“The Heavens Being Torn Open” (Mark 1:4-11)

The Baptism of Our Lord
Sunday, January 7, 2018

“The Heavens Being Torn Open” (Mark 1:4-11)

How many of you know when your baptismal birthday is? Mine is September 10. What’s yours? It’s good to take note of and remember the day of your baptism, that happy day when all your sins were washed away and you became a child of God. So if you don’t know your baptismal birthday, you might want to go ahead and find out when it is and then celebrate it.

But did you know there’s a baptismal birthday going on today? And that it’s one all of us can celebrate? Because today is the First Sunday after the Epiphany, the day in the church year when we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord. This is the day we remember that event when our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. So today is, in effect, Jesus’ baptismal birthday.

The Baptism of Our Lord is an event recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and also referred to in the Gospel of John. The accounts are very similar, except here and there one writer may include a detail that another leaves out, or one writer may use slightly different wording to describe the same event. So it is in our text today from the Gospel of Mark. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention that when Jesus was baptized the heavens were opened, but only Mark uses the exact word choice that we find today. He says: “And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening.” “The heavens opening,” but more literally it says: “The Heavens Being Torn Open.”

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Published in: on January 7, 2018 at 1:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“What Epiphany Tells Us about Worship” (Matthew 2:1-12)

The Epiphany of Our Lord
Saturday, January 6, 2018

“What Epiphany Tells Us about Worship” (Matthew 2:1-12)

The Festival of the Epiphany of Our Lord always falls on January 6, regardless of the day of the week. In that respect, it’s like Christmas, which always falls on December 25. Both are what are called “fixed-date festivals.” And so right after the twelve days of Christmas comes Epiphany. This year Epiphany, January 6, falls on a Saturday, and that’s why we’re here today.

Epiphany has long been part of the church’s worship. In the early church, Epiphany was observed perhaps even more than Christmas. This was because, while at Christmas Christ was revealed to the Jews, at Epiphany Christ was revealed to the Gentiles, and the church rapidly included more Gentiles than Jews. At Christmas, remember, the angels said to the shepherds, who were Jews, “I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people,” meaning, the Jewish people. But at Epiphany, that good news of great joy was extended to the Gentiles, to non-Jews–in this case, to the wise men, the Magi. And so Epiphany is often referred to as the “Gentile Christmas,” when Christ was first made known to the nations outside of Israel.

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Published in: on January 6, 2018 at 6:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Best Picture: The Transfiguration of Our Lord” (Matthew 17:1-9)

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Sunday, February 26, 2017

“Best Picture: The Transfiguration of Our Lord” (Matthew 17:1-9)

Tonight will be the Academy Awards ceremony coming from Los Angeles. Tonight they’ll give out the award for, among other things, Best Picture of the year. I don’t know which one will win, but I want to tell you, this morning here in the church, we get to see a far better “Best Picture,” and it is none other than “The Transfiguration of Our Lord.”

The picture we see at the Transfiguration had its share of special effects–lighting, sound, and so on. And there were a couple of guest stars making a cameo appearance–Moses and Elijah. But clearly the leading man in this story is our Lord Jesus Christ himself. He is the star shining most brightly. Who Jesus is revealed to be and what he’s about to do for us from this point on–that is why Jesus is the one who makes the Transfiguration the Best Picture you’ll see today.

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Published in: on February 25, 2017 at 1:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Be Who You Are, Children of Your Heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:38-48)

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
February 19, 2017

“Be Who You Are, Children of Your Heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:38-48)

The Holy Gospel for today can be a hard one to understand, much less a hard one to actually do. In it Jesus says things like “Turn the other cheek,” “Give somebody the shirt off your back,” and “Go the extra mile.” Oh, Jesus, really? Those things sound hard! Maybe you don’t really mean that. Is there a way we can explain those things away? But then Jesus goes further. He not only says we should love our neighbor–that can be hard enough–he even says we are to love our enemies. Yikes! Are you kidding me, Jesus? Surely this must be some kind of hyperbole or figure of speech. You don’t really mean this, do you?

What’s more, Jesus says that you are to love your enemies, “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Is that what it takes to become God’s children, to love our enemies? If so, I think most of us will be in a heap of trouble and end up on the outside looking in. Again, is Jesus really being serious here?

Then Jesus wraps things up with this whopper of a statement: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Oh boy. Now I know I’m in trouble. “Be perfect”? I’m having trouble even reaching 90%. But be perfect? Ouch! What do I do with that?

Well, there’s a couple of things that people do with these teachings of Jesus. But I think they miss the mark, they miss the point of what Jesus is saying. I want to show how that happens. I also want to show how we can take Jesus seriously in what he says and still be OK. So that’s where we’re heading, under the theme, “Be Who You Are, Children of Your Heavenly Father.”

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Published in: on February 18, 2017 at 8:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Salt of the Earth, Light of the World” (Matthew 5:13-16)

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 5, 2017

“Salt of the Earth, Light of the World” (Matthew 5:13-16)

Our text today is a portion of the Holy Gospel, reading again from verses 13-16 of Matthew 5: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” This is our text. And so our theme this morning: “Salt of the Earth, Light of the World.”

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Published in: on February 4, 2017 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Your Blest Life Now” (Matthew 5:1-12)

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
January 29, 2017

“Your Blest Life Now” (Matthew 5:1-12)

You’ve probably heard of a TV preacher by the name of Joel Osteen. He’s got a huge megachurch down in Houston, and he’s got a massive audience on television. He’s also written a number of best-selling books, the most famous of which is called “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential.” What Mr. Osteen does that has made him so successful is to dish out some warmed-over self-help pabulum, and people are lapping it up. He says things like this: “Your best days are not behind you, they’re still out in front of you.” Or “Faith activates God.” Or “You have to learn to follow your heart.” Ooh, deep thoughts! This is kind of a “Power of Positive Thinking” for the 21st century. Osteen is always directing his followers to think positively about themselves, to look inward, and to expect good things to happen as a result. Well, I’m sure Mr. Osteen is living his best life now. He’s got a $10.5 million-dollar, 17,000 square-foot mansion in the Houston suburbs.

Now this motivational self-help stuff wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t masquerading as Christianity. But it is, and that’s the problem. Osteen’s religion is not the Christian faith, not even close. St. Paul says “we preach Christ crucified.” Joel Osteen preaches you glorified. St. Paul says “the word of the cross” is the power of God and the wisdom of God. In Mr. Osteen’s church you will not even find a cross, and he won’t preach about it, either. Quite a difference. But people fall for this spiritual junk food, they can’t get enough of it, and they think this is what Christianity is.

The Osteen religion stands in stark contrast to what Jesus teaches in the Holy Gospel for today, the Beatitudes, in Matthew chapter 5. Jesus offers a much greater treasure than just “your best life now.” Jesus bestows life that is much greater than your circumstances, whether rich or poor, whether living high on the hog or beat up and broken down. Whether you’re prospering by the world’s standards or you’re being persecuted by the world, the life Jesus gives cannot be taken away from you. So rather than seeking after “your best life now,” instead follow Jesus and discover “Your Blest Life Now.”

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Published in: on January 28, 2017 at 5:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“You Are My Servant, Israel” (Isaiah 49:1-7)

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 22, 2017

“You Are My Servant, Israel” (Isaiah 49:1-7)

Two weeks ago, for the Baptism of Our Lord, the Old Testament reading was from Isaiah 42, the first of four so-called “Servant Songs” in the second half of Isaiah. “Behold my servant,” Isaiah 42 begins, “my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” And we certainly see Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy in his baptism, as he sets out to do the will of his Father, fulfilling all righteousness. The Father voices his approval, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And the Spirit comes to rest upon Jesus, anointing him as the Messiah and empowering him for his mission. Jesus clearly is seen as the servant of the Lord.

Also two weeks ago, I said we would be hearing all four of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs” in the readings coming up: Isaiah 49 on January 15; Isaiah 50 on Palm Sunday; and Isaiah 53 on Good Friday. So we should have heard Isaiah 49 last week, but we were iced out. That’s why I’m taking it up today, so we don’t miss out on the complete set. Thus today we come to the second Servant Song, from Isaiah 49, under the theme, “You Are My Servant, Israel.”

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Published in: on January 21, 2017 at 11:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Three Evangelism Pointers: Point, Invite, and Find” (John 1:29-42a)

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 15, 2017

[Note: The Divine Service at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Bonne Terre, Missouri, for January 15, 2017, has been iced out. So I am posting the sermon for the equivalent Sunday, the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Series A, from January 20, 2008. CH]

“Three Evangelism Pointers: Point, Invite, and Find” (John 1:29-42a)

The Epiphany season traditionally is a time for emphasizing the church’s work of evangelism and missions. Why is that? Well, think of the event celebrated on the Epiphany festival: Wise men from the east, being led by a star to find the Christ child–in other words, the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles. Or think of the word, “Epiphany”; it means “manifestation,” “appearing,” literally, a “shining forth.” In the Gospel readings during the Epiphany season, we see Jesus shining forth into a sin-darkened world. And now, in our day, the church is the beacon Christ uses for that shining forth. What we heard earlier in the reading from Isaiah applies not only to Christ but also to his church: “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Today, then, we’re going to see how Christ will use us to be that light shining forth. Only we’re not going to talk about bringing salvation to the end of the earth as much as we’ll talk about bringing it to the places right nearby. Local evangelism, personal witnessing–that is our focus today. In today’s Gospel reading, we see several good examples of personal witnessing. Of course, the first priority is that this text would witness to us, bringing us the good news of salvation. Only then, with faith and forgiveness in Christ, and alive in his Spirit–only then can we hear it also for what it tells us about our witnessing to others. But the gospel is powerful enough to do both, bring good news to us and help us bring good news to others. In that light, then, today we will pick up “Three Evangelism Pointers: Point, Invite, and Find.”

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Published in: on January 14, 2017 at 10:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Behold My Servant” (Isaiah 42:1-9)

The Baptism of Our Lord
Sunday, January 8, 2017

“Behold My Servant” (Isaiah 42:1-9)

“Behold my servant,” the Lord says to us today. Who is this servant, you ask? It’s Jesus, of course. The Christ, the Anointed One, baptized as the Lord’s servant, to do the will of the one who sent him. Jesus, the Christ, anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism. And Isaiah is here to tell us about him. Through the prophet Isaiah now, the Lord invites us to look upon Christ, saying, “Behold My Servant.”

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Published in: on January 7, 2017 at 8:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Arise, Shine, for Your Light Has Come” (Isaiah 60:1-6)

The Epiphany of Our Lord
Friday, January 6, 2017

“Arise, Shine, for Your Light Has Come” (Isaiah 60:1-6)

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.”

“Arise and shine”? Are you kidding me? On a Friday night? In January? On a dark and cold night, with snow on the ground? “Arise and shine”? Heck, it was hard enough to arrive on time, much less “arise and shine”! “Arise and shine.” After the week I’ve had? Yeah, Pastor, why are you dragging us out here on a Friday night in January anyway? I don’t know of many other churches that are having services today.

And that’s unfortunate. Because having church on Epiphany used to be more common than it is today. Many churches have dropped having Epiphany services on Epiphany, which is always January 6, regardless of the day of the week. Instead, these churches transfer Epiphany to the Sunday before or the Sunday after, or they even ignore it altogether. If they transfer it to a Sunday, then whatever was on that Sunday gets bumped from the church year. And if they ignore Epiphany altogether, then they’re ignoring a major festival in the church year, one that has been celebrated in the Christian church for many, many centuries–in fact, one of the earliest festivals to be observed. And that’s a shame. Because the themes of the Epiphany festival are so important and so joy-giving. And they’re summed up in that opening verse from Isaiah 60: “Arise, Shine, for Your Light Has Come.”

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Published in: on January 5, 2017 at 7:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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