Sunday, January 31, 2010

Jesus Matters

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
January 31, 2010
Luke 4:31-44

If there’s one thing we need to be reminded of; one thing we can’t escape; one thing we ultimately must answer to—it is that Jesus matters. You can talk about God all you want. You can wish for what you want to be true all you want. You may have convinced yourself of what truly matters in your life. You might wish for God to truly love you and so take away your hardships. You might think you’ve got it all because you’re comfortable, you have the means to take care of yourself and you’re successful. If it has all been taken away or you’re simply struggling in life to take care of yourself and your family that may seem all that matters to you.

But none of this matters without Jesus. Jesus matters. There’s a trend going on called militant atheism. Some outspoken atheists are trying to turn the world onto their belief that there is no God, but more importantly, they’re trying to turn people away from Christianity because they believe it’s evil. They don’t believe it for a second, but Jesus matters. They will soon enough find that out when they answer to Him on Judgment Day. We pray our Lord to bring them to faith in Him so that they may see that He matters, eternally.

But it’s not only in confronting atheism that we need to understand that Jesus matters. We need to know that He matters in our daily lives. Because whether you believe in God or not, you have to answer to the fact of the specific person of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, nothing matters. Without Jesus there is nothing that lasts except for eternal separation from God.

Jesus makes this known in the Gospel reading. He comes into the lives of those people with the message that He matters. Jesus brings a reality to the lives of ordinary people that is otherwise unseen and unknown. When you’re in the hospital bed and you see tubes coming in and out of your mouth and nose, and in your arm, your reality seems pretty apparent. What may not be easily understood by you in that time is that yours is a reality that goes beyond that hospital bed. You are tied to this altar and the people who sit around you in these pews. Jesus matters. He’s not a doctor or a friend. He’s the one who has the final word. He’s the one who is in your life alongside those tubes and apart from them. He speaks to you with authority.

The people who heard Him were amazed. With His Word He brought out of a man a demon. With His Word He silenced that very demon. Jesus matters. We may not always see it. But there are unseen things that know it as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. The demon Jesus was standing before knew exactly who Jesus was. That demon knew something we often overlook: Jesus matters. The demon was powerful. The man appeared to have no hope against such power. But the demon met up with the one thing in this universe that cannot be overlooked. Jesus matters. The demon knew exactly in the way He matters, too: he knew He was God and the Christ.

If you don’t think Satan is powerful then take a look at the wonderful words of the Epistle reading. For one week make an attempt to live out those words. Be patient and kind; do not envy or boast; do not be arrogant or rude. Don’t insist on your own way; or be irritable or resentful. Do not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoice with the truth. Bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. Just try it. The best you’ll be able to do is make an attempt. The beautiful words of the love chapter serve to show us how pathetic we really are, that we’re no better than those who aren’t Christians. Jesus matters. You can’t go being a good Christian boy or girl, man or woman apart from Christ. Satan is always at the ready to snare us. The world is more than willing to lay a trap for us to do what we would like rather than humbly submit to others and love them unconditionally. Jesus matters. There is no eternal love without Him.

Everything Jesus does in the Gospel reading is eminently practical. There is nothing in our lives that ultimately matter apart from Christ, because apart from Him there is no eternal hope or salvation. When He heals Peter’s mother-in-law that is great for her. But it wouldn’t have mattered much if Jesus simply healed her so that she could no longer be sick. Jesus matters. He’s the one who’s important here, as the demons earlier pointed out. She is healed not so that she may be healthy but so that she may serve.

You’re a Christian. If your parents tell you to do something do you obediently do it or do you whine and complain about it? If your child needs help do you patiently guide and care for them or do you grudgingly do just enough to get by with something approximating help? When your boss places unexpected expectations on you do you jump at the challenge of being able to serve in such a way or do you resent having to do more than you’re worth? If you’re in authority over others, do you humbly serve them, grateful for the opportunity to do so, or do you mostly think about what you can get out of them?

Jesus matters. You may get by without answering to everyone you know, but you must answer to Jesus. He matters. You can’t just talk about God and how you love Him. You must see that God is your God in Jesus and because of Him. You must come to see that though you’re a Christian there is nothing as deadly as not seeing clearly who He is. The demons knew. They saw Him clearly and spoke clearly of that. But they didn’t know Him as their Lord.

Since you and I do we must come to terms with the fact that we are so often like Jeremiah, trying to get out of God calling us into His Kingdom. We must admit that the reason Paul exhorted his brother and sister Christians to walk in love is because we so often do not. It’s time we stand before God and confess that we are broken. That we live as if Jesus does not matter. That the fallen world we live in is too often a world we’re right at home with. Following the ways of the world, succumbing to the temptations of the devil, listening to our heart rather than the clear Word of God.

Jesus matters. He silences the demons’ clear statement of who He is because they speak of who He is apart from who He is on the cross. He goes on to preach to many because He goes on to preach until He comes again in glory that He has indeed come in grace and mercy in His suffering and death.

Jesus matters. That’s why you are Baptized. He matters so much that you have been washed clean in His gracious washing, you have been united with Him in that new birth. He matters. That’s why you come here to His Table often to commune with Him. To partake of His very Body and Blood.

You can talk about God all you want. You can wish for peace on earth or a break from the daily grind or that you wouldn’t have to worry about if your next paycheck is going to come. But none of it matters without Jesus. He matters. What will anything in this life get you apart from Him? In Him your life and everything you do not only matter but are richer and fuller and full of life and meaning. You are a servant of the Lord. You know who He is and you have opportunity to let others know about this one in all of history in whom there is true relevance. Jesus matters. What matters to Him is you. In His mercy He died for you—and that’s what matters. Amen.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Everyone Has a Story

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 24, 2010
Luke 4:16-30

When you’re in the checkout line at the grocery store you don’t know how the checkout person’s day is going. You don’t know if they’re excited about some great news or are in knots inside from a tragedy they have just experienced. When you exchange greetings with a co-worker or your neighbor you don’t know what’s going through their mind, if they are in the middle of a life changing period of their life or are questioning their own value and purpose.

Everyone has a story. Sometimes people let you into their story. A stranger may tell you more than you’d ever like to know about their most intimate details but usually it is those close to us who open up to us, who risk what you might think of them in telling you their story. Sometimes we’re afraid to let others in on our story. What will they think of me? Will they still have respect for me? Will they think less of me?

Our stories are all different. We’re at different stages of our lives. We’ve all come through different experiences. We think differently, we have different goals, different feelings, different things we’re struggling with. Some of us are fighting with depression, some go through life happy and optimistic. Some of us are confident in our beliefs, some are struggling with what is the truth and how one can know what the purpose of existence is. Some are just struggling to get through each day.

Everyone has a story. And that doesn’t mean just each one of us. It doesn’t only mean every person who has ever lived. Everyone has a story. God has a story. No one has ever seen God but if you had it would be as everyone you meet and everyone you know. He has a story. He knows what yours and mine is. You might be able to keep others from knowing your story, but not God. He knows everyone’s story.

And that might be unnerving. To not be able to keep your deepest thoughts and motives to yourself. To not be in control of your inner life. When God knows your story your story is no longer hidden. It is open to the deepest scrutiny.

But one of the things about God knowing your story is that He knows something about your story that you don’t. Or at least, you wouldn’t know it unless He has made you aware of it.

He has. He has made it known to you by telling you His story. Everyone has a story, including God. God makes His story known to you in His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s a story remarkably similar to yours and mine. It is the story of a man. The people who knew this man, who grew up with Him and had gotten to know Him well in the small town they lived in, all had stories too. Perhaps some of them had shared their stories over the years with Him. Their hopes. Their dreams. Their troubles. Their insecurities.

Jesus was now sharing His story with them. He had come back to His hometown. He had come back to make known to them how they were part of His story. It was a story they couldn’t believe, though. The story they had known so well, the Biblical narrative of God’s love for the people He created, of Him bringing salvation to them in the Messiah, of the eternal God helping them in their daily trials and fears, was being played out in their very midst.

This story you know so well, Jesus told them, the one of the Scriptures, of the one who would save God’s people from their sins and give them eternal life, is being told to you. This Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. The one they had their eyes fixed on was the enfleshment of the eternal story of God; of His everlasting love for His people.

But wasn’t He just a carpenter? The son of Joseph? Wasn’t He the guy we went to school with and played on the playground with? We know God will save us. We know He’ll send the Savior. But why does Jesus, this guy who grew up in our hometown, think He’s the one?

Perhaps it’s difficult for us to appreciate what they were feeling and thinking. We know who Jesus is. He didn’t grow up with us. We didn’t see Him studying for that test as they did, measuring that piece of wood for a table, walking the streets of Nazareth as a young man. We know who He is and what He did to save the world. Ask any child in the Christian Church and they’ll tell you: He died on the cross.

But we can understand exactly where those people in Nazareth were coming from. Jesus does the same thing to us today. When a person is Baptized at this font, water poured on them and the words, “I Baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Jesus is present. He’s not just present, He’s Baptizing that person. He’s bringing that person new life. He is washing away all that person’s sins. He is making that person a child of His eternal Kingdom.

Now do we really believe that? Not all people do. Not even all Christians. It’s not a symbol of new life or simply a ritual. It’s Jesus Christ joining a person to Himself so that that person is now a new person. A person who stands in the presence of God without blemish, without sin, without guilt. That person’s story is never the same. Their story is now not simply one of the struggles and joys of life but of being at the center of God’s story. God not just helping that person out in their life but giving them new life. Granting them a place in His eternal Kingdom.

Sometimes you find out someone’s story and it’s hard to believe. You wonder how it could really be true. We can readily understand why the people in Jesus’ hometown were skeptical of Jesus. Our story is often one of skepticism as well. Living as a Christian but reverting to those ways of living that are not Christian, not pleasing to God. You know this is your story. You can’t hide it. You can keep the details of it safely inside your mind and heart from those who know you best but you can’t keep it from God. He knows your story.

But that’s precisely why He has brought you into His. You know His story in His Son. In the one who brings you into His story, into communion with Him in your participation in His Body and Blood in His Holy Meal.

If we had anything to do with it we could cut ourselves off from God’s story. If the people of Nazareth had been successful, God’s story would have ended at the cliff right there in that small town. But God brought about His story. It didn’t end at Calvary but it culminated there. That’s the focal point of your story and mine. It is the heart of everyone’s’ story because Jesus died there for everyone, desiring to bring everyone into His eternal story.

You’ll meet many of those people in your life. You won’t know their stories. You won’t know what they’re going through on that particular day. What hurts they have, what pressures they face, what hopes they have that are fading with each passing day. And yet, you do know their story. It’s yours. It’s the whole world’s. It’s God’s story. You can tell them about it. You can bring them into God’s story.

It’s the story that is unfolding in your life every day. God no longer entering His hometown but coming into your life. Wherever you live, whatever you do, whatever your story. He brings yours into His. You are at the center of His story. That’s how much He loves you. That’s why He keeps His story going, calling to your mind daily through His Word that you are Baptized, His child forever. Giving to you Jesus, the one who stood in a synagogue in Nazareth but now is present often at this altar in bread and wine. No longer suffering and dying on a cross but risen and glorified and guiding and guarding you in your every waking moment and when you’re sleeping. Bringing you through the times you don’t know how you’ll get through.

Stories traditionally end with the words “The End.” This one doesn’t because it has no end. It simply ends with “Amen.” It shall be so.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jesus Is Not Very Spiritual

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 17, 2010
John 2:1-11

The epistle speaks of the Church in the way we’re used to. It is spiritual, heavenly, eternal. We are not of this world, we are citizens of a heavenly Kingdom. The Church and Christianity are spiritual. The Bible says that God is spirit.

But in the Gospel reading for today Jesus isn’t very spiritual. He’s at a wedding. He could have been going around healing people or preaching. When His mom finally convinces Him to take care of the wine situation He does just that. He takes care of the wine situation. They needed more wine and He provided them with that. Sure, He did it in a miraculous fashion, but is there anything especially spiritual about wine? Couldn’t He instead have used this as a moment to teach the happy couple about the more important matters of spiritual and eternal life rather than just having a grand time at the reception?

It is pretty amazing that He took water and turned it into wine. That is not an ordinary thing. So in that sense He is doing a spiritual act. But is it really that big of a deal? Healing people is a big deal. He’s actually helping them, not just giving them a better party just when things were going south.

Perhaps you’ve heard people say that they’re not religious, but they’re deeply spiritual. Maybe you’ve run across people who don’t belong to a church because you don’t have to belong to an institution to have a spiritual walk with God. Maybe the Church seems to you a little too ordinary, not quite as spiritual as you think it ought to be. Perhaps you feel like your walk with Christ has come to the point where the well has run dry, like the wedding where they ran out of wine. What spiritual thing does Christ do here to help us out?

Mary was probably a girl when the Lord blessed her with the gift that is unique among people, giving birth to the Son of God. She, I believe, understood more than anyone else who her Son was. When she was young and had just gone through an amazing series of events in traveling to Bethlehem while pregnant, giving birth to Jesus, witnessing the astonishing things shepherds and wise men were saying about her Son, she quietly kept these things in her heart and pondered them.

The woman who now came to Jesus at the wedding was no longer a young mother but a seasoned one and was going up to Jesus with the problem at hand, they had run out of wine. Jesus, the only one who obeyed the Fourth Commandment perfectly, always honored His mother and was obedient to her. So when He doesn’t comply at the wedding, something’s up. Why was Mary asking Jesus? Why was Jesus telling her that He had nothing to do with the situation? Why did Mary ignore her Son and go to the servants telling them to do whatever Jesus told them to do so that the problem could be solved? Why did Jesus do it? He made a valiant attempt to be spiritual: Mom, My hour has not come. It’s not time yet.

Jesus knows exactly what is going on and does what He came to do. Everything He did in His life and especially His three year Ministry was pointing toward His hour: His suffering and death on the cross. The greatest spiritual act ever accomplished: salvation won for all people.

This was part of that. But how may not be apparent because it seems so unspiritual. Maybe Mary knew what was going on, we know Jesus did. To us saving the day with wine when the party had gone down the tubes seems just what it is on the surface. Not to them, though. They saw what it was that Jesus did. It was a sign. That’s what John tells us. It was a sign, and signs point to things. We know what it is, it’s the cross. It’s His suffering and death and resurrection. It’s His hour.

Though it seems pretty worldly and unspiritual, His changing water into wine is actually very spiritual. In ancient cultures wine was a symbol for joy. Some cultures had gods for just about everything, and you guessed it, there were some that believed that there was a god of wine, one that brings abundant joy. With prophecies from the Old Testament that the hills would flow with wine when the Messiah comes and other cultures with their own religions of wine coming in abundance, here people got a front row seat to one who was bringing about a spectacular thing: wine out of something that’s not wine. Wine from water. And not just wine. A lot of it. And not just a lot of it. The best.

Jesus can appear so very unspiritual until we see that everything He does is for and because of the cross. If being sprinkled with a little water and having words said over you seems a mere ritual and not all that spiritual, look at what Jesus did at a wedding in Cana. He took some ordinary water and did something extraordinary with it. He gave people wine from it. If a little piece of bread and a sip of wine seems like not that spiritual of a meal that we share in, ponder what Christ did when His mom said, “Do whatever He tells you.”

That’s good advice. It’s the most spiritual advice you can get. If Jesus says, “Take and eat,” and “Take and drink,” then do what He tells you. And if all you see and taste is bread and wine, then know—believe—that you are eating and drinking the very Body and Blood of Christ. Know that the one who brought the Messianic age in with jars flowing with wine suffered Himself for His blood to be shed on the cross so that it could flow freely for the sins of the world.

This is what we learn from our Lord Himself: He is not very spiritual. At least, not according to the notion of ‘spiritual’ so many people today have. His religion is not a flight of fancy. What we know and believe does not come from our heart and is not based in emotion. It does not flow from good intentions or the desire to be compassionate to people in offering them what they want or think they need. He does not come to us in our designs of meeting Him in the mountains or sitting in front of the TV watching a televangelist.

He is very earthy. He takes water and turns it into wine. He takes water and gives us the forgiveness of sins in Baptism. He takes bread and wine and comes to us in those very physical, natural, and even mundane things to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith in Holy Communion.

He’s not very spiritual but He sure knows how to deliver to us the eternal spiritual blessings we need. Thank God He does. Amen.


Sunday, January 10, 2010


First Sunday after the Epiphany
The Baptism of Our Lord
January 10, 2010
Luke 3:15-22

I think all of us are in a state of expectation. There’s always something we’re looking ahead to, something we’re needing, something we want. What is it you’re in expectation of?

The people in the Gospel reading were in expectation. Was John the Baptist the Messiah? He put that to rest immediately. No, I’m just a guy who baptizes with water. The Messiah, He’ll Baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. That’s what you should expect if you’re looking for the Messiah.

One of the things I love about the Bible is that it’s real. It’s filled with a bunch of people just like us. Sure, they lived a long time ago. They had strange customs and ways of thinking. But basically, they were a lot like you and me.

One of these ways is expectation. People back then were expecting things just like you and I do. Will I get the job or not? Will I find someone to marry and have a family with? Will my loved one suffer a prolonged illness or be called home quickly? Or will they be healed? Will I find a way to sleep through the night or will my mind continue in overdrive?

The people in the Bible had the same experiences we do, even if their way of life was different from ours. What do you think the Wise Men were expecting? Here were these men from far off countries who who knows what they knew about the Messiah and what they thought of Him. Who knows what they were expecting when they saw His star.

But what we do know is that they were expecting something big. Something was up. There was that star. There were those prophecies in the Hebrew Bible, what we now call the Old Testament. There was something about this child to be born. Something about a Messiah, a king, one who was greater than they were. They were expecting big things and so they went to the biggest man of all in the land, King Herod.

Speaking of expectations, can you imagine what it was like to be a king in the ancient world? Especially if you were one of great power and you liked it that way. Always looking over your shoulder. Wondering when the next one would turn up to try to unseat you. Herod was not expecting these wise guys to come along and interrupt his kingship with a prophecy about a new king, and an infant one at that. Go worship that little boy and then return so I can worship him too. That would give Herod plenty of time to figure out exactly how he would kill the little boy. Herod was fully expecting to retain his power.

Then we come to find out thirty years later, the son of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, has his own expectations. And oh are they so very much like his father’s. No, he didn’t like it one bit that John was interupting his kingship with all this talk of adultery.

On the other end of the spectrum was a faithfully married couple. We know what Zechariah and Elizabeth were expecting. To live out the rest of their days in godly service and thank God for the life they had even though they weren’t able to have children like they had wanted, and probably expected. We know what people were expecting when the unexpected happened and they were given a baby in their old age. A child to follow in his father’s footsteps, serving in the temple. When John turned out to be yet again what no one expected they began to think. Their wheels started turning. They wondered, Could this be the one? Could this be the Savior so many generations had longed for?

So when John had to tell them that, sorry, I’m not what you were expecting, we could understand if they felt like God had gotten their hopes up only to dash them. And when John said that, while I’m not the guy, He’s right over there, we might understand if the people there thought that Jesus was anything but what they expected in a Savior. With all this talk that He would Baptize in a way wholly different from John, with the Holy Spirit, with fire, we can understand if their expectations didn’t seem to match reality when Jesus came on the scene and didn’t Baptize anybody but rather was Baptized Himself.

What kind of a Savior was this? What kind of person who came to save people from their sins was Himself undergoing a baptism of repentance?

The same kind that can take what you think is and do what you don’t expect from it. Because while all those people were being baptized by John in the Jordan for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus most assuredly was not being baptized for that reason but rather for their very forgiveness. And for yours and mine too.

Which really goes to the point of all this talk of what people expected back then. What do you expect? What do you think of Baptism? What do you think of who Jesus is and what He does? Is your Baptism for you just something that happened to you at some point in your life? Or is it something that is daily active in your life?

When you come here into the House of God, what is your expectation? Do you expect God to help you out in your need? Do you expect that God will make your life easier because you’re a Christian? Do you expect that the great things God does in your life are through simple things like water and words, bread and wine?

Admittedly, it’s hard to remember your Baptism daily. People tell you that, Remember your Baptism. But when you’re Baptized as an infant it’s hard to remember. But I suppose it’s like that sermon you heard six years ago, you don’t remember a word of it or what it was about or even if it was very good. But it did something. It forgave you of your sins. Just like your Baptism, it brought the Gospel to you to give you Christ.

So that’s why we need to keep hearing the Gospel proclaimed. That’s why we need help in remembering our Baptism. That’s why we begin our worship service the way we do: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Invocation begins the worship service as a reminder to us that we began our Christian life in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. What you should expect, then, is that since you became a child of God in Baptism that daily you are in His care. That’s what remembering your Baptism is all about.

The Old Testament reading has God saying it this way to us: “But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.’” He redeemed you and called you by name in your Baptism. You have passed through His saving waters. You are His.

At the end of the worship service we go from the House of God in the same way we began, with the name of the Lord placed on us. The Benediction may not seem all that similar to the Invocation with its specific Trinitarian formula “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” but the Benediction is given in the way it is because it is the Triune God who is placing His name on you and blessing you. Notice the three-fold pattern:

• the Lord bless you and keep you
• the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you
• the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.

The question really shouldn’t be, What do you expect? There really should be no question at all. Simply expect it. Expect God to do the great things He has promised to do. Know that you are Baptized. Know that He sustains you in your life as His Baptized child by feeding you with the Body and Blood of your dear Savior, your Savior who suffered for all your sins on the cross.

Know this, what you prayed for a little bit ago in the Collect: “Father in heaven, at the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River You proclaimed Him Your beloved Son and anointed Him with the Holy Spirit. Make all who are Baptized in His name faithful in their calling as Your children and inheritors with Him of everlasting life.”

Know that it’s true. Expect it. Amen.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Leaving Jesus Behind

Second Sunday after Christmas
January 3, 2010
Luke 2:40-52

You’ve gotta wonder what Mary and Joseph were thinking. Leaving Jesus behind.

But I have to wonder, how often have I left Jesus behind?

Oh, I love Him just as much as Mary and Joseph did. Yes, in a certain way they loved Him more, He was their child, they took care of Him, they nurtured Him. But He’s my Lord and Savior, just as He was theirs.

You and I love Him deeply. We are His followers, His children, even His brothers and sisters. We wouldn’t ever leave Him behind would we?

I can’t help but wonder though. How often do we do just what Mary and Joseph did? How often are we well meaning, and yet we leave Jesus behind. I can’t help but wonder how we do love Jesus and want to serve Him, and yet we leave Him behind.


Over the years I’ve heard people tell their favorite Bible verse. There are many wonderful ones to choose from. There are ones that strike you in certain moments of your life, while others seem more pertinent at other times.

I’m not sure if I have a favorite Bible verse. There are ones I gravitate towards, I’m sure like many people. Ones I find myself going back to time and time again. For comfort, for strength, for assurance, for simply knowing that it’s still there, speaking the same message, the same eternal message of God to me when I need it.

I have gotten to thinking though. If I don’t have a favorite Bible verse, I do have one that I have found has made an impact on me more than any other. It wasn’t because I saw it and realized, that’s the one! Or that I saw that this one spoke to me in my times of need, or gave me the most comfort.

It’s just that it keeps coming back to me. It’s that I can’t keep going forward without it coming back to me as the main thing. It’s just that I can’t shake the feeling that if I ignore it I will be leaving Jesus behind.

It might not seem like a big deal. It may very well seem easy to do.

But if I do I will have to contend with the verse. It’s short. It’s a simple pronouncement by Paul to the Corinthians: We preach Christ crucified.

It’s so short it might seem like it’s nothing spectacular. It doesn’t necessarily seem like it will help in the dark days. In the times you need comfort or solace. When you need strength; when you could use some peace from above, not as the world gives.

But I keep going back to it. Or it keeps coming back to me. It’s probably both. But I know it’s from God, because it’s the only way I can see of how not to leave Jesus behind.

If you live as a Christian and it’s apart from Christ and Him crucified you do not have Christ. If you love Him and serve Him and follow Him to the ends of the earth but balk at Him as the Suffering Servant, the One who died for the sins of the world, you have no Lord, no Savior.

You are leaving Him behind and you’re left in your sins.


It’s what makes me think—no, realize—at the outset of this new year that today’s Gospel reading isn’t so much about Jesus in the temple as a twelve year old as it is about Christ crucified. That our Lord telling His parents He must be in His Father’s House is about Jesus suffering and dying on the cross.

That as we gather here today on the first Sunday in the new year we gather because of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That if each Sunday in the coming year is not centered in, drawn from, and because of Christ crucified, then we’re simply leaving Him behind.

Mary and Joseph went back. What parents wouldn’t? They went back. They had to find their Son. They found Him, but did they understand who He was and what He was about? No, they didn’t. But they would soon enough. After the teenage years. After the apprenticeship as a carpenter. After the three-year Ministry. After the preaching and the healings. After the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

But mostly the cross.

Mary and Joseph’s Son was in His Father’s House because He would be forsaken by His Heavenly Father twenty-one years later on the cross. Their precious child they thought they had lost when they left Him behind would serve them faithfully as their child but mostly as the One who would give His life as a ransom for them and for all.


Here’s the front page of the Union-Tribune for New Year’s Day. The headline is “An Era of Anxiety.” The subhead refers to this past decade as being haunted by devastation and despair. There are various images including the attack of 9/11, the fires of 2003, Duke Cunningham being led off to prison, and the image of a statue of Saddam Hussein.

The front pages of our national newspapers deal a lot with the politics and culture of our society, which often tend to be pretty depressing. While we as a church don’t have much to say to the nation and the society regarding its politics or trends we very much have something to say to a culture and a society that lives in an era of anxiety. Those who are haunted by devastation and despair often in a way they may not even realize leave Jesus behind. They are the very ones for whom we have a message.

It is simply Christ crucified. Jesus understands devastation and despair more than we will ever realize. He took the collective anxiety, despair, and devastation of a world bound in sin and condemnation and the grip of Satan and brought it all to the grave where it belongs. There is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus. There is no despair or guilt or shame. There is only hope and forgiveness and grace. There is no new era, simply an eternity with God in heaven. It is only in Christ and Him crucified. Even as He was submissive to His earthly mother and father He was submissive unto death to His Heavenly Father so that we may know what it truly means to be in our Father’s House. That He will make His eternal home our home forever. Amen.