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Sexagesima 2019 - Luke 8:4-15

Sexagesima 2019

Luke 8:4-15

February 24, 2019

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Jesus speaks to us in His parable, revealing to us what the reign of heaven is like, how things are in the world are.  You see, things weren’t going quite right in Israel; even Jesus’ family isn’t with Him.  How can people who saw Jesus face to face not believe in Him?  How can people hear that Jesus has died for them, to save them from their sins, and they just don’t care?  Why some and not others?  These are questions we’ve all had.  And this parable is Jesus’ answer.

The disciples, and the church as a whole, are to preach the Gospel of Christ to all the world.  As this happens, they would encounter these four kinds of ground, these four kinds of reactions to the Gospel. Some hearers will be like the hard, bare road, and the preaching yields nothing because the seed is not allowed to even begin growing. Some are like the rocky soil, and preaching will be heard at first, but the faith will quickly wither. Some are in the middle of thorns – the cares, riches, and pleasures of this world – which choke out the life generated by the Gospel. Some are the good soil, the preaching takes root and miraculous fruit results. The Sower sows in 4 places, and 3 out of those 4 produce no lasting results.  Most of where God’s Word falls simply doesn’t bear fruit.  But what does bear fruit, bears it in extraordinary ways.

We can’t help but ask, why are only some given ears to hear and understand Jesus’ parables? Why do some see but not see, hear but not understand? Why do only some bear fruit for the harvest?  The easy answer is that the differences have to do within people. Too often we hear, “Don’t be like the rocky ground, or let the thorns choke out your faith.”  But we don’t need to ask which ground is ours, for we may resemble all. There are no hearts that are good by nature.  We are all equally sinful and corrupt. The hearts that are good have been made that way the plowing of God’s grace, by His deepening of our shallow soil, by His persistent and consistent working in our lives.  The receptivity and the fertility of the ground is pure Gospel gift.  This parable isn’t about the ground, but it is about the seed, which is the Word of God.  Within the seed itself lies the promise and the power of life.  The only answer given is that the mystery is according to God’s good pleasure.   

While it could be easy to be discouraged by this parable, the main focus of Jesus’ parable is on the miraculously abundant growth and fruit.  By God’s grace in the promise of the seed to grow, the promise is that preaching the Word of God will be successful. No matter how grime, no matter how things may look at times, there will always be those who hear the Word of God in faith, who come to Baptism and feast on the body and blood Christ. These will be present at the heavenly feast and will bear abundant fruit.  The kingdom, though hidden at times, will always triumph. The Word of God that goes out from His mouth will not return empty.  

There’s a story I once heard about an Anglican missionary in an island off the south pacific.  He lived there for 23 years and never converted a person.  WWI was about to break out, he didn’t know if he would be able to leave ever again, and a ship was coming for him.  He had all his stuff on the boat, when the son of the chief’s wife came to him begging him to see his mother, who was on her death bed.  She never liked him and was often very mean towards him.  Reluctantly, he went to her side until she died, refusing to believe in Jesus even then.  When the missionary got back to the beach, the ship was gone.  A few months later, he was able to catch another ship back to England.

In 1943, U.S. marines landed on the island.  They were armed and ready for a fight because they believed that this was a listening post for the Japanese.  But when they got there, the whole island was out to greet them.  The chief, who was that boy who convinced the missionary to stay for his mother, said to the marines, “We greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  It shocked the marines, needless to say.

What had happened is that after the missionary left, the boy was so impressed with the devotion of the missionary, and his willingness to sacrifice all those years and what could have been his only chance to go home, the he picked up one of the many Bibles was left and began to read the Word for the first time.  Through this, he was converted and then brought Jesus to rest of his people.  One seed fell on good soil, and a whole island began to bear fruit.  The missionary never knew about this because he had died in 1934, and he now rests from his labors with all those who have heard and believed.

And this is extremely important, significant and practical for us here today.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for you has been sown within you and all around you.  Some you will not see the fruit.  The great Sower of the Word hasn’t forgotten you.  He hasn’t abandoned you.  He is still working here, tilling up repentance and providing living-giving water from the Spirit.  God has not lost control, even though some refuse to believe, some stop believing and their faith is choked out, and some have Satan snatch their faith away.  God is just as careless throwing the Word around by your lips as He has ever been.  The Word does accomplish what God intends it to do regardless of our own inadequacies, our own failures, our own times of fruitlessness.

There will be obstacles, make no mistake. When people reject the Word of God, it will not grow.  There is the danger of the sinful world and the devil, who stomps upon and snatches the seed of faith up before it can take root and grow.  The devil, temptations, trials and the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life are the chief barriers that keep the crowds who hear the Word from believing and becoming a miraculous yield. Hold fast to the Word you have heard and received. Bear fruit of faith with patience.

This is the reason for living in a community that regularly hears the Word of God and gathers around Jesus. Jesus is the exemplar of the good soil who withstood the temptations of the devil, overcame the temptations of the world, and shunned the temptations of the flesh. He is the one whose heart is honest and good. But He is far more than the model. He is the one who makes possible the response of faith and bearing of fruit. Those who bear fruit a hundredfold do so because Christ is in them and they are in Him. Those who hold fast to the Word in perseverance do so because He faithfully holds them in His hand and keeps them steadfast in the one true faith.

Septuagesima 2019 - Matthew 20:1-16

Septuagesima 2019

Matthew 20:1-16

February 17, 2019

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Epiphany 4 2019 - Jonah 1:1-17

Epiphany 4 2019

Jonah 1:1-17

February 3, 2019

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

How do you react when you are told to do something that you really just don’t want to do?  Maybe you procrastinate.  Some people may just not do it at all and then make excuses. Or maybe either out of spite or stubbornness you do just the opposite.  That’s what Jonah did.  When God told him to do something that he had no interest in doing, he didn’t complain or make excuses, he ran.  God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire and call out against it because the evil it was doing.  That would be like going to the New York and Virginia today and marching up to the governor and legislators over their evil acts.

Jonah didn’t want to do this, and who could blame him. So instead of going east to Nineveh in what is now Iraq, he went west.  We are told, “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.”  He got out of town as fast as he could and he went in the opposite direction from where God had told him to go.

Jonah’s main problem isn’t with Nineveh, it is with God and His merciful nature. He is a Hebrew who fears the Lord, the God of heaven, and confesses Him to be the creator of the sea and dry land. He knows that the Lord forgives those who repent of their evil. The word that Jonah was bringing to the Ninevites was not simply a word of condemnation for their sin.  It was a word of hope.  They were being called by God to repentance and God had promised them forgiveness for confessing their sin.  Jonah’s problem is with the Gospel. He thinks the Gospel is for himself and other Israelites, not for pagan foreigners. He would rather die than see God’s grace and mercy freely extended to Gentiles. Nineveh is the epitome of evil and moral poverty. They don’t deserve God’s forgiveness in any way, and Jonah doesn’t like the idea that maybe God would relent of the punishment that they deserve. He is unwilling to let God be God.  As a result, he is unable to be the person whom God intends and unable to see others as God sees them.

In our text we see that God confronts sin.  He speaks a word of Law and He punishes sin in order to lead people to repentance.  He does this with Jonah when he sends the storm that causes Jonah to be thrown into the sea and swallowed by a fish.  He does this with Nineveh as he sends Jonah into the city to tell them to turn away from their evil or else they will be destroyed.  Call to repentance and confession is a messy business.  Who among us would rather not run and hide instead of openly admitting your sin?  Who among us would rather skip out on the nasty business of telling someone they were wrong, of calling out sin when and where it raising its evil head?

Except Jesus.  We remember Jonah not as an example of what will happen to us if we run away from God or try to hide from His calling.  It is about the God whose mercy refused to let the Ninevites die without the Law and Gospel being proclaimed to them.  It’s about Christ, in whom the mercy of God is found. Jesus did not run from His mission of mercy but welcomed the gracious will of the Father He was to fulfill.  He knew it would mean suffering and death.  He would spend His three days in the belly of the beast but the consequence of His obedience was not His own justification but our redemption.

The large fish is not a punishment for Jonah, but it is the means of salvation for him, to preserve him in the deep for three days. God appoints a great fish to swallow him up, not as a punishment, but as means of rescue. You see on the cover of our bulletin this morning an icon of Jonah in the mouth the fish.  The scroll in his hand is from the first verse of Jonah 2 when he prayed while still inside the fish, “I cried in my affliction unto the Lord.” The verse goes on, “and He answered me; out of the belly of Sheol – out of the belly of the grave – I cried and You heard my voice…” Jonah ends, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” (John 2:1, 9).

Jonah isn’t the lesson. He is the sign. The sign pointing to Jesus. It is interesting to note that Jonah is the only Old Testament prophet to whom Jesus directly compares Himself. In Matthew 12, some of the scribes and Pharisees want to see a sign from Jesus. They want some miracle to prove that Jesus is who He says He says, no matter that by this time in His ministry He has already performed many miracles revealing that He is the Son God.  He answers them by saying that no sign will be given except the sing of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. (Matt 12:39-41).  

In our Gospel reading, it’s not that just another great storm comes up. Both Jonah and Jesus asleep in the middle of it.  Jesus calms the storm by His very Word, He is the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land of whom Jonah confesses.  We do not perish, but because of Jesus’ life, because of His innocent blood, our cries, “save us!” are answered. It is Jesus who is thrown into the belly of grave for three days, who calms the great storm of sin so that we are not overcome by the wind and waves of this fallen creation, who is then spit out from the grave, who is the messenger and the message of repentance and faith.

The other sailors have come to believe that Israel’s God is the one and only God over the universe, and the only God who can save them. Jonah’s confession has led them to saving faith. Likewise, the people of Nineveh repent and believe in God.  And the disciples marvel at Jesus’ command over creation and their faith in Him is strengthened.  And we hear this same Law and Gospel, calling us out on our sin and directing us to the Lord, shaping who we are in Christ and seeing others as God sees them.  All unbelievers are potential recipients of God’s grace and holiness. The love of Christians is to extend out even to our enemies. You belong to a royal priesthood, meant to use your access to God and your life in Christ seeking to reconcile lost humanity to God, by the power of the Spirit.

Transfiguration 2019 - Matthew 17:1-9

Transfiguration 2019

Matthew 17:1-9

February 10, 2019

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

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Throughout the last month or so we have focused upon the various miracles of Jesus which reveal His divinity to the world.  Today we have come to the Transfiguration of Our Lord, the final and most brilliant Epiphany celebration of the season. Christ gives a few of His disciples a little glimpse of His divine glory, as His face shines and His garments become white as light. Because God is light (I John 1:5), the shining of Jesus' face like the sun, and the whiteness of His garment all demonstrate that Jesus is God, “light of light.”

Jesus takes three of His disciples, Peter, James, and John, with Him to the top of the mountain to pray. As He is praying, He is changed. A vision is granted to those three disciples to reveal what He will become, when He endures betrayal and death, burial and resurrection. In His obedience, He fulfills the Law, so Moses stands before Him. He is the righteousness of God for whom the prophets yearned, so Elijah joins Him. The apostles look upon the prophets. The prophets look upon the apostles.  They look upon each other, united by Christ.

 And they are not alone.  A bright cloud overshadowed them.  Moses had foretold that God would raise up a prophet to whom people should listen.  And now the great I AM who spoke out of the burning bush speaks from the bright cloud, answering the question Jesus had asked His disciples earlier, “Who do you say I am?” “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”

And His disciples, and we ourselves, need to hear this prophetic word again, for all who want to be saved ought to listen to this Word of God, for the word proclaimed is the instrument of the Holy Spirit to call, gather, and enlighten His people by the Gospel.  We need to see this glimpse of the glory of the Lord, to have our eyes of faith directed again to see no one but Jesus only; for we must remember it as we begin our coming down from this mount, from Septuagesima next Sunday into Lent, into Passiontide, and finally into Good Friday and Easter.  We must remember this glimpse of the glory of God as we hear again about the lowliness, the suffering, the passion of Jesus.  For too, on the cross Jesus displays His divine glory as He bears the sin of the world, the righteous judgment and wrath of God, and overcomes sin, death, and the devil

From eternity this Jesus is the bearer of God’s eternal glory, and from His incarnation He is the bearer of God’s image now and forevermore in human flesh. Through His suffering He reveals the depth of God’s love; in His rising He reveals God’s victory and defeat over all that opposes Him. He is the Incarnate God in spite of the depths of His humiliation.

The Father bears witness from heaven concerning His Son. He doesn’t say, "This has become My beloved Son," but "This is My beloved Son," indicating that this divine glory is Christ's by nature. From eternity, infinitely before Jesus' Baptism and Transfiguration when we hear this divine proclamation, He is God's Son, fully sharing in the essence of the Father: Jesus Christ is God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance of the Father, by whom all things were made.”

The Transfiguration not only proclaims Christ's divine sonship, but foreshadows His future glory when He as the Messiah will usher in the long-awaited Kingdom of glory. The bright cloud recalls the cloud that went before the Israelites in the wilderness, the visible sign of God presence and glory among His people. Peter sees this vision as a sign that the Kingdom has come. Knowing that the Feast of Tabernacles is the feast of the coming Kingdom, a celebration reiterating of the deliverance from slavery in Egypt, status as holy pilgrims, and establishment into the promised land, he asks to build booths, as was done at that feast, to serve as symbols of God's dwelling among those made righteous by faith in Christ. But it wasn’t quite time. Jesus tells His disciples to wait until after His resurrection to tell of these things. Jesus still had to bear the cross. His time had not yet come, but soon it would. And now, we teach and confess these things for we share in the glory by faith. And so that we can say with St. John, “we have seen His glory, the glory of the only Son of God, full of grace and truth.”

And it now changes us.  This vision of God in the flesh transfigured in glory transforms us. We are transfigured, the beauty of His glory makes us become glorious and beautiful and righteous in the sight of God for the sake of Christ.  St. Paul proclaims in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed/transfigured by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We cannot remain as we were. We must turn and repent. We must reject whatever is not glorious, that is to say, whatever is not of Christ, who is the glory of the Father.

Transfiguration of Jesus not only shapes us here and now, but it is also a foretaste of our coming glory.  The only entrance into the kingdom of glory is through death and the resurrection.  The He shall change our lowly bodies shall be transformed like His glorious body by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself. Amen.

Epiphany 3 2019 - 2 Kings 5:1-15

Epiphany 3 2019

2 Kings 5:1-15a; Matthew 8:1-13

January 27, 2019

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Epiphany 2 2019 - John 2:1-11

Epiphany 2 2019

John 2:1-11

January 20, 2019

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Our Gospel reading for today, the story of Jesus’ first miracle of changing water into wine is unique to the Gospel according to St. John. The wedding at Cana is the first of Jesus’ signs and it begins His public ministry. As we hear this account at Cana and the sign Jesus did there manifesting His glory, we come off of hearing about the Baptism of Jesus last week, witnessing the Christian baptism of a baby. Serves to create and sustain faith in Christ, faith that is delivered and sustained in the people of God by means of the Word and Sacraments.

The story at Cana extols the virtue of marriage. The Lord was invited to the wedding, and His presence and first miracle blesses this estate of one man and one woman joined together into a one flesh union, as God created. Because of sin many crosses have been laid upon this holy estate of marriage, nevertheless our gracious Father in heaven does not forsake His people, but blesses that which He established as holy and acceptable to Him.  Earthly marriages reflect a heavenly reality. St. Paul expounds on this in our Epistle.

Weddings were occasions of great joy, of family peace and unity. Throughout the Old Testament, marriage became a central prophetic symbol for the peace and prosperity that God’s salvation brings. In the union of husband and wife we see an earthly picture of the union between God and Israel, between Christ and His bride, the Church.  Peace and unity where the hallmarks of this marriage.  This is part of why traditional, Biblical marriage is so important, both to society and to the church, and why sexual immorality, that is to say, sexual activity outside of the lifelong marriage of one man and one woman, is so devastating especially when the sinfulness is willingly committed by Christians.  The way we live publicly confesses who we believe Christ is, and who we are as His children. All too often we fail in this regard. We turn a blind eye to cohabitation, we divorce without biblical cause, we adulterate ourselves by failing to live with chastity and holiness.

Repent of the lust in your heart, the wandering of your mind, your self-justification, your neglect to the fact that you are not your own, you do not belong to yourself, and your body is not yours to do with you as you please. You have been created by the Father, redeemed by the blood of Christ, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. You belong to your heavenly Groom, body and soul. 

This sinfulness is nothing new. It has gone on since Adam and Eve.  The early church frequently interpreted Christian baptism as a nuptial in which Christ weds an unworthy bride. Unworthy you are.  You do not deserve God’s love. You do not deserve His devotion. You do not deserve His commitment. Yet this is the mystery revealed to us by faith, that Christ weds Himself to sinners, He joins you to Himself, to present you not as you are in your sin, but without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that you might be holy and without blemish, cleansed by the washing of water with the word. Here, in the miracle of Cana we see that this marriage is begun.

The changing of water into wine, water that was used for rites of purification, shows that the purification is being replaced by another, different, and greater purification. The water in the stone jars is symbolic of the baptism of John with water only.  His baptism stands within the context of the old covenant that is concluded and fulfilled in Christ.  The wine of Cana is a symbol of Christian baptism, which is a baptism in which water with the word, made effective through the blood of Christ, cleanses from sin and bestows eternal life through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  In 1 John 1:7 the evangelist writes that the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.  In Hebrews 10 the blood of Jesus is associated with the purifying actions of Baptism, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:19-25).  Jesus’ death is sanctifying purification applied through the washing of Christian baptism.

This is what St. Paul was talking about in Ephesians. The bridegroom Himself prepares His bride, pure and holy. In part, this is the reason why white is the traditional color of the bride’s wedding dress; it connects us back to the Baptism, to being dressed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers all our sin, draped over us when we united with Him in the holy matrimony of this blessed baptism. You are not sinless, but through faith you are forgiven, presented pure and holy and righteous in the sight of God.  

Water and wine are just the start. Jesus changes everything.  Once we were destitute, empty, used up, and He changes us filling us with His Spirit all the way to the brim so that our cup overflows. He weds us to Himself, undeserved, unworthy, and all too often adulterous people. He changes we who are as sinners into the beloved bride of Christ, washed and purified in the blood of the Lamb. And then He provides for us.  

What was done at Cana is a type of all Christ’s working and of the final victory over sin, the devil, and the world. When we gather together in His name and receive the body and blood of Christ, He is given us as a foretaste of the feast to come. We pray after receiving the Lord’s Supper that God would keep us firm in the true faith until as His immanent coming, we with all His saints celebrate the marriage feast of the lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

The fine wine which the divine Bridegroom has reserved to the last directs us to His blood, shed in His passion and death, for in the death of Christ the works of salvation has reached its conclusion. By bringing this fine wine, Jesus manifested His glory, pointing to the glory of the cross. From this miracle Jesus’ disciples recognize Him as the Son of God and the promised Messiah in whom they place their faith and hope. It is in these signs that we see and believe Jesus to be the Lord.

From this we learn that all miracles of Christ relate to and call for faith. From the Word of God and His promises we come to know His gracious will, and from His miracles we come know His divine power and the purpose for He uses it: a lifelong, an eternal, union with Christ. May the Lord keep us in this faith, in our baptismal grace, and filled to the brim with His love.

Funeral for Beverly Garlie

Funeral Sermon for Beverly Garlie

Upon the Festival of the Confession of St. Peter

Mark 8:27-9:1

January 18, 2019

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

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