disciples came to know the Lord in way that even Samuel didn’t.  They saw him in the incarnate flesh of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ and Savior of the world.  He called the disciples for a specific purpose…to be eyewitnesses of his resurrection and to preach the Gospel to all nations as his authoritative representatives.
And that is what he calls his Church to do today … to carry the apostolic testimony of the Crucified and Risen Savior to the nations … by mouth, by supporting mission work with our prayers and with our pocketbook, by supporting the work of our seminaries to send laborers into the harvest, by encouraging the young men and young women in our congregations to consider entering into full-time church work … so that many more people in this dying world might come to “know the Lord” … knowing him as the one who bought them with a price … the price of the precious blood of the Son of God … the very same price with which he bought you.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sermon for the Epiphany of our Lord (observed) -- January 7, 2018

Epiphany (observed)/Baptism of Our Lord (January 7, 2018)

“An Epiphany Mashup” (Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12)


Do you know what a “mashup” is?  A “mashup” is where two different songs or music videos are combined into one new piece.  It’s kind of a recent pop culture phenomenon although there are examples from the past, too.  For example, I found one on YouTube that combined the disco song “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees with the rock song “The Wall” by Pink Floyd.  It was called “Stayin’ Alive in the Wall.”  There’s another one called “Billie Jean on the Storm” which combines Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” from the 1980’s with “Riders on the Storm” by The Doors from the 1960’s.  Surprisingly, they all work quite well together.  You’ll have to take the time to give them a listen, if you’re so inclined.

Well, today is a “liturgical mashup,” if you will.  We are observing Epiphany, which always falls on January 6.  Typically, this is the day we remember when the Wise Men visited the Holy Family.  Then, the following Sunday on the church year calendar we commemorate The Baptism of Our Lord.  So, today, I thought we would commemorate both Epiphany and the Baptism of Our Lord on the same day.  Really, this is not unlike what Eastern Orthodox Christians do.  For them, Epiphany is Christmas, Wise Men, and Baptism of Jesus all wrapped up into one … a “mashup.”

Epiphany means a “manifestation” or a “showing forth” or a “shining forth.”  For Eastern Christians, the feast is often called “Theophania.”  That may remind you of our recent Advent sermons.  During Advent, we learned about “theophanies,” or manifestations of God in the Old Testament prior to the Son of God becoming Man.  Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of God in the person of Jesus Christ, but not just to Mary and Joseph and those who met him in Bethlehem.  Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of God to the whole world in the person of Jesus Christ.  It shines the spotlight on Jesus, then God through his Word shines the light on us.  Through the preaching of Jesus, God’s favor rests upon us.  The Holy Spirit enlightens our hearts with the light of faith in our Savior Jesus.

God shines his light on us.  And this is so necessary, because we are in the dark without God’s revelation.  We would all be engaged in a futile grasping for truth, such as what so much of the world engages in.  Trying to make sense of all the things that happen to us.  Attempting to answer the questions, “What does this all mean?  Why am I here?  What is my purpose?  Does God really love me and care about me?  Can he forgive me?”

Because we are all mashed up.  Like a mashup song, we may be singing two songs together, yet they are certainly not in harmony.  There’s a part of us that says all the right things, all the God things, all the Bible things, but there’s another tune we sing that doesn’t match up … the tune we sing when we are away from church or away from our Christian friends.

And our lives are all mashed up.  All the pressures that weigh heavy upon us.  All the directions in which we are pulled.  All the temptations with their demonic forces behind them that claw at us and try to drag us down to hell.

            And so, God’s Word today shines the light for us.  It shines the light on the Incarnation, the inclusion of the Gentiles, the invocation of the Trinity, and the institution of the ministry of Jesus.  That’s a lot to cover today.  But here goes.

God’s Word today shines the light on the Incarnation.  Epiphany is really “Christmas, Part 2.”  When the Wise Men arrived, Jesus was still a baby or at most two years old.  And so we remember once again how God entered into this world for us in all humility.  But we also give thanks that he has not abandoned us.  He came to be obedient to his own Law and to do so in our place.  He came to suffer all that we endure, our weaknesses, our temptations, our death, and to overcome it all for us in his death and resurrection.

            God’s Word today shines the light on the inclusion of the Gentiles.  In the original Greek, the Wise Men are called magoi which is a Persian word.  Some Bible translations simply call them “Magi.”  This suggests that they were pagan sages from Persia, which is Iran today.  They were the first Gentiles to worship the Christ Child.  This is the mystery of which Paul speaks in our Epistle lesson from Ephesians 3 … which is no longer a mystery.  Paul was called to “bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages” … that the Gentiles – that means you and me – are fellow heirs, members of the same body, partakers of the promise in Jesus through the Gospel.  We’re not excluded from God’s promises if we are not Jewish.  It’s not by bloodline that we are brought into God’s family.  It’s by faith in the blood of Jesus.  Paul states in Galatians 3 that “It is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7) and that “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Gal. 3:28-29), that is to say, when it comes to salvation, God makes no ethnic distinctions.  And in Ephesians 2, Paul writes, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and to reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross” (Eph. 2:13-16).

            God’s Word today shines the light for us on the invocation of the Trinity.  We would not know to call upon the name of the Triune God were it not for this fuller revelation of the New Testament.  There are hints of the Triune nature of God in the OT; for example, the threefold benediction that Aaron was told speak over the people from Numbers 6, and the threefold “Holy, holy, holy” that the cherubim sang in Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6.  But then, at the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus, we see a clear revelation of the Holy Trinity.  Jesus stands in the water.  The Spirit descends as a dove.  And the Father’s voice resounds from heaven, “This is my beloved Son.”

            So what’s the big deal about the Trinity?  Here we learn about God’s personal nature.  If God were a single, self-sufficient person, how could he be eternally love?  Love needs an object.  From all eternity, the members of the Holy Trinity have eternally love each other and are most certainly self-sufficient.  They need no other object to love.  Yet the Holy Trinity, in love, created this world in order to share divine love with us.  We are the object of his love.  And so we invoke the Name, we call upon the Name.  Every time we say, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” we remember this truth … that we are marked with that Name in Holy Baptism, that we are loved, that we are forgiven.  And as the Name of the Lord is spoken over us at the end of the Divine Service, we go from this place blessed, loved, forgiven, and empowered to serve our neighbors.

            Finally, God’s Word today shines the light on the institution of the ministry of Jesus.  Up to this point, Jesus lived a rather quiet life.  Born in Bethlehem.  Escaped to Egypt.  Lived in relative obscurity in Nazareth.  For a brief moment, we meet the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple, until we meet the 30-something Jesus in the Jordan.  This is the first time he publicly acted as our substitute.  How so?  He stood in line with sinners waiting to be baptized.  Jesus had no need to repent of anything.  But he acted as he did, as if he were a sinner, because he came to carry the sins of the world to the cross.  From there, he set off on his journey to the cross to carry out his public ministry … preaching, calling people to repentance, healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons to prove his power over the devil and all the forces of evil that are opposed to God and his beloved creation.

So that’s Epiphany as many of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world celebrate it.  Another “theophany.”  A manifestation.  A shining forth.  Shining the light on the Incarnation of our Lord, the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s plan of salvation, the invocation of the Holy Trinity, and the institution of the public ministry of Jesus … his public ministry by which we still benefit today.  In this mashed-up, mixed-up world … with our mashed-up, mixed-up lives … God shines his light upon us in Jesus in Word and Sacrament.  Now, with new clarity we can look beyond the darkness and see, with the eyes of faith, what Jesus is doing for us today through the ministry of the Church.  He still preaches to us through the preachers he gives to the Church, calling us to repentance and faith.  He heals our souls.  He raises us to new life in the waters of Baptism.  He has conquered the powers of darkness that fight against his Holy Church.