Monday, March 25, 2019

Sermon for Lent 3: "The Unexpected God"

+ Third Sunday in Lent – March 24, 2019 +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton
Series C: Ezekiel 33:7-20; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

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

We have certain expectations when it comes to stories. The guy and girl fall in love. The bad guys lose. The good guys win. And everyone lives happily ever after. 

Like it or not, we bring our expectations with us when we read Scripture. Today’s story in Luke 13 of Jesus and the crowds, and Jesus’ parable of the fig tree are no different. 

When Jesus asks, “Do you think those Galileans whose blood was mixed with the sacrificial blood were worse sinners?” we expect the answer to be, “yes”. When Jesus asks, “Were the 18 on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed worse sinners than all the others in Jerusalem?” we expect the answer to be, “yes, they must have done something awful to deserve that”. 

But what does Jesus say? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

Jesus doesn’t give in to the crowds’ expectations of judgment. He doesn’t lay these tragedies at the feet of one man’s sin, but all sin. Jesus turns the crowds’ attention and ours, not to other sinners, but to us. 

We expect Jesus to point out the sins of others, but instead he points us to our own sin. He turns the story on us. Unless you repent, you will perish.

Yes, we expect these stories to be about judgment, warning, and repentance. And they are. Repent. Run away! God doesn’t grade on a curve. Our sin is serious, deadly serious. Repent or perish. That’s the warning. The axe is laid to the root. Judgment is coming. 

Yes, this story is about judgment, warning, and repentance, but it’s about so much more. This story – just like Jesus’ teaching, death, and resurrection – defies, upends, and overturns all our expectations. 

Jesus doesn’t say or do what we expect him to do. Just like the Vinedresser in the parable of the fig tree: 

“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.  And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground? And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.  Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

We expect the vineyard owner to say, “That’s it. I’ve had it with that worthless tree. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?”  

But unexpectedly, the vinedresser intercedes: Let it be for this year. I will dig around it and put manure on it

This parable of the fig tree is a story of God’s unexpected patience, mercy, and grace towards us.  

Let it alone, he says. Let it be. In Greek this is another word for forgiveness. Forbear it. Forgive it. Jesus uses this word for forgiveness over and over again in Luke’s Gospel. We live, as the fig tree lives, under the shade of the cross. We live in Jesus’ free, gracious, unexpected forgiveness.

But of course, we, along with the world, have different expectations of how that all happens. Oh yes, there’s repentance. But we expect repentance to be a little rehabilitation for sinners or only necessary for the really, really bad sinners. We expect that repentance and faith is something like a pat on the back from God.  

But God’s patience, mercy, and grace to us in Jesus are altogether unexpected. 

Where we are impatient, quick to anger and abounding in steadfast stubbornness, Jesus is merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. 

Where we expect, and rightfully deserve judgment for our sin, Jesus is merciful, and takes our rightful judgment upon himself.

Where we expect to be cut down and cast out of the vineyard, Jesus graciously roots and plants us in the tree of his cross.

God doesn’t operate according to our expectations, but by the unexpected and outrageous good news of Jesus crucified for you. Jesus the Vinedresser becomes the rotten, dead tree for you. Jesus is sent to the hill of dust, ashes, and stench of death for you. Jesus the Vinedresser hangs on a tree of death to forgive you. He allows his own body to be dug deep by nails and spear; he is covered in the dung of our sin to plant our dead roots in his tree of life. What an unexpected love it is. 

Jesus is merciful towards us; he takes the punishment and judgment we deserved. And Jesus is gracious, giving us his undeserved life, righteousness, and forgiveness.

Jesus doesn’t come to see if we are good enough: he knows the truth about our goodness. Jesus doesn’t come to see if we are sincerely and heartily sorry for our sin: he knows our repentance is never worth the hot air we put into it.  Jesus forgives you. For free. You are saved by grace, just like the fig tree.

You see, Jesus does not love us because we are good fig trees or because we bear good fruit. Rather, Christ’s love for you makes you a good tree. Jesus Crucified causes you to bear good fruit: the fruit of repentance, of rejoicing, of running to your neighbor to tell them you are redeemed and so are they. All by the unexpected grace and mercy of the Vinedresser.

Jesus is your Vinedresser, and by his death he bears good fruit for you in his body and blood. By his death you are a good tree, watered at the font and fed at the altar. By his death you are guests at the unexpected party of the Lamb’s high feast. 

In Jesus, you bear fruit. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, you will never be cut down. In Jesus you have more forgiveness, life, and salvation than you could have ever expected.

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

Funeral Sermon for Shirley Luck: "God's Family, the Baptized"

+ In Memoriam – Shirley Lueck +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Revelation 7:9-17; John 11:17-27

Image result for who are these clothed in white robes

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

How do you fit 94 years in a service? I pondered that question more than once this week.

How do you remember a beloved mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, whom God richly blessed with a long and joyful life, and who spent most of those 34,310 days, 823,440 hours, and over 49 million minutes serving and caring for others? 

How do you give thanks to God for a dear friend and sister in Christ who considered her church to be her extended home, and her brothers and sisters in Christ as close as blood?

In a word. Family.

Shirley was always busy serving, loving, and caring for her family. Busy sharing the blessings of good food, a warm blanket, or a family camping trip. And busy sharing the greatest blessing of all: the love of Christ her Savior, and ours. Shirley’s love for her family at home and church ran deeply because Jesus’s love for her runs even deeper. Jesus’ love for Shirley and for you runs as deep as the cross and the grave. 

As Jesus declares to us today:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. 

You see, Shirley loved and cared for her family at home and church because she was, and is for all eternity, part of the greatest family of all, God’s household. On March 1st, 1925, God brought Shirley into his family, born from above in Jesus’ Word and promise. Shirley was adopted by God’s grace.. Given the new birth by water and the Word. Our Lord wrote her baptismal birth certificate in the Lamb’s book of life, signed and sealed by the blood of Jesus. And sent the Holy Spirit to plant faith in Jesus in her that it would bear fruit in her love and service throughout her life. 

Family was everything to Shirley, for our Lord had made her part his beloved, family; God called Shirley, as he calls each of us, his own baptized child, holy and precious in his sight. That’s who St. John sees, and helps us to see in Revelation 7…

“Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
    and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
    the sun shall not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

John’s vision in Revelation reminds us that God’s people, his family purchased and won by the blood of Jesus, is important to God as well. He calls and gathers us as his people. St. Luke describes God’s love for us in Jesus as a mother hen covering her chicks under her wings, protecting, sheltering, embracing us in his life and death. God does this not because we’ve earned or deserved his love, or are worthy to be called his children, but because of his gracious, merciful, boundless love for us. 

That was the key, the foundation, the center, and anchor for Shirley’s life and faith. She knew that as great as her for her family was, our Lord’s love for her and for you is the greatest love of all. 

Family is everything to our Lord as well. So much so that Jesus took on human flesh, was born for us, lived in his family home with Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and Nazareth for you, to bring you into God’s family. Jesus went to the cross to rescue and redeem us lost sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. God’s only begotten Son became man, that we might become sons of God. Jesus died on the tree of the cross to graft us into his family tree forever. Jesus spent every year, week, day, hour, minute, and second of his life – even his very last breath - to give his life for Shirley and for you and for all. 

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we along with Shirley, should be called the children of God. And so we are.
That we would love as Christ first loved us. 
That we, along with Shirley and all the faithful departed, will one day rise from our graves as certainly as Jesus rose from his three-day rest in the tomb. 

And what a joyful family reunion that will be. The kind of mirthful, blessed, and gracious event our Lord promises in Ezekiel…

Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

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

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Lenten Midweek Sermon: "A God Beaten"

+ Lenten Midweek 2 – March 20, 2019 +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton
Isaiah 52:13-53:12; John 18:19-24

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

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.

Behold the man. Jesus, our Suffering Servant. Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus, the God takes on our flesh and is beaten for us.

The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.  Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.”  When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”

It’s hard to say which is more shocking – that one of the officers punches Jesus, or that Jesus, true God and true man, takes the hit. But this is the kind of God we have. The God who bears human flesh for us. To endure everything that sinners throw at him, even their fists in anger. The God who humbles himself even unto death for you. 

We could never have created or thought up a God like this. And that’s our real problem. Since Adam’s rebellion in the garden, mankind has been alienated from God. Like Adam, we seek our own desires, our own good; we desire to be our own god. We prefer the gods of our own imagination, for they are far less demanding. Instead of perfection, they only ask for pleasure. Instead of the Law’s demands, only that our desires are fulfilled. 

A Jesus of our own imaginations, is far easier to follow than the Holy God of Scripture, who demands that your holiness perfectly match His. A good-teacher Jesus, or a life-coach Jesus, or a model-CEO Jesus, or a moral-example Jesus, or a nice-guy Jesus, or a guru Jesus is no offense to our sinful nature. 

But that’s the problem with our imaginary gods. They can’t save us. They can’t bear our sin and be our substitute. We don’t need a god who encourages us to try harder next time. We don’t need a mulligan. We don’t need a behavioral adjustment. Like Adam, we have sinned in thought, word, and deed. Like Adam we have fallen short of the glory of God. Like Adam, we die in sin apart from Jesus. What we need is Jesus, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. The Messiah struck by the officers of the high priest, mocked, jeered, beaten, bruised, and bloody. All for you.

This is why Jesus takes the officer’s blows. Behold the man! Behold the man who allows Himself to be struck by sinners. Behold the man, the God who is beaten for you, who bore our striking, smiting, scourging, and hating. Behold the servant who suffered in our place. Who has borne your griefs and carried your sorrows.

Jesus takes our mockery, our self-worship, our sinful desires, thoughts, words, and deeds onto his own body on the cross for you. Jesus bears the full brunt of our sin as he suffers, is beaten, bloody, and crucified for you. Jesus took on our flesh—cheekbones that can take a punch, lungs that the wind can be knocked out of, skin that can bruise and bleed—so that He can be struck by God the Father. Dealt the death blow of our sin on our behalf. To let sin, death, and the devil defeat him, so that in Him, you are redeemed, rescued, and raised victorious. To humble himself that we might be exalted. To bear our grief and shame and, in exchange, fill us with his everlasting joy and peace.

And now, his body, once beaten, crucified, and buried is risen, ascended and given to you in His holy Supper. In Jesus death and resurrection you are buried and raised to new life in holy baptism – a new man, a new creation who reaches out to your neighbor with hands of mercy. Jesus the innocent one was declared guilty for us, so that when we confess our sins before him, we the guilty ones, are declared innocent. Holy. Righteous.

Jesus does all of this, not because deserve it, but because we are the least deserving. By grace you are saved. Behold the man, Jesus, despised and rejected by men for you. Jesus, stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted for you. Jesus, pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. And by his wounds, you are healed.

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Funeral Sermon for Loreen Babbitt: "Jesus the Fighter"

+ In Memoriam – Loreen Babbitt +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton
1 Corinthians 15:45-57

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In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Even though I didn’t know Loreen as well as you all did, I do know that she was a fighter. That she battled cancer these past few years. That Earlier in life, She fought to provide her family with all they need. And that, most importantly of all, she knew our Lord who fought for her, and gave his life for her, just as he fought and gave his life for you on the cross. 

As St. Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 15:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 

You see, Paul reveals the faith that gave Loreen, and all who are baptized in Jesus’ Name, such strength and courage. It is not something we earn or deserve or win for ourselves. It is gift. Purchased and won for us, not with gold or silver, nor on a battlefield, but won for us by Jesus crucified. For Loreen, for you, and for all, Jesus is the supreme fighter. 

As St. Paul goes on to say:

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

This is why Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose for Loreen and for you, so that death and disease would not have the day, and not triumph over us. 

Jesus fought to the death for Loreen. for you. For all. To take on all our sin, disease, and death and rise victoriously from the dead. To ensure that one day we, along with Loreen and all the faithful departed, will rise again, just as our Lord did 3 days after his victory on the cross for us. 
then the saying that is written will come true: 

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
   Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Sermon for Lent 2: "Jesus' Lenten Journey

+ Lent 2 – March 17, 2019 +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton
Series C: Jeremiah 26:8-15; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
Image result for how i would have gathered you as a hen

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

Life is full of journeys. Some are grand and spectacular: a 10-day Alaska cruise, a tour of the English countryside, or whatever your dream vacation might be. Most of our travels are the more ordinary, every-day kinds of journeys: home, work, or school - there and back again; to the fridge and back to our favorite chair or spot on the couch. No matter our age or vocation, life is full of journeys: moving, working, vacationing, and so on.

Jesus’ life is no different. Even before he was born, Jesus journeyed with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where he was born for us. As an infant he traveled with Mary and Joseph to Egypt and back again, escaping Herod’s wrath that his journey might continue on. As a 12-year old boy Jesus made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover with his family foreshadowing his fulfillment of the Passover yet to come. Jesus sojourned in the wilderness for 40 days just like Israel did for 40 years. Tempted. Tested. Victorious. For us. Like a circuit rider in the old west, Jesus walked from town to town, throughout the regions of Judea, Galilea, Tyre, Sidon, and Samaria preaching the Good News, casting out demons, and healing the sick.

These many and various journeys of Jesus are all a part of the greatest of all journeys, Jesus’ Lenten journey to Jerusalem. To the cross. For you. Indeed, this is why he is born, why he lives, why he grows, learns, teaches, preaches, heals, and everything he does, and says – everywhere he goes. It all leads to Jesus’ destiny in Jerusalem. 

So great is Jesus’ Lenten journey to the cross that St. Luke arranges his Gospel around Jesus’ travels towards his crucifixion. In Luke 9, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem. Throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus repeats his prophetic promise: 

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is not one of leisure or luxury, but of love. Jesus journeys for you. Jesus is rejected in Jerusalem for you. Jesus goes to the cross for you.

The Pharisees, however, try to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem.
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

What’s this, the Pharisees looking out for Jesus? Hardly. They’ve been plotting his death for nearly a year, like the devil waiting for an opportune time to strike. And like the devil, trying to keep Jesus from his journey’s end, Jerusalem. 

So Jesus said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. 

Ever notice how a lot of important Biblical stuff happens on the third day? That’s no accident. Jesus knows where he’s headed, and what will happen. Knew he would die, just he knew how Jerusalem treated his servant Jeremiah. How he was tossed in a cistern and left for dead. Jesus knows the history of Jerusalem is polluted with innocent blood, even as he was about to shed his blood for Jerusalem and for the life of the world. He knew Jerusalem rejected his prophets time and time again and would reject him. Still, he goes anyway. He must go. Like a storm chaser, Jesus knowingly, willingly, and lovingly for you, heads into the storm that awaits him. 

Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ 

Jesus knew exactly why He had come. Not for popularity, prestige, or power. Not to be like a pez dispenser, popping out miracles whenever someone wanted one. No. Jesus came to die. And by his death gathers his people as a hen gathers her brood. 

It is now, as it was for Jesus. It’s always about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Every text. Every Sunday. Because without Jesus’ Lenten journey to the cross for us, nothing else matters.

It’s no wonder Jesus laments for Israel. For Jerusalem. And for all who reject him. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 

Jesus’ words were a warning to Herod who had rejected him, saw him only as some conjurer of cheap tricks. To the Pharisees and Jerusalem who had chosen the broad and easy path away from Jesus’ words of life. It’s a warning for us too. As the proverbs say, there’s a way which seems right to man, but leads only to death. To follow Jesus means following him on his journey to the cross. It won’t give you popularity, prestige, or power. But Jesus’ journey to the cross will give you his pardon, promise, and peace.

I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following. Jesus journeys to Jerusalem for you. Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday for you. Jesus goes to the upper room, the garden of Gethsemane, his trials before the Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate; he walks the lonely road to the cross. All for you. By his cross his journey becomes ours. In Holy Baptism, his death is our death, his resurrection becomes ours. As we journey to his altar today, Jesus gathers and feeds us for our earthly pilgrimage. 

Jesus journeyed to his destiny at the cross in Jerusalem so that in all life’s journeys, he is with you. 

Blessed are you who come in the name of the Lord.

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Lenten Midweek Sermon: "A God Who Prays"

+ Lenten Midweek 1 – March 13, 2019 +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton
Hebrews 7:20-28; John 17
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In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

We see and use our hands often enough that we tend to take for granted just how important our hands are. Eating. Dressing. Working. 

Hands were important to the OT priests too. At their ordination their thumb (along with their ear and toe) was marked with blood, that their hands would be consecrated to make sacrifices to God for themselves and for Israel. In the tabernacle they would place their hands upon the unblemished lamb, transferring their sin, and the peoples’ sin onto the sacrifice. In the holy places their hands would spread the blood of the lamb for atonement for themselves and for God’s people.

Hebrews reminds us of something truly remarkable. God himself has hands. Jesus’ hands aren’t metaphorical or symbolic hands, but real hands. Fingernails. Knuckles. Joints. Bones. Tendons. Veins. Tissue. Hands that blessed little children and the sick. Hands that were pierced and bloody on the cross for you. Hands that bear the scars of our redemption even as he is risen and reigns for you. Hands that are, even now, raised in prayer for you.

Behold the man. Jesus, our great High Priest. Mediator. Intercessor. Advocate. Redeemer.

Unlike the priests of old who died, Jesus is a Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek, the priestly King of righteousness. Unlike the priests of old, Jesus has no sin of his own so that he can bear all of ours. 

Behold the man who, though he is also God, intercedes for men before God. Behold God who has become man and who, as man, intercedes, prays for, us men.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, we have a problem with an intercessor, someone who’s our go-between. It implies we’re insufficient for the task of getting ourselves to God. An intercessor implies that we cannot climb the ladder of heaven to plead our own case. That Jesus takes on human flesh to be an eternal Priest between men and God implies that we, on our own, aren’t good enough. We need someone else to take up our case. Behold the man! 

Because much as we might not like it, or cringe at it, the truth is we aren’t good enough. Who of us calls upon God as we ought? Whose thoughts are undistracted in prayer? Who loves God perfectly enough to be able to approach Him in prayer? Who keeps the Sabbath perfectly, hears the Word of God gladly and regularly? Who uses the name of God correctly, never letting slip an “Oh, my God” when things don’t go according to plan, and calls upon it regularly, when the catechism prescribes prayer? Who? Not a one of us. We are sorry excuses for our own priests. So behold the man!

Jesus is the perfect High Priest. Sinful mankind cannot approach a holy God. We need someone to take our place, to plead our case. Behold the man! Jesus has taken your flesh. He will take up your cause before His heavenly Father. Behold the man! In Jesus, God has a voice that He can raise before the Father. He has hands He can fold in prayer. He has a head He can bow correctly and reverently. Behold the man who prays perfectly. Behold the High Priest whose office, whose role, is to pray for you—for you, beloved. Behold the man who prays for you without ceasing. 
Jesus raises his hands in prayer for you. Jesus’ eyes are lifted up to the Father for you. Jesus’ lips form syllables, words, and petitions for you. He is man to can intercede for men. And for what does He pray?

 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one

Jesus prays for His disciples. For His Church. For you. Because sinners cannot approach a holy God, Jesus intercedes. Because rebellious man’s petitions will fall on deaf ears, the only obedient Son of God has taken flesh in order to pray for you, to give voice to your prayers.

Since we are unable to keep ourselves from sin, from idolatry, from rebellion, Jesus prays that the Father would keep us: that He would keep us in His name. The name placed upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism; that He would keep you from the evil one, just as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer which he taught us. 

Jesus, as perfect God and man in one person prays for you. Behold the man who prays for you constantly before His heavenly Father.

So, in Jesus, who prays for you without end, you are no longer rebels against your heavenly Father. You are no longer sinful aliens. You are no longer unable to bend the Father’s ear with your petitions. You are in Jesus, and Jesus prays perfectly. Not because you pray regularly or correctly, but because you are in Jesus, your prayers are perfect. Because Jesus lifts up His hands perfectly in prayer, so do you. Because Jesus lifts up His eyes perfectly in prayer, so do you. Because Jesus’ voice is perfectly attuned for prayer, so is yours. Because Jesus is the man who intercedes for the rest of mankind, as man, you have hope. You have a Lord who prays for you. You have a man who redeems men. You have the God who became man for you. You have a Savior. You have the man on the cross. Behold the man, the Priest who bids you pray and who prays for you without ceasing.

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

Monday, March 11, 2019

Sermon for Lent 1: "A Tale of Two Adams"

+ Lent 1 – March 10, 2019 +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton
Series C: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

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In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today Luke’s Gospel tells a tale of two Adams. The man Adam, formed by God from the dust of creation. And the God-man, Jesus, the second Adam, begotten of His Father before all worlds. In the Garden, Adam was tempted 3 times and overcome by Satan. In the wilderness, Jesus, the second Adam, is tempted 3 times and overcomes Satan. The first Adam was tempted to become like God. Jesus, the second Adam is true God, and became man to be tempted for us as we are tempted, yet without sin.

The devil even uses the same three temptations on Jesus as he did on Adam and Eve. Food, idolatry, and doubt of God’s Word - but it’s always the same lie: Jesus’ Word isn’t enough.

Worship your desires. Worship yourself. Worship any word except Jesus’ words.

But Jesus, the second Adam prevails where the first Adam – and we along with him – fail. 

The devil knows Jesus was weak and hungry after his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness. And that’s when he attacks. 

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

Beware. He attacks us the same way. Like a virus searching for a weakness in our immune system, Satan looks for our weaknesses – our thoughts, desires, doubts, guilt, grief, pain, anger, pride – any little gap in the armor. Above all, the devil knows our greatest weakness. That we are selfish, and self-serving.

But not Jesus. He denies himself for you. He fasts 40 days for you. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for you. Jesus, the Bread of Life refuses to make bread for himself. 

“It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone.”

Jesus does what Adam – and we – cannot do. Jesus fights the devil. He resists temptation. He stands firmly on the Word of God. For you. That’s his bread and yours, God’s Word. “It is written.”He knows the Father will provide all He needs. And he promises to provide for you too.

And so, where the first Adam ate and brought death, the second Adam does not eat and brings life. You, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, are filled by His Word of life - in Scripture, water, absolution, bread and wine.  The devil’s lies are no match for the Word. Christ speaks. The devil flees.

So Satan tries a second time: “To you I will give all this authority and their glory...if you will worship me, it will all be yours.”

This too is a regurgitated temptation, the same one that got Adam to bite down on the lie. Kingdoms. Authority. Power. Glory. You can be like God. It’s a temptation to idolatry. A temptation to satisfy fallen man’s insatiable appetite for control.

The devil comes at us this way too. My kingdom come. My will be done. You can have it all your way…if only you bow down and worship me.”

But Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He stands firm: “It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”
For Jesus knows that Kingdom of God begins at the cross. He refuses to be the Superman and instead becomes the Man of Sorrows, the broken, bleeding man, the beggar King who rules by dying and rising. The King of kings whose glory is revealed on the cross for you.

This is why Christian worship isn’t conditional like the devil’s worship: “If you worship me, then I’ll give you “this or that.” It’s the opposite. Jesus serves you. Jesus washes away your sin in Baptism. Jesus pours out his body and blood for you to eat and drink. Jesus forgives you all your sins. Freely.

Finally, the devil takes Jesus to the top of the temple. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you’ and ‘on their hands they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Again, the devil twists, misquotes, and warps God’s Word, as he did the first Adam. “Did God really say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?”
This third temptation - Luther observed is the greatest of all. It’s the temptation to forsake the Lord’s clear Word. It’s a temptation that creeps into our hearts and minds too. Is God’s Word really enough? For my life, my family, my daily bread, my faith, my forgiveness?

Luther was right about us when he wrote, “not strength of ours can match his might.” The first Adam failed. Fell in sin. Died. And so do we.

But not Jesus, the second Adam. Where the first Adam said “yes” to the devil’s lie, Jesus says no, again, again, and again.                
The first Adam was overcome by the tree serpent and the tree of the Garden. Jesus our Second Adam overcomes the devil by the tree of the cross for you.  

The first Adam fell and brought us sin and death. Jesus our Second Adam dies and rises to raise us from the dust by His resurrection.

The first Adam was cast us out of Paradise. Jesus our Second Adam brings us through the wilderness to a new creation: “today you are with me in Paradise.”

The first Adam gave us food of the fall by sweat and labor. Jesus our Second Adam, feeds us with his own life-giving food, the Bread of Life in his body and blood.

As we begin this holy season of Lent we rejoice in Paul’s words: “As in Adam we die, so in Christ, our Second Adam we live.” 

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

Funeral Sermon for Carol Giese: "Planted in Christ"

+ A Christian Funeral – March 9th, 2019 +
Carol Giese, February 4, 1940 – February 25, 2019
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton
Isaiah 35:1-10; Revelation 22:1-5; John 15:1-11

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

Most of us have some kind of hobby or interest. Something we love to do simply for the joy of doing it. Music. Reading. Exercise. Baking or cooking. The list goes on. 

It seems from our Scripture readings today that one of our Lord’s greatest hobbies – if we may call it that – one of his great joys is gardening. After all, in Genesis, one of the first things God does is plant a garden for humanity to live in, for the sheer joy of sharing his love, life, and peace with his creation. Yes, God loves to plant.

This was true of our dear sister in Christ, Carol as well. She loved to plant. To garden. And not just in the soil with the flowers. But with her family too. Nurturing and caring for home and family, and her church family. Each Sunday school class, child, and grandchild was a little garden where she would sow the seeds of God’s life-giving word. Where she would tend and nurture her family in Christ’s love.

So it’s no accident that one of the Scripture passages Carol chose was from Isaiah 35, where God plants a living hope in us of the rescue Jesus brings our fallen creation, where “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantlyand rejoice with joy and singing.

You see, Carol learned her love of caring for others from the Master Gardener himself. God has a bit of a green thumb himself. A real thumbs joined to real hands, like branches to a vine. Our Lord Jesus took on human flesh and laid down his life on the tree of the cross for Carol, for you, and for me, so that we – along with Carol and all the saints – will be his new creation. Ransomed by the Lord. Redeemed in Jesus. Baptized in his Name. Rooted, planted, and alive in Jesus’ crucified and risen for you. Clothed in greater raiment than all the lilies of the fields, robed in Jesus’ righteousness that cleanses us from all sin. 

This is the faith and hope Carol received in Holy Baptism, where God planted her into Christ’s death and resurrection. Where God grafted Carol, as he does for all of us withering branches, by his grace and joins us to Christ the true Vine. With water and Word and the Holy Spirit, our Lord abides with us, and we with him. I am the vine; you are the branches, declares the Lord.Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.

This was Carol’s faith and hope in life and death. For she knew what all good gardeners know. That plants can’t live without being fed and nourished with water, good soil, and sunlight. That apart from Christ, our true Vine, we wither and die too.

But Carol also knew that God is no ordinary gardener. Indeed, he is the greatest gardener of all. For unlike most gardeners, who dig up the flower bed and start over when its full of weeds, Jesus does something truly remarkable and unexpected. Jesus who knew no sin became sin for us. Became the curse for us. Became the weed for us. Jesus the Vine becomes the branch, is born to save us from being cut off forever. Jesus is cursed on a tree with our sin to make his cross our tree of life. 

Like a grain of wheat that is buried in the earth and dies so that it might bear fruit, Jesus is crucified, died, and buried in the earth for three days. Planted in our tomb. But the divine Gardener could not, and would not stay dead, for Carol, for you, and for all. And because Jesus rose from the dead, one day, so will we. New, glorified, resurrected bodies. Just like Jesus. 

Who rose from the dead, of all places, in a garden. For you. So that one day, with Carol, and all the saints who have gone before us, we will see what John saw in Revelation. The river of life flowing from the throne of the Lamb. The tree of life whose leaves are given for the healing of the nations. And Jesus, the Lord of life, the Lamb of God, the divine gardener at, at the center of it all, welcoming us home before his face. 

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain gladness and joy,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

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