Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Sermon: “Go Tell Johnny” Grace and Peace to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The time is coming, truly coming. It’s almost here. It’s about time to start baking cookies, or maybe even getting late, as some of the cookie exchanges are already happening. I’ve heard people talking about the size of turkey they have, how many people will be there for a Christmas dinner, and I know for a fact that the season of present-shaking has begun. The time is coming. What do you suppose you’re getting? Or maybe you’ve been busy wrapping things up and have started asking yourself what something might be in this or that package that you wrapped, because you don’t quite remember what it is. There’s something in that package. You know it’s going to be good. But maybe you start wondering if you’re going to have what you wanted. Maybe, like me, you put some things on a wish list a long time ago and don’t remember what they were. Or you think maybe you were vague about something you should have been more specific about. One person in my family wanted “flavored coffee, not hazelnut.” One wanted “flavored coffee, hazelnut.” What about the person who just said “flavored coffee”? I don’t want to disappoint someone. What flavor? The anticipation can create delight. But it can also create some anxiety. I’m this way when a family member goes to the doctor. I know it’s a routine checkup, but I wonder, what is that doctor going to find? Is something unexpected going to happen? What about those dread diseases with few warning signs? They run the routine blood culture and say they will get back with you in a few days. I always get nervous. Some of you do also. Some with reason. The future is full of unknowns. Some of them are a lot more pleasant than others. Some of them are downright frightening. In the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 7, John the Baptizer, Jesus’ cousin, sends a couple of his disciples to check on Jesus. Maybe John isn’t sure what will happen. He wanted to see Jesus coming to rescue his nation from all its enemies. He was looking for a person to come as a king. And as we’ve seen lately, Jesus doesn’t always seem very kingly. He comes as a humble donkey-rider. He walks around with his disciples, not keeping all the trappings of a superhero anointed deliverer. So what should we think? Are you the one we are looking for, or should we just be glad you’re here but look for some other Messiah? What can we expect? What does the lab test say? What’s in the package? (long pause) (longer pause) Anticipation can be frustrating, can’t it? (long pause) Jesus doesn’t answer either, does he? Or maybe he does. “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind” (Luke 7:21, ESV). What kind of an answer is that? “I’ll tell you what, Johnny, while you are waiting around, I’ll just do some of my work. I’m going to heal some of these people, a whole lot of them. I’m going to give them a life that they could never hope for. Is that enough of a sign for you?” What do you think? Is this enough of a sign? Jesus comes to us as the Messiah who is able to heal all sorts of diseases, give sight to the blind, and even chase away evil spirits. That’s pretty good, pretty good. But what about the people who are healthy? What about the people who seem to be doing all right? What kind of deliverer do they get? It’s a good idea to give them an answer also. So what should we tell Johnny? What answer can he have? Luke 7:22-23 (ESV) says, “So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.’” What do we tell Johnny? There’s more healing going on than you see. Not only are people who are sick with something being healed. Jesus says he is in the business of resurrection as well. He is the one who will take all who believe and raise them from death itself, body and soul, putting that which is dead back together again alive. He’s also the one who is giving good news to the poor. What’s in the lab report? You are fine. By God’s grace, as you trust in him, no matter what happens to you in this world, you are fine. You know someone in the business of resurrection. Johnny, even if some arrogant ruler decides to remove your head with a sword, you’ll still be fine. I’m the one who can put you back together again, and make your head work like it never did before in all your life. That’s what’s in the lab report. What’s in that package you’ve been wondering about? All the forgiveness, life, and salvation that you could ever need or want. In Me, Jesus says, you are perfectly whole, perfectly safe, and you are headed for eternal, conscious, joy and bliss. That’s what’s in the box. You asked for a new pair of socks. I’ll give you true life. How’s that for a deal? And I bet someone will give you some socks too. Go tell Johnny that Jesus is exactly the one you should be looking for. Jesus is exactly the one you need. Jesus is exactly the one you can depend on, day in, day out. Go tell Johnny. That’s what you tell him. Now, I don’t know who you might be. You might be Johnny yourself. You might be one of the disciples who can go tell him the message Jesus has. You might be someone who is hanging around near the disciples pretending not to listen. You might be one of the people who wasn’t sent by Johnny but who knows someone a lot like Johnny, someone who is lacking in faith, lacking in hope, who thinks there’s something good, bad, or indifferent in the package called the Church, in the package called Jesus. You are the perfect messenger for someone. What are you going to tell Johnny? Tell him that in Jesus there dwell all the riches of the Godhead bodily, like we see in Colossians 2:9. Tell him that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, like he says in John 11:25. Tell him what you saw Jesus doing here in Luke 7. Sometimes we just need to be told. Sometimes we just need to be reminded. Like we see in 1 Corinthians 13:9 we know in part, we prophesy in part, but one day we will know him as he is. Until then we need someone to tell us. Go tell Johnny. Go tell Johnny. What if Johnny won’t listen, what if he won’t believe? We don’t worry about that. We know that Jesus has told us to listen to him, to believe him. He is the one who will take care of the rest. Do you hear Jesus calling you? Do you hear that he is the one who has promised you life, As Jesus says in John 10:10, he has come so that you may have life, abundant life. And we live that life, day by day, by faith. He’s in charge of the lab report. He is the one who has given us many gifts. He is the one who gives his life so that we may receive it and life. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Look to him. He is coming. He is the one we are looking for. I think most of you have heard this prayer. You probably associate it with a meal. Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest. May Your gifts to us be blest. Amen. Come, Lord. We await you eagerly.
Monday, December 10, 2012
Sermon “Who Shall Stand?” Grace, mercy and peace to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. During Advent our call is for the Lord to come. We start to realize our darkness and our need for a savior. Yet like anything else, we are able to twist that which is good into something self-destructive. We take what God intended for good, a call to repentance so we can receive forgiveness with great joy. But once we have twisted it around a little bit like these pipe cleaners we have something that won’t even serve our purposes. Here’s a case in point. Christmas sales. I recall a time when it was common for people to do most of their Christmas shopping starting about now, in the two weeks or so before Christmas. And that was among people who were thinking ahead. Is it nice to give presents? Certainly. Is it a good thing to be able to find those presents without it being a tremendous last-minute rush to locate, purchase, and wrap all those bits of mechanized, electric joy? Well, it probably is a nice thing. So the Christmas merchandise comes out earlier and earlier. To inspire a rush of purchases we started seeing this special holiday called “Black Friday.” This started in the 1960s. It isn’t a long-standing tradition, though it’s been around for most or all of our lives. Black Friday? Sometimes it’s more like black and blue Friday. And it’s moved into Thursday now, making a civic holiday, a day of Thanksgiving, originally to God but now pretty universally referred to as “turkey day” a day when a bunch of turkeys want to go out and buy more Christmas presents, sold to them by a bunch of people who are being made to work on a holiday. But we need to get an early start on Christmas because everyone is going to pile it up with so much activity, so many desires, a greed for things to be “special” that we forget the nature of Christmas. We stop using this season to anticipate the coming of Christ and we let Christmas move forward, earlier and earlier. Then by the time the twelve days of Christmas arrive at the end of December 24 we’re so tired of it all that we unwrap the presents and look forward to getting that Christmas tree down as soon as possible after Christmas Day. We don’t even make it through those twelve days of Christmas and we’d sure be upset if we were supposed to give each other a little gift each of those twelve days like “my true love gave to me.” Rush, rush, rush, hurry here and hurry there, and we twist this good celebration of our Savior’s birth into something which can barely be recognized. By the end of it we’re worn out. It’s not surprising that mental health professionals report December and January as the most depressed months of the year. We start out with some high hopes and bit by bit they are crushed. We build these expectations that nobody is going to fulfill. And some of those expectations are expectations of our savior. Who are we looking for? Are we looking for a mild Jesus who is going to make us feel good about ourselves? Are we expecting that sweet little baby to lie quietly in the manger forever so we can talk baby talk and see if he smiles? What kind of a Jesus are we looking for? Let’s take a look back at Malachi chapter 3. How does our Lord come to us? He is a refiner. He takes us as lumps of ore and heats us to burn off the waste and lift the valuable metal out, making it useful. In all this smelting we are pulled out of our former lives. We are changed. We cease to be the pieces of rock that we once were. We are made useful, valuable. But we’re subject to great heat, pressure, crushing, sifting. When it’s all over, though, what emerges? Maybe silver, maybe gold, certainly something that is valuable and useful when it was not valuable and useful before. Our Lord comes to each one of us. He calls us to repent of our sins. He calls us to believe the Gospel. He promises us forgiveness and grace. And when we receive that, he works in us as the refiner, making us valuable and beautiful in his sight. Jesus comes to us as a refiner. Jesus also comes to us as a launderer. In baptism he washes us, cleansing us from sin. In confession and absolution he delivers us full and free forgiveness, washing away all the stains of our sin day by day. He takes that which is dirty and foul and presents it clean and sweet-smelling. Again and again in the Bible we read about washings. Sacrifices are washed. Priests are washed. People who have made sacrifice are washed. Sometimes there’s a sprinkling of blood, which is also called a washing in the Bible. We care cleansed, ceremonially, which means we are cleaned on the inside and the outside, by the blood of Christ shed for us. Jesus washes us from all sin and shame. Again, what is unrighteous is taken away, only what is good and fine remains. Jesus changes us into people who make offerings of righteousness. Our old habits, our self-centered view of the world, our selfish desires can gradually pass away as he takes us and makes us able to minister to others, to build them up in the faith. Have you seen this happen? This is the kind of change that we receive when we are courageous enough to let the Word of God change us. That’s one of many reasons I always encourage people in daily Bible study themselves and at least weekly Bible study with others. There’s something we gain when we are taking in the Word of God and discussing it with others, or at least listening in as others discuss it. Over time our Lord equips us with all that we need for life and godliness. He uses the Word for instruction in righteousness. He changes us so we can act as encouragers for others. This is why we kept the Adult Bible Class going through the summer. This is why we’re having some Wednesday evening Bible studies looking specifically through the Gospel of Luke, drawing out what our Lord would say to us. May the Lord change us into good offerings. How else does he come? He comes in judgment. He will judge all that evil, sorcery, adultery, perjury, failure to do justice. So where do we stand? We seem to be guilty. How do we confess? Sins in thought, in word, in deed. We have failed to love God with all our heart, all the time. We have turned our back on his goodness and mercy. So how will we stand? Who can stand before this kind of a judge? We should be destroyed. Yet in verse 6 we see that we are not destroyed. Why not? We are not destroyed because God does not change. Wait a minute! I thought God was the judge and would destroy all the evil. Now he’s not destroying us because he doesn’t change? What’s going on here? Maybe we need to remember what he just told us. What did we think all that refining, that washing, that changing us from inside to out was about? God is the one who doesn’t change. He is still full of mercy. He is going to cleanse us from all sin and present us to himself as his perfect bride, with no fault. This is how great our Lord’s mercy is. But what happens to all that sin and evil, all that slag, all the dirt and grime that he cleans from us? It all falls upon Jesus. That’s the Jesus we are looking for, not the sweet little baby, but the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, by taking them upon himself. We are looking for the Jesus who lives a perfect life in our place and who then becomes sin for us. We are looking for the Jesus whose mercy never changes, who will be crushed for us, who will be twisted beyond recognition, so that we can be presented to the Father holy and innocent. And that’s exactly the Jesus the Bible gives us. The more we learn from Scripture the more we see that Jesus is our only hope in this world. He himself is the light at the end of the tunnel. He himself is the one who gives us repentance. He himself is the one who draws us to him in faith. He himself is the one who raises us up. He is the one who takes us, who were once useless, fouled, destroyed, and makes us, like Paul in Philippians, a partner with him in the Gospel. He is the one who frees us from eternal death. He is the one who enables us to be about the business of making disciples. Earlier I talked about how our wrong expectations can drive us to be so very busy about things which will always disappoint us. Looking to Jesus, can we be busy about learning from our Savior? Can we be busy about the Word of God? Can we be busy about the work of training the next generation in righteousness? Can we be busy making a difference in our world, being those people who were making the precious offerings in the book of Malachi? By his grace, may he make us eager to hear and to obey his Word. Lord, let us see you as you come, not the one we may have expected, but exactly the one we need. Change us, cleanse us from inside out Fill us with your Spirit. Make us walk in your paths, bringing your grace to all those around us, for you live and reign, one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
Monday, December 3, 2012
Sermon “Kingly Grace” Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Have you ever met someone outside of the role you expected? Sometimes that person is hard to identify. We expect to see one thing but what we see, what we perceive, is something else. Years ago when I taught for a private school in West Virginia I was spending some time in the summer repairing light fixtures and refreshing the paint in the school building. Being a senior faculty member and the person who was most likely to be around, the school secretary and the headmaster considered me the point man for inquiries. There’s something that seems odd about being sweaty and smudged up from working on dirty old light fixtures and then being called unexpectedly to greet people and consult with them about curriculum. “I thought you were the custodian.” “I am the custodian.” “What do you know about teaching Latin?” “Well, I do that most of the time during the school year.” We’re very quick to look at someone and jump to conclusions. We think we know what kind of leadership to expect when we see a particular kind of person or someone who carries himself in a particular way. Did you know that normally the taller of the main party candidates for President in this country is elected? I guess I’d better give up my aspirations. What kind of a king did the people of Israel look for? What did they expect as their Messiah, their Christ, their anointed one who would come in the name of the LORD? They expected someone who would look kingly. They expected someone who would come with military might, be recognized as the descendant of David, who would overthrow the oppressive enemies like one of the judges or kings of old, and who would establish his reign on the throne. To the disciples Jesus seemed a likely candidate. He had been working miracles. He taught like nobody else taught. Surely he could come into Jerusalem and teach everybody a lesson. Yet how does the Lord, as we read in Jeremiah, “the LORD our righteousness,” enter into the city? He doesn’t put on any royal robes. He doesn’t have a retainer of soldiers. He doesn’t even seem to have a weapon. There are no trumpeters. He rides a donkey, an animal which is a symbol of humility and of peace. And this isn’t even a very good donkey! It’s a donkey nobody has ever ridden. It has no clue what to do with someone sitting on its back. It doesn’t know where to go, when to start, when to stop, it’s a novice. To the casual observer it looks like Jesus is being taken for a ride, and like all the people who are supporting him are being deceived also. Jesus hardly looks like a king as he enters into Jerusalem. Yet we know from Zechariah chapter 9 that Jesus is fulfilling prophecy. He is the king who comes to Jerusalem, humble, riding on a donkey. He is the one who is coming in humility, coming to heal the broken-hearted, to bind up the wounded, to heal the sick, to raise the dead. Wouldn’t you think he would want some sort of special notice for work like that? At least he ought to have a special coat or a gold watch. But Jesus enters Jerusalem, not claiming his own glory. He’ll do that later, when he rises from the dead. For now he lets others proclaim his wonders. What of the opposition? The Pharisees who tell him to stop his disciples? Jesus reminds them that the disciples are right, that Jesus is the king coming in the name of the LORD, that if they stop proclaiming the truth then God can have all nature do it instead. Do we know our Lord comes to us today? Do we remember that when we gather in His name we gather not to bring him something he needs, but to receive from him something we need? Do we remember that he is the king and is present for us, present in the Word, present in the Sacraments, present according to his promises, even though that presence isn’t always visible to those Pharisees around us? Do we remember that Jesus is the one who has come to rescue us? He doesn’t look much like a rescuing, mighty king. But he is the glorious Lord who has come to save us. He may not be the kind of king we were looking for. But he’s exactly the king we need. King of all, thank you for coming to us in humble form, coming to pick us up, coming to rescue us from sin and every evil. Confirm us in your grace. Amen.