Friday, February 23, 2007

Barrage of posts

Sorry for the barrage of posts all at once! That's what happens when I get backlogged :)

Sermon on Luke 9:28-36, The Transfiguration of Our Lord

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text for this last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, the Transfiguration of Our Lord, is Luke 9:28-36. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Before we dive into the meat of today’s text, I want you to hear what the verse just before today’s reading says. In Luke 9:27 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” Each of the three Gospel-writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke record this saying of Jesus right before the Transfiguration. Coincidence? Not at all. It’s easy to misunderstand that verse, if we take “the kingdom of God” to mean only Jesus’ second coming, the Last Day. If so, it seems like a problem that by now the disciples have all died, before Jesus’ return. But it is no accident that all three Gospel-writers place this verse right before Jesus’ transfiguration. For He, Jesus Christ, is the kingdom of God coming into the world. And in the Transfiguration, the disciples caught a brief glimpse of the glory and power of the kingdom of God, as it was revealed through God’s Son. So as we begin today’s text, we notice that it was only about 8 days after Jesus said this that they caught their glimpse of the kingdom of God. And again at Jesus’ death and resurrection they would see the kingdom of God more fully.

Now, on to the meat! We are just finishing today the church season of Epiphany, which focuses on how Jesus revealed Himself as the Son of God through various ways, from the coming of the Wise Men, to His Baptism, to the Wedding at Cana, and now we end with this account of Jesus’ Transfiguration. For a few moments in time, we don’t know how long…Jesus’ appearance was remarkably changed. The word transfiguration is “metamorphosize” in Greek. A change in form or appearance. Luke records what this change was like—the appearance of Jesus’ face was changed and His clothes flashed like lightning. “Not your everday occurrence,” would be a colossal understatement. The disciples were jolted out of their sleepiness by this sight, and quickly were confused about what to do or say. Words tend to escape you when your teacher suddenly glows like lightning and has an instantaneous change of appearance!

But Peter, always the talkative one, blurts out, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Good intentions…wrong idea. Luke tells us that Peter didn’t know what he was saying. But he didn’t get a chance to say anything more, nor did Jesus respond. As if to interrupt Peter mid-sentence, the cloud of the glory of the Lord suddenly appears and his words are cut short. The cloud surrounded them and they were terrified. What ran through their minds now? But God was not coming to destroy them, He was coming to give words of approval to His Son. The Father speaks from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.” And as quickly as it began, it was over. The cloud had vanished, Jesus’ appearance was restored, and Jesus was alone with His disciples. Small wonder that there were three disciples along to see this—if there had only been one or two, they might have wondered if their senses had fooled them! We could bring out a list of adjectives: remarkable, amazing, marvelous, awesome, etc etc, but they all fall short of giving a description of what happened. But then again, like Peter, we’re prone to misunderstanding. We easily focus on the glory, and miss the real point.

What is the real point here? Thankfully, we don’t have to wonder, because God’s own voice made it clear! “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him!” The point was, that all this dazzling light-show around Jesus was to identify Him clearly as God the Father’s chosen Son! Make no mistake about it! He’s here. He’s the One. Listen to Him! When Peter’s voice was running on with confused ideas for trying to make this glory experience last, the Father’s voice interrupts and says: “Listen to Him!” Listen to my chosen Son. How great a blessing we would receive if we obeyed these simple words: Listen to Him. But we do not. We occupy ourselves with listening to all sorts of other people, messages, ideas, fads, philosophies. We listen to what our “itching ears” want to hear…as the Bible puts it. We only listen to what we want to hear. And not what we need to hear. From the One we need to hear.

“How have we done this,” you ask? I heard a pastor (not a Lutheran one, thankfully—though it could have just as easily been one) preach about how it was important to listen to God’s Word, but that we should really pay just as much attention to what God is trying to say to us outside His Word. That God is speaking to us in all sorts of ways outside His Word. That God is speaking to us in all kinds of situations and events in life, but that we just aren’t listening. Now perhaps that’s not a big jaw-dropper for you yet.

But let me help to paint the contrast a little clearer for you. I’m not suggesting that God isn’t teaching you things through your daily life—you know, learning things by experience? But God is not speaking to you through them! Why would we look outside God’s Word to see what He has to tell us, when it’s perfectly plain inside His Word what He has told and is telling us. (I’ll get to what it is telling us in a minute). God’s Word isn’t a supplement to the things He’s telling us elsewhere, in life, in experience, in difficulties. God’s Word, the Bible, is The Source! That preacher had it all backwards! Where we should be going to learn what God has to tell us is inside His Word, where we hear His Chosen Son, speaking to us. Listen to Him. When we start to think that God is speaking to us outside His Word, rather than in it, it won’t be long before that supposed “message” starts contradicting what God has actually said in His Word. And we know that anything that is contrary to what God’s Word comes from where? We are not only much safer when we stick to what God’s Word says, we are where He has commanded us to be. We’re on the rock instead of the shifting sand.

But that is not the only way that we do not listen to God’s chosen Son. I could go on to list other examples, but just one more. Like Peter, sometimes “not listening” is not about listening to someone else, but maybe just too much talking on our part. Like Peter we may be drawn to the glory and put off by the suffering. Peter, who wanted to make the glory of the Transfiguration last, but when Jesus spoke of going to His death before the chief priests, Peter rebuked Him. Or we are too busy expressing our own opinions, that we drown out the message God’s Son is speaking to us in His Word. From His Word. For all this and more, we must repent, and hear again the Father’s Word: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.”
Like Peter, we too can learn our lesson. Peter got it right sometimes too. He said to Jesus on another occasion, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” And those words have become part of the church’s song in the Alleluia verse, often sung before the Gospel reading. At that point Peter knew who he wanted to hear. More importantly, who he needed to hear. Hopefully you’re wondering by now, what is so essential that we hear? What is the message that Jesus brings?

It may strike you as ironic that through this whole reading from Luke, not a single word of Jesus is recorded. But we do know the topic of conversation between Moses, Elijah, and our Lord. And by the presence of these two Old Testament figures we learn some important things. First of all, Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, which is a common Biblical way of referring to the entire Old Testament. Secondly, their presence testifies to the immortality of the soul and the promise of the Resurrection, that even Old Testament believers had. But most important of all is their topic of conversation. Only Luke tells us what they spoke about. In the NIV it reads, “They spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” I only need to point out one important thing—the word departure is actually the Greek word, “exodus.” What was the Exodus, and who lead it? It was God’s mighty deliverance of His people Israel out of slavery in Egypt, led by their deliverer Moses. So now Moses appears here on the mountain with Jesus, some 1400-1500 years later, talking about Jesus’ Exodus, which was going to happen in Jerusalem?

What could this mean? What Exodus did Jesus’ undertake? If we read it like the NIV, as simply a departure, we might take that to mean Jesus’ departure into heaven, His ascension from this world. But if we read further in Luke we find that Jesus’ ascension actually took place out in the area of Bethany. So it must mean something more. Well, if you asked my 7th graders, I think they’d be able to answer you that Jesus lead an Exodus much like Moses did. Israel was enslaved in Egypt, just as we and all the rest of humanity were enslaved in sin and under death. And Jesus, like Moses has led us out of this slavery, into the freedom He has promised. How? Notice where this 2nd and greater Exodus would be fulfilled by Jesus? In Jerusalem! It was in Jerusalem that Jesus suffered and died on the cross for our sins. It was in Jerusalem that He rose from the dead. There Jesus became the final sacrifice for sins—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Just like the Israelites had to sacrifice the Passover Lamb to mark their doorposts with blood, so that their lives would be spared. The Passover Lamb showed the Israelites that God had spared them from judgment and death. And that Old Testament sacrifice pointed forward to the One Lamb of God, the Chosen Son of God who would spare us from judgment and death. He did so by His death on the cross.

“This is my Son whom I have chosen, listen to Him!”, the Father said. And the message to be heard is this: Jesus has completed His Exodus in Jerusalem. He has led us out of the slavery of our sin and death, into the freedom of forgiveness. Our stubborn, closed ears, that wouldn’t listen, and our run-on mouths that don’t give a chance to hear God’s Word have been silenced by the vision of the Son’s Glory. And we have been forgiven, freed from that sin. Freed to listen to Him. Freed to hear the words of eternal life. Freed to be blessed by the hearing of that Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When God said “Listen to Him!” thanks be to God that He didn’t just give us good advice—we’d never be able to live it. Thanks be to God He didn’t just give us a perfect example in Jesus—we’d never be able to follow Him. Instead, give thanks to God for giving us the Savior, the substitute, who walked to Jerusalem to die on Calvary in our place. The Savior, the deliverer who completed the greatest Exodus of human history—the freeing of all mankind. And just like Moses didn’t leave Egypt alone but was followed by multitudes of the freed, neither does Jesus leave without a host of freed believers in His train. His Exodus opens to us the way to the Promised Land of heaven, our eternal home. Amen.

Now the peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.

Sermon on Luke 3:7-18, 3rd Sunday in Advent

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text is the Gospel reading, Luke 3:7-18. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

For all of us who are getting into the “spirit of Christmas,” today’s Gospel reading might strike us as a bit of a downer. Passing through the season of Advent, moving toward Christmas, we expect glad tidings of great joy. And yet John the Baptist seems so out of place among our Christmas cheer and joy. Here he comes in our text today, preaching of repentance and the coming wrath of God! An ax prepared to cut down every tree that does not bear good fruit, and throw it into the fire. Some of us may start to shudder and think, “Who invited this guy who’s wearing camel’s hair and eating grasshoppers, to our Christmas party?” He may seem like Ebenezer Scrooge, who goes around muttering “Bah, humbug!” Or maybe the Grinch who stole Christmas. But if this is what we think of John and his message, we gravely misunderstand him. Do not forget who leapt with joy inside his mother’s womb when the pregnant virgin Mary stood near! It was John the Baptist. And don’t forget who excitedly proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” when he first saw Jesus. It was John the Baptist. He knows the Christmas joy as well or better than any of us.

John knew what we often would like to forget: that this Christmas joy cannot truly or fully be experienced without the preparation of repentance. John knows that the true joy of Christmas cannot come without first knowing the dire situation we are in without Christ. Unless the underlying problem of our sin and all its effects in our lives is dealt with first, all our Christmas joy ends up being a fake smile that glosses over our real problem. This is what the preaching of repentance is all about: dealing with sin. Repent literally means “turn around!” It’s a message for all of us, because we all need to turn around, turn away from our sins.

Hear how John addressed the crowd who came to him for baptism: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘we have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” As far as John was concerned, the people who came to him were not the offspring of Abraham, but the offspring of vipers! Harsh words! Apparently John wasn’t concerned with “seeker sensitive” methods! Why such a harsh response to them? Weren’t they coming in repentance to be baptized? As a prophet of God, he wasn’t deceived by their outward show. He knew their hearts still weren’t repentant. Just like it did for the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God’s Word burned in John like a fire, and he could not keep it in. Could he really allow their hypocrisy to go unnoticed? It certainly would have been more pleasant for the hearers. It might have gotten him “in with the right crowd.” But to spare them this rebuke now, would only postpone the greater judgment that would await them if they continued with their untrue hearts. How would that be loving them? At least now, they could be jarred awake from their sin, and still turn to God and be forgiven, with only their pride being wounded. But should they continue in their unrepentance, an unquenchable fire awaited them!

So also with us. We shudder at the law’s accusation against our sin. Our self-esteem is wounded by the thought that we are hypocrites who claim to obey God, but cover our sin below the surface. God is not pleased with lip-service. Why do we have to hear the gloomy message about our sin? Because repent means turn around! You are headed the wrong way! Would we rather be comforted with soothing words, while we head down the wrong path…the way to destruction? Or wouldn’t we all rather be stunned by the sharp warning: “Beware! The road ahead of you leads to destruction! Turn back from your sins and be forgiven by God!” If I had fallen asleep at the wheel on a curvy cliffside road, like the road from Hana to Kaupo, I’d be grateful to the passenger if they suddenly slapped my face and yelled at me to wake up, rather than letting me sleep unaware.

Or consider a child who has badly scraped up her leg, and has gravel under the skin. She comes into the house screaming and crying that it hurts. There are two different things you could do. You could proceed to calm her down, stroke her forehead gently and say “There, there, it will all be better soon, don’t cry” but do nothing to clean the wound. Fearful of making it hurt worse for a short time, you decide to ignore the dirty wound, and so the wound gets infected, and the injury becomes worse as the infection spreads through the wound.

The second option you could take, is quickly bring the crying child to the bathroom, wash the wound clean with soap and water, maybe some peroxide, and carefully remove the painful gravel. Truthfully, it will hurt more, and the child might kick and scream, and even say “Mommy, why are you hurting me? Why are you making it worse?” But the wise parent knows that it is only after this painful cleansing (to which I am comparing repentance) that they can then comfort and console the daughter, hug her and hold her while the crying stops. Only then will the antiseptic balm heal the wound. Then words of comfort will be genuine, for the infection has been forestalled, the wound is clean, and the healing can begin. In a short time, she will literally be as good as new!

The same goes for us. We daily cut ourselves and scrape ourselves with our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. The gravel of sin works its way under our skin, and if we leave it sitting there, the infection will grow and spread within us, until it is stopped by something more powerful. It stings and hurts like the dickens to have that wound scrubbed clean by the preaching of repentance, and by hearing the Word of God’s law. Without faith, the childlike trust in God, we might think its better for ourselves to not touch the wound, not clean it, but just let it heal. We want the gravel of sin to remain undisturbed under our skin. But like a wise parent God knows that the the Law must come before the Gospel. The sting comes from the law, but the cleaning and healing power comes from the Gospel. The cleansing from sin in baptism is like the peroxide or soap and water that cleanses our wound. Baptism joins us to Christ’s saving death, and through Him we are washed clean of sin. Baptism also joins us to His resurrection, where we arise clean and new again healed of all sin.

So repent! Turn back from the dead path of sin, from presuming that your own works will save you. Turn back from trusting in your family name or reputation to count you in God’s good favor. Having Abraham as your father is no guarantee of God’s love. God doesn’t favor me because my uncle or a great-grandfather was a pastor, or that my family were faithful church-goers. God is concerned with my heart. With your heart. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance! If you are truly sorry for your sins, don’t continue to live in them! The crowd asked John what daily fruits of repentance that they should bear? What kind of fruit was pleasing to God? What is the thing I am to do right now, here in my place in life? The surprise might be that he didn’t give them great and glorious things to do. No dramatic pilgrimages to travel great distances to display your devotion to God. No flashy acts of philanthropy. No commands to lead a life of a hermit, sealed off from the world for quiet meditation and prayer. Rather he points them to their own station in life. Their own position or daily calling as a neighbor, a tax collector, and a soldier.

So also he would point us to our daily lives. A parent, a neighbor, an IRS agent, a teacher, a businessman, a medical worker, a storekeeper, a student, a son or a daughter. Our own place in life may not seem like the realm for the good fruit that God wants us to bear. We may imagine all kinds of great and glorious things for ourselves to do, that would surely please God. But no, He calls us to the simple things in life, to share, be generous to those in need, (and not in a showy way so that others can see), being honest in business and taxes, being content with the salary we have, and not trying to cheat others. These things were simple obedience to the commandments. Giving to those in need is an example of what Luther said about the 5th commandment, “we should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” Not stealing, extorting, or taking too much taxes is keeping the 7th commandment, which Luther also explained, “We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.”

If you wonder what God may have for you to do in your own life, to show fruits of repentance, my suggestion is that you dust off your Small Catechism from confirmation class, and open up to the section titled “Table of Duties.” There you will find a collection of Bible verses arranged under the following headings: “Bishops, pastors, and preachers; Duties Christians Owe their teachers and pastors, Governing authorities; Duties Subjects owe to governing authorities; Husbands, Wives, Parents, Children, Laborers and Servants, Masters and Mistresses (which we might retitle today “Managers and Supervisors”); Young Persons in General; Widows; and Christians in General.” Here is laid out a simple summary of what the Bible teaches you from each of your various positions in life. Each one of us falls into several of those categories. Check it out and see how we may daily bear the fruit of repentance.

Repentance may be a hard message to hear, but it always leads to a more joyful message, that of the Gospel. Hearing this message was encouraging to John’s hearers, and some even wondered if he was the Christ who had been promised. But John pointed them not to himself, but to the stronger one who would come after. He knew his role of preaching repentance was just preparation work for the coming of the Christ. Christ who was baptized to take our sin on Himself so that He might take it to the cross, so that in our baptism we would be cleansed of sin. Jesus established a baptism of the spirit and fire, that forges a true and lifelong link between us and His death and resurrection. In our baptism, Paul says we are joined to His death and resurrection. Here is the strength and the power to bear fruit, fruit that will last. Jesus is the living Vine that nourishes the branches that are the Church of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the fire that burns within us to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. This power does not come from us, but from God. Only a living tree bears fruit, and we are only alive in Christ.

But the joy of Christmas is not that we will bear good fruit—rather the joy of Christmas is that our Savior has entered into the world to take away our sin. It’s only after we’ve fully despaired over our sins and realized our need for a Savior that we will find the true relief and joy of Christmas. For in this baby Jesus that shepherds awaited was the salvation of the world. It’s only hearts that have been prepared by repentance that are truly ready to receive and revel in the Christmas joy of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Now is the time for the heavens to break forth with singing “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth!” For the first Christmas brought us a Savior who proclaimed peace to the world that lay broken in sin. Having felt the hard scrubbing and sting of the law, we can rejoice and be glad at the healing balm of the Gospel. And so we say as we hear the Gospel, “Praise to you O Christ.” Amen.

Now the peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.

Sermon on Mark 7:31-37, 16th Sunday after Pentecost

...this sermon was preached as part of a "Children's Sunday" service in which our school children participated in the service through their singing and prayers....

Jesus Has Done All Things Well
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text is the Gospel reading from Mark 7, the healing of the deaf and mute man. Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thinking back on the Gospel reading, I’d like you all to consider about a question: “Does God groan?” More specifically, “Does God groan for us?” The other week in Sunday Bible class, we had a good talk about the passage in Romans that says “the Spirit intercedes for us in groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). It’s comforting to know that the Holy Spirit groans and prays for us, when our words fall short or fail us. So we know God groans in this way. But does God groan in other ways?

As humans we think of groaning as a deep expression of sadness and pain. Something that expresses our hurt, but beyond what words can say. Kids in school might groan when they find out that a test is coming up, or when homework gets assigned, but as we grow older, life teaches us the hard lesson that there are many other things to groan about. Groaning not in the sense of complaining, but groaning about the real sadness and sorrows in life. We’ve had our share of groaning with sadness and sympathy these last few weeks, as we’ve been saddened by the deaths of Russ Hayashi, Filbert Carvalho, and Jeannette Goetsch, whose funerals were held yesterday. The effects of sin and death are all around us.

And yes, God does groan at this. God groans at seeing His creation, which He made to be perfect, now corrupted with pain, disease, and death. He groans to see sin, and how it has hurt and damaged our lives, twisting the once perfect creation into something broken and dying. You see, God doesn’t just stand off and observe our suffering from a distance. In Jesus Christ He entered into this world of suffering and literally groaned for us as He saw the sad state of affairs. This is the sympathy Jesus expressed in today’s Gospel reading when they bring the deaf and mute man to Him. It says He let out a groan, or a deep sigh when He looked up to heaven. How heart breaking it must have been, for Jesus to see the effects of sin on this poor man. How sad to see the creation He had spent so much time and effort on, was now ruined by sin, broken, not working. Ears that couldn’t hear the sounds of life, the sounds of laughter and song, the sound of the Word that Jesus was speaking. And the man’s tongue, unable to speak clearly, to talk with friends, to speak and sing praises to God—none of this was possible for him, with a tongue-tied by the bonds of sin.

So also Jesus sees us, in our pain, in our suffering, and He groans for us. He sees how sin has corrupted our lives, and how its effect hurt us. Some of it’s by our own making, our own sin. Sometimes we’re spiritually deaf—unwilling to hear the Word of God, closing our ears to His Word. Sometimes we live on in sin, as if God’s grace did not really matter, and don’t repent of our wrong. Sometimes we’re spiritually mute, holding in the truth when it should be spoken, or failing to worship God as we ought to. Our tongues are tied by shame or guilt, or fear.

But sometimes we suffer the effects of sin because of others, or even just from living in a sinful and fallen world. Cancer, AIDS, heart and lung problems, all types of bodily illnesses burden us with grief that often seems unbearable. Or tragedy strikes us and takes away what we hold dear. We may suffer unjustly from crimes committed against us. It truly is a messy world we live in. But God did not turn His face away from our suffering and broken world, but rather He entered into it in Jesus Christ.

God wasn’t afraid to get “down and dirty” so to speak, to fix His creation. Think about it this way—do any of you garden? I know some people go to a lot of trouble to keep beautiful gardens in their yard. The pride they take in their garden probably isn’t just in the beauty of the flowers and landscaping, or the fine produce they grow—but also because the garden is a work of their hands. Now imagine some kids rode their bikes through and completely trashed the garden. Do you think the gardener would hesitate to get down on hand and knees to repair the damage, just because they might get their hands dirty? Of course not.

In the same way, God didn’t hesitate to get “down and dirty” with His creation, entering the world to mend the broken pieces. Some of us might be grossed out by the fact that Jesus put His spit on the man’s tongue to heal him. Why did He have to touch him, to put His fingers in his ears and His spit in his mouth? We probably can’t fully understand except to say that God works in and through His creation along with His almighty Word, to restore the creation. He doesn’t stand off in disgust, but comes near to us to heal. So when Jesus groans over His creation, He doesn’t groan out of helplessness, as we do, but He is able to cure and mend, and He does it! He healed the man’s ears and tongue, making new what was broken. But His work was not yet finished. The healing was far from complete.

But the crowd gathered there was completely astonished by the miracle, and said, “He has done all things well!” They knew Jesus was fulfilling prophecy, as they echoed the words of our Old Testament reading from Isaiah. Look again at today’s reading and how it says, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” What they said was very true, but they didn’t realize that this was not His last or greatest work!

He told the people not to tell anyone about the miracle. Sometimes, to our shame, to my own shame, you and I as Christians act like this command is still in effect. But why did Jesus want them to keep silent at first? The healing was not His main purpose. He had a larger reason for being there, and that was to die on the cross. This healing was just an appetizer to His main work; it was a small reversal in the order of death and disease. The real entrée, the real restoration was to happen in His death and resurrection.

Jesus had been trying to teach them this. But when the time actually came, even His closest 12 disciples seemed to completely forget what Jesus foretold concerning His death and resurrection. But even with this greater purpose in mind, Jesus’ endless compassion moved Him to continue healing again and again. He couldn’t bear to see the effects of sin twisting the creation He made to be perfect and whole. But He knew that the temporary healings of the body were no substitute for His real work of healing on the cross. There He accomplished the full restoration of sinful mankind by purchasing us with His precious blood. Then He began the reversal of death by His resurrection!

What seemed like a senseless murder of an innocent man was really God working behind the appearances to restore the broken creation. God shed His blood for us in Christ Jesus, and died to forgive our sins. Here was the true restoration of creation, the setting things right again. First He had to set about fixing our relationship with God by forgiving our sin. This He did by suffering for our sins in His death. Then in His resurrection He reversed the order of death, breaking its bonds, just as He broke the bonds of the deaf and mute man’s tongue—only this was far more monumental.

But we question: “Why is there still death and suffering in this world? Was Christ’s restoration incomplete?” No, Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil was complete; but the coming of the new creation, where all things are restored, is delayed till His second coming. God patiently waits so that more people may be brought into His kingdom by hearing the good news about Jesus. God isn’t slow in keeping His promise, but is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but that all people would come to repentance over their sins and a knowledge of the truth. And in God’s good timing, Jesus will return and create a new heavens and a new earth. On the last day, the perfect order of creation will be fully restored, and we will never again suffer sorrow, death, disease or sadness.

So how has Christ restored us? He has brought our bodies back from sin by His forgiving death, and He has prepared for us the resurrection of the body on the last day. He has healed our tongue, setting it free from false speech and lies—setting it free to proclaim the wonders He has done. “Give us lips to sing thy glory, Tongues thy mercy to proclaim, Throats that shout the hope that fills us, Mouths to speak thy holy name!”—as the hymn-writer puts it. He has healed our tongues to speak clearly and rightly about God.

So also he has healed our ears from spiritual deafness, opening them to hear God’s Word and believe His name. For His Word is life giving and true. Seeing all this great wonder, we can with all boldness and truth confess that “Jesus has done all things well!” Looking back on all He has done for us, and on the promises He will do, we can truly say “He has done all things well.” The people who saw the deaf and mute man healed said it without having seen His ultimate work on the cross. But now we can say, “Jesus has died for my sins, He lives again to raise me also from the dead, He has prepared a new heavens and earth to fully reverse the effects of sin and death, to bring about the perfection that was once lost in Eden. He has opened my ears to hear His Word, and loosed my tongue to speak, sing, and tell of His wonders! Truly, Jesus has done all things well! Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon on Isaiah 51:4-6

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text is the Old Testament reading from Isaiah 51. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

For Christians who follow the annual cycle of the historic Church Year, today is the Last Sunday in the Church Year, the end of a cycle. Why do we use the calendar of the Church Year to mark time? The annual cycle of the Church Year is designed to put the time of our earthly lives into the perspective of God’s timing and His working for our salvation. So every year in December, the church begins anew with the season of Advent, beginning next Sunday. It’s a new cycle in the ongoing remembrance of Jesus Christ’s life and His working for our salvation. Advent is when we remember Jesus’ coming for us, in the past, present, and future. As the church moves toward Christmas, we call to mind Christ’s first coming to us in the manger—to enter humanity on our behalf, to redeem us from sin. We also call to mind the daily, weekly coming of Christ to us in His Word, and in His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. And finally, we call to mind the future second coming of Christ to us, on that Last Day we call judgment day. The Day when Christ will usher in a new heavens and a new earth by His Almighty power.

But today, the end of the Church Year, we are also looking forward in expectation. The expectation of the End of all Times, the coming of Judgment Day. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Despite this clear statement, many Christians and non-Christians alike attempt to forecast the time or the day that the end of the world will come. But we, though we make no promises about when Jesus will come—we live in the constant expectation of His coming. How do we live in expectation? The cycle of the Church Year helps to place reminders of His coming before us, as each Church Year begins and ends in this hope, this expectation. We do not end each year that passes in discouragement that He has not yet come. Rather again and again we call to memory the story of His birth, life, death and resurrection and how it leads into our renewed life as the Church of God’s people. So just as we end this Church Year and renew our watching and waiting for the Lord and His coming, we hear the reading from Isaiah 51. God is calling His people to attention:

“Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: The law will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations. My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.

These words of comfort were probably first heard by the people of Judah sometime after they had gone into exile in Babylon, several hundred years before Christ came. These Old Testament believers were also waiting—waiting in expectation and hope. They were waiting for the restoration of Jerusalem or Zion, and for their promised deliverance from their captors. They were waiting for the promised Messiah, whom we now know in Christ Jesus. They, just like us today, needed the constant reminder that God is faithful to His promises, and that His promised deliverance would in fact come, although it seemed to be delayed. Don’t we often find ourselves wondering when Christ will ever return? I wonder if there’s ever been a generation that didn’t think that their own time was the most suitable time for Jesus to come back.

And the warning signs are certainly all around us. An earthquake here in Hawaii literally shook some of us out of our sleep, while some who were awake were thrown into a panic about where to flee for safety. Jesus said there would be earthquakes, wars, and rumors of wars, and all kinds of troubles in the last days before He returns. We certainly have rumors of wars with all the news of missile testings in North Korea and Iran. For many, these signs of the end cause us to fear and worry. For some they may go by unnoticed, as we seem to still live in relative peace and security. But the Lord calls us to constant watchfulness and readiness. When His promised help seems far off, He reminds us in verse 5, “My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations.”

For Israel to hear these words, it must have brought great joy and comfort. God’s righteousness is coming soon! His salvation is almost here! This was truly a time of expectation. But sometimes our expectation gets mixed with doubt and skepticism. Undoubtedly some of the Israelites who first heard this doubted that God’s salvation was really on the way. It always seemed like He was taking so much time, or it seemed like He’d never come. Don’t we sometimes think this way? We begin to think that God is slow in keeping His promises, or maybe that He’s forgotten. But Scripture reassures us that He is not slow to keep His promises, but rather He is patient so that more people may repent and believe. When Isaiah wrote these words, it was still a few hundred years before Christ actually came. But He did come! And God kept His promises. Right on His divine timing. And now we can truly say that God’s righteousness has already drawn near to us and that His salvation has come! For New Testament believers, we have the fulfilled promise of God’s salvation. We can look back in faith to see what Isaiah was foretelling about the future.

Now we have seen what it meant that Isaiah said in verse 4, “My justice will become a light for the nations.” We have seen the justice of God shown in the death of Jesus Christ, where He was lifted up on a cross to become both the punishment for our sins, and also the Light of the nations. Here God’s love was lifted up on a pole, displayed to all the world, showing forth His love, His light. Showing that God brings light out of darkness, hope and forgiveness out of His death. We are no longer waiting to see God’s righteousness draw near; rather it has already come in Christ Jesus. His righteousness and salvation is here for us now! Through faith in this light of the world, we have salvation here and now. God’s arm has brought justice, not by punishing us as our sins deserve, but by having that punishment fall upon Christ our Lord.
Verse 5 has caught my attention recently, especially after my trip to Madagascar, and then coming here to the Hawaiian islands. It says “The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm.” It was truly a blessing to see the faith of the Lutherans on the island of Madagascar, and their hope in God. I have been equally blessed to see the faith of those I have served here in the Hawaiian islands. I don’t know why this passage is included in Isaiah, except maybe to say that even in the far reaches of the earth, the islanders put their hope in God. And truly, where better to place your trust, than in the arm of the mighty Lord, who alone is powerful to save us? Let us always pray that here in the islands and all around the world, that people would continually look to God and wait in hope for His arm.

These verses in Isaiah 51 are a call to attention for all believers, just as they were a call to Israel, to be watchful and ready for the coming of the Lord. Verse 6 says, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.” Look around you, the verse is saying. See if there is anything in this world that you can put your trust in. Even the things that seem solid and enduring, the heavens and the earth, are going to pass away. The last day is coming speedily, just as the Lord promised Israel that His salvation would come speedily. It may seem to be a frightening thing to imagine the heavens vanishing like smoke, or the earth wearing out like a garment. Its inhabitants will die like flies. Without faith in God who saves us, this could be terrifying. But knowing what God has planned for us, knowing that He will create a new heavens and a new earth, we can have confidence that He will safely deliver us through that day. This verse is setting up a contrast between the temporary things of this world that are bound to pass away, and the eternal things that will always endure. God’s salvation will last forever, His righteousness will never fail.

How easy is it to forget this simple truth? We may think, “Oh yes, of course His salvation is eternal.” But we live and act as if other things are more important, and as if God’s salvation and righteousness don’t help us here and now. But if we put things into perspective, if we hear Isaiah’s call to attention, we will know that the eternal things of God are to be our chief focus and priority. His salvation and the righteousness or innocence we have been given by faith are the things that ought to shape our lives. With the security of God’s everlasting salvation, what can any man do to us? What hardship or danger can we not endure? What sorrow or pains can separate us from God’s unfailing righteousness? To know that every sin of ours is forgiven, to know that life eternal is our sure and certain promise, even more certain than the heavens above or the earth below. To know that our hope and trust in God will not be disappointed. God will never fail in keeping His promises. Living with this knowledge and faith, our lives are transformed with a new boldness that we could not have on our own. A boldness to wait in expectation, unphased by the world in turmoil around us. Showing a confidence in Christ that will be a witness to all those who have wrongly set their hope on things that do not last, and cannot save them.

How can we be ready for Jesus’ return? How are we to be alert for that Last Day? By continually listening to the Lord in His Word, by hearing His call to attention and faith. By looking to His unfading light and hoping in the strength of His arm. We know that He can never fail us. We have seen His salvation in Christ Jesus, and we know that this is one thing that is sure and forever. By putting our trust in the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus, we will not be found sleeping when our Lord comes. We look to no one else but Christ, our Light and our hope. This is how we are watchful and ready for His coming. We know that even though the world pass away and fade around us, there is the everlasting righteousness of God that never fails. Blessed be the name of the Lord! Amen.

Now the peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.

Sermon on John 8:12, LWML Sunday

....Just to inform you before you read. This is not an original sermon, but the theme, the introduction, and the outline of the sermon, along with some thematic statements come from a prepared sermon study that was sent out as part of the materials for LWML Sunday. I did assemble the skeleton into my own sermon and include material that was written by me, but I just want to make sure not to steal credit. Thanks!....

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text for this LWML Sunday is John 8:12 “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

As some of you may have noticed, the theme for today’s LWML Sunday is “Let There Be Light.” In the sermon text you just heard, we learn that the light we are talking about is not just a ray of sunshine, or some abstract “light,” but it’s Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. He is the one who shines light into our darkness—His Light. The personal God and Creator of Light is Himself Light. But the verse doesn’t only mention light—it also mentions its opposite: darkness. For we who follow Jesus will not walk in darkness, but in light.

Light and darkness are probably one of the most common themes in the Bible, from Genesis 1 to the end of Revelation 22. Until the 20th century light and darkness divided the day. With the setting of the sun, darkness dictated the rhythm and style of life—what you did plus when and where you would do it—changed. The “edges” of darkness could be temporarily neutralized by a campfire, the hearth’s flame, an oil lamp, a candle or torch, but between dusk and dawn darkness always finally won. When the last flame died out everyone knew they would have to deal with the difficulty, even the danger of darkness. Maybe that’s not something you think about as much living in a safe and well-lit neighborhood. But you can be sure that the fear and danger of darkness still hangs over soldiers at war, in the dark ghettoes and slums of the big cities, and over many a child who is frightened by a power outage during a heavy thunderstorm. Watchmen like those in the Old Testament (Ps. 130:6) weren’t the only ones who breathed easier when the dawn brushed the horizon with the first light. Everyone did.

The Biblical meaning of Christ’s words in John touch on more than literal light and darkness. Christ, and the prophets before Him, used darkness and light to refer to the darkness of sin and ignorance in which people were enveloped until He, the light of that world, came. By His birth, life, death, ascension and being seated at God’s right hand, Christ overwhelmed the darkness and offered the possibility of light and life to all. Those led by the Spirit to live under His redemptive light receive Him by faith, follow Him and reflect His brightness on all that sit in the darkness created by sin and Satan. Their desperate cry and only hope echoes the Word of creation, “Let there be light!” For where there is light there is life, hope, and security.

Light and darkness indeed serves as a metaphor that touches everyone’s life, even down to the smallest child. Think of how young children yearn for the comfort of a nightlight in the darkness. Surrounded by the blackness of night and the creeping shadows of their bedroom, the tiny nightlight gives surprising comfort and security. I remember when I was a young kid, how I was afraid of the dark. I would always send my little sister into the dark room or stairway or basement first, to go make sure it was safe and clear. I don’t know if she was braver than me or if she just was oblivious to the danger I was sure lurked in the darkness, under the bed or in the closet. She probably didn’t know she was the “sacrificial lamb” that I sent into the darkness. In Christ, we truly have a sacrificial lamb who has gone before us into the darkness, and He has shone forth His light and driven out all the powers of this dark world, conquering them in His death on the cross.

But light and darkness is not just a relevant metaphor for children who are afraid of the dark, this reality touches adults equally. I mentioned examples before, about wartime, life in a dangerous neighborhood, or a power outage. Police know that streetlights and floodlights near stores and parking lots can be a significant deterrent for crime. Jesus Himself said that the people of this world loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. When people are intent on doing wrong, they seek the darkness to commit their crime. And not only does the light serve to ward off evil, but it also brings that sense of welcome and rest. When you come home to an empty house after a scary movie, what’s the first thing most people want to do? Turn on a bunch of lights! Or when you’ve come home late to your spouse or parents, and seen the light in the window, how you were reassurred that they were watching or waiting for you.

And the light serves an important role in guiding us. Think of how big a role lighthouses once played in the navigation of ships. A dangerous shoal or hidden rocks could mean the difference between life and death, and profit or loss for a ship that sailed the ocean. The lighthouse warned of danger, and told sailors where the safe passage was. How much more is Christ, the Light of the World, the light that warns us of danger and guides us to safety? So on more than one account, from all avenues of daily experience, there is reason for us to cry “Let there be Light!” For light has power, and it grants comfort and safety.

It’s certainly not just physical darkness that we have to contend with each day. An even greater threat to our well being is the spiritual darkness of sin, as we confess that our nature is sinful and unclean. Each week in the liturgy we confess that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed. And this is not even to mention our private sins, that we don’t openly name!
Then when we look around us, it seems as if the national and international “deeds of darkness will never end! And the local news and TV stations don’t make the situation seem much better close to home. We can easily point to all kinds of spiritual darkness in society, whether it be drug or alcohol abuse, movements for euthanasia, abortion, school violence, corruption in government and scandals, unfair business practices, you name it. There are plenty of places we can point the finger, when searching out the spiritual darkness in our land. But the hardest place to point the finger, and to recognize that spiritual darkness for what it is, is in our own hearts and our own lives. Our own sin is often the hardest to see. We quickly find excuses or ways to deflect attention from the sin in our own lives. We imagine that if we aren’t concerned about it, or if those around us don’t seem to be concerned about it, then God probably isn’t concerned about it either! Or if we’ve just conveniently “forgotten” our sin, instead of actually repenting of it, then God must not remember either! The truth is, that our hearts truly are darkened by sin, and without Christ, the Light of the World, we’re “dead in our trespasses and sins.” We truly need some light shed on the subject! Not only do we need the light of God’s Word to show us how dark our hearts really are, by comparison to His Law—but we also need to have the Light of His Word to lead us by His Gospel to freedom from this darkness. So our cry shall be, “Let There Be Light!”

God, who first gave the physical lights of the universe—the sun, moon, and stars—to creation, also gave another light. This Light was spoken of in Isaiah 9, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” Here is the light that is needed for our dark and sinful lives! Here is the light that is needed by our dark and sinful world. A light for the nations! Jesus Christ, as we’ve already said, is that Light of the World. His light pierces the darkness to expose the lawless deeds of sin, but even moreso, shines a more glorious ray to illuminate the path of life! Jesus Christ is that path, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Here is a golden beam of light that brings life out of death, making us alive from sin just as the sun’s rays awaken the tiny seeds of a plant from their death in the soil. This is the light we need and that we want. “Let There Be Light!”

For all our sins, there is a cure. For the deeply ingrained darkness of our hearts, there is a stronger light that burns more brightly in Christ Jesus. Awakened by this light, we confess our sins to the One who is alone able to forgive them. His light not only illumines, but it actually cleanses. Imagine if the rays of the sun could wash your car. Now believe in the reality that the rays of the Son, S-O-N, wash away the dirt and darkness of your sin! Step into His light. How amazing that even before God had created physical light on that first day of creation, He already knew and planned for the greater light of His Son Jesus to come into the world to save us from our sin. There is never a point where we have “heard enough” about this truth. Just as a plant cannot continue to grow and to live if it’s taken out of the light, so also our faith will wither and die if we cut ourselves off from that pure source of light in Jesus Christ. “Let There Be Light!”
Having this light in our lives, we have been given a great privelege. That privelege is to carry and shine that Light of Christ before the world. A light is not meant to be hid under a bushel, as you used to sing in the Sunday school song “This little Gospel light of mine,” but rather it’s meant to be held up to cast light on others. Christians are like a multitude of little mirrors that reflect the light of Christ into all the world. Mirroring His love to others, by both words and deeds, we bring His light into the lives of others who still dwell in darkness. And Christ’s light is never exhausted! There is no limit to the supply of His grace and mercy. So shining your Gospel light before others is not just the right thing to do, it’s the “light-thing.”

There is no doubt that the LWML, has continually recognized their role as Lutheran Women, to be a light to the world. In Daniel 12:3 it says, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Throughout the history of the LWML, the women of the Lutheran Church have indeed modeled this passage. With tremendous support given to mission work all over the world, through their mite boxes and offerings, and in their own personal witnessing in their daily lives, they have been “Lutheran Women Missionary Lights” to those around them. For they recognize who it is that brings light into their lives. It’s Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Those who follow Him will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of Life. And His Light is our Life!

The women of the LWML know what we also should know, that Christ is the Light that continues to beckon us home to God our Father. Like a lighthouse shining in a dark place, He guides us through the dark, rocky waters of life. Like a light shining in a window, He welcomes us home. Like the nightlight in the bedroom, He gives safety and comfort—more than just a feeling, but the real protection of His blood that cleanses us from all sin. His light overpowers the darkness.

I can’t pass up the opportunity to make a quick mention of our opening hymn today, and how beautifully it ties in with this theme of light. We sang “O Day of Rest and Gladness,” hymn ____. Look at it again if you can. Perhaps it didn’t occur to you right away what day this is singing about. It’s singing about Sunday! Look at verse two: “On you at earth’s creation, the Light first had it’s birth; on you for our salvation Christ rose from depths of earth; On you our Lord victorious the Spirit sent from heaven; and thus on you, most glorious, a threefold light was given.” Remember that Sunday was the first day of creation—the day God created light. And Sunday of course is the day of Resurrection, when Jesus the Son of God rose on Easter morn. And what happened on Pentecost Sunday? The Holy Spirit was sent! So on Sunday a threefold, Trinitarian light is given, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Truly every Sunday is a day of Light and a day of blessing for us, as we gather to worship the 3 in 1, the God who is Light, and brings us light through His Word and Sacraments each Sunday. So let our cry be, “Let there be Light!”

Now the peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.

Sermon on Ephesians 2:13-22, 9th Sunday after Pentecost

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text is the Epistle reading from Ephesians 2:13-22. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

It’s unfortunate but true, that enmity and hostility are a regular part of our human experience. we're all too familiar with hostility, from the grandest scale, to the smallest. From the wars and violence between nations in worldwide conflict, to the strife and disputes between co-workers on the job, to the fighting that goes on in the family, between brothers and sisters--yes, even at church, we also experience enmity and hostilities arising. From the first hostilities that broke out between Cain and Abel, until today, humanity has shown no shortage of enmity, even though we're all created of one blood--a common human race descended from Adam and Eve.

But all humans share more than just a common ancestry, we also share the common inheritance of sin, which produces such enmity between us. It is precisely this enmity and hostility, and it’s root cause of sin, that St. Paul addresses in the letter to the Ephesians that we read today.
Hear St. Paul again: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility.” Did you catch the way He described that enmity? He spoke of a separation and hostility in two directions: not only was there hostility between Jew and Gentile, but there was also hostility between man and God! But what kind of hostility is he speaking about?

First Paul addresses the Ephesians as once being “far away,” but now having been “brought near through the blood of Christ.” How were they far away? In the same way that we were once far away. Sin fixed an un-crossable chasm between God and us, because God cannot tolerate the sight of our sin. Far away from God spiritually, not physically. There were plenty of people who got to stand right next to God in the flesh, and walk the same ground, when Jesus came to teach among the crowds in Galilee and the surrounding lands. Yet even as close as they were physically, it did them no good if they didn't believe in Him. Those who rejected His message were still infinitely far off from God spiritually. With hearts hardened, and minds rebellious to the Word of God, they were separated from God by a gulf of sin that they couldn't cross. So also we do not gain nearness to God, by merely sitting in a church, any more than we could find God by doing a thorough exploration of the earth.

No, we can’t get to God by ourselves, we must be drawn near by the blood of Christ. Do you remember what it was like to be far away? Some remember their former way of life, before coming to Christ, and know what it was like to be separated from God by sin. For others of us, we were saved in the waters of baptism as a child, and were brought near at a very young age. And still others have wandered off from the faith they once knew, and need to be drawn near again. Do we recognize those who are far away, even now? Around us every day, there are people who are “far off” from God. They are separated from God, as we once were, by the gulf of sin. Sometimes it is easy to forget that people near to us, whether family, co-workers, or neighbors, may still be far off from God.

This enmity extended beyond just God and man, it was also between Jew and Gentile. There was a “dividing wall of hostility” between them because of the law. The church experienced this hostility very early, as the Jews and Gentiles clashed over the covenant of circumcision, eating unclean foods, associating with each other across cultural boundaries, and other things. This hostility was not easily overcome. We have the record of some of those disagreements and strife written down for us in the New Testament. It wasn’t easy to get past the issue of circumcision and the abolishment of the ceremonial law, but God did bring reconciliation. And this reconciliation didn’t come about by mere human effort or by doubling their persistence to get along, but the reconciliation came, and still comes through the blood of Jesus on the cross. His reconciliation broke down the dividing wall of hostility and made peace for us.

God took our ugly situation, with our two-fold hostility directed at Him, and directed at one another, and He sent us His reconciliation through Jesus! He entered the gap which no one could heal, and in Jesus’ death He brought a two-fold restoration to mankind. Jesus broke down the greater barrier, the barrier of our sin before God, by taking all the ugliness and hate of our sin, and nailing it to the cross in His flesh. There at the cross, He was laden with the heavy burden of our sin, after living a life without sin, perfect and blameless. He satisfied the law with its commandments and regulations, and took the hostility of sin and put it to death. And in breaking down this greater barrier between God and man, He laid the groundwork for breaking down the lesser barrier between Jew and Gentile. Jesus entire life and death filled up all the requirements of the law. Therefore, all those ceremonial laws and regulations given to the Jews to point toward the Messiah were no longer needed. And these were the main point of division between Jew and Gentile, in terms of their hostility toward one another. So the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility that had stood between them, was now removed. Christ paved the way for reconciliation by removing that barrier, and preaching peace to Jew and Gentile, those far away, and those near to God. Peace that comes through sins forgiven.

But after breaking down the dividing wall, Jesus didn't just leave the two to remain divided. He brought them together to make one new man “out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility.” How did He bring the two together, after such a long-standing hostility had existed? Just as the text says, it was by reconciling both of them to God through the cross. Once again the cross is at the center of reconciliation--not because a splintered old, nail-studded tree has any power in it. But because of the body of Jesus that hung there. Because in His body, the hostility was put to death. And so also we must put our hostility, anger, enmity, and all other feelings of ill-will to death on the cross. There is no room for hostility in the body of Christ. He made that sacrifice to put the hostility to death. And it's this forgiveness that Christ gives, that enables us to direct ourselves toward peace and reconciliation, rather than hostility. The church is the one body of Christ, and we're called upon to practice this peace and forgiveness with one another. When we look at one another as members of the body of Christ, we're to look at each other through the blood of Christ. What do I mean by that? That when we see a fellow Christian, we look at them as God sees them through the blood of Christ--namely that their sins are forgiven. So we see each other not for our sins and faults, but as forgiven sinners!

And here’s one of the most interesting things to me about today’s reading. St. Paul talks about being reconciled as one by Christ into one body, but then by vs. 19 he starts to mix metaphors. Hear it again: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and [grows into] a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” Did you notice how it changed? He started by talking about our unity in one body, then switched to a metaphor of citizenship and belonging to a household. But by the end, we're actually part of the building itself, and a building that grows (like a plant!) no less! It all works together beautifully to describe our being brought near to God in Christ Jesus.

We were once foreigners and aliens, still far off from God in the unbelief of our sins. But being drawn near in Christ, we were reconciled and joined to Christ’s body as our sins were forgiven! So once being outsiders, we're now insiders! Living in the household of God. Heirs of His kingdom and the inheritance of life! People that were once at enmity with God, and with one another are now joined into one household, and what’s more, are fused together as fellow bricks in a living building, a holy temple in the Lord. This is what I found so interesting--and you may have noticed that I tweaked one word in the translation to read that the whole building “grows into” a holy temple, instead of “rises to become.” The original is grows, just like a plant grows. But buildings don’t grow! That’s the amazing thing about our being joined together into this living building in the Lord. We’re living bricks, bricks of flesh you might call us, thriving on the life we draw from our cornerstone, Jesus Christ. You see, the cornerstone is the most important part of a building. It’s the crucial first piece of a building--the stone which bears the weight, and with which everything is aligned. It’s the support that anchor’s the whole building.

Likewise Christ bears all our weight, the weight of our sin, and He guides and directs us as to how we “grow up” as a living temple. His death and resurrection anchor us firmly in the life that is His, the life of God. It's this life that transforms and pervades our every being, to build up a living temple where fellow “bricks” are mutually supportive and loving, where the burdens of the body are carried through the whole structure so that no one stands alone. Jesus’ life has the power to do this, because He overcame the barrier to peace--peace with God, and peace with one another. Because we were once at enmity with God, and with one another, but Christ reconciled us to be one by His death on the cross. So may His peace, the peace of sins forgiven, ever guide and direct our ways in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Now the peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen

Where is he?

Apparently the story goes something like this... I was traveling off to a far distant land, across the open ocean, and my vessel fell from the sky and I survived the landing on a beautiful tropical island, which I have now called my home for 8 or so months. (It's hard to keep track with scratchings on your wall :) I've scraped by an existence by hiking through rainforest and collecting fruits and berries, and by fishing the ocean blue. Many had wondered...where has he gone? Has he fallen off the face of the earth? Or has he perished! Forsooth! Say it is not so! Fortunately, among the wreckage, I was able to piece together a computer and jerry-rig a connection to the internet! And voila! I now bring you word from the fabled island of Maui!

Ok, ok, so I apologize for silliness, but yes I have been out of contact for awhile, and the true account is slightly less dramatic. Yes I really am on the beautiful tropical island of Maui though! After seminary graduation I was placed here for a position as full-time teacher and part time associate pastor. I have been doing well, and the people have been quite welcoming to me. And no, I don't live in a grass hut or sleep on the beach :D But the people at Emmanuel have been really great to me, and I've had a lot of help adjusting to the role of teacher in the school here.

I really have been hiking through the rainforest, and have gone fishing though, and it is a beautiful place to call home. I decided that I would like to continue posting my sermons on the blog, even if I don't get a chance to do much else. Being a first year teacher is very time consuming, yet rewarding at the same time. That is why I've been away from the blog for awhile, as well as kerygma and table talk. Hello to you folks in there! If you stumbled across this! Also, I'm saving money by not having internet at home, so I have less time online. Anyhow, God bless! Thanks for your prayers, friends!