Thursday, January 18, 2018

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 14, 2018

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

                                                                                    Epiphany 2
                                                                                    Jn 2:1-11

            When my parents came for Christmas they brought wine.  They brought several bottles of a nice Merlot to enjoy during the long weekend they were going to be here.  They brought a bottle of a really nice Merlot to enjoy on Christmas Day.  They also brought some Gew├╝rztraminer  from a winery in Bloomington, IN that they know is Amy’s favorite, and that her brother likes to drink.
            It was, of course, wonderful to have the family together during Christmas.  The food was great, and the wine flowed.  I can only agree with the psalmist who praised God when he wrote, “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man.” 
            We enjoyed our time together as the nice Merlot and Gew├╝rztraminer disappeared.  We celebrated Christmas Day as the bottle of really nice Merlot was emptied.  Before it was time for my parents to go, all the good wine was gone.  And so we had to move on to the wine that I had in the house – a Shiraz that was certainly nothing special when compared with the wine that had preceded it.
            As the master of the feast in the Gospel lesson today notes, that is the way people usually do things.  When we get together for special occasions – occasions of joy and celebration – we bring out the good wine and drink it first.  Only if or when that is gone, do we move on to drinking the lesser stuff. But because Jesus is present at the wedding and reveals his glory for the first time in a miracle, things don’t go as they normally do.
            Our text begins by telling us, “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.
Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.”  Jesus and his disciples attended a wedding with Mary, and while they were there a social disaster occurred: the wedding celebration ran out of wine.  Now many of us like wine.  But in the first century Mediterranean world, wine played a far greater role than anything we have experienced.  The prospect of running out wine at a wedding celebration threatened social humiliation.
            Mary became aware of the problem, and she brought it to Jesus.  We learn that when the wine ran out said to him, “They have no wine.” At first glance, Jesus’ response seems puzzling.  He said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” He seemed to have rebuffed her. But Mary was not turned away.  Instead his mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
            Jesus’ statement about “his hour” in the Gospel of John signals to us that what is going to happen here is about more than wine.  On several occasions opponents want to seize and harm Jesus but they aren’t able to do because, we are told, “his hour had not yet come.”  After our Lord had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And then he added, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”
            The miracle that we see in the Gospel lesson can only be understood when it is seen in relation to Jesus’ death. This becomes all the more clear at the end our text.  Jesus had the servants fill six large stone jars with water.  He told them to draw some out and take it to the man in charge of the feast.  We learn, “When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘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.’”
            Then John tells us, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  John calls this miracle the first of Jesus’ signs.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ signs call people to faith as they reveal Jesus’ glory.  The glory John speaks of in our text is Jesus’ divine status as the Son of God.  In the first chapter – the Gospel lesson for Christmas Day – John told us that the Word who was in the beginning and made the world, “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.”
            In the incarnation the glory of Yahweh dwelt bodily in Jesus Christ in order to save us. That glory was present in the midst of God’s people. Jesus’ miracles begin to reveal this glory. But they also direct us toward a surprising realization.  We learn that Jesus’ glory is revealed on the cross, and that all of his signs point to the 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.” Then John adds, “He said this to show – literally ‘to sign’- by what kind of death he was going to die.”  Paradoxically, Jesus’ glory is revealed in the humiliation of the cross.  Jesus’ miracles – his signs – point to the revelation of his saving glory in the suffering of the cross and resurrection from the dead.
            Jesus’ miracles – his signs – reveal his glory.  John says at the end of our text that this first sign revealed his glory, “And his disciples believed in him.” The signs called forth faith.  Later in this chapter John says, “many believed in his name, observing his signs he was doing.” 
            And isn’t that what we want Jesus to do today?  We want him to do something that will shut up the disparaging critics of our culture.  But that is not the way it works.  The signs point to the cross. They call forth faith in the One who revealed his glory by dying. And so even the miraculous signs could be rejected.  Jesus said to the crowed that followed him after the feeding of the five thousand, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”  John tells us about the culmination of Jesus’ ministry during Holy Week, “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him.”  And this was after Jesus had raised Lazareth from the dead!
            Jesus has given us signs that are no less powerful … and no less rejectable.  At the end of the Gospel, John 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.”  Through the inspired Gospel we see Jesus’ signs – signs that call forth and sustain faith in the Lord. They call forth saving faith in the One who rose from the dead – the One who will raise us from the dead.  Jesus declared, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
            Yet just as in Jesus’ day, they are also signs that can be rejected.   People refuse to engage the witness of Jesus’ resurrection because they think the virtue of this age is that “people are free to question” – which means they are free to choose what they want to be true.  The Gospel of the risen Lord is rejected because people say they “don’t need religion.” We see it all the time.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is shared and rejected.
            This is discouraging.  It is not what we want to happen.  But we must return to the fact that Jesus’ signs remain the same.  They could be rejected in unbelief then, and they can still be rejected in that way now.  But more importantly for us, they revealed Jesus’ glory and called forth faith then, and they still do so now. 
            This morning in the inspired words of the Gospel lesson we see the sign of Jesus turning water into wine.  It is a sign that reveals Jesus’ glory.  It sustains us in faith – faith that the Holy Spirit have given to us.  As the sign points to Jesus’ death and resurrection it draws us back to our Lord’s love for us.  And it also sends out to reveal our Lord through love for those who share the same faith.  Jesus said at the Last Supper, “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.”
            In the Gospel lesson today, Jesus turns water into wine as a sign that reveals his glory and calls forth faith.  Our Lord’s signs continue this morning.  They continue in the reading and preaching of the Gospel lesson.  And they also continue to involve wine.  Yet now, Jesus takes bread and wine and works the miracle of giving us his true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Jesus’ words of promise about the Sacrament continue to call forth faith – faith in Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord; faith in the presence of his body and blood in, with and under bread and wine for us. The Sacrament reveals Jesus’ saving glory. This is a glory that gives us eternal life now.  It is a glory that we will know on the Last Day. For Jesus said: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Commemoration of Basil the Great of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa, Pastors and Confessors

Today we remember and give thanks for Basil the Great of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa, Pastors and Confessors.  Basil and the two Gregorys, collectively known as the Cappadocian Fathers, were leaders of Christian orthodoxy in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in the later fourth century. Basil and Gregory of Nyssa were brothers; Gregory of Nazianzus was their friend. All three were influential in shaping the theology confessed by the Council of Constantinople of 381, which is expressed in the Nicene Creed. Their defense of the doctrines of the Holy Spirit and Holy Trinity, together with their contributions to the liturgy of the Eastern Church, make them among the most influential Christian teachers and theologians of their time. 

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, You revealed to Your Church Your eternal being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in a Trinity of persons.  May Your Church, with pastors like Basil, Gregory and Gregory, receive grace to continue steadfast in the confession of the true faith and constant in our worship of You,  Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who live and reign, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sermon for the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord - 1 Cor 1:26-31

                                                                        Baptism of Our Lord
                                                                        1 Co 1:26-31

            “After all, you’re not so great.”  That’s what the apostle Paul is saying to the Corinthians in our text this morning.  He writes, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”
            It was a reality of that was impossible to deny.  For the most part, the Church was comprised of the poor, women and slaves. To be sure, there were a few Christians who fit the categories Paul listed, and they were certainly important for the Church.  We have seen in our Bible study that Luke goes out of his way in the Book of Acts to mention when people like this converted to faith in Christ.  But Paul was right: not many were wise according to worldly standards; not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
            In fact, Paul goes on in our text to describe the Corinthians as weak, low, and despised.  He says, “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
            The apostle is using the Corinthians as an illustration of the way God works. God does not do things in the way the world expects – in ways that make sense to the world.  If you want proof of this, look no further than the cross.  Paul has just said, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
            God takes the way the world does things, and turns it on its head. The apostle explains, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
            We see this truth on display today in the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.  You see it in John the Baptist’s response to Jesus.  Jesus came to John who was baptizing in the Jordan River.  John’s ministry was calling Israel to repentance.  His baptism was a baptism of repentance – by submitting to John’s baptism people showed they repented of their sin and were looking for Yahweh’s salvation.  
            When John saw Jesus he responded, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  In fact John wanted to prevent it from happening. But Jesus said, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  We learn that when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
            Jesus submitted to a baptism of repentance – a baptism that was for sinners. At that event the Spirit descended on Jesus and God the Father spoke words that drew upon Isaiah chapter 42 as he said, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him.”  Jesus is identified as the Servant of the Lord.  And the Servant is the One about whom Isaiah wrote: “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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
            The cross may be foolishness to the world, but Jesus’ baptism was all about the cross.  At his baptism, Jesus stepped into your shoes – a sinner who deserves God’s judgment.  You do because you don’t always obey your parents.  You do because you don’t always carry out your vocation as parent – your calling to teach your children the Christian faith by what you say and do.  You do because in your jobs you don’t always work as unto the Lord and not unto men.
            From the moment of his baptism, Jesus’ life and ministry was focused like a laser on one moment – his death on the cross for you.  He predicted it again and again.  But he predicted something else as well – resurrection.  By his death he has taken away your sin and given you forgiveness.  By his resurrection he had defeated death and begun your future.
            After his resurrection, Jesus instituted his own baptism – Holy Baptism.  And it is baptism that grounds the way Paul talks about the Corinthians in our text.  To be sure, not many of them were wise according to worldly standards; not many were powerful; not many were of noble birth.  The Corinthian believers were what is foolish and weak to the world – just as you are today.  But this was God’s “foolishness” and “weakness” at work.  The world saw the cross in this way, but the reality was that it was God’s wisdom and strength.  As Paul says at the end of our text, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
            Paul says that the Corinthians were “in Christ.”  This had happened in their baptism.  God had joined them to Christ and given them a share in his saving work. What Christ had done in his death and resurrection, he had done for them.  Through faith and baptism they were now “in Christ” and so the saving benefits were theirs.  Later in the letter, Paul recounted the sin that had characterized their lives. But then he went on to say, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
            The same is true for you.  In Ephesians Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”  Through the washing of water and the Word, Jesus Christ has washed away all your sins.  The Lord Jesus has sanctified you.  That means he has made you holy.  You are not holy in yourself – not even close.  But instead in Christ you are.  Paul opened this letter to the Corinthians by saying, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”  A reading of this letter reveals very clearly that the Corinthians failed in many ways.  Yet Paul still describes them as saints who were “sanctified in Christ Jesus.”
            This is comforting.  And when we are troubled by our sin – when Satan wants to use it to raise doubts about whether we really are justified and sanctified in Christ, we need this comfort. But that’s not the only way he works.  Satan is a master at twisting what is good in order to harm us and use it against us.  And he can use the certainty of the forgiveness found in Christ and his Means of Grace to do this. For since I am forgiven and am a saint, can’t it be said that my sin doesn’t really matter?  Why worry about struggling against sin when my forgiveness is certain?  In fact if I am concerned about what I do, am I not just smuggling in the exact opposite of what Paul taught – that we are saved by faith in Christ apart from doing?
            In fact, in this very letter Paul teaches us about this too.  The Corinthians were treating the sacraments as if they were some kind of protection against spiritual harm. They believed that they could be involved in pagan settings of sacrifice and eating because, after all, they had been baptized; they were receiving the Sacrament of the Altar.  But Paul warns them that things don’t work this way.  In fact God’s word tells us the opposite.  Paul wrote in chapter ten, “For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
             Paul compares the miraculous experiences of the exodus to the New Testament sacraments.  But then he adds, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.”  The apostle declares to them that the saving gifts of God don’t provide the ability to indulge in sin without consequences.
            Instead Paul says in chapter nine that life in the faith is one that struggles against sin.  The apostle compares the Christian life to that of an athlete.  He says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
            And so the Christian life is one in which we constantly return in faith to our baptism.  When we fail in the struggle against sin, in repentance we return to the promises that God has made about our baptism.  There our sins were washed away. There we shared in Jesus saving death for us.  We find forgiveness and comfort in the knowledge that before God we are saints.
          Yet baptism is about more than just forgiveness.  Baptism is also the means by which the Holy Spirit strengthens and endows us to lives as the new man.  As Luther writes in the Small Catechism such baptizing with water,” indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”  Because of baptism, the Spirit who raised Jesus Christ from the dead has given you rebirth and is at work in you.  The Spirit is the resurrection power of Christ already at work in you know – the same Spirit who will raise you on the Last Day. As Luther says in the Large Catechism:In baptism we are given the grace, Spirit, and strength to suppress the old man so that the new may come forth and grow strong.”