Sunday, January 29, 2012

Is There a God in the House?

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
January 29, 2012
In a public place if someone has a medical emergency the cry will go out, “Is there a doctor in the house?” Most of us are not equipped to help someone who experiences a serious medical issue. Especially when time is of the essence, you need a doctor or other medical personnel immediately. When you’re at the hospital the doctor is easily recognizable. But out in public settings you have to ask the crowd if there is a doctor present.

This is the way it is with God. He is not immediately recognizable. When people are having problems they cry out to God. Since He’s not immediately recognizable it’s as though they’re asking, “Is there a God in the house?”

I wonder what the people were thinking on that day in Capernaum that’s recounted in today’s Gospel reading. It was the Sabbath. Time to go to church. Time to hear the Word of God preached. But on this day things seemed a little different. The man teaching the Word of God was doing things a little differently. Never mind that they knew Him, and perhaps many of them had grown up with Him. He was teaching in a way they weren’t used to. With authority. Not the way they were used to hearing from their scribes.

What was going through minds on that day? He was speaking on the Word of God as though He was behind it all. The scribes often quoted the authority of others. They knew their place. Did Jesus know His? How did the people of His hometown receive this kind of teaching from someone they knew so well?

And then the interruption. Just when they were trying to figure out Jesus in comes a man with an unclean spirit. The people there may not have understood what was going on but the demon did. The people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching, the demon was terrified by it. Its immediate reaction was, “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God.” This demon could see the writing on the wall for Satan and his minions. What do you have to do with us? Why don’t You leave well enough alone and go back to Your carpentry? But the demon really knew why Jesus had come—to destroy them.

The people were puzzling about Jesus. How did a carpenter get these preaching skills anyway? How did a regular person like they were come to speak with such authority when it came to the Word of God? But not the demon. He knew exactly who Jesus was. Namely, as he said, “the Holy one of God.” The demon knew who had entered the synagogue on that day.

As Mark tells us the account there wasn’t a lot of time for reactions. But we can imagine people asking at the entrance of a man who is demon-possessed, “Is there an exorcist in the house?” Is there someone here who can cast out the demon from this man? Will God come into His House on this Sabbath day and release this man from the tyranny of this demon? I can hear someone saying, “Is there a God in the house?”

It just so happens there was. If the people were astonished at the authority by which Jesus taught the Word of God they were even more amazed when they saw the power of the words He spoke as He commanded the unclean spirit to be quiet and then to come out of the man. Of course the demon was unable to resist Jesus. He didn’t like it so he cried out and convulsed the man, but come out he did.

And if that was amazing; if the people then were talking among themselves, debating among themselves, wrapping their minds around these events, what is clear is that that demon that had no ability to continue his demonic work had known exactly who Jesus was. There was a God in the house. God Himself, in fact, was in the house. Jesus entered that synagogue that day not merely as a scribe who taught the Word of God but as God in the flesh.

Paul says in the Epistle reading today: “although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” Think for a moment about this remarkable statement. There are many religions, many gods in whom people put their trust. But as Christians we don’t go down those roads. As Paul goes on to say, “for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist.” As Christians this is essential doctrine. And if Paul had stopped there there would have been no problem, because that is exactly who God is. God the Father is the one true God, the Creator of the universe and the one for whom we exist.

The thing is, Paul didn’t stop there. Even though it’s true that God the Father is the true God and the God of all creation, He’s also the Father of His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. So in actuality it wasn’t enough for Paul to say that for us there is one God and He is the Father who created us all. Paul was compelled to go on and say, “and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” If you’re going to talk about religions and beliefs and gods there comes a point where when you talk about the true God you must talk about the God who has made Himself known in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the Lord, as Paul says “through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”

It is this God who walked into the synagogue on that day. The true God. It is this God that nobody realized was before them in the flesh except the one Jesus casted out, the demon. Jesus Christ was there on that day teaching the Word of God with authority unlike any of them had ever seen. It was authority that had power even over demons, which overtake a person and wreak havoc on their life. What happened from there on out was that word got around, His fame spread. But here’s the thing, they didn’t recognize Him. People knew about this man who taught with authority and did amazing things. But they didn’t see God in the flesh. They didn’t know who He really was.

We have the same problem still today. No, Jesus isn’t walking around the planet as He did two thousand years ago. So what do we have? People are looking for God. People are seeking out spiritual and eternal answers. So many people look for God but they don’t recognize Him the way He comes. He may not be walking around but God comes in the flesh still today.

What we believe is different is different from the world. We recognize that there is a God in the house. We believe that God still comes to us in the Person of Jesus. He is present right here before us at His Table. And He speaks with the same authority that He did in that synagogue two thousand years ago. That’s why we hear His words when we are given the bread, “Take eat, this is My body, given for you,” and when we are given the wine, “Take drink, this is My blood, shed for you for your forgiveness.”

So many seek God within themselves. Or they search for a god that is like the one they wanted at the end of the Gospel reading. There was a lot of excitement. There were stunning displays of glory. But did people know who He was? This was an amazing time, when God was walking on the earth in the flesh. There were plenty of people who believed in God—and yet, many did not believe that God had come in the flesh and was dwelling among them; that God was in the house.

But though it was an amazing time and certainly unique, things are not all that different today. There are many people who believe Jesus is God. A lot of people are excited about Him. But do they believe He is in the house? Do they recognize Him at the font? Do they recognize Him when He makes Himself known at His Table, where He gives us Himself, His body and blood in the bread and wine? Do they see that the one who hosts His Meal at His Table to give His body and His blood is the one who wants them to see Him here? For as many who marveled at Him, or debated Him, or questioned Him, all He really wanted for all of us to see was Him hanging on a cross while bleeding and crushed with the weight of every person’s sin and guilt.

If you want to know if God is in the house, remember that the God of Creation, of bringing things into existence, is the one who gave His Son over to death, even death on a cross, so that God could then accomplish His marvelous work of restoration. Restoring us to eternal life with Him. It is all in the one who was the recipient of the demon’s words: “I know who You are—the Holy One of God.”

So do we. And He is in the House. Amen.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

When Words Do What They Say

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 22, 2012
 Mrs. Smith is a parent. Barry and Sam just got into trouble for doing something they were told not to do. She says to both of them, “You are grounded for a month.” Now, in actuality, only Barry is grounded for a month. Sam is not grounded at all. The same words were to both children, and by the same person, Mrs. Smith. Why does what she said apply to one child and not the other?

It is because she is Barry’s parent but not Sam’s. Sam was over at Barry’s house to play when they both got into trouble. Mrs. Smith is not hoping that Barry will be grounded, she is actually bringing the punishment about by speaking it to her son. With Sam, however, she has no authority in this regard. It is his own parents who have the authority to ground him.

At the same time, if after they got into their trouble, Mrs. Smith said to them, “Neither of you are going to get a snack this afternoon,” both of them are going to go hungry until dinner time. Because Sam is in her home she does have a degree of authority over him and therefore her speaking of the words of them getting no snack actually brings about that state of affairs for both children.

These two illustrations teach us a lot about words; perhaps something we don’t think about enough. Words obviously tell us things. “It’s raining,” tells us something. It tells us that it’s raining. But if it’s not raining, saying, “It’s raining,” doesn’t make it so. Words tells us things but don’t always bring into effect what they say. However, words don’t only tell us things they also do indeed bring things about. And this is probably what we don’t think about enough.

When Mrs. Smith tells her son he’s grounded, those aren’t just words stating a fact. They bring about the fact. But when she doesn’t have the authority to enact such a discipline, such as on her son’s friend, her words aren’t performative; they don’t bring about what they say. She might say, “If you were my son, I’d ground you.” But she can’t actually ground him because she is not in the proper position to do so.  Obviously people attempt all the time to do things they don’t have the authority to do. There are certain things recognized as authoritative and actual and that’s what we’re talking about. As a member of a jury I can stand up, walk over to the witness stand, and swear in the next witness, but my speaking of it hasn’t accomplished it. The bailiff saying the same words, has. That’s because he is speaking not simply words, but words in the context of his having authority to do so. When he swears in the witness, the witness is actually sworn in.

What this has to do with you is that you are the recipient of certain words that are spoken. How will you hear those words? These aren’t just any words. They are the words of God. They are words that don’t simply tell you things. They are words that bring about what they say. They are words spoken in the context of one having the authority to say them and under the God who has the power to bring about what the words state. How will you respond to these words? Will you hear what they actually say and believe what they actually accomplish? Will you take God at His word and believe that the words are what He says they are and that they accomplish what He says they accomplish?

Or will you continue to listen to them as the words of men? Will you hear them for what you want to hear them as? Will you go to the pages of Scripture and see there another example of what we human beings need to do for a God who needs us to do things for Him? Will you place your focus, as is your natural inclination, on what you must do, because, after all, God’s words to you are just the starting point. There is a life to be lived by you and it must be filled with what you must do, how you must obey more, that you must be more faithful in your walk with the Lord, that you must turn things around in your life because you're getting sloppy in your spiritual life, or that you just must plain love God more than you do. Conversely, will you take hold of that insidious temptation your sinful nature holds up and hear all of this as a freedom from living godly, reverent, moral, serving lives?

Either way you go you are not really hearing the words of God. If the Bible is nothing more than, “Hey, folks, I created you, you know. And it sure would be nice if you would do what I say. If you’d live the kind of life I command you to live,” then there is nothing more to the Bible than any other religious book. If Christianity is nothing else than God telling us what to do and us obediently following then there is no difference between that and any other religion. That may sound like a simplistic way of describing it, but listen to how people talk about God. Listen to how they talk about their spiritual walk with Christ. If you really listen you will be amazed at how man-centered it is. You see more and more that mostly what people are talking about is themselves and what they must to, what they must be, how they must act.

If you’re honest with yourself, you will come to the conclusion that you place things like these as where the rubber hits the road rather than the work of your Lord in your Baptism, or in the proclamation of the Gospel, or in the Lord’s Supper. If you take stock of what you believe in your heart of hearts you will find yourself looking to yourself rather than hearing the words of your Lord and actually believing that they actually bring about what they say.

Christians, the ones who are to be telling the unbelieving world the Good News, the Gospel, the message of grace, the message that Christ has accomplished salvation, so often spread a message of the Law. Too often Christians make known a message of what people must do in order to be saved. This is exactly the opposite of the Gospel. You hear it all the time. You must repent. You must believe. You must have faith. You must be faithful. You must obey. You must do what God commands. You must turn your life over to Christ. You must respond to God’s invitation. You must accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.

It’s a trap that is so easy to fall into. Actually, it’s not. We’re trapped in it from birth. We are simply content with staying trapped in this twisted way of thinking. If only we try to do better that will be good and God will be pleased with that. Therefore, He will be pleased with us.

Listen to the words of the Lord in today’s three Scripture readings. He is not. He is not pleased with you as you are. He loves you. But He condemns you to hell for your inborn sin. That is where you’re at when you content yourself with your insistence on what you must do and denigrating what God says and countering what it actually brings about.

Listen to the message in the three readings today. Repent. God’s word to you is “Repent.” This is His message to you of the Law. The Law is what shatters. The Law is what breaks apart. It is what beats down. It tears down and hammers away. It is relentless. It is insistent that you are not the solution, you are not the answer, you are not the key. You are in the mess you’re in because of you. This is the work of the Law. It works hard upon you because you work hard to build yourself up. You expend a lot of energy focusing on who you are, what you need, what you must do, what you’d like to see God doing in your life, what would be better if He’d just change a thing or two, especially in those other people.

God doesn’t do anything with this. He shatters it. Repent. This is His work. It is His word. It is a word that doesn’t just tell you something. It accomplishes something. It brings about what it says. Your repentance is the work of God. It is brought about in you by God’s speaking it to you. It’s so powerful that He doesn’t use some holy man to speak it to you. As evidence I present to you Jonah. Yeah, he was a prophet. But if you go farther into the book, after what we have in today’s Old Testament reading, you’ll see that Jonah was not doing his work of proclaiming because his heart was in it. He wasn’t sharing God’s word with the Ninevites because he loved them and wanted them to be saved. No, Jonah, how can we put this delicately, wanted the opposite. He knew that God is merciful. He knew that God wants everyone to be saved. And he knew something else. He knew that God’s word isn’t just words. It’s not plain information. He knew that it brings about what it says. It accomplishes. Jonah was hopppin’ mad that God did not wipe Nineveh off the face of the earth. But God used that proclamation of His word from the mouth of a seriously troubled prophet to bring about what those words said: repentance.

You and I both know those Ninevites were pagans. We know that they very possibly may have gone back to their old ways long after Jonah made his journey back home. But these things God hasn’t given us to know. The repentance of the Ninevites is. The word of God spoken by a reluctant prophet brought it about. God brought it about.

The same thing is happening in the Epistle reading. Paul is speaking of things that are. This world is passing away. Christ will return imminently. The words of Christ Himself said this. Paul simply repeats it here. Do you believe this? Do you take it to heart? It is so. It is so because God has said it is so but because you don’t take Him at His word you get caught up in the anxieties of life. You take the good things God gives you in life and you put them at the forefront. You think Christ’s return is a long way off. That it won’t be in your lifetime. You think that this world is just a holding room for the real deal which is in heaven. You think these things because your focus is not on Christ but on yourself.

How? You turn the good things God gives you into things you must do or not do. You become caught up in them so that you lose sight of God’s gracious love and care for you in this life as well as for eternity. You are anxious about many things because you are consumed with what you think you need rather than resting in what God gives you. You are wrapped up in the cares of this world instead of in the grace and care of God.

It’s tough to hear the word of God. Who wants to sit there and listen to God telling you to repent? Who wants to be told that they’re problem? But there’s good news here. If you listen to His word you will hear it. If you take it to heart you will see that His message to you is one of Good News. Of grace, of mercy, of love, of forgiveness. He calls you to repentance because He loves you. He swings His hammer down on you in order to destroy you. That’s good news, my friend. It means He is the one who is going to accomplish in you everything you know you should do. It means having brought to nothing all your good intentions and even all the things you have done He will accomplish in you something new and something great.

Did you hear Jesus’ words? The Kingdom of God is at hand. It has become present in your life in the Person of Jesus. He is the Kingdom of God in the flesh. There’s a person here today who knows this every bit as much as you do even though if you talk to him he’ll either make some sort of gurgling sounds or maybe cry because you’re not his mommy. Little William heard something today. It was the very same thing you heard. He heard the word of his Lord. The word of his Lord didn’t just give little William some cool new info that will be useful to him at some point when he’s old enough to understand and his mom and dad explain it all to him. What William heard was what he heard in the same way you and I have heard it. The word of Christ. God in His Son bringing about what God in His Son said. New life. Forgiveness of sins.

This is what God has done for William in Baptism and for you. When the words are spoken, “I Baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” those words are not just information, they bring about what they say. You are Baptized. You are chosen by God. You have eternal life. His Word has made it so. Amen.


Sunday, January 15, 2012


Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 15, 2012
 What do you do when you have been given a gift even when you don’t know it? This has happened. Jesus paid for the sins of the world. God has granted salvation to everyone.

Nathanael was given a gift. It was before he had done anything. In fact his reaction was not one that prompted any sort of reward. That’s why he wasn’t given a reward. He wasn’t given what was due him. He was given a gift. That’s what God does. He gives gifts. He doesn’t reward. He doesn’t act in justice. He doesn’t act fairly. What He does is give.

Actually, He does act in justice. His justice is meted out on His Son. That’s the gift. It’s a gift to you and me and to everyone.

There’s a word Jesus uses when He speaks to Nathanael: before. Before Philip called you I saw you. Before you knew Me I knew you. Before you saw Me I saw you. Jesus knows things about us we don’t. Jesus sees things in our lives we’re not aware of. Before Nathanael confessed faith in Jesus Jesus brought Him to faith. Before Philip told Nathanael about Jesus Jesus called Philip.

Before we are able to do anything for God God does something for us. Before we are even aware of God giving us a gift He gives it to us. We are unaware of our need for this gift, we are unaware we are given it. Before we are able to acknowledge it God already has great plans for us. Nathanael was in the process of writing Jesus off and Jesus went right on ahead with His gift He was giving to him. “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” These were Jesus’ words to him before Nathanael had done anything worthy of such a designation. It was plain to see that Nathanael deserved no such accolade. But Jesus isn’t in the business of giving accolades. He isn’t in the business of giving people what they deserve, either.

He’s in the business of giving gifts. A gift is something given. It’s something you receive regardless of whether you deserve it. A gift is something that is yours even before you know it’s yours. Jesus was giving Nathanael a gift. He was declaring Nathanael to be who he was in Jesus, the man standing before him. Jesus alone is the one who is the true Israelite, the one alone in whom there is no deceit. But in Christ, this is who we are as well. Nathanael was declared so by Christ Himself, before Nathanael did anything. Before Nathanael could prove anything or tell Jesus how much he believed in Him or loved Him, Jesus had already granted him faith. He had already given him the gift.

Jesus uses this word ‘before’ purposefully. Did Philip do something? You bet. Did Nathanael? Definitely. And that’s all well and good. We shouldn’t deny or downplay it. We don’t need to go down the road of, Now it’s not important here that Philip and Nathanael did something, we need to focus on what Jesus did. On the opposite end of the scale, we shouldn’t play the card of, Now Philip and Nathanael did absolutely nothing here, only Jesus did. These kinds of statements make us look foolish. Not only that, they go against the very words of the Bible.

Philip did something, he told Nathanael about Jesus. That’s a good thing! Nathanael did something, he confessed Jesus as his Lord and Savior. That’s a good thing! It’s not that they didn’t do something. It’s that there’s something that came before. That’s the thing we so often forget. The fact that they did something is because there was something that happened before they did the things they did. There was no evangelism work on the part of Philip to do without what Jesus had done. Jesus called Philip. There was no confession of faith on the part of Nathanael without what Jesus had done. Jesus declared him to be righteous.

Does it matter that you do not deserve anything good from God? Does it actually make a difference for you that anything you have received from God is the result of what He has done for you rather than what you have done for Him? Yes, it matters. It means everything that this is the way it is.

What this means for you first of all is that it is the way it is. To believe any differently is to be under the illusion that you do not at your core need God. To think that there is something within you that moves God to love you is to place yourself outside of the certainty of His grace and eternal salvation. To say that you are disposed to God is to fool yourself that you have any better view of God than Nathanael had. He wrote Jesus off and that’s exactly what you do in your heart.

To come to terms with this is necessary. It’s what repentance is made of. You stand before God broken, unworthy of anything good. You could fool yourself that you have a lot of good things in this life. You can convince yourself that you’re not that bad of a person, that God will love you because He wouldn’t reject someone who’s pretty good and does a lot of good things. You could reason that God has created you, that He is the Father of us all and He would not condemn you because He would not condemn His own. But this would lead you into the place where Nathanael was, outside of the grace of God because he removed himself from the grace of God. Left to himself Nathanael had a god that was exactly what Nathanael thought of Jesus: what good can come out of Nazareth? How can a God who comes as a man, and from a small town like Nazareth, be of any use to me? When you look to yourself that’s what you have—yourself. It’s only in Christ that you have the true God and full salvation.

Repentance is necessary. Nathanael’s response to Jesus’ gift, to His grace, was one of repentance. He saw that he had rejected God and the way God had come to him. He now realized that Jesus had come to him before he could do anything for Jesus. In the same way, Philip had realized that his life was not about himself but about the one who had called him. That’s why Philip was now pointing others to Jesus. Nathanael was now looking to the one who had likewise called him and had given him faith; faith to believe that He was his Lord and Savior. He now realized that everything he had done was nothing he was doing for God but simply response to what God had already done for him. Everything God had done for him was before anything and everything he had done or attempted to do for God.

That’s what it all means for you, but it’s not all that it means. It also means that it frees you up. It removes any burden of relying on yourself. It makes it possible for you to live in such a way where you don’t have the yoke of God’s commandments weighing on your shoulders; God’s watchful eye of your every move. It frees you up to simply be who you are. You are the same as Philip and Nathanael. You point others to Christ. You look to Him as your Lord and Savior.

Christ gives you a gift. Before you ever have a chance to do anything for him He frees up your time, your abilities, and your money. He frees you in your interactions with others. Basically, everything you do and who you are. You are free. Before you have an opportunity to try to do something for God and dig yourself deeper into your hole of sin and guilt you are already made free. The good that has come out of Nazareth is the one who sees you for who you are. You probably don’t like hearing that you have nothing of worthiness to offer to God or to do for Him. But it’s because of that that Jesus came from that backwater town of Nazareth to ascend the hill of Calvary and pay for every sin you have committed. Every attempt you have made to do something for God, it has all been redeemed. You are freed up. You can walk with a new step because your Lord has given you a new lease on life.

You have been given a gift. Maybe you didn’t really know that this is the way it is. Maybe you weren’t sure of the significance of it. Maybe you still wonder if it’s that big of a deal. It was for Nathanael and it is for you. How is it similar for you today that it was for Nathanael back then? What good can come from a small piece of bread and a sip of wine? I’ll just take the lead of Philip and say to you, “Come and see.” Here at this altar you will be in the presence of the Lord who has already seen you before you even knew He was around.

Was Jesus just another man from a small town in Galilee? Was there anything good that could come from there? We know the answer, the Bible tells us who He is. Yes, He was just another man, born just as you and I have been. But He was also the only one who is good, the only one in whom there was no deceit, the only one who could do what He did. He came from Nazareth in order to go to Calvary. You are far removed from that time and place. You haven’t been invited by Philip to come and see Jesus. But Jesus didn’t come only in that way. He comes here for you today, to you today. Is that bread and wine on this altar just any ordinary bread and wine? Yes, actually it is. What good can come from it though, is made known to you by Jesus’ own words about that bread and wine. It is His body and blood, that’s what He says. That’s what He gives to you.

Because of that you confess Him as your Lord and Savior as Nathanael did. Because of that you make Him known to others as Philip did and as Nathanael came to do. You don’t need to wake up each morning determining how it is you are going to get it together and make something of yourself for God. Simply rest in His grace He has already given you. Before you even awake, He holds you in His eternal care. Before you have a chance to falter and sin once again in your daily walk with Christ, you carry the knowledge that you are Baptized; a child of the Kingdom; a son or daughter of the Most High. He is your Lord and Savior because of what happened before you confessed Him as such: He came to you. He brought you a gift. He saved you.

Do you believe because of this? Yes, you do. And you will see greater things than these. You will see the angels of God ascending and descending on the very Son of Man. Can you hardly wait?


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Let There Be Water

The Baptism of Our Lord
First Sunday after the Epiphany
January 8, 2012

On the first day God said, “Let there be light.” It was before that, before Day One, that God said, “Let there be water.” Our Old Testament reading this morning tells us that in the beginning the earth was formless and void “and darkness was over the face of the deep.” Then it tells us something that was there before He created the universe; before He made the light, the trees, the stars, the sun, animals, people. All of those things came on Day One and after. But there was something that was before: water. After the description of formlessness and the void and the darkness, it says that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

That is what today is about. It’s about water. Remember when you were a kid and you came inside the house after playing outside all afternoon and there was nothing you wanted more than a cold glass of water? We’ve thought about and have heard about those who were stranded in the desert wanting nothing more than some water, the one thing to ensure their very survival. Their hopes rose in triumph at the sight of a pond or a stream in the desert only to come upon a mirage. If you go without food you’ll make it for longer than you think you can, but not without water. Without water you won’t survive long.

Before God created light and everything else you see there was water. It’s as though God’s first act was to say, “Let there be water.” The Holy Spirit presided over those waters and He does so today. When you’re drinking that tall glass of water you can think of the life the Holy Spirit delivers to you through water. When the drops of water rush over you as you shower in the morning you can consider the new life God the Holy Spirit showers down upon you through water. When you wash your hands you can remember that in a simple act of water sudsing up soap rubbed onto your skin cleanses them and that the Holy Spirit does something very similar for your soul through plain old water.

He was there at the beginning, hovering there over the waters, presiding over Creation, ready for when God the Father would speak, “Let there be light.” And the Holy Spirit was there again, presiding over the waters at the Jordan when the Second Person of the Trinity was Baptized into those waters. The Holy Spirit was hovering as a dove, in tandem with God the Father, who again spoke, this time speaking directly to the Word made flesh, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” The eternal and only-begotten Son had been there also at the Creation, the very Word God the Father spoke when He said, “Let there be light.”

Now we see the three again, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, present at the waters of the Jordan River. The Jordan River is not a mighty river. But water flows through it, just like waters flowed in the moments before creation, when the Holy Spirit was hovering over them.

The Triune God was present at Creation, present at the Baptism of Jesus, and is present whenever a person is Baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is hovering over that water, God the Father is speaking over that water, God the Son is joined with the person being Baptized in that water. It’s no coincidence that at the beginning of creation you have water and the Word of God spoken. It’s not just happenstance that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were present at Creation. What happens in Baptism is exactly the same thing. There’s water. There’s the Word of God that this spoken. There’s the Triune God present. Working. Creating. Hovering, presiding, speaking, being present.

If you find yourself out in the Judean wilderness where John found himself you will quickly see that if you can make your way to the Jordan River you will be in good stead. Where there is water there is life. And so John combined his work as a preacher and a baptizer with the Word of God. Where there is water, there is life. Where there is the Word of God there is new life. John combined the two, water and Word. We do the same, too, commanded by the Lord, “Go and make disciples of all nations, Baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Does it strike you as odd that Jesus undergoes this thing? John says that the Messiah will come along and be greater than him, a simple preacher, one in a line of prophets, a strange looking guy out there baptizing people in a river. And yet when the Messiah comes He doesn’t Baptize, as Mark tells us John said He would. No, He is Baptized. John Baptizes Jesus just as He had all those other people out there in the Judean wilderness. The Messiah comes to be the Messiah, the Savior, but instead of saving He is Baptized.

Mark doesn’t tell us a whole lot about this instance. Jesus came, He was Baptized by John, and then the heavens tore open and God the Father spoke and the Holy Spirit descended as a dove. Not a lot of details, but one detail that is remarkable, in an event that would take more than the short amount of time we now have would take to develop, is the simple fact that Jesus was Baptized. That water that flowed through the Judean wilderness was created by God, at the speaking of His word in creation. It’s as though He said, “Let there be water. It’s going to be used some day.” Now today was the day. John the Baptist was there, doing what God had called him to do. Now Jesus shows up and God the Father says to Him, “Son, there’s the water, enter it.” Jesus steps into the river and is Baptized.

The simple thing that occurred was that the water was applied to Jesus and John spoke words. Jesus was Baptized. But then, so was the creation itself. God spoke, and it was. Let there be light, and there was light. God brought water into this world not only to be the essential thing that keeps us alive but also to be that thing which gives us new life. The waters of Baptism are cleansing and healing waters. They are refreshing to the soul. Wherever the Triune God is present, you have life. At Creation we saw it. When water is present and the Word of God is attached to it, you have the Triune God at work in His re-creating work, giving new life in that water.

If you want to talk about new life, about being a Christian, about serving God, about living as a disciple of Christ, you’re going to have to talk about water. There’s no new life, no serving God, no being a Christian without Baptism. Paul in the Epistle reading may as well be saying in his exhortation for you not to live in sin, “Let there be water.” Because when it comes to being a son or daughter of God, you must look to that place where you became a son or daughter of God. At your Baptism. He says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been Baptized into Christ Jesus were Baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Where there is water, there is life. Where there is water connected with the Word of God there is death. Death, that is, of the Old Nature, the Sinful Flesh. When you are Baptized into Christ you are Baptized into His death. When Jesus was Baptized He didn’t die, that came later at the cross. But when you are Baptized, watch out! You are brought into the very death of Christ on that cross. You are brought down, into death, in order that your sin and guilt may be done away with. That is the power of the water when it is connected with the Word of God.

So let there be water! Let the waters of Baptism rush freely in your life, as you are daily repenting and resting in the cleansing you have received in those waters. That’s the way it is with water, it’s always flowing. If it doesn’t flow, it gets stagnant. Instead of giving life it destroys life. The waters of Baptism only need to be applied to you once, but the Word that is connected with them continue to pour through your ears and into your heart and your soul. Hear those words often that God the Father spoke to His Son, “You are My beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.” You hear them when you wake up each morning with the sign of the cross, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. You hear them here, in God’s House, where God declares you to be His son, His daughter.

When you look up here at the altar and the cross you see at the foot of the chancel the Baptismal font. Let it be a reminder to you of the waters that flow countless times in Christian churches throughout the world and history. Let the waters that flowed at your own Baptism be a river of life flowing in you. You walk in newness of life. Not because you have drunk a cold glass of crystal clear and expensive mineral water from the High Sierras, but because you have drunk deeply of the well of the Waters of Life over which the Holy Spirit presides. Remember your Baptism often. You walk, as Paul says, in newness of life because in those waters you drowned. You died there, but you died with Christ. Let there be water, because in that water of Baptism it’s not about who you are or what you need to do, it’s about who Christ is and what He has done for you.

Never diminish your Baptism. It is the work of God. Do not fall into the trap of so many Christians who think it merely as a symbol of new life. It is the very work of God of re-creation, in the same vein as His work of creation. That’s why Peter says in his second book that there are so many people who “deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the Word of God.” Where there is water, there is life. And where there is water connected with the Word of God there is new and eternal life. Your Baptism is about this, who Christ is and what He has done for you.

And what is that? Well, for one thing, He was Baptized. He was Baptized, a remarkable thing. Nothing that He needed to do. Nothing He was in need of repenting of. But there He was, in those waters, being Baptized just as you have been. Something He didn’t need He underwent, and He did it for you. When three years later He hung on the cross having taken upon Himself every sin that needs repenting of, a sword was thrust into His side. It’s as though God the Father spoke out of the heavens and said, “Let there be water,” because there it was again, flowing from the side of the Son on the cross. And it’s as though the Holy Spirit was there again, presiding over that very water that flowed from the side of the Son and poured it directly into the font where you were Baptized.

Because that’s what happened at your Baptism. You were Baptized with Christ. You were Baptized into His death. You were so so that even as He was raised from the dead you too might walk in newness of life. God said it, it is so. Amen.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Blessed End

First Sunday after Christmas
Circumcision and Name of Jesus
New Year’s Day
January 1, 2012
We begin at the end. This is the first day of the year and it would make sense to begin at the beginning. But we’re going to begin at the end. In this way we’ll be able to begin correctly. If you don’t know where you’re going how will you know where to start? If you don’t know how you’ll end up how will you know how to begin?

The Catechism says of the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer that we are praying for a blessed end. In the Seventh Petition we pray “deliver us from evil.” What this means is that we ask that “our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul… and “when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.”

This is Simeon’s prayer, a prayer for a blessed end. “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace.” Simeon is at the end of his life. He knows he doesn’t have long to live. Now that He has seen the Savior God had promised he may depart in peace. He knows he can die in peace and quietness, that he will be granted a blessed end. Now Simeon is unique in that he was promised something specific by God that was not promised to anyone else. He was specifically promised that he would not die until he saw the Savior in the flesh. Now that he had he could depart in peace. As he said to God, “according to Your word.”

The first day of the year normally doesn’t fall on a Sunday but since it has this year it only makes sense to have at least partial focus on beginnings and looking ahead to a new year. In the Christian Church it has been a common way of referring to a calendar year as a year of grace. As Christians we understand that it is only by God’s grace that we have been given life and time to live that life. So it’s sensible to use this time here in God’s House today to consider the blessing of a new year ahead and how we will live in this coming year. The blessing we have in the Church Year and the liturgy is that it guides us in how to see the life God has given us and to live that life in His grace. The Gospel reading for today isn’t for January 1, it’s for the First Sunday after Christmas. But I can’t think of a better passage to guide us in the beginning of a new year. And that is with the focus on a blessed end. I suppose we could go to the very end of the Bible where it wraps things up very nicely in the assurance of our Lord that He is coming again quickly and the confidence of our response “Amen, come Lord Jesus.”

But if you look at Simeon’s prayer, it’s really the same prayer. Rather, the essence of it is the same. Lord, grant us a blessed end. Because a blessed end in this life is nothing other than the beginning of eternal life in glory and without any need for prayers of a blessed end. So in beginning our year today with the end we actually come to see that it is beginning with the beginning. It is beginning with the beginning of life in heaven, of being freed from this vale of tears and as the Catechism also says, that our Father would “rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation.”

We need times like this to step back and look at our lives in perspective. But it’s not even just the beginning of a new year that gives us the opportunity to do this. It’s every Sunday. It’s every time we gather in God’s House around His Word and Sacraments. It’s every time we move through the liturgy and we see how God guides us through our lives by His grace. As we are taught by Simeon and shown in Anna, the liturgy guides us in a manner in which we live out our days entrusted to God, living them out knowing the end at the beginning and throughout.

You could spend many weeks and even months going through each portion of the liturgy to see how it does this but for today we’ll look at just a few. The first one is the Invocation. At first glance this seems like we’re beginning with the beginning, and we are indeed. But Baptism is actually our beginning because it is also the end. It is the end of our bondage to the sinful flesh. In Baptism we come to an end, our Old Adam being drowned in the waters of Baptism. And then comes the beginning. The beginning of new life. We gather in God’s House and begin in that way, with the Invocation. We begin in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It was God’s name that was placed on us at our beginning and it’s in His name we begin in the worship service.

Baptism is a one-time Sacrament with everlasting effects. We daily live out our Baptism in repentance and in being forgiven. This and the other Sacrament is the lifeblood of the Christian. We gather here not just to give praise to God. We come here not just to get re-charged. We are here because we need to celebrate the Feast of our Lord. We don’t just gather here together, we gather here around the Lord’s Table, partaking of the Lord’s Body and Blood. Everything in the liturgy moves us to that celebration. The Lord’s Supper is the culmination of all that the liturgy delivers to us. It is the Gospel in visible form. It is the Gospel in physical and temporal means given to us so that we may actually commune with God in the same way that Simeon did when he held the baby Jesus in his arms. Simeon prophesied of what Jesus would do, that He would suffer on behalf of the world, giving His life for the sin of the world. We look on the other side of that prophecy, looking back to Jesus’ suffering and death and resurrection. But we don’t just look, we partake. Jesus having given His body and blood on the cross gives Himself to us just as He did with Simeon.

The Benediction is the same thing as the Invocation. It is our Lord placing His name on us again. It’s not a coincidence that our Lord said to give a three-fold blessing, 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. This is the Triune God, as we hear it in the Invocation, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, again placing His name on us. This time as we go. As we depart. We can say with Simeon, as we depart in peace. Our Lord’s word has been fulfilled. The one hour or so here is not just one hour devoted to this religious stuff. This is your Lord at work, blessing you, forgiving you, strengthening you, equipping you to serve and live out your days entrusted to Him.

And that brings us to one more thing in the liturgy, the Nunc Dimittis. The Latin of these words mean “now depart.” We sing this at the point in the liturgy we do, after having received the Lord’s Supper, because we are just like Simeon. Our eyes have seen the salvation of God, which He has prepared before the face of all people. We may now depart as Simeon was now able to depart. You and I may have many many years ahead of us in our lives. Or we may be nearing the end of our lives, whether through old age or a debilitating illness or some accident that may come upon us. Whatever stage in life we are at we may depart in peace. We may depart in peace according to the word of God. His word has been fulfilled. Our own eyes have seen His salvation which He has prepared before the face of all people. It, that is, He—that is, Jesus Christ—is a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.

Simeon actually saw God in the flesh. He actually held Him in the flesh, the Messiah, the promised Savior that he had been promised that he would see before he died. Jesus isn’t carried into this House of God today in the arms of Mary in order to be circumcised. We aren’t able to ask her if we can hold Him. He doesn’t walk into this place this morning so that we can do as Thomas did and touch His hands and His side. But Jesus does indeed come here today so that we may behold Him; so that we may depart in peace. Though we don’t take Him into our arms we take Him into our mouths, Him giving us His body and blood for us to eat and drink in bread and wine. That’s why we sing as Simeon did, praying for a blessed end, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” Amen.