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Quinquagesima 2021 - 1 Corinthians 13

Ross Shaver

Quinquagesima 2021

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

February 14, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

All you need is love. Or so the song goes.  But what is love? That’s one of those questions that have been asked seemingly forever.  Songs, poems, books, movies, stories upon stories have asked, and attempted to answer, that very question.  And it is Valentine’s Day today, so it seems to fit.  So why is that love is sometimes such a hard thing to pin down?  We may know it when we see it, when we give it, when we receive it. Likewise, when it is missing.  But to put it into words, is harder to do.  To put it into action is even harder. 

The Corinthian church was struggling with this.   Frankly, they were a hot mess.  In 1 Cor 12, a chapter before our Epistle, Paul has spoken of the spiritual gifts given to God’s people, and then speaks of God’s people as the body of Christ – one body with many members.  None are greater or lesser and none has the right to say to another they are not needed.  God has appointed people different roles in the body of Christ and not all function in the same way.  He ends chapter 12 encouraging them to “earnestly desire the higher gifts.  And I will show you a still more excellent way.” Love is the more excellent way. But all their gifts, and their good meant nothing without love. And all the problems, the bickering and the infighting, the abuse and divisions, stem from a lack of love, both Christ’s love received by faith, and love shared toward one another.

            And so he writes this chapter on love, describes what it is.  But it’s still hard to picture sometimes what this looks like in real life.  So let me give you an example.  True story.  There is this guy I know who married this girl. He’s a good man. He pursued her and really wanted to get married to her, more than she did him.  He was excited, ready, and willing to give her everything he would ever have.  He leaves his father to hold fast to wife, just as marriage was intended to do. Some people were really happy about it, but there were some who thought it was a bad idea. Some told him, “She really isn’t good enough for you.” Some told her, “You’re marrying that guy?  Don’t you want to be single for a while first, to learn who are?”  Partly because of this she had some reservations about getting married to him. But she didn’t want to ruin things. She was happy overall, so she kept all bottled up inside.

At the beginning the marriage was great. The honeymoon phase where the other person just seems so perfect, the excitement about the newness and being in the relationship.  The joy of new love.  They shared everything with each other, and it was great. And they were good to each other. Their love was patient and kind. 

Yet, over time the marriage started to get a little strained.  The “feeling” of being in love started to change.  Conversations didn’t last as long.  She got busy doing other things and didn’t always pay him attention the way she should have.  Life happens and a division started to grow between them. 

Both of them started to notice the distance. You know what it’s like.  That feeling of uneasiness, that something is there causing the separation.  But you may not be able to put your finger on it.  And rather than talk about it, you just kind of push things aside hoping they’ll get better on their own.  He would just dote over her, doing all that he could to provide for her.  Sometimes she appreciated the attention, while other times she felt it to be stifling.  She had a hard time with it. But rather than trying to fix things, she felt the distance between them, and before she really realized what she was doing, she started looking elsewhere. 

It started innocently enough. She met some new people, spent more time away from home, her eyes started to wander, her thoughts would go to places and ideas. “What if…  If I didn’t have these responsibilities, I could do other things. He’s holding me back. If I was just treated the way that this other guy treats his wife, maybe I’d be happier, more fulfilled, something like that. If I wasn’t chained to this relationship.” 

Little by little, that separation grew. And she felt guilty. At least at first. But that started to fade too.  Until she was alone, that is.  Which led to her to not feeling good enough. And honestly, there was some truth in her thinking. Insecure about who she was, did she even deserve to be loved?  Then, when they would go out in public and she felt like a fake pretending like everything was OK when really on the inside she was just a mess. And then she felt she was being dishonest, covering up what was going on in the marriage. And she resented him for the love he gave her. 

And then she hit rock bottom. Caught red handed and no way to explain her way out of it.  Lying on the floor, sobbing her eyes out when her husband showed up. He picked her up. “Why do you even love me?” she said.  “I don’t deserve, I don’t want it. I don’t need it.”  She was a hot mess.  He said, “Love bears all things.”  It was a profound mystery why this guy would ever love her after all the things she has done. And I tell you, this mystery is about Christ and His bride, the Church. 

I told you this was a true story. You are her. As Jesus picks you up out of your sinfulness, He says, “My love bears you. I have chosen you to receive my love. You don’t need to earn it.  It doesn’t depend on you, it depends on Me. I’m the one who is giving it, and I can give it whom I chose.  And I chose you to receive My love.”  

Paul’s description of love here in 1 Corinthians is first and foremost about God, for God is love.  God’s love in Christ is patient and kind and endures despite your sinfulness and unfaithfulness.  Christ loves you despite your insecurities and tears down the dividing wall of hostility. He loves you so much that He would give His very life for you, He would take all your sin upon Himself to the cross, so that you would be presented to God Himself as the godly bride of Christ, forgiven, cleansed, holy, and righteous, the beloved of the Lord.   God’s love for you in Christ isn’t based on how good you are, nor how loving you are in return, but that you be the recipient of all that He has to give you. 

The Corinthian’s issue was one of love, and I know you can relate, because that’s your issue too. In the verse right after our text, St. Paul says, “Pursue love…”  Pursue love, who is Christ.  Where Christ promises to be for you, where Christ promises to deliver His love to you. The love of God is found in the beating heart of Jesus, received by you and perfected in you by the means of grace.  The love of God displayed on the cross delivered to you in His Word and Sacraments.  Love that endures long after faith has turned to sight and certainty of hope is fulfilled on the day of resurrection. There is no “Until death do us part” for death is defeated by Jesus crucifixion and cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. This is the love you have the joy of sharing with one another.

Pursue the love of Christ – Christ’s love for you, Christ’s love for others.  St. John reminds us, “We love because Christ first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) In order to know love, we must know Christ’s love for us, and to know Christ is to love Him and those whom He loves. This other person who you struggle to love – your friend that has annoying habits, a child who made some life choices you don’t agree with, a spouse who has hurt you deeply by words or lack of action – is a person whom Jesus loves perfectly.  Love moves people to build one another up, to will and to act for the good of the other, for love resides in the will, not in the emotions.

So, what is love? Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (1 Cor 13:4-8). Because love is a person, God in the flesh, Jesus the Christ.

Sexagesima 2021

Sexagesima 2021

2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9

February 7, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Imagine for a moment that you have just woken up. It’s early and still dark outside.  Still half asleep, you go to grab something you have left on the porch. You take a step outside, the cold cement on your bare foot sends shivers up your spine. One more step, and then sharp pain makes the shivers disappear. You yelp, and who wouldn’t after they stepped right on a goat head.  You know the pain, don’t you. Consider the thorns.  And how even after you pull it out of the skin, the burning sensation continues as you walk around the rest of the day, a constant reminder.

Consider now a different thorn. In Genesis, shortly after the Fall into sin, God speaks to Adam about the consequence of his sin, “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…” 

Thorns in creation remind us of the fall itself, that all of creation suffers from the effects of sin.  So, yes, goat heads are a result of the Fall. In Romans 8:20, Paul highlights this very fact, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it [that is, Adam].” Because of Adam’s sin, creation came under God’s judgment, nothing in creation has been able to perfectly fulfill its God given purpose. In the first place, it does not bring forth the good things it would have produced if man had not fallen. In the second place, it produces many things that can be harmful.  So, as Paul points out, the earth itself feels its curse, even though it committed no sin, it endures the curse that sin imposed onto it. And yet, God works in and through His creation to bring about His good and perfect will. 

So consider yet another thorn.  St. Paul speaks of a thorn given him in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass him, to keep him from becoming conceited.  We don’t know exactly what this was – a chronic health problem, a physical ailment, a mental anguish.  But we do know, again, the purpose.   You see, Paul was addressing a pernicious problem pertaining to preachers – pride, boasting, conceit.  Being the apostle to the Gentiles, a man of perfect pedigree and eloquent speech, a Roman citizen and worldly honor, Paul was well acquainted with this temptation.  If anyone had a reason to boast, it was Paul.  He could even boast at how good he in the hardship he has endured.  It adds credibility.  Not only could he have boasted of his accomplishments, but also his perseverance.  He could have easily boasted in false humility. 

And so God uses this messenger of Satan, this thorn, to keep Paul humble.  God uses even the effects of a fallen world for the good of His people.  When affliction reduces Paul to total dependence upon God, then he is the more graceful instrument in Christ’s hand. But it’s more than that.  It is not that he doesn’t boast at all. In fact, he boasts all the more! Just now the object of his boasting has changed.  He boasts in his weakness, for is it in his weakness that Christ and God’s strength is made even more clear.

For this is the Word of the Lord to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."  It is said that the lower view one has of humanity, the higher view one has of Christ.  Only when we confess by faith that we are poor miserable sinners who deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment can we confess all the more that we are saved by God’s grace.  On the other hand, whenever we think that there is some merit or worthiness in our works, that God somehow owes us something then we diminish the Blood of Christ in our minds.  If we are only 99% sinners, then Christ did not need to die for that other 1%.  But if we are fully and completely sinful, and utterly hopeless to succeed in any spiritual endeavor, and helpless in all things unless Christ does the work for us, then we truly treat Christ as our Lord. 

So we boast in nothing but Christ.  We boast in Christ's righteousness that He gives as a free gift in Baptism.  We boast in His Word spoken that actually forgives.  We boast of His body and blood given and shed for our forgiveness. We do not boast in our sufferings as if they merited anything.  Rather, it is the sufferings of Christ that merit eternal life and salvation for us. When we openly and clearly confess that Christ alone has saved us, then it is no embarrassment for us to take glory in our weakness and our failures.  Troubles in life are not necessarily punishments from past sins, but God uses them for our benefit, that God’s power might be made more apparent in our weakness.  By confessing our weakness, we are confessing the power of Christ.  By faith, we boast with Paul that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.

And nowhere in history is this displayed more in the presence of another thorn, or rather, several thorns wrapped around in a circle, a makeshift crown, placed upon the head of Jesus. Here, a symbol of the fallenness of creation, of worldly weakness is God’s strength perfectly displayed. This is where He has assumed your weaknesses – the weakness of an aging body or mind, the weakness of failed accomplishments, the weakness of your character flaws, the weakness of your sin and unrighteousness. When you suffer the thorns of life, remember the thorns of Christ that He wore upon His brow.  When you are pierced by sorrow and pain, recall that Christ was pierced by nails and spear.  When you feel weakness, then you are reminded of the weakness that He took, the form of a servant by which Christ allowed Himself to be humiliated.  He had to be weak in order to overpower Satan for us.  He had to lose as He was arrested, beaten, tortured, and crucified.  By losing, He succeeded in winning us back from sin, death, and hell.  By suffering, He won eternal bliss in Paradise for you. By dying, He took upon Himself your weakness that you might have His strength. By His resurrection, His strength is displayed for all the world. So, the next time you step on a goat head, boast about Jesus, that His grace is sufficient.   

Septuagesima 2021 - Lutheran Schools Week

National Lutheran Schools Week 2021

Septuagesima 2021

Matthew 20:20-28

January 31, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

The elementary classroom teacher gives a thorough expla­nation of the significance and location of the subject and verb in the sentence. Immediately after the explanation, a student gives a blank look to the teacher. “Don’t you get it?”  The same thing happens at seminary level, as a professor teaches Greek or Hebrew, traces the complex development and explanation of some nuance of theology, with a blank look from the student. “Don’t you get it?”  The question also comes up in the home when the clear­ly defined family rules or expectations have again been violated. “Don’t you get it?” In addition, the question has been asked personally and painfully when a heartache or struggle is not understood by a spouse, friend or fellow parishioner. “Don’t you get it?” 

The question could well summarize the response that Jesus might have had at the interaction with His disci­ples and the mother of the sons of Zebedee in our Gospel lesson. Jesus has repeatedly taught His disciples about His mission. Matthew’s Gospel notes three specific conver­sations. Following the “who do people say that the Son of Man is?” question (Matt. 16:13) and Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16), we are told, “From that time Jesus began to show HHHis disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things… and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (v. 21). Shortly after Jesus’ Transfiguration, as we heard about last Sunday (Matt. 17), Jesus again shares a simi­lar message (Matt 17:22–23). Then again, in the days before the Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, Jesus continues to teach His disciples. Jesus is very clear as to why they will be journeying to Jerusalem: “And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death” (Matt. 20:18). Jesus continues with details about the emotional and physical agony of His journey.

Hopefully, the disciples would begin to understand the purpose and gravity of what Jesus has come to do. However, rather than asking additional questions or offering support, the disciples are immediately distracted by an interaction with the mother of the sons of Zebedee. She asks, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at Your left, in Your kingdom” (v. 21). The disciples get caught up in the conversation, “and when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.” In their jealousy, they wanted similar positions in Jesus’ kingdom. They were more concerned about themselves than their Lord and Master. Didn’t they get it?

Before we become too judgmental of the mother and disci­ples, we must reflect and confess that often we, too, don’t get it. We don’t get the reality of our sin. We identify with the disciples as we seek our own prideful places in the king­dom. Surely, we are more worthy of recognition than others. Certainly, our service in church, school, home and other contexts deserves some reward. Jesus told the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1–16) who felt they deserved greater reward because of their longer and more faithful service in the kingdom. Rather than celebrating Jesus’ grace, we seek our own glory. Yet God’s Law would have us “get” that we are sinful in thought, word and deed, and deserve no place in His kingdom. 

The Good News is that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The Son of Man was willing to leave the right hand of His Father’s kingdom to take on human flesh. Jesus demonstrated greatness by associating with little children, healing lepers, responding to the pleas of fathers and mothers for their sick and dying children, sitting in the living rooms of thieving tax collectors and other sinners, and washing feet. Jesus journeys to the cross, fulfill­ing every detail of God’s plan of salvation. He was willing to be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and to be condemned to death and delivered to be mocked, flogged and crucified. Jesus served as the sac­rifice for the sins of the world. So that His service might be the sufficient and final payment received by all who believe, He was raised on the third day. 

The message of Christ’s death and resurrection is the message that Lutheran schools have shared with children and families for generations. Like the disciples, we get dis­tracted from Jesus’ message individually and collectively. Lutheran schools seek to offer an excellent education, a safe and thriving environment, a variety of activities, and other aspects of education in today’s complex and demanding world. However, Lutheran schools are unique and critical because of the message that Jesus came “to give his life as a ransom for many.” That’s the message that Lutheran school students are baptized into. That’s the message taught and lived every day in the classroom. The world may not “get” our message, for it is only understood and believed by faith, but our mission is to share the work of our servant Savior. Lutheran school students will not “get” every language arts, mathematics or science lesson taught. They may not even get every explanation in Luther’s Small Catechism. However, we pray that through the Spirit’s work and blessing, they be­lieve Jesus served them through His suffering, death and resurrection, and as a result, they seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be given unto them. 

We, who have received the bounty of God’s love through the Means of Grace, are sent to serve. The message of our sinful nature, the temptation of Satan and the encour­agement of the world is “serve me.” Again, we identify with Jesus’ disciples and say, “Put me next to You on Your throne.” Parents desire, “Serve my child first.” Everyone seems to suggest, “What about my rights?” Certainly, fair­ness and justness are godly and necessary, but we are not to live in the ways according to the world.  But Jesus says, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).

Today, we praise God for the many servants who are part of our Lutheran school ministry. We praise God for the opportunity to serve our community in this way. We are blessed with great teach­ers, great staff, great volunteers, great pray-ers, and the great support of many. The greatness is measured in a faithful response to God’s grace. We are sent to serve our community in Jesus’ name, sent to serve children and families, sent to be servants of our God who serves.

 

This sermon was modified by one provided by the LCMS for Lutheran School’s Week 2021.

Transfiguration 2021

Transfiguration 2021

Exodus 34:29-35

January 24, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Moses had been on Mount Sinai for a while now, his second time on top of the mount speaking with God.  After the first time, he had come down with the Ten Commandments only to find God’s people worshipping a golden calf.  In his anger, he had thrown down the two tablets of the Law, breaking them into pieces.  So he had to go up again and get a new pair so that he could speak God’s Word to God’s people. 

So Moses made two new tablets, as God had commanded, and went back up the mount.  As he did so, God descended in a cloud and stood with Moses there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord (Exodus 24:5). As God passed before him, He spoke, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression of sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

When Moses heard these words, he bowed down and worshipped the Lord and asked that God would go in the midst of His people, for they are a stiff necked people, and pardon their sin, and reestablish His covenant with them.  Moses probably felt some frustration with the people over their idolatry, and maybe some shame over his anger, and he never liked speaking to large crowds. For another 40 days and 40 nights, Moses stayed on Sinai, and now it was time for him to come down again.

Moses’ descends from Sinai a second time with the two tablets of the testimony. It is a contrast to the first time, when he found the people of God in chaos and rejection and idolatry.   Now, he comes down to awe and fear.  What makes the difference is the reestablishment of Moses and God’s own messenger, and what symbolized that was Moses’ shining face.  As a result of his close communion with God, the skin of his face shown, reflecting the glory of God.  The transformation of his appearance was striking and suggested to them the fearful circumstances of God’s revelation on Sinai, which was of course, exactly what it was supposed to do.  The people of God were supposed to listen to Moses, as he commanded them all that the Lord has spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 

The OT people of God had a hard time listening.  They continuously listened to false ideas which led to false worship. They copied the sins of those from whom they were enslaved and were being freed. They had to constantly be called back to faithfulness, to open their ears and hearts to God’s Word.

Things haven’t changed all that much, have they? We too have a hard time listening to God.  With so much information at our disposal and at our fingertips on phones and computers and internet. How do we know what to believe? Who are we supposed to listen to? So many who call themselves Christians have listened to false prophets and the pagan world rather than God.  Many others have given up, turned it all off.  But it’s not like they have stopped listening, but rather changed who they are listening to.  Instead of the sources out there, it is a turn inward to listen to one’s own thoughts and feeling, to their sinful hearts.   God knows this.  That’s why He has sent prophets and preachers to one thing, to declare: This is the Word of the Lord. 

Whenever Moses came into God’s presence, he removed the veil and God spoke with him. Having absorbed the brightness of God’s presence, Moses’ glowing face as he departed from God to communicated God’s Word to Israel, left no doubt about the authority of the words he spoke. When the entire message had been delivered, Moses would always put the veil once again over his face. The hiding of the glow was the symbol that Moses’ further words were his own, and not be confused with what God had said.  

As incredible as Moses is, God promised a prophet even greater than Moses with his transfigured face.  In Deuteronomy 18 God says, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you, [Moses] from among their brothers. And I will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.  And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it from Him” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). As Moses’ face reflected the glory of God, there would be One who would shine even greater, not as a reflection, but as glory personified.

A prophet greater than Moses has arisen, confirmed by Moses himself and the Elijah upon another mount.  Once again God Himself spoke with Moses, but now there is the confirmation of the heavenly Father, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”   As Jesus is transfigured before three of His disciples, speaking with Moses and Elijah, we get glimpse of the unveiling of God Himself, for we see God when Christ Jesus covered Himself in our flesh and dwells among us.  Because of Christ, we see the Lord and hear His Word.  This is why the author of Hebrews begins his letter, “In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by His prophets. But now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2a).  

As Moses unveiled himself to speak God’s Word, so Jesus unveils Himself in the revelation that He is God (in answer to Moses’ prayer) who has come down to dwell among His people, to pardon their sin, to reestablish His covenant, to speak the Word of God as the Word in the flesh.  In Christ, we can look upon the very face of God and live.  The unmasked face of God is Jesus.  Jesus is the face of God turned upon His creation in grace and mercy to proclaim the saving Word to those who have ears to hear. 

St. Paul would write in 2 Corinthians 3, “Since we have such a hope [in glory], we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gave at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened.  For to this day, when the read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yet, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts.  But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  … And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed/transfigured into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:12-16, 18).

The intention of the Transfiguration is to demonstrate what Peter confessed in the previous chapter of Matthew: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  The three disciples here were to bear witness to what they had seen and heard. The revealed Christ, the Son of the living God, who is to be known, believed, and confessed, listened to.  The glory of the old covenant is fleeting compared to the Jesus, the fulfillment of all God’s promises. 

Epiphany 2 2021 - Life Sunday

Life Sunday Sermon 2021

1 Corinthians 12:22 “From Invisible to Indispensable”

Modified from Rev. Jonathan Lange, Pastor, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Kemmerer, Wyoming, and Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Evanston, Wyoming, and 3rd Vice President, Wyoming District LCMS

lutheransforlife.org

 

There are a thousand different reasons that something can be invisible. It may be hidden from sight by some barrier or across a vast distance. Sometimes things are just too tiny. An atom or molecule, even most living cells, cannot be seen with the naked eye. Sometimes things are invisible because they are camouflaged. They blend into the background. Others are hiding in plain sight. We look at it. We see it, but not really. For, our eyes are expecting it to look different than it does. Then, there is the mental block. It has nothing to do with its size, location, or unexpected form. There are simply some things that we don’t want to look at. This type of blindness can’t be cure without a change of heart.

This morning, all these forms of invisibility are in view. At the very beginning of life, size is the issue. Your first moment was as a single cell—a zygote one tenth of a millimeter across. Barriers were also an issue. Layers deep in the body of your mother you were hidden. Even if we could peer through skin and into the womb, even if we could magnify your size, your shape was not at all like it is today.  From a round sphere, you came to resemble a blackberry. Then by the fifth day, you had a few hundred cells that looked like a balloon filled with water. It took you growing for five weeks before the first hint of an eye or arms or legs were visible. It took two more weeks before you had fingers and toes. 

By worldly standards, you were not recognizably human until this point. But you were still you. You could always say to God, “You knitted me together in my mother’s womb…  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:13, 15).  Invisible, yes, to the naked human eye. But not to God. And not to your brothers and sisters who know Him—and you—by faith.

To not be seen is a dangerous thing.  When we do not see other people, we can accidentally hurt them or blindly withhold our love and care from them. That’s why, throughout our lives, we do things to make ourselves visible to one another. We put orange flags on trikes and bikes to make kids safer. Safety cones and strobe lights multiply all around. All of us do things to be noticed. Hair, clothing, actions, are often motivated by a desire to be seen by others. 

It should go without saying—but we must say it anyway—that it is not only the small and young who can suffer from invisibility. The elderly, the poor, the sick, the addicted, those who are struggling with sin right before our eyes can be out of sight, out of mind. We see them, but we don’t see them. Sometimes because they are good at hiding. Sometimes because we just don’t want to see. One of the sad tragedies of lock downs and limitations is the rise of loneliness, of the feeling of being forgotten, or being invisible.  To be a For Life people is to be a congregation that notices the smallest, the oldest, the weakest, and the neediest. We are called to notice physical needs as well as spiritual needs—the need to be protected from physical harm and from spiritual harm. We should consider our neighbor’s needs to be healed in body, mind, and spirit—to be forgiven and restored.

That means consciously taking off the blinders. Examine your own heart to find those sins that are preventing you from seeing your neighbor. Are you self-absorbed and unwilling to be bothered? Our world is filled with false philosophies that deny the value of human life at its weakest stages—both old and young. It is easy to use empty rhetoric as a cover for disengagement from the discourse. We can shrug our shoulders and pretend that the question is just too complicated to come to a conclusion … “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:7).

Does your desire for the praise of men keep you from defending the lives of others? This is a powerful temptation. We are well-acquainted with the social shaming that happens when we stand up for the reality of life, God’s created identities of male and female, marriage of one man and one woman.  Many a Christian is drawn away from the faith by stifling his public confession of the truth of God. He thinks that he can hold it secretly without getting into public controversy. But bit by bit the truth is driven out until he no longer believes it, even in his heart.

Maybe it is unconfessed sin in your own life that holds you back from speaking up to warn your neighbor against the same sin. Maybe, it is your own dark episode that is just too painful to face that keeps you from being a voice for the voiceless. God does not want you to live with that pain. Jesus earnestly desires for you to give it wholly to Him so that your guilt and shame are completely washed away, and you are healed.

That’s why we repent. Repentance is an opportunity for deep cleansing and deep healing. Such healing repentance seeks the blood of Christ to heal us from all sins. Jesus’ blood not only takes away guilt, it also takes away the shame of sin. Jesus heals everything about us, including blinded eyes that keep us from seeing our neighbors. That’s why seeing your own sin is the first step in having your eyes opened to see your neighbor. 

When we repent, we recognize what St. John the apostle writes about all of us, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared” (1 John 3:2). It’s true! We are not yet what we will be. We are small, immature, sick, and broken. But we are also children of God, children even now!  There is no limit of Christian size or maturity before you have the full rights of the sons of God. There is no vague and fuzzy line between a “baby Christian” and a “real Christian.” By Baptism God the Father “birthed you from above,” (cf. John 3:3). That makes you a full member of the family of God immediately and without qualification. Part of the body of Christ.

There is a direct analogy, here, to members of the human family. Becoming human is not a matter of size, strength, place, or usefulness. People don’t grow into human beings. Nor do they gradually weaken into non-human “vegetables.” People are created whole and entire from the moment of conception, and they remain people created in the image of God for eternity. 

This is how Jesus sees you.  He gives you His full attention. He values you so highly as to give His own life for your life. He knows that His Father knitted you together for a specific purpose out of sheer “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy” (SC II.1). So, He also gladly gives you His mercy and grace. He does not see you as a life to be tossed aside. He nurtures you, protects you, heals you, and attends to your every need. He sees you as utterly indispensable.

Just as you have gone from invisible to indispensable, God the Holy Spirit has given you new eyes to see your every neighbor. And in seeing them as they truly are, they are no longer invisible but indispensable.  When God opens our eyes to see the world as it truly is, we no longer see our brothers and sisters as burdens and responsibilities. We see them as gifts—precious and indispensable. And every time you see your neighbor in this way, you are reminded that God so sees you. You have moved from invisible to indispensable. From worthless to invaluable. From unseen to seen. God sees you. He sees you in your immaturity. He sees you in your sickness and sin. He sees you in your guilt and shame. And He does not turn His eyes from you but turns His heart to you. He spends everything He is and everything that He has to protect you, to heal you, to forgive you.

He wants you to live. He made you to live. He is the one keeping you alive even today. In Baptism He gave you His Holy Spirit and placed you into the Church because He wants you to live forever with His entire family. Life is holy because God is holy. And every life He gives, both now and in eternity, is a gift of the Holy God, the Lord and giver of Life.  Amen.

Christmas 1 2020 - St. John

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

John 21:20-25

December 27, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

 

Today the Church remembers God’s servant, St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist.   One of the 12, the author of three letters, the Revelation, and the Gospel account that bears his name, John was the brother of James and the son of Zebedee and Salome.  Jesus called these brothers “Sons of Thunder.”  Like his brother and father, he was a fisherman by trade.  He enjoyed a close friendship with Jesus.  He is even called the disciple whom Jesus loved.  This is seen during Jesus’ last supper, John reclines on his Lord’s chest and passed along questions from the others. He was one of the three inner circle, along with Peter and James, and a witness to Jesus’ Transfiguration.  He was the only disciple to not abandon Jesus during the time of His passion.  Together, with Jesus’ mother Mary, he stood at the foot of the cross where Jesus gave him gave His mother into John’s keeping. And then on Easter morning, he outran Peter to the tomb to find it empty. 

After Pentecost, John stayed in Jerusalem for a while and then moved to Ephesus.  Because of His bold confession that Jesus is the Christ, he was exiled to the island of Patmos, most likely the place where he received and recorded God’s revelation to him.  Later he would return to Ephesus, where he wrote his letters and the Gospel account in the last years of his earthly life.  As an old man, he never tired of telling Jesus’ disciples, “Little children, love one another.”  Tradition holds that he’s the only disciple to not die a martyr’s death, hence the white paraments today and not red for martyrdom.   

Because John is one of the original twelve disciples, among those who received the Spirit in the upper room on Easter, and who was sent to make disciples by baptizing and teaching, he is called an apostle. Because he wrote one of the Gospels, he is called an Evangelist.  His symbol is that of the eagle after the heights to which His Gospel account soars and the sharp focus on Jesus as the only begotten Son of God, a favorite of many. He tells long, detailed stories, that the other Gospels don’t include like the Resurrection of Lazarus and the changing of water into wine at Cana and the coming of Nicodemus by night. Meanwhile he skips the narrative of Jesus birth, yet the Church hears him every Christmas Day – “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14); and John omits the Institution of the Lord’s Supper all the while being the only one to include the discourse in John 6 that Jesus is the bread of life – “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54). He ends his Gospel account with the reading for today – the part about Peter looking back and seeing the beloved disciple. And then we hear the Lord’s words about John remaining until the Lord returns. 

This becomes even more meaningful when we remember what happened just before the reading.  As Peter had denied Jesus three times before His crucifixion, Jesus had restored him threefold.  While Jesus did this, he also spoke to Peter of what kind of death he was to glorify God, that Peter too would be crucified.  And then he speaks to Peter, “Follow Me.” 

Then Peter turns around and looks at John. What about him? And he asks a very childish question about the beloved disciple, who was following them, asking about John’s welfare and future.  What about him?  He dies an old man.  Why doesn’t he get tortured like Peter? Why isn’t he fed to the lions? Is it because Jesus loved John more than Peter? Or John is better at being a Christian, more loving or something? But Jesus doesn’t play that game.  He chides Peter a bit, basically telling him, “Mind your own business. What is his fate to you? You follow Me.”

How often do we act like Peter?  We are tempted to look at others and wonder about them.  Why do our friends have it so easy? Why do our mothers seem to prefer our brothers? How come other Christians seem to more faith, less struggles, greater glory? Those are questions borne of sinful envy, plain and simple.   Repent. Jesus knows what He is doing.  Crosses are custom-made and suffering must come before glory.  His message is the same, “You follow Me!” 

And this is the crux of the issue – to follow Jesus unto eternal life. John writes his Gospel account for this very reason, “These things are written that you may be believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” John wishes that you too would follow Jesus, that you too would be a disciple, a follower, beloved by Christ Himself just as John himself is beloved of the Lord.

What is there about Jesus coming into our lives at Christmas that would allow Jesus to love us as He loved the disciple John? You and I certainly are not John. While these things illustrate his character, Jesus loved John not because he was perfect or pure.  Jesus loved John because of Jesus’ own character, because He is the Perfect and Pure Son of God, the Word of God in the flesh.  This is John’s message.  This is the message of Christmas. Of Easter. Of the prophets, apostles, and martyrs. Of the Church throughout the ages. 

The Love of the Father is shown to us in the Father’s Beloved, Jesus. That Love of God toward us was manifested, was shown, in God sending his only begotten Son into the world that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life.  The enfleshed Word of God dwells with us.   He is God and Man, God with, and for us, as one of us. He is the One by whom all things were made and He became Flesh, was made in Mary’s womb our Brother, and dwelt among us to purify, cleanse, and reclaim us, to love us. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He has loved us by laying down His life, by being overcome by darkness, by being a guilt-offering for our sin. We, then, who have been baptized into Him, born again, who have been cleanse in Him, we are beloved disciples of the Father and the Son and the Spirit. 

So if you have ever feared, not felt good enough, special enough, plagued by worry or doubt, cling tighter the gift of faith God has given you in His Word and Sacraments and know that you are beloved by God.  You don’t deserve it.  You don’t earn it.   But you are. And if you are not certain enough or doubt or wonder if tomorrow you won’t be loved, look again at the cross of Christ.  For you can’t get away from God’s love for you there.  Look to the cross, where the One who is perfect love casts out all fear and where God teaches us what is love and how to love. 

Advent 4 2020 - Luke 1:26-38

Advent 4 2020

Luke 1:26-38

December 20, 2020

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Children’s Sunday School Christmas Program

 

“And the angel answered [Mary], ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God… And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.’” (Luke 1:35, 38)

 

This morning we stand at the transition between the Old and New Testaments.  As we have been considering the Jesse Tree throughout much of the Advent season, we’ve come to the point in history when the entire OT hope is about to be realized. The conception and birth of Jesus fulfills the promises of God since Adam and Eve. Mary stands as the one through whom the fulfillment has come. She is the next part of the Jesse Tree, the last that leads to the Branch of Jesse Himself. Mary rejoices as the one favored by God to become the flesh and blood home of His incarnate Son.  The Lord truly is with her!  She is literally full of grace, grace personified in Jesus.

Very little is said about Mary, herself.  The only truly significant piece of information is her status as a virgin. This is important, as it is the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah concerning how the Messiah was to come into the world.  All of God’s prior saving activity finds its source and completion in Christ.  This is why there’s not more information her. She isn’t the central character in the recounting of the story.

Jesus is the central character of this infancy narrative.  It is in Jesus that God comes to Israel, is favorable toward her, claims her as His own, and is wed to His people. On the large scale, the Christian church is the bride of Christ, the Israel of God, the new Jerusalem, the one upon whom His favor rests and the one in whom He takes delight, just as this young girl, Mary, was.

Christ takes on flesh and blood from the likes of her in order to offer that flesh and blood back to His Father in perfect, unfailing obedience – even to death on a cross.  That’s how He’s Mary’s Savior and yours too.  He is the God who has mercy. The One who does not stand aloof from us in our humanity, in our messes, in our pain.  He comes down to us.  How far down?  All the way down to being a baby in His mother’s womb, his tiny heart beating beneath her own, and being flesh and blood nailed for you to Calvary’s tree!  The God who has mercy and remembers to keep His promises.

Mary experienced God’s grace when God chose her to be the mother of Jesus. She is a reminder to us that God is not about popularity contests. God is not about who is number one. He does not care about the lifestyles of the rich and famous. God is not interested in being a celebrity. God’s choice of Mary reveals His grace to the poor, to the lowly, to those of no importance. In this way, Mary shows us how to believe: not in our abilities or achievements or status. Rather, our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

Traditionally in Lutheranism, Mary has been held in high regard as the mother of our Lord, one who stands in the favor of God as an example of God’s faithfulness to the world.  While we don’t pray to her or venerate her as doing anything for us and our salvation, we do give her this special honor.  She serves as a model of the humble hearing of God’s Word and the trusting response of faith created by that Word-the Word now made flesh in her womb.  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” 

But what’s more is that she’s an example of faith and hope in suffering, in bearing the cross. She was told at the Annunciation that she would suffer because of the ministry of her son. She did indeed bear this suffering at the foot of the cross. Michelangelo’s magnificent statue, Pieta, in St. Peter’s in Rome captures her grief as she holds the body of Jesus after the crucifixion. Yet she bore this suffering in the confident hope that God was accomplishing His purposes in Christ in spite of His suffering and death. Mary endured the death of her son in the hope that Jesus was indeed what the shepherds had told Mary what the angels proclaimed the night of His birth: Savior, Christ, and Lord. 

The Venerable Bede, a monk in the late 600s, drawing on the Church Father, Ambrose, “Well is she called ‘full of grace’ for she has received the grace… of conceiving and bringing to birth the very author of grace.” “Full of grace” may be rightly understood in the sense of unmerited grace received from God. Mary is a vessel to receive, not a fountain to dispense, this grace.

 Is this not the same with all people who are welcomed into the kingdom by the pure grace of God in Christ? Simply because of God’s pleasure, He has called each one of us here today to be part of the story of salvation. Through His Word and Sacraments, He continues to make you full of grace.  He pours it out in your lives over and over again.  You too, are a vessel to receive the grace of God given in Christ Jesus.  That you too are full of grace, completely undeserved, completely poured out on servants of the Lord, according to His Word, proclaimed at Jesus’ birth, at His death and resurrection, and even now as we await the Advent of our King.

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