Luther: Awakening to the Glory of God
February 10 and 11, 2018
Sixth in a Series of Sermons – Luther: Awakening to the Glory of God
II Kings 2:1-12 / II Corinthians 3:12-1,4:1-6/ Mark 9:2-9
Dear Friends in Christ,
In this season of Epiphany, we have explored Luther’s awakening to the Gospel. In this sermon series, we have explored the big moments of Luther’s life and explored the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation- Faith Alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, Grace alone, and today the Glory of God alone.
In our devotional reading yesterday, Debi and I read a little story from one of our favorite Christian authors, Rich Bimler. Rich told of his daughter and her friend Sue who were writing “love notes” in connection with Valentines Day. They wrote to their Pastor, ““Dear Pastor, we really like you. We think you are neat. We love your sermons. We can’t wait until we’re old enough to understand them.”
Which reminds us of a line out of a scrap of paper found in Luther’s pocket as he breathed his last, “Know that no one can have indulged in the Holy Scriptures sufficiently, unless he has governed churches for a hundred years…” While it is true that on the one hand Luther had a way of stating truth unequivocally and with no room for compromise, it is also true that he saw himself as a life long student of Scripture, he often stated his willingness to be corrected by the clear testimony of Scripture, he in no way saw himself as having the final word on Biblical teachings.
In today’s sermon, I offer no fewer than seven snapshots of waking up to the glory of God and three Epiphany revelations.
Seven Snapshots of Waking up to the Glory of God
All seven snapshots are meant to help us wake up to one of the main controversies between Luther and the Church of his day – a controversy over how helpless we really are in our spiritual deadness and guilt. Are we justified before God by the grace of God plus our own good behavior, or grace alone? Are we saved through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross plus our own sacrificial living or in Christ alone? Do we receive the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ plus our own efforts, or by faith alone? Are we to be faithful both to the Scriptures and church tradition, or Scripture alone? And today, what does it mean to wake up to the simple truth that in all that we do, whether we eating or drinking or fasting, whether we are working or playing or resting, whether we are in the prime of life or in the declining years of life, it’s about God getting all of the glory all of the time!
Snapshot #1- What is there to be (afraid of?) Story of an elderly gentlemen named Ted on his deathbed 25 years ago. Ted was in his 80’s, his wife had died years before, no children, World War II veteran, a man’s man kind of a man, tougher than nails, hard of hearing. I visited him in the Hillcrest Nursing Home later in the evening, all was quiet, folks were sleeping. I asked him three times before he could actually hear my question, “Are you afraid of dying?” When he finally heard me, he grunted (and I have to clean up the language a bit), “mmmph, what the “heck” is there to be afraid of?
Over the years, God had drawn Ted close to him, beginning in the waters of Baptism, God had been sending his angels to guard over him in war time and in peace, the Lord’s Supper had nourished him, no doubt he had heard the words of page 5 and 15 liturgy hundreds of times, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, grant this Lord unto us all.” Which is another way of saying that as often as a sinner is saved by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, God gets every bit of glory there is to be gotten.
Snapshot #2 - “Why are you (crying?) Many of you know my mom through my stories about her. You know my opinion that she was about as kind and sweet and patient and grace-filled as a human being could be. She was as non scary of a person as I had ever met. When her loved ones were hurting, she was hurting. When loved ones stopped going to church, she worried herself sick and cried out into the darkness of night for God to have mercy on their souls. She was as easy to love as a human could be, and so as I sat at her bedside a few days before she died, she was sleeping. And so I held her hand and thought through life and death, you won’t be surprised to know I started crying. She opened her eyes and said, “Larry, why are you crying?” I said something like, “Why do you think, Mom?!
As was Ted, she was claimed by her Father in heaven as His child in the waters of Baptism, and over the years, God’s Spirit slowly but surely woke her up to the simple truth that as often as a sinner is saved by the grace of god alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, God gets every bit of glory there is to be gotten.
Snapshot #3 “That’s (enough)” Mom’s daily routines were as fixed on the reading and learning and marking and inwardly digesting of Scripture as they could be. I could go on and on and on, which is exactly what a hospice chaplain, her local pastor, and I were doing I were doing a few days before Mom passed away. We were going on and on and on with Bible readings, we were singing and praying world without end, until I noticed that Mom was very sleepy and perhaps just wanted to rest. And so I asked her if Pastor Daenzer and I should keep on reading and singing and praying or if that was enough for now. She mouthed the words, “that’s enough!”
In those days, as is the case with so many elderly and life long Christians, she just wanted to fall asleep and to wake up in the arms of her Savior. One of the final prayers we prayed included this sweet request, “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Snapshot #4 - “Ja” As Martin Luther approached death at age 62 or so, his friends and colleagues knew that Luther’s death would soon be known all across Europe, and how he died was of much interest. In that day, for a person to die with all kinds of agony or restlessness would be a sign that the dead had gone not to his reward but to everlasting punishment. And so two of his friends shouted loudly one question for the historical record, “Reverend Father! Are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess to the doctrine which you have taught in his name?” They record that out of his mouth now came his last spoken word, a loud and distinct “Ja.” He then turned over onto his right side, slipped into a sleep, and 15 minutes later, took his final breath.
A snapshot of one more redeemed sinner being translated from the church militant to the church triumphant, going from living by grace to living in glory, and as always, God gets every bit of glory there is to be gotten.
Snapshot #5 – We find that while Luther’s last word spoken out loud was “Ja”, or to say it another way, “Amen, which is to say, yes, yes, this is most certainly true!” – his last written words may have been these, “We are (beggars), this is true.” Even though Luther had successfully challenged the spiritual and secular authorities of his day, even though Luther had successfully translated the Bible into the German language in less than a year, even though Luther had written and taught and thundered God’s Word in a way that literally changed the course of human history, he knew what we want to know again today, that salvation is a gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast.” “We are beggars, this is true.”
Snapshot #6 comes from our Old Testament lesson appointed for this Transfiguration Sunday, where the prophet Elisha sees his father in the faith Elijah taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire, and cries out “My father, my father, The chariots and horsemen of Israel.” Elisha had asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, but the answer came back – to paraphrase, “only God can grant that request.” In that day horses and chariots were emblems of a king’s strength, and so Elijah had been a spiritual warrior for the people of God. If Elisha hadn’t already been wakened to the amazing grace and the incomparable strength of Almighty God, not doubt this vision did just that.
Snapshot #7 - We fast forward from this vision to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah show up in their glorified bodies, where Jesus gives his inner circle a glimpse of his divine glory, and where we hear the voice of our Father in heaven declaring, “This is my beloved Son; (listen) to him”. Here on the mount of transfiguration, we find Peter not really knowing what to say, which as usual doesn’t keep him from blurting out the possibility of building shelters and prolonging the moment. We find the man Jesus shining forth in the glory of his divine nature, we find Moses and Elijah in conversation with Jesus helping to get him ready for death by crucifixion, we find our Father in heaven repeating his declaration made at the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, and we find ourselves with one more opportunity to think about what it means for us that God is always and in every circumstance of life to be getting 100% of the glory.
Three Epiphany Revelations
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who have been awakened to the realization that The glory of God is the goal of all (creation) Please repeat after me. They have heard from little on that the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork. They are learning again that when sun, moon, and stars shine, they are doing what they are created to do, they are giving glory to God. When farmers, nurses, factory workers, teachers, and custodians do well what farmers, nurses, factory workers, teachers, and custodians are supposed to do, they are giving glory to God. When corn stalks produce corn, when dogs bark, when cats chase down mice, when parents change babies diapers, when grandpas hand out cookies and ice cream, when law enforcement officers enforce laws, when politicians do politics in honest fashion, they are giving glory to God. The glory of God is in fact, the goal of all creation.
Secondly, the kingdom of God is like people who have been awakened to the reality that Here and now, we glory in the (cross of Christ). (Repeat after me.) The world imagines that true glory is to be found in earning, saving up, spending, and investing money, but the Church knows that true glory is to be found in Jesus Christ suffering under Pontius Pilate, and crucified until he was dead and buried. The world imagines that true glory is found in position, power, and popularity, but the Church knows that it is all about serving, sacrificing, and selflessness.
Finally, the kingdom of God is like a congregation of believers who have been awakened to the promise that in Christ, The best is (yet to come) (Repeat after me). The older and the wiser they get, the more they agree with Ted, “What the heck is there to be afraid of.” They agree with mom and others who pray that they can just fall asleep and wake up in the arms of Jesus. They see the work of missions and witnessing as the work of one group of beggars telling another group of beggars where they can find bread. They agree with Paul on death row who declared, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” And again, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” To God alone be glory both here and now, and into eternity.
Luther: Awakening in Fear
Second in a Series of Six Sermons, “Luther: Awakening”
I Samuel 3:1-1- / I Corinthians 6:12-20 / John 1:43-51
Dear Friends in Christ,
Epiphany is a season of light. We lit candles in Advent and heard the voice of John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, bearing witness to the light. In the 12 days of Christmas we lit the Christ candle and adjusted our eyes to the true light, which shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. In Epiphany, we travel with the Wise Men, we follow the star again and again to see with our own eyes that the Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t just for the Jewish nation, it is to be revealed to the Gentile nations as well.
In this particular Epiphany season, we focus on the God of this universe has awakened His church of all times and in all places through his servants in every age. We trace the awakening of one of our brightest fathers in the faith, Martin Luther. We see which great events shaped his life, we see how the Word of God worked on his heart, and we focus on the Five Solas of the Reformation, Faith Alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, Grace Alone, and the Glory of God alone. Pastor Muther and I are drawing from two biographies of Luther by Eric Metaxas and James Kittelson. Last week we saw how God awakened Luther little by little. It started in the in the waters of Baptism before he knew what was happening to him, last week, and this week, we fix our eyes on God waking up the child and the young man Luther to what it means to have a true fear, love, and trust in the one true God. Awakening in Fear is our sermon theme for today.
Three stories from my childhood and youth about waking up.
As time went on, this free gift of God’s grace led Luther out of the monastic life into marriage, out of the priesthood and into the office of pastor and proclaimer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ. More on that in the weeks to come.
In today’s Old Testament lesson, we find the grace of God awakening Samuel to what it means to have a true fear, love, and trust in God. You may remember that Samuel was the boy who was lent by his parents to the Lord. They were so grateful that God had heard his mother Hannah’s prayer for a child that they brought him back to the tabernacle and dedicated him to the Lord’s service. He may have been as young as five when he began to serve the aged priest Eli. His duties could best be described as custodial. He would be responsible for opening the doors of the house of the Lord, he would trim the wicks on the lamp just outside the Most Holy Place, he would make sure there was enough oil to last the hours of darkness.
Three meditations from I Samuel 3 I offer in closing today about the context in which God awakened Samuel into a proper fear of the one true God.
Lesson #1 comes from chapter 3 verse 1, “The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. In Samuel’s day, as in Luther’s, “the word of the Lord was rare.” In those days people had little interest in hearing what God had to say. The five books of Moses were kept in the tabernacle, and even the priests of Samuel’s day neglected them. Not since the death of Moses had there been a great prophet in Israel. History teaches us that no greater judgment can fall upon a nation than when it suffers the loss of God’s Word. When people do not appreciate the Gospel, God often takes it from them.
The prophet Amos said it this way, “Behold the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, that of hearing the words of the Lord.
Lesson #1 is to recognize in our midst a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. It is an invitation to pray for this nation, to pray for this congregation, and to pray for our own families, that God would permit whatever He needs to permit to drive us to repentance and a fear of the Lord, which is in fact the beginning of true wisdom. More and more, it seems as though fewer and fewer folks are hearing and holding on tight to the Word of God. Church attendance nation wide isn’t what it used to be. Church attendance and Bible study participation in this congregation isn’t what it used to be. Only you can answer for your own marriages and families. The question is as important as ever- Are we faithfully keeping our confirmation vow to be diligent in the use of the means of grace?
Lesson #2 is closely related to lesson #1. It comes from verse 10, where Samuel responds to the voice of the Lord, “Speak, for your servant is hearing In our text for today, shortly before dawn, Samuel was awakened by the sound of his name. He had never heard the direct voice of God before, and so he thought it was Eli. And so he responded, “Here I am.” Eli dismissed him, saying he must have been dreaming. Samuel was perhaps about 12 years old and only after he had reported for duty three times did Eli realize it was the Lord who was calling. And so he instructs Samuel to go and lie down and the next time God calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
One commentator notes that when Luther first read the story of Samuel getting called into the office of prophet, “he wished he could be like Samuel and hear God’s voice.” Of course the great discovery of Luther’s life was that on the pages of the Bible God does speak to us as he once spoke to Samuel. If lesson #1 was to recognize in our midst a famine of hearing the words of the Lord, then lesson #2 is to be awakened as Luther was awakened to the simple truth that God speaks to us in the very pages of Scripture, God speaks to us in the preaching and teaching and remembering of His Word. The secret to Samuel’s success as a prophet was the same as Luther’s success as a reformer, it was not that they excelled in speaking, but in listening.
Lesson #3 comes from v. 19, And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. Even before he was anointed prophet, God told Samuel that he was about to do something in Israel that would make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. Samuel saw a vision in which God revealed that he would be judging Eli and his family, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. The vision was so terrifying that Samuel didn’t want to deliver it. Eli insisted that Samuel not hide anything from him that God had revealed, and Samuel went ahead and delivered the bad news word for word.
Lesson #3 is to recommit ourselves in this place to let none of God’s Words fall to the ground. Even those words of law which make people’s ears tingle. Especially those words of good news that move the broken hearted people of God to want to more and more gladly hear the Word of God and keep it.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who wake up in the mornings making the sign of the cross. In regular fashion their hearts are broken and once in a while they can even feel their ears tingling as the Lord their God thunders His disappointment, His dismay, and even His disgust with bad habits into which they have fallen. But praise be to God, they keep on hearing that the wrath of their righteous God has been satisfied, they keep on believing that they have been bought at a price, God keeps on awakening them to what it means to spend their days fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. In Jesus’ Name.
Luther: Awakening to Faith
First in a series of six
Genesis 1:1-5 // Romans 6:1-11 // Mark 1:4-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We’ve reached the season of Epiphany, which means “Revealing, or “Light.” We lit candles in Advent in order to remember the coming of the Light of the World. We celebrate Christmas Eve in candlelit darkness to remember that on that Silent and Holy Night, “glory streamed from thy Holy Face, in the Dawn of redeeming Grace.” And in this week, as we move from the dawn of Christmas to the season of Epiphany, we remember that Epiphany means light. It means the revealing. It means the dawn -- it means, if we want to extend the metaphor, that we longed for the light in Advent. We saw the dawn of redeeming grace in the Christmas manger, and now in the six weeks of Epiphany, we see the awakening of God’s people.
In these six weeks, we see the God of Israel, the God of the universe and how he awakened His church of all times and all places through his servants in every age. This Epiphany, we trace the awakening of our Father in the Faith, Martin Luther. We dive into the great events that shaped his life as we see the Word of God work on him, and today we see him Awakening to Faith. For the description of Luther’s life and world, We draw from Eric Metaxas and James Kittelson’s biographies of Luther.
Awakening little by little. The Muther household wakes up pretty early these days, and some days are earlier than others. But these days most mornings start with a certain sequence of events. First, at about 5am, Amos will wake up. Then, Laura will wake up and start feeding Amos. Then, I’ll start to wake up because Laura is awake and Amos is awake, and then, Benjamin, I’m convinced, from the next room over senses that everyone is awake – they just seem to pick all kinds of things up, and then, and here’s the point, then before he’s really awake, he opens his door, he shambles his way to the edge of our bed. He gets in, and for the only minutes of the day that Benjamin sits still, we have 10 minutes of quiet snuggles. The point is, there’s a time when he’s awake, but he’s not really awake, when he’s waking up little by little.
That’s the moment we trace in Martin Luther’s life today, his baptism into the Christian faith. When all the assurances of and promises of baptism were his, yet he was not awakened to their full significance.
There is a richness and a busy-ness to the years around Luther’s life. The 15th and 16th centuries were days of innovation and opportunity. Michelangelo, Raphael, Thomas More, Copernicus, Machiavelli are only some of the giants that lived and published in Luther’s lifetime. In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. The new world was being discovered; whole continents were being found. Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, and for the first time, copies of books didn’t have to be handwritten, up to that point, if you wanted a copy of the Bible, you had to commission someone to write it for you. The world of Luther’s day was getting to be a lot bigger and a lot smaller.
But it was also a difficult time. In Florence, six out of ten infants did not live past 6 months old. In the city of Strasbourg, 16,000 people died to the Plague in one year. And people were hardened by this hardship and violence. One of Luther’s relatives was struck down in the street by a wandering soldier, for no apparent reason, and he was never brought to justice. Life, as the philosopher Thomas Hobbes put it a century later, was “nasty, brutish, and short.” Can you imagine life in that world?
Into this world Martin Luther was born. We don’t know which year Martin Luther was born – he thought 1484, but it could have been 82 or 83, but what we do know is that he was born on November 10th, because he tells that on the next day, just one day old, his father and mother, Hans and Margaretta, wrapped their little baby up, took him to the church and had him baptized and named for the saint of that feast day, St. Martin.
On that November 11th, Martin Luther participated in the sacrament that turned the disposition of his soul to receive the forgiveness of his sins, turned the disposition of his soul to the proclaimed grace and assurance that he would awaken to years after. And he participated in it before he understood what was happening.
That’s the Lutheran distinctive. In a way that no other denomination has done so well, we speak of the physical intermingling with the spiritual in the water and the Word. We speak of Baptism not so much as the declaration of our faith, but as the washing of rebirth and renewal instituted by Jesus, that makes us sons of the Father, with a water full of the Holy Spirit.
As Christians and as Lutherans, we believe that we enter into a story whose main point is Jesus. We find the promises of God center on him, on the man who did everything that was needed to be done. He was baptized, not for any sin that he had done, but to fulfill all that we are to do. He did teach. He resisted temptation. He depended on the Holy Spirit. He talked to his Father in heaven. He was man so that he could die for our sins, and he was God so that his sacrifice could be good for all, and he did all on our behalf.
You see, the Gospel – God’s work among us – began before we knew what was happening, before we even existed; it began at creation. The God who existed before the universe began is the same God who loved you before you opened your eyes, is the same God who came down into human history is the same God who delivered the goods of his grace to Martin Luther is the same God who delivered the goods of his grace to you in your baptism, is the same God who will call you on as your days draw to a close, and even as the universe draws to a close. We enter in by Holy Baptism, as St. Paul says, into the very center of the story, because we are united with Christ in his death so that we can be united with Christ in his resurrection.
C.S. Lewis writes of his conversion from atheism to Christianity as an adult rather than as an infant, but he writes in no less passive terms. In his book, Surprised by Hope Lewis recounts the very moments when he received in faith all the benefits that he had been guaranteed at his baptism: in the sidecar of his brother Warnie’s motorbike, which took place on September 22, 1931. And I quote, “When we set out I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did.”
The story of our humanity began at birth, from a place too deep and too marvelous for words. This is the Lutheran distinctive. The story of our Christianity begins in a place too deep and too marvelous for any word besides the name of our God, in and with the water, the name of YHWH, the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
And Paul goes further… You see, he isn’t answering questions about baptism out of a vacuum; he isn’t defining it for its own sake. He’s answering the question, the first question in our text, and he’s answering by reference to the very nature of baptism. He asks, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound?” Since we have the guarantee of God’s grace and favor, can we sin because we know we’ll be forgiven? His answer? “Certainly not! How can we who have died to sin still live in it?” And here he comes with the answer we repeat in every funeral liturgy, the promises of our birth from above that follow us past the point of death: “We were therefore buried with him by baptism into death [into CHRIST’S 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.”
Or as Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, “For this reason let every one esteem his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly, that he may ever be found in the faith and its fruits, that he suppress the old man and grow up in the new. For if we would be Christians, we must practise the work whereby we are Christians.”
The point is that the Christian life began in the promises of baptism, continues as we awaken little by little to the implications of that walk of faith in every avenue of our lives, every back alley of our being, every corridor, every nook and cranny of what it means to be a human surrounded by other humans, in a world awaiting Christ’s return.
To ask, in essence, how does this chapter of my life draw my eyes to see my savior? Or, in other words, to remind you of what I preached two weeks ago, that I’m a terrible softball player. I won’t go into the two sad little memories I had in fifth grade softball, but I want you to know: I will never have to seriously ask myself, “How do I play softball to the glory of God?” because my abilities do not lie in that arena of life. I will have to ask other questions: how do I play basketball in a God-pleasing way, how do I run races in a way that gives God glory? Because wherever my abilities lie, there my faith should expanding, looking, and asking questions.
And I tell you that to tell you this: this is the question, for the Christian, which we ask all the time. From the time that we teach our children to walk, we are asking and answering for them “How can you use your legs to the glory of God?” You might not have said it that way, but the answer is the same: We use our legs for walking to mom and dad, not for kicking or for running away. And as our abilities grow, so do our questions grow. These days I wonder more about my vocation as father, how to pass down my faith to my children, as pastor, how to draw others’ eyes from me to look instead at our savior, as neighbor, how to live my faith among all kinds of people. And every new place that we go, every new chapter of life, every new joy and sorrow, they beckon us to ask, “How does this chapter of my life draw my eyes to see my savior?”
For Luther, his baptism was a touchstone for his entire life. After his Gospel moment breakthrough of 1517, he looked back with great comfort on the day of his baptism. “[W]hat a great, excellent thing Baptism is, which delivers us from the jaws of the devil and makes us God's own, suppresses and takes away sin, and then daily strengthens the new man, and is and remains ever efficacious until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.”
Baptism is the awakening to faith, and it begins a life of opening little by little, to all that God is preparing for us. It connects us to the center of the story of how God is bringing salvation to all of creation. Baptism is the beginning of a journey to the end of all time.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town where brothers and sisters in Christ journey through every chapter of life drawing their eyes to their Savior. The troubles and joys change regularly but their children and their neighbors can sense that the question they ask and the answer they remember never changes. And so, as they continue to see their faith awaken in every chapter of life, they take the greatest delight in seeing that faith awaken from generation to generation.
Amen and Amen.
God With Us
First Sunday after Christmas
December 30 and 31, 2017
In Old Testament days, it was easy to believe that God was with you if your children were healthy, your reputation was solid, your land was paid for, and your nation were free and prosperous.
In these days, it’s easy to believe that God is with us when we get to tuck our children and grandchildren in their beds at night, warm and safe as they can be. It’s easy to believe that God is with us and is providing for us when our cars start right up on the coldest of morning, when our family holiday meals are festive and pleasant. It’s easy to believe that God is with us and smiling on us when we’re on our way to getting our houses paid for, our benefit plans are in order, and our vacations are planned and paid for in advance.
Our sermon theme today is “God With Us,” and for many of us, including my family, that’s a pretty easy proposition to believe. For many of us, if you were to put blessings on one side of the scale and troubles on the other, it wouldn’t even be close.
But if you’re one of 34 million children worldwide who are suffering from severe and acute malnutrition, you’d have to wonder about this faraway father in heaven who has supposedly redeemed and adopted you as sons and daughters. And if you’re one of over 600,000 homeless on any given night in the United States, you’d have to wonder about that Christmas joy the angels were singing about and that good news the shepherds couldn’t stop talking about.
And just to make it personal, if your name is Maria and you and your ten year old daughter are walking the cold streets of Minneapolis this afternoon, your story includes all kinds of addiction, all kinds of domestic abuse, all kinds of mental illness, you just finished eating a meal provided at a soup kitchen, and you know it will be three hours yet before you can check into a shelter for the night, you have to be wondering if God really is with you, and if he is, is this the best He can do?
To our text we go this morning, where we find that God was in fact with Mary and Joseph, He was with Simeon, and He was with Anna.
God was with Mary and Joseph in the prescribed (rituals). One advantage of belonging to the Jewish faith was that your days, weeks, months, and years were structured. There were the daily major feasts, including the Feast of Unleavened Bread / Passover, the Feast of Weeks / Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths. There were minor feasts, including the Feast of Trumpets, The Date of Atonement, and the Day of Assembly. Jewish believers knew where to go for the forgiveness of their sins, they knew where to take their stained and soiled hearts, they knew what sacrifices needed to be offered, they knew that God was with them in the prescribed rituals of their faith.
Mary and Joseph knew that God was with them, as Jesus first sheds blood on the (eighth day). Keep in mind that everything that happened to Jesus all that that He did was in fulfillment of OT prophecy and for the salvation of the world. Mary and Joseph knew exactly what to do on the 8th day. This ritual would take place in their home, and at the when his blood is first shed he receives the name given by the angel, Jesus. Paul teaches us in Colossians 2 that for New Testament Christians, to be uncircumcised is to be sinful and in rebellion against God. The benefits of Jesus’ circumcision are received by us in Baptism, where our hearts and minds are circumcised or changed. New Testament believers know where to go for the forgiveness of sins and to be incorporated into the family of God – we go to the waters of Baptism.
Mary and Joseph knew that God was with them, As they fulfill the law on the (40th day). Keep in mind that Jewish firstborn sons and animals had been spared and passed over by the angel of death in the Exodus from Egypt. At every Passover meal, the son would ask what was meant by all of these detailed rituals in the Passover, and the father would teach the family the story of the Exodus. For this reason, firstborn sons and animals belonged to God, and needed to be bought back or redeemed with a sacrifice of animal blood. Families who could afford it would sacrifice a lamb, poor families like Mary and Joseph could offer two turtle doves or pigeons. On the 40th day, Mary and Joseph knew that God was with them, as they brought the baby Jesus to the temple, rituals were followed as prescribed.
Mary and Joseph knew that God would be with them as Jesus would grow and fulfill his mission in life. Simeon reminded them that this child was appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, that he would meet up with all kinds of opposition, and that as Jesus taught and made his way to the cross, the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed. They knew that God was with them As the sword pierced their hearts (from that day forward). One can only wonder how the Spirit guided them through the ups and the downs of God’s story unfolding in and through them, but we of this we are certain, when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.
Application #1 today is to rejoice in the presence of God as often as we meet up with God in those places he has promised to be found, in the preaching and teaching of His Word, in the waters of His baptism, in the bread and the wine of His Supper.
God was with Simeon in the (fullness of time). (Story of roommate in college who would eat a wonderful meal and then would say, “I can die and go to heaven now.” Or he would look out our dorm window with his binoculars and see a beautiful girl walking by and would say, “I can die and go to heaven now.” A bit of exaggeration there, to be sure.
It was no exaggeration for Simeon, after he held the baby Jesus in his arms, to say, “I can die and go to heaven now.” Luke makes it clear in our text that Simeon was connected in a strong way with the Spirit of God. One pastor writes it this way, “Simeon didn’t have the Holy Spirit because he was righteous and devout. Simeon was righteous and devout because he had the Holy Spirit.” Three indications we have in our text that God was with Simeon, as He is with us in a perfectly timed kind of a way.
First, God’s Spirit was with Simeon as he received direct (revelation). Like Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph, Simeon was a righteous member of Israel. Like all of them, the Spirit of God was leading and speaking to him in a direct fashion.
Second, God’s Spirit was with Simeon As he predicted nation-wide (conflict). Simeon prophecies that the word of revelation brought by Jesus would pass through Israel like a sword. The ministry of Jesus would compel men to reveal their secret thoughts. For those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, Jesus would be received as Savior and Lord. For those who were blind and deaf to what God was trying to give them, Jesus would produce misunderstanding and ignorance. Many would be scandalized and crushed by Jesus, only a few would be lifted up and rescued.
Third, God’s was with Simeon, As he departed in (peace). Once he held the infant Jesus in his own arms, he could die and go to heaven. His bucket list was complete. Check list completed. The peace the angels had promised, the peace the world had no idea of how to give, the peace that Jesus gives was his. All was well with his soul.
If application #1 was to rejoice in the presence of God as often as He meets up with us in Word and Sacrament, application #2 is to rejoice in knowing that God keeps every one of His promises and that He does so with perfect timing.
If part #1 was that God was with Mary and Joseph in prescribed rituals, and if part #2 was that God was with Simeon in the fullness of time, then part #3 is that God was with Anna in all the (chapters of life). Anna had lived through all three vocations a woman can live. Until she was married, she was a virgin and cared for by her parents. For seven years she was married and protected and provided for by her husband. From the time her husband died and until she was 84 she lived as a widow and was cared for by other family and her local church.
Luke records that coming up at that very hour Anna began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. In other words, she was famous for spending her days in the temple worshiping and fasting and praying. She may very well have irritated the highly educated priests and scribes and Pharisees who wanted nothing to do with this old foolish woman. But that didn’t seem to matter to Anna. What mattered is that the Lord God of Israel was her God, what mattered is that He was with her and could be trusted. Two observations come to mind regarding Anna.
Observation #1is that She found what she was (looking for). As often as she went looking for the presence of God in the temple, she found the presence of God. As often as she went looking for the forgiveness of sins in the prescribed rituals of her day, she found the forgiveness of sins. The Spirit of God had worked inside of her a confidence that the Messiah was on his way, and when He came her way, she recognized him. To this very day, dear friends in Christ, the gifts of God are received only by those who are looking for them.
Observation #2 regarding Anna the prophetess is that Like the shepherds, she couldn’t keep good news (to herself) In our text for today, Simeon is like the angels, he is the herald of Good News. Anna is like the shepherds, she responds to the good news by spreading the message of the Nunc Dimittis. Whereas the shepherds couldn’t stop talking about the birth of Jesus, Anna couldn’t stop talking about the death of Jesus and the redemption of souls it would bring.
Application #3 is to recommit ourselves to living every chapter of life to the glory of God and for the spreading of the Good News especially to those who are having a hard time believing that God is with them.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who like Mary and Joseph wake up every morning comforted by the presence of God but at the same time uncomfortable with the reality that so many are waking up without a roof over their heads and even worse, these folks are convinced that if there is a loving God, He is far away. Like Simeon, they rejoice that God’s Spirit is leading them through life, but at the same time they are haunted by the reality that millions are living and dying without the peace that only Jesus Christ can give. And like Anna, they are as grateful as they can be that Christmas joy is ruling in their family, and at the same time they wonder which neighbors most need their help in these days. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Christmas Day, 2017
“God Loves Me Dearly”
Hebrews 1:1-3 - Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
“Let all God's angels worship him.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We begin with three little stories about folks who didn’t quite get Christmas right.
Story #1 is about little Annie who summarized it this way, “A lady named Mary and a man named Joseph went to Bethlehem. They couldn’t get a place to stay so they went to a stable that had cows and horses and mary had a baby in a manger, so far so good. The baby was crying and nobody could get any sleep and so his mom rocked him till he got quiet. But then the shepherds from the field came in and woke him up. When the lady got the baby quiet again, some wise men rode up on camels and gave the baby Jesus his Christmas presents, and in summery it was a busy night.”
Story #2 is about a woman who fell victim to the overwhelming pressure to go to every party, to taste every bit of the holiday food, to get the perfect gift for every single person on her shopping list, to make sure that her house was perfectly clean, and after a long day of shopping with two crabby children, as she pushed her way into a crowded elevator, she could be heard mumbling, whosever started this whole thing should be found, strung up, and shot. To which someone replied, “Don’t worry, we already crucified him!”
Story #3 is a favorite of mine, “It’s about an11 year old girl who gave her annoying little 8 year old brother a nice gift and a nice card, and on the inside she wrote, “Dear Johnny, merry Christmas. I hope you have a nice Christmas. I’m glad God gave you to be my brother. Love, Sally. P.S. Don’t read this note out loud or I will twist your head off!”
We miss the main point of Christmas when we imagine that it’s primarily about making the best possible memories or giving the best gifts possible. Christmas assignment #1, our text for today suggests, is to hear what God is trying to say to us, that God loves us dearly. In Old Testament days, He spoke that message through the prophets, in New Testament days, He speaks that message through His Son Jesus Christ.
Andrew Greely speaks about God loving us dearly in this way, “Our God is not patiently standing by and waiting for us to offer love but He is actively and vigorously perusing us. In the Old Testament we see this God of grace wheeling and dealing in the desert seeking men.
In these New Testament days, we see in Jesus all prophecies fulfilled. We see Jesus born in a manger, living to perfection, and offering up Himself as a bloody sacrifice to end all required sacrifices. The writer to the Hebrews gives us seven statements pointing out Christ as superior, directing our attention to Christ as the perfect revelation of God, teaching us again and again the simple truth of Christmas that Jesus loves me, this we know, Jesus loves us, this our grandparents and parents wanted us to know, Jesus loves, this is what we want our children and grandchildren to know with all of their hearts and souls and minds.
Seven statements of who Christ is and the offices that He holds and all that He has done, and then three takeaways, three lessons, three thoughts on what it means to receive into our hearts that God loves us dearly.
In closing on this Christmas Day three takeaways, three lessons, three thoughts on what it means to receive into our hearts that God loves us dearly. 1) God’s love is personal. 2) God’s love give us value. 3) God’s love compels us to love one another.
God’s love is personal. The kingdom of God is like a little boy who was separated from his mother in the mall. He was looking around for his mommy, he was getting scared. He began to cry because everyone was a stranger. Everything looked confusing. Every store was packed, nobody could tell him it was ok. Until his mother found him, she picked him up, his eyes began to dry. He was safe in his mother’s arms. When you have someone who loves holding you, it doesn’t matter anymore what everyone else does or what the circumstances are or what the future holds. God’s love is personal.
God’s love gives us value. Just a couple of days ago, I was dusting the top of the shelf that hadn’t been dusted for a time. There I found something I had forgotten we even possessed. It was my dad’s old baseball glove, my hunch is he played with it as a young man, in the early 40’s. I have no idea how much it cost, but it’s value to me has nothing to do with how much it would be worth on ebay. It’s value has to do with the memories it brings to my heart. Memories of my dad loving dearly loving me not so much with words but with actions. Dad loving us by providing, by protecting, and by sacrificing. Even more than that, dad loving me by making sure I was baptized, dad and mom making sure I was sitting still in church and making sure I was sitting still in Sunday School and making sure I was sitting still in Confirmation Class learning the Christmas story, learning the Good Friday story, learning the Easter story, learning even the Pentecost story.
Which brings us to our final takeaway, our final thought, our final lesson learned, that God’s love compels us to spend our days loving one another.
A Vietnam veteran and Air Force Colonel John Mansur tells a story of an 8 year old orphan girl wounded by a mortar attack. It was determined she would die if a blood transfusion did not take place. It was further determined that no Americans present had the correct blood type, but several of the uninjured orphans did. The doctor spoke a little bit of Vietnamese, a nurse spoke a smattering of high school French, and together they explained that unless someone gave blood, this little girl would die.
Eventually a small hand slowly went up, dropped back down, and then went up again. His name was Heng, and he agreed to give blood. They swabbed his arm with alcohol, they inserted a needle into his vein, he was silent for a time and then began to sob. His eyes were screwed tightly shut, his fist he put in his mouth to stifle his crying.
They stopped the procedure long enough to explore what was wrong. The nurse finally figured out what was happening. Heng though he was going to die. He thought he was required to give all of his blood so that a little girl could live. They asked him why he would be willing to do that. To which he answered, simply, “She’s my friend.”
No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who don’t really look any different than other people, but they are. They are set apart simply by knowing they are dearly loved by God. They spend their days receiving God’s kindness and patience, and then they go looking for folks who need a listening ear and a kind word. They spend their days first of all holding onto what they have learned from their mother’s knees, and then they make sure the next generations know and will never forget that God’s love is personal, God’s love gives them value, God’s love compels them to love one another. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther