Monday, January 25, 2016

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, "One Body, Many Members, One Spirit"

 Sermon Outline:
·         Paul uses a vivid image to describe the church of Christ—one body, many members
·         Begins with objective reality: In One Spirit, all baptized into one body. Our entrance, identity, incorporation.
·         Illustrates the way we function together, on the one hand, how certain sins particular to the Christian body show themselves; on the other hand, what the body of Christ looks like at its best, as God intended.
·         Starting on the negative side—individualistic tendencies, rejection of our place in the body. Some today would use the language of self-esteem—but Scripture’s advice to us is not to think more of ourselves, but “not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think.” Humility encourages us not to boast of ourselves. There is a “low thinking” that is not Godly—despair, worthlessness, and jealousy
·         Value as God values—both ourselves and others. Each important to the body, with different gifts and roles. Acknowledge and be thankful for them.
·         A high-thinking that is not godly—arrogance, boasting, rejecting those with seeming lesser importance or more “modesty”. Meddling or interfering with someone else’s role, neglecting one’s own.
·         Both on the “high thinking” and the “low thinking” end of these problems in the body, it causes division and malfunction of the body. Prevents the body from being what Christ intends it to be and do, because the members are fighting against one another. It’s like the saying “he cut off his nose to spite his face”—as members of one body—we don’t always realize that the damage we do to one another hurts us all. If on member suffers, all suffer together.
·         Now to the positive! The good news! When the baptized body works as God intends. Beautiful thing—each has a purpose—God’s design, God’s gifts in unique measure from one to another. No reason for envy or superiority, but rejoicing in the wonderful variety. Discover how each person and gift fits into God’s purpose for the whole. Use those gifts, don’t leave them dormant.
·         Modesty and honor is shown to parts accordingly. Each doing what they do well, synchronization, cooperation, success. Mutual care and concern—not isolation or individualism. Community, corporate. Suffer, honor, rejoice together. The good of the body is bigger than “My good”
·         Higher gifts—next chapter: faith, hope, love…prophecy
·         This is Christ’s body, the church. He gave Himself up for it, paid. Each member is His—you, your neighbor, your brother or sister in Christ—even the one whom you may be at odds with. Paul urges us in his letters, give up our quarrels, let’s not be defeated by fights within the body that injure the whole body, and the whole body suffers for it. You are the body of Christ and individually members of it. He has sent you His Spirit and fills you with His gifts. Our identity, the shape of our life comes from Him. Daily forgiving us our sins, renewing us to be transformed into His image. May His gifts renew us day by day, so that we, as His church, may show that blessed harmony of the body!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Though it’s common for people today to define faith in very “individualistic” terms, the Bible describes Christianity very differently. 1 Corinthians 12 uses the imagery of “one body” to describe the believers in Christ. What sacrament joins us together into one body, and what do we receive from God? 1 Corinthians 12:13.
  2. How do we as Christians face the temptation to either a) devalue our own importance to the body, or b) overestimate our importance in relation to others, by devaluing them? How does each error affect us and others?
  3. If we see ourselves and others as God sees them, as essential members of one body, how does that change our sense of purpose, and how we treat ourselves and others? What kind of behaviors would be inappropriate for us, since we recognize this? 12:14-23.
  4. What arises within the church or body of Christ when we don’t work together as a body? V. 25; Titus 3:1-11
  5. Why does God arrange the body as He does, with various gifts? Romans 12:3-8. How can this prevent us from jealousy and rivalry? What attitudes would God have us exercise instead?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Sermon on Luke 3:15-22, for the Baptism of Our Lord, "In Baptism We are His"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. This past Wednesday, January 6, the season of Epiphany began. It’s the oldest season of our church year, and bridges between Christmas and Lent. Today we remember Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.
There was a fervor or excitement when John’s ministry began—a fervor about all the promises of a Savior, the Christ, or Messiah, coming to His people. For people living in dark times, this ray of light was deeply welcome and hopeful. Christ, or Messiah, both mean “The Anointed One”—as in the One anointed and chosen by God to be the Savior. Today, we see Jesus being anointed in Baptism by the Holy Spirit, and God’s voice from heaven confirms Jesus is His Son and chosen one. The promises of a Savior were being realized as Jesus stepped into those baptismal waters, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him as a dove.
John preached a message of preparation and readiness—of preparing people for Christ’s coming by repentance and baptism. He was giving way to someone greater, mightier than he. One whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. In Jewish tradition, rabbis, or teachers of the scripture, had disciples or student followers. As rabbis were greatly honored, they could ask many things of their disciples. However, they were explicitly forbidden to ask the disciples to untie their sandals. This was seen to be “beneath” a disciple—who, after all, had some status and privilege. Untying a sandal, and washing someone’s dirty feet, was a job for servants. So in that culture, John was saying he was not even worthy of this servant’s task, much less the honor of a disciple—to the Mightier One than he. This was a HUGE statement about the honor, importance and supremacy of Jesus, the One whose way John was preparing. We know from the Gospel of Matthew that John even tried to decline to baptize Jesus, until Jesus compelled him to do so.
So what does Jesus’ baptism tell us about His mission and purpose here on earth? Why was it significant that He came to the waters of baptism? How do John’s baptism, Jesus’ baptism, and our baptism compare? What did John mean about the judgment that Jesus was bringing? First of all, to get the easiest question out of the way—the baptism we receive today, is not John’s baptism, of course—but Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’ baptism advanced and completed the baptism of John, and the baptism that Jesus commands is a lasting commission for all His future disciples, including us. Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—is about us being joined to, or united to Jesus—just like we heard today in Romans.
Being united to Jesus in our baptism relates to why Jesus was baptized Himself. By coming to John the Baptist, who was preaching a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins, Jesus was identifying with, or standing in solidarity with us sinners. John didn’t seem to understand or accept that Jesus would come to this “sinner’s baptism”—because after all, the Messiah was without sin. Jesus had no need to repent. But this is just how Jesus took His place under the Law of God, and became like us in every way, except without sin. Sinners came down to the waters dirty, to come up cleansed and forgiven. Jesus, however, came down to those waters clean and holy. Many early Christian theologians visualized that by His baptism He cleansed those waters. One of the prayers we pray at a baptism says, “through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, you sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.” Jesus makes the waters of baptism Holy for us, so that we can enter the waters of baptism to be cleansed and forgiven of our sin, by being joined to Jesus Christ.
John had said Jesus would, “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” Twice John mentions fire. Burning the chaff with fire is judgment imagery, as we’ll see. But how would Jesus baptize with fire? There are two main possibilities. The second, is at the first Christian Pentecost, described in Acts 2. Tongues of fire appeared above the heads of the disciples of Jesus, as He poured out the Holy Spirit on them. As far as we know, this miraculous visible appearance of fire, did not happen again after that day. This certainly fits for the apostles, but this doesn’t seem to apply to our baptism. We receive the Holy Spirit, but what about fire? The first and most likely explanation of how Jesus would “baptize with fire” is how Jesus described His own crucifixion and death.
Later in Luke chapter 12:49-50, Jesus says, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” The distressful “baptism” which Jesus was describing, that He would soon undergo, was His trial, crucifixion, and death. In this passage, Luke 12, He’s reflecting on the fire that is not yet kindled, and the baptism He was yet to accomplish. Why was Jesus in great distress till it was accomplished? Jesus would bear the fire of God’s judgment. As the One who willingly placed Himself under the Law to redeem us, who are under God’s Law, Jesus took the judgment of God upon Himself, in the distressful “baptism” of His cross.
So what is Jesus’ role in judgment, and salvation? Let’s step back from the Gospel of Luke for a moment, taking with us the themes we’ve explored of Jesus as Savior, baptism, and fire—and go to our Old Testament reading. In the very end of Isaiah chapter 42, the verses just before our reading, God is also talking about fire and judgment. He’s talking about His disobedient people Israel, and how they were punished by the fire of God’s judgment, they were taken captive by foreign armies—but they didn’t understand. They didn’t take it to heart. They didn’t learn what God intended to teach them. But then chapter 43 begins, which we heard today. A beautiful transition takes place, from the fearful fire and judgment that Israel didn’t understand or learn from, to God’s Gospel promises and comfort. A reminder that they are His, whom He created and formed. Listen to the words of Isaiah chapter 43 again.
God says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” In these words, God shows His tenderheartedness toward Israel. While He had in anger punished them for their sins, and rightly so—the fires of judgment would not burn or consume them. Why? Because He is their God and Savior, and He will be with them. Fear not! Don’t be afraid! The Lord our Savior, stands at the intersection of baptism, fire, judgment and salvation, and promises that He will be with us and carry us safely through! In Jesus Christ, we get to see how that happens. How God’s promises in the time of Isaiah come true in Jesus, the Savior—and how those promises expand from Israel, as declared in the first verse—Isaiah 43:1—to “my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name” in verses 6-7.
Jesus stands in the waters of baptism, in the place of sinners, ready to carry us safely through the fire and the water, because He stands to take God’s judgment against sin upon Himself. He stands in the waters of baptism to clothe us with Himself—with His holy and righteous life. With His holiness and innocence. Jesus stands in the waters of baptism to be with you, and carry you safely through the fire. Jesus, baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire, meaning that in baptism, we are joined to His fiery cross and resurrection. The Christian participates with and through Jesus, in cross, trial, and suffering. Jesus would call His disciples to “take up your cross and follow me” and said many similar statements, to show that the suffering that He shared would be experienced also by His disciples. His suffering alone saves us and rescues us—but in His suffering He secures our redemption—our deliverance.
John the Baptist got a firsthand taste of sharing Jesus’ cross and suffering, when he was unjustly imprisoned and eventually executed by Herod. We in our own lives experience the “fire” of baptism through trials and sufferings we bear in Christ. The New Testament has a rich theology of suffering, that helps us to see our sufferings in the light of Jesus’ cross.
Baptism and fire point us to the cross of Jesus. They remind us of the simultaneous realities of God’s judgment against sin, and His deliverance or salvation for those who believe in Him. By faith in Jesus Christ, and by union with Him in our baptism, we survive the fire of judgment because He endured it for us. We pass through the waters, and He is with us—we walk through the fire and are not burned. All this because He came and stood with us sinners in the waters of baptism. He took His place under God’s Law and judgment to redeem and save us, who were under the judgment of God’s Law. He transforms our trials, crosses, and sufferings, into a transitory, passing affliction, while He stores up for us an eternal weight of glory. Joined to Jesus, we are carried through, tested, and tried by the fire, but are preserved and kept by Jesus for eternal life. Judgment or salvation boil down to whether we are in Christ Jesus or not. In salvation, we cling to Jesus, even in crosses, trials, and fires—but we are assured of our rescue in Him. So even in our trials, our eyes are lifted to the Christ, anointed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and confirmed by the Father as His beloved Son.
In baptism we are washed and joined to Jesus. Washed in waters He made clean for us. Forgiven in a cleansing flood. In baptism, Jesus anoints you with the Holy Spirit and with fire, to be a disciple, to walk in the way of His cross. In baptism, with Jesus, God accepts us as His precious and beloved child, because we stand in the waters with His beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased. Glory to God, for we are His! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      What hopes and expectations of the people had been stirred by the ministry of John the Baptist? What question were they asking? Luke 3:15. Who else shared this question but not the hopeful opinion of the crowds? John 1:19-28.
2.      Why were the people in need of hope? Though John himself was not the Christ for whom they hoped—Jesus was. What would set Jesus’ ministry above and apart from John’s?
3.      Jewish rabbis were apparently able to ask many things of their disciples/students—but one thing they were not allowed to ask, was that the disciple untie their sandals. Given that cultural custom, what was John saying about who this “mightier one” than him is?
4.      Winnowing is a process of separating the good grain or kernel of wheat from the chaff, which is the shell or husk. How is this farming process used as an image of God’s judgment? What do the images of wheat, barn, chaff, and fire represent? John 3:17-21, and 28-36 show that Jesus did not come into the world to bring condemnation, but salvation. Yet these verses also show how and who still receives God’s judgment. How do those verses of John 3 show us judgment takes place, and why?
5.      Jesus was by far the most important of any of the people whom John baptized, and John didn’t even consider himself worthy to do the task. Cf. Luke 3:16; Matthew 3:14-15. What incredible event took place during Jesus’ baptism, to confirm and identify who He was? Luke 3:21-22.
6.      What is the significance of God declaring that Jesus had His approval?
7.      When we are baptized into Christ Jesus, what “union” or “joining” takes place? Romans 6:1-11. How does heaven stand open to us because of Jesus? John 3:16

Monday, January 04, 2016

Sermon on Luke 2:40-52, for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, "Our Childhood Pattern"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Today is the 10th day of Christmas! Counting from Christmas Day till today, it’s still the 10th day that we celebrate and remember Jesus’ birth. And today we also remember Jesus’ childhood, from the only episode of His young life that we have written down—from the time in between His infancy and His adult ministry. Ever since the first few centuries, Christians have been really curious about what happened in those middle years—and even speculated with tall tales about it—but when we accept what the Scripture plainly does tell us, we don’t have to speculate. John 2 tells us that Jesus first miracle was at the wedding in Cana—so we know He wasn’t doing miracles as a child. Luke 3 tells us that Jesus began His public ministry (i.e. teaching) about age 30. And our single story from Jesus’ middle years, you hear today—shows the godly Holy Family, of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, faithfully observing the worship of God, and Jesus as an exceptional learner and student of the Word of God.
In other words, apart from having an unusually gifted ability in learning the Word of God, we should understood that Jesus experienced a relatively ordinary childhood and young adult life. The years between were filled with ordinary growth and an upbringing that centered around the Word of God and the worship He had commanded of His people. As the Gospel of John tells us at the very end—of course there are many other things that Jesus did that are not written down—but those things that have been written down, are written down so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing, we will have life in His Name.
So what do we learn from this episode, of the 12 year old Jesus’ life? The Holy Family took the worship of God seriously. They made the annual 20 mile trip from Nazareth uphill to Jerusalem, for the Passover Feast—the greatest holy day of the year. Technically, only male Jews were required to make the journey for the Feast, and two other feasts a year as well—but Mary freely came also, to worship at the Feast. The rest of the year, their worship life, like all other Jews, was sustained in the weekly worship in a synagogue—where the teachings of Moses were read every Sabbath, as Acts 15:21 tells us. A synagogue was like we would think of a local church—a gathering place for the reading of Scripture, teaching, worship and prayer. Sacrifices were not offered at synagogues—only at the Temple in Jerusalem. So part of what made the three great Old Testament feasts so special, was that you joined with Jews from all over the country in a pilgrimage up to Jerusalem, and Passover was a feast that lasted 7 days. You can imagine the festivity, the joy, the singing, and the reunions with everyone traveling to Jerusalem. Our reading tells us that Jesus’ family journeyed with a whole caravan of relatives and acquaintances. This was how He got “lost”—as His parents assumed He was with them.
If you’ve ever lost a child for even a few minutes—you know the panic that can set in. Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus for 3 days! Not only losing their own child, but the child that they knew had been promised as Savior to the world. You can hardly imagine their distress. Interestingly, the Temple turns out to be the last place that they look for Him—it doesn’t seem to be where they would have guessed He’d be. But Jesus, in childlike innocence, is surprised Himself, that they didn’t know to find Him there! “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus hadn’t been sneaking off with His cousins and friends, getting into trouble, but He was sitting learning God’s Word at the feet of the teachers. Amazing everyone with His understanding and answers. What a relief for Mary and Joseph, to find that Jesus had been safe all along, and was behaving Himself!
Our reading begins with this bookend: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him.” It closes with this bookend: “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Jesus experienced ordinary growth as a child—physically, in strength, and in maturity. But in addition to that, He increased in wisdom—His understanding, and in favor of God and man. His questions and answers, His eager study of God’s Word, showed His growing wisdom. But it also indicates that He learned the Word of God in the same ordinary way that we are able—through study, by teachers, and with questions. We all can profit from the same diligent study of God’s Word—more accessible to us than ever before—reading the Bible at home, listening at church, attending Bible study, playing an audio Bible while we work out, clean, or drive. Though we might not be blessed with the same perfect memory and understanding that Jesus has—we all can still use our eyes and ears and minds to learn God’s Word, and grow in wisdom and maturity from it.
When Jesus answered His parents, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” It was clear that He understood, even as a 12 year old boy, that He was God’s Son, and that His purpose on earth was to be about His Father’s business. It would be another 17 or more years later, but the adult Jesus would come to His Father’s house again, and do a house cleaning. He would drive out the money changers and animals with words like these: “My house shall be a house of prayer—but you have made it a den of robbers!” and “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade!” As an adult man, and a rabbi—a teacher of God’s Word, Jesus took ownership of the problems in His Father’s house. He cleansed it from the crooks. He restored it to a place of worship (even if only for a short time), and He confronted those who taught falsely in God’s Name. Jesus, even as a 12 year old boy, had a clear sense that His purpose was to do His Father’s will, and that this had everything to do with knowing and understanding God’s Word. Even and especially that Word that would describe and direct His life as the Savior, the Messiah.
After all the emotion and amazement died down, after discovering the missing child Jesus at the Temple, it says that Jesus “went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” It’s a simple statement of Jesus’ obedience to His parents. What we would expect of any ordinary child. What the 4th commandment teaches every child here to do—Honor your father and mother. Just like ordinary children, Jesus also obeyed His parents. Just think about it for a moment! Jesus, who is God, who made all the universe, and existed from before all time—this same Son of God, submitted to His earthly parents. He willingly was obedient—and didn’t consider His equality with God something to be held over Mary and Joseph’s head, as an excuse for not listening to them. But He respected them, and obeyed their authority.
God has given children their parents, for their good and their protection. We are to honor and obey them—without complaining or talking back. Children have a model in Jesus, that obedience to parents and learning God’s Word is pleasing to Him. Not every child has been blessed with the same kind of family. While our reading certainly shows that Jesus had caring parents who loved Him and led Him faithfully in the worship and instruction of the Lord—not every child is loved as God would have them be loved. Not every child is brought to worship, or raised knowing about who God is, and what Jesus has done. Sometimes families are unloving or abusive. Sometimes people don’t care for one another as they should—even in the family. Many do not see the importance of consistent worship and teaching a child God’s Word. In short, many families miss out on the full gifts that God pours down on those who cling to His Word.
So whether you are parents, or just have been “parented”—whether your family was wonderful, or not—we all see and experience the fallen and broken nature of this world. Families are certainly not left untouched by the effects of sin. We are all burdened with our sins and the sins of others. But even where families leave much to be desired, the church is our Christian family, and can help to fill that void. Through our Christian school, and through weekly fellowship in worship, or through close relationships with one another as mentors, aunts and uncles, or just friends, we can help supply the family that may be missing. But even more importantly, Jesus Christ came into the world to be our Savior. To save His brothers and sisters. To bear our burdens and take away our sins. To give us the heavenly adoption of baptism, into His family—that we might have God as our Father, and delight to dwell in His house, and worship Him. Jesus has made us His family by the waters of Holy Baptism, joining us to His death for our sins, and His resurrection to life.
As part of Jesus’ family, we are co-heirs with Him in His inheritance. God as our Father, and Jesus as our brother, provides us with the perfect love that we need, and that He desires to give us. He begins to shape, renew, and increase our love—to our earthly families, whom we are responsible to, and to our spiritual family within the church, to whom we are also responsible. As Jesus remained submissive, and obedient to His earthly parents as He grew, and submissive to His Heavenly Father through His whole life and ministry on earth—this accomplished salvation for us. Jesus’ childhood visit to the Temple foreshadows His whole life of obedience to the will of God, and accomplishing salvation for us. Jesus Christ lived His whole life in perfect obedience to the Father, and so His life stands as perfect substitute for ours. God grants us this favor with Him by faith in His Son. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      About the life of Jesus, this passage from Luke 2:40-52 is a unique episode. Aside from St. Matthew and St Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ birth and infancy, this is the only passage that tells us of Jesus’ childhood. The rest of the Gospels focus on Jesus public ministry as an adult, roughly between the age of 30-33. Describe in general what this passage tells us about Jesus’ childhood? What kind of family was He raised in?
2.      Why do we not need to know all the “missing” details of Jesus’ life? John 20:30-31; 21:25. What do we learn from this one example of Jesus’ childhood that is applicable for our children to learn from? Luke 2:46-47, 51-52; Ephesians 6:1-4.
3.      The child Jesus explained His absence from His parents by the necessity of being in “My Father’s house.” What does this statement say about Jesus’ self-understanding, of who He was, who His Father was, and what the significance of His Father’s work was?
4.      Later in His ministry, how did Jesus address what was taking place “in His Father’s house?” Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-22. Why was it necessary for Jesus to take such drastic action?
5.      What was the attitude of Jesus toward God’s Word? Luke 2:46-47; 52. What does the Psalmist say of the man who delights in the word of the Lord? Psalm 1 (esp. vs 2); 119:97-104.
6.      Jesus experienced a childhood blessed by faithful parents who lead Him in a rich life of worship toward God, and who cared deeply for Him. He showed great respect and interest toward God’s Word. Many children today have not shared the same experiences or blessings in their homes. How can we help to best provide for the spiritual growth and nurture of children, wherever it is lacking? How does Christ value these children? Luke 18:15-17