Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sermon for February 7, 2010

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany of Our Lord
February 6-7, 2010
Text: Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6, 8-10

Dear Friends in Christ,
I have found that these later books of the Old Testament are often unfamiliar to our people. This ought not to be so. There is much here that is worthy of our consideration.
Our story begins with an amazing event - an event prophesied by Isaiah, over two hundred years before, when he wrote: “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: "I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself... who says of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose'; saying of Jerusalem, 'She shall be built,' and of the temple, 'Your foundation shall be laid.'” (Isaiah 44:24, 28) And indeed, when Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon, he ordered the Jews to return to Judah and to rebuild their temple as well as the city of Jerusalem. It did not happened easily or quickly. But eventually, at the time of Nehemiah, the task was completed. The first exiles returned, by order of Cyrus, under the leadership of Zerubbabel - a descendant of King David. The high priest of this time was named Jeshua or Joshua son of Jozadak. They built the second temple. A second wave of exiles returned under Ezra. Then a third wave came under Nehemiah. Under Nehemiah’s leadership they completed construction of the wall of the city of Jerusalem. Enemy raids were so frequent at that time, that many of workers worked with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other.

When that work was completed, Ezra and Nehemiah gathered the people and read to them from the Law, that is the Torah. By this we mean the books of Moses. During the exile of the Jews in Babylon some things about their religion changed. A new religious structure came into the being - the synagogue. The leaders of the synagogue were the rabbis. This word, rabbi, simply means teacher. Some rabbis simply passed on the oral tradition. Very few of those early synagogues would have had any portion of the Bible. But there were a few copies of the Bible at that time. And some of the rabbis virtually memorized it. So you have a few expert theologians at this time, like Ezra, but most of the people had never actually heard God’s Word. So for most of the people gathered in Jerusalem, in our text, this was the first time that they had actually heard the Bible read. The people responded by worshiping God and listening as those who knew the Bible taught them.

Among the things that they heard was a command from God, through Moses that they were to celebrate a feast in the seventh month of the year. Part of that feast was that for seven days they were to live in tents or booths. This was to commemorate the years that Israel wondered in the wildness before entering the promised land. But this command had never been kept. The people, now, for the first time, celebrated the Feast of Booths. And each day of feast they would gather and Ezra would read from the writings of Moses.

But the people were not done. In chapter 9 we read: “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God.”
That’s right they listened to the Scriptures for a quarter of a day. Probably this meant of the daylight hours. So somewhere between three and four hours. That’s a long Scripture reading. Then the priests and Levites gathered on the steps to the temple sanctuary and they intoned a long prayer of confession and praise. How did they praise God? By recounting all that God had done for His people. And throughout the prayer they repeat several times how God was patient with them, how God forgave their sins and restored them to His presence.

This raises for us an important question. How do we praise God? Many people think you do that by making a great ruckus and blathering endless “alleluias” and “hosannas”. Much of contemporary worship is dominated by so called “praise choruses.” I would submit that most of these offer no true praise to God at all. They are mindless nonsense. True praise of God starts with talking about who God is and what He has done. True praise of God sounds like these words from Nehemiah 9: “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. You are the LORD, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham...” (Nehemiah 9:6-7) Praise of God is always connected to the knowledge of what God has done, and how what God has done effects us.

This then raises a question. How do we know what God has done? Well, when I was very young I would sit next to my father while he read from the Bible or on my grandmother’s lap while she read from a Bible story book. They taught me what God had done. But how did they know? How do I know that they got it right? By the way, they did indeed get it right. How did this happen? Because they had a reliable source for their knowledge. That source is the Bible - God’s holy Word. So praising God starts with God’s own word. We learn those words, and what those words mean, and then we speak them back to God. That is true praise. True praise takes work. It is the path less traveled. It means reading and study. It means being a life long student. But then what is Christ’s word for us? We are His disciples. A disciple is a learner, a student.

In the days of Nehemiah, the people dedicated themselves to learning God’s Word. They praised God by recounting all that God had done for them and their forefathers. They praised God by confessing their sins and their fathers’ sins. Why is this praise? Because it is truth. God always rejoices when we speak truth. Also, we are acknowledging God’s power to forgive our sins. But we today have far more to speak back to God. For in the days of Nehemiah, they looked forward to the day when God would dwell among men and be the perfect Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. They had been promised that the Messiah would come into the temple that they had built. And we know that He did come and appeared in that very temple. He came and bore our sins to the cross. He rose victorious over sin and death, giving to us also victory over sin and death. And we praise God by recounting all these things.

February 2010 Newsletter

From the Disk of the Pastor February 2010

Dear Friends in Christ,
Pontius Pilate asked Christ, what is truth? That is a question that is often not asked today. Pilate’s question suggests that he was a Roman skeptic. In Roman society, there were three basic philosophical positions. The stoics were focused upon duty. The epicureans were focused upon pleasure and self gratification. The skeptics viewed life an unknowable farce. Truth existed, but us fallible human beings could not know truth. Thus, since we could not know truth, our actions would always be flawed. We had no chance of getting it right.

In contrast, today people ask is there such a thing as truth. In fact many have gone beyond this and insisted that there is no truth. We call this “Post Modernism.” Post Modern thought is in fact not new at all. It has its current day roots is in the work of the nineteenth century philosopher Frederick Nitsche. It is also closely tied to Fascist thinking. Philosopher Martin Heidigger is one the heros of post modern scholars. He was a card carrying Nazi and an active supporter of Hitler. The father of post modern deconstructionism was Yale professor Paul de Mann. De Mann was born in Belgium and during World War II was busy writing pro Nazi propaganda. If there is no truth, there is only power. Might makes right. If you have the power to enforce your will, then your will becomes truth.

This the challenge facing the church today. Many of the people we encounter will not believe that there is such a thing as truth. Truth is whatever I think it is. Often times we will have to do some pre-evangelism. We will have to show people that truth is objective. One of the simplest arguments is in medicine. Do you want to go to a doctor who doesn’t think that there is such a thing as truth? Such a doctor might well say you don’t have cancer if you think you don’t. How catastrophic such medicine would be! People would die because they didn’t understand their true situation.

For us, God’s Word is truth. Here is where we turn to diagnose our condition. In the Word we see that we are sinners who cannot save ourselves. We are lost and damned. We need an objective cure. We need our sins to be taken from us. Christ Jesus does just that in His death on the cross. This is the objective reality that offers hope to the world.

In a couple weeks we will enter the season of Lent. Lent is a time of cold, hard, objective facts. It is a time when we confront our sinfulness. We do this because it is true. We are not like Pilate wondering what truth is. We are not like the post modernists who think that truth is whatever they say it is. We are Christians. As St. Paul says “Love rejoices in the truth.” (I Cor. 13:6) He is echoing the words of the Psalmist: “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” (Ps. 119:104) And so look at the truth of our sins. We do not flinch from it. It is painful, but it is a mark of our love, not only for our Lord and our selves, but also for our neighbor. For by looking at the truth of our sins, we look at how we can better serve our neighbor. But we also look at the truth of our Savior - Jesus Christ. The Law teaches us God’s will, but the Gospel teaches us that Christ has already fulfilled God’s will in our place. This gives us a new reason for seeking to fulfill the Law - love for Christ and love for our neighbor. This is the truth we seek for ourselves and the truth we seek to share with others.

Rev. Jody Walter
Psalm 119:104-105

Sermon for January 31, 2010

The Second Sunday After the Epiphany
January 30-31, 2010
Text: John 2:1-11

Dear Friends in Christ,
Starting in the nineteenth century Americans developed their own unique heresy regarding the consumption of alcohol. No Christians had ever condemned drinking alcohol. In fact it was often the only safe thing to drink in pre-modern times. Many of our modern forms of alcohol were developed in monasteries and convents. Champaign was discovered by accident by a French monk. They had several wine bottle explode and the monk assigned to clean up the mess decided to not let all that wine go waste. He took a sip from one of the broken bottles and exclaimed: “I’m drinking stars!” Bock beer was developed in monasteries, as a drink for monks who were fasting. Often they would pass out from lack of nourishment. So they developed a heavy beer with greater nutritional value so that the monks could fast without running the risk of passing out. Scripture speaks positively regarding wine, the common form of alcohol in Biblical times. In Psalm 104 we read: “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart.” Here wine is spoken of as a special blessing from God precisely because of its intoxicating effects. Ecclesiastes 10 adds: “Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life.”

Scripture condemns being a drunkard, as well as drinking to the point of debauchery. But it does not condemn those who get a little merry at a party. Or we could say that Scripture actually endorses the use of alcohol while condemning its abuse. This picture must be firmly in our minds, if we are to understand our text.

The traditional text in the old one year series for the second Sunday after the Epiphany is the Wedding at Cana. Why? Because this was the first of the signs that Jesus would perform to show that He is God. The season of Epiphany is dedicated to the proposition that this man, Jesus of Nazareth is in fact God, that is Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God who spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. Now if one is going to claim that a particular person is God, how would you go about demonstrating that? Well, you would show that He did things that no other person could do - things that only God could do. In other words you would look to the miracles He performed - particularly ones that special significance. John calls such miracles, signs. They are signs that point us to recognizing Jesus as God. The very first of these was performed at a wedding.

Jesus was invited to attend a wedding in the village of Cana, which is not too far from
Nazareth. This is the home town of the disciple alternately known as Nathaniel or Bartholomew. Since he is closely associated with Philip, perhaps a brother, he also may have been from Cana. We are not told why Jesus was invited. But we are given clues. Two of Jesus disciples were from this place. Also His mother, Mary was intimately involved. This would indicate that she was closely related to one of those getting married. Dr. Scaer, at seminary, suggested that this was the wedding of one of Jesus’ sisters. That is more than the text tells us, but it does fit. Mary, if she were the mother of the bride, would be one of the first to know that they were running out of wine. In any event we know that this was the wedding of someone closely related to Mary, and therefore also closely related to Christ.

The miracle is simple enough. They were running out of wine. Mary tells Jesus. He at first rebuffs her, but yet, Mary senses that something is going to happen. She tells the servants to obey His instructions. Jesus then instructs the servants to fill the water jars by the entrance. These would have been used for ceremonial washing. In this sense these are not like a wash basin so much as they would be like a baptismal font. They held between one hundred and twenty to one hundred and eighty gallons, total. Now understand that the Jewish custom was to mix the wine with water. So when this is served up, it’s lot of wine - probably in excess of three hundred gallons. Jesus then tells the servants to take some to the steward of the feast and have him taste it and approve it. He tastes it and is stunned. The water hadn’t just become wine, it became the most excellent of wine. There are two ways to take the wine steward’s reaction. First we might think that he is scolding the groom for holding the best wine back. The cheap stuff is fine once people are a little tipsy. But it could also be an expression of wonderment. That this bride groom is so generous, that the feast just keeps getting better and better.

The problem was that the steward of the feast was questioning the wrong bridegroom. Christ, in providing the wine for the feast was inserting Himself into the role of the bridegroom. This was His declaration that the true, heavenly bridegroom was among His people. And where the true bridegroom is, there is all things in abundance. Everything is rich and sweet. One has to wonder if the guests at the wedding of Cana would ever taste such good wine ever again?

In our day and age, the fact that this is the first of Jesus’ miracles has again become very important. We have many people today dragging out all manner of legends and false writings. Many of these writings are used to undermine the true message of the forgiveness of our sins. And so we hear tales of childhood miracles and the like. He healed the little drummer boys lamb while He was an infant and so forth. All these things are false. And they come from writings that were never considered reputable. These are writings that were written much later than the New Testament writings. We know from the evidence, that the New Testament writings were all written in the first century and there is no reason to believe that were not written by the apostles. We have manuscript fragments of several books that date well into the first century. Also nearly every book of the New Testament is quoted as Scripture by about the year one hunded.

At Cana of Galilee, Jesus performed His first sign. He stepped into the role of the bridegroom. He began the rejoicing that was to accompany His presence among men. Why should there be rejoicing that God is among men? Because He is present in grace, to pay for our sins and give us life. He is present in grace to forgive our sins and make us right with God. He is present among men, and wherever the true Bridegroom is, there is feasting, drinking and rejoicing.

Sermon for January 24,2010

Life Sunday
January 23-24, 2010
Text: Genesis 2:4-24

Dear Friends in Christ,
Among the celebrities who passed away this past year was Mary Travers. If that name doesn’t quite ring a bell, just think back to 1966 and think of a girl with long, blond, oh so 1960's hair, on stage with two guys singing, “If I had a hammer...” That’s Mary Travers, as in Peter, Paul, and Mary. You may remember that folk music group as the face of the 1960's civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. They continued in that vein later when the band reunited in the 1980's and their concert’s featured Noel Paul Stookey’s song El Salvador, protesting the U.S. support of the conservative government of that country. They sang songs about racial justice. They performed in the same Washington rally where Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. They campaigned for justice for people in places like Vietnam and El Salvador. But they had no justice for the unborn. Mary Travers was a militant abortion rights advocate.

We live in a world of great ironies. Many of our left wing activists will say that we should all line up to adopt overseas children. But these people would say that the solution for a country like Haiti is abortion - the killing of large blocks of their unborn. This same left, that would condemn the nation of Israel, refused to even consider Yasser Arafat’s homosexuality and blatant corruption. They would ignore how his wife would go on million dollar shopping sprees with dollars given for the assistance of the Palestinian people. All too often what we see is activists campaigning for justice that isn’t justice, but opposing real justice at every turn. Nor were they real students of history. No where did radicals like Mary Travers acknowledge the fact that our withdrawal from Southeast Asia led directly to the communist genocide in Cambodia. Nor do they acknowledge that the U.S. policy in El Salvador under Ronald Reagan ultimately worked.

Nowhere do we see this lack of true justice more clearly than in the issue of abortion. Oh, yes, we must protect the rights of women. But what about the rights of unborn women? Where are their rights? What about the responsibility that goes with having rights? Oh no, we can’t expect anyone to act responsibly. We must be free to have sexual relations wherever and whenever we desire without consequences. This is the cry of modern man - and not just with sex. The first commandment of modern man is “There shalt be no consequences.” This is why so many in our world are so panicked about finding a cure for AIDS. The spread of this disease is almost entirely the consequence of man’s behavior. AIDS stands in direct opposition to the first commandment of modern man.

Modern man thinks that he is self created. He is the author of his own life and can be the author of his own death if he so chooses. This was the kind of thinking that led Ernest Hemingway to take his own life. And as the author of life, man can define the moral use of life. But is that true? Is man the creator of himself? Of course not. That does not even make logical sense. Who is the author of life? God. The LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Human beings are the craftsmanship of God. He formed us with great care. He took the elements of the earth and formed us into the shape and structure that we have today. God created DNA with the millions of base pairs. Often we focus on those occasions when some of those base pairs are wrong. It is only an error in a sequence of three base pairs that results in a typical genetic disease such as Cystic Fibrosis. Millions and millions of base pairs must be correct or the person wouldn’t live at all. This is the careful craftsmanship that God applies to all life and particularly human life. But God does something else with man. He performs mouth to mouth resuscitation. He breathes life into us. In doing so the Spirit of God enters into man. Man becomes endowed with an element of the divine. We call this the image of God. The image of God is divided into original righteousness and the higher powers. By higher powers we mean having an eternal soul, self awareness, rational thought, the power of speech and so forth. Original righteousness was lost in the fall into sin. The higher powers were not lost in the fall, but they did become corrupted. We see this in the words God speaks to Noah after the flood. “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it.’” God is saying to Noah, you are in My image. You are My craftsmanship. My breath is in your lungs. You are special. And you shall treat all human life as special and precious. In fact it is so special that man is to procreate and fill the earth. Yes, that is a command from God, at least in the context of marriage, to have sexual relations.

This then raises a question. When can a human life be taken? As a private person, one can only take a human life in self defense or defense of another in immanent danger. If the danger is not immanent we are to call the authorities. Beyond this, only one acting within an office can take a life, and only within the parameters of their office. A soldier is to kill enemy soldiers in a time of war. A policeman can kill in the line of his duty. An executioner can put to death those properly delivered into his hands. But they must never take a life that is innocent. These lives must always be protected. And for this purpose we are not saying innocent before God. We are saying innocent before the world. No life can ever be taken that innocent before the world.

In our day we see the demands for abortion and euthanasia. We hear slogans like “death with dignity”. Actually, all death is undignified. Nor is it only what we have done, but what we have permitted by our silence. Life issues is an area where we like to sit back and judge others. See, we aren’t sinners like these other ones. But by our silence we are accomplices. Nor do we really know who among us has violated these things. How many women sit in our congregations each week who have had abortions? How many among us may have committed euthanasia, either directly or by neglect? We might be surprised. One way or the other we end up looking at ourselves in the mirror. This, at the end of the day, is how we must look at God’s command to protect human life. Before we attend to the sin of others, we must see to our own sins. Still, we are to speak out. Yes, indeed. But we speak as redeemed sinners. We speak with compassion toward those caught in these sins. We act to make it easier for others to make Godly decisions regarding life, than we ourselves did. Most of all we apply the grace of God also to this area of Divine law. We speak forgiveness to those who see their sins and repent. In this way we place matters of human life under the cross - under the cross that paid for all our sins, including those sins against human life.

Sermon for January 17, 2010

The First Sunday after the Epiphany of Our Lord (The Baptism of Christ)
January 17, 2010
Text: Luke 3:15-22

Dear Friends in Christ,
At the risk of committing a homiletical faux pas, I am really preaching two sermons this Sunday. As you are aware, there was a terrible earthquake in Haiti. The reports I’ve heard indicate about fifty thousand bodies have been unearthed. There are estimates that another one hundred thousand bodies are yet to be found. With disease, violence, and starvation, the total is expected to reach about five hundred thousand. That’s like one of the Twin Cities. Why did this happen? We don’t know what is in God’s mind. We can say that God caused this to happen. He is Lord and ruler over all things. Nothing happens without His consent. So this was done by God for His purposes. What those purposes are is hidden from us. At most, we could offer a guess. And since God’s ways are so much higher than our ways, any guess we would offer is probably wrong.

However, Scripture is not silent on such things. We read in Luke 13: “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’” Here Christ warns us not to pass judgement upon those who die in a tragic way. Nor are we to presume that we are any better then they were. But we are to always take these events as a warning. Tragedy should remind us to repent, lest we also perish. We too could die suddenly in some tragedy. We need to be prepared by living a life of repentance. St. Paul would also remind us: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) Haiti has been a big mission field for the LCMS. We know that there are many Christians in that country. And so we also can look to this promise that God will work this out for the good of His people.

Now to what is properly the sermon for today and today’s text, the Baptism of Christ. Luke gives us the shortest account of the Baptism of Christ. He really only dedicates two verses to Christ’s baptism.

Out text starts with the people wondering about John. Was John the Messiah? He was preaching about the kingdom of God. He was warning of God’s wrath to come. He was telling people to repent of their sins. He was baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins. One must ask why the expectations were at such fever pitch. Scripture does not give us the reasons, but it does give us what some of those reasons could have been. In Daniel, there are two prophecies which have a nearly identical meaning. There were three empires. They would come and go, as empires do. Then there would be a fourth empire. This one would be different. It would be an indescribable beast with iron teeth. It would also be filled with corruption. But it would be more powerful and more dangerous than any previous empire. During this fourth empire, the Messiah would come and shatter that empire, scattering it into dozens of tiny nations. Well, since that time, there had been Babylon, Persia, Macedonia, and Rome. Rome fit all the descriptions in the book of Daniel. There was also a great deal of information shared at the time of John’s and Jesus’ birth. These things happened in public. People knew about it. It didn’t take long for people to start connecting the dots. The only problem was that they tended not to connect them in the right way. So they first ask if John is the Messiah. No. He is not. In fact he is a mere shadow compared to the one who is to come.

John teaches that the Messiah’s coming is at hand. He is already present. His winnowing fork is already in His hands. In other words He’s ready to divide the believers from the unbelievers and to condemn those who reject Him. This is a merry message. John is telling the people to beware lest they be destroyed. The only proper preparation is indeed repentance.

This struck people as odd. Why did they need to repent? They were God’s people after all. It was the Romans who needed to repent. After all Daniel had promised that the Messiah would destroy the Romans. That is true, God had made such a promise through the Prophet Daniel. But people didn’t understand what it meant. The Messiah would destroy Rome, but not as a political leader. The Church would offer a solid, healthy alternative to increasingly rotten Rome. So Christ would not overtly destroy Rome. He would subvert Rome with the preaching the Gospel. And we know from history that this is exactly what did happen. And out of the old Roman empire came dozens of little nations. But the people were looking for a political revolutionary. So repentance was not what they were looking for.

Then the strangest thing of all happens. Christ is baptized by John. Baptism was for repentance. So of what sins was Christ repenting? He was the sinless Son of God, after all. Well, Jesus was repenting of our sins. Christ’s Baptism is the formal beginning of what was promised at His birth - the great exchange. Here Christ is taking our sins upon Himself. He is formally assuming His saving work. He is taking our place before the Judgement. In this way, Christ makes the waters of Baptism saving water.

In America we don’t regard Baptism that highly. Many American churches don’t baptize infants. Even churches that do baptize infants rarely express any baptismal piety. This shows how tightly heresy grips the American church across all denominational lines.

In Baptism Christ unites us with Him. He takes our sins upon Himself in His baptism. His righteousness is placed upon us when we are baptized. We cannot claim this. This is something done to us. And thus our whole lives flow out of baptism. Baptism is not this cute little thing we do with babies. It is our formal adoption as a son of God. It is when our sin is taken from us and laid upon Christ. We are to live our whole lives as the Baptized - as ones who have the name and sign of God placed upon us. In Baptism we are marked as God’s own property. Thus there is no Christian faith apart from baptism. Let me repeat that. There is no Christian faith apart from Baptism. All true faith either flows out from baptism or flows toward Baptism. Thus we say that a person cannot be saved apart from Baptism. It is however possible for a person to be saved before they are baptized if they are called home before the process is complete. But one who rejects Baptism, rejects Christ, and thus also the salvation that Christ gives. For it is in the water made holy by Christ’s words and promises that the gift of salvation is transmitted to us. It is in the water that we become heirs of God.

Homily for the Furneral of Bev Hoff

Homily for the Memorial Service of Bev Hoff.
January 10, 2010
Text: John 11:21-27

Dear Friends in Christ,
Why are we here? The answer may not be as obvious as we might think. We are here to remember Bev Hoff. Yes, that’s a part of it. We are here because we need closure. Yes, that’s a part of it. But we could do that in home or at restaurant. The setting would probably be more comfortable in many ways. Why are we here at a church? Because Bev was here all the time. No. She had attended occasionally, and I must confess that I thought she was a member of another church in the area. If I had known she was not a member elsewhere I would have offered pastoral care in her last months.

So why are we here, in a church? Why are we here in place that to some degree should always make us a little uncomfortable. To remember Bev in a way the world cannot. A church building like this is God’s throne room on earth. It’s where God transacts official business - like a judge’s courtroom. Bev was a sinner. I can say this because we are all sinners. St. Paul devotes much of the Letter to the Romans to this point. But St. John hammers on this as well in his first Epistle. We sometimes quote from I John in our services - “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” A couple verses down, John continues, “If we say we have no sin, we God a liar.” We all sin. In fact everything we do is tainted with our sin.

God, from the first had His plan in place. Thus already in the earliest portions of the Bible we have talk about sin, forgiveness, redemption, and resurrection to eternal life. To understand this we must understand that God is incredibly complex. There is more aspects to God than we can ever imagine. Yes, God is loving and kind, merciful and forgiving. But He is also holy, just, righteous, jealous, and even vengeful. God does not wink at sin. It must be paid for. We call this atoned. Sin must be atoned. Christ came to die on the cross for our sins. He atoned for our sins. We could not pay the price. Christ did and a horrific price indeed, that God died for us. But death cannot hold God and He rose from the dead. And so now God, that is Christ Jesus, gives life to all those who believe in Him, as He told Martha before He raised her brother Lazarus from the grave.

Some might say, but Bev was not a member of the church? True enough. But we are at a time when we have many like Bev. We are a society of nomads. People move about and sometimes they don’t reconnect with the Church. But earthly membership, while important, is not what saves. Christ saves. Faith in Christ connects us to that salvation. Bev, I would say, could have had more comfort from Scripture and the Lord’s Supper. This really is the purpose of the earthly church, to proclaim sin and grace, and thus bring comfort to all people. It is a comfort that is well understood in the absolution, when the pastor says, your sins are forgiven. This why being part of a Christian congregation is important, so that you are constantly reminded that you have a Savior, Jesus Christ who died for you and gives you life. Bev didn’t have that constant reminder. But she does now. And this is why we are here. We are here so that we remember Bev also in this special way - that we remember Bev, with Christ, who died for her sins, just He has also died for each of our sins.


Sermon January 10, 2010

The Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6)
January 10, 2010
Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Dear Friends in Christ,
Just imagine this headline in the Intercounty Leader: “Blind Italian Opera Tenor, Andrea Bochelli, Has Impromptu Concert in Coon Lake Park - Weather Ten Below” What would you think when you read that? About ten different questions would come to mind at once. What’s Andrea Bochelli doing in Frederic in the first place? How did he get there, and why? Who brought him? He is blind after all. And why is he doing a concert here? Isn’t that cold air bad for the vocal cords? One would expect to see an article under the headline that offered some explanation for this strange event. But the answer given is simply God led him here.

One of the problems with reading the Scriptures is that they’re so familiar that we are not surprised, even when we should be. Sometimes we have to clear our mind and try to role play a little bit. You have to pretend you’ve never read or heard this before. Then consider how you would react to this if this were new to you. The story of the coming of the Magi is rather like the Andrea Bochelli concert in Frederic.

The ESV translates the word “Magi” as “Wise Men”. That is a reasonable translation, but it doesn’t really tell us much. The word “Magi” is the plural of the word Magus. There are two meanings to the word Magi. The first is priests of the Zoroastrian religion. The Zoroastrian religion was practiced in the Parthian Empire. The Parthian Empire was a new Persian empire based in modern day Iran. The Zoroastrian religion was very interested in the stars and included the practice of astrology. That all makes sense. They came from east following a star. But Magi had another meaning. It was also used throughout the region to the east of Palestine for the personal advisors of the king. Thus Daniel was one of the king’s Magi in Babylon. It should be noted however that Magi are never kings themselves. At most, they are advisors to a king. We know they weren’t kings, but we don’t know exactly who they were. We only know the possibilities.

What were they doing in Judea at the time of King Herod? Their arrival would have caused quite a stir. The Parthian Empire was an enemy Rome. Palestine was strategically vital as it protected the province of Egypt, the bread basket of the Roman Empire. Were they there to carry out some plot to get Palestine back in Parthian control? No, they were there to pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews.

Why had they come at that moment? They had seen a star. It should be probably understood, while they were still in the east, in their homeland, they saw the star. They obviously didn’t follow it the whole way or they wouldn’t have went to Herod. What did they see? We don’t know. Again we can develop the possibilities, but we cannot be certain. But remember, only they saw the star. No one else is recorded as seeing the star. This leads us to think that they might have seen a certain alignment of stars and planets that led them to conclude a great king was being born in Judea. In other words they were practicing astrology, that is predicting the future by the position of the stars.

What can we say about such things? Many practice astrology in our own day. I remember the flap about Nancy Reagan consulting an astrologer. Indeed some of the early Lutheran theologians such as Melanchthon and Chemnitz were astrologers, whose work was highly prized by many German princes. Yet, God does not promise to speak to us through the stars. And how do we know this or that method of interpreting the stars is accurate? In the late 1960's we entered, according to one system of astrology, the age of Aquarius. This was supposed to be a time of world peace and harmony. I guess the stars were wrong about that. God’s Word has a much better track record.

So, we have an account of an event that is very startling. People are out of place for the wrong reasons. This group of eastern sages had come to Judea because of a star. But there is a larger point to this. The whole universe responded to the coming of Christ. Those who looked for such signs, wrong as they might have been to do so, nevertheless, saw them. Christ’s coming was not a secret event. Many knew of it. Even people from foreign lands. Nor are they shut out. Rather their worship and their gifts are accepted by God.

One of the specific themes of Matthew’s Gospel is that Christ is the Messiah for all people. He is the Jewish God, the Jewish savior. But He’s also God and Savior to the whole world. This is a given for the other Gospel writers. But not for Matthew. He feels he must prove this to his readers. So it makes sense that Matthew would record the coming of the Magi. They were there to show that Christ came for all people. In this Matthew ties us right back to Genesis and the garden of Eden. Through Adam all mankind became sinful. We are sinners because we are descendants of Adam. So it would make no sense for God to save only some people. He comes to all descendants of Adam. We learn this in the coming of the Magi.

One of the most the most beautiful choral anthems I’ve ever sung was called “Three Kings”. We sang this when I was in the college choir. It was written by Healy Willan. It does make the mistake of calling the Magi kings and makes the mistake of assuming that there were three. But it is a beautiful song that really sums up the whole point of the Feast of the Epiphany. At the climax the song goes “Ye kings, Ye kings, come in, come in, and kiss the feet of God.” And there it is. This Infant in Mary’s arms, this babe of Bethlehem, this is God. Not just for the Jews. But for you and me. For all people. And not just God, but a Savior from sin and death. And so we, with them, come in and kiss the feet of our God.