Ash Wednesday – Psalm 23:1 – 3/13/19


Jesus_Christ_the_Good_Shepherd_Hand-Painted_Orthodox_Icon_1“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” So begins the beloved “Twenty Third Psalm.” This Psalm is just one of many written by David. And although each one of the 150 Psalms in the Psalmody is beautiful and meaningful in its own way, the 23rd Psalm stands apart from them all if only because it is the most well-known and most well-beloved of them all, to the point that many people are even able to recite this one from memory, and in the King James Version at that.

And so, as we embark on our Lenten journey with the 23rd Psalm in hand, we set out on familiar ground with an old friend, which also defines the challenge before us. What else can be said that has not already been said about the 23rd Psalm? So, our goal here is not so much to learn something new, but rather, to be reminded of what we already know, “the Lord is my shepherd,” and therefore, “I shall not want.”

As we set out on this journey, we are reminded that as far removed from our own experience the world of shepherding and sheep may be, the 23rd Psalm was written by a real shepherd who knew something about real sheep and what it means to be a real shepherd.

He knows the demands that are required of shepherds who are entrusted with the care of the sheep in their flock. And he knows that there are ‘good shepherds’ and ‘bad shepherds,’ the difference between the two, and most importantly, what it means to the sheep to live in the flock that is cared for by a ‘good shepherd.’

One more point that might be beneficial as we begin is to point to the literary approach that David uses throughout this Psalm. Rather than writing this Psalm from the perspective of the shepherd, ‘let me tell you sheep what I expect from you and what it means to be ‘good sheep,’ David speaks as one of the sheep of the flock of a ‘good shepherd. This talking sheep begins by telling how good it is to be a sheep of a ‘good shepherd.’
“I shall not want.” Which is to say…
“He makes me to lie down in green pastures.”
“He leads me beside still waters.”
“He restores my soul.”
The question is, ‘to whom is this sheep speaking?’ To whom is it ‘confessing’? And the answer is, he is speaking to all the other sheep in the flock who might take such a blessed life for granted. And he is speaking to himself, both reminding himself of the blessed life he has and rejoicing in it.

But then the same sheep turns to its shepherd and says basically the same thing to the ‘good shepherd’ himself.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
“You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

So now that we have staked out the path that this Lenten journey will follow, let’s set out on it. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Continue reading

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Lent 2 – "His Steadfast Face" – Luke 13:31-35 – 3/14/19

“At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, 'Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

Christ_Pantocrator_mosaic_from_Hagia_Sophia_2240_x_3109_pixels_2.5_MBHow do you picture the face of Christ? When you put a face to the name of Jesus, what is the expression that you see on His face? Do you picture Him wearing a big smile that tells you that He is happy with us? Or do you picture His face with a deep sadness in his eyes that tells you that He is hurt or disappointed or grieved by something? On Good Friday, we will picture His face all bloody and bruised from the fists that strike Him and the thorns that are pressed down into His scalp.

Today, we are invited to see in the face of our Lord a look of determination that will not be persuaded to detour from the path that He is on. We’re going to call this His ‘steadfast’ face.

Luke had just told us that “Jesus went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.” (Luke 13:22). He’s headed to the cross. At some point, which Luke identifies as “at that very hour,” “some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

A death threat like that would be enough melt whatever determination we might pretend to have. In fact, it takes a whole lot less than that to change our face from determination to cowardly fear.

But not our Lord! How ridiculous to threaten Him with death when He is going to Jerusalem to die!

“Go and tell that fox, 'Behold, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I will finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the third day, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.'”

Jesus has the face of one who is ‘steadfastly’ determined to carry out His mission. Everything that lie ahead for Him in the city of Jerusalem and on that little hill just outside the city walls they called 'the skull,' was known to Him.

He had visited this city many times over the course of His thirty three years of life. But the purpose and the outcome of THIS journey to Jerusalem would be different than all the others, and He was acutely aware of every terrible detail. “Nevertheless.” That’s a word that only the ‘steadfast’ can rightly use. “Nevertheless,” means, ‘come what may,’ ‘despite the circumstances, ‘knowing what lies ahead.’ “Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the third day.”

This is the journey that began in heaven and went right through the womb of the virgin Mary and wound its way through the regions of Galilee and Judea as He taught and did miracles and healed multitudes. And when the time had fully come, the time that had been set by the eternal Trinity before the creation of the world, or as Luke puts it, “when the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51).

The words of Isaiah could well have been His marching song. “But the Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” (Is. 50:7) This is His 'steadfast' face. Continue reading

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Transfiguration – "They Woke Up In Heaven" – Luke 9:28-36


“And Jesus said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)

transfiguration“Come follow me.” It’s the call to discipleship, of which Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, ‘when Jesus Christ calls a man to come follow Me, he calls him to come forth and die.’ ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily…”

To follow Jesus means to go where He goes. And Jesus doesn’t always go where it’s safe and secure and where every day is another day of paradise on earth.

Jesus goes to the dark places and the dirty places and the painful places and the lonely places – because that’s where His dear children are. And He hears their cry and has compassion on them and will not turn away from them just because it’s not light or not clean or not pleasant or not convenient, not entertaining. And He will not because He cannot. And He cannot because He is God and God is love.

So, will you follow Him? Will you take up your cross and follow Him?

And before you answer that question, let me remind you that when He went in the dark and dirty and painful and lonely places to find His dear children who live there, it was you that He found. He brought you into His light and cleaned you like you’ve never been so clean and bore your pain and gave you His pledge, “I will be your best friend forever.” And He will not fail to keep every one of His promises to you because He cannot. And he cannot because He is God and God is faithful.

So, will you follow Him? Will you take up your cross and follow Him? For today He is calling you whom He brought out of darkness and into His marvelous light to leave everything behind, let go of it all for the sake of following Me. BECAUSE I WANT TO TAKE YOU SOMEWHERE THAT YOU’VE NEVER BEEN.’

And what you should say but don’t is, ‘that’s a lot to offer.’
And what you shouldn’t say but do is, ‘that’s a lot to ask.’ Continue reading

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Festival of St. Matthias – "No Vacancy" – Acts 1:15-26 – 2/24/19


St. Luke writes a sequel to his gospel that is called “The Acts of the Apostles.” “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus BEGAN to do and teach until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” (Acts 1:1-2)

50916075-rubber-stamp-with-text-no-vacancy-inside-vector-illustrationThe work that Jesus accomplished from His conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary to His Ascension to the right hand of God the Father in heaven was just the BEGINNING. He’s just getting started. There’s a LOT MORE WORK to do.

And that work He will do THROUGH THE APOSTLES whom He had chosen. That is, He will continue to do His work through the One, Holy, Christian and APOSTOLIC Church.

This is the APOSTOLIC CHURCH to whom “he had given commands through the Holy Spirit” when He met with them on Easter Eve and showed them His hands and His side and ate a piece of broiled fish before them. “And then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:36-48)

He has done (past tense) the work of bearing the sin of the whole world and putting it to death in His body on the cross and thereby making peace between God and man. And the Father has done (past tense) the work of raising Him from the dead, thereby opening the gates of heaven itself to all who believe in Him.

And HE WILL DO THE WORK (future tense) of getting the message out to ALL NATIONS in EVERY AGE until the Last Day comes and the WORK is finally over. The work that He has done, He has done through the disobedience and rebellion of those who rejected Him. The work that He will do, He will do through the obedience and acceptance of those who receive Him. Continue reading

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Epiphany 6 – "Blessed Are You" – Luke 6:17-26 – 2/17/19


The text is our gospel reading. Our Lord has just been on a mountain where He prayed through the night. In the morning, He called His disciples to gather around Him. Luke doesn’t tell us how many that was but from these disciples He chose 12 who are now referred to as ‘Apostles.’

“And He came down the mountain with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to HEAR him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to TOUCH him, for power came out from him and healed them all.”

Again, this is just what the church looks like and why you’ve come here today. We’ve come here to “hear Him” and to “touch him.” Just like we saw last Sunday in the Divine Service conducted on the beach by the sea of Gennessaret, now again the pattern is repeated here at this Divine Service on the “level place.” First we HEAR Him speak His Word that heals us. Then we come and TOUCH Him, for power comes out from him and heals us all.

“And He lifted up his eyes on his disciples…”
• “Disciples” are all those who desire to HEAR Him and TOUCH Him, because they know that His Word is true and power comes out from him to heal us of that disease that causes all of our diseases – our sin.
• “Disciples” are followers of Jesus. Which doesn’t necessarily mean they follow wherever He goes like the Apostles will do. But it does mean that Jesus goes with them wherever they go – and they know that.
• “Disciples” are those who strive to live their lives in such a way that pleases Jesus – but not because they hope that by doing so He will bless them. That would be selfish and loveless.
• “Disciples” strive to live their lives in such a way that pleases Jesus because He has already blessed them – and NOT because they have been so faithful, but solely because He loves them. And so “disciples” are those who strive to live their lives according to His will and His word, as their sacrifice of gratitude and thanksgiving to Him.

So when we hear that “Jesus lifted up his eyes on his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you…” we want to be sure to hear what He actually says. Because as we all know we can sometimes hear what we want to hear or what we expect to hear and maybe even hear what He never said at all. Continue reading

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Epiphany 5 – "A Crisis at Sea" – Luke 5:1-11 – 2/10/19


Let-Down-Your-NetsAs we come now to this 5th Sunday in the season of Epiphany, it might be good for us to recall what this season is all about. The season of Epiphany is all about revealing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. From the season of Christmas, which was all about God taking on human flesh and becoming fully man, we move to the season of Epiphany which is all about impressing on our hearts and minds that this man, Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary, is none other than God, “in whom the fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Col.2:9)

So we will do well to pay careful attention to the liturgy and the readings during this season of Epiphany, because from Epiphany we move into the season of Lent, where the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ will be hidden from our eyes, so covered over with our sin and our death that all we will be able to behold is a “despised and rejected man, whom we esteemed not and from whom we hide our face.” Now is the time to impress upon your heart and mind that this Jesus Christ, is the one, true God, so that you will know who it is who has taken your sin and your death upon Himself and suffered all, even death on a cross, so that you may one day behold His glory, face to face.

Our gospel text opens on a beach on the Sea of Gennesaret, which is also known as the Sea of Galilee. Luke writes, “… the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God.” A pretty good picture of the church, if you ask me. A packed church where everyone wants to sit in the front pew to get as close to the preacher as possible.

In this church there was no railing and no pulpit, so Jesus had to improvise. “He saw two boats by the lake, but the fisherman had gone out of them and were washing their nets.” Jesus went over to one of the boats which happened be Peter’s. He gets in and said something to the effect of, “I’d like to use your boat as my pulpit. How about pushing off just a bit?” “And He sat down and taught the people from the boat.” Continue reading

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Epiphany 4 – "A Prayer for the Afflicted" – Luke 4:31-44


Would you take out your worship folder and open to page 4 please. I’d like to begin this sermon by redirecting your attention to the Introit for the day. In know that we sing an ‘Entrance Hymn’ before the Divine Service begins, but the real ‘entrance hymn’ of the Divine Service is the “Introit,” which literally means, ‘entrance.’ It’s the prayer that the congregation sings together with the pastor as the pastor enters into the chancel to begin the work that he has been called by the congregation to do, which is… to speak to God on behalf of the congregation and then to turn and speak to the congregation on behalf of God.

Today’s Introit is taken from Psalm 10. It is A PRAYER OF THE AFFLICTED to God. Let’s speak it together again:

“Arise, O Lord; O God; lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted. The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land.”

“O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.”

This ‘prayer of the afflicted’ was written by David for all Israel to pray together. They were people who were ‘afflicted’ and who were well acquainted with ‘affliction.’ They were ‘afflicted’ by outside forces, particularly the Canaanites. And it’s the Canaanites in particular that Israel prays that God would cause to “perish from his land,” “so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.”

It is important to take notice of just how confident Israel is in God’s gracious answer to their prayer. They do not ASK God to strengthen their heart. Neither do they ASK God to incline His ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed. No, their prayer is a confession of faith. “YOU WILL strengthen their heart…” “YOU WILL incline your ear to do justice…”

In their ‘affliction,’ Israel’s hope is in their God. He WILL deliver them. Continue reading

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Epiphany 2 – "The 1st of His Signs" – John 2:1-11 – 1/27/19


“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples…”

29-05_A1There are aspects to life in a small town like Waterville that are very nice. It’s not unusual to see someone you know at the grocery store or the post-office, and the UPS driver knows that if no one is at the church he can deliver his package to the pastor’s house which he knows where it is located.

Life in a typical, small, middle-eastern village like Cana is an even tighter-knit community that anything we have here. Everyone knows everyone and is connected with everyone else. So, when a baby is born in the village, the whole village celebrates. When someone dies the whole village mourns. When there’s a wedding, the whole village attends and celebrates. A wedding is a significant event, not just for the couple but for the whole village.

Our text today opens after the wedding itself has taken place. The wedding reception is in full swing.

It was the custom of the day that the reception was hosted by the newlyweds. The husband was responsible for making the preparations and making sure that everything was ready. The celebration was for the whole village and would last for up to seven days.

Every time I hear this text, I can’t help but recall a wedding of one of Deb’s college classmates years ago. The couple was from a small town in up-state Pennsylvania where almost everyone was of Middle-eastern descent and attended one of the several Eastern Orthodox churches in the town.

After the wedding, everyone headed over to Luanne’s parent’s home for the reception. There was a polka band and lots of people dancing in big circles with their arms linked together. Lot’s of laughing and talking and singing and great food and lots to drink. I remember asking someone how long the reception lasted. And the reply was, “till the booze runs out.” Deb and I lasted a day and a half and were accused of being party poopers for leaving so early. We later learned that we only made it half way through. Continue reading

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Baptism of Our Lord – "Into" – Luke 3:21-22; Romans 6:1-11 – 1/13/19


BAPTISM_copy__47500.1376701376.1000.1200_large“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

If I were to ask you to list the most significant events in the life of Jesus Christ, you would probably say Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and His Ascension. If you were broadminded enough, you’d include His coming again on the Last Day to separate the living from the dead, even though it hasn’t happened yet.

You would probably not have included His baptism on that list, unless of course it happened to be the 1st Sunday after Epiphany which is always “The Baptism of Our Lord” and you knew that this is where the preacher is headed. But the Baptism of Jesus deserves as much of our attention as all these other ‘landmark’ events in the life of our Lord. And here’s why.

On Christmas morning, Christ came into THE WORLD. On Good Friday, Christ died for the sins of THE WORLD. On Easter Sunday, Christ justified and reconciled God to THE WORLD. 40 days after Easter, He ascended into heaven to intercede with the Father for the life of THE WORLD.

You notice that in all of this, we haven’t once said, “FOR YOU.” It’s all very general and non-specific. And so we rightly wonder, ‘how does this apply TO ME?’ How does this connect TO ME, individually, personally?

When our children were getting ready for college, we wanted to get them connected to all of that scholarship and grant money that we heard was out there. We went to seminars and read books on how to tap into these resources. They had to fill out the applications, write the essays. And we had to learn how to fill out FAFSA forms.

What we learned was that there are all kinds of programs in place to help people in all kinds of situations and needs. But none of it actually benefits me in my situation until I fill out the forms and write the essays and do the interviews. Only then does the general become specific and FOR ME.
And what we discovered was that for all of the scholarships that are out there, there wasn’t too much that was actually available to MY son and MY daughter.

We hear about all of the benefits that are available through Jesus Christ – the forgiveness of sins, peace which this world cannot give, life and salvation. All these, Christ has won for THE WORLD by His birth, death, resurrection and ascension. But how do these actually get to ME? Are there forms I must fill out and essays I must write that will be reviewed by some celestial committee of angels who have this big stamp – ‘APPROVED’ / ‘DENIED’?

No, it is through this strange thing called ‘baptism’ that all of these benefits won by Christ for THE WORLD, are connected TO YOU and given to YOU.

This is what Paul wants to understand when, in our epistle reading today, he said, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death? We were buried with him by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom. 6:3-4) Continue reading

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Epiphany – "God Appeared" – Matthew 2:1-12 – 1/6/19


I don’t know about you, but to me, the season of Christmas was like that Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinner that required how many hours of planning and the whole day to prepare and that smelled so good and looked so nice on the table and once grace was said, took what, 30 minutes to consume and it was all over.

The Church’s season of Christmas is like that. After four full weeks of Advent preparation for Christmas, it doesn’t last very long. Just 12 days and three services. Our hymnal has 35 Christmas hymns in it. How are you supposed to squeeze all of those into three services? And “Pastor, don’t you know that you didn’t let us sing our favorites. AGAIN!”

So, today we begin the season of Epiphany. And you’re never are sure how long Epiphany is going to last because it all depends on when Easter is, which determines when the season of Lent begins. And since Easter comes fairly late this year, we’re in for a fairly long Epiphany – nine weeks. And our hymnal only has 24 Epiphany hymns in it. So, we’re going to sing them all.

January 6th is always the 1st Day of Epiphany which has a one in seven chance of falling on a Sunday. And I promise you, that is all of the counting that we’re going to do for the rest of this sermon.

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose, and have come to worship him.” Let the season of Epiphany begin.

The account of the visitation of the Magi is rooted in Christmas and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem where, as incredible as this sounds, God appeared. That’s what the word ‘epiphany’ means. “Epiphaino” means ‘to appear.’ Continue reading

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