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Sermon for Pentecost 9

July 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Mark 6:45-56

Augustana, 2012

Note: I thought this was a pretty good sermon, especially as it was preached and I was sorry that I had forgotten my recorder, so there will be no audio this week.

 

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

This week the Gospel reading flows immediately after last week’s reading.  Jesus had just fed the five thousand on the green hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee and immediately, says Mark, they get into the boat.  The miraculous feeding was but an interlude between the return the apostles from their missionary work and the rest and debriefing they still very much needed.  Jesus provided for his apostles to get the rest they needed while He dismissed the crowd on shore.  This is the first example of Jesus meeting the disciples’ needs but it didn’t quite turn out to be the rest they expected.  In the broader context, the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water are answers to the disciples question back in chapter 4 when Jesus calmed the storm and the disciples were awestruck and asked, “Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (4:41)  Who is this?  He is the one who casts out demons with a word, who heals a woman with an incurable hemorrhaging condition, who raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, who everywhere he goes he heals the sick and proclaims the kingdom of God has come and has divine pity on the people of God who have been left to wander by their earthly kings and feeds them on the green hills of Galilee and walks on water.  Who is this?  Jesus has every bit of the power of God in Him.  All of those miracles have OT precedents that only Yahweh, the God of Israel could do.  Jesus is in every word and deed Yahweh, the God of Israel.  I know years ago preachers used to spar with their opponents, imagined or real, who simply could not accept that Jesus, a preacher from Nazareth performed such miracles.  I hope  we’re past all that because the simple truth is, either one believes that these miracles happened as the evangelists record them and accept that Jesus is the Son of God or you don’t and quite frankly, if you don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God, I don’t know why you’re here week in and week out.  Jesus is not just an ethical man; He is the God Man who in His coming has brought about the return of the monarchy and rule of God.

I certainly hope that the great temptation for us is not to doubt whether Jesus did the things recorded in the Gospels.  If that is the case for you, please come and talk to me and I’ll try to convince you as best I can.  No, I think the far more common temptation for us is to doubt that God still cares for His people, for us, today, or cares for us in the way that Jesus certainly cared for the demon possessed man, for the woman with the issue of blood, for Jairus’ daughter, for the five thousand, for the disciples.  I think that’s the temptation for us.  And I there’s something going on her that might cause us to wonder if that’s the case.  Twice, in back to back instances Jesus commands the disciples to do things that are very difficult if not impossible to do.  Back up on the hillside in last week’s reading, when the disciples said to Jesus that the people were hungry, Jesus said to them, “You give them something to eat.”  And we read today that it was Jesus who had put them in the boat and told them to go to the other side probably knowing full well the wind was against them and He let them struggle all night.  It wasn’t until the fourth watch of the night, sometime between three and six in the morning, that Jesus looked out on the water and still sees them offshore struggling against the wind.

And to top it off, Jesus does something that would be comical if we didn’t identify with the disciples so much here.  Jesus is up on the hillside, sees them struggling against the wind, and He starts out across the water and, Mark says, “He meant to pass by them.”  Did Jesus mean to go over other side and pass by the disciples while they struggled against the wind in the very boat He put them in?  That doesn’t sound like the kindness and mercy of God does it?  But that’s how we feel often enough, like God has given us something far too hard to do and perhaps even forgotten about telling us to do it.  Older people who have lost all their friends, who have lost their spouse often feel like God has forgotten to call them home.  People struggling in grief and mourning over a terrible loss, they often live in unimaginable loneliness.  Parents with chronically or terminally children, they know what it means to struggle against everything through the darkness of the night.  And it often takes far less for us to feel like this.  And we feel like God is high up watching but would even He would rather pass us by.

There’s another story of God passing by.  It’s in 1 Kings chapter 19.  Elijah is the Lord’s prophet.  He’s as faithful a prophet as can be, so much so that his life is in danger.  People in Israel are actually trying to kill him because they don’t like what he preaches.  And he prays and the Lord hears his prayer.  It’s actually a very moving story.  He tells Elijah to come to the mountain of God and He’ll come visit him, actually the phrase is, get this, He’ll “pass by.”  So Elijah goes to the mountain and hides himself in a cave because there’s a great wind that splits the rocks but the Lord wasn’t in the wind.  Then there’s an earthquake but the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake.  Then there’s a great fire, but the Lord wasn’t in the fire.  But then there’s a whisper, a still small voice.  And in that low whisper, Yahweh actually comes and is physically present with Elijah and speaks a word of promise and comfort to Him.

I’m not so sure that the phrase here, “he meant to pass by them” is not meant to be something closer to, “he meant to pass near them.”  Unfortunately the Greek is of not help as it can mean both things.  So I’m convince on the character of Jesus that He means not to scoot on past them and not help them but rather something else entirely.  Something more akin to Elijah’s experience with Yahweh, something that will assure all of us who wonder if God is just watching or if He means to be close to us and help us in our difficulties, in the undoable tasks He has given us to do.

After struggling against the wind all night, presumably the sailors among them had taken different watches through the night, before dawn one of them sees a phantasm in Greek, a ghost.  Now it’s unclear if they recognize its Jesus or not, but they are terrified at seeing this figure out on the water and presume that figure to be a ghost because people don’t walk on water, right—at least not up until now.  And they were terrified.

Jesus could have ignored them but He cared for his disciples just as He cared for the five thousand, just as He had cared for all those He taught and healed.  And He said to the terrified disciples, “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.”  Last year, I preached on this event in Matthew that in this one sentence, Jesus meets the needs of His disciples in the boat immediately.  He tells them to take heart, what they see is not a ghost, it’s Him, and to stop being afraid.  I’m going to leave it at that.  Jesus meets every need here.  We don’t have the whole story of Peter getting out of the boat so what we have is instead of Jesus walking on by, He gets into the boat with them and the wind stops blowing.

Allow me to make a point about this because I think it’s important.

Mark tells us what happened that night not just to prove to us that Jesus is divine, but that Jesus is the Messiah of God, the one sent into human flesh to rule over wind and wave, bread and fish, sickness, death, and evil.  Jesus is not just divine in the sense that He completely separate from hunger and thirst, sorrow and fear, pain and death, but rather that Jesus, as God’s Messiah has entered into these things to overcome from the inside.

What is our greatest need?  To be kept from sickness and even death?  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our greatest need is greater still, to be kept from temptation to stop trusting in God.  People get sick and go to the hospital and we call the pastor.  Why?  So that he can say the same things we always knew but are tempted to forget.  And so when we pray for the sick, what do we pray for?  Healing in the body of course, but even more so, we pray that they be kept from all evil, protected from temptation to disbelieve.

The disciples prayed.  Okay, it wasn’t quite a prayer but it was a cry of fear.  That’s prayer, by the way.  Prayer is crying out to God in the midst of our fear, in the midst of our anxiety, in the midst of our unbelief.  I think one of the most authentic prayers in the Scriptures is that of the man whose son is possessed by a demon and Jesus asks him if he believes He can help his son.  The man cries out very honestly, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”  Prayer is simple.  We teach children that prayer is talking to God.  And they understand it because there is no pretense in children.  They need something and they ask for it.  They want something and they ask for it.  Jesus tells us it should be the same way with us.  But we adults, we don’t like to have to ask for things and so we don’t and we have not because we ask not.  Notice what prayer does, it turns to God to ask Him to be the sort of God He promised to be. What kind of God is your God?  He is the kind of God nobody but ancient Israel knew existed, the kind who sees you struggling and gets in the boat with you.

This passage from Mark is matched up with the post-flood promise from God.  So what kind of god is the Lord God?  He is one who promises not to destroy the earth by flood again.  Scientists will scoff at such a thing as rainbows being signs of God’s promise.  “It’s just light reflected through the many prisms of droplets of water,” they say.  What kind of God is Yahweh?  He is the kind who sets a sign in the heavens for you.  He is the kind who gets in the boat with you.  He is the kind who sent His only Son, Jesus to suffer hunger and thirst that they might be swallowed up, that sorrow and fear might find their end and no longer hold people hostage, that pain and death might die in the body of Jesus.  Stop being afraid; God has come near.  In the cross of Jesus, God’s own Son in human flesh, God has proven that He has not passed you by but rather He has come nearby to rescue you from all that separates you from Him.  Amen.

Let us pray:

Lord, save us when we are overcome by life’s storms and our hearts are darkened by unbelief.  Calm the tempest, open our eyes, and create within us the faith to recognize You. Amen.[1]

 

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


[1] Edward A. Engelbrecht, The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 1669.

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Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

July 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2012

Mark 6:30-44

Click here for mp3 audio 43 Sermon for Pent 8.mp3

 

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

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading for today.

Retreats are a very familiar fixture in the life of the church.  Retreats offer opportunities to go and rest, rest the mind, rest the body, even rest and refresh the spirit.   The women in our congregation are preparing to participate in an annual retreat at Camp Linn Haven, which is coming up soon. The Higher Things gathering which the youth just returned from, is a retreat of sorts, although I don’t know how much rest the young people got.  Retreats are typically very good things.   In fact, even the whole purpose of the Sabbath Day, is not obligation.  God gives Sabbath day not as Law so much as it is gift, a weekly, mini-retreat to rest, focus on God’s Word, and return to to work strengthened for it.  Retreats, breaks, the Lord’s Day find their basis here in God’s gracious provision for His people.

Jesus, back in Mark chapter 3, sent out the twelve apostles to preach and teach and heal.  And at the beginning of our reading for today they had returned from their apostolic work and were giving Jesus the report of what they had done.  Jesus greets them before their debriefing says, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”  The Lord gave them work to do and He gave them rest from it.  Jesus is not merely a self-help guru who advocates mini-vacations at your desk.  There is something far more profound in the rest Jesus gives His people.

Now we are certainly proud of work.  We lift up as heroes men those whose true stories of their lives that include things like the story of Antonio de Sousa who when “his car broke down on the way to work, calling a tow truck didn’t enter his mind.  Instead, he left the car beside the highway and ran five miles through downtown Tampa, Fla., to get to his job as a doorman at the Hyatt Regency hotel. ‘I was all sweaty, but I made it on time, at exactly 3 o’clock,’ he says. That sprint years ago kept him on track toward his current record: 26 years of perfect attendance.”[1]  I ran across an old article in a 1958, Montreal Gazette.  This is the headline: “Never Missed Day in 48 Years, DOT Man Retires.” [2] You’ve heard stories like this all your lives.  We are brought up to admire people like this.  Maybe you even are like this.  But the fact remains that work and rest are to be held in balance.  Even the Lord God himself rested after His six days of work in creating the universe and all that is in it.  Busy-ness, work fo rhte sake of more work, is sinful.  Treating each day as a day for more work with no rest for oneself and not allowing rest for one’s employees goes against the order of creation, and the order of the Creator.  We can be too proud of work.  If you’re caught up in the rat race, repent and rest the rest that the Lord of creation gives you out of His great mercy for you.  After all, you’re not a rat.

So the apostles were all set to rest a while except that the work they had done was too good.  All the people were coming out to see them and to see Jesus.  Last Friday was absolutely crazy.  It was Krispy Kreme’s 75th Anniversary and if you bought a dozen donuts, they were selling another dozen for 75 cents.  The line of cars was backed up all the way around here.  On top of that Chic-Fil-A was having Cow Day and they were giving away food if you came in dressed like a cow.  It was a madhouse at this intersection here.  It was worse on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee that day.  If you consider that at the time the nearby villages of Capernaum and Nazareth may have only had a thousand to fifteen hundred people in them, here were five thousand men, not to mention women and children seeking out Jesus and the apostles.  And Jesus sees them all there and He has compassion on them.  This is not ordinary compassion.  Those of you who have been in Bible class with me know that word is special used only of God, splanchnidzomai.  Jesus was moved in His guts for the sake of these folks.  He had gut-wrenching pity on them.  And this word is only used of God the Father or Jesus in the New Testament.  Jesus had compassion on them, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

These poor people, the people of Israel who responded to the preaching and teaching of the apostles Jesus had sent out, these folks who had traveled by foot out into the surrounding countryside miles from their villages, Jesus looked on them with compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  That phrase, “like sheep without a shepherd” is very common throughout the OT.  It’s not just in our reading from Jeremiah today but also in Numbers (27:17), 1Kings (22:17), Zechariah (10:2), and Ezekiel (34:5) and Isaiah, (40:11).  Mark is telling us that Jesus is bringing that passage and the others to fulfillment in His ministry by bringing about the kingdom of God.

We heard last week that John the Baptist was beheaded at Herod’s great dinner where all the great men of Galilee were gathered at one of Herod’s palaces and he fed them.  We are to hear this passage today as a great counterbalance to that meal with that king, where Jesus calls His people as king and He feeds His people and cares for them like a true king cares for His people.  I’m certain that we’re supposed to read this that Herod is not being a true shepherd as dines sumptuously with the great men of Galilee while his people wander aimlessly like sheep without a shepherd in the wilderness.  Jesus is the true shepherd who does not lead astray.

If Jesus is the true shepherd, why do follow all sorts of other shepherds.  Our problem, of course is not that we don’t have a shepherd; it’s that we have as many shepherds as we have zucchini right now:  we have them by the bushel basket.  Maybe you like your sphered on TV, whether he’s a TV preacher or a TV talking head.  And if you don’t think that they see themselves as shepherds, just think back to Walter Kronkite years ago.  What did he say?   “And that’s the way it is,” he would say day after day.  They shape public opinion day in and day out and they get a minimum of an hour every night to do it.  But no matter how much red, white, and blue they have on the screen in front of a shepherd, they all point us to kingdoms that will ultimately fail.  Jesus is the only true shepherd who does not lead astray, who truly cares for us and not just wants us long enough for our vote but He is one who has compassion on us.

I mentioned last week that it’s ordination season in the church and it’s interesting that in the installation rite, congregations are asked if they will “show [the pastor] that love, honor, and obedience in the Lord that [they] owe to the shepherd and teacher placed over [them] by [the] Lord Jesus Christ…” [3]  And at after they’re installed pastors are dismissed with this:  “Go, therefore, and be a shepherd of the Good Shepherd’s flock.  Preach the Word of God; administer the holy Sacraments; offer prayer for all the faithful; instruct, watch over, and guide the flock among which the Holy Spirit has placed you.” [4]  The people of Israel knew that Herod was not a proper shepherd, He was the one God’s had sent to care for His people. How can you be sure if you have a shepherd here sent from God?  Here’s a good litmus test for a shepherd: does he point you into yourself or even away from Him?  Who is pointing people to Jesus and who is pointing people toward the agendas of men?  It’s only Jesus who is worth following.

Jesus sees His people like sheep without a shepherd and has compassion on them and what does He do?  Mark says, “And he began to teach them many things.”  Why is it that there is such a resistance among you to the teaching of Jesus?  It’s not just here, of course; it’s across the synod.   A church our size on average maybe 20 in Bible class.  Do you think you have it all sorted out?  Do you think you have already learned everything that’s worth learning about the whole of the Scriptures?  This is sin, dear friends, a violation of the third commandment, to honor the Sabbath Day and to keep it holy to hear the Word of God gladly and keep it.  So let the expectation in this congregation and every congregation of the Lord’s Church, let it be clear: the people of God are gathered around the Shepherd to hear Him teach us what it is we need.  This is how Jesus has compassion on us.  This is not Law.  That bit about it being sin is Law, but Jesus gives it for Gospel. Jesus has compassion on you. He teaches you His Word.  Jesus sees your confusion, your lack of clear thought and knowledge of His Word and the world all around us and He teaches and He sends the apostles and the pastors in the line after them to teach His people, to teach you.

But Jesus saves the best for last.  “Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass.”  There’s probably a whole other sermon in that one sentence from Jesus to His apostles, “You give them something to eat.”  But I want to focus on this: Jesus had compassion on the people and taught them and fed them.  He took, blessed, broke, and gave.  Those verbs should sound very familiar.  If there’s supposed to be a great a juxtaposition between Herod’s wicked feast from last week and this one today on the green hills in Galilee, then it’s not about what they ate.  It’s about who provides it.  God provides.  Jesus provides for His people.  Jesus is here truly providing for the real needs of His people.  It is the sheer joy of Jesus, of the heart of God, to give to you what you need.  We call our service in the Lutheran Church, we call it the Divine Service when we gather around the gifts of God and we receive them.  What does that mean, the Divine Service?  I can tell you what it doesn’t mean.  It doesn’t mean that the Baptists have pretty good service and the Methodists are okay too but our service truly divine.[5]  No.  It means that Jesus is the one who is here serving you, feeding you, looking upon you with compassion as you are sheep without a shepherd and tending to you and teaching you in His Word and feeding you with the very body and blood that He gave to be broken and given for you.  Our understanding of the worship service is different from all other churches.  Maybe it’s even different from what you think church might be.  The people came out in droves to find Jesus.  And what did Jesus do?  He did not say, “You better go find me a throne because I’m going to sit here and be worshipped because that’s what is due to me.”  Now Jesus is certainly worthy of all worship and praise.  But our gathering together is not to come here and give God something He needs.  It’s completely the opposite.  Jesus comes here in His name, in His Word, read and preached.  He comes in His Word to teach His people and to feed them, to tend to their needs.  It is His action even now for us.  Jesus is truly providing for the needs of His people.  He locates Himself where He can be found.  He doesn’t locate Himself in our hearts where we might have hearts of anger or envy or lust.  He locates Himself in water and Word and bread and wine out of His great compassion for you.  And Jesus sends those whom He sends to go and to preach and to teach the people and then the people gladly seek them out and hear them because Jesus sees them coming and He has compassion on them.  This is Jesus giving His gracious provision to the people of God.

Jesus is one who leads the new Israel like Moses who had a great concern for the people.  Jesus is leading them in new exodus out of sin and death and hell and here out in the wild, out on the green hills of Galilee Jesus is shepherding his people.  In the person and mission of Jesus, the Lord God Himself is present and active among His people.  This is Jesus.

Jesus leads you with great compassion.  Jesus leads you out of a life of fear and sinfulness into one where He drowns your enemies of sin, death and dell in Holy Baptism. Here in this place, Jesus teaches you and shepherds you by His Word and feeding you at His table.  In the person and mission of Jesus, the Lord God Himself is present and active to bring you God’s great provision for you.  Amen.

Let us pray:

Lord, thank You for providing so abundantly and for graciously sustaining our bodies and souls. Teach us to turn to You first in every want and need. Amen.[6]

 

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


[3] LSB Agenda, p. 180.

[4] LSB Agenda, p. 181.

[6] Edward A. Engelbrecht, The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 1668.

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What passes for “Christian music” in many quarters

July 18, 2012 Leave a comment

So I stumbled across this post today

http://thefirstpremise.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/how-to-write-an-awful-worship-song/

which reminded me of a takeaway comment from the Higher Things conference just attended.  “If you can easily replace the name of “Jesus” in the song you are singing with “bacon”, the song is probably not truly Christian.”  Heretofore I shall refer to this as “The Bacon Test.”

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Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

July 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Mark 6:14-29

Augustana, 2012

Click here for mp3 audio 42 Sermon for Pent 7.mp3

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

The text for the sermon this morning is from the Gospel for today.

Its midsummer and that means one thing in the Missouri Synod, ordination season.  A whole flock of shepherds newly graduated heading out to their first calls.  I went to one the last Sunday I was here for a new pastor in Kannapolis.  There’s another at the end of the month for new associate pastor at Concordia in Conover.  The district president was there in the room set aside for the pastors to get vested and he asked the new guy, “Are you ready?”  Instead of glibly saying yes, the new guy said earnestly, “I don’t know, am I?”  And he actually looked over my way and I just silently shook my head.  Ah, new pastors.  It can make a pastor a little nostalgic.

One text not read at an ordination is the Gospel reading for today, John the Baptist preaching truth to power as the prophet that he is and getting beheaded for it.  This text probably ought to be a required text at ordinations but I don’t see that coming any time soon.  No, if we’re headed in any direction these days we’re headed in the opposite direction.  The Lord’s call to preach comes through a congregation that is concerned about budgets and pay scales and insurance and it comes to man who is concerned about salary and vacation and retirement and that call is mediated through a church bureaucracy that is concerned about statistics and demographic trends.  “If God Himself Be For me, we May a host (that means an army) we may a host defy;” (LSB, 724:1) “Lord, I believe, help, Thou, my unbelief.”  Where the line is between sanctified wisdom and flat out fear of uncertainty and unbelief, yes let’s call it what it is, unbelief, by all concerned, where that line is no one really knows so there’s enough lack of faith on everyone’s part—Church, congregation, and the pastors who serve in them.  Imagine that!  Unbelievers often cowering fear.  Sinners every one.  The church is full of sinners.  The whole church from the shepherd’s shepherds to the littlest sheep, all of them, all of us, sinners.  “If Christ, my head and master, Befriend me from above, What foe or what disaster Can drive me from His love?”  (LSB, 724:1) “Lord, I believe, help, Thou, my unbelief.”

But that’s just fine, because, dear friends, I have good news for you.  Jesus came to save sinners.  He came to save synods and congregations and the people in them and the pastors that lead them.  He came to die for your sins and to give you a better way.  That better way is the kingdom of heaven.  I know I have preached about the kingdom of heaven before, but I’m not sure we always are hearing what those words mean.  Just very quickly, Jesus coming into the world was about the restoration of God actively governing the world as He once did.  This was John the Baptizer’s message as the forerunner of Christ.  John the Baptizer didn’t just baptize; he preached the coming kingdom of heaven.  God’s rule in the world restored.

Think about that for a minute.  One of the chief reasons I hear for not believing in God is that if there was such a God He would not allow this or that disaster to happen.  If God is truly concerned with each of us on this planet there would be no little children with leukemia or starving.  You know the drill.  Perhaps you even feel that way yourself.  I can’t say the temptation to doubt has never crossed my heart.  So how can we say that coming of Jesus brings about the restoration of God’s rule again?  The answer is in this reading today.

What might not be readily apparent to us as we hear this reading from Mark 6 today is that this is actually a battle royale, a battle between two kings.  The first king is Herod.  What you might not know is that Herod here thought of himself as something of a Messiah figure.  He was the son of Herod the Great, the builder of the great temple in Jerusalem as well as fortresses and palaces and cities and aqueducts to bring them water.  Many of these places still stand today some two thousand years later.  He had labored his whole life, as did his father, for legitimacy as Israel’s true king in the eyes of the Jewish people.   So John was not preaching against Herod because Herod was particularly immoral but because Herod had the whole kingdom of God wrong.  The kingdom of God was not in building palaces finer than Caesar’s in Rome.  The kingdom of God was not in being the richest most powerful nation on the planet.  The kingdom of God had come and it was not symbolized by the temple Herod had built but rather in the person and mission of Jesus Christ.  John the Baptizer was a regal herald for an entirely different kind of kingdom.  John did not baptize at the temple but in the wilderness in the Jordan River.  And it was not a recruitment effort into being better people but a baptism into repentance for sin.

It’s not just that pastors may not have the guts today to preach truth to power like John, all of us have become more like Herod and less like John.  I say that in a pulpit in the richest country in the world.  I say that to a group of people who are at least the five percent.  Did you know that?  By global standards each of you is richer than 95 percent of the rest of the world.  We have bought into the kingdom of Herod and think that bigger is better.  The empire of the United States and the monuments to its greatness are greater than the Pyramids of Egypt, the temple of Marduk in Babylon, and the great coliseum in Rome.  To speak of the kingdom of God then as it is today is to speak of the end of the kingdoms of men and they typically don’t like giving up their kingdoms or being told that the way they’ve sorted life out for themselves is wrong.

And so the argument goes: “If there is a God, He would not allow His messengers to be treated like poor John here, his life as a party favor to satisfy the spite of a queen.”  And yet this is precisely how it goes for John and for those who follow after Jesus.  John’s death is a foreshadowing of what will happen to God’s final messenger, His true Son, Jesus—rejection and violence and cruelty on a man as innocent as any child, as innocent as any disaster victim.

And so I say the answer to this objection to those who do not believe there is a God who cares is this.  There is a God because God hates it when good men like John get murdered.  God hates wars fought solely for the arrogance and caprice of a nation or its leaders.  God hates it when the world is so polluted by our sinfulness that it changes who we are and what we were meant to be in God’s own image.  God hates it when even the landscape around us, cursed because of Adam’s rebellion, works against the people God created to live in it in harmony.  We’re so busy always talking of God’s love that we don’t see what God hates.  He hates it and so He has come to set it right, to fix it.  Jesus came and healed those born blind and lame.  He came and cast out the powers of darkness.  He came and calmed the storms.  He did these things and these things He did were part of setting the world right again.  And don’t listen to anyone who says they like Jesus but can’t quite believe He did these miracles because they do not believe in God setting things right.  They do not believing in the coming kingdom of heaven.

And just when it seemed liked rejection and violence and the powers of hate and evil overcame Jesus on the cross, He was raised from the dead proving that the tyranny of death itself was ended.  Jesus turned defeat into death and the grave into life and salvation for all who will have it.  For you.  For you dear sinner, caught in your worries about the future, stuck in your uncertainty about the government and the election and where the world is going.  For you who would trust more in your own preparations for the future than in God’s ability to provide.  For you, dear sinner.  Jesus came for you and had proven that He is making it all right.  Amen.

Let us pray.

Lord, give us a faith like John’s, especially his integrity and trust. Help us to believe unquestioningly that faithfulness unto death will receive the crown of eternal life. Amen.[1]

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


[1] Edward A. Engelbrecht, The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 1667-68.

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Sermon for the Nativity of John the Baptist

July 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2012

Click here for mp3 audio 41 Sermon for the Nativity of John the Baptist.mp3

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

Have any plans for summer?  We just finished with Vacation Bible School and now we have plans to take a couple youth to the Higher Things youth conference in Winston-Salem. I have some plans for vacation after that.  We all love it when plans come together.  Family plans for birthdays or reunions, travel plans and reservations and itineraries, financial plans with saving and investing and meeting goals so that we can retire.  Career plans—schooling that ideally leads to a job and a job that leads to a promotion.  If we fail to plan, they say, we plan to fail.  The Bible, too, shows that the God is a master planner.  How wonderful it is to have someone who never lies, who never seeks to exploit, or bungle the job be in charge of the universe and all of human history and human destiny.

The coming of Jesus into the world to redeem all humanity was God’s plan all along.  I feel like I need to explain just a bit about why we’re observing this day.  The Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist is one of the eight “principal feasts of Christ,” so the note on the calendar in our hymnal and as such are “normally observed when they occur on a Sunday.”  (LSB, xi)  We should keep each of these “feasts of Christ” because they remind us of the plan of God for the salvation of the world in real time.  Gabriel’s announcement to Mary heard on the Annunciation, Mary’s visit with Elizabeth on the Visitation, John’s nativity, the nativity of Jesus at Christmas, His circumcision on the eighth day and the first shedding of blood, and Mary’s purification and Jesus presentation in the temple, on the 40th day after Jesus was born.  John the Baptist’s nativity is six months before Jesus’ nativity as it was thought that John was about six months older than Jesus.  And so God’s plan of His Son entering into human flesh is told over the course of the whole year. Today in our gospel reading we have a wonderful opportunity to see and hear God’s plan coming together.

As with many of our plans, they don’t always work out.  My career plans when I was 9 were to be an astronaut and now look at me.  Some of our plans are just ill-informed or the deck is stacked against us.  Other times our plans fail because we procrastinate or we lose focus.  Still at other times our plans fail because we forget how hard it is to accomplish something in a fallen, sin-twisted world.  And then when things fall apart, rather than seeing these things as setbacks and challenges, we become embittered and cynical.  This happens on the personal level and it happens in organizations too.  A failure leads to negativity that discourages others and then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And still other times, our plans come together but they don’t work out like we’d hoped.  We work our plan.  We make our goals and milestones but then we arrive at the destination and we realize it wasn’t what we’d truly wanted or needed or never what he intended it to be.

All of us have seen our best-laid plans go awry, as the saying goes.  Ultimately, all these failures can be traced back to sin, both that of others and our own.  Zechariah in our reading, had experienced this sort of thing too, so when God let him in on a major development in His plan, Zechariah was quite sure it wouldn’t work out.

You remember the grand news.  The angel Gabriel had come to Zechariah and announced that he and his wife Elizabeth, old and advanced in years, would have a son, John, the one who came to be called the Baptist.  But more than that, John’s coming meant that God’s Messiah, long promised for thousands of years, was coming right along after him, because John’s job would be to prepare the way of the Messiah.  All of this was according to God’s glorious plan promised since the fall of Adam and developed throughout the Old Testament.

But Zechariah was like you and me.  All his experiences told him that the Gabriel had the wrong man.  He and Elizabeth were just way too old.  If God had planned to use them, he missed His window long ago to give them a child.  What’s more, the situation was not right.  Mighty Rome was in charge and the religious leaders of Jerusalem were corrupt and did Rome’s bidding.  If God was choosing this time to redeem Israel, the obstacles were just too great.  So Zechariah didn’t believe this plan of God was happening, not now, not with him and his wife.

And do you remember what happened next?  Gabriel, a messenger of the most high God does not like to be second guessed.  “And the angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.’” (Lk 1:20-21)  Now isn’t that just like God?  He strikes his man mute and leaves the pagan Romans and the corrupt religious leaders untouched.  Unable to speak, Zechariah apparently began to watch more carefully the beginnings of what he had counted impossible.

Elizabeth conceives.  Mary is told by the same angel she will miraculous conceive the Son of the Most High God, even though she has never known a man.  She goes to visit Elizabeth where she and Zechariah were living and John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice.  Mary utters a prophesy we call the Magnificat where she tells what all her son will do.    At the appointed time, John is born and taken to the temple to be circumcised and named and Zechariah has seen enough.  His tongue is miraculous loosed and he prophesies.  John’s birth and Zechariah’s song signaled that all God’s plans were coming together.  Undoubtedly Zechariah also had given some thought to why the boy’s name should be John, which means “The Lord has shown favor.”  He and Elizabeth knew they had been highly favored by God to receive this child in their old age.  They had been part of God’s plan all along.

Zechariah might have also thought about the name his parents had given him.  Zechariah means, “the Lord remembers.”  What does the Lord remember?  Thankfully the Lord remembers not the sins and failings of His people.  No, the Lord remembers his gracious plans to fulfill them to bless His people.

When Zechariah is allowed to speak again, he speaks with wisdom from God.  We call Zechariah’s Song the Benedictus, like Mary’s Magnificat, it is so named for the first word in the Latin translation.  The Spirit brought these words from Zechariah’s lips.  We can hear echoes from the Psalms, echoes of God’s promises throughout the Old Testament.  God caused Zechariah to remember over a dozen Old Testament passages filled with the promises that the Lord had made to Israel and that He was already beginning to fulfill in the birth of John.  Christians have been singing the Benedictus since at least the 9th century because the Benedictus affirms that God’s plan has come together.

Above all, Zechariah prophesied that God’s plan to send His Messiah was already being fulfilled in the birth of his son the forerunner.  God gave words to Isaiah to prophesy of the Messiah’s forerunner some seven hundred years before (Isa. 40:3-5).  God had promised to Malachi that the forerunner would come some four hundred years before (Mal 3:1, 4:5-6).  He had not forgotten His promises.  All of this coming to pass before Zechariah and Elizabeth and John meant that the grand plan to send Jesus, the Messiah, was coming to fruition.  Jesus, God’s own Son dwelling in human flesh, came at just the right time.  He lived a sinless life under the Law that all humankind had failed to do.  On the cross, Jesus suffered and atoned for all people’s failures to keep God’s perfect Law.  When Jesus rose from the grave He showed His victory over the penalty for not keeping the Law of God, death itself.  Jesus promised to come again at just the right time to usher in the kingdom of heaven in all its fullness.

Jesus has come and demonstrated God’s resolve and power to deliver on all of His promises.  John the Baptizer was commissioned by God to prepare the world for Jesus, the Messiah’s coming.  The Church, made up of sinners like you and me, has been commissioned to prepare the world for Jesus’ final coming, the consummation of God’s plan of redemption for the world.  Do we see the world like Zechariah saw his world?  Do we doubt that the Lord will ever make good on His final promise?  Will we find ourselves speechless to those who need to hear the Gospel to be prepared for that day?  Have we failed to remember God’s promises?  Let us instead be students of the Scriptures like Zechariah was.  Let us praise God for all He has already done.  Let us discover even more examples of God working to fulfill His plan of redemption for the world and declare to all who will hear the mighty works of our God, His great love and compassion for the children of humanity.  And let us long for that day when the Lord finally makes good, when the fullness of God’s plan comes together for all eternity.  Amen.

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

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