Monday, February 24, 2020

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

The Transfiguration of Our Lord (A)
February 23, 2020
Text: Matt. 17:1-9
            And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only” (Matt. 17:8; ESV).  Our eyes hunger to see all the sights, the power, the glory, the majesty of it all.  We long to see the Church bursting at the seams with more and more people taken captive by the Gospel.  A new building, a splendid edifice, the bigger the better.  Ecstatic worship experiences.  Inspiring, engaging, practical sermons that go right to the heart and are easily applied to the life.  Moral transformation in the minds and hearts and lives of the people.  Nobody sinning against anybody else.  Everybody getting better and better every day, better and better in every way.  Isn’t that what the Gospel is supposed to do?  Heaven on earth?  The Kingdom of God here and now?  Shine, Jesus, shine!  Fill our hearts with the Father’s glory!  Justification, yes.  Fine.  But sanctification, where the rubber meets the road!  And glorification!  Glory, glory, halleluiah!  That is what our eyes want to see.
            But here we are, and what are we left with?  Look around you.  This isn’t quite that.  Or it doesn’t appear to be.  No, what do we have?  Not even our own building (though we’re very thankful for the use of this one).  But really, sinners to the right, sinners to the left.  A really big sinner for a preacher.  If we’re honest, our worship isn’t all that ecstatic, we don’t usually leave all that inspired, and Pastor won’t even let us sing “Shine, Jesus, Shine.”  Not much glory.  Today we bid goodbye to the alleluia for a time.  Always justification talk, and nobody behaves all that sanctified.  Lots of words.  A little water.  A little bread and wine.  Yet when we look upon these things, there is, nevertheless, a great surprise.  In these very things, and only in these things, there is Jesus.  Jesus only.  And Jesus is enough.  Jesus, is all we need.
            Peter, James, and John ascend the mountain with Jesus, and their eyes take in a veritable feast!  Suddenly, the Lord is transfigured before them, His divine nature shining through His humanity, His very clothing radiantly white with His holiness and glory.  Like the burning bush, radiating fire but not consumed, the human body of Jesus radiating the fulness of the Godhead, but not consumed.  And speaking of Moses… there he is!  With Elijah.  The great Law-giver, the writer of God’s Torah, and the great Prophet, Elijah, who was taken up into heaven in the whirlwind, the Law and the Prophets bearing witness.  All the Scriptures are about Jesus, this Man who is God, shining up on the mountain. 
            Peter doesn’t want to come down.  He wants to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.  ‘Tis good, Lord, to be here.  He wants to build three tents, one for Moses, one for Elijah, one for Jesus, so that they never have to leave.  And why would he want to?  This is a little picture of heaven!  Jesus in all His glory.  The saints who have gone before!  (And notice, by the way, that there is no doubt this is Moses and Elijah, even though the disciples had never met them, and there were no Polaroid pictures to know what they looked like.  We will certainly know one another in heaven, and even those we did not know on earth!). 
            In any case, Peter goes on yapping as though he has any idea what is going on.  As we are wont to do, especially when it comes to God.  And all at once, the bright cloud.  This is the cloud that separated Israel from Egypt at the Red Sea, that led the Children of Israel through the wilderness, that descended upon the Tent of Meeting as Moses met with God face to face as with a familiar friend.  This is the cloud that filled the Temple at Solomon’s dedication.  This cloud is the presence of the glory of God.  And from it, the Father speaks, words we’ve heard before, at Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (v. 5). 
            It was too much for the disciples to take.  They fell on their faces, terrified.  Like dead men.  Like you would be, too, if you were there.  See, we cannot handle the glory.  We think we want it, but sinners cannot stand in the presence of the glory of God and live.  Apart from Jesus.  But Jesus came and touched them.  Just as He touched the bier of the widow’s only son in Nain.  Just as He took the hand of Jairus’ little girl, saying to her, “Talitha cumi… Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41).  So He touches His disciples and says to them, “Rise, and have no fear” (Matt. 17:7).  Rise.  Be alive.  Resurrected.  And no longer be afraid.  That is what this is all about.  That we rise and have no fear.  And lifting their eyes, they see all they need to see.  They have all they need to have.  Not the brightness and the glory and the mountain top experience.  Jesus.  Jesus only.
            Why the Transfiguration?  It is a momentary lifting of the veil.  This is where we’re headed.  This is where all of this leads.  Resurrection!  Easter!  There will be glory.  There will be the visible presence of God.  There will be reunion with the saints.  Because Jesus is who He says He is and He’s come to do what He says He’s come to do.  He is God in the flesh, and He has come to save us.  The whole Scripture bears witness.  The Father Himself declares it from heaven. 
            But before all of this becomes the visible reality, Jesus and the disciples must descend the mountain.  There is a cross to be borne.  Jesus must suffer and die for the sins of the world.  Good Friday must come before Easter.  And the disciples, too, must suffer.  As part of their bearing witness.  They will be insulted, persecuted, martyred for the Name of Jesus and for His Gospel.  The Transfiguration is given as encouragement and confirmation.  To Jesus, as He goes the way of Golgotha.  To the disciples, as they face the events of Holy Week.  To you and me as we struggle with sin and temptation, doubt and despair, opposition from the world and the weakness of the Church in this vale of tears.  There is a reason the Church celebrates Transfiguration on the cusp of Lent.  We are about to walk the road of repentance and deep mediation on the suffering and death of Jesus.  That must come before Easter.  But here we have a glimpse, a foretaste.  It is worth it.  Glory is coming.  In God’s way.  In God’s time.  In the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 
            We want power and glory, and we want it now.  But it is not to be.  Repent of that.  Once St. Paul was caught up to the third heaven (whatever that means!) and heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.  It was like his own little experience of the Transfiguration.  But he could not stay there.  And to keep him from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, there was given to him a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass him.  Three times he pleaded with the Lord, that it should leave him, but the Lord answered Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).  Paul, you need Jesus only.  And that is what you have.  Suffering is necessary now.  Glory will come later.  In the meantime, Jesus.  Only Jesus.  He is enough.
            And so you.  You must suffer now.  You must bear your fallen flesh and the aches and pains and illnesses that go with that.  You must suffer reproach from the world and the temptations of the devil.  You must bear the consequences of sin and the mistakes that you’ve made.  But always in faith.  We’ve had here a glimpse.  Jesus is the Son of God.  He is God in the flesh.  He has come to save us.  He died, but He is not dead.  He is risen and lives and reigns.  Listen to Him.  Set your eyes on Him.  Rise and have no fear.  Go with Him to the cross and know that Easter is on the other side.  And it is enough that He comes to you in words and water and bread and wine, in the mutual conversation and consolation of sinners to your left and to your right, and the really big sinner preaching from the pulpit.  Jesus is in that.  Jesus only.  Jesus is all you need. 
            And in this way, heaven does come to earth.  The Kingdom of God is here and now.  Not in the filling of this land with the Father’s glory, but in the filling of your ears and your mouth with the Father’s glory, which is Jesus Himself in His Word and Sacrament.  It doesn’t look like much.  But it is everything.  And it is all for you.  Jesus only.  Jesus for you.  Listen to Jesus.  Come and eat Jesus.  You have Jesus.  Rise, and have no fear.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.            

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
February 16, 2020
Text: Matt. 5:21-37
            You have heard that it was said… ‘You shall not murder’… ‘You shall not commit adultery” (Matt. 5:21, 27; ESV).  Of course, it wasn’t just human beings that said it.  These are, word for word, two of God’s Ten Commandments, spoken by God, written in stone with the finger of God Himself.  So it’s not just that it’s been said, it’s that it’s been said by God, and it’s serious business.  It is His holy Law, which is good and wise.  If we could live by the Law, we really would be living our best life.  Having transgressed the Law, we are liable to divine wrath and judgment.  The problem Jesus is addressing is not just some man-made tradition tacked onto the Law, but man’s redefining God’s Law to make it manageable.  And so the Pharisees, for example.  They are very good at keeping the Law outwardly.  Don’t murder.  Got it!  Haven’t killed anyone.  Don’t commit adultery.  No problem!  Haven’t slept with anyone but my spouse.  And that really is a good thing.  But it isn’t yet the fulfillment of the Law.  For all their skill in outward keeping of the Commandments, and myriad ordinances and traditions besides, the Pharisees don’t take sin very seriously.  For they fail to recognize that God’s Law is a matter of the heart, and sin is what comes out of the hearts of sinners.  That is where Jesus nails us with the Law.
            Three Commandments in particular come into focus in Jesus’ preaching to us this morning (again, a portion of the Sermon on the Mount).  These are the 5th, the 6th, and the 8th Commandments.  This is worthy of some catechetical review. 
            The Fifth Commandment: “You shall not murder.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.”[1]  You have heard that it was said, “You shall not murder,” but you have to understand that this includes more than the criminal taking of your neighbor’s life.  It includes any physical, or mental, or emotional harm perpetrated against your neighbor.  It is anything you do that embitters your neighbor’s life.  And it is despising your neighbor in your heart, unrighteous anger, insults (whether spoken or harbored in the secret of your mind), regarding him as a fool, hating him.  We do this all the time.  We're very good at thinking ill of our neighbor.  And we’re very good at ignoring his needs, turning a deaf ear to his cries for help, giving the cold shoulder when he needs mercy.  We should love him with the very love of God, as one for whom Christ died, redeemed and holy.  We should do everything we can for his welfare and benefit, for his bodily comfort and to fulfill his needs.  When we don’t, we sin.  Repent. 
            A big part of this, too, is forgiving those who sin against us, and seeking forgiveness from those we sin against.  Beloved, always seek reconciliation and peace with a neighbor who has something against you.  Jesus uses the very practical illustration of a lawsuit or a criminal trial to make His point.  But what He is getting at is, if you have not made the effort now, in this life, as soon as possible, to reconcile with your brother or sister who has sinned against you, you are the guilty one.  Not forgiving is murder in your heart.  And you don’t want to face the Day of Judgment, the Tribunal of the true Judge of all, with that on your conscience.  This is a matter of first priority.  Before you give an offering, before you come to the altar to receive Jesus’ Offering to you, His true body and blood for your forgiveness, go and be reconciled.  That is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer before the Communion, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  We are not only asking forgiveness from God, we are declaring forgiveness here and now for the sins of all those who have sinned against us.  Forgiving and being forgiven, we can now go joyfully to the Supper to receive that forgiveness tangibly under bread and wine. 
            Then the Sixth Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.”  This doesn’t just mean not straying when you’re married.  It means saving yourself for marriage so that you can give your body to your spouse alone.  It means upholding marriage as holy, God’s own institution, not to be entered into lightly.  One man, one woman, united in love and fidelity, for life.  You should not get a divorce.  Unless your spouse has committed adultery (v. 32) or maliciously deserted you (1 Cor. 7:15), you are not to divorce him or her.  And even then, by the way, you are not obligated to divorce.  It is always good when the marriage can be saved; good for the spouses, good for the family, good for the Church and the greater society. 
            But adultery is even more than that.  It is even the looking at another with lustful intent.  It is the illicit web search.  It is the turning of the head when a particularly attractive person walks by.  God is interested in your heart.  Regard your neighbor’s body as holy.  Do not treat him or look at her as an object to be used for your own fleshly pleasure.  Treat your spouse’s body as holy.  Reserve your body for him or her alone.  Treat your own body as holy, as a temple of the Holy Spirit, redeemed by Christ the Crucified, sanctified for God’s own use, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1).
            Finally, the Eighth Commandment with reference to oath taking.  That is, do not make careless promises or swear in unimportant matters.  When you do make a promise, keep your word.  The Christian’s yes should be yes, your no, no.  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way” (or as many of you learned it, “put the best construction on everything”).  This has to do with all manner of dishonesty.  God never lies.  Christians should never lie.  God covers the sin and shame of sinners with Christ and His righteousness.  Christians should do the same for one another.  God always keeps His promises, and never an empty word falls from His mouth.  Thus should His children keep a guard over the door of their lips.  There are times when you should swear, and you should swear to God (not, as Jesus points out, by things less than God, like heaven or earth, Jerusalem or your own head, as if that makes the swearing less serious… no crossing your heart and hoping to die, no stack of Bibles, needles in the eye, or your mother’s grave).  You should swear to God when the matter is of great importance and your neighbor needs you to swear.  Such as in court, or when you make a contract, or take an oath of office.  Such as that made at your Baptism and Confirmation, and to your spouse before God and His people at your wedding.  And you should keep that word.  It is so important.  Your neighbor really needs it.  We shouldn’t swear in unimportant matters so that when we do swear, our neighbor knows we mean it.  And we follow it up with action.
            Now, examine your life in light of these Commandments.  How are you doing?  It is a fearsome thing.  The Law always accuses, doesn’t it?  You know that by personal experience.  Perhaps you are harboring a grudge right now that needs some resolution.  Maybe you think your spouse is a fool.  Undoubtedly your eyes have wandered.  Maybe even intentionally.  Perhaps you are divorced, and it isn’t for a biblical reason.  None of us gets past this morning’s text unscathed.  The Law kills us all.  It falls on us like a hammer and breaks us to pieces (Jer. 23:29).  Christ have mercy on us.  Repent.  And by the way, that business about gouging out your eye and cutting off your hand?  Don’t miss the point of that.  Please do not mutilate your body.  You know, if you gouge out your eyes and cut off your hands, you’ll just be an eyeless, handless sinner… but a sinner you’ll still be.  No, the point is, mortify your flesh.  Drown Old Adam.  Crucify him.  Die to yourself.  Return to your Baptism.  There will be a lot of talk about this in Lent, and the entire life of the Christian is a life of repentance. 
            And this business of repenting is not an exercise in self-flagellation.  It is a turning from sin, from yourself, to Christ.  Examining yourself, you find yourself full of sin, dying and dead and damned.  But now examine Christ.  He has taken an oath from all eternity and He will not change His mind.  He will save you.  You belong to Him.  Engraved on the palms of His pierced hands.  His suffering.  His cross.  His blood.  His death.  All for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  All those promises you did not keep.  All those times you did not live up to your word.  Forgiven.  In Him. 
            He has taken the Church of God, you, to Himself as His Bride, and He is ever faithful.  Never do His eyes stray.  He only has eyes for you.  He loves you.  He gave Himself for you, to present you to Himself holy, spotless, without wrinkle or stain.  You belong to Him, body and soul, and He gives Himself to you, by His Spirit and in His very body in the Supper. 
            Not only did He not murder, He was murdered, by you… for you.  He did not even defend Himself, though He could have called on His Father and at once twelve legions of angels would have come to obliterate us all and save Jesus from death.  But not Him.  He was determined, to go to the cross.  For you.  He does not hate you.  He loves you.  He bore the insults for you.  He was counted among the fools for you.  Despised.  Forsaken.  All for you.  And now He is risen, and lives, for you.  He rules all things for you and He gives you your daily bread.  He provides for all your needs of body and soul.  He gives Himself to you, His resurrection life, so that you can really live.  
            Where, then, does this leave us this morning?  God’s Law has been fulfilled on our behalf.  By Jesus.  And we get all the credit.  Our failure to keep the Law has been atoned for in the death of Jesus.  And we are forgiven.  More than that.  Baptized into Christ, God’s own Child, I gladly say it.  We have eternal life.  You have heard that it was said to those of old, do the Law and you shall live.  Today in the Gospel, you hear that Christ has done it all, and His life is yours.  Live it, with great rejoicing.  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). 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
February 9, 2020
Text: Matt. 5:13-20
            You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says to His disciples, to you, His Christians (Matt. 5:13; ESV).  What is the good of salt?  Salt is good for flavoring and salt is good for preservation.  So God leaves His Christians in the world to do that… to flavor the world with the taste of what it is to have a God of mercy, a God of love, a God who does His business in the world by the hands of His people, whom He has included in His Kingdom and Household, His Family.  It is to flavor the world with the taste of what it is to have a God who redeems, who forgives, who saves.  And it is to preserve the world.  God holds off His judgment against the world so that His Christians can be in the world, about the business of flavoring the world in just this way.  And “You are the light of the world,” Jesus continues (v. 14), and you know the purpose of light.  To enlighten what is dark.  The world… the world is a dark place, shrouded in unbelief and the deceptions of the evil one.  Christians are in the world to bring the light of God’s Word to every corner and every situation, to every person, confessing the faith, loving and serving and suffering in the Name of Jesus.  There is a reason God doesn’t just snatch us up the moment we’re baptized and take us to heaven.  He leaves us here for a purpose.  There is work to be done.  Fathering and mothering, son-ing and daughter-ing, feeding, clothing, visiting, relieving, teaching, serving, nurturing, delivering.  And of course, confessing.  Confessing Jesus.  Preaching Jesus.  Continually receiving Jesus and continually giving Jesus.  That is to be salt.  That is to be light.  That is what you are in Christ.  That is what you are to do in Christ.  That is your work now that Christ has made you His worker.  Yes, dear Lutherans.  You are to do good works.  That is why you are here, in this world, and not yet there, resting from your labors in heaven. 
            “But I am saved by grace alone,” you reply, “apart from works.”  Yes, absolutely.  Amen.  Works have nothing to do with the bringing about of your salvation.  But they are very much the result of your salvation.  You are saved through faith alone, but as our Lutheran confessors so often teach us, faith is never alone.  As Dr. Luther says, faith is always busy, living, and active, overflowing with good works.  Or as St. Paul put it, “by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).  That is the order.  Saved apart from works.  Saved to do good works God prepared for you to do from all eternity. 
            Why the works, though, if we’re saved apart from them?  Jesus tells us this morning.  So that others may see the good works you are doing and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).  That is, you do them as a confession of faith, a teaching about Christ.  You do them in the Name of Christ, out of love for Christ, flowing from Christ’s love for you and for your neighbor.  And so Christ is proclaimed.  And you do them because your neighbor needs them, and God loves your neighbor.  And God uses you as His hands to provide for your neighbor’s need.  In fact, the rest of the Sermon on the Mount (and this text is a portion of that Sermon) is about what that means concretely.  We'll get some more of this next week.  What does it look like when the love of Christ that saves you now flows through you to your neighbor?  Well, don’t be angry and vengeful and so murder your neighbor in your heart.  Forgive him.  Be forgiven by him.  Solve your problems.  Reconcile.  Be an agent of peace.  Do not look at another human being with lustful intent, as a thing to be used and abused for your own fleshly pleasure.  That is to commit adultery with him or her in your heart.  Crucify Old Adam.  Kill the lust in you.  Repent.  Your neighbor needs you to treat his or her body as holy, as indeed it is, redeemed by the body and blood of Christ.  Be faithful to your spouse.  Do not divorce her.  Do not leave him.  Be committed.  Love one another in fidelity and truth, for the sake of your spouse, for the sake of your children who need faithful parents they can count on to keep their commitments, for the sake of society for which marriage between one man and one woman for life is the most basic building block.  Keep your word.  Be trustworthy.  Don’t retaliate.  Leave vengeance to God.  Love even your enemies.  Just as Christ loved you when you were His enemy.  Just as He died for you and is risen for you and lives for you and has brought you to Himself to be His own.  Give to the needy.  Pray.  Fast.  Trust.  For that is to be salt, flavoring and preserving the world.  That is to be light, piercing the darkness of this dark world.
            Now, these good works are not your righteousness before God.  We know that.  Jesus Christ alone is our righteousness.  That is what our Lord is getting at when He tells us our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees if we are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (v. 20).  You can’t earn that kind of righteousness by works.  Works righteousness is precisely the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, and nobody does it better than they do.  To exceed that kind of outwardly (nearly) perfect righteousness, you need a righteousness from outside of you.  And that righteousness is Jesus Christ.  He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it, and He did, perfectly, in our place.  He fulfilled the Torah with all of its instructions and commands, types and promises.  He fulfilled the Prophets.  All the Scriptures.  Not one jot or tittle of the Law has been removed.  It has been done.  Satisfied.  Accomplished.  Completed.  By Jesus Himself.  Outwardly, even better than the Scribes and Pharisees.  But also in a way they could never imagine.  Inwardly, in the heart, in the mind, in the soul.  Jesus is the only One whose outward righteousness is the product, not of external curbs and controls, but of the inward righteousness that is perfect love for God His Father and complete agreement of the will.  That is real righteousness, whole and true.  And do you know who gets the credit for that?  You do.  By grace.  Received by faith.  Apart from your works.  And for all your failure to keep the Law, outwardly and inwardly, for all your failure to love God, your spite and hatred for Him and His Word, your contrary will set in opposition to Him, your utter disregard and disdain for your neighbor, for all of it, Jesus suffered and died.  He did not abolish the Law, He paid the penalty.  You are forgiven.  Your debt is paid.  Jesus suffered your sentence.  And now He is risen.  He lives.  So you live.  Justified.  Declared righteous for Jesus’ sake.  Baptized into Christ. 
            So get to living.  Be who you are in Christ.  There is so often a misunderstanding here, particularly among the Lutherans.  Jesus didn’t die for you so that you don’t have to lift a finger to do any good works.  Jesus didn’t die for you to sit there with your feet up and cover your eyes to the needs of your neighbor and plug your ears to his cries for mercy and help.  The purpose of the Gospel, free forgiveness of all your sins in Christ, salvation and eternal life freely given, is not to be your excuse to break God’s Law all over the place and sin with reckless abandon, presuming on the forgiveness of sins.  Don’t you see?  That is unsalty darkness.  But you are salt and light in Christ.  That is who Jesus has declared you to be.  So do according to who you are.  That is what it is to live by faith, as one saved by grace alone in Christ alone.
            The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ own description of your new reality now that God has broken into His world in the flesh of Jesus Christ to redeem the world, to redeem you by His death and resurrection.  He has brought about an earth-shaking change of cosmic proportions.  The old order of things is passing away.  The new has come.  God is a Man who died.  This Man is risen from the dead and He lives and He reigns.  And you are His agents in this world.  This is not a new bondage, beloved.  It is perfect freedom.  Once you were enslaved to darkness and evil.  Now you are freed to goodness and light.  The old shackles have fallen away.  The bonds are burst.  You are no longer enslaved.  Be who you are.  God’s own child.  Redeemed and whole.  Salt and light.  Kings and Queens.  Sons and Daughters of the Almighty.  Come now to His Table.  Eat and drink.  Love and serve.  Rejoice.  Jesus Christ is the Light of the world.  You are light in Him.  Let it shine.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

Monday, February 3, 2020

Purification of Mary/Presentation of Our Lord

The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord
February 2, 2020
Text: Luke 2:22-40
            Old Simeon lays eyes on the Child and he knows.  He sees His salvation.  This is the One who will redeem Israel, indeed, the world.  This is the One who will save His people from their sins.  He takes the Child from the arms of Mary, His mother, and he prays… to the Child!  Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:29; ESV).  I can die now, without fear, with joy, having beheld the fulfillment of Your Promise.  Messiah has come.  I hold His little body right here in my arms.  He is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, for a sign that is opposed.  Oh, and Mary, a sword will pierce your own soul, also.  That is, this Child is destined for the cross.  And that is the great scandal that will separate those who are God’s from those who are not, believers and unbelievers, the saved and the damned, the fall of all who reject Him, the raising of all who receive Him, this great offense that God saves the world by this flesh and blood Baby, this flesh and blood Man, who gives His flesh and blood into death for the life of the world, for the forgiveness of sins.  That is the great sign that is spoken against, the sign of the holy cross.  That is the sword that pierces Mary’s soul as she stands by her precious Boy at His execution, and can do nothing to alleviate His suffering.  That is the sign that reveals the thoughts of many hearts.  What do you think of the Crucified?  Is He an object of scorn?  Do you pass by Him unheeding?  Are you scandalized, offended by Him and His Words?  Or do you cling to Him, to His Words and His blood and His death, for your very life as your only Savior from sin and condemnation?
            History repeats itself, here and now, today.  For you are old Simeon, and your ears lay upon the Child, and your eyes behold the bread and the wine, and you know.  Your ears have heard and your eyes have seen your salvation.  This is the One who died, and who is risen from the dead, who lives and reigns, who comes to you now in His flesh and blood, under the humble forms of Words and water, bread and wine.  But just as assuredly as Simeon held God in his arms when he held the little Lord Jesus, so you hear His voice in the Scriptures and the preaching, and you hold Him within you as you eat His body and drink His blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  And so, having held Him on your tongue, you pray to Him, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace.”  The Nunc Dimittis.  I can die now in peace, without fear, with joy even, having received the fulfillment of Your Promise in the Holy Supper.
            Now, that may seem like a strange thing to pray.  But you know, unless the Lord returns first, you will have to die.  Ignoring that fact, or pretending that isn’t the case, doesn’t change the truth of it.  So you can die without Christ and have no hope or assurance or comfort heading into the darkness.  Or you can die in Christ, with Christ Himself in your ears and on your tongue, knowing all your sins are forgiven, and when you close your eyes in death here, you open them to behold Him in heaven there.  And you have the absolute certainty that, baptized into the risen Christ who died for you, Christ now having entered into you with His crucified and risen body and blood and becoming one with you, He will raise you from the dead.  Bodily. 
            See, that is what Simeon knew as he held the Child in his arms.  I can die now because this Child has pulled the very teeth out of death.  He is my life.  He is your life.  When He comes to you, as He came to Simeon… when the Spirit lifts your eyes of faith to Him, as He lifted Simeon’s aged eyes to the Baby… when He is placed into your ears and mouth as Simeon received Him into his arms… death can’t harm you anymore.  This Child is the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Jesus, even though he dies, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Jesus will never die (John 11:25-26).
            We see here the importance of the Lord’s Supper and why it is we often sing Simeon’s song after eating and drinking our Lord’s true body and blood.  This is where we receive Jesus into us and where our eyes see our salvation.  This is the medicine of immortality.  This is the antidote to death.  Here our sins are forgiven.  Here we are enlivened with the risen body of Christ.  As sainted professor, Kenneth Korby, famously said, “We go to the Lord’s Supper as though going to our death, that we may go to our death as though going to the Lord’s Supper.”  He didn’t mean that we have to go to Communion frowning and sullen, but we go in repentance and hope and faith and joy, knowing that this marks us for resurrection and eternal life.  And so we can go to our death the same way, not frowning and sullen, but in repentance and hope and faith and joy, knowing that we will see Jesus just as we have received Him in the Sacrament.  This is just what we dying sinners need, Jesus Christ for us, under bread and wine, for forgiveness and life.  St. Ambrose said, “Because I always sin, I always need the medicine.” 
            And that is exactly what you need to know, that this Supper is medicine for sinners and life for the dead.  For otherwise you might say, “That’s great for a holy man like Simeon, whose whole life was dedicated to waiting for the coming of the Lord… He can hold Jesus in his arms and declare he can die in peace.  But if you really knew my sins, Pastor, you would know that these Promises are not for me.  I dare not hold Jesus or receive Him into my very mouth and body in the Supper.  He is too holy, and I am too sinful.  And so I must die alone and in terror.”
            Did you know that I already know that about you, that you are a poor miserable sinner?  That He is holy, and you are not?  And, in fact, I encourage you to come to me and confess it so that you can hear just what God has to say about your sin in the Absolution, namely, “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son+, and of the Holy Spirit.  Depart in peace.  You are free!  You live!  God is for you and not against you.  He loves you and gave His own dear Son for you, to make you His very own.”  That is what you receive tangibly in the Supper.  So that you know without a doubt the Absolution is true, that the death and resurrection of Christ are for you.  Here it is, the very body crucified for you, the very blood shed for you, now risen from the dead and living, for you to eat and to drink.
            The great irony of it all is, it is only those who know their unworthiness who are worthy to receive the Supper, for this meal is for sinners only.  Those who believe they are worthy by their good works or lack of sin or credentials as “Good Christian Folk” must stay away.  Now, of course, you must be instructed in the faith and specifically regarding the Supper before you come.  In other words, no one should receive the Supper until they’ve been catechized, taught the things of God.  Our children don’t commune until they are able to examine themselves as St. Paul says (1 Cor. 11:28) and have been instructed.  And under no circumstances should an unbaptized person commune, for Baptism is your birth into the faith; the Supper is the food that sustains and nourishes your baptismal life.  Baptism comes first.  And because St. Paul tells us that those who eat and drink “without discerning the body” eat and drink judgment on themselves (1 Cor. 11:29 ff.), only those who share our confession of doctrine, especially regarding the Supper should commune, which is not to say we don’t recognize other Christians as Christians, as brothers and sisters in Christ, but it is to take the Lord’s Supper seriously as the great and powerful gift that it is.  That is why ordinarily only members of Missouri Synod congregations commune with us.  When our Lord comes again, all divisions will cease.  Until then, we strive to be faithful as we suffer under the cross. 
            And finally, unrepentant sinners should not receive the Sacrament.  The key word there is “unrepentant.”  Sinners should absolutely come.  The Supper is for sinners, and sinners only.  But unrepentant sinners are those who do not recognize and acknowledge their sins, who believe that they are righteous in and of themselves and that what they are doing is righteous even if it is counter to God’s commands.  Do you see this irony?  Sinners who know their unworthiness and look to Christ alone for worthiness and righteousness are precisely those who should come.  Those who believe they are worthy and need no repentance are unworthy nonetheless and should not come. 
            Simeon knew his sins.  And that is why he so eagerly took hold of his Savior.  And so you.  You know your sins.  You confessed them mere minutes ago.  Now, having been absolved, you come eagerly to the altar to take hold of Jesus Christ.
            Today is Candlemas, the day Christians of old brought their candles to Church to be blessed, as well as to donate candles for the Church’s use.  The point of that tradition is quite beautiful.  Jesus is precisely what old Simeon says he is: The Light that lightens the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel.  Here we are enlightened as we see our salvation in the flesh and blood of the Savior.  Just like Simeon.  And like Anna, who couldn’t help but spread that Light to all who would hear. 
            On this day, the Light came into the Temple, in the flesh of a little Baby Boy.  His mother gave the sacrifice of the poor for her purification, a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons.  The sacrifices themselves point to her Son and His death for our sins.  And this is the presentation of Jesus as the Firstborn.  In the Old Testament, every firstborn of man and beast belonged to the LORD, the animals to be sacrificed, the humans to be redeemed by sacrifice.  Think of that.  Jesus gives the sacrifice, but in reality, He is the Sacrifice.  The Firstborn, not only of Mary, but of God, who redeems all the firstborn and all people from sin and death, and brings many brothers and sisters into the Father’s Kingdom.
            Come to the altar, beloved.  Eat and drink and behold your salvation.  Then depart in peace, sins forgiven, and go spread the Light to all who will listen until your eyes see that Light for yourself in all His heavenly splendor.  Christ the Lord is come for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.