Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Hymns for 1/22 & 1/29 at Messiah Lutheran + Moscow Mission

"The People That in Darkness Sat" (LSB 412)

Hymn of the Day (1/22): "O Christ, Our True and Only Light" (LSB 839)

"'Come, Follow Me,' the Savior Spake" (LSB 688)

"Let Me Be Thine Forever" (LSB 689)

Hymn of the Month: "God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It" (LSB 594)

"Lord, This Day We've Come to Worship" (LSB 911)

Hymn of the Day (1/29): "Son of God, Eternal Savior" (LSB 842)

"I Come, O Savior, to Thy Table" (LSB 618)

"Praise the Almighty" (LSB 797)

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (A)

January 29, 2017
Text: Matt. 5:1-12

            The blessed Christian life, as it is described by Jesus, appears to be anything but.  Blessed are… the poor in spirit?  Those who mourn?  Those hungry and thirsty for righteousness?  The persecuted?  Yet Jesus makes no bones about it.  They are blessed.  Blessed by God.  And now, this is often misunderstood as some sort of conditional statement: “If you are poor in spirit, you will be blessed,” as if being poor in spirit, or mourning, or hungering and thirsting for righteousness, is a good work by which we merit being blessed.  The Beatitudes, as the blessings in our Holy Gospel are called, are all too often portrayed as a new and better New Testament version of the Ten Commandments.  The “Be-Attitudes,” as some clever Christian has quipped.  Be like this.  Have this attitude.  And it makes the words of our Lord all Law.  Do this.  Be this way.  God will bless you for it.  Beloved in the Lord, this is a total misunderstanding of our text.
            These are not words of command.  Our Lord here speaks words of consolation to His own who are in the world, but not of the world.  These words are pure Gospel.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  In a world where the movers and the shakers and those who seem to be somebody claim great richness of spirit, Christians recognize our utter poverty.  What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  The rest of the Beatitudes are an unpacking of that.  To be poor in spirit is to mourn over sin and death and the brokenness of this fallen world, but to be comforted by the redeeming work of Jesus Christ in His death for your sins and His resurrection victory over death.  It is the meekness of repentance and submission to your Lord and His Word, and longsuffering with your neighbor, knowing that in the end you will inherit the earth.  It is hungering and thirsting for a righteousness beyond anything within your grasp, the righteousness of Jesus Himself, knowing that you will be satisfied as He pours His righteousness upon you by grace.  It is to be merciful because you have first received mercy from God; pure in heart, in other words, cleansed by the waters of Holy Baptism and Absolution, knowing you will see God with your own eyes on the Day of Resurrection; a peacemaker among brothers and sisters in conflict, for Jesus has made peace between you and the Father in the forgiveness of sins, so that God calls you His own child.  And yes, it is to be persecuted in this life for righteousness’ sake, for the sake of Jesus and His Name which you bear in Baptism and His Word.  For the world will hate you as it hates Him.  But do not despair.  Rejoice and be glad.  Yours is the Kingdom of heaven, and great is your reward, for so they persecuted the prophets and apostles who were before you.  To be poor in spirit, finally, is to recognize that you are nothing, and Jesus is everything.  It is to recognize that you bring nothing to the table before God but your sin and death and hatred of all that is good, and that God brings nothing to the table before you but Jesus and His righteousness and love and forgiveness and His very resurrection body and blood, to give you everything that is good.  The consolation of the Beatitudes is that in spite of your utter and absolute poverty, God loves you, you are precious to Him, and all things are  yours in Jesus Christ, His Son.
            In this life, we think that to be rich is to be blessed, to be poor is to be cursed.  Many are the TV preachers who will tell you that if you believe in enough and follow their seven steps conveniently published in their book for $19.95 plus shipping and handling, God will bless you.  You will be healthy, wealthy, and wise.  If, after buying the book and reading it carefully and sending in your offering, you are still poor, you must not believe enough.  You must not pray hard enough.  You must have committed some sin that prevents God from blessing you.  Jesus turns this hellish logic on its head.  It is the great reversal of all the best of human reason.  And He does it in the flesh.  Beloved, the Beatitudes are not first of all a picture of you.  They are a picture of Jesus.  Almighty God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the only-begotten Son of the Father, becomes a little Baby, born of the Virgin Mary.  God makes Himself poor in spirit, to save you.  He is born in poverty.  He is born in a stable.  He is born with the government on His back.  He’s in Bethlehem to be taxed.  He is born to be the poorest of the poor, the meekest of the meek, Himself without sin, but with your sin piled upon Him so that He becomes THE Sinner.  So greatly does He hunger and thirst for your righteousness that He dies for it, the accursed death of a criminal hung on a tree, crucified between two thieves.  Naked, bleeding, nailed, pierced, for you.  “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21; ESV). 
            And now He is risen from the dead.  The Kingdom of Heaven is His, not just as God, but as a man.  He is comforted, satisfied, glorified, seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling all things in heaven and on earth.  And because the Beatitudes are first of all a picture of Christ, they are a picture of you in Christ.  They are a picture of the Baptized. 
            Well, if all of this is true (and it is!), what does this mean for how you live now, in this life?  It means you can be meek: gentle, quiet, imposed upon, loving those who are hard to love, serving those who are hard to serve.  Not so that you will be blessed, but because you are already blessed in Christ, who loved and served you unto death when you were impossible to love and serve.  It means you can be merciful, not in order to receive mercy, but because you have received mercy, and you know what it is to receive the perfect mercy of your Lord Jesus Christ in the full and free forgiveness of all your sins.  That person in your life over whom you’ve been holding a grudge, the one you just can’t forgive?  Have mercy.  Absolve that person.  How can you not, after all God has forgiven you for Jesus’ sake?  Be pure in heart by confessing your sins and reveling in the Holy Absolution.  Go make peace between warring neighbors, and in so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  And when it comes to persecution, just suffer it.  Suffer it because you know that you are blessed.  You are blessed on account of Christ.  You are blessed on account of His suffering and death, which sanctifies your own.  And you know how this all turns out in the end.  You know that all that is wrong will be right on that Day.  So you can live now as if all that is wrong is already right.  Because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And that is the answer to all evil.

            You are already blessed by God.  You already have eternal life by virtue of your Baptism into Christ.  And so, all things are already yours in Christ Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven and earth itself.  But it doesn’t look like it yet.  You cannot see it yet.  You will.  Just wait.  On that Day, what is hidden will come to light.  All that is true now in a hidden way will be manifest.  It will be a great Epiphany.  The Lord is coming.  Wait just a little while longer, beloved, until the time is fulfilled.  In the meantime, the Lord here sets a Table before you where all the Beatitudes are delivered under bread and wine.  Here is your righteousness, your comfort, and your satisfaction.  Here is mercy and peace and your great reward.  For here under bread and wine is our Lord’s true body and blood, given and shed for your forgiveness and raised for your justification.  Here is the very Kingdom of Heaven in the stuff of earth.  Here is Jesus for you.  And you are blessed.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
January 21, 2017
Text: Matt. 4:12-25
            “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Is. 9:2; ESV).  Darkness descended upon all creation when our first parents sinned in the Garden.  Not a darkness blinding your bodily eyes, but a deep spiritual darkness that has as its source the twisted tongue of the serpent.  It is the black shade of death, the valley of the shadow.  It is sin, that mortal disease that infects us all since Adam, and the sins we commit as symptoms of that deep corruption of our nature.  It is physical death and all the reminders we have along the way that we are all mortal: disease, injury, trauma, violence, broken hearts, broken relationships, war, famine, natural disaster, depression, and the grief of lowering a loved one into the grave.  Finally, this darkness is unbelief and a perverted to desire for God to leave us alone.  That is the natural state into which you are born as a son or daughter of Adam.  You are born spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God.  And now, this isn’t a nice thing to think about, but it is a truth vital for you to know: As one born in sin, you are born in the spiritual kingdom of the very prince of darkness, the devil.  And it is so dark in this kingdom, and you are so blind in your fallen nature, you don’t even know you are in the darkness.  You cannot see it, and even when you begin to suspect, you refuse to believe.  That is the state of things outside of Christ.
            But, beloved, Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.  And He breaks into this very darkness in our human flesh.  God is a man.  This man is God.  God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made… He breaks in to the things He made very good, but which have been enveloped by a foreign darkness.  He breaks in to be one with His creatures, one with man, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  Why?  For us men, and for our salvation.  To rescue us from the darkness.  To conquer the devil.  To forgive our sins and give us life.  The Light dawns in Bethlehem, and it spreads by, of all things, preaching.  “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).  That is the content of the preaching.  Repentance and the Gospel that the Kingdom has arrived in Jesus.  You are saved by Jesus.  Your sins are forgiven on account of Jesus.  The Light has broken into the darkness in the coming of Jesus.  All Christian preaching is the delivery of this Light: Jesus Himself.  In preaching and in Sacrament, the Light breaks into the darkness to rescue you.  Jesus comes to you.  To forgive your sins and give you life. 
            See how the Light breaks in in our text.  Jesus preaches in fulfillment of this very prophecy: “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light” (Matt. 4:16).  Then, in continuity with His preaching (“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”) He calls individuals to faith and discipleship, and in the case of our text, into the Office of the Holy Ministry.  He calls the first men He would send as His Apostles to preach the very same sermon to the world.  “Follow me,” He says to them, “and I will make you fishers of men” (v. 19).  “You will catch others out of the swirling sea of darkness and bring them into the Light by preaching.”  So they do.  They leave everything behind, their business, their boats, and poor father Zebedee, not because there can’t be Christian fishermen, not because a Christian has to leave his vocation in this world behind to follow Jesus, but because these men in specific are called to a new vocation: Apostle, preacher, pastor.  This is actually a Holy Ministry text.  Because Jesus gives us pastors to proclaim the Light of Christ in a world of darkness. 
            Now Jesus and His Apostles-in-training go through all Galilee, and what is Jesus doing?  Teaching, preaching, and healing.  He goes right into the heart of darkness, bursting through with light and life.  “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people… they brought to him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them” (vv. 23-24).  Jesus, the Light, goes to the people in their deepest darkness.  He doesn’t wait around for them to come to the Light themselves.  He goes to them.  And He preaches.  He teaches and proclaims the Gospel.  Then He heals and casts out the demons (Light breaking through the darkness!).  And then the people who hear the preaching and receive the healing go out and tell others about it.  “So his fame spread throughout all Syria… And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan” (vv. 24-25).  By the preaching, Jesus gathers around Himself a congregation as the Light spreads from one believing soul to another.  If the Apostles and the pastors who follow after them were sent to be fishers of men in the preaching, so also the members of the congregation are given to speak the Light of Jesus into the darkness so that His fame spreads to all the corners of the earth and more and more people are gathered into His congregation.
            And have you noticed there is a pattern in all of this that continues in the Church right up to this present moment?  Jesus taught and proclaimed the Gospel, and then confirmed His preaching with signs of healing and casting out demons.  The signs are tangible evidence of the Gospel truth.  What happens at Church in the Divine Service?  There is teaching and proclamation of the Gospel.  And there are tangible signs of the preaching: Baptism and the Supper of our Lord’s body and blood.  There, in the signs, you are cleansed and healed and the demons are put to flight.  No, it isn’t as dramatic as the healings and exorcisms Jesus performed in Galilee, but in all its mundane ordinariness, the healing bestowed in preaching and Sacrament is the greater healing.  For it lasts for eternity.  It applies the medicine of immortality that is Jesus’ death and resurrection to you, tangibly.  And it delivers you from the darkness all the way to Jesus’ second coming and the resurrection of your body from the dead.  Word and Sacrament, Baptism, preaching, and Supper.  That is the pattern.  The preacher preaches the same sermon every Sunday.  It is the one Jesus preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Then comes the sign: “Take, eat, the very body of Jesus, given for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Take, drink, the true blood of Jesus, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  The Light enters your ears and your mouth and takes possession of you, body and soul.  And now you are lucifers!  No, not little devils.  Light bearers!  You bear Jesus in your mind and heart and soul.  His blood courses through your veins.  And you go to your neighbor in the darkness and speak that light and do the signs of service and love that back the message up.  And you invite your neighbor to gather here around Jesus, the Light, in the Christian congregation. 

            Light, beloved, is here for you now in the person of Jesus.  He makes His face shine upon you and is gracious unto you!  He is here now, hidden under His means of grace, to do this very thing.  Therefore, no more groping around in darkness.  Repent of your sins.  Repent of groping for light in all that is not Jesus Christ.  The devil is a liar.  The Light exposes him for what he is.  Tell that snake to go to hell.  Your sin is at an end in the blood and death of Jesus Christ.  Death is defeated by His resurrection on the Third Day.  All the symptoms of darkness that afflict us in this life are but the death throes of death and hell.  Death, mourning, crying, pain?  These things are passing away.  God will wipe every tear from your eyes (Rev. 21:4) on that Day.  The Light has come.  The darkness is dispelled.  The Kingdom of heaven is here for you in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Hymns This Week (and Last) at Messiah Lutheran + Moscow Mission (1/8 & 15)

Hymn of the Month: "God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It" (LSB 594)

Hymn of the Day (1/8): "To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord" (LSB 406)

"To Jordan's River Came Our Lord" (LSB 405)

"O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright" (LSB 395)

"Baptized into Your Name Most Holy" (LSB 590)

"From God the Father, Virgin Born" (LSB 401)

"Hymn of the Day (1/15): "The Only Son From Heaven" (LSB 403)

"O God, My Faithful God" (LSB 696)

"Let Me Be Thine Forever" (LSB 689)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (A)

January 15, 2017
Text: John 1:29-42a

            We make evangelism much more complicated than it needs to be.  This morning in our Holy Gospel we are given to see how the Word of the Lord grows.  God sends His preacher, St. John the Baptist, to point his hearers to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  God sends His preacher to point the congregation ever and always to Jesus, the Savior, the Sacrifice for sin.  And then the hearers follow Jesus.  It was never really about John.  It is always about Jesus.  They follow Jesus and they come to the place where He is staying.  They remain with Him and hear His teaching.  And then what do they do?  Andrew goes and finds his brother, Simon Peter, and brings him to Jesus to hear for himself.  And as the text continues beyond our Holy Gospel, Jesus calls Philip, who then finds Nathanael.  And in every case, the key element of evangelism is the evangel, which is to say the Gospel, which is to say Jesus.  John preaches Jesus, and points to Jesus.  Andrew and the other disciple follow Jesus and stay with Jesus.  Andrew brings Simon to Jesus, Jesus calls Philip, Philip tells Nathanael all about Jesus.  Evangelism is simply this: It is the speaking and giving of Jesus.
            And this is vital for us to know as a mission congregation, serving a rather eclectic college town in twenty-first century America.  Mission work and evangelism are major themes of the Epiphany season, and we are a mission congregation very much concerned with evangelizing, speaking and giving Jesus.  We have no shortage of books and blogs and websites and advice from the experts about how to do evangelism.  Some of these may have their merit.  Synod and districts have their programs, though they bend over backwards to call them anything but programs.  And there are many who offer what they claim to be surefire methods of Church growth.  “Just change your style of worship.  Sing the right songs.  Say the right things.  Serve the right coffee.  Bend your message to the will of the world.  Not too much doctrine.  Don’t insist on anything.  Do not claim to know what is right and true.  And, if we’re really honest, and if you really want to grow, get rid of that cross with the dead God on it.  It’s ugly.  It’s offensive.  It’s not what people want to see.  It’s not what people want to hear.”  The very best that human wisdom can offer looks nothing like our Holy Gospel.  St. John simply points us to Jesus and proclaims: “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29; ESV).  He points to Jesus.  He speaks of Jesus.  He gives Jesus.
            That is what evangelism is.  Notice it begins with God’s man sent to preach.  John comes preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He comes preparing the way of the Lord.  And when the Lord comes, John decreases that the Lord may increase.  John never preaches himself.  He always denies that he is the Messiah.  I baptize with water, but one is coming after me, whose sandals I am unworthy to loose.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  John is always pointing away from himself, to Jesus.  This already teaches us something profound about evangelism and the nature of Church and ministry.  Whenever a preacher magnifies himself… whenever a preacher becomes the substance of the message and the Church revolves around the preacher’s personality, the Gospel is obscured.  The evangel is overshadowed by the man.  A wolf has appeared in sheep’s clothing.  A pastor sent by Jesus should disappear under the robes of his office.  A faithful servant of the Word is ever and always pointing to Jesus and proclaiming Him the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
            Evangelism is giving Jesus.  So it starts here where Jesus is, in the flesh, with His Word and Spirit, in the water, in the bread and wine, bestowing His death and resurrection on sinners, reconciling you to the Father.  The preacher points you to Jesus, and you are evangelized… you are Gospeled by preaching and Sacrament.  And you abide here, where Jesus is staying, in His holy Church, and He Himself teaches you His Word.  Then you go out to your home and to your community, to your vocations, your various stations in life, and you tell those in your life about Jesus, as Andrew told his brother, Peter.  You bring them to Jesus, as Andrew brought Peter.  You bring them to the place Jesus is staying.  You bring them to Church.  So they can hear for themselves and be evangelized, Gospeled, by the Lord in His preaching and Sacrament.
            It’s not much of a program, admittedly.  And you don’t have to spend much on books or videos to learn how to do it.  This is simply what Christians do.  Parents bring their children to Holy Baptism and the Divine Service.  They make sure the kids are in Sunday School and Catechism class.  That is evangelism.  Spouses encourage one another and hold each other accountable to be in Church and Bible study.  That is evangelism.  A friend or coworker is going through a difficult time, and you know they need Jesus.  You send them a Gospel centered note of encouragement and invite them to come to Church with you.  That is evangelism.  You visit a loved one who is sick and say a prayer for the Lord’s mercy.  You rejoice with a friend on his birthday, giving all praise to Christ.  You mourn with a wife who has lost her husband, and you console her with Christ’s resurrection victory over death.  That is evangelism.  And do not forget what St. Paul tells us about our attendance at the Divine Service: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).  Your presence in this place, receiving the gifts of Jesus, is a sermon proclaiming Christ crucified.  It is an encouragement to your pastor and your brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is a witness to the world of the Gospel truth.  The very most important evangelism you can do is be here where Jesus is, forgiving your sins and giving  you eternal life.  The very most important evangelism you can do is go to Church!
            That is what it means to follow Jesus, to be His disciple.  Be here, where He is, hearing Him.  And that is what it means to be a royal priest of God.  Point others to Jesus and tell them He is the sacrifice for their forgiveness and life.  “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  And as you do, the Word of the Lord grows. 
            Now, I will warn you, there is no surefire method of Church growth, and that is why every Synodical program will give way to a newer and better Synodical program, which will give way to an even newer and better Synodical program, and, well, you get the point.  Every single one of these programs is exciting and bold and optimistic, and every single one of these programs fails to deliver the explosive growth we were hoping for.  Because shiny, expensive programs do not bring people to faith in Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit does that, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel.  And the thing about it is, we never know what the Spirit will do when the Gospel, the evangel, is preached.  Oh, we trust that He will work in it, as He has promised.  We know the Word of the Lord will never return to Him empty (Is. 55:11).  We know that faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).  But we also know that this is a mystery… That we sow the Word, we witness, we invite people to Church, and we seem to get no response.  We bring up our children in Church, but they don’t all stay in the Church.  It is a tremendous heartache.  Sometimes the congregation seems to be growing, and sometimes it seems to be shrinking.  Appearances can be deceiving.  Jesus once preached a sermon about eating His flesh and drinking His blood to the thousands who ate of the five loaves and two fish.  The message was scandalous, and everyone left Him except for the Twelve.  Everyone!  Can you imagine the conversation Pastor Jesus would have to have with His district president in the LCMS?
            But He faithfully spoke the Gospel.  He evangelized.  And that is what we are called to do as the Church of God in this place.  We are not called to succeed.  Not if success is measured by posteriors in the pew or dollars in the offering plate.  But we are called preach.  Faithfully.  And the results are up to the Lord.  The Spirit takes care of that, creating faith where and when He wills in those who hear the Gospel. 

            And note how freeing that is.  It isn’t your responsibility to make anyone believe in Jesus.  You can’t save them, because you aren’t the Savior.  Jesus is.  Just go love them in the Name of Jesus and make no apologies about your faith in Jesus.  Just talk about Jesus.  Make no secret of the fact that you go to Church.  You pray.  You read the Bible and you believe it.  And make no secret of the fact that you would love to have  your family and friends and coworkers and... everyone… come to Church with you, where Jesus is, for you and for them, for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  That’s evangelism.  It’s not that difficult.  It’s actually just a matter of being in Jesus, receiving Jesus, and giving Jesus, who fills you with Himself to overflowing.  Evangelism is, simply and finally, about Jesus.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.            

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Our Lord (A)

January 8, 2017
Text: Matt. 3:13-17

            As our Lord steps into the Jordan River to be baptized, like a divine sponge, He soaks up all of our sin and wretchedness, our disease and death, our pain and sorrow.  He takes it all into Himself, into His flesh, into His soul, to be borne to Calvary.  And in exchange, He gives us His righteousness, His healing, His life, His joy, His heaven.  He leaves it to be found in the water joined to His Word.  By His Baptism in the Jordan River, He has sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin (Luther’s Flood Prayer).  So you see, here in Baptism a great exchange takes place.  In His Baptism, Jesus takes upon Himself all that belongs to you and makes it His own.  In your Baptism, Jesus gives you all that belongs to Him and makes it your own.  Luther called this the “happy exchange.”  Jesus stands in your place and takes all that is yours, that you may stand in His place and take all that is His.
            This is what it means that Jesus is your substitute.  He takes your place.  He stands under the Law for you.  He fulfills it for you.  Where you have failed, He succeeds, and you get the credit.  Where you have not feared, loved, or trusted in God above all things, He has, for you.  Where you have misused God’s Name and failed to call upon His Name in every trouble, to pray, praise, and give thanks, He has kept God’s Name holy, for you.  Where you have despised God’s Word and preaching, He sat among the teachers in the Temple, joyfully soaking it all in.  For you.  He honored Mary and Joseph where you have despised your parents and other authorities.  He did this for you.  Where you have hated your neighbor, murdering him in your heart, He gave His life for your neighbor, and for you, to give you both life.  Where you have been unfaithful, full of lust and greed, envy and covetousness, where your tongue has come unbridled and done damage to your neighbor’s reputation, He has been faithful, generous, self-giving, self-sacrificing.  And as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth to speak evil (Is. 53:7).  He did this for you.  And what He has done counts for you.  When God looks at you, He does not see the evil you have done, or the good you have failed to do.  He sees the perfect righteousness of Jesus.  He sees the sin atoning death of Jesus.  He sees you covered in the holy, precious blood of Jesus.  Because you are baptized into that.  You are baptized into Him.  And your sin?  It has not simply been ignored or swept under the rug.  Jesus took it all from you in His Baptism in the Jordan.  He took it and He stood in your place, was nailed in your place on the cross, suffered your hell in your place, was your substitute in death.  All of God’s wrath for your sin was poured out there, on the cross, on Jesus.  He was baptized into your sin, that you may be baptized into His righteousness.
            So now you stand in the place of Christ.  That means that all that God gave Jesus in His human nature at His Baptism, He now gives you in your Baptism.  As the heavens were opened to Jesus in His Baptism, so now heaven is open to you in your Baptism.  You will not die, but live.  You will be in heaven with Jesus when you die, and on the Last Day, Jesus will raise you in your body from the dead.  Baptism marks you for resurrection. 
            As the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove in His Baptism, so you are anointed with the Holy Spirit in your Baptism, who brings you to faith in Jesus, your Savior.  The Holy Spirit comes upon you to dwell with you and in you.  You are a temple of the Holy Spirit.  He brings you to His Church and makes you a member thereof.  He opens your ears to the Word of God.  He gives you trust in Christ as a gift.  He fans into flame within you a love for God and your neighbor.  He moves in you to pray for yourself and others, to praise God, and to give thanks.  He strengthens you for life in this fallen world.  He grants you repentance, that you daily put to death your fallen flesh.  And as the Lord and Giver of Life, He raises you daily to new life in Christ as God’s own new creation, so that your love flows forth in good works of service and sacrifice.
            And as the Father declared of Jesus at His Baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” (Matt. 3:17; ESV), so He says of you in your Baptism: “You are my own child, and I am well pleased with you, not because of anything you have done or left undone, but because of Christ, my Son, who now covers you in Baptism.  I love you.  I have claimed you for myself, purchased you with the blood of Christ.  My Name is written upon you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as one chosen and precious.  You are mine.”
            Well, that makes all the difference in the struggles of this earthly life, and even in the face of death.  Because the worst that can happen to you is that you die.  But see, Christ has made His death your own in Baptism.  And that means that you got your death over with already at the font.  Sure, you’ll have to physically expire one day, physically die, experience the separation of your soul from your body, which is the theological definition of physical death.  But though you die, you live.  Because you’ve already been given new life in Baptism, Christ’s life.  How do you know you’ll go to heaven when you die?  Which is just another way of asking, why do you believe you’ll go on living after you take your last breath?  Because you’re baptized into Christ!  And that means His death is your death.  You died on the cross, with Christ.  And if you died with Christ in that way, what does St. Paul say as a result in our Epistle?  “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).  That means that you already have eternal life.  You have it right now.  It’s just hidden.  Your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).  It will be hidden to us when you physically die.  But not to you.  You will see.  You will live.  In Christ, the risen Lord.  And what is true spiritually already now, will be true physically then, on the Last Day.  “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:5).
            Now, imagine that you are on your deathbed.  It is not a pleasant thought.  In addition to whatever physical ailment you may be suffering, there is a certain sadness at the thought that you are leaving your loved ones behind.  So also, all the pleasures of this earthly life are at an end.  You may be anticipating a certain relief from your suffering.  But you were created to hold tenaciously to God’s gift of life.  And so, even though you know and believe you have a merciful God who has forgiven all your sins and given you eternal life in Christ, you also have a certain apprehension about how it all will happen, what you will experience, what you will see, what it will be like to stand before the judgment throne of your Maker, and what exactly the rest of eternity holds for you.  Now imagine that I as your pastor come and visit you on your deathbed, and I pull out the Holy Scriptures, and imagine that I could prove to you from the Holy Scriptures that, even though you will have to experience death, in one hour, the Lord Jesus will call you back to life, free from pain and sickness, free from sin, your body made into a perfect resurrection body.  Well, that wouldn’t be so bad, now, would it? 
            Unfortunately, I can’t promise you that you will come back to life after only one hour.  But except for that one little detail, all the rest of the promises are absolutely true.  Whatever the amount of time, the Lord Jesus will call you back to life in your body, a perfect, resurrection body, free from sin and pain and sickness, to live forever with Him.  “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16).  “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power” (1 Cor. 15:42-43).  Christ “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21).  “(A)nd so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).  How do you know?  Because Scripture says it here.  Because your own ears have heard the living voice of Christ say so in preaching.  Because you have died with Christ in your Baptism, and so have been raised to new life in Him, and how can that new life have any other result than your own resurrection from the dead?  Because you have held and tasted the risen and living body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Supper, which forgives all your sins and nourishes you for eternal life.

            You see?  In Baptism, all that is Christ’s is yours.  And all that is yours, all that is evil and dying and dead, has been taken by Christ in His Baptism and borne in His flesh to Calvary.  He is risen, and you are His, for you are baptized into Him.  That makes the difference in absolutely everything.  When despair used to grip Luther in the midst of the Reformation, he would recall the Gospel reality, “But I am baptized,” and so he would be comforted.  So you sing: “Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!… Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!…  Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!... Though my flesh awaits its raising, Still my soul continues praising: I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise” (LSB 594).  And it’s true.  It’s all true.  Christ was baptized into you.  You are baptized into Christ.  And nothing can separate you from the love of God for you in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Hymns This Week at Messiah Lutheran + Moscow Mission (1/1/2017)

The Hymns for the Circumcision and Name of Jesus

"Of the Father's Love Begotten" (LSB 384)

"The Ancient Law Departs" (LSB 898)

"Jesus! Name of Wondrous Love" (LSB 900)

"Come, Your Hearts and Voices Raising" (LSB 375)

"God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It" (LSB 594)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Circumcision and Name of Jesus

Circumcision and Name of Jesus

January 1, 2017
Text: Luke 2:21

            The blood and the Name.  That is the significance of this day in the Church Year.  The Circumcision of our Lord on the eighth day after His birth marks the first shedding of His holy, precious blood for us poor sinners.  And His Name, Jesus, is the only Name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).  There is no other.  Jesus in Greek, Joshua in Hebrew, this Name means YHWH, the LORD, saves.  This Name is the very Word of God that accomplishes what it says.  It saves.  Jesus saves.  The LORD saves.  He saves you.  By the shedding of His blood.  So you see, this Festal Day is not some celebration of an ancient Jewish tradition or some strange and sensitive medical procedure.  The blood and the Name go together.  A Jewish boy receives his name at his circumcision, much as we New Testament people of God receive our Christian name in Holy Baptism, and have the Name of God placed upon us, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  As our eight day old Lord Jesus sheds the first drops of His sacred blood, He receives a Name, the Name announced by the angel, Jesus, the LORD saves.  And as His Name is spoken, so He does.  He saves.  Jesus is named and circumcised for you.
            Circumcision marked the people of God in the Old Testament as separate from the nations, holy to the LORD.  The Covenant of God was cut into the most sensitive flesh of every male child, that they bear in their bodies the sign and seal of God’s claim upon them.  They belong to God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to no other.  At 8 days old, the male child would undergo this marking.  And it was for the Old Testament people of God, a Sacrament, a means of grace, bringing that child into the Covenant, into the Church, into God’s forgiveness and life. 
            Incidentally, what of the females?  How were they brought into the Covenant?  Well, for now, let’s just say their fathers are presumably circumcised and they receive from their fathers and their husbands the benefits and blessings of circumcision.  Inclusion in the Covenant is a family affair, and here is a thing of beauty: The boys must be circumcised as the living icons of our Lord Jesus who sheds His blood for our salvation.  The girls are not circumcised, but receive the benefits of the blood shed by their fathers and husbands as living icons of the Church, which receives the benefits of the blood shed by her Bridegroom, Jesus.  So don’t worry about the girls.  They are just as much precious and holy to God. 
            When our Lord undergoes circumcision on the 8th day, circumcision is once and for all fulfilled.  All the circumcisions that went before were but shadows of the reality of Jesus’ shedding of blood, and ultimately of His innocent suffering and death.  Circumcision is a mark of the holy cross on the flesh of God’s people of old.  But now it is done.  It is fulfilled in Jesus.  It is our Lord’s active righteousness, His fulfillment of God’s Law on our behalf, as our substitute.  And it is a mark upon Him of His purpose, His destiny: To atone for our sins by His suffering and death on the cross, and to bring about the eternal 8th Day of the New Creation and our new and eternal life by His bodily resurrection from the dead on the 8th Day, Easter Sunday.  Circumcision is the sign that Jesus does according to His Name: The LORD saves.  He saves you.
            And now we no longer have circumcision.  Oh, you can if you want, for medical and hygienic reasons.  Dr. White can talk you through the evidence for and against.  But understand this: There is absolutely no spiritual significance to it, and if you think there is, then heed the words of St. Paul: “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:2-4; ESV).  Again, the problem is not what is done in the cutting of the flesh, but what is done in order to gain righteousness before God.  You must understand, as Paul says, that “neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (6:15).  And where does Jesus bring about the New Creation in each of you as an individual?  Where does He mark you with His cross, seal you in His death and resurrection, and Name you with the very Name of God?  Where does He bring you into the New Covenant of His blood, into the Church, and make you God’s own child?  Holy Baptism.  In Holy Baptism, not your flesh, but your very heart is circumcised (Rom. 2:29).  This is the true circumcision.  Here you are named.  Here your sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus.  Here you are clothed with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27).  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).  Here in Baptism you are made a son of God.  Even you ladies.  You are a son of God.  Which means you get the inheritance, the very Kingdom of God your heavenly Father.  This is why you call God your Father.  Here God adopts you into His family and bestows on you the Family Name: “Christian,” “Little Christ,” or more fully, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  And now you belong to Him for all eternity.  God’s own child, I gladly say it!  I am baptized into Christ!
            Oh, what power there is in the Name you now bear, the very Name of God.  You can call upon that Name at any time, and God will hear and answer.  He will come to your aid.  In times of trouble you will pray, “Lord, have mercy,” and He will do just that.  “Christ help us,” you will exclaim, and He will immediately come to your aid.  “Our Father, who art in heaven,” you will pray with and for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus, and your heavenly Father will hear you as His own dear child, for that is what you are by virtue of your Baptism.  That is what you are in Christ.  Wherever you go and whatever you do, God’s Name is upon you, as chosen and precious to Him.  It protects and defends you.  The angels guard you always because of the holy Name you bear.  It represents God to your neighbor.  You are a living witness.  This is both a warning and a promise.  Whatever you do either keeps God’s Name holy before the eyes of others, or profanes God’s Name before the eyes of others.  But so also, there is salvation in that Name.  For that is the Name Jesus bears, and it is the Name that does what it says: The LORD saves.  That Name is your forgiveness and life. 

            And so, we should begin every day and every New Year, and bring each day and each year to a close, even as we begin the Divine Service: Tracing the sign of the holy cross upon our flesh and speaking the Divine Name: “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  We call this the Invocation because it invokes, calls upon God to be present with us to forgive our sins and bless us.  And so He does.  And that is also why we depart the Divine Service with the Benediction: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26).  This is how Aaron and his sons are to bless the people of God in the Old Testament, and thus put God’s Name on the people.  And now that Name has been unpacked for us in Jesus, the Son.  What Name is it that is placed on us in the Benediction?  The LORD, the LORD, the LORD.  YHWH, YHWH, YHWH.  It is the thrice holy Name of our Triune God, right there in the Old Testament, spoken upon us at the end of every Divine Service.  And it isn’t just a little ritual that means Church is over.  It is the actual imparting of the Name and all that Name includes.  Among other things, it is the forgiveness of sins, the peace that passes all understanding, strength for each day, and eternal life in the New Creation.  So we make the sign of the cross at the end of the Service, even as we made it at the beginning.  In Naming Himself before us, God names us with Himself as included in His Name.  Which is to say, He includes us in the death and resurrection of Jesus and all that comes with it.  The blood and the Name.  They always go together.  And in Baptism, they are yours.  Merry Christmas!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.