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Sermon for Epiphany 3

January 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Epiphany 3 – Luke 4:16-30

Augustana, 2010

10 Sermon for Epiphany 3 – MP3 audio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Luke records the early life and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Luke continues in his orderly way from the baptism of Jesus to the temptation to the beginning of our readings this morning.  We didn’t have the temptation last week.  We took a side path to Cana in John’s Gospel where Jesus turned water into wine, but we’re back in Luke this morning and looking ahead, we’ll remain here until the Sundays after Easter.  In fact, come the first Sunday in Lent, late next month, we’ll jump back to the beginning of chapter 4 here and hear the temptation of Jesus by Satan.  But the chronology is like this: baptized, tempted, off to Nazareth to teach in the synagogue.  But there is this link between the two.  It’s the two verses just before our passage.  “14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.”  But then he gets to Nazareth on this teaching tour and runs into trouble.  There are three things we need to understand about this passage: 1. it lays out Jesus program for his earthly ministry, 2. it shows us that Jesus was fully aware that His ministry was not just foretold by but even pre-defined in the OT prophets, and 3. it shows us that Jesus would eventually be rejected and even foreshadows the cross.  This is the whole reason Jesus came, to fulfill the OT prophecies and restore us back to God our heavenly Father.

This passage shows us everything Jesus was to do in his earthly ministry.  Jesus has been out and about in Galilee preaching and presumably also healing.  Word of his ministry had no doubt preceded him back to Nazareth.  It was expected that Jesus would go to synagogue and read and give an interpretation.  Now it’s impossible to know whether the passage that Jesus read was scheduled to be read like we have a schedule of readings or if he picked it.  But this is clear.  He read Isaiah 61 in order to declare that the messianic day of salvation had arrived in his coming.  Look what Isaiah said messiah would do.  8 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,”  Did we not just read the spirit of the Lord descending on Jesus in his baptism? “Because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.”  In our reflections on the baptism of Jesus this was precisely the meaning and purpose of his baptism, to be anointed or ordained into a ministry of preaching the Gospel.  “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives…”  He has been all throughout Galilee preaching this message by the time we get to our reading this morning.  “…and recovering of sight to the blind,”  Well, now this is interesting because Jesus hasn’t healed any blind people yet but we know he will.  In fact we know that Jesus came to just so that some people could see again, but so that we could all see.  Because blindness can be not just physical but spiritual.  I don’t think it’s a just a coincidence in that Jesus’ last miracle before entering Jerusalem is healing a blind beggar.  (Luke 18)  This is the essence of what Jesus came to do.

This passage shows us Jesus was fully aware that His ministry was not just foretold by but even pre-defined in the OT prophets.  “To set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  This is it.  The coming of Jesus is the Jubilee prescribed in Leviticus 25.  In the OT, in the fiftieth year, the slaves were freed and debts were forgiven, people returned to their homes and stopped all sowing and reaping.  What the Lord commanded through Moses, Isaiah prophesied would happen and Jesus came to fulfill.  Jesus stood up to read and I think he had in mind to read this passage from Isaiah 61 especially to the home town crowd in Nazareth.  “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  He wanted them to know that he was not just a local boy with a bit of religious fervor, he was the messiah of God Most High.

And finally we see that Jesus would eventually be rejected by his own people and this event in Nazareth is a small example of the rejection that Jesus would face by almost all the Jews.  I think,  at first, he wasn’t rejected.  The crowd was just stunned–not negatively, not positively–just sort of stunned.  “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  But Jesus follows it up with his next comment.  “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.”  The people in Nazareth did not want teaching, they wanted miracles and healings.  But Jesus refused to do them so that he could teach them not just about the miracles the messiah would do but also about the second part of the prophetic equation–rejection.  “And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.”  Jesus goes on to quote two times that Israel rejected their prophets Elijah and Elisha and God sent them to Gentiles, first the widow in Zarapeth, and to Naaman the Syrian.  Jesus ministry to the Gentiles was expected from the very beginning.  As I said before, what happens in Nazareth is a foreshadowing of Jesus rejection on the cross.

And the people in Nazareth know very well what Jesus was saying not just about them but about all the Jews who would reject him.  That’s why they are filled with anger.  They are angry that he will not be the messiah they expected, that they want.  And here is the point for us.  We have so many expectations of God.  We want him to be the kind of God we want.  We want him to heal.  We want the miracles.  We want the smoother, easier life.  We want the prosperity that we think should come from following God.  In fact there is a whole segment of Christian brothers and sisters who want precisely this.  It’s even called prosperity religion.  Most of the preachers on television follow along in this line of thinking.  It’s the idea that God is transactional and covenantal, if we do our bit, then God will do his bit.  I’m sorry, but that’s not the way of Jesus.  It’s not the way of the cross.  It makes out Jesus to be no more than Zeus, or Ganesh, or Allah.  And we must be aware of this thinking in everything we do.  If you experience blessing and prosperity in this world, well good for you, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you are most favored by God because “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  If you experience hardship and suffering in this world it is because of the sin in this world, not just your individual sin, but the twistedness and brokenness of creation.  It was into this twistedness and brokenness that Jesus was born in the flesh, baptized into the Law and ministered to recreate as he headed towards Jerusalem to seal it all in his blood, to endure the wrath of his Father against sin and his broken Law.

Of course the irony is that Jesus escaped from the angry mob in Nazareth by performing a miracle.  Our Savior worked miracles.  He still does.  Thanks be to God when he does.  When he doesn’t we need to remember the whole reason he came, to fulfill the prophesies of the OT, to restore us back to God our heavenly father.  Amen.

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Why I now have a blog

January 20, 2010 2 comments

Every pastor is occasionally approached by a parishioner for a copy of that sermon.  So I used to just post .pdf copies of those sermons on the church’s website.  It was hosted by Google and they used to have a really great service called Google Pages which made creating and maintaining a website really easy.  A busy parish pastor could have a really top notch looking website for $10 a year, the cost of the domain name registration.  It was a great deal.  Why am I writing in the past tense you ask?  Well Google “upgraded” everything from Google Pages to something called Google Sites.  Now I like to think that I’m fairly savvy when it comes to the Interwebs thingy, but in my humble opinion, Google Sites is completely unusable, or at least it is unusable to do what I used to do with Google Pages.  It lacks all of the intuition of Google Pages and added in a heavy dose of pain in the neck.  That’s the best construction I can put on it.

So this blog is mainly for posting the sermon.  I may occasionally have other thoughts I want to post here but mainly this is a work-around for the Sermons Page that I used to have on the church website.  Which is, by the way, http://www.augustanalcms.org, that is, until I can figure where to move it so I don’t loose my religion.

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Sermon for Advent Midweek

January 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Sermon for Advent 4 Evening – MP3 Audio

Advent Sermon “The World Empire”

1 Jn 2:15-17

(Note: I participate in a local preaching rota for Advent and Lent.  This provides at least 3 good things: a break for my congregation from hearing me, an opportunity to get to know other congregations in the area, and of course fewer sermons to write in a busy season.  This is the sermon I took around with me during Advent 2009.  I am greatly in debt to FF Bruce and his commentary on the Johanine Epistles.)

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

John warns his readers against worldliness.  The spirit that dominates the world runs counter to the love of God and to the uninhibited outflowing of His love in the lives of His people.  Conformity to the spirit of the world is worldliness.  Worldliness does not lie in the places we go or the things we do, but rather in the heart, in the set of human affections and actions that spring from our very selves.  It may show itself in the really petty but soul-destroying ambitions of keeping up with the Jones or it could be as ugly as unthinking acceptance of the ideas of political parties or governments.  We tend to think of worldliness as not dancing or going to bars how many of us consider the ramifications of backing the ideas of politicians who want nothing more than to make rich people richer and poor people poorer.  To hold political, social or economic ideas which are inconsistent with the love of God is a form of worldliness.

Indeed, John’s understanding and warning against worldliness seems to be of precisely this kind when we see the three elements of worldliness he identifies as making up the world.  For the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of possessions make up what we commonly call materialism or consumerism.  Again, worldliness does not reside in the things themselves but in the attitude of the heart toward those things.  If what we love is focused on the passing things and not on the things of permanent importance we are the poorest of all people.  If our possessions, our occupations, or our reputations matter more to us than the glory of God or the well-being of our fellow Christians and fellow man, the pride of possessions is the name of our idolatry.

We can pretty easily see the sin in lusts of the flesh and lusts of the eyes.  Lusts of the flesh have a commandment prohibiting them “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”  What does this mean?–We should fear and love God that we may lead a chaste and decent life in words and deeds, and each love and honor his spouse.  The lusts of the eyes are so perilous they have two commandments prohibiting them.  The Ninth Commandment. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.  What does this mean?–We should fear and love God that we may not craftily seek to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, and obtain it by a show of [justice and] right, etc., but help and be of service to him in keeping it.  And The Tenth Commandment. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his.  What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not estrange, force, or entice away our neighbor’s wife, servants, or cattle, but urge them to stay and [diligently] do their duty.

But it is this third one, this pride of possessions which is the subtlest enemy.  It can be anything.  Your old car.  Your house.  Your collection of trips or experiences.  Your collection of rock concert t-shirts.  Your old tractors.  Your Hummel figurines.  Whatever the status symbol, whatever it is that we take pride in can serve us straight down the path of worldliness.  The one effective antidote to worldliness is have your heart so filled with the Father’s love that it has no room for any love that is incompatible with it.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you,” says our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount.  It was considered more than just mildly blasphemous when Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana delivered an address appealing to the people of Africa to unite.  It’s overtly wrong to amend our Lord’s words in this way, but how many of us in far subtler ways do the same thing and to the same end as Dr. Nkumrah?  This is a form of worldliness.  It is the adaptation of the Gospel message to some contemporary thought or the spirit of the age.  Is this all that different from those who cannot seem to separate the best interests of the kingdom of God from those of the United States.  There is this tendency to blur the lines between what Lutherans call the kingdom of the left hand, that is the secular, political kingdom, and the kingdom of the right hand, the kingdom of God.  It was there in John’s day.  It was there in the days of the Holy Roman Empire, the British Empire, and it is here now in these days of the American Empire.

As condemnable as these confusions there is perhaps only one worse, and that is the confusion of the kingdom of God with modern day ecclesiastical bodies, whether they are the National or World Council of Churches or day I say? the Lutheran World Federation or smaller groups of people that believe their particular brand of the Church is the kingdom of God.  History has proven to us that these kinds of confusion can be an excuse for all kinds of ethically questionable policies and actions.  Nothing that is unrighteous or uncharitable is ever done for the glory of God.

There is one other way in which worldliness comes into the church and that is in the strong reaction against the things of this world–essentially the idea that all the created things are evil.  The world is to be used and stewarded by the Christians as a means to the true end of his Christian living, and not as an end in itself, “for the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31).  So John tells us, “the world is passing away” and so is all our desire for it.  How could heirs of the eternal world concentrate their interests and ambitions on a world that is already passing away?  Why should they place all their eggs in such a perishable basket?  Why does Christian practice fall so short of Christian doctrine?  If it is indeed in the ever-living God that we have placed our trust, if it is by his love that our lives are dominated, then his interests will be foremost with us.  His kingdom, into which he has called each of us, is the one unshakable order.

This is the kingdom of God which we are instructed to seek first.  All of us are to seek it as individuals and as families and congregations and as a church body and as the Church with a capital “C”.  God’s kingdom is foolishness to worldly people.  God’s kingdom is run by a king who rather than seeks to be served, serves his people, who ultimately served all his people by dying for them and their unfaithfulness.  This king endured the taunts and mockery of his own people to die in their place.  This king even forgives his people today for their worldliness for their following after television preachers and television personalities.  But this king is still calling his people to service in his kingdom, service to others, service to the least of these after the royal pattern of service laid down by a life of service to others.

I spoke this morning that Advent is a season of self-examination and acknowledgement of the reasons why we needed Jesus, the sinless Son of God to be born into this world in the first place.  If he is to be our Savior, our Redeemer our Rescuer, we must acknowledge that from which we need to be saved, redeemed and rescued, our sins, our selves.  This is the love of God the Father that he loved the whole world so much, that he sent his only-begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  This is the kingdom of God.  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”  “Do not love the world or the things in the world.”  Completely consistent thoughts from two who did the will of God and now abide forever.  God grant it that we may not perish like the world but that we might seek the kingdom of God.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Funeral Homily for Don Hawn

January 20, 2010 Leave a comment

07 Funeral Homily for Don Hawn – MP3 audio

Funeral Homily for Don Hawn

January 11th, 2010

Betty, Chad, Angie, James, Sarah; brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

As many of you know, Don was a lifelong member of Augustana.  He was born into this congregation and a month later baptized here.  He grew up here and was confirmed in his Christian faith here.  And he was not just on the books here.  Don was a servant in this congregation.    The day he told me he was sick, was a church work day.  He didn’t like it that he had to miss church Sunday before last to be reinstalled as a deacon of this congregation. The Sunday before that he and Betty surprised a lot of us here when they showed up to church.  I was so glad that he received holy communion that day.  Don was one of those pillars on which the Lord seemed fit to build this congregation.  His life here was a life of service to his Lord. Don was do deeply rooted in his community too.  Those of you who were at the visitation last night know how many friends and family turned out to pay their respects; there was quite a line.  What Don was in his church spilled out into his family and his community.  There’s a lesson in that for all of us.

As I said, Don was a lifelong member of Augustana.  The readings and hymns today confess not only the Christian faith but this church’s faith and Don’s and Betty’s.  These are the solid things when all around us goes shaky.  The readings are a wonderful confession of everything we need to be reminded of today.  As we gather together on this little hill, Isaiah reminds us that on another hill far away, Jesus literally swallowed up death by dying to it.  And by dying to death he destroyed it.  By dying to death and destroying it, he has prepared a rich banquet of the best foods and finest of wines.  I can’t help but think this is a foreshadowing the new testament in Christ’s body blood, his holy Supper.  For whenever we eat it and drink it, Paul tells us, we proclaim his death until he comes again.  Yes, dear friends, these are the sure things, the rocks we can hold on to, the hills from where our help comes.  David reminds us that our help comes from the Lord, the Lord who works out his salvation for his people on these hills.  We heard from Paul the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, that indeed, the shroud that covers all people, death has been swallowed up in the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Death no longer has any sting.  We have the victory through Jesus Christ!

And then the reading from Luke chapter 2.  Here he is, the infant Son of God, born of Mary.  Carried up the holy hill of Zion into the Temple to be dedicated on the eighth day.  Simeon was there.  He had been told that he would not die until he had seen the salvation of the Lord, the redemption of Israel.  And then he held the baby Jesus in his arms literally held his salvation and and inspired by the Holy Spirit Simeon sang too:

“my eyes have seen your salvation

31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and for glory to your people Israel.”

With the eyes of faith Don, saw his salvation in Jesus his Savior.  For his whole life, Don knew his Lord, he confessed his Savior, who through the Holy Spirit had called him to the waters of rebirth and renewal and confessed him before his Father in heaven.  If you were there last night, maybe you noticed it, maybe you didn’t but on Don’s casket, folded nicely so that the symbol showed, was our church’s funeral covering; it’s called a pall.  It’s put over a casket as a symbol of holy baptism and I won’t lie to you, in times past it also served a very practical purpose as well.  It covered up the coffin so that it didn’t matter if you had a pine box or an ornately carved mahogany one with mother of pearl inlay, all are the same in God’s eyes.  More than just a statement of equality among people, covering the casket served to symbolize the great gift of holy baptism.  It doesn’t matter how much money or status you have or don’t have, the honor that God shows you was given to you in Christ.  We don’t earn it.  We don’t find it for ourselves.  Our Lord bestows it as His free gift.  Now this isn’t a lecture on church furnishings, but rather a proclamation of what Christ has done for us in this gift.  The pall serves that purpose quite well.  We are quite literally clothed with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness.  It is put on us.  Don was physically covered with the pall last night as a symbol that he confessed all these things in Christ.  Don was baptized into Christ.

When God baptizes someone, he makes a solemn promise to them.  He puts his name on them, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  He washes away sins.  It’s not just water but water combined with God’s word–all these things we know and confess.  But baptism is more than just a symbolic ceremony it is a physical act by our God to connect us forever to the cross of Jesus.  Our congregation just celebrated the baptism of our Lord this past Sunday.  There is still one thought from that sermon that hasn’t let me go yet, and that is only twice in Luke’s gospel is Jesus referred to as baptized.  Once is the one we are all familiar with, the one by John in the Jordan.  The other one is the one that gives that first baptism it’s importance and meaning and Jesus himself calls it a baptism.  In chapter 12, Jesus says, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!”  Jesus is speaking rather clearly about going to the cross.  He is calling his suffering and death on the cross, a baptism, a baptism of fire.  He then fulfills John the Baptist’s prophecy.  The wicked are burned up with unquenchable fire.  Jesus the perfect one is baptized with the wicked to become like them.  He goes to the cross and bears the fiery wrath of God for those wicked people who have been baptized with him.  We who are baptized with him, have one who has already suffered the fiery wrath of God in our place.  Baptism is our seal and promise that death has no victory over us.  This was God’s holy and solemn promise to Donald Ray Hawn.  I’ll call him that because that’s what our God called him on that day when God baptized him.  He was reborn, forgiven of his sin and given eternal life, and declared a child of God, that is, he was baptized.  That is what God says today about Don and that is the most important thing we can say about any man.

You too, were given this gift.  You too were given God’s solemn seal and promise.  These are the solid things.  These are the immovable things.  These are the things we can count on.  God’s Word, God’s promise.  These are the things that will comfort us in the days and weeks ahead when doubt creeps in and temptation to despair tries to steal away our assurance and our hope not only for our brother Don but ourselves!  Running to this hill from where our help comes.  He has promised to be here fore us.  Here we behold our salvation at the altar of God, eating and drinking his body and blood, proclaiming his death until he comes again.  Remembering the name he spoke on us is his promise and seal, In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord! The Lord is glorious in His saints, and His goodness and love shone through His servant Don. Thanks be to God!  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Sermon for Life Sunday

January 20, 2010 Leave a comment

2010 Life Sunday Sermon

Text:  Ephesians 4:14-16

Theme: The Truth of Life

Rev. Dr. James I. Lamb, Executive Director of Lutherans For Life

(Note: This was the sermon preached at the Life Service at Augustana this year.  As noted above, it was written by Dr. Lamb, and I preached it.)

Sermon for Life Sunday 2010 – MP3 audio

Introduction

Keeping truth alive is important.  The eighteenth century poet, James Russell Lowell, wrote, “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne.”  If we forever lead truth up on the scaffold, if we try to do away with truth or ignore the truth, then we will forever be clearing the way for wrong to ascend to the throne and rule the day.  Keeping truth alive is important.

It’s important in the Church. Paul recognized that in his time.  To keep from being tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, to keep that which is wrong from ruling in the Church, Paul says speak the truth, the truth of Christ and His Word.  It’s important in the Church today.  We need to speak it to one another, to help each other grow in the knowledge of God’s truth so we will not be so easily influenced by the latest falsehood.  Yes, we need to speak the truth, but not in a way that condemns or condescends.  Rather, Paul says, we are to speak the truth in love.

So often we only get that half right.  We either forget the truth or we forget the love.  Just speaking in love is not enough.  Trying not to say anything that would offend or trying to be tolerant of false teaching so you won’t rock the boat leads truth to the scaffold and wrong to the throne.  Just speaking the truth is not enough.  Yelling and screaming truth at someone sets up walls of defense.  Truth might as well be on the scaffold because it is never heard.  Wrong continues to rule the day.  But when we speak the truth in love, Paul says we “grow up”!  We “grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ” (15b).  Ignoring falsehood and wrong does not make the Church “one big happy family.”  Lovingly confronting falsehood and wrong with the truth on the other hand, unites us as the Body of Christ with Him as our head.

Today we observe Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  Keeping truth alive in the Church when it comes to the sanctity of human life is important.  Of course, we stir things up a bit in the Body of Christ when we talk about the life issues, things like abortion and embryonic stem cell research and assisted suicide.  These issues can be divisive.   Some may think such things are political issues that we should not be talking about in the church.  Some may think the opposite—that Christian participation and action is needed to influence society.  Others might think they are personal issues and decisions and we shouldn’t be judging.  For some it may indeed be very personal because they have been involved in such decisions in the past and it hurts to hear it talked about.  So talking about the life issues in church can stir things up, but our purpose is not to divide.  It is just the opposite.  We desire to “grow up,” to be united more and more into our head, Jesus Christ.  In an effort to do so, we take Paul’s advice.  Let’s speak the truth of life as revealed in God’s holy Word, and let’s speak it in love.

Every Life is the Handiwork of God

The first truth of life is that every life is the handiwork of God.  From the very beginning, it seems that God’s hands were involved in life.  He formed Adam from the dust of the ground.  He made Eve from one of Adam’s ribs.  The word “made” literally means “to build.”  So with the first two human beings you get this picture of God intimately involved with His hands forming and building.  That involvement continues in the biological process for procreation God set into motion.  The Psalmist says that God “knitted” (Psalm 139:13) each of us together in our mother’s womb.  Job and Isaiah talk about God shaping and forming us in the womb.  Yes, the truth is, every life is the handiwork of God.

Maybe some of you have one of great grandma’s old quilts displayed somehow in your homes.  It may be too ragged and thin to be useful.  It may not even look all that good because of fading and tears and stains.  Nevertheless, there it is proudly draped for all to see.  You know the quilt’s value does not come from its usefulness or its looks.  It comes form who made it.  So it is with every human life.

Every Life is Bought with a Price

The second truth of life we want to discuss today is that every life is bought with a price.

What if great grandma’s quilt, instead of being passed along, got put on the auction block when grandma died?  How much would you be willing to give for that quilt that always laid at the foot of the bed in that spare room, that kept you warm on winter nights when you visited, that, with a couple of chairs, made into a tent for you and your cousins?  I’m guessing you would be willing to pay quite a price.  When you did, that quilt would be doubly valuable.  Valuable because it was great grandma’s and valuable because you had to pay dearly to get it back.

Even though we are the Handiwork of God, sin separated us from our Maker.  He had every right to abandon us, to turn us over to “human cunning” and “deceitful schemes” (14).  But the truth of life is, God loved what He made with His hands so much that He was willing to pay dearly to buy us back. He paid the price by becoming one with us, conceived in a womb as we were.  He paid the price by becoming our sin on the cross.  He paid the price by taking our punishment and suffering the forsakenness of Hell.  He paid the price and now we lost and condemned sinners are purchased and won through His innocent suffering and death.  And it’s not just us.  Jesus paid the price for every sin and for every sinner.  Every life was bought with a price.  Not everyone knows that, of course, and that is our task as Christ’s Church to share this Good News, but every life is a life for whom Jesus paid the price.

Let me pause here a minute to interject something.  As we said earlier, talking about the life issues can stir things up.  It can be particularly difficult for someone burdened with the guilt of a past abortion.  There are over 3,000 abortions every day in our country. The majority of those having an abortion are Christians.  That means there could very well be someone here today who has made that decision.  If there is, I just want you to understand that your sin, like all the sins represented here today, was paid for by the blood of Christ.  You, too, were bought with a price.  Your life has value to God.

Every Life God Desires to Call as His own

A third truth of life is that God desires a relationship, both now and forever, with those He created and redeemed.  He wants every one to be saved and to come to the knowledge of His truth (1 Timothy 2:4).  He wants to adopt every human being, through faith in Christ Jesus, into His family, lead them, walk with them and accomplish His purpose for each human life.  It’s like when great grandma used to wrap you up in that quilt and hold you close.  You felt loved and protected and safe.

Every Life Has Value

These three truths point us to a single truth—every human life has value.  That value does not come from its usefulness or how it looks or how big or healthy or productive it is.  The value of human life does not come from certain “qualities” we think it should have.  The value of human life comes from the One who made it.  Every life is the handiwork of God.  The value of human life comes from the One who bought it back.  Every life is bought with a price.  The value of life comes from the One who desires to call us for His eternal purpose.  The embryo in the Petri dish, the baby in the womb, baby Sally in the neonatal intensive care unit, Uncle Ralph in the Alzheimer’s unit, grandma in the nursing home bed, you and me—we all have value because each of us is someone created by the hand of God, someone redeemed by the blood of Christ, and someone God desires to call according to His purpose.

The truth of life is that every life has value because of what God has done. It is a truth that raises the life issues way above being mere political issues and even above being just moral issues.  When you destroy life at any stage of development, under any condition of health, you are destroying the blood-bought handiwork of God.  You are messing with “grandma’s quilt.”

Growing In and Sharing the Truth of Life

The truth of life is that every life has value because of what God has done. That is a truth we need to understand here in the Body of Christ.  We need to grow in that truth.  For I’m afraid our silence about this truth and our failure to apply it to the life issues has helped it along onto the scaffold.  When this truth is ignored, it allows the terrible wrong of the destruction of vulnerable human life to ascend to the throne and rule the day.  More and more in our society we turn to death as a solution to the problems of life.

We need to reverse that.  The flow of influence needs to change.  We need to be influencing society rather than being “tossed to and fro” and riding the waves of whatever our culture deems right. Our society desperately needs us to teach them how to welcome every life and to care for every life and to value every life.  We can do that because we have a God who, through Christ, welcomed us, who cares for us, and who gives value to us.

So let’s begin right here.  Let’s speak the truth of life more among ourselves, and let’s do so in love.  Let’s educate ourselves, not just on the life issues, but on what Christ’s Word of Truth has to say about them.  [Here you may want to list some specifics if you have some special “Life Events” planned.  If not, maybe you can plan some!]  Let us pledge to grow together in this so that our Head, Jesus Christ, may be glorified.

Then let’s take this truth about the value and dignity of human life out there into our society and share it, boldly and courageously but always in love.  By the things we say and the things we do, may we speak the truth of the value of each and every human life.  By the things we say and the things we do, may we speak the truth about the source of that value.  Like great grandma’s quilt, the value of life comes from the One who made it, the One who bought it back, and the One who gives it meaning and purpose.  Amen.

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

January 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Sermon for Second Sunday after Epiphany – MP3 audio

Epiphany 2 – John 2

Augustana, 2010

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Jesus is at a wedding in a town in Galilee called Cana.  We just celebrated the wedding of Tracey Townsend and David Nelson yesterday.  That was my first wedding in quite a long time and it was good to be speaking for Jesus at such an event in the life of a couple.  This reading is often used at wedding to show a couple and a congregation the high place that Jesus gives to marriage, that He honors marriage.  And Jesus does honor and sanctify marriage, after all, he instituted holy marriage for our first parents, Adam and Eve but John records this story not necessarily for these reasons.  John tells us that this story was recorded for us so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ and that by believing you might have life in His name.  Jesus performs this miracle at Cana to show us that He is our Savior.

“This is the first of the signs,” John says.  Jesus is manifesting his glory.  What does that mean?  “Manifesting his glory” sounds a lot like church talk.  Do we know what that means?  Manifest is easy.  It means show.  Jesus is showing us something.  This whole season of the church year is about Jesus showing us who he is.  That’s what epiphany means, “make clear,” “reveal.”  Well, we know Jesus is God but this is different.  John uses different words.  Jesus is showing the people in Cana his glory.  What is the glory of Jesus?  This is a word that is like a sponge soaked in water.  It’s just dripping with meaning.  “Glory,” especially the way John uses it, always goes back to the OT.  Yes, the OT.  We cannot properly understand the NT without understanding the OT.  So where did God manifest his glory in the OT?  At the Temple.  How?  In smoke and fire.  What was the smoke and the fire?  The glory, that is the real presence, of the Lord.  How many of you have ever seen smoke?  Fire?  So you’ve seen the glory of the Lord, then.  Wow?  No?  So what was different about the smoke and fire in the OT from ordinary smoke and fire?  God’s Word.  He said he would be present in the smoke and fire.  This was the glory of the Lord?  Do you think you would turn your back on the glory of the Lord?  Have you seen the glory of the Lord?  Have you seen it with your own eyes?  Oh yes you have.  I’ll come back to this.

Jesus changed water into wine and manifested his glory, says John, and his disciples believed in Him.  There are ten sermons worth of material here.  You’ve probably heard them before.  The water jars were for Jewish purification rites, a symbol of the Mosaic covenant.  Jesus transforms them into something newer and better.  The wine, a symbol of blessing at a wedding, runs out.  The old covenant has run out.  Jesus makes a new one by making the best wine ever.  Don’t forget, of course that all of this happened on the third day of Jesus’ ministry.  He did not make Welches’ grape juice, he made something more akin to a 1964 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, an excellent wine.  All of these things you are well familiar with, at least I hope.  Additionally, preachers usually, also like to try to make one more point from this text.  Our Lord is even concerned with the small details of life and the potential embarrassment of a family hosting this wedding.  We need to carefully square this truth with the news for the week out of Haiti.  We believe, teach and confess that our Lord is concerned over the smallest of details in the lives of his children and He provides.  Why those people and others around the world are suffering must be answered not just with a traveling teacher who makes wine at a party but with the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world manifesting his glory in the changing of water into wine.  This is how John records the fulfillment of the old covenant and the beginning of the new covenant in Jesus.

On the the third day, Jesus made the finest of wines.  The Messiah had come and he was not a first century Jewish conception of a messiah, he was Isaiah’s messiah.  John 1, he was the Word who was with God in the beginning made flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory.  On day 1, John the Baptist called him the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  On day two, he calls Andrew and Peter and James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  The next day Philip finds Nathaniel and Nathaniel calls Jesus the Son of God.  The third day, as our reading says, Jesus He was manifesting his glory.  God’s kingdom was being revealed.  Isaiah’s prophecy begins to be fulfilled.  The steward said this was the finest of wines, just like Isaiah had prophesied in chapter 25.

6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples

a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,

of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

7 And he will swallow up on this mountain

the covering that is cast over all peoples,

the veil that is spread over all nations.

8 He will swallow up death forever;

We know that Jesus was raised on the third day.  We know that in his death, he swallowed up death.  We know that in his resurrection, He gives eternal life to those who believe in his name.  Cana is the beginning; His cross redefines his miracle at Cana.  On that mountain of the skull Isaiah’s prophecy is complete.  On the cross, is where John says is glorified.  In his death he offers up his flesh as real food and his blood as real drink.  In chapter six, John records Jesus’ run-in with the religious leaders.  Jesus said:  “I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

In the light of the cross, this makes sense.  This is Jesus’ glory, His very flesh and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins and that by eating and drinking you might live forever.  It is at the cross when the soldier pierces Jesus’ side with the spear that Jesus pours out both water and blood.  It’s at the cross where Jesus becomes the fountain of life from which flow springs of living water and the blood of the new covenant.  This is what Paul means when he says “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

But instead of proclaiming His death for us, we prefer to remain silent.  Like Israel who could not stand the radiant glory from Moses’ face, we prefer the Lord’s glory be veiled.  “Veil the glory of the Lord, pastor, please, at least on the second and fourth Sundays, (or is the first and the third?)!  And the very reason I hear for this is that it wouldn’t be as special.  And the irony is, by not receiving it, we treat it as less than the gift he says it is for us.  It is as if we are saying, “Not today, Lord, your gift just wouldn’t mean as much to me today.”  And so instead of basking in the glory of the Lord, grabbing hold of what our Lord would arm us for our daily battle with sin, death and the devil, we prefer religious exercises of our own making or worse yet, we fail to see the battle ahead of us and choose not to suit up with the Lord’s assurance of salvation.  We like our religion just as it is.  Do not disturb us or unsettle us, or move us or empower or equip us in any way.  And instead of being a community where we rejoice that our Lord is in our midst, we sound like the Jews of Jesus’ Day, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

At Cana in Galilee, the wine of the old covenant has run out.  Jesus made the the wine of the new covenant, he did it in Cana to foreshadow his cross.  He told the people in Capernaum His flesh was real food and his blood real drink to foreshadow his Supper.  He gave over His flesh and shed his blood for us at the cross for us.  In the face of the earthquake in Haiti, we proclaim the death of the Lord.  In the face of disease, and death, and sickness, and our frailty even our unbelief, we proclaim His death.  Until he comes again, we proclaim the Lord’s death.  For here He gives His body and blood, given and shed for you.  Here, today, Jesus manifests his glory for you and for your salvation.  Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  Behold the glory of the Lord!  Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Wedding Homily for David and Tracey Nelson

January 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Wedding Homily for David and Tracey

David and Tracey, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I’m afraid many people don’t do this well.  Well, weddings yes; people do weddings very well.  The weddings is the easy part.  And church weddings.  Well, church weddings are just beautiful aren’t they?  The stained glass, the pews.  A church wedding just makes it feel more special.  Unless of course you’re actually listening to the words you say today.  “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,” and stay together until death parts you.  These are deep words.  These are for the rest of your life words.  I’ll soon be asking you these words and I know you’ve both thought long and hard about those words.  We’ve talked about them.  The sad truth is that people are sometimes overwhelmed by the brokenness of life around them and choose to ignore those words or irreverently or inadvisedly fail to consider them.  Even in marriages that stand the test of time, selfishness and sin creep in to destroy the blessing and stability of marriage.  In the Gospel reading I chose for you today, Jesus proposes a remedy for that selfishness and sin.  He says, “Remain in my love.”  He goes on to explain a little about what this might mean and he says, “Love each other, as I have loved you.”  This is the blessing of a church wedding: you receive the blessing and love of Jesus Christ who poured out his life for you at the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  Remain in that love.

This kind of love is not often the kind of love we see in the romantic comedy films today or in the relationships of many around us.  I’m afraid that most people think that marriage is supposed to be the romantic, almost magical extension of the wedding.  Now this is not to say that marriage is just a tough, hard slog because marriage is quite wonderful and beautiful, even sometimes even fun but often not in the way portrayed in books and films and television shows.  What is love there?  Well, its often just about attraction, and feelings; it’s almost the almost pre-destined order of the cosmos.  “He’s the one.”  “Or she’s the one.”  But what that turns into of course is he or she is the one for now, or even worse, for tonight.  God wants so much more than that for you and for all married people.  Contrast that with this description of love from St. Paul.  “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”  This is how God defines love, but if we listen to the scientists, we are animals and this thing we call love is nothing more than a strong emotion fueled by hormones.  If we listen to what God says, love is something far bigger.  It is as sublime as heaven itself and He lets us in on it.  It’s His gift to us.  He lets us enjoy this real love with one another.  This is proof that God exists that we love and are loved.

We always get it wrong if we try to separate love from forgiveness.  It doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work between us and God and it certainly does not work among one another because we are constantly messing it up and ruining it for ourselves and others.  The only thing that restores love is forgiveness.  “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Remain in my love,” says Jesus.  And so God’s love is bound up with and inextricably linked to forgiveness.  This reading from John is from what we call Jesus’ farewell discourse.  He says it on Thursday night after the famous Last Supper and he knows he will be betrayed, arrested and crucified by the next day.  This is love.  “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  Jesus says to you today: “Remain in my love.”  “Love each other, as I have loved you.”

Tracey, David.  Listen for God’s blessing on you today and throughout the rest of your lives.  God will speak forever words of love and blessing on you.  God grants his favor to you.  God sanctifies you both.  God blesses you to live together in his love.  Amen.

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