Monday, January 21, 2013

Sermon Jan. 19-20, 2013

Title: If Christ is involved, it’s always good!

Text: John 2:3-4

3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

In Elmer Bendiner's book, The Fall of Fortresses, he describes one bombing run over the German city of Kassel:

Our B-17 was barraged by flak from Nazi antiaircraft guns. That was not unusual, but on this particular occasion our gas tanks were hit. Later, as I reflected on the miracle of a twenty-millimeter shell piercing the fuel tank without touching off an explosion, our pilot, Bohn Fawkes, told me it was not quite that simple.

On the morning following the raid, Bohn had gone down to ask our crew chief for that shell as a souvenir of unbelievable luck. The crew chief told Bohn that not just one shell but eleven had been found in the gas tanks--eleven unexploded shells where only one was sufficient to blast us out of the sky. It was as if the sea had been parted for us. Even after thirty-five years, so awesome an event leaves me shaken, especially after I heard the rest of the story from Bohn.
He was told that the shells had been sent to the armorers to be defused. The armorers told him that Intelligence had picked them up. They could not say why at the time, but Bohn eventually sought out the answer.

Apparently when the armorers opened each of those shells, they found no explosive charge. They were clean as a whistle and just as harmless. Empty? Not all of them.

One contained a carefully rolled piece of paper. On it was a scrawl in Czech. The Intelligence people scoured our base for a man who could read Czech. Eventually, they found one to decipher the note. It set us marveling. Translated, the note read: "This is all we can do for you now.

Elmer Bendiner, The Fall of Fortresses.

In our Gospel lesson for today we hear of a wedding; One that our Lord’s mother Mary was invited to. Most commentators believe that Joseph was by this time deceased, but we also learn that Jesus too was invited to the wedding … and with His disciples. This could have been quite a large affair as Jesus and His disciples themselves might have been a sizeable group.

Now at some point Mary makes the statement:

“They have no wine.”

Now this might have been a result of poor planning or just inviting too many people but none the less … no wine.

Mary, the mother of our Lord simply calls out a need to Jesus. She knows and remembers what the angel and the visitation had said concerning her son.

32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)

It is a call in prayer from the mother of our Lord, knowing that he can do what is needed and what is asked according to his will. Christ Jesus came for those in need. Christ came to fill the need of those left in bondage to sin.

So what comes next may sound and short, unloving and harsh coming from the mouth of our Lord:

 “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 

Mary was going beyond her responsibility as a parent. It was not her need to fill the needs of the wedding’s host. It was a question infringing on Jesus and His Messianic work and time … but though Jesus asked the question … “Woman, what does this have to do with me, His words, though rebuking, really are asking Mary: “What do you and I have to do with this?”
But we can know:

If Christ is involved, it’s always good!

You and I too come to our Lord in prayer and at times the requests we make may, through reflection, seem odd. As though we can hear the Lord say, “What does this have to do with me?”

Other times we don’t come to the Lord in prayer because we think, “This isn't important, or God doesn't need to be bothered with my little concerns.” Too often those who need God the most, and are in needful situations, fail to think of Him or ask for Him. At times, here even at Peace, we who are in the business of bringing God’s care and comfort to those in need are the last to know of a member, in the hospital or having brokenness in the home or other concerns in the world or in this life. The world can be your friend but leave you wanting.

James admonishes us in worldliness when he warns:

Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He (Jesus) yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:4-6)

The writer Chuck Swindoll put it this way:
The world system is committed to at least four major objectives, which can be  summarize in four words: fortune, fame, power and pleasure.

First and foremost: Fortune, money. The world system is driven by money; it feeds on materialism.

Second: Fame. That is another word for popularity. Fame is the longing to be known, to be somebody in someone else's eyes.

Third: Power. This is having influence, maintaining control over individuals or groups or companies or whatever. It is the desire to manipulate and maneuver others to do something for one's own benefit.

Fourth: Pleasure. At its basic level, pleasure has to do with fulfilling one's sensual desires.

Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p.219.

Though we are in the world we are called to … not be of the world … and though we daily fall short in all we say or do … we can be sure:

If Christ is involved, it’s always good!

5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

The working of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the everyday lives of his people brings salvation and peace. Mary knew to trust in what He would do.

The jars used for purification rites and ceremonial washing's in Jewish life were large and it not very important the number or the size. The miracle was certainly evident on all involved.
Those servants, who gathered the water to the brim as it were, knew what they had put in those jars and those who had tasted the water turned into wine knew as the master of the feast exclaimed:

“Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 

Just as Jesus does with the means of grace where He dispenses His grace to us through the common things of water and word, bread and wine; and in our lesson today He uses the common servants to fill the common jars with simple common water that He, who is creator of all things, then brings to this common wedding where man is joined to woman and where God, through this blessed union on husband and wife, fills His creation with His children whom He came to redeem.

If Christ is involved, it’s always good!

God, in Christ, has brought the peace that passes all human understanding to you through the simple element of water connected to His word of promise.  He has washed you clean, not with a washing that cleanses, for a time, but through the transforming bath in baptism that takes away the sins of the world not for a time but for eternity!

You are clean! You are washed! You are forgiven! And, you always will be His because you are the new wine, in Him that is poured forth daily as you remember what He has done for you.
If Christ can turn the common water into the miraculous wine of our wedding story in Cana He can also turn the filthy sinner into washed saint through His word of promise in and through Baptism. Jesus also will refresh us with His body and blood given for you in the sacrament of the Altar that we soon will partake of, sustaining and renewing our faith in this blessed gift.

It is His true body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins in and with the brand and the wine … and we know that:

If Christ is involved, it’s always good!

Whether the miracle of unexploded shells left in the fuel tanks in our story of the flying fortresses from WII or the story of the miraculous transformation of the water filled jugs into the finest wine served at the wedding in Cana or the blessed body and blood of our Lord in and with the bread and wine, Jesus Christ, if involved in your lives … the ups and the downs ... is always good and is always there and will be their when you can’t go on, to lift you and carry you. He is the one who will never leave you but will sustain you through the trials of this world promising the life eternal in his name where the comfort and peace of a home in His house is secured by the gift of faith in his blood shed for you!

If Christ is involved, it’s always good!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.


Sermon Jan 12-13, 2013

Title: Christ, in baptism, frees you from sin and makes you His child!

Text: Luke 3:21-22

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Writer Charles Swindoll once found himself with too many commitments in too few days. He got nervous and tense about it.  "I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at mealtimes, and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions throughout the day," he recalled in his book Stress Fractures. "Before long, things around our home started reflecting the patter of my hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable.

"I distinctly remember after supper one evening, the words of our younger daughter, Colleen, he said. She wanted to tell me something important that had happened to her at school that day. She began hurriedly, 'Daddy, I wanna tell you somethin' and I'll tell you really fast.'  "Suddenly realizing her frustration, I answered, 'Honey, you can tell me -- and you don't have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly."   "I'll never forget her answer: 'Then listen slowly.'"

Bits & Pieces, June 24, 1993, pp. 13-14.

After ordination and installation last Sunday here at Peace - which was a glorious and blessed day in my life - I was talking to my friend Paul, who did the song for me the and special music with my daughter Amy for the ordination service and we both just marveled at how quickly the years of our life had gone by … since that crazy picture of me playing banjo with that towel on my head!

I’m sure many of you would agree that your lives too seem to go by in an instant … so it is with that in mind that I wish to focus today on a marvelous truth that you can be reminded of daily … and that is that:

Christ, in baptism, frees you from sin and makes you His child!

You can almost hear the hope in the people in our Gospel reading for today as they wonder and reason about John the Baptist:

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,

John, being the unique character that he is … was causing quite a stir as the people questioned about who this man could be. Is he the Christ, they wanted to know? And while the excitement of this man, out of the wilderness, may have made quite an impression on the people, when it came to his attention, as to who the people thought he was … he quickly put all speculation to rest:

16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

From our bible study on the Book of Ruth last year we learned that:

[A common method of threshing in ancient Israel employed an implement called a threshing sledge which is a heavy wooden slab with teeth made of stone, metal, or potsherds fastened to the underside and Oxen or mules dragged the sledge back and forth over the sheaves to allow the teeth to break down the stalks into husks, straw, and grain kernels.

A wooden pitch fork was used to lift away the straw.  The kernels were then separated from the husks by winnowing, tossing the pile of threshed grain into the air with a winnowing fork and wind, whether caused by a natural breeze or artificially generated by winnowing fans, blew away the lighter chaff while the heavier heads of grain fell down to the threshing floor.

The kernels were then sifted and collected for storage.  The chaff was burned as fuel and the straw became animal fodder. ]

Copyright © 2009 Mark A. Myers

This Christ that John preached would be a refining fire to those people who were looking for Him, this Messiah, this:

Jesus who is the Good Shepherd and the light of the world!

This Jesus came to John to be marked with you through baptism as one who heard repentance call. He also was marked with a Baptism of fire, marked to carry the sins of the world, your sins, upon Himself to Jerusalem and finally to the cross.

When Christ returns He will separate the wheat from the chaff; the believers from the unbelievers. Those who have been baptized and are covered by Christ’s righteousness will be gathered to Heaven and to an eternal life of joy and peace and those who stand covered in the filthy rags of their own righteousness will be cast into the fires of hell made for the Devil and his minions, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. (Matt. 6:19)

Your life and mine is one of continually falling short. We daily miss the mark in what we say and do. But as one who has been Baptized we are called to daily die and rise as we remember what Jesus did in being marked, not only with sinners, but with you so that we too can be renewed in our faith daily and grow in our Christian walk as we are by the power of the Holy Spirit made holy or as the tern sanctification is used to say that we are being made holy daily and set apart for the good works that God has prepared for us to do.

Now, as Lutherans we tend to get a little up in arms when we think about Good Works! This is not to undermine the work of Christ who came to take the sins of the whole world upon himself so that you would be declared righteous on account of His sacrifice. But by the grace of God and through the gift of faith you are made holy by the working of the Holy Spirit in you.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

The boasting is God’s because we know that:

Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the light of the world!

The Old Testament reading today points to the one who is active in the life of the world in God’s work of redemption when we read:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

And while God is speaking to the children of Israel in these verses He too is speaking of His redeeming love for all of his children – domestic and imported:

13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:13)
And our Lord will accomplish all that He has set out to do because He declares:

5 Fear not, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you.
6 I will say to the north, Give up,
    and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the end of the earth,
7 everyone who is called by my name,

God has called you by name in your baptisms. He has washed you and gathered you to the foot of the cross of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He continues through the working of the Holy Spirit in the your daily lives and in the lives of all His children to make you holy and to keep you by the power of His Spirit connected to Him so that we grow in Him through this same Spirit.

A story is told of:

Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker were pastors who both had churches in London in the 19th century. On one occasion, Parker commented on the poor condition of children admitted to Spurgeon's orphanage. It was reported to Spurgeon however, that Parker had criticized the orphanage itself.

Spurgeon blasted Parker the next week from the pulpit. The attack was printed in the newspapers and became the talk of the town. People flocked to Parker's church the next Sunday to hear his rebuttal. He said, "I understand that Dr. Spurgeon is not in his pulpit today, and this is the Sunday they use to take an offering for the orphanage. I suggest we take a love offering here instead." The congregation was delighted. The ushers had to empty the collection plates 3 times. Later that week there was a knock at Parker's study. It was Spurgeon. "You know Parker, you have practiced grace on me. You have given me not what I deserved, you have given me what I needed.”

Moody Monthly, December, 1983, p. 81.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the light of the world!

God in Christ has given you and me not what we deserved but what we needed. He continues to give to us the blessings of His Son through the good times and bad. He blesses us through word and sacrament and daily sustains his you with His loving kindness and does not remember your sin but sees you through the veil of Christ which you are covered with. In Christ you receive His full attention when you pray so you can ask anything in Jesus name according to his will and He will hear, and is not hurried or bothered when you cry out to Him and will listen patently, intently and slowly because He loves you and cares for you as a father cares for a dear child.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.


Sermon Jan 5-6, 2013

Title: Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the light of the world!

Text: Matt. 2:6

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Telemachus was a monk who lived in the 4th century. He felt God calling him to go to Rome. He was in a cloistered monastery. He put his possessions in a sack and set out for Rome. When he arrived in the city, people were thronging in the streets. He asked why all the excitement and was told that this was the day that the gladiators would be fighting and killing each other in the coliseum, the day of the games, the circus.

 He thought to himself, "Four centuries after Christ and they are still killing each other, for enjoyment?" He ran to the coliseum and heard the gladiators saying, "Hail to Ceasar, we die for Ceasar" and he thought, "this isn't right."

He jumped over the railing and went out into the middle of the field, got between two gladiators, held up his hands and said "In the name of Christ, forbear." To hold back; refrain) The crowd protested and began to shout, "Run him through, Run him through." A gladiator came over and hit him in the stomach with the back of his sword. It sent him sprawling in the sand. He got up and ran back and again said, "In the name of Christ, forbear." The crowd continued to chant, "Run him through." One gladiator came over and plunged his sword through the little monk's stomach and he fell into the sand, which began to turn crimson with his blood. One last time he gasped out, "In the name of Christ forbear." A hush came over the 80,000 people in the coliseum. Soon a man stood and left, then another and more, and within minutes all 80,000 had emptied out of the arena. It was the last known gladiatorial contest in the history of Rome.
Source Unknown.

This weekend we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord. We also will celebrate a very special day in my life and in the life of our church, (on/this) Sunday afternoon, when I am ordained and installed as pastor here at Peace.

On Epiphany we celebrate God becoming manifest or appearing in the person and work of Jesus Christ our Lord, the Good Shepherd, who came to deliver His people from their sins and the brokenness of this world and to restore them to the original righteousness that God had created them with before the fall.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the light of the world!

The story of the wise men and their traveling far to find … Him, who has been born King of the Jews, is one we have all heard from the time of our youth … and how these men followed the star to find the true light.
The story is a familiar one, but also one that may be even darker than you know. History refers to the Herod in our lesson for today as Herod the Great, largely because of his political savvy, diplomatic shrewdness and great energy that resulted in a huge building plan and grand expansion throughout Judea. Herod had secured the governorship in Galilee by the age of 25 and was later made tetrarch and was finally declared King of Judea by the Roman Senate.

Herod though was also known for his great incredible wickedness, having put to death one of his 10 wives and three of his own sons.  By such a degree of bloodthirstiness was his reign characterized that the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem is omitted by secular historians as an insignificant episode.1
1. Paul Kretzmann Commentary

This was who Herod was that these wise men were summoned to see in verse 7 and 8 or our Gospel lesson. Knowing what we know of Herod, I’m not sure that you or I would have felt too comfortable being called into his presence.

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

But the idea that Herod wanted to come and worship this King of the Jews may have seemed reasonable to them and the extent of his wickedness may have been foreign to these foreigners from the East who had traveled so far:

And we are also told:

12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the light of the world!

Is the light of Christ your focus? Do you follow Him with exceeding joy like the wise men that left everything to find this King of the Jews? No, you don’t and neither do I.

The cares of this life and the working of our sinful nature, compounded by the lies of the Devil, help us to take our eyes off of Jesus. The culmination of the last three years of family, church, my former job and seminary classes for me have led to this point where we stand together ready to embark on a new chapter in the life of this church. But, many things have been thrown in the way over this past year too.

My dad’s illness last winter, all the members who were hospitalized this past summer, Monica’s bone infection in her foot and now my mother-n-laws hospitalization can be distracting influences that can take our focus off of Jesus and place it on the cares of this life. But too, these distractions can be used by God to draw us back to the appearing of our God made manifest as we celebrate the joy of a God who loves you so much that he would die in your place to set you free!

Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the light of the world!

The wise men:

9 After listening to the king … went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Whether there is any special significance in the gifts we don’t know. Though it has been commonly understood that Gold, was given to the King as a precious gift and also that incense was given in service to the divineness of God as a sweet fragrance in worshiping Him and finally that myrrh was given for one who was destined to die and that  it would be used to anoint the body.

There was even a medieval rhyme that has it:

“The first was gold, as most mighty King;
“The second incense, as Priest of priests being;
“The third was myrrh in token of burying."
Martin Luther's explanation is a bit simpler:

"Although they [the wise men] enter a poor house, find a poor young woman, with a poor child, and also there is an appearance so unlike a king, yet they are not troubled, but in great, strong, full faith they put everything out of their eyes and mind which our human nature with its arrogance might cause and bring into play; they simply follow the verse of the prophet and the testimony of the star and believe Him to be King, fall down, worship Him, and give presents to Him."

Even though their reason might say otherwise, they know that:

Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the light of the world!

Christ has come in a form that confounds the wise of this world. God uses that which seems weak to the mind of sinful man - like the little monk in the arena of great gladiators - to overpower the strong.
God has given you the same light by the power of the Holy Spirit … but unlike the gifts that were brought to the babe in Bethlehem by the wise men this baby king gives you the gifts of His eternal kingdom that you received by faith in Christ’s once and for all sacrifice over sin, death and the power of the Devil.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the light of the world!

As I look towards my ordination and service here at Peace, as Christ’s under shepherd, I must take just a moment to thank Pastor Merrell for the faithful under shepherd that he has been to us all by God’s working in and through him here over these last 32 years. I have benefited greatly from his mentoring but more so we have all benefited from his wisdom, good council and blessing to the body of Christ here at Peace.

As one who has served in lay-leadership here for many years and will now serve as a brother Pastor … I will value your friendship more and more as the years of your retirement unfold. Well done, good and faithful servant!

 And it is with great hope that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will bless you and Nancy with a joyful and long retirement as you continue to be used by Him for His greater Kingdom.
God bless you both.

And God bless Peace Lutheran Church!

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.