Monday, January 27, 2020

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
January 26, 2020
Text: Matt. 4:12-25
            The whole world is groping about in the darkness that descended on creation when our first parents sinned.  Darkness, not a thing, but the absence of a thing, an emptiness, a void, the darkness is where the light is not.  The darkness is a place where demons can hide.  The darkness is a place where obstacles and dangers are hidden from sight.  The darkness deceives, it obscures, it blinds.  Satan, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning, is the prince of darkness.  To walk in sin is to walk in the way of darkness.  Death is the valley of the shadow.  Our enemies gather for their assault on us in the darkness.  When the Prophet Isaiah spoke of the people dwelling in darkness, he was referring to the hoards of Assyrian invaders descending like locusts on the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, raping and pillaging, maiming and killing, taking the remnant captive, chained together by hooks in their noses.  Nothing was left.  Everything was destroyed.  Worst of all, there was no hope.  Emptiness.  Despair.  Darkness.  Is that not what our enemies are out to do?  Sin, death, and the devil?  But what is the Great Light dawning to which Isaiah refers?  You know it.  It is Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome.  Jesus says this prophecy is fulfilled in Him.  There He is in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, and He is bringing light and life where once there was only darkness and death.  He preaches: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17; ESV), and Light bursts through the darkness.  He goes throughout their synagogues announcing the New Creation, the Kingdom has arrived in the flesh.  He is proclaiming the Gospel and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.  He takes away their diseases and their pains.  He casts out the demons.  He heals epileptics and paralytics.  He forgives sins.  Where the Light is, the darkness is dispelled.  There is no emptiness where the space is filled.  Where Jesus fills, Satan flees. 
            Now, you can almost feel the darkness in our world.  You can almost see it.  The hopelessness.  The emptiness.  The despair.  Everyone divided against everyone else.  Anger.  Rage.  Bitterness.  The slaughter of babies.  The casting aside of the elderly, the sick, and the weak.  Suicide at epidemic levels.  Hedonism, which is the fanatical pursuit of fleshly pleasure, a la “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  Everything (and I mean absolutely everything) is political, which is to say, it is a struggle for power.  Because in a world convinced that this all ends in death and nothingness, you have to get yours while the getting is good.  The world has rejected her Creator.  She has rejected her Redeemer, Jesus Christ.  The Light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the Light (John 3:19).
            And as much as we may enjoy commiserating over the hell-bound handbasket that is the world, we have to understand that, left to our own devices, we love to wallow in the darkness.  It is Jesus, and Jesus alone, who pulls us out.  By sending His preachers into the deep, dark sea.  With nets.  The Gospel.  Preaching.  Repent.  Believe the good news.  The Light has come.  Jesus pulls us out by the Word.  The stuff of the unbelieving world, the stuff that distracts us and takes our eyes off of Jesus, the stuff of Satan and the demons, the worthless garbage in which your fallen, sinful flesh, loves to root around, that is the stuff of the darkness.  In preaching, Jesus exposes that stuff to His Light, to His Word, and He turns you from it to Himself, He repents you, He shows you His wounds, His blood, His cross, His once-dead-but-risen-and-living body, and He breathes His Spirit into you, to enliven you and enlighten you.  He gives sight to your darkened, blind eyes.  He washes away the filth.  He applies the wine and the oil, the disinfectant and the salve of His Word and Absolution.  He feeds you with the medicine of immortality, the food that is Himself. 
            So now you’re a walking paradox, aren’t you?  In and of yourself, darkness.  In Jesus, Light.  We always have to be aware of the danger of slipping back into the darkness, for as Jesus says elsewhere, when a demon is cast out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest.  And it when it finds none, it returns to the person from whom it was cast and finds the house swept clean and put in order.  But if the house is unoccupied… if there is no Jesus living there… it goes and brings seven more demons more evil than itself, and the last state of the person is worse than the first (Luke 11:24-26).  See, there is no neutral territory.  You are either filled with Christ, or the demons will take over.  You either belong to Christ, or you belong to Satan.  This is why every Baptism is an exorcism.  Yes, even those precious little babies.  “Depart, thou unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit.”  Every Baptism is Jesus invading hell and robbing the devil of his treasure.  Every sermon, every Scripture meditation, every Absolution, every Lord’s Supper, is an invasion of Light in the region and shadow of death.  Stay in the Light.  Don’t go the way of the darkness.  It looks so good sometimes to stray into the shadows.  Just a little bit.  Just for a minute.  Don’t do it!  That way is death.  It’s a lie.  It’s a trap!  And when you do fall into the shadows, cry out to Jesus, who will immediately cast His Light.  That is repentance. 
            This has very practical applications.  When you are surrounded by darkness in your life, if you find yourself walking in it, caught once again in some besetting sin, or the darkness of hopelessness and despair, fear and anxiety, hear now the preaching of Jesus: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!  Jesus is here, in the flesh and with His holy Word, to snatch you out of the devil’s maw, to forgive your sins and dispel the darkness with His Light, to give you hope that will not put you to shame, His Spirit, His consolation, His faith. 
            When you are fighting with your spouse, when you are one click away from indulging your lust, when you lash out in anger at a co-worker or another driver: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!  Jesus is here, bringing His peace and reconciliation, peace with God, the peace of sins forgiven, yours and your neighbor’s, yours and your spouse’s, yours and your co-worker’s, and even those of that so-and-so who cut you off in traffic.  Redeemed children of God they are and you are.  Rejoice!  Forgive.  Stop up your mouth pouring out words of bitterness.  Look to the Crucified and open your lips to declare His praise. 
            When you are suffering with pain or disease, the effects of death coming into the world, cancer, grief over the death of a loved one, failing eye-sight, failing health, diminishing strength: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!  Jesus is here to heal every disease and affliction among the people.  Perhaps not in this earthly life.  Then again, maybe.  But perhaps not.  But certainly in the resurrection of all flesh!  Eternal life for you and all believers in Christ.  Risen bodies to go with your already risen and healed spirits. 
            That is the Light.  Repent.  The Kingdom, Jesus, has arrived.  And now consider this: Jesus has given you specific gifts to shine His Light in all the nooks and crannies of your life where the darkness looks for sanctuary, and to shed that Light abroad to all who are walking in darkness.  When you pray, you bring the Light of Christ to the people and situation for which you are praying.  When you take up the Lord’s Prayer, you are blasting the Light of Christ into the darkness with every petition.  And praying the Lord’s Prayer, or the Psalms, or the Kyrie, or any other Scripture, has the added benefit of enlightening you as it is a powerful means of grace.  Likewise, speaking the Divine Name into which you are baptized, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and tracing the Lord’s cross upon your body.  Speaking the Creed as a confession of faith to others and preaching to yourself.  Powerful Light this is, for it brings and grasps Christ Himself.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). 
            It is easy to despair looking out over the horizon as the Assyrian hoards of demons, the armies of death and sin, and the unbelieving world come marching our way to devour and destroy.  But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected.  Jesus Christ it is.  There’s none other God.  And He is the Light that dispels the darkness forever.  Do not fear.  Do not despair.  Repent.  The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Bask in the Light.  He who died for you, lives for you.  He gave Himself into the darkness, and in this way defeated it.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  You have died and live in Him.  He will lead you through the valley of the shadow.  The darkness can’t have you.  Its days are numbered.  Jesus reigns.  The Light shines.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
January 19, 2020
Text: John 1:29-42a
            Come and you will see” (John 1:39; ESV).  That’s it!  That is Jesus’ evangelism program.  An invitation.  Come.  A Promise.  You will see.  He who opens the eyes of the blind will make sure of that.  Come to the place where Jesus is abiding.  That is really what the disciples, Andrew and the other, are asking.  Rabbi… where are you staying?” (v. 38).  It is better rendered, “where are you abiding?  And while they may well have been asking about His accommodations for the night, He has something much more profound in mind.  They come and they see, as He has promised, and they abide with Him where He is, where He is present, and they hear Him and come to know Him.  Where Jesus is present in the flesh, where He speaks His Word, that is where He abides.  And you know that this is a description of what happens here, now, in His Church, gathered around His Word and the Sacrament of His body and blood.  And it is from that presence and with that Word that the disciples go forth.  Andrew first finds his brother Simon.  You know, Peter.  We have found the Messiah,” he proclaims (v. 41), and he invites his dear brother, probably with the same words of Jesus, “Come and you will see.”  And he brings him to the place.  He brings him to the Presence.  He brings him to the Word.  He brings him to Jesus. 
            How do you do that?  The same way.  You say to people you know and love, with whom you have a relationship, “We have found the Messiah.  We know the Savior.  Come and you will see.”  That is, you invite them to Church.  We make evangelism way too hard.  There are many things we may do, that certainly couldn’t hurt, that may even help, and when they result in great things happening, praise be to God, who gives the growth through the Spirit, in the preaching of Christ, His Son.  I’m talking about things like great evangelism campaigns, canvassing neighborhoods, manning phone banks, street preaching, and the like.  That is all fine and good.  Maybe we should give some of that a try.  But you know, and I know, that not all of us are built for that, guilt trips from denominational leaders and church growth gurus notwithstanding.  And while God certainly can and does work through those things, and I’d be the last person to discourage you if that’s what you want to do (knock yourself out, go with God’s blessing and mine!), I’m not all that sure those methods are the most effective.  What we see in this text is quite simple.  And it isn’t very hard.  Andrew goes to his brother, with whom he is already in relationship, and he invites him to come and see Jesus.  Just after our text, Jesus comes to Philip, and Philip invites his friend Nathanael to come and see (vv. 43 ff.).  And the point is, while I’m thrilled if you want to go knock on doors, I’m even more eager for you to invite your friends and neighbors to come to Church.  Invite them to come to the place where Jesus abides, where He speaks His forgiving and life-giving Word.  Invite them to come and see.
            It all begins with a preacher sent by God, not to knock on doors, but to the wilderness, where I’m sure he was a lonely preacher for much of his ministry.  But the word got out.  St. John, the fiery preacher of repentance, baptizing in the Jordan for the forgiveness of sins.  Could this be the Messiah?  No, John is sent to prepare His way.  After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me” (v. 30).  It is He who stood in the Jordan to be baptized by John, upon whom the Spirit descended from heaven, upon whom the Spirit remained.  It is He, baptized by John with water, who now baptizes with the Holy Spirit, Jesus, the Son of God.  And when John sees Him coming, he points and he preaches, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29).  It is a Gospel sermon beyond compare.  That is what the preacher is given to preach.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  The cross.  He is the sacrifice for our sins, the sacrificial Lamb.  And He takes our sins away, the sins of the whole world, takes them into Himself, and puts them to death in His flesh, leaving for us His forgiveness, His Spirit, His life.  He is the Passover Lamb, whose blood now marks our doors so that the angel of death passes over, the Lamb we eat as we are freed from Egyptian slavery to sin, death, and the devil.  He is the sacrifice of atonement, the One to whom all the Old Testament sacrifices pointed.  This whole theology is all contained in that finger pointing, and those few words spoken, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
            Behold!  “See!”  Come and you will see.”  That is what happens when you bring someone here to the place where Jesus abides and where He speaks.  They hear the preaching: The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  They hear the living voice of Jesus.  They see with their ears.  The Spirit gives faith.  Sins are forgiven.  Baptism washes.  Body and blood feeds with the Passover Lamb Himself.  His blood marks and saves and frees.  Now that, that(!), is evangelism.  It is Gospeling.  Evangelism just means Gospeling.  When you evangelize someone, you Gospel them.  We found Him!  We know where He is!  We know where He always promises to be for us!  Come and you will see!  Jesus, for you!  
            Now, I know what you are thinking.  I have this constant struggle within myself.  What if they reject me?  What if they don’t want to hear it?  What if they say no to my invitation?  Okay, let’s ask that question.  What if?  What if they do reject it?  What if they don’t want to hear it?  What if they say no to the invitation?  What?  Did you die?  Did they kill you?  Or maybe now you have to walk around hanging your head in shame all day because they said no when you invited them somewhere?  Look, I get it.  I have the same fears you do.  But do you see how irrational those fears are?  Some places in the world, they will kill you for inviting them to Church.  And God be praised!  The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, as the Church fathers say.  That is, where people really suffer persecution for being Christians, not only are they not afraid to suffer rejection, humiliation, imprisonment, and even death for the sake of the Gospel, the Church grows and thrives.  Much to the devil’s chagrin.  But he has us duped, that old wily serpent.  Here, where it’s not all that realistic that we’ll be killed for asking a sibling or a friend to come to Church, we’re paralyzed.  And it’s so silly.  They might laugh.  They might tell me not to talk about Jesus around them.  Well, okay, it could be worse, right? 
            Bring them to the preaching.  At the very least, bring them to God in prayer.  But I’ll warn you, if you start praying for somebody, God just might give you wide open opportunities to invite them to come and see.  That would be just like Him, wouldn’t it?  And He just might give you the courage and the words to speak.  And I hate to tell you this, but I’m praying He does just that.  “Hey, you, person that I know so well and with whom I share all sorts of intimate conversation… would you ever want to come to Church with me?  I hear Jesus there.  He forgives my sins there.  Come and you will see.”
            Many people will probably say “No, thank you,” or make up some lame excuse why they can’t make it, but maybe someday.  Okay, so they say “No thank you.”  But now they know you have loved them in the Name of Jesus.  Some may come once and never come again.  Alright, at least they came once, and they were Gospelized.  They came and they saw.  Look, the results aren’t up to us.  We’re not called to be successful, we’re called to be faithful.  The Holy Spirit is the One responsible for results, for creating faith, for growing the Church.  He calls by the Gospel.  He enlightens with His gifts (i.e. the Word and the Sacraments).  He gathers and sanctifies a Church for Himself and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. 
            But it is that one in a hundred.  It is the one who comes and sees and hears and believes.  It is that one who is gathered into the sheepfold of the Church here with us, under the watchful eye of the Good Shepherd… The Shepherd who is also the Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Lamb who is crucified, the Lamb who is risen from the dead. 
            I’m sick to death of evangelism programs and church growth methods based on human wisdom and bait and switch trickery.  I think Jesus has a better way.  In fact, I know He has the only way.  Come where He is doing His Jesus thing, His forgiving, His enlivening, His saving.  Come where He is present and where He is speaking.  Come and you will see.  Whether you go and invite anyone else, at the very least, know this: Jesus takes away your sins.  You are forgiven.  See!  Now you’ve been Gospelized.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                  

Moscow March for Life

Moscow March for Life
January 18, 2020
Friendship Square, Moscow, Idaho
Rev. Jonathon T. Krenz, Augustana Lutheran Church
Text: Eph. 6:12-13 (ESV): “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
            People are not the enemy.  Those who are on the other side of this issue, those who are anti-life, even the civil authorities who prop up the abortion industry and serve as their puppets, even the doctors who perform these horrendous procedures and the abortion workers… They are not the enemy.  Not at all.  Our enemy is the devil and his demonic forces, what St. Paul calls “rulers… authorities… cosmic powers over this present darkness… spiritual forces of evil.”  That is what we’re up against.  The darkness.  The deception.  The lie.
            And that explains why so many people are taken in by the agenda of death.  It is the deception of the evil one.  The lie is powerful.  If Adam and Eve in their pristine condition could be deceived, what makes us think we are immune?  Very smart people can still be deceived.  That doesn’t make them the enemy.  That makes them victims of the enemy in need of rescue and release.
            This is so important to remember in our hyper-politicized, Us v. Them culture.  Bitterness and vitriol are the handiwork of the evil one.  Satan hides behind the mask of our own flesh and blood, people made in God’s own image, whose lives are precious in His sight.  So that is the first thing upon which to shine the Epiphany light: the lie that we are battling people.  We are battling Satan and his demonic hoard.  The people on the other side of this issue are people we love, people for whom Christ died.  It is our love for them, as much as it is our love for babies in utero, that brings us here this afternoon.
            We are gathered here this day because love places a demand upon us: We must speak the Truth in the face of the lie.  That is the Light that scatters the darkness.  That is the Light that exposes the evil one for what he is: a liar, and the father of lies.  It is the Light of life in the face of death.  It is the Light of Christ Himself, the Light that is Christ.  And it is the Light no darkness can overcome.  Not even death.  Not even abortion.  Not even Satan and his demonic drones. 
            Now, there will be a cost to it all.  You know that just by being here.  You come here in love, but you are called a hater.  You come here to defend life, but you are seen as threatening.  You come here to speak for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves, for the most fundamental of rights, the first named in our Declaration of Independence, the right to life.  But it is said that you are against women’s rights, that you must be sexist and misogynist.  Though you speak for all the women who have the disadvantage of not yet having been born, you are regarded as anti-woman.  Do you see the lie?  It has Satan’s fingerprints all over it.  Here we are, pleading with our fellow citizens, for what?  Life.  That we stop killing babies.  That we stop telling women their best choice is abortion (That, my friends, is anti-woman, and it is anti-choice).  That we stop telling men we expect that they’ll abandon their children and their children’s mother.  That we stop calling precious little babies unwanted and an inconvenience, that we stop calling them and treating them as a condition to be treated, to be cured by killing them.  And here we are, offering help and hope, love and life to all concerned.  The rulers and authorities and powers and spiritual forces of evil will not stand for it.  Don’t be surprised if you suffer for it.  Don’t be surprised if even family and friends begin to distance themselves.  Suffer it faithfully.  There is a cost, but it is worth it.  Because the only way to dispel the darkness is to shine the Light.  The only way to expose the lie is to speak the Truth.
            So speak and suffer.  And rejoice.  The Lord is on your side.  Be outfitted with the whole armor of God, that you may withstand in the evil day.  Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees (Is. 35:3).  Speak for the unborn, for the weak and the defenseless, for those who have no voice.  Speak for the now-over-61 million children who have been slaughtered in abortion in this country since Roe v. Wade.  That is the Guttmacher Institute’s own number.  Try to imagine that.  61 million!  And countless more who are being slaughtered by the day.  Speak for the women who are told they have no other choice.  Speak for the men who are told they have no part in this choice.  Speak in repentance on behalf of our nation and our world and the blood on all of our hands.  Speak.  We must not be silent in the face of evil.  This is the great test.  This is THE issue of our day.  But do not fear.  For those who are with us are more than those who are against us.  The pro-life crowd, yes.  But I’m talking about the armies of the LORD, the holy angels, and Christ Himself, the stronger One who binds the strong man, Satan, and plunders his goods.
            Pastors, you must preach on this.  Church, you must be clear on this.  This is not simply a political issue.  It is a moral issue, and if the Church is not the moral conscience of society, who will be?  So many churches have sold out on this.  It is a great apostasy.  Brothers and sisters, repent.  Yes, it is hard.  Yes, people get mad.  They stop giving an offering.  They stop coming to your church.  But why?  Because you actually preached something that threatened the house of cards they’ve built on the lie.  I know that hurts you.  I know it hurts them.  But you know… they just may come around.  And how many others will hear the preaching and reject the lie and embrace the Truth, embrace life?!  Preach. Without fear. 
            After all, if God is for you (and He is, in Christ), who can be against you?  Do you not see that the whole history of the world and your eternal life depends on the birth of a Baby?  That is why Satan hates children.  It all depends on a pregnancy.  It depends on what we would call an “unplanned” pregnancy, though God planned it from all eternity.  And there really is no such thing as an unplanned pregnancy in the sight of God… There are challenging circumstances that are less than ideal, yes, but the human being in the womb is not unplanned.  She is loved!  But I am speaking, in this instance, of course, of our Lord Jesus Christ, born to His unwed, teenage mother.  Conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit, He was an embryo, a fetus, a baby, a child who grew into adulthood, to save us in every stage of life.  To redeem us all.  To redeem the world.  He grew up to die on the cross for aborted babies and their mothers and their fathers, for abortion doctors and politicians, for pastors who fail to preach and Christians who fail to speak, for you, for me, for all… every single person here this day, every single person, period.  People are not the enemy.  How can they be?  So precious are they in God’s sight, He gave His only Son for them.  He gave His only Son for you.
            And death does not get the last word.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  He lives.  You live in Him.  He will raise you.  He will raise those precious babies.  The last word is not death.  It is life.  Precious, holy, redeemed life.
            Thank you for being here today.  Do not lose heart.  Keep speaking.  Keep loving.  You are not alone.  Shine the Light.  The darkness cannot overcome it.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Our Lord (A)
January 12, 2019
Text: Rom. 6:1-11; Matt. 3:13-17
            Jesus Christ is the Gift given to us in our Baptism.  Jesus Christ and all that He is and all that He has, and nothing less.  John’s Baptism was a precursor.  John’s Baptism was similar to Christian Baptism, but not quite the same thing.  His was a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as is ours, but it was a Baptism in preparation for the coming of Christ.  Now Christ has come, and our Baptism gives us the whole Jesus Christ and His salvation.  We know that because Jesus steps into John’s Baptism and fills it with Himself. 
            There He is in the Jordan, the Son of God, to be baptized by John with a Baptism He does not need, the one and only sinless Man for repentance and forgiveness.  John is rightly confused.  But he doesn’t understand what Jesus is doing there to fulfill all righteousness.  He is baptized there into us, so that we may be baptized ever after into Him.  Like a divine sponge, He is soaking in all the sins of the people who were baptized by John, confessing their sins.  And He is soaking up our sins, and the sins of all sinners of all times and places, to bear them in His body to the cross.  And He is leaving behind in the water all His righteousness, His holiness, His life, to be received in Holy Baptism.  As we pray in Luther’s famous Flood Prayer, in His Baptism, Jesus sanctifies and institutes “all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin” (LSB 269).  It is a great exchange that now takes place in the water, in Jesus’ Baptism and in ours: He takes our sin and death and condemnation into Himself.  He gives us His righteousness and life and salvation as a gift. 
            And we know that what happens to Jesus in His Baptism happens to us in ours, albeit less visibly and audibly: Heaven is opened to us, the Spirit of God descends upon us and abides with us, and the Father’s says of us there in the water with Jesus, covered in Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17; ESV). 
            So all our sins are forgiven.  No more condemnation.  The devil and his demons have been exorcized.  Death itself can no longer harm us.  Not ultimately.  And all of this by grace, because of Jesus, the sure and certain gift of God.  It is at just this point that it occurs to sinners like you and me that this may just mean I can go on doing all the sins I love to do, and do them with reckless abandon, because even more than I love to sin, Jesus loves to forgive!  Or as St. Paul puts it in our Epistle this morning: “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1).  His answer is immediate and forceful: “By no means!” (v. 2).  “God forbid!”  “May it never be!”
            Why?  Because in Christ and in His crucifixion, we died to sin.  You are baptized into His death.  And that is supremely good news.  For now you don’t have to fear dying.  You got your death over with at the font.  You died with Christ in His crucifixion and death on the cross.  Your sinful nature is crucified.  Old Adam has been drowned.  And that means you are freed from sin.  From guilt, also, yes.  Your sins are forgiven in the sin-atoning blood of Christ.  The Law can no longer accuse you.  But also from sin itself.  When a slave dies, he is no longer enslaved.  You were enslaved to sin, bound to do its bidding, but no longer, for now you have died with Christ, and therefore you are free.  You don’t have to let sin boss you around anymore.  You don’t have to give yourself into it. 
            And not only have you died with Christ, and so died to sin, you’ve been raised with Christ.  Yes, raised from the dead, already at the font, baptized into His resurrection.  Now, of course, you still have to wait for the resurrection of your body on the Last Day when Christ comes again in glory to judge.  But you’ve already been raised, spiritually, in your Baptism.  You already have new and eternal life.  You are a New Creation.  That is what Paul says 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 expect Him to say here how we’ll be raised on the Last Day, and he will say that in a moment, but first this amazing proclamation… “we too might walk in newness of life” (v. 4).  Did you catch that?  The sinner is dead, buried with Christ in His death by virtue of Baptism, and baptized into Christ’s resurrection, we are raised with Him now to walk in newness of life.  It’s just what Luther writes in the Small Catechism:What does such baptizing with water indicate?  It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[1]
            Do you see what this means?  No, you’re not going to go on sinning so that grace may abound.  No, you don’t root around and revel in the filth of your sins because you love to sin and Christ loves to forgive and you can both be happy.  By no means!  God forbid it!  See, that’s not who you are anymore.  That you has died with Christ.  The new you has been raised with Christ.  Stop your sins.  Whatever you are doing in rebellion against God and who He has created you to be.  Knock it off.  Repent.  Confess.  Yes, of course, you are forgiven.  That’s the whole point of your Baptism.  But you’re not just forgiven from the guilt and punishment your sins.  You’re forgiven to be raised to life, new and eternal, in the risen Lord Jesus Christ, to live with Him in righteousness and purity forever.  You’re free.  For the first time ever, you’re not bound to sin and death and unbelief, to which you have died.  You are free to love and serve and do good works and live and believe in Christ, your Savior. 
            You’re free to love your spouse.  Faithfully.  Exclusively.  Devotedly.  Or if you’re single, you’re free to live chastely and in trust that the Lord will provide companionship and joy and maybe even a spouse someday.  You’re free to be patient with your kids.  You’re free to honor your parents.  You’re free to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the widow, the orphan, the sick, the prisoner, speak up for the unborn, give generously to the poor, give an offering at Church, love and pray for all.  You’re free.  Because you’re in Christ.  Baptized into Christ.  Baptism gives you Jesus Christ.  Repent of all that is not Christ.  That is all dead in Baptism.  Rejoice in all that is Christ.  That is the new life to which you’ve been raised in Baptism. 
            And there is no doubt that this reality is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3) for as long as you live in this fallen world with Old Adam hanging on and weighing you down.  That is to say, you still sin.  Simul justus et peccator, at the same time saint and sinner, 100% sinner in and of yourself, 100% saint in Christ.  When you look at you, all you see is a sinner.  But thanks be to God, He doesn’t look at you as you are apart from Christ.  He looks at you in your Baptism, covered with Christ, dead and raised, righteous and holy.  Repentance is always a return to Baptism, for to repent is always to die, and so to live.  It is always a return to Christ.  When you have sinned, as you do and you will, say to God, “I have sinned in doing this or that against your Commandment.  Forgive me for Jesus’ sake and grant me the new life you have promised, for I am baptized into Christ!”  If you don’t believe it (or even if you do), go to your pastor and make confession, and hear it from his own mouth, from the one God sent to tell you, “You are baptized into Christ, and I forgive you by His authority and in the Name into which you are baptized, in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  Look not at yourself or your own holiness or righteousness or goodness.  That is always a dead end.  Look to Christ.  He is your holiness and righteousness and goodness.  And the end of Christ is always resurrection and life. 
            And it’s all right there in the Jordan where the Son of God stands, being baptized by St. John.  Heaven is opened, the Spirit poured out, and the Father declaring Jesus, and you in Jesus, His beloved Son with whom He is well pleased.  You’ve died with Jesus.  Now live in Jesus.  Jesus is the Gift in the water of the font.  God’s own child, I gladly say it.  In Jesus, you have new life.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

[1] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986). 

Monday, January 6, 2020

Second Sunday after Christmas

Second Sunday after Christmas (A)
January 5, 2020
Text: Luke 2:40-52
            The LORD comes into His Temple.  Jesus, our Immanuel, God with us in flesh and blood, comes.  It is still Christmas for the Church, but in our Holy Gospel, Jesus is no longer a Baby.  A Boy of twelve… Twelve, the number of Israel… Twelve, the number of the Apostles… Twelve, the number of the Church… Twelve-year-old Jesus comes with His parents, as is their custom each year, into the Temple for the Feast of the Passover.  And now, not only has the LORD come into His Temple.  The true Passover Lamb has come. 
            And He’s come to do His Father’s will.  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49; ESV).  “Did you not know that it is divinely necessary for me to be here, accomplishing the purpose for which my Father sent me?”  The verse literally reads in Greek, “Did you not know that in the things of my Father I must be?  I like the translation, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?  The point is, Jesus has come for a divine appointment.  And the whole episode underscores who Jesus is and what He has come to do.  The Boy’s Father is not Joseph, but God.  And that means this Boy is God.  He is in the Temple, where God dwells with and for His people, for this Boy is the new and greater Temple.  He is with the teachers in the midst of the Word, for He is the Word made flesh, and the Word conveys Him and all His benefits.  You should always know where to find Jesus.  Where the Word is.  Jesus is in the Word.  And He is where the sacrifice is made, the Passover, the blood that marks you to rescue you from the angel of death, the flesh given you to eat in your exodus from slavery, the Egypt of sin, Pharaoh, the devil.  Jesus is the Passover Lamb.  And this whole thing is a foreshadowing of His death for you.  There He is in the place of sacrifice, and His parents think He is lost.  And for all practical purposes, He is.  But let this not be lost on you: “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (v. 46).  After three days, they found Him, in the place of sacrifice, in the midst of the Word.  After three days  What was lost is found.  What was dead… not literally in this case, but… soon… What was dead, is alive.  After three days, resurrection.
            Don’t be too hard on Mary and Joseph.  First, there is the matter of it taking them a whole day’s travel before they realize Jesus is missing.  No, it’s not that they’re neglectful parents.  For the three big Jewish feasts, Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, all the men who had been bar mitvah-ed had to travel to Jerusalem, to the Temple, and as many women and children who were able and willing to go.  And they all travelled in large groups of pilgrims, for protection from robbers and the hazards of the road, for fellowship, singing the Psalms of ascent on their way up to Zion.  Now, Jesus was twelve.  Of age.  Practically a teenager.  Time for more freedom.  The kids ran in packs among the travelers.  Everybody’s parents looked out for everybody’s kids.  There is no problem that Jesus wasn’t with Mary and Joseph.  Until they reached the lodging place.  That’s when Jesus was supposed to catch up with Mom and Dad.  Be home before dark, and all that. 
            Second, Mary and Joseph panic when they don’t find Him.  Okay, sure, they should have known He’d be in His Father’s House, doing His Father’s business.  But then, you should, too, and how often do you forget that Jesus is right here in His Father’s House, doing His Father’s business, distributing the saving benefits of His Passover Sacrifice in His Word and in His Sacraments?  You’re always looking for Him everywhere but where He’s promised to be, too.  And when you don’t find Him in all those other places, you panic!  He’s lost.  He’s dead.  He doesn’t exist.  Or He doesn’t love me.  He doesn’t care about me.  Yes, you’ve done it, too.  Repent.  Besides, you parents especially can sympathize if you’ve ever had a child hide from you at the store, maybe in the next isle or in the middle of the clothing racks.  Mary and Joseph have to be corrected by Jesus for not knowing where to find Him, but in this way, they’re just like you.
            Third, Mary thinks Jesus has sinned.  Why have you done this to us?  Your father and I were so worried!  Oops!  Your father.  God is Jesus’ Father.  Not Joseph.  But then, Joseph loved Jesus as his own dear Son, and Jesus loved Joseph like His father, and for all practical purposes, Joseph was Jesus’ father.  Now Jesus has to remind them.  His real Father is God.  This is not a rejection of Joseph.  Far from it.  But it is to say, the greater allegiance is owed to God.  Just as He was about His adopted father’s business, learning carpentry from Joseph, He is ultimately to be about His heavenly Father’s business of saving the world, of saving you.  He has not sinned.  He is right where He should be, doing just what He should do.  And though Mary will always be His mother, and Joseph will always be His dad, there is another and more important relationship.  He is their Lord.  And He is their Savior.  He has come to be here, in His Father’s House, doing this, His Father’s business; the business of salvation. 
            We must recognize in all this that Mary and Joseph are models for us, models of faithful Christians, models of Christian parents.  Sinners, yes.  But forgiven sinners, who live by faith.  When Jesus is lost, they panic and look in all the wrong places, but they also do what parents are called to do.  They seek their Son.  And even though in Jesus’ case they get it backwards (He really does this for them), they try to protect Him, save Him, even discipline Him.  Mary has a misunderstanding with her adolescent Child.  Who of us parents can’t relate to that?  And isn’t it a comfort that even the Holy Family is not immune from that experience in the fallen world?  For what Jesus experiences, He redeems.  And then there is the most important part: When Jesus does correct His mother, when Mary does hear the Word of her dear Son, she does what every Christian should do with that Word.  She treasures it up in her heart.  She ponders it.  She memorizes it, thinks about it, meditates upon it, believes it.  For all her faults in this episode, in that she is a model for us.  Be like her.  Treasure the Word. 
            Now even as this Scripture is a foreshadowing of our Lord’s saving death and resurrection for us, it also proclaims to us the Savior’s active fulfillment of God’s Law for us.  In particular, the Third and Fourth Commandments.  We should say a word about each one.  The Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”[1]  The Boy, Jesus, loves to hear and learn God’s Word.  Solomon asks God for wisdom.  Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate.  But as a true human being, as the Son of Mary, He has to learn and grow.  So there He is in the Temple, sitting among the rabbis, listening to them and asking them questions.  I’m sure His questions were so insightful that He was teaching them, too.  But there He is, learning, humbly sitting at their feet, immersed in the Sacred Scriptures.  As we should be.  As we so often are not.  So often we neglect the Word.  So often we despise the Word.  So often we fail to recognize that Jesus is in the Word with all His gifts, the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation.  Repent, beloved.  And rejoice.  Jesus fulfills this Commandment for you. 
            And the Fourth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”  Mary is angry, even if greatly relieved, when they find Jesus.  But He has not dishonored them.  He is serving them and loving and cherishing them.  He is doing all of this for them, for Mary and Joseph, for you, and for the world, this being about His Father’s business.  And He is honoring His true Father in heaven.  His first allegiance is to God.  We should obey God rather than men.  But then we have this very important sentence: “And he went down with them,” that is, Mary and Joseph, “and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them” (v. 51).  Jesus honored Mary and Joseph.  He honored the spiritual fathers among whom He sat in the Temple.  He honored the government, whose laws He obeyed and to which He paid taxes and even submitted to death.  So often we do not.  We despise and anger our parents and other earthly authorities.  We speak against them and ridicule them.  We do not obey.  We do not love and serve.  We fail to provide for them when they’re older.  We speak against the government and dishonor those in office.  We speak against our bosses or our teachers and neglect the things they’ve given us to do, or do them poorly.  We reject the care of our spiritual fathers and despise the authority of the Word.  Repent, beloved.  And rejoice.  Jesus fulfilled this Commandment for you.
            He fulfilled all the Commandments for you.  Jesus saves us by His death for our sins and His resurrection from the dead, but don’t forget, He also saves us by His life!  By His active fulfillment of God’s Law, His active obedience as we call it in theology.  All of this is credited to our account.  His righteousness is given to us as a gift.  Justification!  And then!  Then we are freed to hold God’s Word as sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  Then we are given to honor our parents and all earthly authorities, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.  We are freed to be parents without fear, to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  We are freed to do all the Commandments, with joy, because our sins are forgiven and we are saved apart from our doing of the Commandments, on account of Jesus, by faith alone. 
            What a Christmas gift!  Perfect righteousness given to us in Christ Jesus.  The LORD comes to His Temple, the Passover Lamb to be sacrificed, to free us form our sins, from death, and the devil.  And this morning, we know right where to find Jesus.  Here, in His Father’s House.  Here, doing His Father’s business, the business of saving us.  Here, in the Word.  Here, in the flesh of the Passover Lamb, in the blood that marks us as God’s own.  Did you not know this?  Oh, you knew it.  You know it for certain.  Here is Christ for you.  Merry Christmas!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).