“Here’s the Catch” (Luke 5:1-11)

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 10, 2019

“Here’s the Catch” (Luke 5:1-11)

In 2001 the baptized membership of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was a little over 2.5 million members. In 2017 the baptized membership of the LCMS was slightly under 2 million members. That’s a loss of a half-million members in sixteen years, a 20% decline.

Here in our little congregation, our membership likewise has experienced some decline. This is not surprising. It’s a similar story all across the synod. As the older members have died off, there haven’t been the younger members to replace them. In churches all across America, there’s been a long slow decline over several decades, since the end of the Baby Boom, really.

On top of that, we’re fighting the culture. We’re swimming against the stream. Whereas church membership and church attendance used to be commonplace back in the Fifties and early Sixties, that ship has sailed long ago.

So now everybody is concerned about numbers. Everybody wants the church to grow. Churches tend to be obsessed these days about increasing their numbers and avoiding decline. And sometimes it seems they’ll try anything to stop the bleeding and boost their numbers.

Yes, everybody wants the church to grow, there’s no dispute about that. But “Here’s the Catch”: How? How should the church grow? Well, today Jesus–who, after all, is the Lord of the church–today our Lord gives us direction on how he wants his church to grow.

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Published in: on February 8, 2019 at 7:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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“The Love Chapter: Way More than a Wedding Text” (1 Corinthians 12:31b – 13:13)

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 3, 2019

“The Love Chapter: Way More than a Wedding Text” (1 Corinthians 12:31b – 13:13)

It’s February! And you know what that means. Soon we will hear those most wonderful of words: “Pitchers and catchers report.” No, I’m just kidding. While the start of Spring Training is a beautiful thing, I’m referring to something else that happens in February. And that is Valentine’s Day. Now we hear and see everywhere the beautiful word, “love.” Love is in the air! Love is everywhere! Go into any greeting card store and you will see row upon row of cards with hearts on them and the word “love” on every one. February is the Love Month.

But then, so is June–or any month when a lot of weddings take place. Love is the theme in so many weddings. Soloists will sing about love. Preachers will preach about love. And if there’s one Bible passage the couple will invariably request as one of the readings, it is 1 Corinthians 13. Yes, 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter! Love is described, love is extolled. And most importantly, love just sounds nice at a wedding. These words in the Love Chapter are heard as kind of like soft and inoffensive Muzak in an elevator: pleasant background noise that you don’t have to pay too much attention to. The couple isn’t listening, the bridal party isn’t listening–after all, they haven’t been in church since they were kids, so a Bible reading is just something you put up with when you have a wedding. And the people in the pews are just thinking about how beautiful the bride looks, and how cute the flower girl is, and “How long is this service going to last so we can get to the reception?”.

I exaggerate of course. But the point I’m making is that lots of people have heard 1 Corinthians 13, especially at weddings, but maybe they haven’t thought too deeply about it. They haven’t understood that this chapter is not primarily about weddings or marriage. Now of course real, self-giving love is tremendously important in a marriage, but this chapter is not directly about that. What 1 Corinthians 13 is primarily about is our life within the church. That’s what we’re going to discover now, under the theme, “The Love Chapter: Way More than a Wedding Text.”

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Published in: on February 2, 2019 at 7:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Many Members, One Body” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31a)

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 27, 2019

“Many Members, One Body” (1 Corinthians 12:12-31a)

I’m sure most of you have heard the children’s nursery song that goes like this:

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!
Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!
And eyes and ears and mouth and nose,
Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!

This is a cute little song that teaches the child the various parts of his or her body. But that’s the understood assumption, namely, that all these body parts go together and are meant to work together in that child’s body. It’s not like these various body parts have a life of their own and can function independently or even at odds with one another. It’s not like the head and shoulders should be working against the knees and toes. If they did, why, you’d be falling down a lot and not functioning up to your full potential. No, all these body parts are meant to work together, in harmony with one another, in that one body.

Well, in today’s Epistle lesson from 1 Corinthians, St. Paul is doing kind of a “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” song with the church at Corinth. As we will now see. And so our theme this morning: “Many Members, One Body.”

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Published in: on January 26, 2019 at 9:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Finding Jesus: A Joyous Epiphany” (Matthew 2:1-12)

The Epiphany of Our Lord
Sunday, January 6, 2019

“Finding Jesus: A Joyous Epiphany” (Matthew 2:1-12)

Today is January 6, and that means today is Epiphany. The Epiphany of Our Lord is a major festival in the church year, a big one, almost on a par with Christmas. And, like Christmas, Epiphany is a fixed-date festival, meaning it always falls on the same date, regardless of the day of the week. So most years we celebrate Epiphany with a special service on a day other than Sunday, and we have to make a special effort to get here. But this year January 6 happens to fall on a Sunday, when we’re here anyway. Most years we have our Epiphany service in the dark, and the weather might be bad. This year we’re here in the daylight, and the weather is no problem. All of which makes our Epiphany service this year very easy and convenient.

But that’s not the way it was for the first Epiphany service! It was by no means easy or convenient. The worshipers at the very first Epiphany service had to travel an extremely long way to get there. Plus, they didn’t even know exactly where the service would be until they got there! And to get there, they had to cross paths with a very dangerous and deceitful man. Then there was the offering they gave at the service–talk about costly! Well, even with all those obstacles, the first Epiphany worshipers still thought it was worth the effort. In fact, they were overjoyed! And so are we. Thus our theme today: “Finding Jesus: A Joyous Epiphany.”

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Published in: on January 5, 2019 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Truth of Christmas: The Word Became Flesh” (John 1:1-18)

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
Tuesday, December 25, 2018

“The Truth of Christmas: The Word Became Flesh” (John 1:1-18)

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This is the most wonderful good news we could ever receive! It is this central truth that makes Christmas Christmas. It’s not about toys or Santa Claus or mistletoe or even getting the family together. Those are all good things, but they’re not essential to Christmas being Christmas. Christ is–he, the Word made flesh. And that’s why we’re here this morning.

People like to think of Christmas as something soft and fluffy, full of warm and fuzzy feelings. Curled up on the couch, watching a Hallmark movie. Christmas as hot chocolate for the soul. But to reduce Christmas to that–well, that falls way short. Christmas is not cute and cuddly. Christmas is raw and real. Christ came into our world to deal with the root problem of humanity, which is sin. Christ came in the flesh, because that’s the only way it could happen. Christmas is earthy, not fluffy. It is flesh-and-blood reality that brings God to us, up close and personal. And that is what makes the real Christmas ultimately so offensive to the world.

But to us who know the truth of Christmas, its “fleshiness” is absolutely crucial and vital. Our very salvation depends on it! And so the church must always be vigilant about confessing “The Truth of Christmas: The Word Became Flesh.”

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Published in: on December 24, 2018 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“What Child Is This?” (Luke 2:1-20)

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
Monday, December 24, 2018

“What Child Is This?” (Luke 2:1-20)

When a child is born, there are questions that people typically ask. Parents wonder, “Is he healthy?” “How much does he weigh?” Grandparents ask, “What did you name her?” “Who does she look like?” Nurses and doctors closely examine the child and want to know, “Is he alert?” “Are her lungs clear?” We expect those kinds of questions.

But there are other questions we never expect to hear at the birth of a child. No one would ever think to ask, “Who will handle his funeral arrangements someday?” Or, “What cemetery do you think he’ll be buried in?” Or, “What will cause his death?” The Scriptures say, “For everything there is a season.” And the season for asking about a person’s death is usually not at his or her birth.

The hymn we just sang asks a very unusual question about a child born in Bethlehem: “What Child Is This?” However, it is a fitting question, because this child is born in a most unusual way. His mother is a virgin. His birth is announced by a heavenly host of angels praising God. So, what child is this? The wonderful answer is proclaimed by the angel: “I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

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Published in: on December 22, 2018 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (O Antiphons)

Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 23, 2018

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (O Antiphons)

The Hymn of the Day today for this Fourth Sunday in Advent is hymn 357 in Lutheran Service Book, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Please turn there now and maybe even mark it with the ribbon, because we’ll be referring to it throughout the sermon.

You’ll notice on the page facing the hymn that there is a heading, “The Great ‘O’ Antiphons.” And there you will see seven such antiphons, listed by date, starting on December 17 and ending today, December 23. They’re called the “O” Antiphons, because each one starts with an “O,” which you use when you’re addressing someone, followed by a particular title addressing Christ: O Wisdom, O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, and so on. And they are antiphons, which are little framing verses used in the liturgy. In this case, they were used to frame the Magnificat, during Vespers over the last seven evenings before Christmas Eve.

Now if you compare these “O Antiphons” to the hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” you will see that these seven antiphons were the basis for the seven stanzas of the hymn. The only difference is that we sing the Emmanuel hymn stanza first, whereas the Emmanuel antiphon actually comes last–today, on December 23.

The O Antiphons are prayers to Christ, in anticipation of his coming at Christmas, each one using a different messianic title. These titles each have their own background in the Old Testament, and they are fulfilled in the New Testament in the coming of Christ. And so there is a message for us in these seven antiphons, because each one tells us something about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And who Jesus is, and who he is for us, makes all the difference in the world–indeed, in this world and the next. So let’s find out what that message is. And, in fact, there is even a hidden message here, which we’ll get to at the end.

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Published in: on December 21, 2018 at 10:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Meeting of the Moms” (Luke 1:39-45)

Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, December 19, 2018

“The Meeting of the Moms” (Luke 1:39-45)

Over these three midweek Advent services, we’ve been looking at readings from Luke chapter one, which is the lead-up to the Christmas Gospel itself in chapter two. Back in our first midweek service, we heard the angel Gabriel announce to Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a child named John, John the Baptist. Then last week we heard Gabriel announce to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. Now today these two storylines intersect. Mary goes to visit her relative Elizabeth. It’s the account of “The Visitation,” that is, the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, while both women were expecting their very special children. I’m calling this story “The Meeting of the Moms.”

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Published in: on December 19, 2018 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Problem of Perplexity and the Promise of Hope” (Luke 7:18-28)

Third Sunday in Advent
December 16, 2018

“The Problem of Perplexity and the Promise of Hope” (Luke 7:18-28)

What happens when something you’ve been hoping for, something you’ve been waiting for eagerly and expectantly, what happens when it finally arrives, and your life still doesn’t get any better? In fact, it may even get worse. What then? Well, it can be rather perplexing. You may ask yourself: “Is there any hope for me to hold on to? Has God forgotten about me? Why is he letting this happen?” If you’ve ever felt like that, then our message today is just for you. And so our theme: “The Problem of Perplexity and the Promise of Hope.”

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Published in: on December 15, 2018 at 1:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“An Impossible Son, an Impossible Deliverance” (Judges 13:2-7; Luke 1:26-38)

Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, December 12, 2018

“An Impossible Son, an Impossible Deliverance” (Judges 13:2-7; Luke 1:26-38)

It was an impossible situation. For forty years, Israel had been suffering under the oppression of the Philistines. The Philistines were looting their cities and ravaging their countryside. It was a period of great distress. Israel was in a dark and hopeless time. Often, though, in God’s way of doing things, dark and hopeless times give birth to new hope and renewed faith. So the Lord heard the Israelites’ cries of distress and did for them what was humanly impossible: He delivered them from the hand of the Philistines.

But God’s rescue plan did not involve gathering an army or amassing the weapons you would expect. God’s plan in this case centered on one man. An army of one, you might say. One man who singlehandedly would rescue Israel without touching a conventional weapon of war.

What’s more, God’s rescue plan began in circumstances that also seemed impossible: A barren woman would give birth. The angel of the Lord spoke to the wife of Manoah. “Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son,” the angel said. Earlier in Israel’s history, the Lord had done great things through the barren wombs of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel. Sarah gave birth to the patriarch Isaac. Rebekah gave birth to the patriarch Jacob. Rachel, to Joseph and Benjamin. Later on, the Lord again would do great things through the womb of Hannah. She would give birth to the prophet Samuel. And much later, it would be the aged Elizabeth who gave birth to John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. But now in the Book of Judges, the Lord will do the impossible through the barren wife of Manoah. She will give birth to Samson, a mighty deliverer who, in some ways, is a type of an even greater Deliverer to come. And so our theme tonight: “An Impossible Son, an Impossible Deliverance.”

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Published in: on December 12, 2018 at 1:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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