Sunday, July 16, 2017

Into a Net that Christ Prepares

Into a Net that Christ Prepares
Text: Joshua V. Schneider
Meter: CM (86 86)
Melody: MCKEE (LSB 653 In Christ there is No East or West)

1. Into a Net that Christ Prepares
A world of sinners swim
His Gospel promises He shares
And whole, encircles them.

2. Though nets may strain, they will not break
His church, it firm shall stand,
For this confession it shall make:
“Christ is Living God and Man!”

3. Before His holiness we cry:
“Have mercy, Lord, on me!”
And on our knees hear His reply,
“From all your sins be free!”

4. “Caught live for purposes my own,
Gifts I bestow on you;
Are to be used as I have shown,
Serve them as I have you.”

5. Beholding Christ with unveiled face,
His image we will take;
Drawn upon our service He will trace,
To live for other’s sake.

6. Into the world the Gospel casts
The joy of Christ’s new life!
Releases us from dreadful blasts,
Of sin and bitter strife.

7. God’s kingdom prospers by His grace
We’re sent by His command
Catch men and women, every race
Drawn by His nail-marked hand.

Sermon on Luke 5:1-11, for the 5th Sunday after Trinity (1 Yr Lectionary), "Live Caught for the Lord's Service"

**See also in the following post my new hymn composition to match this text: "Into a Net that Christ Prepares"**
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. After a long night of fishing in the Lake of Genessaret, or Galilee, and with nothing to show for it, Peter was likely ready for a good nap. But Jesus was pressed by the crowds nearby and needed a place to teach them from. Jesus was new to Peter—He had just healed Peter’s mother-in-law and other sick people in the neighborhood, shortly before this. No doubt Peter was thankful. So when Jesus hops into the fishing boat and asks for a short row away from shore, so Jesus has room to teach the gathered crowd from Peter’s fishing boat, Peter willingly accepts.
But when the sermon is over, Jesus asks something that is sure to make Peter look ridiculous to the other fisherman. Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch. It’s against all fisherman’s logic; and perhaps feeling a little embarrassed to do it, Simon Peter answers, with a hint of disapproval: Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” When we are tired and weary from fruitless labor, and hear God’s call to work again, or to serve, then we might protest a little too. When we are called into action, God is not always sympathetic to wait till we are well rested and eager to go. A parent caring for a little infant knows that love is expressed in their untiring duty—waking in the night, feeding round the clock, changing diapers and cleaning up messes. In many other areas of life, duty calls whether or not we are weary—the doctor on call, the worker who is called in for an extra shift, the teacher who works late hours to catch up on the piles of grading. For all these reasons, God has given us a commandment that we should work 6 days, but also rest and worship on the 7th. A commandment that does us good, but all too often we ignore. We need our rest—but whenever duty calls it is an expression of love and faithfulness to answer and obey.
It was Jesus’ word that prompted Simon Peter to go and obey: But at your word, I will let down the nets. What happened next was a miracle! A sinful man was netted and caught in His own fishing boat, and kept alive in the presence of the Holy God! And after that miracle of forgiveness, he was given a new purpose by Jesus. …Wait…what…you thought the catch of fish was the miracle I was talking about? Well, ok, that was truly a miracle too—but it really just serves as the appetizer to the main meal.
Let me explain. I’m not much of a fisherman, and I don’t know if you fish much. But have you ever caught a fish and looked into its eye? Or maybe it’s eyes seem to be looking at you, wondering… “Am I what’s for dinner??” or “I’m getting a bad feeling about this…”  Well, I think there must have been a certain resemblance between the panicked look in the fish’s eye, and the look in Peter’s eye, when against all his fisherman’s wisdom, and against his hint of scorn for Jesus’ command, and against all odds in fishing, he was looking up into Jesus’ eyes with a net-busting catch of fish in his boat. “Oh no, I’m cooked”  or “I’m getting a bad feeling about this…” or really, as Peter said in his own words, falling on his knees before Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Suddenly the world seemed crashing in on him, his pride and self-confidence in his own corner of expertise were all in shambles, and he realized he was on holy ground. Like Isaiah or Moses before him, he dreaded what the holiness of God might do to him—because it finally dawned on him that he was in the presence of real majesty. Unassuming majesty, yes, but Jesus was clearly no ordinary carpenter with a few great moral teachings. Peter changed his address from “master” to “Lord” in an instant—realizing he was in the presence of real greatness.
But the miracle I’m talking about, is the miracle of Jesus’ response. He looked at that panicked, fishy look in Peter’s eye—the one that said, “I’m toast—depart from me, a sinful man”, and Jesus answered, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” No Peter, don’t fear—you’re going to live—in fact I have a special purpose for you! Jesus had moved from a rather un-specific request for Peter’s help—to borrow his boat and row a bit—to a test of Peter’s faith and willingness to obey—to now a very personal and specific request, to follow Jesus as His disciple. Jesus had caught or netted Peter in his own fishing vessel, all while Peter was trying to show off his superior fishing wisdom. But the miracle was that Jesus didn’t want to punish, destroy, or humiliate Peter, but to invite him into His service. The other miracle, of the great, bursting catch of fish, just helped illuminate Jesus for Peter—helped him see who Jesus really was, and that Jesus’ power and authority extended over all things, even the fish in the lake.
Jesus has room for plenty more “live caught” disciples to enter His fishing vessel of the church. In fact, the miraculous God-directed catch of fish, would foreshadow for Peter and the Christians, the great Gospel catch that God was going to continue sending His church. After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and the others had a déjà vu (John 21) as this happened all over again, with a great catch of fish, just before Jesus sent those “fishers of men” out to the real world with the message of His death and resurrection. Peter also needed an extra measure of forgiveness on that occasion too, before Jesus sent Him out to be his shepherd and fisherman.
Sometimes like Peter, we get a little over-confident in our own area of expertise, or we naively think that Jesus is happily confined to that neat area of my life called “Sunday morning”—but He doesn’t need to be messing around with my daily affairs—or rather, it’s none of His affair, what’s going on in my daily mess. But Jesus gently begs to differ. He gets involved, climbs in our fishing boat. It’s most puzzling, really, but He actually asks for our help. As if He needed anything from us—He who can fill a net of fish or multiply loaves to feed a multitude—it almost seems a little “rich” that He’s asking for our help. But it’s not like Jesus is just making up artificial requests. Just like asking Peter to row the boat and to fish, Jesus has a real use for your gifts and talents. What, you think God gave them to you for no reason? Or what, you think, what could God want with me, or use me for? Or what, you say, “Depart from me, I’m a sinful person Lord”? What’s that panicked, fishy look I see in your eye?
Jesus says to you, “Do not be afraid”. Jesus truly has a plan and purpose for each of you—young and old, weak or strong, successful or struggling to get by. Jesus asks for your help, not because He can do without your help, but because Jesus doesn’t want to do without you. Jesus is after the fish—live fish!—by which I mean, disciples. He’s not after your skill in getting them in the net! He’s got that covered! While you and I aren’t called to be apostles and to necessarily die for the faith like Peter eventually did, we can be fishers of men. We can “live catch” people into the same net of grace that Peter found Himself in—that you and I find ourselves in when Jesus casts His net over our lives. And surrounds us whole, with our gifts and uniqueness, and sends us splashing out into His mission—joyously alive, but free and with new purpose and courage.
Maybe you’re not even in a “full time or part-time ministry.” Most of you aren’t pastors or teachers. You all have your own vocations and callings. God has sent you out on all sorts of callings and occasions for service in this life, and even to your dying breath you can lift up prayers to Him for others—even if you can do no more. I kept asking myself, “Why does God ask for our help?”, and I believe that at least part of the answer is that by working in God’s service—living life in faith toward God and fervent love toward one another—God begins to shape us to become more like Him. When God calls us into His service, in whatever area of life, we cease to live for ourselves, and we begin to live for Him, and for others. And through this, He begins to shape us, little by little, into the true pattern He first intended for us. As we are transformed by the renewing of our minds—we fade from the selfish image of the world, and begin to show glimpses of the glory God made us for, and is making us for one day in heaven.
Just think how it must have flashed for a moment in Peter’s mind, on the jackpot catch of fish. It must have made them a ton of money, and you can just think, if living just for ourselves, how Peter might have imagined that he could “cash-in” on a big living, with Jesus’ secret fishing powers. If we’re living just for ourselves, we’re beneath the glory God made us for. Maybe that’s part of what scared and troubled Peter. Here was Jesus, who obviously had a radically different set of priorities—Jesus wasn’t interested in making big money fishing—though He obviously could—He was after other fish—disciples. Jesus wasn’t about living for Himself. And maybe that scares us too—maybe it seems too risky or embarrassing to live for others in a more radical way. Maybe we’re a little frightened by our weaknesses or terrified by our sins…trembling before an awesome God.
But then Jesus steps over to us, lifts our head, and says, dear child, do not be afraid. And with His Word, we are forgiven. With His Word, we’re drawn into the net, alive, forgiven, redeemed, and repurposed. Repurposed from self-centered ways, to live for Him. Redeemed from loose roaming days, to follow Him. Reborn from a sin-dead craze, to be baptized in Him. And together with Peter, we witness the glory of the Lord, the Son of God, when we see Jesus living for others—and most especially dying for others, on the cross. There on the cross it became unmistakable how completely He lived for others, and not for Himself—even to death and the grave—and beyond to His resurrection, Jesus lived for others. He lives for us! He lives to call you joyfully to follow Him, forgiven and redeemed, serving in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. What immediate, practical need drove Jesus to ask for Peter’s help? Luke 5:1-3. What had Jesus just previously done for Peter? Luke 4:38-39
  2. Why did Jesus’ instructions about fishing (Luke 5:4-5) seem doubtful to Peter? What is Peter insinuating that he thinks about this request? How does he address Jesus in verse 5? How does Peter address Him after the miracle, in verse 8? How had Jesus changed in Peter’s estimation?
  3. In our lives, where are the “boundaries” we artificially set for God’s work, influence, leading, or knowledge over us? In other words, how do we try to “compartmentalize” God’s role in our lives? How does He show He wants our whole life? Why is that such an uncomfortable reality for us?
  4. Why does God invite us to help Him? How can our gifts be used in His service? For what reason did Peter at first seem to refuse himself for the Lord’s service? Luke 5:8. What did he fear from Jesus? How do we sometimes do the same, or try to push God away?
  5. Jesus had “caught” Peter, in his own fishing boat, no less, but makes sure Peter knows this is not a “catch & release” or “catch to kill”, but a “live-catch,” and He wants Peter to do the same. How did Peter become transformed by Jesus’ call, into a servant for God’s purposes?
  6. How do we often misread God’s purposes in our lives, and so fail to follow His commands or listen to His call? What are God’s good purposes towards us? John 6:39-40.
  7. Why is God still sending us out to “live-catch” others? How does life change for those who follow His call? What are your own “callings” or vocations in life, and how can God work His purposes within them? What does God receive from your help? What do you receive from helping Him?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sermon on Luke 6:36-42, for the 4th Sunday after Trinity (1 Year Lectionary), "Merciful as Your Father"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In our Old Testament reading we have a beautiful story of forgiveness and mercy. Joseph forgives his brothers the terrible sins they committed long ago against him—selling him as a slave, lying about his death to their father, and their hatred. After their father’s death, he tenderly consoles their fears and assures them that he doesn’t want revenge, but that all is truly forgiven. It pictures what Jesus commands in our Gospel reading: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” The verses of our lesson explain how we become merciful like our heavenly Father, and to conform ourselves to the pattern of Jesus, so that as the reading also says, that we would be fully-trained, just like Jesus, our Great Teacher. After all, the picture of Joseph’s mercy, and all other human stories and examples of mercy, are small reflections of the perfect mercy of Jesus, who sought no vengeance against His enemies, but forgave them from the cross.
Mercy is a central quality of our God, but what does it look like in our lives? “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” The qualities we reflect will be reflected back to us—if we are judgmental and condemning, we will be judged and condemned. If we are forgiving and generous, forgiveness and generosity will return to us. That gives us much to reflect on and consider how we live our lives. There are two paths—one marked by mercy and forgiveness and generosity, and the other marked by judgmentalism, condemnation, and hypocrisy.
Everyone living is inevitably moving closer, day by day, towards God’s final judgment. We believe that when Jesus returns, He will come to judge the living and the dead. God will make a final reckoning of all people, according to His justice and mercy. This is necessary, because God will not let evil and wickedness persist forever. He is going to bring a final end to evil, once and for all. That’s what God’s judgment means. But how we come through God’s judgment, becomes the vital question for survival, or salvation, rather.
Here is the Good News—throughout the Bible, God is relentlessly and tirelessly working to steer us away from the fate of eternal condemnation and judgment for our sins. Old or New Testament, God shows remarkable patience and determination to send prophets, apostles, preachers and evangelists, to call people away from sin, and lead them into His mercy. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful is rooted in this deep reality about God, that He does not want us to suffer judgment but wants us to come into life. He does not want to destroy us but wants to restore and heal us. A quick snapshot of some Bible verses: Ezekiel 18:23 “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” John 3:17–18 “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” 2 Peter 3:9  “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
So if God’s mission, if God’s heart is mercy, and not judgment, then we are to be merciful as our Father is merciful. And when He tells us not to judge or condemn, but to forgive and to give, He is inviting us to participate in His mission, to love with His heart. When we seek to forgive and show mercy to fellow sinners, we are helping steer them away from God’s judgment, which must befall the wicked who refuse His Son Jesus, and who refuse His extended hand of mercy. When we show mercy and forgive, we are helping people find the restoration and healing that comes through Jesus Christ, as He came to seek and to save the lost.
It’s too easy to fall into a spirit of judgmentalism and condemnation. Wickedness and sin are everywhere, and if we are to depart from Jesus’ mercy mission, and to go instead on a fault-finding mission, then the faults and sins abound. But Jesus’ warns us in a parable of the perils of that path: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”
The goal of the parable is that we would become like Jesus our teacher. Merciful as our Father is merciful. The peril or danger is that we would be like two blind people stumbling along the way, one trying to lead the other, and both falling into a pit. And what is our particular danger of blindness? Blindness to our own sin. Jesus uses the ridiculous example of a person trying to assist a friend in removing a speck from their eye, while having a huge log in their own eye. It’s supposed to amusing how foolish this is—but Jesus is saying it’s a lesson about our own blindness to our own sins. We can have huge, blinding sins in our own life, of which we are pathetically unaware, and meanwhile we are filled with a self-righteous spirit of trying to judge and condemn others for specks in their eyes. This is hypocrisy of the worst sort.
What do we do about it? Hire log-removal services? That’s what hearing God’s Word does for us! To be fully trained, like our teacher, we must hear the Word of God, and be not only hearers, but also doers of the Word! We must repent of our sins, shown to us by God’s Word, and take the log out of our own eye. Then we will see clearly to take out the speck that is in our brother’s eye. When are humbled by God’s Word, when we see the severity of our own sin—not as we would measure it, “small kine”, but as God measures our sin—log size!—then God can make us seeing again. Jesus, who once again, desires to steer us away from judgment and into His mercy, forgives us our sins and opens our eyes to how truly blessed we are to be under His mercy. And from the overflow of His mercy to us, we are trained to be like Him, in showing mercy to others. We can only help our brother, with a “speck” in his eye, if we have first turned our sins over to Christ to be forgiven.
And with that last line, about seeing clearly to help our brother, we see what’s wrong with how people often distort this Bible verse. A lot of times people quote “Judge not lest you be judged” to mean “no one has the right to interfere with or criticize my bad behavior” or that no one should try to stop another person from sinning or doing something destructive. But this goes beyond what Jesus actually says. For example, this passage does not mean that police officers or those who legitimately work in the courts as judges and lawyers must never judge or convict a person of some crime. It does not mean that those who serve in the military should not oppose and defeat the power of wicked and violent men. And on a personal level, it doesn’t meant that if our family member or friend or someone else is doing something wrong, we shouldn’t try to intervene or help. But what Jesus’ words clearly do show, is that the spirit in which we try to help makes all the difference. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. To judge or condemn is not a Christian duty. But loving and restoring a Christian through discipline and correction is a Christian duty.
Galatians 6:1–2 “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” When a brother is caught in sin, we are to restore him, in a spirit of gentleness. Restore and gentleness speak volumes about our approach and our goal. Avoid the spirit of judgment  and condemnation, that Jesus is speaking against. That only condemns us, and doesn’t help our brother. So again, two ways to go, two paths to head down. The same situation, the same person you are dealing with—but are you going to approach them with mercy and gentleness, to restore them and help them out of sin? Of course the results and response are beyond your control, in God’s hands. Or on the other hand, are you going to judge and condemn them, which destroys your ability to help them, and probably turns them away from God’s cure as well? Judgment and condemnation has a more predictable response. But instead, follow the words of Jesus: Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  
Once again, in order for God’s mercy to flow into our lives, we have to first be humbled and repentant by God’s Word. God’s Word makes an opening into our lives to rain down His mercy and cleansing in us. If we harden our hearts, become blind hypocrites who can’t see our own sin, and judge everyone else for theirs, and if we have a spirit of judgment and contempt toward others, it’s like we are opening up an umbrella to block the rainfall of God’s mercy from washing over us and cleansing us. But if God has so penetrated our hearts that we are humble before Him, repentant of our sins, then God has an open way to pour into us a mercy that overflows, that makes us merciful, and gives us our Father’s seeing eyes and merciful and tender heart, that wills to gently lead the sinner back into the path of repentance and restoration.
Jesus is ever teaching us, shaping us to become like Him, our Master Teacher. He fills our lives with the fruits of His Holy Spirit and teaches us a joyful obedience that walks in His mercy. He is sending us, out on His rescue mission, forgiving and giving generously, so that sinners may turn back from their way, and that with the outpouring of His love and goodness to others, we will reap back a generous blessing. “Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” God’s generous gifts overflow in our laps, so that the more that we give away and pour out from His blessing to others, the more it increases. God’s gifts don’t diminish or run out as we use them, but they multiply and increase. It’s from the merciful heart of our Father, who sent His only Begotten Son into the world for us, that this is most certainly true. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. The sermon text is Luke 6:36-42. Read this alongside the Old Testament reading from Genesis 50:15-21, and compare how this example illustrates Jesus’ command: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”. How is mercy a central quality of God?
  2. What does this mean, that God’s mercy is always seeking to steer us away from His Judgment and condemnation? Ezekiel 18:23; John 3:17-18; 2 Peter 3:9. God’s Judgment means the final end to evil and wickedness. How does God mean to spare us from judgment?
  3. How does it change our hearts and eyes to have God’s mercy, and to be on His mission? How does it change our “methods” for reaching the lost and erring?
  4. What are our great dangers towards blindness and hypocrisy? Luke 6:39-42. What is meant to be ridiculous about this example? What truth does it expose about our sinful nature and attitudes towards others?
  5. What correction does God’s Word bring us? How does it help us to measure our own sins? Psalm 51.
  6. How do Jesus’ words “Judge not lest you be judged” sometimes get distorted and used as a shield for sin, instead of being meant to change our attitudes and actions? What are various legitimate ways that we should seek to restrain or stop evil or sin? Romans 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-14.
  7. How as Christians, are we to deal with the brother or sister caught in sin? Galatians 6:1-2. Explain what the words “restore” and “gentleness” in these verses mean for our attitude and method of helping the sinner. What does Christ permit, after one has “removed the log” from our eye? Luke 6:42. How do we keep this from turning into a spirit of judgment or condemnation?
  8. How does God’s mercy enter our lives so that it can overflow to others? What’s the result of generously giving and pouring out God’s mercy to others? Luke 6:38. Who is always our source and pattern?

Monday, July 03, 2017

Sermon on Luke 1:39-45, for the 4th Sunday after Trinity (1 Year Lectionary), "Miracle Moms and Spirit-filled Sons"

* As the Sermon hymn, we sang "For all the Faithful Women" from the Lutheran Service Book, #855, with verse 8 about Mary, and this added verse I composed about Elizabeth: 

Elizabeth the barren
Had drunk the cup of woe.
The faithful child of Aaron
Would soon have joy to know.
Young John the Baptist, leaping,
In Spirit knew His Lord,
By womb and mouth revealing
The greatness of our God. 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today’s Gospel reading tells us of the encounter between two miracle moms and their Spirit-filled sons, who were still growing in their wombs. Great things had been prophesied of both of these preborn boys—Jesus was to be great and called holy—the Son of God. Miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit, in the Virgin Mary, who had been with no man; she carried the Holy Child (Luke 1:32, 35). John the Baptist was also to be great before the Lord and “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from His mother’s womb” (1:15). John would prepare the way of the Lord, for His cousin Jesus. John’s mother, Elizabeth, was a miracle mom in a different way from the Virgin Mary—Elizabeth was too old to have children—but nothing is impossible with God (1:37).
So from the God of the Impossible, two miracle moms met, each carrying sons that would be mighty servants before God—but Jesus of far greater honor and glory—the promised Savior Himself. Our reading begins with their first visit after both had become pregnant, and as soon as Mary walks in, carrying Jesus in her womb, and greets Elizabeth, young John leaps for joy inside her womb! Jesus’ presence is already creating joy, blessing, and the movement of the Holy Spirit, in both John the Baptist and his mother Elizabeth!
The womb is a natural and amazing mystery. Words like “reproduction” do little credit to the marvel that’s happening, and sound more like factories and machinery, than the preferred Christian word for child-bearing—“procreation”. Procreation speaks of the special role that God first gave man and women in the ability to bring forth new human beings into the world. In procreation, we participate in God’s activity of bringing new generations of human beings into the world. The amazing growth of medical technology in the last 40 years has given us amazing insights into the mysteries of the womb. A lot more is going on in there than we once realized, and infants in the womb are very aware of their surroundings. An extraordinary example is Boris Brott, a renowned conductor, who had the amazing ability to play certain pieces of music sight unseen. He later learned in conversations with his mother, a professional cellist, that she had practiced each of these pieces of music while she was pregnant with him. (Foreward, The Faith of Unborn Children, Walch).
While we can’t even begin to fathom how this translates into his astonishing musical ability, this and countless other examples show us the reality that just like John the Baptist, other infants in the womb are, in their own way, interacting with their surroundings and experiencing things from the world around their mother’s womb. If a preborn child can be stimulated and respond to the lights and sounds outside his mother’s womb, how can we possibly doubt the greater truth that they can be stimulated and respond to the working of the Holy Spirit, just as John was. Elizabeth also was filled with and responding to the Holy Spirit, when she realized that this was no ordinary movement in the womb, but that young John was leaping for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice—because they were in the presence of Jesus.
With these words of Elizabeth: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”, and calling Mary the “mother of my Lord”, Elizabeth becomes the first person to worship the incarnate Jesus. God in the flesh, still hidden in His mother’s womb. John’s own moment of joy was a dance in the Holy Spirit; jumping in his mother’s womb. This was in answer to one of those promises we mentioned at the start: “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (1:15). Think about that! How could he be filled with the Holy Spirit, unless he was a vessel of the Holy Spirit? But he was indeed, capable of the Holy Spirit entering into and working in him. I don’t know whether that’s surprising or natural to your way of thinking—but I know that many people don’t think about the Holy Spirit working in a person so young—not even born yet! But should it really surprise us that as human beings, made in the very image of God, that we are from our very conception meant to be vessels of God—made for an intimate and trusting relationship with Him?
If you have some doubts, listen to a few Bible passages. Psalm 71:5–6 “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.” The Psalmist traces his trust and dependence on God all the way back to his mother’s womb. As one of my former professors likes to say, what else is faith but “honesty about dependence”? And who is more honest about their dependence than a child? What did Jesus say? Luke 18:15-17 “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” We must become like children to enter the kingdom of God. This is not referring to shrinking our size, or reentering the womb, or returning to immaturity, but to the positive qualities of humility and child-like trust.
And it’s worth noting that the same word “infants”—brephe in Greek—is the word used of John when he jumps in the womb. Inside or outside of the womb, these are the same infants that God blesses and delights in. Vessels of His Holy Spirit, capable of receiving His spiritual gifts. There is no distinction of value, of personhood, or life between a child still in the womb, a child newly born, or a child in early youth. The size or the location of the child doesn’t change his value. At each and every stage of life, we’re created to be spiritual souls.
One more verse to prove even more specifically, that infants or little ones are able to believe in God—Jesus warns in Matthew 18:6 “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” What do the little ones do? They believe in Jesus, and it is a tragic error to lead them into sin. Other verses could be marshalled—the sending and choosing of Jeremiah by God from the womb, Psalm 139, and others, that show that important truth, sometimes lost or obscured today by adults, that we don’t become spiritual creatures at some stage in middle childhood or adulthood, but that the Holy Spirit is active all the way back to the womb. So we should confess with the Psalmist, Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you!
And the joy and blessing of Jesus that young John foreshadowed in this episode, was a joy and blessing shared by those two miracle moms. And really, the blessing of all three was centered around Jesus. All three of the others were marveling at God bringing salvation into the world through the miraculous birth of Jesus. Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment for the things spoken to her by the Lord.” Here once again we see the quality that we are to imitate—the quality that is reflected in John, Elizabeth, and Mary on that day—faith in the Lord—believing in His promises. Faith is an honest dependency on God and His promises, and it fills us with spiritual joy and blessings in our Savior, Jesus.
Jesus entered all three of their lives under miraculous circumstances, and even the beginning of His journey into this world brought joy and thanksgiving to God. But even more so as He ran His course through birth, childhood, adulthood, and His public teaching ministry, His rejection by Israel, and His death and resurrection. And so Jesus also enters our lives under miraculous circumstances. Whether first touched in the womb, where He knit us together, or later in adulthood experiencing the rebirth of water and the Spirit (John 3), Jesus enters our lives and moves us by His Holy Spirit for us to know His joy, and for us to overflow with thankful praise to God, together with John, Elizabeth, and Mary. When Jesus moves to enter our lives, through the hearing of His Word, or through the washing of water and the Spirit in baptism, He fills these spiritual vessels with the Holy Spirit. He pours into us the Spirit of life, God’s own sanctifying presence to purify and make us holy. He makes you and I to become Spirit-filled sons and daughters of God, who sing and rejoice at His saving presence in our midst, and filled with a holy “leap for joy” at the wonders of what He has done for us.
For what else can we know but joy and profound thanksgiving, to see that God has so willingly stooped low, bowed down into human flesh, and become first a zygote, then a tiny fetus, an infant growing in mother Mary’s womb, then a baby boy born and laid in an animal’s trough, who would grow into adulthood to teach, to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to die on the cross, that our sins and guilt would all be taken away? And what sorrow to know that it was our sins that sent Him to the cross? But what deep joy to know that He went there expressly for the joy of redeeming us, and He willingly laid down His life, and powerfully took it up again in His resurrection from the grave.
And that joy continues to reach us today, as we gather once again in His presence, and receive the workings of His Spirit, and celebrate His presence in true body and blood at the meal that He has prepared for us. So with the joy of the church, who knows what it is to have the saving presence of Jesus—with the joy of Spirit-filled sons and daughters, made for fellowship and relationship with our Holy God, Three in One, we sing All Praise to God the Father! All praise to Christ the Son! All praise the Holy Spirit, who binds the church in one! With saints who went before us, with saints who witness still, we sing glad Alleluias and strive to do Your will. (LSB 855:4). In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Why were Mary and Elizabeth “miracle moms”? What was different about their two pregnancies? Why were their sons “Spirit-filled”? What was different about John and Jesus? Luke 1:39-45; 15, 32, 35.
  2. What brought joy to the infant John?
  3. Why do words like “reproduction” fail to adequately describe child-bearing? Why is “procreation” a more meaningful, Biblical, (and humanizing!) word?
  4. Why should we not doubt that the Holy Spirit is able to work on infants, even in the womb ? (consider natural examples also) Luke 1:15, 37. If John could be filled with the Holy Spirit, this requires that he was, even as an infant, a proper vessel of the Holy Spirit. Why does this make perfect sense, knowing who we are and how God made us? Genesis 1:26-27
  5. What Bible passages support this, and what do they reveal about the nature of “infant faith” or “trust” or “honest dependence” on God? Psalm 71:5-6; Luke 18:15-17; Matthew 18:6; Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139. Do we need to be capable of understanding or speaking, in order to be in trusting relationship with God? Does an infant need to, to be in trusting relationship to their parents? Why is it proper to understand faith as first and foremost receptive?
  6. What did the presence of Jesus, entering the lives of John, Mary, and Elizabeth produce? Who was active when He was among them? Luke 1:41. What response did all three give, in their own ways?
  7. How does the presence of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit enter our lives? John 3; Romans 10:5-17; Titus 3:5-7; Acts 2:38-42.
  8. What is our joy filled response? 2 Corinthians 9:15; 1 Peter 1:8; 2:9-10.