“Repent, Believe, and Follow” (Mark 1:14-20)

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 25, 2015

“Repent, Believe, and Follow” (Mark 1:14-20)

In the early chapters of the gospels, we track Jesus’ early ministry, as he goes about Galilee, preaching, teaching, and healing. As sort of a subset of his healing ministry, Jesus also casts out demons. And interspersed among these accounts, Jesus also gathers disciples to himself. And so it is that today and for the next two weeks we get such accounts of Jesus’ early ministry from the first chapter of Mark. Today we get a sample of Jesus’ preaching and his calling disciples. Next week we will see Jesus casting out an unclean spirit. Two weeks from today, we’ll see Jesus healing physical ailments. And through these readings, we will gain insight and faith for what all of this means for us.

Today, then, we hear Jesus speak to us, saying, “Repent, Believe, and Follow.” “Repent and believe”: That’s a summary of Jesus’ preaching. “Follow”: That’s Jesus’ call to discipleship. Repent, believe, and follow: Three imperatives, three commands, from the lips of Jesus. Repent, believe, and follow: Three words that lead to forgiveness, faith, and purpose in life for every one of us.

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Published in: on January 25, 2015 at 1:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Glorify God in Your Body” (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 18, 2015

“Glorify God in Your Body” (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)

“Flee from sexual immorality.” “Glorify God in your body.” Now those are two direct quotations from today’s Epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 6. “Flee from sexual immorality.” “Glorify God in your body.” Two imperatives, two commands, telling us what to do. Are they true? Yes, of course. This is what we should do, both things. One is stated in terms of what we should flee from. The other is stated in terms of what we should positively do.

But now suppose this was all that Paul had to say to us here. “Flee from sexual immorality.” “Glorify God in your body.” OK, you’ve got your orders. Now go out and do what I say. Would that be enough? Would that get the job done? No, I don’t think so. And Paul doesn’t do just that. There’s a whole lot more here than just giving orders. And that other stuff, surrounding the commands, will give us a clue as to how the Bible teaches and encourages us to live the new life as Christians, what we call “sanctification” or “holiness.” And so it is with that surrounding context that we too will be able to say, “Glorify God in Your Body.”

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Published in: on January 17, 2015 at 10:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Something in the Water” (Mark 1:4-11; Romans 6:1-11; Genesis 1:1-5)

The Baptism of Our Lord
Sunday, January 11, 2015

“Something in the Water” (Mark 1:4-11; Romans 6:1-11; Genesis 1:1-5)

I don’t listen to pop music or country music on the radio, but recently I read that there is a song that’s popular on the airwaves right now that makes some references to baptism. That caught my attention, naturally, so I looked it up and listened to it online. It’s a song called “Something in the Water,” by a singer named Carrie Underwood. I don’t know if you’ve heard it or not. But it does have to do with baptism. Now very likely it’s coming from a theological perspective on baptism we wouldn’t agree with entirely, but even so, it’s surprising that a song about baptism would even make it on the charts, much less be a big hit.

Let me tell you a little about this song, in case you haven’t heard it. Miss Underwood starts out by singing about a conversation she had with someone who, in the midst of his frustrations, had followed a preacher man down to the river and now, he says, he’s changed, he’s stronger, “there must’ve been something in the water.” Then Carrie herself, the singer, says that one night, when she was out of hope, cried out to God and felt his love pouring down. So she then “got washed in the water, washed in the blood.” And now, Carrie says, “I’m changed, I’m stronger, there must be something in the water.” And so the song proceeds.

Well, good. It’s refreshing to see a song that at least alludes to the Christian faith make it big on the airwaves. While this song “Something in the Water” doesn’t use the word “baptism,” and it doesn’t mention Christ by name, the song is nice as far as it goes, I suppose. But it only scratches the surface. I don’t know, can you scratch the surface of water? In any case, today I would like to take us deeper into the water of Holy Baptism. Yes, there is “Something in the Water”–a number of things, actually–so let’s find out what they are.

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Published in: on January 10, 2015 at 6:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“What’s the Big Deal about Epiphany?” (Matthew 2:1-12)

The Epiphany of Our Lord
Tuesday, January 6, 2015

“What’s the Big Deal about Epiphany?” (Matthew 2:1-12)

“What’s the Big Deal about Epiphany?” I mean, what’s so special about this festival that we should have a special service for it, and on a day other than Sunday? In January, no less! In the cold! Really, so what’s the big deal? Why bother having a service on this date?

There are several reasons I could mention. First of all, there is the history of it. The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord, celebrated on this date, January 6, immediately after the twelve days of Christmas–Epiphany has been a major festival in the church for a very long time. In fact, it’s one of the oldest and longest-standing festivals to be observed in the church. And you don’t just get rid of something like that without first investigating it thoroughly to know what you would be getting rid of and then having a very good reason for doing so. Otherwise, the default mode in the church is to keep the tradition. We should not presume to think that we know better than the centuries of Christians who have gone before us and have kept the Epiphany festival. So there’s that.

Besides, if you still want to kinda sorta keep Epiphany, but you decide to shove it off to a nearby Sunday, because you don’t want the bother of having to come out on a weekday–well, then you lose whatever would have been the readings and the theme for that particular Sunday. For instance, if you had moved Epiphany to this past Sunday, then you would have lost the account of twelve-year-old Jesus at the temple. Or if you move Epiphany to this coming Sunday, then you would lose the Baptism of Our Lord, and you don’t want to do that. So the distinctive observance of Epiphany on its fixed date, January 6, with its distinctive Gospel reading from Matthew 2–namely, the visit of the wise men to the Christ child, which we only get on this day–this is something worth keeping and doing on the day itself.

So the long history of the Epiphany celebration on this date is one reason to keep it. But now I want to focus on three other reasons for why Epiphany became a festival and a hallowed tradition in the first place. And they are these: 1) Epiphany leads us to the Messiah. 2) Epiphany is the Gentile Christmas. And 3) Epiphany is a cause for great joy. So here we go.

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Published in: on January 6, 2015 at 10:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Depart in Peace” (Luke 2:22-40)

First Sunday after Christmas
December 28, 2014

“Depart in Peace” (Luke 2:22-40)

Are you ready to go? What I mean is, are you ready to leave? No, I don’t mean right at this very moment. It would be nice if you would stick around till the end of the service. But then, at the end of the service, will you be ready to leave? By that I mean, will you be ready to leave in peace, satisfied and content and ready for whatever comes next?

What makes you ready to leave, to leave any situation? For instance, this year is coming to a close. Are you ready to put 2014 behind you and move on to whatever 2015 may bring? What makes you ready to leave, even to leave this life? That day could happen any day, you know, any hour. Are you ready to go? If the Lord were to decide to call you home, even today, would you be ready? If not, why not? If so, what would make the difference?

Today in the Holy Gospel we meet a man who was ready to go. He was ready for whatever might happen next. And we find out in this text why he was ready, what made the difference. The man’s name is Simeon, and I think we can learn something from him today about what it means to “Depart in Peace.”

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Published in: on December 27, 2014 at 9:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Watershed Moments: Jesus’ Birth and Our Own” (John 1:1-18; Titus 3:4-7)

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
Thursday, December 25, 2014

“Watershed Moments: Jesus’ Birth and Our Own” (John 1:1-18; Titus 3:4-7)

Today is Christmas Day. This is the day for celebrating the greatest birth in the history of the world, the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The birth of Christ marks the watershed moment in all of human history. By a “watershed moment,” I mean a moment so significant that it marks a division between what went before and what comes after. And so it is with the birth of Christ. We even divide up time according to it: “B.C.,” “Before Christ,” and “A.D.,” “Anno Domini,” “In the Year of the Lord” such-and-such, that is, it’s been so many years since our Lord’s birth.

But besides being a day to celebrate our Lord’s birth, today is also a day for celebrating another birth–your own. And by that I mean your rebirth, your second birth, as a child of God. That is the watershed moment in your life, in your own personal history, the day when you were born again, born from above, in the waters of Holy Baptism. And our readings today speak of both of these momentous occasions: “Watershed Moments: Jesus’ Birth and Our Own.”

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Published in: on December 25, 2014 at 4:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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“What Christmas Is All About: God Saving Us, in a Humble Way, to Be His People” (Luke 2:1-20; Titus 2:11-14; Isaiah 9:2-7)

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
Wednesday, December 24, 2014

“What Christmas Is All About: God Saving Us,
in a Humble Way, to Be His People”
(Luke 2:1-20; Titus 2:11-14; Isaiah 9:2-7)

What is Christmas all about? How do people view Christmas and celebrate it? Why do they look forward to it? Or do they? Some people get burned out on Christmas and want to avoid it. But most folks still like to maintain the custom of celebrating Christmas. Why? What is it about this holiday that makes it so special? I think there is something about this holiday that is special, but it may not be the same as what most people think.

For most people, for most Americans, at least, I think it’s sort of a nostalgic glow that is the big thing about Christmas. They associate it with happy memories from days gone past. Tinsel and lights on the Christmas tree. Packages nicely wrapped and piled up under the tree. Kids eagerly awaiting the visit from Santa. Christmas cards taped to the door. Christmas stockings hung on the mantle. Christmas songs played on the radio, and Christmas specials on TV: Rudolph, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and Frosty the Snowman. Happy times with Grandma and Grandpa. That special Christmas dinner, with family traveling from all over to get together, and all sitting around the table. Whether it was ham or turkey–or, in the case of us Henricksons, lutfisk and Swedish meatballs and rice pudding–Christmas dinner with the family is one of the most treasured memories of this holiday.

Now is there anything wrong with those happy associations with Christmas? No, not at all. All good things, when kept in proper perspective, and all to be enjoyed. Good stuff. But are those what Christmas really is all about? Tonight I’d like to suggest, no, those nice things, as nice as they are, are not the essence of Christmas. I think they all come out of Christmas, as a byproduct thereof, but the original connection with the essence of Christmas has become more and more loosened as the years and the centuries have gone by.

So what is Christmas all about? I’ve thought about that question, and in looking over the lessons assigned for this night, I think we can boil it down to this: “What Christmas Is All About: God Saving Us, in a Humble Way, to Be His People.”

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Published in: on December 24, 2014 at 10:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Mary, What DID You Know?” (Luke 1:26-38)

Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 21, 2014

“Mary, What DID You Know?” (Luke 1:26-38)

Every year several of the radio stations in St. Louis start playing nothing but Christmas music. I think they start sometime around mid-August, but that’s beside the point. They play Christmas music, and a few of the songs even have something to do with the birth of Christ. Yes, it’s true! And one of the most popular of these songs is a song called, “Mary, Did You Know?” You’ve probably heard it, I’m guessing. The idea of the song is that someone is asking Mary, the mother of our Lord, if she knew what would become of her son. Did she know at the time of his birth what her son would do later on? And so a couple of the lines from the song go like this: “Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?” “Mary, did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?” And so on. You get the idea. It’s not a bad song. It uses the poetic device of addressing Mary and asking her about her baby, to highlight what the Christ child would go on to do–why he came, really.

But the song, as it stands, raises this question of what Mary actually did know at the time when Jesus was born. In other words: What did Mary know, and when did she know it? And that’s where our text for today comes in, the Holy Gospel from Luke chapter 1. This text tells us what Mary knew, even from the time it was announced to her that she would give birth to the Christ child. And with that, we will be able to answer the song’s question–and find some answers for ourselves, as well–as we find out: “Mary, What DID You Know?”

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Published in: on December 20, 2014 at 10:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Great Christmas Gift Exchange” (Isaiah 61:1-4, 10-11)

Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, December 17, 2014

“The Great Christmas Gift Exchange” (Isaiah 61:1-4, 10-11)

There is a game that is played at this time of year at Christmas parties all across the land. The game goes by several names, but I think most often it is called “Rob Your Neighbor,” and I’m sure many of you have played it. The rules may vary from place to place, but generally I think it goes something like this. Each person brings a gift that could go to anyone in the group, depending on how the game turns out. The gift is wrapped in a package, so you can’t tell what is inside. When it’s your turn, you pick one of the gifts. The thing is, you have nothing to go on, other than the packaging. But watch out, because the packaging, the size of the box and the colorful wrapping–that might be impressive, but the gift inside may not be so great. On the other hand, the best gifts might be in the least impressive packaging. You don’t know. Then, after everyone has got a gift–then everybody unwraps their package and sees what’s inside. At this point, a period of “robbing your neighbor” may ensue. If it’s your turn, you may steal a gift from someone else at the table. But then somebody else may steal it away from you, and so on, and so on. When time runs out, who knows what you’ll end up with?

So that’s one kind of Christmas gift exchange that may or may not turn out so great. It’s all in fun, though, because the gifts are not that expensive, and so it’s not that big of a deal what you get or don’t get.

But today I want to tell you about a gift exchange that is a pretty big deal. And it’s no game; this is for real, as real as it gets. The items exchanged are not all of the same value; there’s quite a difference among them. Don’t look at the packaging; in this case, the best gifts will come in rather unimpressive-looking packaging. And best of all, what gets taken from you is nowhere near as valuable as what you get in return. And so today we’ll hear about “The Great Christmas Gift Exchange.”

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Published in: on December 18, 2014 at 3:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Who Are You, John?” (John 1:6-8, 19-28)

Third Sunday in Advent
December 14, 2014

“Who Are You, John?” (John 1:6-8, 19-28)

How would you like to be defined in terms of someone else? I mean, who you are, your life and identity–when people think of you, they always compare you to somebody else? Are you like this person? Are you like that person? I suppose it could get old after a while. Why can’t people just take you for who you are, on your own terms? Well, today we’ll meet someone whose life was always being defined in terms of someone else. And you know what? He was okay with it. And so this morning we ask the question: “Who Are You, John?”

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Published in: on December 14, 2014 at 2:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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