Category Archives: Sermon

Second Sunday in Lent – Matthew 15:21-28

When you watch Jesus shun a Canaanite woman, you must see what He does within the context of Matthew chapter 15. The twenty verses prior to where today’s Gospel reading begins have Jesus tangling with the Pharisees and scribes. They want to know why Jesus’ disciples break the tradition of the elders. For they do not wash their hands when they eat. Christ’s response is brisk. And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? The Pharisees and scribes put tradition ahead of the Scriptures.

Jesus continues to poke them by saying it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person…. What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone. Again, the Pharisees and scribes put tradition and customs not found in Scripture ahead of what the Scriptures say.

So we come to the Canaanite woman. Knowing what we know about Jesus’ remarks to the scribes, Pharisees, and those who heard Him speak, especially His own disciples, we expect to see a kind and gentle Savior heal the woman’s demon oppressed daughter. But he did not answer her a word. The disciples fall in line with their Master, begging Him to send her away, for she is crying out after us. Jesus responds I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Wait a moment. What’s wrong with this picture? The same Jesus Who tangles with the religious authorities about customs and traditions, letting them have it by quoting the Scriptures, now acts like one of them by refusing to have anything to do with a Canaanite woman and her request. Why the turn? Why are the disciples not reminding Jesus about what He said earlier about customs and traditions? It seems that theory and practice are out of whack. Everything is as it seems, at least for Jesus. The disciples are about to learn a valuable lesson from a Canaanite woman. She will show them what comes out of her mouth isn’t always what one expects to come out of a Canaanite’s mouth.

A Jew should never have to respond to anything a Canaanite says. A Jew looks at a Canaanite and sees, well, nothing, really. They are not on the radar screen. They are outside of the kingdom of heaven. They are not God’s chosen people. They are mutts, no longer pure-bred children of the Promise as they were before the Assyrians conquered them in 722 B.C. The Assyrians began to enter into mixed marriages with the Northern Tribes of Israel. The blood line, as God saw it, became polluted. Messiah would not come from them. His children redeemed from Pharaoh’s yoke and brought into the Promised Land gave up what was theirs. Now what is left is to be shunned as idolaters.

A Jew doesn’t eat with a Canaanite. A Jew never prays with them. A Jew doesn’t strike up a conversation with them. A Jew goes out of his or her way to ignore them. That is why Jesus’ response to the Canaanite woman is appropriate. I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel…. It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. The translation of “dogs” there is actually quite mild. The thrust of the word is actually could be translated as an epithet one might use to describe a female dog.

It’s easy to identify with Jesus and the disciples. The Good News is only for those who God intends the Good News. You have to be chosen, pure-bred, with no defilements inside or outside. There are customs and traditions to follow in order to maintain that sort of life. You get, as it were, braggin’ rights. Messiah is for us, not for you. As long as we stick to the rule of life, the code of ethics, we will remain in God’s good graces forever. We’ll wash our hands just so. We’ll eat only certain foods. We’ll pray a certain way. And we won’t let outsiders have anything to do with us unless they submit to our customs and traditions.

Do your customs and traditions also include not welcoming strangers and foreigners? Does it include coarse conversation against those outside what you believe? Does it include finger pointing and blaming everyone else but yourself when things don’t go your way? Remember what Jesus said earlier in chapter 15: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.

Jesus should be defiled. So should the disciples. Look at how they act. Yet Jesus has a reason for it. He answered the Canaanite woman: It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. She said, Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. This conversation hinges on one little word: Yes. Everything Jesus said about her is true. Now let’s see the account in its true light. You are the Canaanite woman instead of one of the disciples. In fact, the disciples are one with the Canaanite woman. A Jew and a Canaanite both have something in common: sin. Both are outside the kingdom of heaven because both are sinners.

But I hold to the customs and traditions of…no, you don’t. If you did, you wouldn’t be a sinner. But I am…no, you aren’t. If you were, you wouldn’t think, speak, or act that way toward a fellow sinner. When Jesus says all these things against the Canaanite woman, He says them to you. He says them to His disciples. He says them to His own people. Customs, traditions, blood lines, and nationalities mean nothing in God’s eyes. He sees them as His fallen creation in need of redemption. He sees you in need of redemption.

Hey, watch this! O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire. The woman’s daughter is no longer demon possessed. The Canaanite woman receives what she desires: Jesus and everything He provides. Jesus Christ does not limit what He does to one particular people. He is the Savior of both Jew and Gentile, even this Canaanite woman who heard and believed that Jesus is her Savior, too.

The disciples have a front row seat for it because they will soon go to all nations to proclaim what they see and hear. They see and hear Jesus suffer and die for sins. They see Jesus resurrected to seal His victory over death and Satan. This victory is for all who hear and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The desire of the nations is redemption. Only Jesus is the Redeemer. Only Jesus brings light in the midst of darkness. Only Jesus speaks the Word that scatters Satan. Only Jesus is the first-born from the dead. Jesus remembers you when He comes into His kingdom. Our Father in heaven, when His Son remembers you in His death, remembers your sin no more. He doesn’t see Canaanite, American, Jew, or Greek. He sees forgiven sinners waiting for His Son’s return.

Hey, watch this! Jesus is trapped by a Canaanite woman, and in His being trapped sets her daughter free from demons. In His being trapped by His own people He sets them free and you as well.

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First Sunday in Lent – Matthew 4:1-11

HEY, WATCH THIS! That phrase is usually spoken by someone who is about to show off. What usually follows after also saying, “Hold my beverage” is an antic that might end up being something totally cool. Or it might end up putting that person in the hospital. Over the next few weeks, the former option is the correct option. Jesus will be doing some totally cool things. The ultimate result is the coolest thing of all. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, will rise from the dead, trampling down death and Satan in His wake. He forgives your sins in His all-availing sacrifice upon the cross, and then He secures a place for you with Him in the heavenly mansions for eternity. HEY, WATCH THIS!

          Today we watch Jesus shut down the accuser, Satan, who tempts Jesus to disbelieve, to become arrogant, and to love the world instead of His Father in heaven. Jesus shuts down Satan by resisting temptation as He quotes the Scriptures in His resistance. Jesus resists temptation for us, knowing that the first Adam did not resist temptation.

The devil thinks his time has come. Jesus has gone without food or drink for forty days. Jesus is then led into the wilderness to do battle with the devil. Christ has the power to turn stones into bread. If Jesus does so, He falls prey to sin. He transgresses the divine will. There is no need to sin here. Jesus stands firm with the Word. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

If Jesus changes stones to bread, He denies what is written. The Scriptures cannot deny themselves. The Living Word then would trump what is written and make the Scriptures a lie. Then Jesus Himself becomes a deceiver, falling into disbelief.

The hour of the tempter comes to us when we are in need. We know what it means to lack what is necessary. We know what it is to have unfulfilled wishes and hopes. We’ve been sick. This is Satan’s moment to strike. It’s time to help yourself for once he says. It’s time not to be honest. It’s time to find another cure. It’s time to make your dreams come true, even if you hurt or harm someone else in the process. So we step on the backs of others to make sure we get what we want. We change stones into bread.

All the more then for Christ to stand firm. Watch Him deny the tempter with the spoken Word. As He overcomes disbelief, so He gives us the remedy to overcome disbelief this side of Paradise. Our heavenly Father will provide what we need when we lack. We may not receive everything we want, but we do receive what we need at the right time. As the Psalmist says: Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Trust yourself and you will fall. Trust the Lord, trust His providential care, and you stand.

If Jesus jumps off the pinnacle of the temple, He enters into an unnecessary danger. He shows off for the sake of showing off. Jesus never performs a miracle in order to show off. Every miracle is performed to help someone in need. There’s no need to call out angels to catch Him. It is written: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

Even today we are tempted to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, so to speak. We try to put ourselves ahead of everyone. We gossip against our neighbor. You know something they don’t know, and you can’t wait to tell everyone about it…except them, of course. We attend church only when there’s a personal goal that needs to be met. I really sinned big time this week. I guess I’ll go to church and get my forgiveness. Maybe next week I won’t need forgiveness once I clean up my act. It works the other way, too. I’m such a horrible person that God can’t possibly forgive me. Yes, He can, and He does.

As Jesus overcomes the temptation to arrogance, so He also shows us how to overcome spiritual arrogance. When you are tested, cling to God’s promises for you. He will show me the way to walk with Him. When I stumble off the way, He will provide a way back to the path. When I fall far off the path, there stands Christ ready to catch me, to forgive me, and bring me back to rejoice in His gifts in His house.

The accuser saves the greatest rudeness for last. He provokes Jesus through the glory of the world. Nothing belongs to him, yet he wants Jesus to believe everything belongs to him. All our Lord needs to do is fall down and worship him. Satan shouldn’t be that blunt, but he is. We undergo the same temptation, too. How many times have you looked for that get-rich-quick scheme that will finally give you financial security? How many times have you ditched reliable friends for new, well-connected friends who turn out to be people who use you and then kick you to the curb? Then there are the times when you want to cast aside what you believe about the Christian faith and no longer practice it. God is out of one more last chances. Or, worse yet, God stands in the way of family, friends, and every advantage necessary to have a good life.

Jesus has an answer for that temptation. You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve. When Christ speaks, the evil enemy must give way. He has no response to it. He can no longer tempt our Lord. As Christ speaks the Truth, so He gives you the Truth in the Scriptures. There is no other God but the one Lord God revealed in Sacred Scripture. The devil is a liar. His accusations are a farce. He must flee the scene a defeated man when you strike back with the Truth.

The Truth is that the world, your flesh, and Satan make false promises. The Truth is that you will fall prey to Satan’s temptations. Because you believe the evil foe, you deserve eternal death. Jesus Christ, however, breaks and hinders the power of the devil, the world, and your flesh. He overcomes temptation not to bask in His own glory, but to give you the spoils of His triumph. His perfect righteousness, His perfect holiness, and His perfect victory over sin and death are yours in believing Christ alone overcomes the adversary. Jesus alone brings you again to paradise. Jesus alone declares you worthy of sonship with the Father. It is written: He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

Hey, watch this! Jesus overcomes temptation for you. You, also, overcome temptation. He gives you the sword of the Spirit and the full armor of God against the foe’s cunning strikes. In Christ you have the victory, both here and in eternity.

Quinquagesima – Luke 18:31-43

The Resurrection of our Lord is the fulcrum, the center point, of the church year. Everything flows from it, and everything flows to it. It is the greatest mystery of godliness. Christmas time introduced us to this mystery as God is revealed in the flesh. Lententide, which begins Wednesday, covers this mystery in an even deeper and more incomprehensible way. The incarnate Son of God humbles Himself in the suffering of His crucifixion in order to earn salvation for lost sinners.

The next six weeks compels a lively and more faithful knowledge of the blessed mystery of our salvation in Christ. The healing of the blind man by Jesus on His way to Jerusalem is the ideal way to enter into Lent. We hear today that our salvation is only in the crucified and risen Son of God.

The first promise of a Savior is given to Adam and Eve. God willing we will hear the full context next weekend. For now we hear the promise itself. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. The last promise comes from the mouth of Malachi under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. In between these two prophecies are many more assurances that Messiah is coming.

Messiah comes to suffer. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise. Jesus suffers in His soul. He suffers agony in Gethsemane. The wrath of His Father goes on Him. He suffers the torments of hell for our sake, even crying out My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? This terrible suffering pays for the guilt of sin. It is the atonement, the sin offering, for the punishment of our sin. Through it Jesus overcomes the devil, death, and hell. Divine righteousness is satisfied. Redemption is perfected, prepared for, and acquired for all sinners. Hence our Lord’s last words from the cross: It is finished.

Christ’s suffering and death is the penultimate note. His rising from the dead is the ultimate note, the confirmation of His work of atonement for our sake. Without the resurrection, everything that comes before it is in vain. In the resurrection we see the revelation of His glorious victory over all our enemies. We see the completion of His work of salvation sealed, for Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

It is one thing for our blessed Lord to acquire salvation. He also appropriates His salvation to us. We don’t often hear the word “appropriation” these days. We usually think of it in the context of our government. Congress sets aside public funds for a specific use. That’s federal appropriation. The Illinois General Assembly does the same thing on the state level. Another definition of “appropriation” is “to claim or use, especially as by an exclusive right.” That’s what Jesus does with His salvation for us. He uses it by an exclusive right to save us.

Our Savior could cling to His salvation on our behalf. He could dangle it as a carrot in front of us. He could demand that we clean up our act, get our spiritual room tidied in order to make way for His saving benefits. He does no such thing. His work of salvation is exclusively for sinners, not for those who used to be sinners. Yes, you are holy by virtue of believing that Jesus Christ shed blood for your sin and was raised from the dead for your sake. Yet while you remain in the flesh, you also remain a sinner. You need Jesus to appropriate what is His for you.

Consider the blind man in today’s Gospel. He believes Jesus is able to do something about his malady. We get a clue that the man believes Jesus is more than merely a man when he persistently cries out: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Note that he says this after the crowd tells him Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. What’s the difference between the two titles? One is Jesus’ earthly title. It’s like saying David from Du Quoin. Calling Jesus Son of David, however, is a Messianic title. The blind man knows more about the Lord than perhaps most of the crowd.

Hearing the blind man call Him Son of David, Jesus stops dead in His tracks. What do you want Me to do for you He asks? Lord, let me recover my sight. Jesus gives what the blind man desires. Immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him, glorifying God. Jesus appropriates sight to a blind man. He has the authority to do it.

You, like the blind man, outside of Christ, are spiritually blind. You can’t see your way to Paradise. Jesus, however, has the authority to give you sight. He appropriates vision. He creates trust that He is your Savior in hearing His Word, for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

Jesus appropriates salvation by the Holy Spirit when He shows from the Law the misery of sin. Once you hear your miserable state, He then proclaims an end to misery in Christ Jesus. He alone accomplishes redemption. He alone is able to give His redemption to you. When you receive it, when you believe it, you are born from above as God’s own child. You are washed in the waters of baptism. Your desire is to receive more of what the Lord has for you. Your desire is to live in peace with God and with your neighbor, putting your body to work to serve Him as you serve others.

Lent is the season when we consider the depths of our depravity because of sin. Lent is a special season where repentance is encouraged. Yet sin and repentance run through every season of the church year, as does the joy we have in Christ’s completed redemption and resurrection for us. It is, indeed, a happy Lent. Our joy is muted, but not fully silenced. We know what lies at the end of the forty days of Lent. When we get there, we will see what a wonderful Savior we have, Who is willing to trample down death and cover us with His blood that we might be His children.

Sexagesima – Luke 8:4-15

It’s fun to play “What if”. Now and then I pretend that our family lives in a four-bedroom condominium on the 88th floor of the John Hancock Building in Chicago. If you have trouble sleeping maybe you pretend that you’re someplace else doing something else. It’s nice to pretend and wonder what could be if circumstances are different.

There’s a danger to playing “What if”. The parable of the soil into which the seed falls shows the danger. “What if” sometimes leads to worry. We play the “What if” game all the time in a negative connotation. It’s always good to have a contingency plan should something unexpected occur. But “what if” you’re constantly worried about a contingency plan? “What if” that contingency plan fails? “What if” this or that happens? You can “what if” yourself until you’re crazy.

From our side of things, there’s a lot of “what ifs” to consider as the sower sows the seed. Take the seed that lands among thorns. The seed grows. Hearers receive the Word. They believe in God and are saved. Then thorns arise and take over. Worries creep into the heart. Worries about daily bread, reputation, and so forth, whether actual or perceived worries, are maintained and excused. Worries are seen as our contingency plan. You have to be prepared. You also can worry so much about what you have and don’t have that you fail to appreciate what is given you by the gracious, giving God.

The fruit of the Word implanted in the soil is suffocated by thorns that bore deeper into heart and mind. Before long you’re literally lying on a bed of thorns, walking on a bed of thorns, even sitting on chairs of thorns. What if everything goes bad? What if the Word doesn’t really take root in my life? What if the Word I’ve heard all my life is a sham? What if my congregation can’t survive? What if everything around me isn’t real?

If that isn’t enough, there are thorns of abundance. It’s not sinful to have many things. What is sinful is when abundance causes you to see things in a different way. Instead of putting abundance to work for furthering God’s kingdom, you see the abundance of what you have as a way to get ahead of everyone, including God. The seed of the Word of God is suffocated again. All that’s left is thorns that block Jesus giving you His gifts of forgiveness of sins. You’ll never find satisfaction in abundance that lies to you about having more abundance to better yourself. What if I don’t have more than my neighbor? What if I could show off all that I have to make others jealous of me?

But wait, there are more thorns. If earthly cares and deceitful abundance don’t get the job done, the pleasures of this life certainly can do you in. Satan is always looking for ways to get you to love everything and everyone except the Lord. Your own flesh seeks to find its own salvation in creature comforts. Even the world lies about your life never getting any better than it is right now. No wonder so many choose to live for today rather than live in the grace and joy of God bestowed on His beloved children in the all-availing shedding of blood by Jesus for the sin of the world.

Misplaced lusts for life are perhaps the most dangerous thorns of all. What if I love the image of a scantily-clad woman on my phone more than my wife? What if I spent more quality time with the guy down the street than with my husband? What if I dressed in such a way that makes others turn their head? What if I treated others as if they have to pay attention to me more than others?

It seems as if there is no hope for the seed that is choked by thorns. Maybe a shrug and an “amen” is appropriate here as we mourn what might have been. But “what if”? What if the good and wise Law of God has its way with the sinner’s heart, working contrition and repentance for trusting and loving everything except God? What if the Sower Himself, Jesus Christ, rips away the dying thorns killed by the preaching of the Law? What if the seed is watered with vivifying baptismal water? What if that seed is regularly nourished by hearing the Good News that Jesus Christ has destroyed death and paid for sin, bestowing His unblemished righteousness to the sinner? What if that seed is also nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ under bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith in Jesus? What if that seed doesn’t die, but instead lives? What if that seed bore abundant fruit?

With God all things are possible. After all, He is in the death and resurrection business…and business is always good. Sometimes that seed lands on good soil, ready to receive the seed and bear fruit a hundred fold. Yes, there are times the seed lands on bad soil. It’s as if Jesus knows it, laments it, yet rejoices in the seed that bears fruit. The implanted Word regularly nourished can’t help but bear fruit; the fruit of joy and pleasure of resting in the arms of a loving Savior. The “what if” of what seems impossible is certain in God’s only-begotten Son. You live. You bear fruit. You abide in the Vine of Righteousness growing from the Tree of Life.

Septuagesima – Matthew 20:1-16

Whatever is right I will give you. That’s grace. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? That, too, is grace. Grace is a one-way street. The receiver can say no to the giver, but does so at their own peril. Why would anyone resist a gift or try to add or subtract to that gift with their suggestions? That’s what happens with those who work in the vineyard. They begrudge the owner of the vineyard. Twelve hours work, nine hours, six hours, maybe even three hours work, should bring more reward. Everyone, fair and square, receives what was promised.

Our sinful nature hates grace. It loves control. It loves power. When we think of God’s attributes, mercy, peace, joy, and grace rarely come to mind. Power and control usually are toward the top of the list. Ask any group of people to describe God. They might use words like “awesome” or “almighty”. Those are words of power and control. Yes, God is in control of His creation. The control He has, however, is not the control we want.

We want to control God’s control. We want the marionette strings. We want to be the neck that turns the head in whatever direction we want the head to look. When we hear the words of Psalm 9: The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble, we think of ourselves as much as we think of others. When it comes to God acting on the others, we would rather He not act on them so much as act on us first, last, and always. We’ll always be more oppressed than anyone. We’ll say or do anything in order to make sure God keeps looking at us and no one else.

If He does look at anyone else, we’ll be the ones pulling the strings to give them their just desserts. Psalm 9 goes on to say the needy shall not always be forgotten. I’m needy. Don’t forget me, Lord. Make sure You take care of me first, Lord, then, if there’s enough, You can give to them. But I’d rather you give to me first. Everything. Please. Thank you.

Letting go of control is freedom. It is also the most difficult and, frankly, dangerous thing to do. When we let go of controlling God, our spouse, our children, even our friends, God finally has room to work. God’s work upon His people is to show them how things really are rather than how we want things to be.

Imagine if you gave up on trying to put your best foot forward in all you say and do. The facade is gone. The perfect home, the perfect family, the perfect marriage, everything, gone. You have nothing to worry about anymore. The mask of “just so” is gone. Now you see everything as it is. You are loved by God in the righteousness that avails on account of Christ. As you are loved by Him, you love others in turn. You don’t count the cost of that love. Literally.

So it is with the workers in the parable. The owner of the vineyard doesn’t count the cost. He loves all the workers just the same. His wage is the same no matter how long they worked. The control freak in all of us can’t stand it. We know that more work equals more pay. Not so in the kingdom of heaven. All the people loved by God get exactly the same thing. What is crazy in the world is graceful in God’s kingdom.

God could be graceless and give you what you actually deserve. How would you like a nice cold plate of eternal death? Perhaps a reservation at a cabin in the burning lake of fire that is never quenched? You could go for a nice cruise in the brimstone infested waters for eternity. Maybe you’d rather have a room at the everlasting separation from God hotel. You get what you deserve there. Everything you never thought of receiving is exactly what you get when you begrudge His generosity.

In Christ, however, what you get is Jesus Himself quenching that burning lake. He cancels your room at the everlasting separation from the Father hotel. You get what you don’t deserve from Jesus. You get peace that transcends everything your mind can think of. You get the pleasant surprise of joy in believing that nothing can separate you from God’s love in Jesus. You, at last, are free. No more worries about what you’re going to do about your salvation. That’s taken care of in Christ’s blood and righteousness that covers all your sin. You have all the time in the world to love Him in loving all those you know and don’t know.

The last thing you want to hear from God’s mouth is take what belongs to you and go. What belongs to you when you begrudge His generosity is death by control. God does you no wrong when He gives you something you don’t deserve and you certainly didn’t earn. He calls it grace. Grace is His favor abundantly poured out over you. He is well-pleased with you because He is well-pleased with His Son’s work of redemption for you. Grace is a state of being. It is the water we drink, so to speak, in Christ. Though we are sinners and deserve only His wrath, He instead gives us His righteousness in Jesus. You live. That is what is in your pay envelope on Judgment Day. Whether you’re paid last or first, by the grace of God there goes you with Jesus into the New Creation. That’s grace. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Transfiguration of Our Lord – Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21

The season of Epiphany is a time to listen. Every season in the church year is about listening, but Epiphany especially is a season of listening. We hear how God’s only-begotten Son manifests Himself to His people through signs. We have a short Epiphany season this year so we didn’t get to listen to Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. We didn’t hear the 12-year-old Jesus confound those in the temple who heard Him speak of His coming. We didn’t hear Jesus cleanse a leper, heal the centurion’s servant, or calm the sea in a storm. We did hear, however, His baptism in the Jordan River by John and the voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be the Father’s beloved Son.

We hear the Father’s voice again today with Peter, James, and John. The Father had to interrupt Peter’s commentary on the mountain top. Peter wasn’t listening. He was too busy talking about what he saw and what would be nice to do. His reaction is the natural one. It’s not every day you’re invited to see Moses and Elijah standing on either side of Jesus talking about what will soon happen to the Christ. It’s natural to want to stay there for a while and listen to the conversation.

What Peter learned that day, and what he later wrote about in his second epistle, is that it is far better to listen than it is to talk. There is always time to talk about what you have seen and heard, especially to those who are outside the Christian faith. Before you can talk about what you have seen and heard, though, you must first listen before you speak.

Peter writes about what happened that day when Christ was transfigured in today’s epistle. Note what he says after he talks about what happened that day. We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

What makes the prophetic word more fully confirmed? The prophetic word is confirmed by what holy men of God wrote after they had seen and heard it happen. The apostolic preaching of Jesus Christ is carried through the centuries by those who pass down what was once seen and heard, making it fresh for a new generation through proclaiming the Scriptures anew and applying the Scriptures to your situation in life.

Yes, pastor, I understand that. But how do we know it is sure? Ah, there’s a fantastic question! The prophetic word has been passed down century after century in almost every language that exists, including those languages no longer spoken. Though the word is applied to different circumstances in different cultures, the content of the word remains the same. The content of the prophetic word is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That’s the conversation happening on the mountain that Peter, James, and John are privileged to hear. That’s the Good News proclaimed to you again today.

The Good News, the prophetic word more fully confirmed, is that God becomes man in order that man is brought into eternal fellowship with God. Seeing Jesus as He is according to the flesh, you would be hard pressed to believe this prophetic word. You’re not alone. Peter uses the phrase cleverly devised myths. Granted that a myth is not necessarily synonymous with something that is false, yet so many understand a myth that way. It’s too good to be true. Worse yet, it is impossible for God to become man and yet remain both God and man.

There’s an awful lot of talk still today about what some might call cleverly devised myths. It’s easy to use that epithet when you don’t want to hear a need for the salvation of mankind. How dare anyone call something that I think is perfectly fine a “sin”. How things are right now is as good as it is going to get. This life, right now, is the mountain top. We might as well go ahead and set up our tabernacle here and live for today. There’s no sin, there’s no hope for eternal life, and there’s no need to preach a prophetic word when it’s obvious that preaching can be twisted and perverted through the centuries. Nothing that good lasts that long without inaccuracies.

Perhaps that is what remains amazing about the Christian faith. God leaves the preaching of the prophetic word in the hands of sinful people. Maybe churches would be full if an angel from heaven descends every weekend to preach a sermon direct from God’s mouth to your ears. That’s how it is today in the preaching of the Gospel, though. Granted I’m not an angel, but I am given the noble task of being a messenger, an angel, so to speak, of good news.

The Good News is that God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ, has covered all your sin in His precious blood. Listen to Him in His Word. Listen to Him perform signs to heal the sick and raise the dead. Listen to Him tell His adversaries Who He is and what He comes to do for them, whether or not they want to believe it. Listen to Him give up His spirit, rest in a tomb, and rise from the dead victorious over death and Satan. Listen to Him bring us to the fullness of our inheritance in heaven. Listen to Him drown you in baptismal water, all the while putting His name on you, adopting you as His own child, and declaring that all He has belongs to you.

The same voice that came from the burning bush to Moses comes to Peter, James, John, you, and me today, telling us to listen to Him. You are put into Christ. All that He does, especially His death and His rising from the tomb, is for you. When you listen to Him, then you can open your lips to praise Him and tell others what He has done for you that they might have what is given to you. Listen to Him. Listen to the prophetic word more fully confirmed by the apostolic preaching of Jesus Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. His Word declares you free from death and hell, and an heir of everlasting life in Christ. Have no fear. Your enemies are made your footstool. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

The Baptism of Our Lord – Matthew 3:13-17

“Who do you think you are?” It’s a rhetorical question. We ask it all the time. If you have children, you’ll ask it more than you care to ask it. If you’ve been wronged in some way, you might ask it to someone’s face. It’s a question usually asked in exasperation. When we ask a child who they think they are, the occasion is when they say or do something that is the last straw. Same for the person who has wronged you. We know who they are. They know who they are? Yet it seems that the other person has lost their identity along the way. Who we thought they were is no longer the case.

Let’s ask the question in the non-rhetorical sense. Who do you think you are? You have a name. When a woman marries a man, the woman usually changes her name to the man’s last name. Some people may not like the name their parents gave them. They go through a legal process to change their name. Even if the name is changed, the person remains the same. It’s not as if they have gone through a change that has made them a completely different person.

Yet because of your baptism you are a completely different person. Once you were in darkness. Now you are a child of the Light from above. Once you were dead. Now you are alive. Once your identity was outside of Christ. Now you are in Christ, and Christ is in you. No one notices the change in identity because you remain the same ol’ you on the outside. Before God, however, you are a different person because you have been incorporated into the Vine of righteousness. You can actually answer the question, “Who do you think you are?” with the answer, “God’s own child, that’s who.”

Who did Jesus think He was when He came to John the Baptist and asked to be baptized? John is right to ask, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? The shoe needs to be on the other foot. John is the sinner. Jesus is the sinless Lamb of God. Jesus should take up baptizing in John’s place with John being the first one in line.

Perhaps you, like John, question our Lord’s request for baptism. It’s nonsense. Submitting to something unnecessary embarrasses both Jesus and John. The scene seems to be made worse when Jesus answers John’s statement with His permission: Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. All righteousness is fulfilled in Christ. He doesn’t need to be baptized. Why doesn’t Jesus choose another way to fulfill righteousness?

It’s as if we don’t want to see our Lord as both divine and human. We’d rather He keep His distance and not come near us sinners. A wave of the hand, maybe a little stage smoke and mirrors, that would be a better way to get the job done. It could look Hollywood enough to sway even the most hard-boiled agnostic.

Jesus doesn’t change form when He is baptized. He’s still the same ol’ Jesus we know and love. There’s no change in Him, for He is holy and perfect. His baptism inaugurates His ministry among us. He was always one of us according to the flesh, yet without sin. Here and now is where our Lord begins His march to declare the world righteous in His innocent suffering and death. All that is ours becomes His as John pours water over His head in the Jordan River. The Father attests that Jesus is His only-begotten Son in the voice from heaven. The Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove. The Christ comes to bring peace between God and man. He alone is able to do it not for His own sake, but for ours.

In your baptism Christ is put on you, and you are put into Christ. That’s a unique way of putting it, but it’s true. Outside of Jesus you are a dead branch. Yet when He picks you up and grafts you into the Vine of righteousness, you live. You are a rusty can. You aren’t worth much. But to our Savior, you are precious. He takes His trash stick, pokes it right into you, and puts you into His bag. He doesn’t take you to the recycling center for scrap. He keeps you close to Him by applying His Word of life in your ears and feeding you with this Word under bread and wine. All His righteousness is yours, too; every last drop of it.

That blessed day when you were buried in the watery grave of baptism, you arose from the font a new creation. Baptism is a picture of death and resurrection. Now because you are baptized into Christ, you have no fear of death. You have died to sin because Christ has died to sin for your sake. As a new creation, you are reborn in the image of God, zealous to love both God and your neighbor with open hands and hearts. The Spirit descends in the Word of Christ heard in preaching and the sacraments, keeping you close to Jesus in the forgiveness of sins. The Father declares you to be worthy of eternal life because of Jesus.

Who do you think you are? In baptism you are good enough for God because of Jesus’ work upon you. You are put into His blood and His righteousness. His royal robe put on you covers every blemish of sin. You live in the Vine of righteousness, flourishing where He plants you, and given to do the good things He gives you to do in your many callings. Whatever your name, wherever you’re from, whomever you look like, you are a child of paradise because of what was done to you that blessed day when God’s name was poured over you with water and God’s Word. All righteousness is fulfilled in you because Christ fulfilled all righteousness for you. What the prophet Isaiah says about the Christ is also said about you: Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.

The Epiphany of Our Lord – Matthew 2:1-12

Celebrate early, celebrate often. Although the twelve days of Christmas ended Friday, it’s time to start another Christmas celebration. As a star and an angel choir announced the birth of Jesus according to the flesh to shepherds, so a star now announces the birth of Jesus to Gentile Magi, wise men living east of the holy land. The grace and joy of Christmas first displayed to Jews now is displayed to Gentiles as the Magi leave their home having done their homework.

They saw the star even in the east and have come to worship Him. Our heavenly Father has prepared for this moment for many centuries. The Gentiles have always been included among those who are saved. Consider three of the many Gentiles mentioned in the Old Testament. There’s Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law. He believed in the God Who rescued His people from the Egyptians. There’s Ruth, who believed in the Lord God through the witness of her mother-in-law Naomi. Lest we forget Naaman the Syrian, who was healed of leprosy by a word spoken by Elisha. He, too, forsook pagan gods and turned to the one true God.

Notice that these three Gentiles were drawn to worship the Lord through the words of one of His faithful. Jethro had Moses. Ruth had Naomi. Naaman had Elisha. The Lord works through means. He uses the spoken word to draw all nations to Himself. In the case of the Magi He used a miraculous star and a particular enlightenment that came in their study of wisdom from the known world.

Yet when they arrive in Jerusalem to ask about the newborn King in the house of Herod, king of the Jews, their question is met with perplexed gazes. Saint Matthew says Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. They, too, did their homework and found out that this King the visitors mentioned was born in Bethlehem of Judea, as the prophet Micah foretold. The Magi came so far to meet the newborn King, yet find a discouraging welcome from the one whom they thought would know all about the Christ. When the star reappeared as they drew near to Bethlehem, everything clicked into place.

You can almost imagine in your mind’s eye the joy the Magi had when they found the Christ Child with His parents. If the star brought delight, how much more delight they now have in being able to touch the King of the Jews. The Savior of the Nations did not spurn His mother’s womb. He is not embarrassed to wear swaddling cloths. He was OK resting in a manger. Now, as He grows in years, even as a toddler, He does not cast away these foreign potentates.

He does not cast away you, either. He draws you to Himself with His holy Word. His Word of forgiveness and joy is the star that brings you to His house today. The King of the Jews is also the Savior of the Gentiles. He bids you welcome in His name to His house to feed you with His Word, wash you with the water and blood that flows from His pierced side, and brings delight as His righteousness and holiness is yours in believing that Jesus has trampled down death forever in His resurrection.

No wonder that we, too, adore Him as the Magi do. They do so not as a command, but out of respect for Who He is even in the appearance of a mere boy. This mere boy is also the eternal Son of the eternal Father, being of one substance with the Father. Jesus is very God of very God, begotten, not made. They fell down and worshipped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. We give gifts in the same spirit that the Magi give gifts. We rejoice in the gift Jesus brings us: sonship with God in believing we, like Him, die not when we die. Jesus Christ gives us the gift of eternity. All our debt of sin is paid in His perfect offering upon the cross. His blood covers the sins of both Jew and Gentile, just as the Father wants it.

The very audience Jesus to whom Jesus first comes lag behind in believing their promised Savior has arrived. Confusion reigns in King Herod’s court. Even scribes and rabbis have no idea what has happened. When they do realize what has happened, they do whatever they can to aid Herod in wiping out this so-called “pretender” to the throne. Even the Magi are warned in a dream not to return to Herod. They departed to their own country by another way. Their trip, however, was not in vain. What they had read was true. Their eyes saw their salvation, and the salvation of their race as well as the Jewish people.

The message of Jesus as Lord has not changed through the centuries. Still today the Church proclaims that salvation is near in the person of Jesus Christ. There still is room for all nations in His house. Epiphany is not only the Gentiles’ Christmas; it is also a season where we consider the work of missionaries in our country and around the world.

In a way, all of us are missionaries of a sort. Mothers and fathers confess the Gospel to their children, bringing the Good News of salvation to their lives. We all know people who have either fallen from the Christian faith or have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are called to speak the word of hope to them. It doesn’t take much to be a missionary of a sort. You speak the Word and let that Word take root in them. The Holy Spirit working in that Word will do all the heavy lifting of creating faith when and where He wills.

That’s always the hard part, though, knowing when and where He wills the Word to take root in a person’s life. Rather than worry about it, we let the Spirit does what He does and thank God for the opportunity to speak His Word. Whether the mission takes place in your home or halfway around the world, all will hear the mercy of God in Jesus Christ through the preached Word. Gentiles shall come to the brightness of His light. In His light do we see light, the light that overcomes the shadow of death and delivers the crown of life that never fades away. Now there’s something to celebrate!

First Sunday after Christmas – Luke 2:33-40

It is the sixth (seventh) day of Christmas and we’re still singing Christmas hymns. It’s OK to say “Happy New Year” as much as it is still proper to say “Merry Christmas” or even “Happy Holidays”. These are holy days from now until next weekend. Even when the tree is taken down and all the decorations are put away until next December, we are not able to stop learning the wonders of God’s grace for us in Jesus Christ.

Saint Peter catches this constant marveling at God’s work on our behalf in First Peter chapter one. He writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: The prophets, who prophesied about the grace that has come to you, searched and studied carefully concerning this salvation, trying to find out what person and what time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, when they wrote about these things. These are the things that have now been announced to you by those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even the angels long to look carefully into these things.

That’s why it’s proper to stand before the manger even today full of holy astonishment. What are we looking at when we look at the Christ Child in the manger almost a week after the fact? We’re looking at the great mystery of salvation. The first words of today’s Holy Gospel say that Joseph and Mary marveled at what was said about Him by Simeon. If that is not enough, Anna the prophetess also adds her witness to Simeon’s witness, speaking of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The witness of Simeon and Anna remains in the Church even today. As Saint Paul tells Saint Timothy: Great is the mystery of godliness: He was revealed in flesh, was justified in spirit, was seen by messengers, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. Here is the message of apostolic preaching. We stand before the manger of Jesus seeing with the eyes of faith that He is revealed in flesh. What is more, His preaching continues among the nations and is believed on in the world.

The fact that Gospel preaching remains in the Church is practically a miracle in itself. When family stories are told, it seems that the narrative changes a little bit from generation to generation. Facts about a particular incident change. Maybe they are forgotten. The experience itself might be the only thing that remains true as the stories are told. What wasn’t funny at the time makes us laugh in retrospect.

When the Gospel is proclaimed, no matter the language, the story remains the same. Jesus Christ, long promised by prophets, pitches His tabernacle of flesh and blood among His people. He does not spurn the virgin’s womb. His humiliation in becoming man brings about our salvation. His salvation is for all, both Jew and Gentile. He offers salvation to all, yet so many despise it. They think His work for us is too easy. Worse yet, it might be a tale that has been twisted and perverted through the generations, much like their own family stories. Yet those who cling to His story as it breaks into history are spared everlasting death and given everlasting life as a gift.

The Gospel, though, often hits our ears and heart to find us no longer able to marvel at God becoming man. So many other words cause us to marvel instead of the birth of the Savior in the flesh. We’re stunned to hear the death of a celebrity, or a friend, or even a friend of a friend. We remember what used to be in a building in downtown Kankakee fifty years ago. We recall all the good times we had patronizing the business in that building. We write about it on Facebook groups. When it comes to remembering the Bible stories we learned in Sunday School or when a family member read the Bible to us, our memory has a hard time recalling the story. What should be the most familiar thing to us instead becomes a faint memory.

It’s hard to be astonished at something when you are over-astonished at everything. Then again, maybe we have lost our own story while gaining everyone else’s story as our own. There’s no better time that Christmas time to regain a love for the story that includes you as the object of God’s mercy. Returning to the little cradle of Christ to see Baby Jesus resting with His earthly parents takes us back to those happy days when we first heard His birth story. Perhaps you first heard it in a church building, maybe from a pastor or from a Sunday School teacher. That word of Christ’s birth to bear your sin and be your Savior implanted itself in your life. The seed of faith was planted, watered in baptismal water, fed with the Lord’s Supper and with Gospel preaching.

As you grew in grace and in knowing Jesus as Lord, heartfelt joy came with believing Him as your only hope for eternal life. Faith and joy bring holy reverence, for God has come to His people to save them, especially you. Then came the heartfelt desire to pick up the Scriptures and read His story for yourself. Then came questions about the story. Maybe the pastor had the answer, but maybe he didn’t. Through it all, you wanted to know more about this thing that had happened to you in hearing His Word proclaimed to you.

There’s the start of marveling all over again at the Good News of Jesus Christ for you. If you’ve lost your holy astonishment, start again with the main thing. Jesus Christ is born for you. He becomes man for you. He could have stayed with His Father in heaven and found another way to save you from sin and death. This is the way His Father wanted it. He wanted it this way for you. He gives it to you for free. He even creates a way to have His way with you in order to make you His own.

This is the perfect time to join Mary and Joseph as they marvel at everything that is said about Baby Jesus. God’s favor is upon Him. God’s favor is upon you because of Him. Come again to the manger. See the little Stranger you know so well. He is the Prince of Peace, your peace, the world’s peace, and peace between God and man. Take to heart these words of today’s Chief Hymn: “He is the key and He the door To blessed paradise; The angel bars the way no more. To God our praises rise.” Paradise is yours, free and clear, because of Baby Jesus.

Christmas Day – John 1:1-14

Take a look at the Wordle on the bulletin cover. A Wordle is a word cloud that shows what words are used most in a sentence, or even several paragraphs. The most used words in the first fourteen verses of John’s Gospel are God, Word, made, man, witness, world, Light, and truth. Let’s make it a complete sentence and think about that sentence for a while: The Word of God is made man to witness Light and truth to the world.

Notice what two words are missing in the Wordle: Jesus Christ. John calls Jesus the Word. The Word goes forth from God. God is Spirit. His only-begotten Son becomes flesh. He takes on our skin and bones. He is like us in every way but one. He is sinless. That is why Jesus has no earthly father. Mary is betrothed to Joseph, but Joseph did not help conceive this Child. The Holy Spirit implanted the Word of God in Mary’s womb. No other conception will do for the One Who is the sinless offering for mankind’s sin.

Christ’s witness is Light and truth. Notice there are two lights in John chapter one. One is a lowercase letter “l”. The other is a capital letter “L”. The capital letter “L” in Light tells us this Light comes from above. Jesus is the Light the darkness cannot overcome. He comes into the world according to the flesh to shine the light of truth upon the world. The truth He shines is a word of condemnation and of promise. We must see the way we are. That is why the Light from above exposes our sinful nature. However, that is not the only word the Father wants us to hear. If it was the only word He wants us to hear, we remain condemned. We remain outside His fellowship.

The light that exposes our sinful nature brings us to repent of our sin. Once that word has had its say, the proper word of God may be spoken. The proper word of God is the Light and truth that shines in the manger today. Jesus Christ takes on our sin. He becomes sin. We receive His righteousness in return. We are righteous, holy, and perfect before the face of God because of Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Light of the world from Whom grace and truth comes. As we sung a bit ago: “He makes us children of the light.”

What does it mean to be a child of the light? It means you are free to be who God wants you to be. Our Father in heaven gives you talents to serve Him wearing different hats. Some wear the hat of parent. Others wear the hat of child. Still more wear a hat that says employer or employee. All of His children wear a hat that says “God’s own child.” While being a parent, child, worker, student, family member, friend, or neighbor is a great hat to wear, that last hat is the best hat of all.

Jesus calls you to be His child by shining His light on you and giving you His truth. His truth is a truth that never hurts you. It’s always good to tell the truth, but that truth often comes after lies are told. That truth is sometimes told in a way that hurts our neighbor. When God tells His children the truth, the truth of His Law, it hurts. You deserve to die. Again, that’s not the only word God tells His children. The main word He tells is that Jesus died the death you deserve instead. When He sheds His blood, it covers your sin. Our heavenly Father no more sees your sins. He only sees His Son’s righteousness covering you. He sees you as you were before the fall into sin. He sees you as His own precious child, holy and worthy.

That’s the truth Jesus tells you today in His birth according to the flesh. You are holy and worthy in Him because His Light and truth is poured upon you in your Baptism. You are a part of Him. He is a part of you. Everything He does in His life, He does for you. When you hear or read the Scriptures, you hear or see Jesus doing what He does not merely for the eyewitnesses, but especially for you. That includes what you heard in John chapter one. The Word of God is made man to witness Light and truth to the world. This witness is faithful and true. Jesus is born to die, and yet He lives. In His death you have forgiveness. In His life you have life. This is Christ’s service, Christ’s Mass, for you.

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