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Pentecost 8–“Strangers and Citizens” (Ephesians 2:11-22)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Memories are such a powerful thing. They can be good and pleasant, reminding us of times and feelings that are good, but they can also be bad, reminding us of times and feelings that bring heartache or disappointment. Memories can invoke such strong feelings, even help you remember who you are.

Calling upon the memories of the Ephesians, Paul is helping them to see what they have by looking back at what they were. It wasn’t a pleasant time for the Ephesians by any means, for they were a people without God, and Paul reminds them of their dark days. He says, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” This was a terrible problem for the Ephesians, an insurmountable obstacle. Now Paul reinforces how desperate their situation was by adding four more negative descriptions. They were excluded from citizenship in Israel, foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope, and without God in the world.

Recall that at Jacob’s well, Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is from the Jews.” For Gentiles to be “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel” and “strangers to the covenants” that promised the Messiah was a dreadful plight. It made their situations hopeless. Paul can rightly say they were without hope because they were “without God in the world.” It is not that they were atheists, who denied the existence of a god. They had many gods, but they were false gods. They did not have the triune God, so they had no god at all to help them.

Paul doesn’t dredge up these old memories to hurt the Ephesians, but to help them; not to pull them down but to build them up. He wants them to make a comparison. Formerly they were without hope and without God in the world, but all that has changed.

Formerly they were “separated from Christ,” but now they are “in Christ Jesus.” Formerly they were “far off” from the covenant and God’s promised salvation, but now they “have been brought near.” Paul showed them their memories of days of old where they were and where they came from to where they are now and what has been done for them by Christ.

Each and every one of us is just like the Ephesians. We were people who were separated from God, but now are God’s beloved children. We were people who wanted nothing to do with God, but through the work and power of the Holy Spirit, we now flock to God as the One who gives us life and salvation.

That is the great mystery and joy in all of this. God our heavenly Father was not content to watch us die and be eternally separated from Him. And so He sends Jesus to make that atoning sacrifice on our part. And it is only Jesus who does this work and not us. Look at what Paul says: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Not once but twice does Paul say that it is by Christ’s work that we have salvation. Man is not mentioned as the one who does the work. It doesn’t say on account of man’s actions or man’s doing that we earn our salvation. The reason why man is left out of the equation is because man must be left out of the equation. We’re sinful. All that we do is tainted with sin. That includes whatever we might do to earn our salvation.

It is all Jesus who does the work for you. How has Jesus done this to you? It is no mystery, for the text tells us. It is not your efforts or character or desires: it is all the Lord’s doing. He has died for you and He is risen for you. Now, He builds you into His Church by means of His Word: that is what our text means when it says that you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone;” for the Lord used the apostles and prophets to record His holy Word and to point you to Christ, on whom the Church is built. And because you are now forgiven, you are a living stone in that holy temple, being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Everything is done by Jesus. That is the emphasis that Paul makes to the Ephesians in the last half of our text. He tells them, “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Where do we receive our salvation? It is through Jesus. It doesn’t say that we receive it through ourselves. It doesn’t say that we receive it from someone else. It doesn’t say that we receive it through anything of this world. Our salvation is solely from Jesus.

Christ not only redeemed sinners from the guilt and punishment of their sins, be He also made sure the good news of His victory over sin and death was proclaimed. The good news He brought was twofold. First, Christ brought peace, “peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” It bears repeating that the basis for peace is Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and nothing else. Not only does that reconcile the sinner to God, but it also forms the basis for reconciliation between sinners, forging a complete, true, and lasting peace.

A second gift that comes through Christ’s preaching of reconciliation is the realization that an equality exists among forgiven sinners. We all stand on the same plane as God’s forgiven and redeemed children. For the Ephesians, this was quite the revelation, as this did away with the distinction of Jew and Gentile, of those who were “more favored” by God. And so that holds true for us as well. There is not a single one of us that is more loved or more important to God than another, for we are all of the same value: sinners who have been made children of God by Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection. Everyone is one for whom Christ has died. Some believe, but many do not. Some will be untrustworthy, even predatory and harmful – not because of skin color or ethnicity or social status, but because of sin. But everyone is one for whom Christ has died. This is what we practice as Christians.

Christ is our Cornerstone. He is the foundation of our Christian faith because it is He who earned forgiveness for each one of our sins. It is He who made atonement that no mortal man ever could. Through Him you have access to the Father, who no longer sees your sin but rather sees Jesus when He sees you. By virtue of your Baptism into Christ, where you were clothed in Christ’s righteousness, you are washed in the blood of the Lamb without blemish. In Him, you are now no longer a stranger, but a fellow citizen and member of the household of God. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

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Posted by on July 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Pentecost 7–“God’s Blessings” (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

As a young kid in school, gym class could be a good thing or a bad thing. The reason why came down to whether or not you were chosen by a particular team. When you played dodge ball, were you the first one chosen or were you the last? How you were chosen marked your value to the team: the higher you were chosen, the better the team valued you. If you were the last one chosen, then it reflected what the team thought of your playing skills. Everything for that brief amount of time came down to being chosen and what that meant for you.

As Paul sets out to write his letter to the Ephesians, he focuses on being chosen by God. Paul wants the Ephesian church to know just how much God loves them and what they mean to God. The Ephesians were very important to God and Paul wanted them to know that. What was so special about the Ephesians? What was it that set them apart from everyone else? What made the Ephesians so special had nothing to do with them. Rather, it had everything to do with God. Paul says, “…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world…. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ….” You see, what made the Ephesians so special was that God had chosen them, not that they had chosen God. What made them special was the love that God has for them through Jesus Christ.

In Christ, God chose us to be holy and blameless. It is not that we were holy and blameless to begin with, and for that reason God took a liking to us and chose us. Rather, He chose us when we had no righteousness to offer. In fact, He chose us before we were born, before the world even existed. God chose us, Paul says, not because we were holy and blameless, but He chose us “that we should be holy and blameless.” He chose us, the sinners that we are, in order to make us righteous in Christ. Every spiritual blessing rests on Christ and His saving merit.

Just think what Paul is saying here in our text. From eternity, before time began, God’s plan was to make us members of His family, to bring us into His household as His sons and daughters! One has to ask themself this question: why? Why does God do all that He does? Paul tells us exactly why: “In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will….” In other words: He did it because He wanted to, not because He had to. He did it because He wanted to, not because we deserve it. He did it because He wanted to, not because we earn it. These spiritual blessings that come as God’s children are totally underserved. They come purely as a gift of God’s grace.

As we look at what we are, chosen and holy and blameless, we must remember that this did not come without a cost. You and I do not bear that cost, for it is beyond what you and I could ever pay. The cost was paid in full and the cost was not what you would expect it to be. Luther writes that Jesus Christ “purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” It wasn’t anything that you and I paid for that won our salvation. It wasn’t anything in this world that paid for our salvation. It was Jesus Christ and His blood, His death, His resurrection that earned for us our salvation.

The greatest blessing that you and I receive is the forgiveness of sins we have in Christ. Nothing else that we have in this world or could ever have means anything when compared to what we receive from God.

It is such a wonderful thing to know that God did all of this for me and not because of me. You might be wondering what difference there is between God doing this for me and God doing this because of me. There is quite a difference between the two and only one is the correct understanding of God’s love for you.

What God has done through the saving work of Jesus Christ has all been for you. The saving work of Christ was done out of the love He has for the Father. In creation, it was meant to be perfect, that is, without sin. But through the fall of sin came death. In order to restore creation to what it was intended to be, God sent Christ to redeem it. That meant that Christ was sent to redeem you. Everything that was done was done by Christ, the One who made salvation for you possible. God’s eternal plan, fulfilled in Christ, for our good and blessing, was so that you and I would have the restored relationship with God our heavenly Father, and that we would be able to stand before Him as His beloved children with sins forgiven.

That is how this relationship is meant to be. However, for many, the relationship is often skewed, in that we think that what God has done is because of me. In this thinking, God sends His Son Jesus Christ to save us because we’re such good and loving people. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that is not how God’s plan of salvation works. God does not send Jesus into this world because of us and who we are or what we’ve done. The only thing about us is that we are damned sinners. Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There is nothing redeemable in that statement, yet there are many that think that their works or other qualities about them make God love them and redeem them.

What does this thinking do to Jesus and the blessings God lavishes upon you for Jesus’ sake? As far as Jesus goes, it robs Him of glory: it says that He did His part to save you, and that you do your part to save yourself by choosing to believe in Him. It takes the focus off of Him, and puts it on your decision, your commitment, and your dedication. As far as the blessings go, it makes them uncertain again: they’re yours, if you really believe in Jesus enough. If you’ve truly chosen Him and made a decision for Him, then salvation and all those blessings are yours. But if your decision wasn’t sincere enough—if you’re only fooling yourself, then you’re lost. You can’t be sure if you’re truly committed.

Those are too many “what ifs” for salvation. All the work is placed on my shoulder and I know that I can never do enough to earn my salvation. Left to my own vices, I would continue to remain a damned and condemned sinner, and so would you. But thanks be to God, our salvation does not depend upon our own work but what has been accomplished for us by Jesus Christ.

That is your joy today: from the foundation of the world, God purposed that His Son would come and redeem you by His blood, so that He might seal you with His Spirit and lavish His grace upon you today. There is no doubt to these blessings beyond reason: for Christ’s sake, most certainly, you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Pentecost 6B–“Salvation’s Work” (Mark 6:1-13)

B-70 Proper 9 (Mk 6.1-13)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

It is said that familiarity breeds contempt. Familiarity only breeds contempt where contempt already exists. It’s like an incubator. Incubators breed germs but they also hatch chicks.

As we see in our Gospel reading, Jesus returns to His hometown of Nazareth; not as the son of a carpenter, but as a rabbi and teacher. This synagogue Jesus had attended as a boy, a teenager, and a young man. The worshipers that day were all people who knew Him well. He had now come to share the Gospel with them, but they were not ready to receive Him as the One who embodied the Gospel.

The synagogue audience was amazed at Jesus’ teaching and at His miracles of which they had heard. However, in their eyes, He was no more than a carpenter, “the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon.” Jesus was just “one of them,” an ordinary fellow who once had made a living with His hands. How could He be a prophet and the fulfillment of Scripture? It was more than they could stomach. They rejected His claim and then in their wrath attempted to cast Him off the cliff at the edge of town according to Luke.

Why was contempt bred amongst Jesus own family and townsmen? It was because they already had contempt for Him as He did not stroke them just the way that they wanted. He called them to repent of their sins and be forgiven just like everybody else. Like the Jewish religious leaders, they were looking for someone to accept what they were doing, to give them their blessing. Jesus didn’t do that. He “came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Instead of being proud of their local boy made good, “they took offense at him.”

What a sad day for the people. Jesus comes to bring healing and forgiveness and instead of the people flocking to Him to receive what He has to offer, most choose to stay away from Him. They were so offended that only a few people brought the sick and injured for healing. Even for as few that came to Him, He “laid his hands on [them] and healed them.” How sad! Even Jesus Himself had to marvel because of their unbelief.

Unfortunately, things haven’t changed much since the time of Jesus. Even today, when given the opportunity to come to Jesus through His means of grace to be forgiven and healed, people shy away from Him. What a lesson this is for the servants of Christ’s Church. There are people who resent it when they are encouraged to come to church to receive God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament. Paul tells us, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” How dare a pastor lead a person to Jesus! Our text tells the baptized to accept nothing less from their called servants of the Word to preach and teach according only to the Scriptures, but pastors are criticized for not giving them what their itching ears want.

This is what our Lord faced in His own hometown. If Jesus cannot bring the people of His own town the Gospel, bring to them Himself, what hope does He have with the outside world? The fact of the matter is that we are not much different from those people of Nazareth. The message that Jesus has for us is still offensive to many, but it is what they need to hear. The people need to hear that they are sinners. The people need to hear that without Christ, there is no salvation. The people need to hear that solely because of Christ do they have the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. As much as you may not want to hear it, you are a sinner. As much as you don’t want to hear it, there is no salvation apart from Christ Jesus our Lord. As much as you don’t want to hear it, it is solely because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that you have everlasting life and not because of anything that you have done.

In spite of the opposition that Jesus faced, He continued to go into all the world and bring them the saving Gospel that comes from Him. He continued to go preaching and teaching to the people, even if they didn’t want to hear it. He sent forth the twelve to preach and teach, to cast out demons and anoint with oil those who were sick and heal them.

Even today, our Lord continues to bring His gifts to you. He continues to bring to you the declaration that your sins are forgiven, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” He continues to feed you with His body and blood, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” Jesus does not do this because you are nice. He does this because you are a sinner in need of forgiveness. St. Paul tells us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” He does this for all people, for everyone is a sinner. He died for those who rejected Him in Nazareth. He died for those who sought to put Him to death. He died for those who believed in Him as the promised Messiah. He died for you, those who gather around His means of grace this morning and for those who choose not to avail themselves of the gifts that Christ brings.

Jesus doesn’t use anything special to deliver this forgiveness and His means of grace. Rather, he uses the ordinary to deliver them: water, bread, wine, men. After Jesus goes teaching among the villages, He calls the disciples and charges them to go and minister to those they encountered. These weren’t supermen, but rather your plain, old, simple, sinful men called by Jesus to do great things. They were fishermen, tax collectors; nothing special about them at all, yet Jesus sought to use the ordinary to perform the extraordinary.

Why did Jesus do this? Why didn’t He just go preaching and healing everywhere Himself? It was a matter of life or death – eternal life or eternal death. He sought to take the Gospel to as many as possible, in order that as many as possible would hear the saving work of Jesus Christ and be saved. In order for the disciples to be accepted, Jesus gave them authority over the unclean spirits. The reason why was this: they were Christ’s official delegates. Their listeners would not accept them as representatives of Christ unless they had the same ability to do what Jesus could do. And so, He gave them the authority over demons and the ability to heal in order to establish that they were indeed from Jesus.

Mark tells us the main duty of the apostles: “so they went out and proclaimed that people should repent.” In English: they went out bringing the Law to sinful people so that they would recognize their sin, repent of it and receive the forgiveness that is granted in the Gospel. That’s the exact same thing the Church does today through her called servants of the Word: to preach the Law and Gospel, to forgive and absolve people of their sins.

This account from Mark may seem like two separate accounts, but rather, they are more connected than you think. Both Jesus and the disciples go into the world to proclaim the mysteries of God, to preach the Gospel, to forgive sins. Both face adversity in their work of proclaiming the Gospel. The same difficulties Jesus and the apostles faced then, the Church continues to face today. Regardless of the adversities that we face, we continue to bring the Gospel to a world that is in desperate need of it. We continue to preach and forgive, because we have been forgiven. We continue to preach the saving work of Jesus Christ because He has died to save us and desires to save all.

Jesus loves you enough to give His life for you. He wants you to know Him and the love that God the Father has for you. He has given the Church the command to teach the nations to hold fast to all the things that He taught. Take advantage of this command. Learn about the Christ who loves you and gave Himself into death for you. Learn about the Savior who delights in giving you the things that are best for you. Learn about the Lord who rose from the dead in order to give you the promise of eternal life. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Pentecost 5–“Faith and Healing” (Mark 5:21-43)

B-69 Proper 8 (Mk 5.21-43)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel which was read earlier.

If there is one thing that we don’t like to do, it is waiting. We want food quickly, so we go to the drive thru restaurant. If we want money quickly, we go to the ATM rather than go inside the bank. We don’t like to wait for anything because we are always in a hurry. As we see in our Gospel reading for today, there are two people who do not want to wait but rather seek immediate results to their problems: a woman with a medical concern and Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue.

Jairus had a great need to seek out Jesus. Of all the people to go looking for Jesus, Jairus would have been one of the last ones, for he was a ruler of the synagogue. These were laymen who took care of the administrative duties at the synagogue. They were prominent men, but most of them were opposed to Christ and did not believe in Him. However, Jairus, in his great hour of need, set all of that aside and sought out Christ, throwing dignity out the window and falling at the feet of Jesus. He had a need that only Jesus could fulfill: the saving of his daughter who was near death.

As Mark records this account for us, it is not told to us whether or not Jairus was for or against Jesus and His ministry. He might have been in Jesus’ camp or he could have been anti-Jesus because of his position. Regardless of how he felt about Jesus and His ministry personally, he knew that Jesus had been credited with miraculous healings of people with many types of disease. If Jesus can heal people with various diseases, surely he could preserve the life of a little girl that is near death.

As Jesus is gathered on the shoreline, surrounded by people, Jairus makes his way to Jesus, “and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” What an interesting event this is. Jairus throws out any potential distrust of Jesus and His claims as the Messiah and goes to Him as a father who is deeply concerned for his daughter’s life. Of the utmost concern to Jairus is the well-being of his daughter. In this moment in time, nothing else matters. For Jesus, He puts everything on hold. He leaves the people to themselves and He went with Jairus to his home.

The people follow Jesus because of who He is and what He has done. One of the people there was a woman who had a discharge of blood for twelve years. This was something serious, as Mark records: she “had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” She suffered physically because of this illness. She suffered economically seeking treatment but to no avail. She suffered sociologically as well. Because of her illness, she was ceremonially unclean and this kept her from worship in the temple and the synagogue. She was shunned by all who knew her condition. Not willing to make a public request for help, she said to herself, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” As soon as she touched the garments of Jesus, she was healed of her disease. This woman could not wait any longer to be healed. Everything up to this point had not worked and she knew that Jesus would be capable of healing her.

As soon as she touched Jesus, He had noticed that power had left Him. He asked who had touched Him to correct the disciples and to support her in her faith. This woman came forward trembling in fear at the feet of Jesus and instead of rebuking her, He tells her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” What did Jesus mean? Was it her faith that made her well or was it the healing power of Jesus that made her well? Jesus meant that it was her faith in His ability and willingness to heal her. It was her faith in who Jesus was, the Great Physician of body and soul, that brought about her healing. She went to Jesus in faith of who He was and what He could do, and ultimately, what He would do for all peoples.

While all this is happening, some came from Jairus’ house to inform him that his daughter has died and there is no need for Jesus. Instead of turning around and going back to what He was doing, Jesus told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.”

What profound words of Jesus! Throughout this earthly life, there will be more than ample reason to fear. At times, it may seem hopeless. It may seem as if the best thing to do is to just give up. However, we have faith and believe. We believe that God will indeed care and provide for us.

Once they get to the house, Jesus sends all outside except the parents, Peter, James, and John. They enter the house and Jesus speaks to the girl who is sleeping and not dead: “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Immediately, the girl stood up and began walking. The waiting was over. The Lord had answered. The Lord had come, and He brought life, joy, and peace with Him, for He is the Lord life and death.

As we see with the woman who was healed, she waited for healing and found it in Jesus. Jairus had found in Jesus the healing that his daughter needed as she slept. We are reminded of the words from our Old Testament, “The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” These two individuals looked to Jesus to satisfy their needs, for no one other than Jesus could heal and save.

For you and I, we do not need to wait for the Lord, for He has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. He comes to us in the water to make us His beloved children. He comes to forgive us our sins, that we may stand before our heavenly Father in holiness and righteousness. He comes to us here in His house, where He feeds us with His Word and His body and bood; not only to feed us, but to strengthen us in our faith.

Through the almighty power of Christ, death has been overcome for us, just as it was for Jairus’ daughter. Jesus Himself faced death head-on at the cross, conquering death by rising victoriously over death. That victory over death has been given to us eternally by faith.

Faith in Jesus never disappoints. Jairus had his impossible request fulfilled when he placed his trust in the Lord of Life. By clinging to Jesus and His word, his faith grew and his daughter rose from the dead. By having faith in Jesus Christ, the woman was healed of her disease. Through faith in Jesus Christ, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” You and I cling to those words of Jesus, “Your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” You and I have been healed of our disease because He has forgiven us our sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Nativity of St. John the Baptist–“Benedictus” (Luke 1:57-80)

F-15 Nativity of St. John (Lu 1.57-67)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

As we look at our text for today, we see Elizabeth, cousin of Mary, give birth to her child, John. His father, Zechariah, had been stricken mute by God throughout the pregnancy because he doubted the words of the angel Gabriel. Now, Zechariah is able to speak and he cannot be silenced. He is so excited at the birth of John that he composes a wonderful expression of what God has done in what is called the Benedictus.

Looking at what Zechariah says, he gives nothing short of a testimony. Zechariah’s testimony is nothing like modern testimonials. Today, when a person shares their testimonial, they typically focus upon their own life, and upon what God has done in their circumstances. These testimonials almost never focus upon the greatest thing of all – the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. These other, lesser blessings may be very good in themselves. When God saved you, He forgave your sins and declared you righteous. You are not made righteous in your actions. You are not made holy in your lifestyle. You receive the holiness of Jesus Christ as a gift that covers up your own unholiness.

Zechariah’s hymn is directly dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit. Luke records, “And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied….” When Gabriel appeared, Zechariah doubted the Word of God. Now, following the birth of John, he no longer doubts but has complete faith in God and His Word.

It is true that the occasion for Zechariah’s testimony is the birth of his son, John. So it may seem at first glance that Zechariah is giving a testimonial based on physical blessings. But Zechariah finds more meaning in the event than simply the miracle of birth. The main focus of Zechariah’s Benedictus is God’s work of salvation. This is why a big deal is made about naming the child John, in obedience to the word spoken by the Angel Gabriel. The name “John” means “The Lord is gracious.” The coming of John signaled the arrival of God’s grace in the Person of the Messiah. Therefore, the arrival of John is really about the arrival of the grace and mercy of God.

The first part of the Benedictus deals with “the LORD God of Israel” and what God has done for Israel in the past. And just what has the LORD done for Israel? Zechariah says that the LORD “has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation.” This is the work of salvation for His people. This is God showing mercy, remembering the covenant that He made with Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. Of the descendants of Abraham came David. Jesus came from the house of David, and as the Servant of the Lord, He will bring salvation from all enemies. The rescue effected by Christ will enable God’s people to  serve Him. Zechariah had devoted his life to serving the Lord by representing the people in the temple as priest. Now, he sees a new era when all believers will worship their Savior.

Grace and mercy is the main theme of the Song of Zechariah. He spoke of the tender, compassionate mercy of God that wells up from His heart. But it does not remain merely an emotion within God. His grace quickly finds expression in action. Therefore, He has sent His Son into your human flesh. Christ is the Dayspring from on high, whose arrival upon the earth was like the dawning of a new day, and the beginning of a new creation. He has brought life and light to you who sat in darkness and the shadow of death.

As you move through Zechariah’s song, the hymn moves from past to future. The first part of the hymn describes God’s saving action in the past, while the second part focus on God’s saving in the future. God has visited in the past and will now visit the people of today through Jesus Christ. The redemption and horn of salvation from His past mighty acts will now give knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of sins through Christ. This redemption came to the people through the holy prophets of old, but now will come through the prophet John, the forerunner to Christ.

The message that John comes bringing is not a message about himself, but rather it is the message of Jesus Christ. John was coming to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah: “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”” God’s grand plan was now coming to completion: to send Jesus, the Messiah of God. Matthew records these words from John: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

John knew just how important Jesus would be. He knew exactly what it was that Jesus was coming to do. Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, came at just the right time, living the perfect life that mankind had failed to live; living that perfect life which you have failed to live. Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind, who had failed to keep God’s perfect Law when He died on the cross. That means that your sins were paid for in full on account of what Jesus Christ has done for you. Jesus rose from the grave to demonstrate His victory on our behalf. We know that because Christ has come into this world to live and to die, He will come again at just the right time to usher in the kingdom of heaven in all of its fullness.

Everything that Zechariah says in this hymn is what Christ will do for you and on your behalf. Everything that John the Baptist does is to point people not to himself, but to Christ and His saving work for the people. Jesus has come and demonstrated God’s resolve and ability to deliver on all of His promises, promises that were made by the prophets Isaiah and Malachi. John the Baptist was commissioned by God to prepare the world for Jesus’ first coming. Through John and his ministry, people were brought to faith in the Messiah who had been promised, only to see the Messiah for themselves firsthand.

This same Jesus is the fulfillment of all the promises that God made through the centuries, from Adam to Malachi. Jesus is the meaning of the Covenant that God made with His people Israel. Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus is Lord, because He has saved you from your sins by making atonement upon the Cross with His Blood. That is the Covenant of God.

Here, at the Altar of God, you see the full atonement made for each and every one of your sins. Here you see the Covenant sealed by the Blood of the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Here you participate in the Covenant by receiving the forgiveness of sins, as you partake of the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. May we ever be like those faithful servants of old who point to Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2012 in John the Baptist

 

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Ordination Anniversary

Today marks my seventh anniversary of ordination into the Office of Holy Ministry. Has it really been that long? Sometimes it does and other times it doesn’t. I had one person comment that ordination adds 50 years to your life. That’s a very interesting way to look at it.

As I reflect upon these last seven years, I see many good things the Lord has done for me and my ministry, for my family, and for the congregation that I am blessed to serve. But at the same time, I see the ways that the devil has attacked me and the congregation that I serve as well.

Being a pastor isn’t always glorious. In fact, glorious wouldn’t be the word I would use to describe it. Rather, I would say self-sacrificing, giving, shepherding, and even at times ugly. But doing the work of the Lord is the rewarding and glorious part. Bringing Christ to people in desperate need of a Savior is what it is all about. Bringing the body and blood of our Lord and Savior to the member in the hospital or on their death bed is what it is all about. Declaring a person forgiven all of their sins on account of Jesus Christ is what it is all about.

What have I learned these last seven years? I have learned that there is still more that I don’t know. I don’t pretend to know everything. I need to hear that my sins are forgiving just as much as my members sitting in the pew. I need to receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of my sins just as much as the next person does. You see, being a pastor doesn’t make you sinless. Being a pastor doesn’t earn you any better of a place in heaven as the next person. Being a pastor is a special vocation that God calls a man to, in order to bring Christ and His Gifts of Word and Sacrament to a congregation. The man who is a pastor is still a man. That means he is just as sinful, if not worse, than the next person, because he is the chief of sinners, just as you are.

If anything, after seven years, I guess I would say one thing that I am is humble. For some reason unknown to me, God saw it fit to call me to be a pastor. More often than not, the answer alludes me, but God is God and I am not. I trust His Word and His divine judgment. If he wanted me to be a shepherd to His sheep, who am I to argue?

To sum it up, here is a pray from Martin Luther at the ordination of a pastor:

Merciful God, heavenly Father, thou hast said to us through the mouth of thy dear Son our Lord Jesus Christ: “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest” [Matt. 9:37–38]. Upon this thy divine command, we pray heartily that thou wouldst grant thy Holy Spirit richly to these thy servants, to us, and to all those who are called to serve thy Word so that the company of us who publish the good tidings may be great, and that we may stand faithful and firm against the devil, the world, and the flesh, to the end that thy name may be hallowed, thy kingdom grow, and thy will be done. Be also pleased at length to check and stop the detestable abomination of the pope, Mohammed, and other sects which blaspheme thy name, hinder thy kingdom, and oppose thy will. Graciously hear this our prayer, since thou hast so commanded, taught, and promised, even as we believe and trust through thy dear Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Office of Holy Ministry, Tucher

 

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Pentecost 3–“Tents to Houses” (2 Corinthians 5:1-10)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

While on vicarage, one of the things we did was to take the youth on a camping trip to Nolin Lake State Park in Kentucky. Everything was fine during the trip. The weather was perfect, until the freak summer storm hit. When the rain started it was light, but it didn’t take long for it to turn into what seemed like a flood. Once we got everything at the campsite secured, we turned our attention to ourselves. The only thing that provided us any protection were the tents that we had. They provided us with adequate coverage, but the security of a four-walled building would have been better. We knew that the tents we were using were only temporary, but at that moment, they were our security from the storm.

In this earthly life, we live in nothing but a tent. Sure, some of those tents are pretty nice and they look and feel great, but in the end, the tent will be destroyed. In this tent we groan, and the source goes far beyond rain and storms: because of sin, our bodies and lives face plagues of worry, trouble, disease and death. So, while we live in this tent, we rejoice amidst the groans because we have a building from God, “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Jesus has gone to prepare a mansion for us, and we look forward to the time that we move from this tent and get to go home.

For Paul, he knows with all certainty, that a house “eternal in the heavens” awaits him because that is what God has said. God in the presence of Jesus Christ has given us a promise: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Do you know who that promise was made to? That promise was made to you. It was promised to you in your Baptism when God placed His name upon you. There in the water, God gave you this promise of an eternal house.

When we read Paul’s letter, does it seem interesting to you that rather than fearing when this earthly tent is destroyed, he instead actually looks forward to it? Listen to what he says: “…so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” Death isn’t an eternal death, at least, not for Paul. Death isn’t an eternal death for you either. Death isn’t an eternal death at all for the Christian, for when we die, we merely die an earthly death and receive everlasting life. That is the message that he shared with the Romans when he says, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Paul had no worries when it came to death. The same, however, could not be said for those to whom Paul wrote and visited.

To those whom Paul wrote and visited, they knew that they had salvation because it had been preached to them and taught to them regularly. However, it was how a person received that salvation that was at stake here. Salvation came from a person’s keeping of the Law and their various good works. That same thought was prevalent during the time of the Reformation and what was being taught by the Roman Catholic Church. Even today we hear the same thing. Today we hear from very influential megachurch pastors that preach a salvation that is based solely on what you do. But that is not what is found in Scripture. Instead we hear Jesus say, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus never says that salvation can be found outside of Him, but that is what was taught at the time of Jesus and that is what is taught today.

What assurance of all of this do we have? Can you really trust the word of Jesus? This could be all that there is. This tent in which we live in may be all that we have. Some may say that this is all that we have, that there is nothing beyond this. However, we know that that is not the case. We know that there is something beyond this life, something beyond earthly riches. We know this because we have been given “the Spirit as a guarantee.” The Lord has given a down payment, a deposit guaranteeing what is to come. The Spirit, who called us by the Gospel, keeps us in faith, and dwells in us is the guarantee of what is to come. Combined with the promises of the Father and of Jesus, the Spirit’s promise to us is one that is most certainly true.

We can now walk through this life with confidence, no matter what our situation, no matter what difficulty or hurt we face. We can be confident that our God is good for His promise of life. We need not fear death or the things that happen to our body. As long as we are in these bodies, we are away from the Lord. Paul recognized that and even longed for death. His longing for death was not simply a wish to be unclothed. Rather, death for Paul, as well for every Christian, is not an escape. It is entry into life in its fullest. It is “[putting] on our heavenly dwelling.”

We are able to look forward to that building which God has built because of our faith. Through faith and not by sight are we able to believe that which God has given to us. Even our Lord Himself says “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That is why you walk by faith, not by sight. That is why, when it comes to the tent and the house, you close your eyes and you open your ears. You hear God’s Word, and it is there that you find your comfort and joy, because it’s there that you hear the faith in which you walk.

Just what is this faith that you hear? God created man in His image to be perfect. Through the fall into sin, man lost that image and forever tastes death. Because of sin and death, God sent His Son into this sinful and fallen world in order to redeem it. He did this for a purpose: to prepare a place in heaven for you. He became flesh in order to die for you. He took every infirmity that afflicts your body and life, and bore it on the cross so that those may not curse and torment you forever. He bore every sin that would rob you of life and suffered God’s judgment for them – so that you might be forgiven your sins and delivered in God’s time from this tent of suffering to the eternal home of heaven. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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