Epiphany 2 – "What Are You Seeking?" – John 1:29-42 – 1/19/20


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imagesLast Sunday, on the 1st Sunday in Epiphany, we joined the crowds journeying out from Jerusalem and Judea to the wilderness to listen to a man named John preach. His message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

And while we were there in the wilderness, we saw lots of people going into the Jordan River to be baptized by John as they were confessing their sins.

And while we were there, we saw One, whose name is Jesus, who came from A DIFFERENT PLACE – He came from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him.

And we saw the sky ripped open and the Spirit descending on Him. And we heard the voice of the Father – “this is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

Now today, on this 2nd Sunday in Epiphany, we are still in the wilderness. It feels like a whole week has gone by, but really it’s “the next day.” “The next day, John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” What are you supposed to do with a word like that?

I suspect we'd know just what to do with a word that said, “Behold, the pill that takes away the weight you gained over the holidays.” Or “Behold, the skin cream that takes away the wrinkles and age spots.” Or, “Behold, the credit card that takes away every excuse for why you can't have it all now.”

But, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” What do you do with a word like that? The fact that you're not sure what to do with a word like this ought to tell you something. Continue reading

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Baptism of Our Lord – "Jesus' Baptism and Ours" – Matthew 2:13-17


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2020_01_12_Baptism_of_the_Lord_gosp_Eng-1In case you hadn't noticed, today is all about 'BAPTISM' – Jesus' baptism AND our baptism.

The curtain opens on the wilderness of Judea to which steady streams of people are traveling from “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan River…” Which is odd, because normally the traffic flows from the wilderness into the city – not the other way around. So, what's attracting all these people to go into the wilderness?

It’s a man by the name of John who is preaching out there. In fact, he's been preaching out there in the wilderness for some time before we tuned in. And every day, people go to hear him preach and then return to the city and tell their friends, and more people go to hear him preach and return to the city… And before you know it, “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan River were going out to him.” (This was obviously before people could shoot videos with their cell phones and post them to 'YouTube'.)

Every day, John would preach on the same text, Isaiah 40:3 – 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.' In one way or another, he would urge the people to get ready to meet your Maker. Don’t delay. Stop procrastinating. NOW is the time to get rid of all of those reasons and excuses that you've hiding behind and “come out” (if we dare to put it in those words.) They may be effective for hiding your guilt from your neighbor and even yourself – but God sees right though every one of them. NOW is the time to quit trying to cover up all of those ugly little truths about your life and stand naked before your Creator.

Rather than hiding your guilt and your shame behind your lame excuses because you’re afraid God is going to zap you dead on the spot for them – confess them – out loud. That's right – 'confess them.' Bring them out from hiding and hold them up to God Himself BEFORE He says, ‘I see what you’re trying to hide from Me. But I don’t understand why you’re trying to do that. Is it because you don’t know that I am gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love – and would rather FORGIVE you than CONDEMN you? Or, do you know this but just don’t trust Me enough to actually believe it?” Continue reading

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Christmas 2 – "Lost and Found" – Luke 2:40-51 – 1/5/20


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scan0041It’s not every year that we get two Sunday’s to revel in the celebration of Christmas. More often than not, we just get one Sunday before we’re off to the season of Epiphany. It’s like that Christmas dinner that took hours to prepare and that was over and done with in under 20 minutes. So today we’re thankful for some time to savor and enjoy the Christmas season.

We’re not given very many details about Jesus’ childhood in the gospels. We’re told about His conception by the Holy Spirit, the humble circumstances of His birth by the virgin Mary and the visitation of the shepherds.

We meet Him again at 8 days old, when He is circumcised and named. And again at 40 days old at the Temple for Mary’s purification and His presentation.

Sometime after that, we’re really not sure how long, there’s the visitation of the Magi and then the flight to Egypt and return to Nazareth. And now He’s 12 years old accompanying his parents to the annual Feast of the Passover. My, don’t the kids grow up so quickly.

The distance from Nazareth to Jerusalem was about 65 miles – about the same as from here to Bangor. On foot it would be a three or four day journey for the average family. When it came time for one of the annual festivals such as this one, families would travel together in caravans. The children would play together along the way, the women would talk about their children and the men would talk about the Patriots, or something like that. There was also safety in numbers.

The festival of Passover lasted a week. Luke says, “and when the feast was ended, as they were returning.” No doubt the same caravan that traveled together to Jerusalem also traveled together back to Nazareth.

Luke doesn’t tell us how it happened that they went a whole day’s journey before Joseph and Mary realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. Luke gets his information for his gospel by interviewing first hand participants. Most likely, he gets the details of this episode from Mary. He either never thought to ask her how such a thing could have happened, or decided to leave that part out as a courtesy to Mary. Continue reading

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Christmas 1 – "In The Fullness Of Time" – Galatians 4:4-7 – 12/29/19

During this season of Christmas, we have heard the Christmas story as told by the prophets Moses, Isaiah and Micah; and by the Evangelists Matthew, Luke and John. Now today, we hear the Christmas story as told by the Apostle Paul.

“When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Paul couches the birth of Christ in the same cosmic realm as does John. Whereas John begins his account of Christmas, “in the beginning was the Word… and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…” Paul begins “when the fullness of time had come.”

The fullness of time came on Christmas day. The ‘time’ that God created in the beginning with His, “and there was evening and morning the 1st day…” has now come to the day that all of time was created to mark. Time was bursting at the seams with the Promise of God. The countdown that had begun in the Garden of Eden when God promised that an offspring of the woman would crush the serpents head came to 3 – 2- 1 – Merry Christmas.

It’s important for us to firmly believe and not doubt that everything that happens concerning Jesus – His conception by a Virgin, His birth in Bethlehem, His flight to Egypt, the baby boys who were killed just because they resembled Him, His return to Nazareth – EVERYTHING was done according to God’s set purpose and plan. NOTHING WAS ACCIDENTAL or COINCIDENTAL. Continue reading

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Christmas Day – "Of His Fullness We Have All Received" – John 1:16 – 12/25/19

The text is from the prologue of St. John’s gospel, two verses beyond what we have heard so far – John 1:16, “And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

By now the presents have all been unwrapped and the stockings emptied and maybe the boxes and paper and ribbons have been cleaned up – and maybe not.

So, what’d you get for Christmas? I got a new sweater. It’s always nice to get a new sweater. So, what’d you get for Christmas?

And, what did your Father get you this Christmas? ‘Oh, ‘a Savior who is Christ the Lord.’ Me too.

But He gave me that last year? Why does He give me the same gift every year?
BECAUSE IT’S EXACTLY WHAT I NEED.

And sometimes I can hardly believe that that’s really MY NAME on the gift: “From Your Heavenly Father. To Paul. ‘A Savior who is Christ the Lord.’

And He keeps giving me His Son, saying, ‘take it, He’s for you, really.’ He keeps putting His Son into my hands, saying, ‘take Him. Take His body. Take His blood. It’s just what you need.’

And I’m happy to have Him, really I am. But sometimes, in fact more than just sometimes, there’s so much other stuff going on in my life and so much stuff going on around me that I hardly notice the gift that my Father has given me. And I put it aside, and it just sits there in some far away corner of my life.

And sometimes it’s not just all the stuff going on in my life and all the stuff going on around me, but it’s the stuff that’s NOT going on in my life and that is NOT going on around me. There’s a couple of things that I’d really, really like to have, frankly, things that I think are more urgent and necessary right now than “a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”

Did I really just say that? I must be crazy. Continue reading

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Advent 4 – "You Shall Call His Name Jesus" – Matthew 1:18-25 – 12/22/19

Way back in the beginning when there were just two people in the whole world… and really, how much damage can just two people do? But they did. “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food and to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…”

She knew better. Adam, her husband, had told her not to eat of the fruit from this ONE tree for on the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. All he was doing really was giving her the Word of God.

So when the talking serpent said, “Oh my, doesn’t that look good,” she recited the LAW of GOD in good catechetical style – NOT “but my husband said…” “but God said…”

But instead of LISTENING to GOD’S WORD, she LISTENED to the word of the serpent – and by that UNHOLY WORD an UNHOLY THING was conceived in her, and she gave birth to SIN which separates us from the God WHO KNOWS NO SIN.

But our attention this morning is not so much on THE WOMAN as it is on THE MAN. Where was her husband while this was going on?

HE WAS RIGHT NEXT TO HER. “…and she also gave some to her husband WHO WAS WITH HER…” (Gen.3:6) He did NOTHING. He just stood there and watched as the serpent its unholy seed in his wife. “…and he ate.”

What a coward. What a wimp. He should have protected her. He should have thrown himself between his wife and the serpent and said, “OVER MY DEAD BODY.” But he did NOTHING and his NOTHING changed EVERYTHING.

And now this morning, we are being told that the woman is pregnant once again. But this time, not with the ‘UNHOLY’ word of the serpent,’ but with the HOLY Word of God. This time it is not a talking serpent but a talking angel that speaks. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.” (Lk. 1:35) Continue reading

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Advent 3 – "Patience In Prison" – Matthew 11:2-15 – 12/15/19


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article_4_shutterstock.com_Last Sunday, we met John the Baptizer in the wilderness, calling people to repent. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

For John, repentance begins with “confession”. “Confession” is a legal word. Policemen and lawyers and judges are interested in getting a ‘confession’ from someone they strongly suspect committed the crime. Sometimes, all they get is ‘denial.’ Sometimes they get a ‘confession’ packed into a whole bunch of reasons and excuses – which I suppose, is supposed to move the judge to go easier on them.

But “confession,” pure ‘confession’ that is, simply says, “guilty as charged. I deserve whatever the punishment might be.”

So, last Sunday we probably missed the most startling thing in the entire reading. In response to John’s preaching, ‘repent!’…“Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, CONFESSING THEIR SINS.” (Matthew 3:2,5,6).

How do you like that? While everyone else is trying to grow the church by preaching a message that basically says ‘you have nothing to confess,’ ‘you should feel good about yourself just the way you are,’ and the churches are closing – John preaches – “Repent” and great crowds travel great distances to go to a church that’s in a pretty unpleasant place.

So you’ve got to wonder, what was it about John’s message that seemed to appeal to so many people? I know that times have changed – but people really haven’t. The discovery of electricity and the atom and the internet haven’t changed us as much as we think. And God hasn’t changed either. And so their situation before God was no different than ours. And so whatever it was about John’s preaching that appealed to them applies equally to us.

I think that the appeal is this. As surprising as this may sound, there is something about the call to “Repent” that is DEEPLY RELIEVING and even JOYOUS. To hear the preacher give us, not just THE COMMAND, but THE PERMISSION to admit that my thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and that my ways are not God’s ways – and that it’s not only WISE – but it is SAFE for me to CONFESS this – what a relief. There is real JOY in that!

For those who have grown weary of fighting that inner battle that is always asking the question, “did God really say…” only to hear that it’s OKAY to simply let His Word take every thought of mine CAPTIVE – what a RELIEF. What JOY, what REST there is in that!

To hear that God is not like the judge or lawyer or policeman who offer to give you a lighter sentence if only you will confess – but that in Baptism, He completely and totally forgives you all of your sins and declares you to be innocent… well, no wonder then that “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, CONFESSING THEIR SINS.” Continue reading

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Advent 2 – "New World Order" – isaiah 11:1-10 – 12/8/19


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Saint_John_The_Baptist_Preaching_In_The_Wilderness_by_Anton_RaphaelWhen WWI was finally over in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson declared that the time had come to establish, in his words, “a new world order.” He proposed the
establishment of a League of Nations that would work together to maintain a safe and peaceful world, to the end that, the 1st World War would be the ‘war to end all wars.”

The dream of establishing a New World Order has been the dream of many. In 1928, one western European activist campaigned on the basis of the New World Order he would establish if elected. His name was Adolph Hitler.

In 1940, an author named H.G. Wells wrote a book titled, “The New World Order” in which he laid out a picture of an ideal world in which there were no national boundaries, where world peace was maintained by a world governing body.

On September 11th, 1990, as the Cold War was nearing its end, President George H.W. Bush addressed a Joint Session of Congress to share his vision of a New World Order. He said, "A hundred generations have searched for this elusive path to peace, while a thousand wars raged across the span of human endeavor. Today that new world is struggling to be born, a world quite different from the one we've known". Less than a year later, in 1991, as the Gulf War was launched, President Bush declared, "Now, we can see a new world coming into view. A world in which there is the very real prospect of a new world order. The Gulf war put this new world to its first test.”

Man’s attempts at establishing a New World Order can be traced all the back to the days of Noah when men and women set out to establish and safe and peaceful world in which to live by building a tower to heavens. And every generation since has had its own Babylonians, each with their own dreams and visions of what a New Order ought to look like and how it ought to be implemented – only to watch it crumble before their eyes.

Heck, we can’t establish peace and safety for all in our own nation – let alone the world; or even in our own family for that matter; or even in our own heart. Why would we ever dare to think we could establish peace and safety for all in the world?

But in our Old Testament reading, the prophet Isaiah points us to One who IS able to do just that – and who DOES establish a New World Order. He is the One whom every believer has been waiting for ever since God promised to send a Messiah to restore the whole creation to the perfectly safe and peaceful world that it was in the beginning.
Continue reading

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Advent 1 – "Knowing the Time" – Romans 13:11-14 – 12/1/19


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ClockTime-Watches-NBS-1200x800Maybe it’s because I just spent the last couple of days in Chicago and rode the Chicago Transit Authority around town that I thought of the musical group “Chicago.” And maybe it was because our Epistle reading for today begins with these words, “Besides this, you know the time…” that I got to singing the song from The Chicago Transit Authority’s first album that went:

Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care?
If so I can't imagine why we've all got time enough to cry.

Listen to what those words. “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?” And the implied answer is ‘no.’ Sure, people know what time the trains and the busses run and what time they need to be at work and what time they get off and what time they have to get the kids to this practice and that game. And life is being lived from one minute and one day and one week to the next. And there is never enough time. And the years go by and we look back and say, ‘where did the time go?”

“But does anybody really know what time it is?” Or have we never actually taken the time to think about a question like that? “Does anyone really care?”

Today, you and I are directed to think about ‘time’ to the end that we ‘understand what time it really is.’ In our Epistle reading we heard St. Paul exhort us, “You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.

If anyone should ‘really know what time it is’ and ‘really care,’ it is the Christian. The Church’s season of Advent is devoted to making sure that its members know what time it really is.

And St. Paul wants us to wake up before we OVERSLEEP. Time will not go on forever. There is an ‘end of time.’ And right now the clock is ticking and time is winding down. And “our salvation is nearer to us now that when we first believed. For the night is far gone; and the day is at hand…” (Rom. 13:11-12)
There is a day when time will run out and the time will be up. And that day is getting closer and closer when Christ will appear in the fullness of His glory to separate the sheep from the goats, the weeds from the wheat, the good fish from the bad fish. He is coming to “judge the living and the dead.”

And so knowing, the time as only the believer in God’s Word can know the time, we most certainly do “take time to cry.” We cry for ourselves because we have not managed our time the way that we should.

We cry that we have far too often permitted time to manage us rather than managing our time, not using the time that we have to honor our Maker and our Redeemer as we should.

We cry that we seem to so easily lose track of time when it comes to those things that our Lord wants us to do – time in the Word, time in prayer, time to share the gospel with one who doesn’t know what time it really is and doesn’t really care. Continue reading

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Last Sunday – "Father, Forgive Them" – Luke 23:32-43 – 11/24/19


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Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_Christ_on_the_Cross_between_the_Two_Thieves_-_WGA20235I have counted 21 Sundays now that we have been following our Lord ever since we heard that He “set His face to go to Jerusalem.” And today, on this “Last Sunday of the Church Year” we come to the end of the journey to Jerusalem. From here, the journey continues from “Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the end of the earth” and “to all nations.” (Matthew 28, Acts 1:8).

Which is to say, there’s lots more to come – like – “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed, alleluia.”

And isn’t this also why we have been following Him so closely? After all, before we ever DARED TO set out on this journey with Jesus through the season of Pentecost, we had already followed Him through the season of Lent and Easter. And it was there, before we even began this journey to the cross, that we learned that His death was not the end of the road at all? We learned that there is more beyond the boundaries of the kingdom of this world. And we fully intend to follow Him there too.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is not only the door through which we see that there is more beyond death and the grave. But it is also the door through which we enter into heaven where the journey does finally ends at the destination that Jesus has been leading us to all along.

But as we have just heard, not everyone sees it this way. In fact, of those who we meet on today’s section of the journey, the vast majority reject everything that we have said, who may believe that there is a life after death, but that it most certainly does not proceed through the cross of Christ crucified.

But there is one man who is different than the rest. In fact, he is all alone in this crowd of mockers and he refuses to go along with the crowd. And I would recommend that we find ourselves in today’s gospel in the thief who is crucified with Christ that tradition has placed on Christ’s right, who hears the One in the middle tell him that ‘today – he will reach the goal of the journey.’ “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

Here is a man who has NOT been with Jesus on this journey as we have. As far as we know, he’s never met Jesus before today. We don’t know what crime he and the other criminal committed. But we know that it had to have been something serious enough to warrant the punishment of crucifixion.
We aren’t told how long they had been held in their prison cell. But on this day, a Friday, the guards came and led them both out to be crucified.

And as they carry the cross beam outside the city wall to the place of crucifixion, they see that there is another criminal headed to the same destination. This One has been flogged so severely that He is unable to carry the crossbeam to His cross. And so the soldiers have to force a bystander to carry it for him.

And with that, they have joined us on this journey with Jesus. Continue reading

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