Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sermon for 1/13/19: The Baptism of Our Lord

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Everything our Lord does, He does for you. He takes up your flesh to fulfill the Law for you. His circumcision, His perfect obedience, His ritual purity—these all count for those who are joined to Him in Holy Baptism. The same is true of the Moral Law. He kept it for you. His fasting and temptation were done in your stead. He fulfilled what you were unable and unwilling to do. But He did not just keep the Law; He also allowed the Law to do to Him all that justice demanded of you. He, who knew no sin, became sin. He did all this so that you would be forgiven and saved.
And so it is that He stands in the Jordan River. John pours the dirty water over His head. He does not need this Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, but He submits to it for you. His Baptism is your Baptism. The water does not sanctify Him; He sanctifies the water. The water that falls off His back flows into all the fonts of Christendom: a pure, holy, life-giving water, rich in grace. He who stands in the Jordan is the Word made Flesh. He makes Baptism into that life-giving flood.
This crucified and risen Word is combined with and included in the water. These things together, this holy washing, creates and sustains the faith which receives all of His benefits. This water saves by the power of His resurrection. It joins you to Him, burying you in His death, and raising you by the glory of the Father in His resurrection. You were baptized into Him. His Name—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—was applied to you. You now belong to Him. His Baptism, His anointing, His inheritance, is yours. The heavens opened also upon you. The Holy Spirit descended. The Father proclaimed, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased.” He was talking about you!
There is no one to accuse you. The wrath of God has been appeased. Justice has been served. The payment is made in full. You go free—not back to your old evil haunts, but to the mansions of heaven, to the life of grace. You are a member of the royal household, a royal priest. You feast on the heavenly banquet with brothers and sisters, those still here and those already moved ahead of us. You rest secure in the ever prevailing mercy of His love.
For now it is not always so obvious. There are tragedies: self-inflicted and those suffered at the hands of a cruel world. There are dark times and depression. There is an uncertain future and a murky, turbulent past. Children walk into school with guns. People are starving in great numbers. Babies are violently ripped from their mothers’ wombs and tossed out with the trash. Fathers despise their children and leave their wives. Pain, suffering, and loneliness are all around us.
But do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not rest on fleeting things that come and go: the feelings of happiness or sadness, the sense of well-being and contentment, worry or uncertainty. Instead, rest on the objective, historical reality of Christ’s death and resurrection. Rely on that, for it became yours in Baptism. Trust in the Word of God. There is your hope and your certainty! You are baptized! God promises to love you, to protect you, to provide for you. He forgives you. That is enough! And soon, the fleeting things of this life lived in death will be removed. You will see clearly, as you were meant to see. Then your joy will be complete. Until then, do what He says: eat His Body, drink His Blood, and listen to His Word. That will see you through to the coming Day. Do not be afraid. The Lord your God, born of the Virgin, Baptized by John, crucified, and risen: He goes with you. He will neither leave you nor forsake you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.


Sunday, January 06, 2019

Sermon for 1/6/19: The Epiphany of Our Lord

RIGHT-CLICK HERE to save the audio file. I didn’t feel like I was rushing as I preached it, but at the end of the preaching, it felt rushed.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

When Jesus was born, He was first made known to the believing, and hid Himself from the unbelieving, even the king and people of Jerusalem. But today, the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament reveals His handiwork. The preaching of His epiphany, His arrival in our human flesh, has gone out into all lands. It began with the angels singing, “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” “Glory be to God on high!” Then came the shepherds, those first preachers of Our Lord’s nativity. And today we hear that the guiding star leads the Magi to become joyful heralds to those who live in the farthest reaches of the earth.
Yet the splendor of this star and the glory of this day seem sullied when we recall the cruel schemes of wicked King Herod. This earthly king is so in love with his corrupting and corruptible throne, so delighted with his depraved palace, that he is afraid of a tiny infant. And so, when the Magi ask, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” this question terrifies Herod into brutality, and all Jerusalem with him.
But do not let this violence dampen your celebration. For as the Spirit of God proclaims through a star, as He preaches through simple shepherds and clever Magi, so He also uses the fury of Herod to fulfill prophecy and to further God’s mercy. You know what happens when the Wise Men heed the divine warning and so return to their own country another way. Then the ever-righteous, ever-protective Joseph takes the young Child and His mother by night and departs for Egypt.” There, in the land that once housed another barbaric ruler who sought to kill the infant Moses—there the Son of God will remain. With His presence, He will bless the Gentile nation that once welcomed another Joseph. And in this way, the glory of the Lord will again be revealed; the mercy of God will again be openly made known to all men—including us.
Herod, that enraged tyrant, does not perceive any of this. Neither do the chief priests or scribes, who turn blind eyes to the horrid crime of slaying innocent boys in hopes of killing the Christ—even as our own leaders turn blind eyes and even encourage the murder of the pre-born today. But make no mistake: the priests and scribes all know the Child at Bethlehem is the promised Messiah; they said so themselves. But thanks to the Holy Spirit, we perceive how this slaughter of the innocent martyrs serves as yet another sermon proclaiming the epiphany of our God. This cruel act announces that the true Messiah is here, and it reminds us how He saved us. For that is how our salvation is accomplished: the Innocent Christ is slaughtered. That is how the mercy of God comes to full fruition. And most significantly, that is how we live—by eating and drinking this innocent flesh and blood sacrificed on the cross. So while we loathe King Herod, we give thanks to the Lord whose thoughts exceed our imaginations, and whose wisdom is wiser than any Magi. He uses the cruelty of Herod to further the Gospel of our salvation.
What an epiphany we celebrate! Our joy is heightened not just by the fact that Jesus appears for all men, but also by the undeniable truth that His appearance means that the tyranny of sin is overthrown, the cruelty of man will not remain, the deceptions of the devil are turned to our good, and the reign of terror has ended. Let us give thanks by receiving into our mouths and hearts the flesh and blood of this Child whom angels praised, whom shepherds preached, whom Wise Men worshipped, whom Egyptians welcomed, and whom even Herod—in God’s mysterious way—revealed to be our King. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.