Remember Your Humility (Epiphany 1)

Baptism of Jesus

Remember Your Humility

It’s hard to be humble. As Christians, we know there are these traits we are supposed to have and these actions we are supposed to take. But it’s hard, isn’t it? In our words from Paul’s letter to Titus. Paul tells Titus: 1 Remind them to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, 2 to slander no one, to avoid fighting, and to be kind, always showing gentleness to all people.” (Titus 3:1–2 CSB17)

Isn’t it fascinating that our situation as humans never changes. It’s hard to submit to the authorities. Our leaders in our nation sometimes make shortsighted laws that only seem to exist to get them elected two years down the road, not to make our nation better 2o years down the road. It’s hard to be humble. We try to get to church on time, but, especially at night, people wont’ let us turn left onto Minnewashta, or they cut us off. It’s hard to not be angry. But notice what Paul tells us here. He reminds us to be humble. And then, after Paul does this. He follows with two important reasons why we are to remember our humility: “For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another.” (Titus 3:3 CSB17)

Paul starts out by reminding us to be humble. And he gives us a real reason to remember this by remembering what we were. It is so easy to say, “look at them—how wrong they are.” But Paul does not direct our focus outward. Instead, he focuses our focus inward. In the congregation that Titus served most of the People could remember a time when they were not Christians. For many of us here this morning, we cannot remember that because we were brought into God’s family at a very early age. But for those who can, this would have been piercing, paralyzing words. For life outside of Christ is a terrifying existence. But even for us who cannot remember our life before, we do know what it is like right now to be a Christian and at the same time have a sinful nature. And in that context we need to say the same as Paul, “We—also we used to be them.”1 And all throughout our lives we see reminders of this. Last week Priscilla’s school went on a school trip to go downhill skiing. And I got to be a chaperone. And at the bottom of the ski lift there was a boy who took a short cut. There was a line that was for the ski patrol. But the kid shuffled his way through that empty line to the front. A bunch of his friends told him he was in the wrong line. And he ignored them. When I saw all this I got really angry. Finally, when the boy realized he couldn’t ignore his friends, he looked up. And one of his friends say, “you cannot use that line.” And with such arrogance and pride, he said, “Looks like I just did.” And you would think that that statement would make me angry. But instead it filled me with sadness and fear. Why? I remembered times, when I was his age, that I cut in line. And when I did, those are the exact words that I said. And I felt so sorry for something I did 30+ years ago.

One of the challenges about being a Christian is that, the longer we are Christians, and the more we study God’s word, the more we see our sin. And the more it hurts. And so, one of the ways we are moved to remember our humility is to remember that we—even we sin. And in many ways, we have less of an excuse than unbelievers have because we have read God’s word and we should know better. And so, Paul reminds us of our humility by reminding us what we were before. But from there he goes in a different direction: 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, 5 he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 He poured out his Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4–7 CSB17)

Paul tells us to remember what we were. But then Paul reminds us to remember what we are now in our baptisms. The kindness of our Savior and God appeared. And what follows then is a what, why, how pattern. What did Jesus do? He saved us from our sins. By having and using the humility we did not have as we came into this world he covers us our lack of humility. By dying on the cross he pay for our lack of humility. What did Jesus do about our sin? He saved us by paying for it. What follows then is the why question. Jesus saved us “in line with his mercy.” There have been countless times we should have been kind, but we were selfish, or showed self-control, and instead lived for our passions and pleasures. And so, God saved us not because he saw anything good in us. Instead, he saved us “in line with his mercy.” And finally there’s the how question. Jesus dies there on the cross. But that’s where his salvation stays unless it is delivered to us. So God reaches out with his word and delivers that forgiveness to us. And in these words what Paul specifically emphasizes is the washing of Baptism. In Baptism we are given renewal and rebirth. In baptism the forgiveness won there travels to here—in my heart, mind, and soul. In baptism I become an heir of eternal life. In baptism I am renewed, revitalized, and reborn to lead a godly life.

And so it is good and right for us to remember and speak about baptism as this great gift that delivers salvation to us. For that’s what these words say. But it is also good for us to remember the other promise here. In baptism we are reborn and revitalized to lead a godly life. The humility we didn’t have before, we now have in baptism. The result of this is that, alongside this old-self inside of us that lives for passions and pleasures, self-seeking and self-worshipping—alongside that old self is a new self born of this washing in baptism. And this new self is humble. All of this is a gift of baptism.

Paul reminds us to remember to be humble. This happens first of all when we remember what we were—and in our old sinful self, still are. But this also happens when we remember what we are. In our God and Savior Jesus Christ we are given a baptism of water and word. And in that baptism salvation isn’t just won. It is also given to us. And in that baptism we are given a new birth to lead a godly life.

So then, with all of this in mind, remember your humility. Those living in darkness do not have your light. Those living selfish lives need your humility. The ones that hate you need to see your humility. And even more, they need to see the reason for your humility, both your reminders of what you were and also what you are now in your baptisms. Remember your humility. In Christ and in those waters of baptism you have this humility. Now use it.

1 “ⲏⲙⲉⲛⲅⲁⲣⲡⲟⲧⲉ Ⲕⲁⲓⲏⲙⲉⲓⲥ·” (Titus 3:3 GNT-ALEX)

The Light Shines Out (Epiphany)


The Light Shines Out

We saw his star. What would cause and drive these learnéd men to travel hundreds of miles to find the toddler Jesus? There answer is simple: “We saw his star.” But what they say teaches us a very important fact. Our good and gracious Triune God is not afraid to surprise and shock us. He is not afraid to capture our hearts and challenge our minds. The wisemen saw the start and it drove them into God’s word. And then, out of pure joy, it drove them to act. In the words we look at this morning we see the same pattern. Through the apostle Paul, Jesus was capturing the imagination of his people and challenging their minds. In Acts 13, we read: 26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 35 So it is also stated elsewhere: “ ‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’ 36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.” (Acts 13:26, 35–37 NIV11-GKE)

In the words we are reading here in the book of Acts, Paul is a guest preacher in a congregation where there are Jewish people and Gentiles. And by God’s Holy Spirit he says something that should have captured their imagination and challenged their minds. He gives to them this dilemma: People thought that King David was the “Holy One.” But how can he be the Holy One if God’s word promised that the Holy One would live on and not see decay? They knew that David had both died and was buried. But yet, in front of them, for centuries was this shocking oddity—like a star in the sky that does not move. The Holy One would not see decay.

The Lord did this to capture their imagination and challenge their minds. But instead, it had the opposite effect. Some of the Jewish people ignored the words because they had no use for them. But there were godly, believing, faithful believers who failed simply because they ran out of energy. There are lots of words in the bible. And it takes real work to read them, ponder them, and process through them. And after a long work day or week, there was little energy left.

Is the same true for us? All throughout God’s word there are these parts of God’s word that capture our imagination and challenge our minds—like a bright light shining in the sky that doesn’t move. And, if we are honest, we have to confess, that, when it comes to reading and studying the bible, there have been times we had a lack of interest. But, more often than that, would it be better to say that what we face is a lack of energy? Years ago, I remember a guy who was became a leader in my church. He worked long hours during the day and he took an instruction class to join our church at night. And every time we met it was the same pattern: about a half an hour into the class, he’d begin to nod off. So, he’d get up and walk from one side of the room to the other to stay awake. As Jesus says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”” (Mark 14:38 NIV11-GKE)

My friends in Christ, the solution to our weakness is not ignoring it. instead, it’s confessing it. It’s hearing words like Paul is just about to say to these people and cherishing them. Paul told them: 38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38–39 NIV11-GKE)

How many sins have we been set free from? Jesus is the Holy One who died and yet never saw decay. He rose from the dead. So what Paul says is true for you: every one of our sins is forgiven—even the ones we commit when we lack the energy to study God’s word to find the light that is there in it. We are forgiven. We are justified, declared, “not guilty.”

But with that forgiveness also comes energy and zeal. The wisemen didn’t travel all that way to Israel and Paul didn’t travel all that way to Psidian Antioch on their own. No, they are just as weak, frail, and drained of energy as we are. The Holy Spirit gave them strength to study God’s word and find light, true light there in those words. And he does the same for you. So, in your life, what will that growth in God’s word look like? Will it be getting up earlier in the morning and pouring yourself some coffee and reading the bible in the morning? Will it be getting an audio bible and putting it on your phone so that you can listen during your daily commute? And when you find those parts that capture your heart and challenge your mind, will you email me or meet me at a coffee shop so that together we can an answer to these challenges? Will you set aside the time to walk through our bible study in Mark? So set aside time to plan our your year. But my dear friends, do so remembering why you did so to begin with. We study God’s word not out of a motivation of crushing guilt. No, instead, we study God’s word because there we find parts that capture our imagination and challenge our minds.

And so, as we read in these words. The light shines out. It shines out so that we would study it. But there’s more in these words: 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:46–48 NIV11-GKE)

The light shines out so that we would study it. But the light also shines out so that we would share it. Where is the time? Where is the energy? No doubt, that was a question Old Testament believers asked. And we too ask the same question. And if it was true when it came to studying God’s word, it was even more true when it came to sharing God’s word. As a congregation, God has called on us to reach out and stretch out with this gracious gospel of Jesus, the Light of the World. But it’s so easy to run out of steam and run out of energy. And the result then is that, instead of sharing the gospel, we sit on it. And when we ponder this fact it fills us with panic and sadness. But my friends listen to what the Lord says to us from our Old Testament reading: ““It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”” (Isaiah 49:6 NIV11-GKE)

We run out of energy and say, “ok, that’s enough” when it is not enough. But look what our Father says to Jesus. He tells Jesus that it’s not enough to shine out to the Jewish people. Instead, Jesus had to shine out to us, Gentiles. How amazing and precious it is for us that where we, with tired hands and hearts, say, “it is enough”, our Father said, “not enough.” And he sent Jesus into this world to take on our humanity. He sent Jesus to die for us. He sent Jesus to rise for us. He sent the Holy Spirit to create faith in us and preserve us. All this is the work that our Triune God did for us.

And where that leaves us this morning is with another truth that captures our hearts and challenges our minds. Jesus can do so much with so little. Think of what the Lord did with our own church. Someone else put in work, trying to establish a ministry in a prison down in Shakopee. And now I get to go down and share this light of Christ with them. Think of our Jesus Cares ministry. I and a few others in our church put in some work, and the Lord, purely out of his undeserved love towards us, blessed that work. And now, every month we have the privilege of sharing this gospel light with a group of people outside of our church. But, my dear friends there is more we can do. I’m quickly running out of time in my sermon and there’s so much more to say. But, in the days that follow, I’m asking you to remember two truths: First, remember your motivation. As a church we share the gospel out of thanks and appreciation that God chose us and forgave us. Second, pray for our church, that what we have so little energy to do, God will nevertheless accomplish through us. Amen.

Where Does The Law Lead? (Christmas 1)

Jesus in the temple

Where Does The Law Lead?

Where is this going? Years ago there was a child who was taking piano lessons. The teacher had the child begin by learning scales and memorizing key signatures. And the child was patient for a little while. But then, finally when the work of practicing was actually work, the child told the teacher, “where is this going?” The teacher had the child scoot aside on the bench and then played a beautiful, breathtaking piece the child had never heard before. The child then knew where this was going. And he threw himself at the work in front of him. This morning we look at two of the ten commandments. But we do so with a goal. We ask, “where does the law lead?” And God’s word will answer that question. In Exodus 20, we read: 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8–11 NIV11-GKE)

In the words we are reading here Moses is with his people at Mt. Sinai. And there, through Moses, the Lord is giving the law to his people. And, as we are taught in catechism class when we are young, the first and foremost task that is getting done when we look at the ten commandments is that these commandments show us our sin. But my dear friends in Christ, that’s only where we begin with these commandments. They lead to an entirely different place.

So, at the foot of Mt. Sinai the Lord‘s people heard these words, that they should find rest in God’s word. But instead, in their hearts what they found was resistance to God’s word in their hearts. For, to them, the sermons that Moses preached hurt their feelings. And they didn’t like that. The bible study classes he taught were too long to them. But has anything changed? Every faithful preacher of God’s word has to deal with people who get angry when Jesus exposes their sin. And even before he gets in the pulpit, he has to deal with his own sin, Jesus poking and prodding his conscience because of his sin. And every faithful teacher deals with people who make time for food for their bodies, but no for food for their souls. There are herds of people who come into church, but hoards of people who rush out of church, not staying to learn and grow in God’s word. We, all of us, are the same as they were. God commands us to find rest in his word, but instead we find resistance in our own hearts.

When we see our sin, our hearts turn to Jesus. And this morning is an amazing example of how Jesus was different than we are. Where does the law lead? In us, the answer is often resistance. But for Jesus the answer was perfect wonder. What you have to picture when you read these words in our gospel for today is the boy Jesus at 12 years old who is amazed, enthralled, and fascinated at God’s word. And his wonder at God’s word is perfect. In fact, it’s so perfect that, when he starts sharing God’s word with the teachers and professors of the day, they are caught up in Jesus’ excitement and wonder at the word.

Where does the Law lead? It leads to perfect wonder—but not yours. The law leads us to see Jesus’ perfect wonder at the word in our place. The Law leads us to see our gracious, forgiving heavenly Father looking down at us and seeing not our sin of resistance, but instead his son’s perfect wonder in our place. That wonder that Jesus had forgives our sins of resistance. But it does more than that. It leads us to have the same awe and wonder as Jesus had. In the Large Catechism Luther says this:

when we seriously ponder the Word, hear it, and put it to use, such is its power that it never departs without fruit. It always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devotion, and it constantly creates clean hearts and minds. For this Word is not idle or dead, but effective and living. Even if no other benefit or need drove us to the Word, yet everyone should be motivated by the realization that through the Word the devil is cast out and put to flight.1

The law starts out showing us our sin. But it leads us to Jesus, who has had perfect wonder at God’s word in our place. But he also, by his Holy Spirit gives us that same perfect awe and wonder. For we have this promise that God’s word delivers forgiveness, drives out fear, and destroys Satan’s work. The law leads to perfect wonder. But leads also to another place. We read: ““Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12 NIV11-GKE)

In these words God was commanding his people to respect their parents for one important reason: God put them there in a position over them. And with this then, God establishes all authority figures. But instead of respecting them, they rebelled against them. At the end of his life, Moses has to call them stubborn and stiff-necked. For they despised his authority, and through that taught their children to despise all authority.

We too have to confess that we are guilty of this sin. We have not shown our parents respect as we should have. When we are young, either because they embarrass us or we think we know more than they do, we rebel against them. When they are old we ignore them because, yes, once again they are telling that story we have heard them say a hundred times. And all of that is the opposite of respect.

So the law starts by showing us our sin of rebellion. But where does it lead? It leads once again to this boy Jesus in the temple. If there’s ever been a time when you’ve been embarrassed at your parent’s weaknesses and failings or thought you knew more than they did, just look at Jesus. Jesus was perfect and omniscient. And yet, at the close of the gospel for this morning, we hear that Jesus stops teaching the teachers. He humbles himself and obeys his parents and goes home. Look at the pleasing work Jesus did for you. He obeyed his Father in heaven. And that work pleased our Father. He obeyed his parents here below. And that work pleased them. Jesus fulfilled this commandment for us, so that when our Father in heaven looks at us, he does not see our embarrassment at or our rebellion against our parents. Instead, he sees the pleasing work our Savior offered up in our place.

But Jesus doesn’t stop at that. Through his word, the Holy Spirit changes our heart so that that where there was rebellion, there is the desire to follow and worship and please our Father in heaven. And here in the fourth commandment is a beautiful way in which we can get that done. For it is not just work. It is pleasing work. God looks down when we respect our parents by listening to them and obeying them and he is filled with joy, wonder, and awe. For one of the best ways we worship God is by obeying the people sets up to do his work on his behalf. Again, we do this not to appease God’s wrath. Jesus appeased God’s wrath by with his pleasing work in our place. No, we do this purely out of thanks.

And so, musical scales and musical keys lead to the making of a musician. But where does the law lead? It leads to perfect wonder at the treasures there in God’s word. It leads to pleasing work—that I can work by respecting my parents and my Father in heaven is so very pleased with that work. Amen.

1 Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 400.

Jesus Is the Redeemer of Time (Christmas Day)


Jesus Is the Redeemer of Time

Time was my tormentor. When I was growing up we used to visit uncle Ferd and Aunt Leoma. And what I remember most about their house was time. To be more specific, they had this monster-sized Grandfather clock. It would ring so loudly on the quarter hour that everyone had to stop and wait for it to stop before they could continue talking. And at night it was even worse. All us kids had to sleep on the carpet floor in the living room. And every hour, on the hour, the ground would shake and your ears would cry out in pain when it sounded the hour. Time was my tormentor. But I’m not alone. In a different way all throughout all the ages, time has been our tormentor. In John 1, we read: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1–3 NIV11-GKE)

John starts here in a very fascinating place. He lets us know that at the beginning there was this perfect communication—the word. And this word was more than just words and thoughts. It was God himself. Now then, remember what happened in the Garden of Eden. In that garden everything was pure and perfect. But then that serpentine Satan came along and tempted Adam and Eve to sin. And they listened. From that time on time itself was corrupted. Time became the world’s tormentor. God stood apart from and outside that time. Now, if we put ourselves in God’s shoes for even a moment, it might have been tempting to stay away from this world and the corrupted time in it. But, instead, the opposite happens. We read: 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:4–11 NIV11-GKE)

In the same way we might want to avoid a long line at the supermarket or the shopping center because of the extreme waste of time waiting, there would have been a temptation to not come down to earth. But that’s what Jesus did. Jesus came to his own. But his own did not receive him. Instead, they rejected him. For about three decades Jesus was growing up as a Jewish carpenter. And the first ones to not believe that he was the Son of God was his own brothers—his own family. He came to his own people, the Jews. And for the most part they liked his fancy miracles, but wanted nothing to do with his teaching. And think of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who demanded that he prove that he was the Christ. And then they plotted to put him to death. And Jesus endured this rejection over decades!

But, as you’re traveling through the bible, looking for those who did not receive him and instead, rejected him, don’t forget to look at your own heart. Each of us has a sinful nature. And time itself testifies against us. For when our Savior asks us to serve, that sinful voice inside of us says, “not your time, but mine”. Such selfishness we show. But there’s also laziness. We do what we are called to do. But we it with slow hands and a complaining heart. And we waste Jesus’ time by wasting the time of others around us. And that waste of time goes on every day, month and year of our lives. So the people in Jesus’ day aren’t the only ones who have not received Jesus and instead rejected him. Just as much as time torments us, we use time to torment Jesus. Who will lift this weight of wasted years from our shoulders and hearts? Listen to what John tells us: 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12–13 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus is the Redeemer of time itself. And in these words we see how. Jesus takes on human flesh and blood and willingly waits. Oh, how much he must have yearned to be grown up preaching God’s word as only the Divine Word can do. But, instead, he waits. And he does so willingly and wondrously. And my brothers and sisters in Christ this is good news. For, where we wait restlessly and waste Jesus’ time. He waited willingly in your place and in mine. And that patience payed off. For at just the right time he allowed himself to die for the sins of the entire world and make a payment to take away your sin. The result is wondrous and joyous. Your sins of willingly wasting God’s gift of time to you are forgiven by Jesus’ patience and his payment. And all of this is ours through this gift of faith. But there’s more. John writes: 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:14–18 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus is the redeemer of time through the gift of time redeemed. But he’s also our redeemer through the gift of time restored. Here in these words we see the result of God’s grace. The time that was our tormentor now is our ally. One of the great paralyzing parts of being a human is that we fail, feel horrible about it and then are terrified of moving ahead in the future. If you’ve wasted your time and you are there sitting in the classroom or boardroom and you are completely unprepared for the test or report you are called to do, you can be paralyzed with fear for the future. If you’ve said something mean to someone and, despite the fact that you have apologized to that person and repented to God, nevertheless, time is your tormentor. For time reminds that other person what you did. Jesus took on human flesh and blood to redeem you of the torture and torment that time brings you. And he accomplished that through his patience for you and payment for you.

You are forgiven. From that fact flows so much freedom. We do not have to live in the future anymore. We can boldly go ou there into the world and use the time God has given us even if we might make mistakes and even if we might commit sins. We do not need to live in terror of making a bad choice and as a result we make no choice. No, Jesus has redeemed us from the terror, torment, and torture of time. Time now is a gracious gift to us. So, my dear friends in Christ, live in that freedom. Amen.

Live In The Light (Christmas Eve)

Light Of The World

There Was Light, But Darkness Came

How did I get here? One of the details about moving to MN that they didn’t tell me is that, when you are in the more rural areas, your GPS device doesn’t always have all the roads on it. And so, it’s easy to get lost. But when the darkness comes, if you’re already lost, it makes it even worse. This evening in our opening reading from God’s word we start out by asking that question: how did we get here? There is darkness in the world around us. But how did we end up here? At the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, it was completely good. But, as we read, in Genesis 3, Satan entered our world and brought darkness with him. And so, if you want to begin to understand why our world is perpetually broken, here in God’s word is where you need to look. Only here do we read how this darkness of sin came. Only here do we read how thoroughly it affected humanity. If we look to our own experience or to popular opinion, we might conclude that our world is only broken…a little, or in the darkness…a little. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of WW I. They called it the “war to end all wars.” It was so bad that no one thought it could be followed by another, even worse war. No, the darkness of sin is real out there. And the darkness of sin is real inside of us. But in these words we don’t just here where where this darkness of sin began. We also hear of the one who will bring it to an end. The Lord promises that there would be a “he” would end the Satanic Serpent, but at great cost to himself. He would be the one would bring light into this dark world.

They Needed Light

How bad is it? Whether you have a broken bone or you have cancer, that’s the question you ask. You need a diagnosis as to how bad it actually is. The words we are about to read give us a spiritual diagnosis. The spiritual darkness that is out there in the world and in my heart—how bad is it? In the words we are about to read, we meet two brothers. By the end of the day Cain had murdered Abel. But what drove him to it? Where did that darkness come from? It came from the inside. Cain murdered his brother with his hands. But the spiritual darkness inside of us is so real that we murder others with our hearts. Jesus said that whoever hates his brother is a murderer.1 And yet, in the midst of all that darkness, light was promised. Adam and Eve fixed their eyes on that promise of at “he” who would come like people looking at a light house on a dark and terrifying night.

The Light Was Promised.

To you. Sometimes the best and most beautiful theology is found in the pronouns. About 800 years before Jesus was born the Lord promised to shine out and reach out his light to Judah and Israel. And what we need to focus on in these words is those two little words, to you. For there was no reason whatsoever why the Israelites could look forward to the Lord shining out to them. They had broken every commandment and every covenant. They had shattered their relationship with him. But when I read these words from Isaiah 60, listen for those words, “to you.” For the Lord also speaks these words to you. The Israelites aren’t the only ones who have broken God’s commands and destroyed relationships. Who of us can say that our hands are clean? With the words we have spoken and the actions we have taken we have shattered friendships and maybe even family relationships. And that’s why those two words, “for you” are so precious and important. Just as Jesus pays for and forgives the sins of the ancient Israelites, so also he pays for and forgives your sins. So when I read these words written so long ago, don’t hear them as dry, dusty words written for people without your problems. Hear those words, “to you” as precious promises spoken to you.

Jesus Is The Light

Look quickly. You might miss it. Some years ago we went on a family vacation and we stopped at McDonald Observatory. And so, we got to look at the stars through massive telescopes. And at one of the stations where where was a telescope, I got to see a twin star. And the lady at that station kept saying the same words to each person: “Look quickly, you might miss it.” In these words the same is true. There’s a very important detail about Jesus, the Light of the world, spoken. But it’s easy to miss. The angels appear to shepherds in the fields. And then there’s a very important detail they add. But it’s easy to miss. The angels says to the shepherds that Christ, the Lord is there. But then, what is this Christ, and where should they look for him? The Lord of the universe is a baby boy. And they should look for him in a manger. That is a detail that is easy to miss. The angels encouraged the shepherds to look for the King of kings in humble places. And the same is true today. Don’t look for the Light in the rumbling thunders of the sky. Don’t look for Jesus in the powerful yearning emotions of your heart. You will not find him there. Look for the light in these humble words, the bible. Why is it that we come to church Sunday after Sunday; why we take our bibles home and read them to ourselves and to our children? Here in these words is where we find the light. And here in these words we learn of the one who keeps all his promises. One of the greatest proofs of this darkness of sin inside of us is what we do with promises. We make them and then are unable to keep them. Sometimes we make them knowing that we probably won’t keep them. Not so with the bible. The shepherds saw the Christ. And everything they saw was just as the angels had told them. Look for Jesus in the humble places. Look for him in his word. There is where he makes his promises. And since he is the light of the world, he will keep them.

Live in the Light

Some descriptions are beyond our imaginations. Before I was a pastor I had a year of internship. It was called my vicar year. And Karin and I spent that year in the Northwoods of WI. And in that area there were thousands of lakes just as there are here. And what I remember is asking the people there what it was like to get up or go to bed with the light shining off the lake. And all the words they used didn’t seem to get the job done. In these final words from the final part of the bible the same is true. Can you imagine a place where there is no darkness? Can you imagine a place where there is no suffering, sin, death, and despair? Jesus won that place of light for all of us. And in these final words he gives us the invitation to live every day with that light firmly fixed in our minds and hearts. And he does so for a reason. Since we do not see the light of heaven right here and right now in front of our faces, it’s so easy to forget that there is where we are headed. It’s so easy to have the stress of school and work, the busy-ness of life, and even have the blessings that are fun here in this life lead us back into the darkness. No, the light that lasts is not here on earth. It’s there in heaven. There in heaven there will be no darkness of sin. There in heaven we will see those who put their faith and their lives in Christ. There in heaven we will see Jesus face to face. So, my friends in Christ, live in the light every day. Do this by repenting of your sin every day and rejoicing that Jesus is the Light of the world who takes your sin away. And keep lifting your eyes to you home above in heaven where there will be no darkness ever again.

1 cf. Matt 5:21 sq.

What Is The Real Present? (Advent 4)

What Is The Real Present?

Somewhere we lost focus. Many years ago there was a bishop over an area of Asia Minor called Palmyra. This bishop became well-known. He became well known because he stood up against the false teacher, Arius at the council of Nicea. He also became well-known because of what he did in his church and in his community. There was a dad with three daughters. He died. And the three daughters would have been sold into slavery. But this bishop and pastor took these daughters in at great cost to himself and his church. This man was Nicolas, Archbishop of Palmyra. What do we know him as today? Santa Klaus. Somewhere we lost focus. That is our trap as humans, for that is our tendency. And there’s nothing new under the sun. Humans thousands of years ago had the same temptation. We see that in our reading for this morning. In Hebrews 10, we read, 1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. 4 It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:1–4 NIV11-GKE)

In the Old Testament God commanded the Jewish people to bring forward offerings. But what happened is their feelings took over their focus. They came to Jerusalem pulling behind them sheep, bulls, and goats. And when they got there they were filled with awe and wonder. They saw the amazing temple and said, this is my temple. Instead of being surrounded by a few worshippers of the Lord, they were surrounded by many. And they said, “this is my people.” And they looked down at that animal and their heart swelled with pride and they thought, “this is my offering.” And the feelings made them lose focus on why they were there. The writer to the Hebrews brings that focus back. Those animals they carried in their arms and pulled behind their backs were not the solution to sin, they were the reminder of sin. They were the promise of the good sacrifice to come, not the sacrifice itself.

They lost their focus because their feelings in their hearts overcame the facts in front of their faces. Isn’t the same true for us? It is ever-so-easy to replace the fact of Christmas with the feelings of Christmas. So what does this look like? We put up red poinsettias and bright lights because it makes us feel right. We eat cookies and cakes because it makes us feel good. We go out and get a tree or bring it up from the basement because that’s what we did when we were children. All of this we do to recapture the feelings of Christmas. Now, before I go any farther, there is nothing wrong with feelings in and of themselves. But when the feelings that surround Christmas cause us to loose focus on Christmas, then it becomes a sin. It becomes a sin in two ways. First, Jesus was not born to make us feel good as if he were a potent wine or a rich cookie. No, instead, the hymn we just sang words it correctly:

Come, O long-expected Jesus, Born to set your people free;
From our sins and fears release us By your death on Calvary.

Just as the goats and bulls in the Old Testament should have been a reminder of their sin, so also, Jesus birth should first of all be a reminder of our sin. But so often we lose focus and conclude that Jesus’ birth is all about good feelings like fancy cookies.

But there’s a second way we fall into sin by replacing the fact of Christmas with the feeling of Christmas. What if you don’t have the proper feelings? How many of remember the immense and intense joy of our Children’s Christmas service? But now, years later those same immense and intense emotions are not the same. Is it real Christmas if I’m not fired up? That’s the trap with losing focus and replacing the fact of Christmas with the feelings surrounding Christmas.

So what’s the real present of Christmas? It’s not frail feelings. That much we know. But what is it? God’s word tells us, 5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.” (Hebrews 10:5–6 NIV11-GKE)

The real present of Christmas is Christ’s humanity. Now, notice where God’s word goes in these words. Usually the present we speak about it Christ’s divinity. Here the present our Father in heaven promises is humanity. That is the present we focus in at Christmas: God gives us a human body to bear sin. I came into this world as a sinner. I cannot kill any animal to pay for that sin. I cannot kill myself or anyone else to pay for my sin. But all of those countless animals in the Old Testament that needed to be killed pointed ahead to Christmas: a human body to bear sin. That, my friends is the real present. But Christ’s humanity gives us another gift: 7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’ ” 8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:7–10 NIV11-GKE)

An ancient pastor in the church once said that “that which Jesus did not receive, he did not redeem.”1 God gave a human to us as a present to bear our sins. But he also gave us a human to us as a present to obey our God. We so very easily lose focus. We so easily lose focus on the fact of Christmas and focus in on the feelings surrounding Christmas. But Jesus had a human will that was perfect. He not only wanted to obey his Father, he was actually able to doing what his Father commanded completely and continually. And all this he does in your place.

It might be ok to forget who the real St. Nic is. But this morning don’t forget what the real Christmas present is. God gave to us a real human—a human to bear our sins, a human to obey our God. That is the fact that will bring our focus back to where it needs to be. Amen.

1 ⲧⲟⲁⲡⲣⲟⲥⲗⲏⲡⲧⲟⲛⲁⲑⲉⲣⲁⲡⲉⲩⲧⲟⲛ: Gregory Nanzianzen

Perfect Love is Powerful Love (Midweek Advent 3)

Perfect Love is Powerful Love

What is the perfect way of showing love? Months ago I was watching videos on Youtube. And there was a whole series of videos of wedding proposals gone bad. In one, there was a young man who proposed to his girlfriend in McDonalds. And, I suppose it’s not too surprising to learn, that she did not say, “yes.” If there was an image of perfect love in her eyes, that was not what it looked like. What then is perfect love in God’s eyes?’ That’s where God’s word begins here this evening. In 1 John 4, we read: “And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.” (1 John 4:16 CSB17)

Perfect love in God’s eyes means remaining in him. Now, when John says that simple phrase, “remain in love” he means so much more than the bare meaning of the words on the page. Remaining in God is knowing perfectly and completely who God is: his absolute fairness and his absolute forgiveness. And it means holding that complete understanding in our hearts and minds continually. But there’s a problem with that, isn’t there? John tells us what that is: “In this, love is made complete with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because as he is, so also are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17 CSB17)

God asks us to have perfect love. The enemy of and opposite of perfect love is fear. And the huge source of fear for us all is what John speaks about here: Judgment Day. How am I supposed to love the God who knows that I sin and how much I sin? Fear is the opposite of and enemy of love. But this isn’t just true when it comes to God. It’s also true when it comes to others. How can I show true Christian love towards others when there is real fear in my heart? I am afraid that I’ll mess it up. I’m afraid that, if I reach out and give some caring correction to that person, he or she will hate me. I’m afraid that when I show this perfect love towards another person, if that person knows me at all, he or she will say, “You stop sinning, then you can speak to me about sin.” God calls on us to have a perfect and complete love. But fear drives that out. Fear leads us to conclude that we are doomed on Judgment Day when we face our God and demoralized here as we face those in our every day lives. But look, my friends in Christ at what God says next: 18 There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears is not complete in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:18–19 CSB17)

Fear drives out love. But notice what God’s word tells us here: Perfect love drives out fear. And then John makes is clear the sort of love that he is speaking about. God’s love for us is the first love. Here, the word, “first” isn’t just first in time, it’s also first in priority. It’s first and foremost. When we start talking about perfect love, where do we need to start? We cannot start here in our hearts. Instead we need to start there in that child placed in a manger. We cannot start here on earth, we need to start with our Father’s love for us in heaven. That’s the priority: first look at God’s love for us in Christ. That love that he has for us drives out our fear toward him. For, if Jesus was born as true God and true man, and if he lived a perfect life in my place and died in my place, then all my sins are payed for and forgiven. And we can look forward to the Day of Judgment with peace and joy in hearts. the first place we go to; the foundation we build on is God’s love for us. And that love is a powerful love. Because of that love we are able to worship our God and lift our eyes above to him with a clean and clear conscience. One of the things we forget is to put ourselves in God’s shoes. That is risky sometimes. But here it is useful and even necessary. God loves us and proves it at Christmas. And because of that he does not want us to be afraid of him. I remember when I was a child there were two things my dad got angry at: fixing the car in the garage and when we children messed up. And I remember him walking into the living from from the garage with that determined look of pain and anger on his face. So I did what every child who wants to survive would do. I cried out in fear and ran into the corner, remembering that I had done something wrong and that Dad had, no doubt, found out. And when he saw me run to the corner, he stopped and stared at me. And the face full of anger became the face full of pain. For no one wants to be the father that is feared and people are terrified of. It’s true of our earthly fathers. It’s also true of our God above. His love for us drives out all fear. We are forgiven. So we can look up to him boldly with love towards him in our hearts. But John also directs our love in another direction. We read: 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And we have this command from him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.” (1 John 4:20–21 CSB17)

Perfect love is powerful love. It’s powerful as I show that love to God. But it’s also powerful love as I show love to others. How terrifying it is to want to reach out in love toward someone in our lives, but yet realize the problem is me. In the book of James it says, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:10 NIV11-GKE) What happens when, out of love for that person in our life, we say, “you need to stop lying” and then that person says, “you need to stop cussing”? What do we do? How do we show love toward that person? Notice where John directs our focus. We love because he first loved us. Again, not just first in time, but first in priority. Knowing God’s perfect love for us gives to us a powerful love toward others. For we are able to say, “I apologize for my sin for Jesus has forgiven that sin.” And those words are powerful. They are powerful because the person we are speaking to realizes that we are not speaking down to them. Those words are powerful because they show that, if God can forgive a sinner like me, he can reach out and stretch out with his perfect love and forgive that person too. And that sort of love frees us with its power. Instead of being afraid of showing love towards others, we are free because we know that God has forgiven us and God has forgiven the person we are speaking to.

And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, love others just as Christ has loved you. But don’t start out there at home or at school or work. Don’t start with your love for others. First and foremost, start with God’s love for you proved to you in God taking on human flesh. Amen.