“Words of Spirit and Life” (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-53)

Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 29, 2020

“Words of Spirit and Life” (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-53)

Have you been starting to feel like you’re Lazarus? I mean, you’ve been cooped up in your quarantine “tomb,” not just for four days, but now going on fourteen days. You’ve been stuck inside so long, maybe skipping showers, maybe skipping laundry–“Lord, by this time there will be an odor!” You’re stuck inside, and you’re waiting for someone to speak the word, “Lazarus, come out!” But for now, it looks like you’re going to have to wait a little longer. The President’s hope that we will be able to go back to church on Easter–well, we’ll have to wait and see if that can come to pass.

And so we wait. Inside. Virtual reality. But what is very real, and what is very powerful–indeed, what is creative and life-living–is the word of God. The word of God gives us hope and joy, in the midst of economic uncertainty and social isolation, even in the midst of disease and death. The words that God speaks to us–even today, now as you hear them–these are “Words of Spirit and Life.”

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Published in: on March 28, 2020 at 10:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Quarantine of Lent” (John 9:1-3; Hebrews 12:2; Psalm 27:5)

Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 22, 2020

“The Quarantine of Lent” (John 9:1-3; Hebrews 12:2; Psalm 27:5)

“Quarantine”: That’s a word we’re hearing a lot of these days. It means “a period of forced isolation,” and it is done in the interest of the public health. But do you know the origin of the term “quarantine”? It comes from the practice in medieval Italy of keeping ships suspected of carrying disease–of keeping those ships in isolation for a period of forty days. You see, the term “quarantina” literally means “forty days.”

Well, the church has its own period of forty days, during which we are to self-isolate, in a way, in the interest of our spiritual health. This time, this season of the church year, is called Lent, and we’re in it right now. Lent is a penitential season, in which we are to inspect ourselves, to see the symptoms of the underlying deadly disease we all are carrying–namely, sin–to repent of our sins, and to turn to God for forgiveness and renewed life.

It just so happens that this year the forty days of Lent coincide almost exactly with our national health crisis. Lent began at the end of February, which is just about the time concern over the coronavirus began to grow. We’re in the midst of the pandemic panic right now. Businesses are shutting down. Churches are canceling services. Governors are issuing “shelter in place” orders. People are “self-isolating” and doing “social distancing.” People are scared, both of the virus itself and of the impact it’s having on the economy–and your own personal economy.

Dear friends, while this pandemic is real, and people’s fears over it are real, today I want to invite you to use these forty days of Lent to good purpose. See this time as a quarantine, a time in which you come to grips with your sins and your fears, a time to trust in God to forgive and sustain you, and a time to look with hope to your long-range–yea, eternal–future. And so our theme this morning: “The Quarantine of Lent.”

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Published in: on March 22, 2020 at 2:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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“How Being Justified Changes Your Life” (Romans 5:1-8)

Third Sunday in Lent
March 15, 2020

“How Being Justified Changes Your Life” (Romans 5:1-8)

How has this coronavirus thing changed your life? Has it? Maybe it hasn’t. But for lots of people, it has. Let me count the ways. No baseball, that’s the main thing. No hockey either. No March Madness. Universities have shut down. K-12 schools have shut down. No toilet paper to be found on the shelves. Travel plans are being disrupted. The economy is being hurt. The stock market is down big-time. I know for myself I’ve lost about $5,000 on my investments so far this year, almost all of that in the last few weeks. Cancellations, closures, and precautions like crazy. I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire life. Lots of negative impacts, lots of bad effects, all rippling out from this one virus. One thing leads to another, and the dominoes begin to fall. People’s lives are being negatively affected by this epidemic and the reaction to it.

The coronavirus is an example of how one thing can change your life in many ways. In this case, most all of the effects are negative. But how about an example on the positive side? Is there anything that can change your life for the better, with the effects rippling out in many ways? I think there is. In fact, I know there is. God’s word tells us about it today. In our Epistle reading for today, we hear about “How Being Justified Changes Your Life.”

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Published in: on March 14, 2020 at 11:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Remembering Betty” (Isaiah 43:1-3a, 25; Hebrews 10:11-25; Luke 23:33, 39-43)

Funeral Service
March 10, 2020

“Remembering Betty” (Isaiah 43:1-3a, 25; Hebrews 10:11-25; Luke 23:33, 39-43)

You know, it’s funny, sometimes, what we remember–and what we don’t remember. Oftentimes that’s the case with how we remember someone who has recently died. We tend to focus on that person only as they were in their last few months or their last couple of years. Take, for example, our dear friend and sister, Betty. What’s most recent in our memory of her is how she was in declining health these last few years, especially the last few months. We think about how her memory was going, and so on. But there’s so much more to remember about Betty than that.

How do we remember Betty here at St. Matthew’s? I remember when I first met her, oh, probably about twelve years ago. She was not a member of our church at that time, but one of our members had talked to her, and recommended St. Matthew’s. So I had the opportunity to go visit Betty when she was living over here on Benham Street. I found out that Betty had been a Lutheran, having been confirmed many years ago in St. Louis, but she had been away from church for a long time. So I then proceeded to re-catechize Betty over the next few weeks, and soon she became a member of our congregation.

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Published in: on March 10, 2020 at 9:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Happy Rebirthday!” (John 3:1-17)

Second Sunday in Lent
March 8, 2020

“Happy Rebirthday!” (John 3:1-17)

Yesterday, March 7, was my birthday. Or was it? Oh yeah, sure, March 7 was the day I was born–so many years ago now. But that’s not my only birthday. I’ve got another one, too, and it’s even more important. And that’s September 10. You see, that’s the day I was baptized–again, so many years ago, but that’s my re-birthday. For on that day I was born again, born from above, born of water and the Spirit. And all of you who have been baptized in the name of the triune God–the day of your baptism, likewise, is your “Happy Rebirthday!”

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Published in: on March 7, 2020 at 8:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Two Men You’re Related to” (Romans 5:12-19)

First Sunday in Lent
March 1, 2020

“Two Men You’re Related to” (Romans 5:12-19)

You know those ancestry tests you can take? You know, the ones where you spit into a little tube, and you send it off, and then they let you know what your ancestry is. And they’ll even give you lists of names of people you’re related to, including people maybe you didn’t know you were related to. Well, today I’m going to tell you about two people you definitely are related to, and–guess what–you don’t even have to spit into a tube. And so our theme this morning: “Two Men You’re Related to.”

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Published in: on February 29, 2020 at 9:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Apostolic Witness and the Prophetic Word” (2 Peter 1:16-21)

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Sunday, February 23, 2020

“The Apostolic Witness and the Prophetic Word” (2 Peter 1:16-21)

“Cleverly devised myths.” That’s what we Christians are accused of believing. All that stuff about Jesus Christ being the Son of God and the only Savior of the world? “Just a bunch of fables, fairy tales, myths.”

But then this is nothing new. Even back in the first century, Christians were ridiculed for believing the same thing. People said they were falling for a bunch of poppycock, fables and fairy tales. St. Peter refers to this in our epistle for today when he writes, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And to counter that false accusation, Peter then cites two testimonies that support the message about Christ. They are the eyewitness testimony of the apostles and the Spirit-inspired testimony of the prophets in Holy Scripture. The Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles–these give us a firm foundation for our faith. They assure us that we are not following just some “cleverly devised myths.” And so our theme this morning: “The Apostolic Witness and the Prophetic Word.”

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Published in: on February 22, 2020 at 11:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“A Better Righteousness” (Matthew 5:21-37)

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 16, 2020

“A Better Righteousness” (Matthew 5:21-37)

Every week at the end of the Holy Gospel reading, I say, “This is the Gospel of the Lord.” Well, today at the end of the Holy Gospel reading, when I said, “This is the Gospel of the Lord,” I wanted to answer back and shout out, “No, it isn’t! This is not the Gospel of the Lord! This is all Law!” And indeed it is. Jesus is laying on the Law mighty thick. But he’s doing it for a good reason. He wants to strip away our self-righteousness, so that we will be ready to hear the good news of a better kind of righteousness than we can come up with on our own. And so our theme this morning: “A Better Righteousness.”

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Published in: on February 16, 2020 at 1:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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“See the Light, Be the Light” (Matthew 5:13-20)

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 9, 2020

“See the Light, Be the Light” (Matthew 5:13-20)

Two weeks ago, during this Epiphany season, the Gospel reading was from Matthew 4, and it included this verse: “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” The great light that they saw, the light that had dawned on them, was Jesus, as he began his ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, and gathering disciples. Jesus Christ is the light that shines in the darkness. As he himself would later say, “I am the light of the world.”

Now today we move from Matthew 4 to Matthew 5. And in our Gospel reading today, Jesus says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” So, which is it? Is Jesus the light of the world or are we, his disciples, the light of the world? The answer of course is “Yes. Both.” Jesus is the light of the world. And we, his followers, are the light of the world, also. But each in the proper order. First and foremost, Jesus himself is the light. And then secondarily, we are the light of the world. And so our theme this morning: “See the Light, Be the Light.”

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Published in: on February 8, 2020 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Purification of Mary, the Presentation of Our Lord, and the Consolation of God’s People” (Luke 2:22-40)

The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord
Sunday, February 2, 2020

“The Purification of Mary, the Presentation of Our Lord, and the Consolation of God’s People” (Luke 2:22-40)

For most Americans, today is being called either “Groundhog Day” or “Super Bowl Sunday.” But for us in the church, we observe this day, February 2, for two events that are much more significant, namely, “The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord.” And that in turn will lead us to celebrate something that results from this day, and that is, the consolation of God’s people. Thus our theme this morning: “The Purification of Mary, the Presentation of Our Lord, and the Consolation of God’s People.”

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