Monday, January 25, 2016

Sermon for Epiphany 3: "First Words"

+ Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 24th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Nehemiah 8:1-10; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Luke 4:16-30

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

First words are often memorable: the first lines of a classic book, a beloved play, or a favorite song. A child’s first words – mama, dada; I love you – are unforgettable. And we can probably recall a time when the first words out of our mouths made an impression – good or bad – it matters not; the point is the same. The first words are important.

So it is with Jesus’ preaching. St. Luke records Jesus’ first words of his first sermon. And Jesus’ Word is unlike any other word. By his word he calms storms, gives the deaf hearing, heals the blind, makes the lame walk, raises the dead, and forgives sin.

Jesus, the Word of God in human flesh, declares God’s Word for your deliverance.

Luke reminds us this takes place in Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth. But even before Luke gets to the content of Jesus’ first sermon, we have a clue about Jesus’ identity and way of life. For Jesus, God’s Word is his life, yours too. He who is the Word made flesh read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested God’s Word every Sabbath day in the synagogue. The faithful gathered to hear the Word. Sounds a lot like Redeemer. And in many ways it is, of course the pastor sat for the sermon instead of standing.

And though the setting is important, it’s not as important as Jesus’ Words. That’s the main event in Nazareth.

Jesus takes the scroll of Isaiah, unrolls it to just the right place, and then reads God’s Word.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

The first words out of Jesus’ mouth are Scripture. Jesus doesn’t warm up the crowd with a few lame jokes. There’s no motivational speaking. Jesus doesn’t tell the people what they want to hear, but what they need to hear: God’s Word delivered to them.

And it’s a Trinitarian Word as well as a prophetic Word. The same Spirit that descended upon him in the Jordan River at his Baptism pours out of Him like water through his Word. The same Father who sent his Son to be born of a woman anoints him and sends him to preach and proclaim God’s promises.

God is a God of speaking. At creation, the fall, in the flood. In the Egypt, the wilderness, and the Promised Land. Through kings, prophets, and apostles. And now, God, the Word made flesh, is reading his own Word.

Don’t let this little detail be lost on you. Behold and rejoice in the wonder and mystery of the incarnation. The prophet who is greater than Moses, and all the prophets before him, now reads the prophets' words in the flesh. He whom Isaiah foretold now fulfills the very words he is reading. In many and various ways, God spoke to his people of old by the prophets, but now in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son.

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

In his one-sentence sermon, Jesus sums up the entire Old Testament. Every word of it points to Him. Anywhere you cut it, the pages of Scripture bleed the blood of Christ. Jesus is the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah, the long-expected Savior, sent to proclaim and preach good news; to release those in bondage to sin, death, and the devil. And to deliver God’s Word to you and for you.

And yet, Jesus’ Word not only reveals who he is, but who we are as well.

We are the poor in need of God’s rich mercy. We are the blind who are in need of eyes to see and ears to hear our Lord. We are slaves oppressed by disease and the devil, in both body and soul. We are captives of sin and death.

And so too often we use God’s word like a tool, to do with what we want, when we want and how we want. Want to start a program? There’s a Bible verse for that. Want to raise money? There’s a verse for that. Have self-declared a righteous cause? There’s a verse for that. We look for what the Word can do for us rather than what the Word is doing to us. And as a result, place ourselves as lords of Scripture rather than listeners of it, measuring the Word in terms of results rather than repentance and faith.
What a difference our words are compared to Jesus’ words. With our words we slander, lie, curse our friends, loved ones, fellow Christians, people we don’t even know; we make false oaths and break the ones we make; we gossip, lash out with our tongues as whips, and always try to get the last word in. We use our words to serve, glorify, and point to ourselves.

But not Jesus. Jesus’ Word glorifies the Father and gives his glory to you. Jesus’ Word points you to his suffering and dying for you. Jesus uses his Word to serve you.

Where our words enslave, Jesus’ Words set us free from sin and death. Where our words bring hurt and harm to others, Jesus’ Words bring healing and holiness to us. Where our words bring death,  Jesus’ Words gives you life.

Jesus has the last word on our sin, disease, and death – not Satan, not death, not our sinful flesh – Jesus speaks and it’s done. Finished. Accomplished. Fulfilled…For you! You are forgiven. You are free. From the first words of his first sermon to his last words upon his last breath on the cross, Jesus’ Word is your life.

This is what the crowds in Nazareth failed to hear that day in the synagogue. Their eyes saw only the little boy that grew up playing around the wood chips in Joseph’s workshop; they saw a humble, ordinary looking man saying extraordinary things. They were not seeing with their ears. For that is how we truly see Jesus, not by what your eyes see, but what your ears hear…by Jesus’ Word.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.

The Word we hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest here in this place, in our homes, with our families.

The Word that is poured out upon us with the water – as it is today for David – in Holy Baptism. Today Scripture is fulfilled in our hearing and the washing away of sins.

The Word that pronounces liberty to us who were captive to sin: “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The Word that fills bread and wine with Jesus’ body and blood given for us. We eat, drink, hear, are washed, and rejoice in God’s Word delivered for us.

That’s why Redeemer Lutheran exists: by God’s Word and for God’s Word. That’s our calling, our vocation. We are to be hearers of the Word, receivers of the Word, and then speakers of God’s Word. We’re sent to our homes and neighborhoods, our family gatherings, parks, practice, and parties. Jesus’ Word is our life as a congregation too.

This is why our life of Christian stewardship is important. It’s not about the money, but about supporting the work of God’s Word.

This is why our work of evangelism is important, for God’s Word is meant to be proclaimed and delivered to those who have not heard.

This is why we show mercy to others in need, physical and spiritual, because God has shown mercy to us; and by showing mercy to others we reveal that we have heard his word.

This is why we sing, ring, play harps, piano, and organ: we rejoice, confess, and shout the praises of Christ our deliverer.

This is why we have Sunday School, Bible class, and preschool: to give, proclaim, and teach God’s Word of life to all, in season and out of season.

Today the Scriptures are fulfilled in you too. You see Jesus with the eyes of faith and hear his Word. Sure, disease and the devil may plague you, but Jesus’ Word is your safe harbor, your light, and life. You are his baptized child. You are forgiven and free from sin and death. You have the good news in Jesus’ dying and rising for you. For today, just as in Nazareth, Jesus declares:

Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Star Wars, Stories, and the Gospel

The following reflection was written for our Redeemer Lutheran youth spaghetti dinner this past weekend, January 16th, 2016. The theme of the night, as you will notice, was Star Wars. I was asked to provide a few words of a meditation as part of the evening's events. Hope you enjoy. Feel free and add your comments or ideas in the comments section below.

Like many of you in this room, I grew up watching, playing, living, and breathing Star Wars. Though I was born in 1981, in between the theatrical release of The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi, these stories were a formative part of my child hood imagination. I was building Star Wars Lego sets long before they were marketable. And not a sick day home from school went by without watching the original trilogy – without all the graphic enhancement – at least once, if not more. No doubt we could each share similar memories of joy and delight, imagination and wonder, the captivating music of John Williams and the endearing characters around the galaxy far, far away.

And here lies a deeper, hidden truth. Stories bring us together. Star Wars is one story and many stories all at once. And even though it is a fictional story (yes, sorry to burst your bubbles), it does not cease to be a vehicle for truth. Far more than bringing people together, the best stories among us have the ability to delight and teach, to bring stabs of joy and a glimpses of truth, to be thrilling science fiction and yet give us foggy pictures of the greatest story of all time, the Gospel. After all this is both full of meaning and yet it is true.

For Jesus was not born in a galaxy far, far away, but in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Caesar Augustus, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. History and Story all at once.

So, here are just a few ways the good story of Star Wars, leads us the greatest story of all time.

Despite all the talk of balancing the Force, the movies tell a cosmic tale a battle between good and evil. In Star Wars this battle is fought and won but the war is never over. In our world, the real world, this battle is won, accomplished and fulfilled and in the most unexpected way – Jesus, the Light of the World is swallowed in darkness to save us.

In Episode IV, Obi Wan Kenobi lays down his life for his friends. Jesus lays down his life, not only for his disciples, but for rebels and enemies of God. For while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Many brave rebel pilots sacrificed themselves to save the universe from the tyranny of the empire and the threat of the dark side. Jesus sacrificed himself for the life of the world, to save us from sin, death, and darkness.

Yoda taught us the famous phrase, “Do or do not, there is no try”, a reminder that the Law cannot be done halfway and though we have done it not, saved we are. Jesus, done it for you he has.
The light and the dark contend for power and balance in the force, while Jesus the true Light of the World casts out the darkness by his death and resurrection for us.

Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon taught us not to overlook the things that look weak and foolish in the world for they are often the source of great victory.

The Jedi serve the galaxy with honor, justice, and on behalf of peace. They lived to serve others not themselves. And in this they are a picture of Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.

Luke’s unrelenting quest to save his father Darth Vader is also a foggy picture of God’s unrelenting love for us, despite the fact that there was no good in us.

The Sith Lords promise deathlessness. Even the Jedi have a spirit-like resurrection. But neither can deliver what they promise. True defeat of death, and true resurrection of the body are given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And even though that story took place a long time ago, it was not in a galaxy far, far away, but this one. Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate for you. Jesus is the true Light of the World for you. Jesus does all this for you, not by the force by through his love.

And lastly, as good Lutheran nerds, Star Wars gave us yet another semi-liturgical response. May the Force be with you…

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord: "Light in the Darkness"

+ The Epiphany of our Lord – January 6th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Epiphany means “to reveal”, to shine a light in the darkness.

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord. Jesus is the Light in the darkness of our fallen world. Jesus is the Messiah whom the prophets longed for, the King whom the wise men sought to find, the Savior whom the shepherds ran to worship. Christ, our Morning Star, has finally dawned.

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Epiphany means to reveal, to shine a light in the darkness.

And we live in a land of deep darkness, just as Israel did in Isaiah’s day, and the wise men did in theirs. Isaiah saw injustice, poverty, exile, homelessness, people abandoning God for false gods, people loving riches more than their fellow man, darkness of sin covering the whole earth…and so do we, only we have the advantage of the internet and cable news to fill our homes and minds with the darkness of this world faster than the speed of light.

The wise men saw a wicked king hell-bent on serving himself, who pretended to love God’s word but only used it for his own gain, who abandoned the Lord for idols fashioned by human hands - hands that also murdered every child in Bethlehem two years and younger. But we see the same shadow of death over our land too. Our children are murdered in abortion clinics, our elderly by euthanasia. There are financial challenges in our homes and church; we face illness, terror, and death.

And truth be told, we love the darkness. Not perhaps the kind we see on the news, but within each of us is a sinful heart of darkness. We have sinned against God and our neighbor in thought, word, and deed. Yes, we live in a land of deep darkness, and we’re socked in.

Where do we find a light in the darkness? Do we look for some mystical light within us? To the flashing neon lights of the world? No. Like the wise men, we turn to the Light of the world shining forth in God’s Word.

That’s how the wise men found Jesus. The star only got them to Jerusalem. It was the prophet Micah who brought Epiphany to the wise men, who revealed God’s light to their path. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal light and life.

It is this same Word that brings Epiphany to us. Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, come for you.

Jesus is the Light who first broke the silence and void of creation with his word: “Let there be light…and it was so.”
Jesus is the Light of the World who was made flesh for Israel, the wise men, and for you.
Jesus is the Light of the World who shines most clearly for us, just as he did for the wise men, in the holy lamp of his Word.

For we have something far better and brighter than a star: Jesus’ Word of life. It is a light for you in dark places when all other lights go out. By His word, God leads you to the Christ Child. The Light of God’s Word points you to Jesus’ greatest glory and Epiphany for you…not in Bethlehem of Judea, but in Jerusalem, upon the cross. God reveals his greatest love for you in Jesus crucified for you.
In him is life, and the life is the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, made flesh to save you. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome – not the devil’s wicked temptations, not the world of chaotic sin, nor our heart of darkness. All of it – our sin, death, and darkness, is swallowed up by the light of Christ on the cross.
And from the cross, Jesus casts the brilliant beams of God’s light to you here in this beacon of Light.
God’s Word is a lamp to my feet,  and a light to our path.

God’s Word casts the light and life of his crucifixion over you in your Baptism, where you are made a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  You are no child of the night, but of the day.

God’s Word pierces our heart of darkness in with the radiance of sins forgiven. In Holy Absolution light and life come to us in simple words: Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven. Let there be light, and it is so.
God’s Word points us once again to Bethlehem where we come and worship and receive the Christ Child, not resting on Mary’s lap, but hidden in the bread and wine for our forgiveness. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus continues his Epiphany for you. Jesus reveals that simple bread and wine are his flesh and blood given for you to outshine the darkness of our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, come for you.

And Jesus Christ is the Light of the world who shines through you to others. You are now a child of the light. Therefore do not walk in darkness. Rather, walk in the light. You are a city set on a hill. Do not hide who you are, but let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Reflect the light of Christ as you share the Good News of Jesus born for you with your friends, coworkers, and neighbors. Shine the light of Christ on those friends and family members you know whose lives are full of darkness and are in need of compassion, care, and mercy. Share your earthly possessions of time and money in this place, that Redeemer may continue to be a haven of God’s light in a dark world where Jesus’ Epiphany, birth, life, and death are sorely needed.

For this is the one message that truly gives hope, life, and salvation – this Epiphany and for all eternity.  Jesus Christ is the light of the world, come to save you.

A blessed Epiphany to each of you…

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Second Sunday of Christmas Sermon: "The House that Jesus Built"

+ Second Sunday of Christmas - January 3rd, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: 1 Kings 3:4-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Luke 2:40-52

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?

God’s house a loaded phrase in Scripture. It signifies who God’s people are, his household, and the location where God dwells with his house. As St. John proclaims in Revelation: The dwelling place of God is with man.

The mystery and wonder of Christ’s incarnation continue to amaze and astonish us, just as it did Mary and Joseph. He whom no earthly temple can contain, sits before the rabbis in the temple. He who is Wisdom grows in understanding.

Already at the age of 12 Jesus knows who he is and why he came among us: to keep the Law, to lay down his life, to redeem us, to be our Passover Lamb. Through Jesus, we become God’s household, his holy people. Jesus in the temple is a reminder of why he was born for you: to redeem you, to destroy the temple of his flesh, raise it up three days later, and build his house with each of you as his living stones.

The Holy Spirit made Mary’s womb a temple and once again, God dwelt with his people. Jesus goes to His Father’s house, not for himself, but for us. For us who have the attention span of 12 year old boys, Jesus was perfectly attentive to God’s teaching. For us who have disobeyed every letter of that Law, Jesus knew every word – and kept every word of that Law for you. For us who fail to remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, Jesus rejoiced in hearing and learning God’s word. For us who fail to honor our father and mother, no matter our age, Jesus honored both his Heavenly Father, and went down to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph and was submissive to his earthly parents.

Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?

The foundations of this house reach down through the ages, back to Genesis. We may not think of the Garden of Eden as a temple, but it was. Beneath the verdant canopy, sacred trees buttressed God’s garden cathedral; holy fruit adorned its walls and ceilings; and God dwelt with Adam and Eve, giving them his goodness, mercy, and life.

This was the house that Jesus built for Adam and Eve and all humanity. But this house would not stand forever. Adam and Eve preferred to fashion their own temple with their own hands out of fig leaves. Another house was needed.

And so the Lord told Moses to build a tabernacle. Wood. Gold. Silver. Bronze. Fine linens and garments, gems and tapestries. Oil for the lamp stands. Incense and fire the sacrifice. Every inch of that tabernacle was designed to give God’s holiness to unholy people. God dwelt with his people, was present with his promises in his holy house, and forgave sin by the shedding of blood.

This was the house that Jesus built through Moses for all Israel, for the Passover, foreshadowing Christ our Passover Lamb who is sacrificed for us. Still, another house was needed.

And so the Lord commanded David to build a house. The movable tabernacle became the magnificent temple. From Mt. Sinai to Mt. Zion, God established his house. But it was Solomon, not David who built a holy habitation for the Lord. God’s promise passed down through the generations, from David to Solomon to Mary. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

This was the house that Jesus built through Solomon for Israel. And yet, as glorious as Solomon’s temple was, it did not last forever. Solomon’s wisdom turned to folly.

But in the fullness of time, Gabriel came to Mary fulfilling Isaiah’s words: Unto us a child is born; unto us a Son is given.

I must be in my Father’s house. And he was, first in the temple of Mary’s womb, then in the temple in Jerusalem. Born an infant priest to be our great high priest on the cross.

Only now, everything that was true about the temple of old resides in Jesus. Jesus is your holiness, your cleansing, your redemption, your forgiveness. He hears your prayers and prays for you. Jesus is your temple, not of stones and wood and brick, but flesh and blood and bone, all for you.

I must be in my Father’s house.

The next time Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the Passover, He went to be the Passover Lamb, who takes away the sins of the world for you. And by his dying and rising, Jesus fashioned for himself a new house, a holy habitation in his own body. With his pierced hands Jesus builds his house and places you safely in his wounds.

As St. Paul writes, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

That’s God’s gift given to you in Baptism. God dwells with us and us with him. Jesus is here with you and for you, just as he was in the temple at age 12. Here he resides in the temple of bread and wine. His flesh and blood are given for you along with his peace, presence, and pardon for sin.

Jesus must be in His Father’s house, and so must we. For here in his house, we repent, receive, and rejoice. As we prayed earlier...for this holy house and for all who offer here their worship and praise.

You are the house that Jesus built with his own flesh and blood, by his death and resurrection. You are a holy habitation of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I must be in my Father’s house. And so must we, and not only today as we gather around the Lord’s table, but forever in the heavenly temple prepared for you by Christ before the foundation of the world. Jesus was in the Father’s house so that you will be welcome in the Father’s house forever.

Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.