Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Feast of the Confession of St. Peter

Today is the Feast of Confession of Peter.  This event reminds us that there are incorrect answers and a correct answer to Jesus’ question: “But who do you say that I am?”  In Matthew’s account of this event, we are told that it was the Father who enabled St. Peter to make this confession (Matthew 16:17).  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we continue to answer our Lord’s question today in our use of the ecumenical Creeds of the Church.  The confession of the person of Jesus as Christ is then immediately tied to His work as our Lord goes on to predict His passion for the first time.  Jesus’ words teach us that the confession of Christ will often prompt us to take up the cross and follow Him.

Scripture reading: 
And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.  And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. (Mark 8:27-35).

Collect of the Day:
Heavenly Father, You revealed to the apostle Peter the blessed truth that Your Son Jesus is the Christ. Strengthen us by the proclamation of this truth that we too may joyfully confess that there is salvation in no one else; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany - Jn 2:1-11

                                                                                                Epiphany 2
                                                                                                Jn 2:1-11

            On a normal day, at some point after 4:00 p.m., I have a glass of wine.  By then I am home from work and any homework that needed assistance or checking has been completed.  It’s not yet time to start thinking about dinner and any assistance that I need to provide in helping to get things ready.  Instead, for twenty or thirty minutes I can sit down and relax.  I enjoy sipping a glass of wine while catching up on the news, looking at social media or browsing through a train book.
            I used to drink white wines, but along the way – I think it was about ten years ago when we arrived in Marion – I shifted to red wines.  I enjoy a Merlot, or a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Shiraz.  One thing that has not changed is that I drink relatively inexpensive wine.  We usually buy the large 1.5 liter bottle, and I am not going to pay over $12 for it.
            Now I am certainly no wine connoisseur.  I am perfectly content drinking the wine that we buy.  But once in awhile I get a chance to drink something better.  My parents have similar, reasonable purchasing habits when it comes to wine.  However, when there are special family occasions, like when everyone is home for Thanksgiving, they like to splurge and buy something better than normal. 
            It doesn’t happen very often, but on those occasions when I get to drink more expensive wine, I am reminded that there really is a difference.  Better wine tastes … better.  In this case, it is more expensive for a reason.  And I have found that it would be really easy to get used to drinking it if finances allowed.  As it is, we will stay with the $10 to $12 1.5 liter bottle and focus instead on sending our kids to college.
            In the Gospel lesson for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany the man in charge of a wedding feast tastes some wine that has been brought to him.  He recognizes that this is good wine – better than what had been served thus far in a wedding feast that was well under way.  This is a source of great surprise to him because the best wine has not been served until everyone has already drunk freely.    Yet he doesn’t even know the real surprise.  The wine itself is part of sign that is revealing the glory of the Son of God who has become flesh and is dwelling in this world.
             We are in the season of Epiphany.  The word “Epiphany” is derived from a Greek word that means “to appear.”  During Epiphany, we are celebrating the fact that the saving glory of God appeared in our world through the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  As I described in my newsletter article this month, originally four events were often viewed together as appearances – “epiphanies” – of this saving glory.  The early Church grouped together the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the visit by the magi, the baptism of Jesus and the miracle of turning water into wine at Cana. Continuing in this tradition, three of those were mentioned in our processional hymn this morning – “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise.”
            We celebrated Christmas on Dec. 25.  On Jan. 6 we celebrated Epiphany – the visit by the magi to the Christ child.  And then last Sunday we celebrated the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.  Today, we take up the fourth of these, the miracle at Cana.
            We learn in the Gospel lesson that there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.  While they were there, disaster struck the celebration – the people putting on the wedding feast realized that they had run out of wine.
            This summer Brittany Drury will be getting married.  Imagine how all those involved in the wedding would feel if they realized that they didn’t have enough champagne for all of the guests at the wedding reception to take part in the traditional toasts.  They would certainly be upset and somewhat embarrassed.  Yet the situation at Cana was a far more embarrassing and humiliating event because of the importance of the wedding feast and the expectations about celebrations in the ancient world – there had to be wine.
            Jesus’ mother said to Jesus, “They have no wine.”  Mary knew who Jesus was and that he would help.  Yet Jesus replied, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?  My hour has not yet come.” The tone of Jesus’ answer probably surprises us.  But the thing we really need to pay attention to is the reference to his “hour.” 
            In John’s Gospel, the “hour” is when Jesus is crucified.  Jesus is carrying out the saving mission given to him by the Father, and this mission is following a specific timetable.  On several occasions we learn about how people want to seize Jesus in anger, yet each time they are unable to do so because John tells us, “his hour had not yet come.”  It is not yet Jesus’ hour.  But we soon learn that the event at the wedding in Cana points forward to this hour.
            Jesus did, in fact, take an interest in the situation.  He had servant fill six large stone jars with water.  Then he told them to draw some and to take it to the master of the feast.  When he tasted it, the water had been turned into wine.  And in fact, it was better wine than had been served thus far at the wedding!
            Then at the end of our text John adds this crucial statement: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  John calls the event a “sign” and says that it manifested Jesus’ glory.
            John has begun his Gospel by saying about Jesus, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John tells us that Jesus is God in the flesh.  He is true God, begotten of his Father from all eternity, and is also true man, born of the virgin Mary.  In this miracle and others that follow Jesus begins to reveal his glory.  He begins to reveal who he is.  And he moves towards the goal of his mission when he will be glorified.  As Jesus said during Holy Week, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
            In John’s Gospel Jesus’ glorification occurs in his crucifixion.  But it is not limited to this.  Instead, it includes the cross, enters the tomb, and then leads out of the tomb in the resurrection and on to the Father in the ascension. So John can say about the event of the entrance to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.”
            John describes the miracle at Cana as the first sign that Jesus did – a sign whereby he manifested his glory.  We begin to learn here that Jesus’ saving glory is fully revealed at the hour of his crucifixion. During Holy Week Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." And then John tells us, “He said this to show” – literally, “to sign” – “by what kind of death he was going to die.”
            Jesus did this because we live in a world of darkness.  He did it because we were trapped in this darkness – a darkness of sin and death. Our Lord said, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”  Jesus offered himself on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And then he rose on the third day as the One who is the resurrection and the life.
            In his death and resurrection Jesus has been glorified as the One who gives forgiveness and eternal life.  John tells us that the miracle at Cana was the first sign that revealed his saving glory.  You and I weren’t there to see it.  But John wants us to know that we are not therefore cut off from this revelation.  Instead at the end of his Gospel he writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
            We see the signs that evoke and support faith in the words of John’s Gospel.  In fact, it is the Spirit who reveals Jesus’ glory to us through these words.  Jesus said to the disciples, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.  And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
            Jesus worked a miracle at a wedding feast that involved wine as he manifested his saving glory.  And now Jesus continues to work a miracle in our midst that uses wine – a miracle that points to the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom which has no end.  He uses bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar to give us his true body and blood, given and shed for you. He reveals his saving glory – he gives you the benefits of his cross here and now so that you will also share in the glory of his resurrection on the Last Day.  As Jesus said, “For whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.”
            This is what Jesus is doing through his Means of Grace. This is what Jesus wants to do.  Yet for this to happen, it is something that must be used.  It is something that must be received.  Only in this way do we receive the signs that reveal Jesus’ saving glory.  Only in this way are we sustained in faith that leads to eternal life.
            And only in this way can we be what Jesus intends for us to be because of him.  At the Last Supper Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and then he said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
            Jesus loved and served us so that we can love and serve others because of him.  He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." You don’t have to look in order to find the people you are to love and serve.  They are right next to you in these pews.  They are right next to you at the dinner table at home. Their head is on the pillow right next to you in bed each night.
            Jesus works a miracle this morning in our Gospel lesson. He turns water into wine – a sign that manifests his glory.  It is a sign that points to his death and resurrection for you. And now in Word and Sacrament the he continues to give you signs – signs that reveal his saving glory here and now as he gives you forgiveness and eternal life. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sermon for the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord - Mt 3:13-17

                                                                                            Baptism of Our Lord
                                                                                            Mt 3:13-17

           When I talk with the young people of our congregation who are in high school, I often ask them what they are thinking about doing after high school.  Frequently their assumption is that they will be going to college. And then I ask, “So do you have an idea of what you want to study – what you think you may want to do after college?”
            It’s a reasonable question.  It’s also one that really does interest me.  It’s fascinating to hear what different young individuals are thinking about doing.  Sometimes, however, it feels like it was the wrong question to ask.  Because sometimes the answer is that the youth really doesn’t know right now.
            Now there’s nothing wrong with not knowing.  As adults we recognize that not everyone finds their passion and interest right out of the gate. Sometimes maturity and life experiences are necessary to help reveal this.
            But part of me always feels a little regret that my well intentioned question has accidently prompted the youth to state that they don’t know what they want to do. I know that this uncertainty is a source of stress – stress that becomes more intense as they approach high school graduation. 
            It’s hard when you don’t know what you want to do; what you want to study.  High school graduation approaches with unrelenting certainty.  And of course, the same thing also happens in college.  It approaches with changes that cannot be avoided.  It can be scary if you don’t know what you are going to do.
            Life is easier when we have a sense of purpose – when we have a goal that we are working towards.  In high school, I knew exactly what I was going to do.  It was the same thing I had wanted to do since first grade – I was going to be a pastor.  People around me knew this.  The only hiccup was when the school paper ran an article about the valedictorians and salutatorians (a B+ in typing for this guy) and said that I would be attending Concordia College in a “priest seminary” program instead of a “pre-seminary” one. The last thing I wanted was for every girl in high school to think that my goal was permanent celibacy!
            John the Baptist did not have any uncertainty about what he was supposed to do with his life.  As we know from Luke’s Gospel, already in the womb the Holy Spirit was using him to point to God’s Christ.  His father Zechariah had been moved by the Holy Spirit to prophesy about what John would do.
            Matthew begins telling us about John by saying,In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” The words “in those days” resonate with the end time language of the Old Testament prophets.  John arrived on the scene as part of God’s end time action. 
            John had no doubt about who he was and what he had come to do.  He was God’s prophet declaring God’s Word to his people.  John dressed and lived the part.  He looked like Elijah as he wore a leather belt and camel’s hair.  He lived in the wilderness and ate locusts and wild honey.  And he proclaimed a direct and clear message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
            John declared that God’s end time reign was imminent.  In preparation people needed to repent. They needed to confess their sin and turn away from it.  He administered a baptism and by submitting to this baptism people demonstrated that they were indeed repentant and were looking for God to act.
            John knew that he had one purpose.  He was preparing the way for the coming One – the One who was greater than John.  He said, “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.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
            John declared that all needed to repent because this coming One was going to be the instrument of God’s end time judgment. He was going to destroy all who opposed God, and he was going to provide rescue to God’s faithful people. He was going to bring God’s kingdom – his reign – as he destroyed all evil and put all things right.
            With laser like focus John the Baptist knew his mission.  But next we hear in the Gospel lesson for the Baptism of Our Lord: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’”
            Jesus the coming One showed up. But instead of unloading the fire of God’s judgment upon unrepentant sinners, he came to John and asked to receive John’s baptism.  Jesus sought to receive the baptism that was for repentance.  He came to receive the baptism that everyone else was receiving as they confessed their sins.
            This did not fit with John’s purpose.  It didn’t fit his mission.  This was not how things were supposed to work.  In fact John tried to prevent it from happening. He said to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
            Jesus answer was to say, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  He told John that they both had a role to play in the way that God was putting all things right.  John’s role was to baptize.  Jesus’ role was to be baptized – to receive a baptism of repentance.
            No doubt baffled and confused, John consented.  He baptized Jesus.  We learn in our text: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”  Jesus’ baptism prompted a revelation by God.  The heavens were opened and the Spirit descended upon Jesus.  And God the Father spoke words that were drawn from Isaiah chapter 42 as he declared Jesus to be his Son with whom he was well pleased.
            The problem with God is that he just won’t behave.  We know what he should be doing.  He should be making my life good.  He should be making me happy.  He should be giving me success.  After all he is all powerful – he can do whatever he wants! 
            And yet instead he allows hardships and difficulties into life.  A family member or friend is diagnosed with cancer, or their marriage disintegrates, or they lose their job.  Chronic health problems wear on us as they drag on day after day.  Jobs become just work and yet retirement is still so far off.
            Our reaction to these kinds of things is quite predictable.  We doubt God.  We grumble against God.  We get angry with God. 
            But God is God, and he is not playing by our rules.  He does things in ways that we don’t expect – ways that we would never imagine.  His loving concern for us and our welfare rises above the myopic and self-centered way that we usually look at things.
            And if you want proof of this fact; if you want assurance that God still cares and is in charge, even though things in your life right now make no sense to you – then look at who is in the water.  Jesus receives a baptism for those who need to repent, even though he has done nothing wrong.  He is baptized and the Father speaks words that describe the Servant in Isaiah chapter 42.  He identifies Jesus who is the Christ as the One who is also the Servant – the Servant of the Lord who suffers in our place.  He is the One of whom the prophet wrote, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
            Jesus goes into the water of his baptism and it is his entrance into a way that leads directly to the cross.  He is baptized because as Jesus said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  This is not something that John the Baptist expects. This is not how John the Baptist believes things are going to work. Frankly, the way of suffering, service and death is not how we would do things.  But God does it this way in order to forgive you for all of the times you doubt, ignore or get angry at him.
            Jesus’ baptism leads to death and the tomb.  But it also leads out of the tomb on the third day.  By his death and resurrection Jesus has defeated both sin and death.  In his resurrection he has provided a living hope that sustains us in faith as we encounter all of the things in life that we don’t understand.
            Jesus’ baptism led to his resurrection, and from there it has led to your baptism. Jesus entered into the water in order to die for you.  And in the water of your baptism, you have shared in Jesus’ saving death.  Paul told the Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” And because Jesus rose from his death, your baptism provides the guarantee that you will too.  As Paul went on to say about baptism, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
            In the face of all of the questions and disappointments and hardships your baptism provides a fixed point of assurance about God and you.  It is your connection with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – that event in which it looked like God was nowhere to be found and yet it showed itself to be the mighty and saving action of God for you.  Your baptism is always there, always affirming that yes, God does love you.  Yes, God does care for you.  Yes, Gods knows what he is doing even thought it makes no sense to you right now.
            God has not promised that we are going to understand what he is doing.  In fact, quite the opposite, he has told us flat out that his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. But in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has done the one big thing that seemed to make no sense. And then in the resurrection God has explained to us what he was doing.  By this action he has given us forgiveness and made us his people – his saints. And because he has done this we can trust and believe in him no matter what happens.