“Out of the Water, into the Wilderness” (Mark 1:9-15)

First Sunday in Lent
February 18, 2018

“Out of the Water, into the Wilderness” (Mark 1:9-15)

Today is the First Sunday in Lent, which means that the Holy Gospel is an account of the temptation of our Lord. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this episode that took place right after Jesus’ baptism. This year we hear from Mark, who tells it the most briefly. Just two verses, as follows: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.”

Mark gets us right into the action, very direct, straight to it. Jesus is plunged right into the conflict and opposition that will mark his ministry and lead to his death. The word “immediately” stands out in Mark. When Jesus was baptized, “immediately” he saw the heavens opening. Then the Spirit “immediately” drove him out into the wilderness. Wham! Bam! Straight to it! “Immediately”!

Jesus goes “immediately” from his baptism in the Jordan to his temptation in the wilderness. And what I want you to see today, friends, is that this is how it is for us, too. We have been joined to Jesus in baptism, and so we also will be tempted. There is no escaping it. Like our Lord, we go immediately “Out of the Water, into the Wilderness.”

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Published in: on February 18, 2018 at 12:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Hearts and Ashes” (Joel 2:12-19)

Ash Wednesday
February 14, 2018

“Hearts and Ashes” (Joel 2:12-19)

Today is Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is a day for sending your love a box of candy and a Valentine’s card. Something like this:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue;
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.

Yes, it’s a day for hearts and flowers.

But by coincidence of calendar, today is also Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a day for recognizing our sinful heart, repenting of our sin, and remembering our mortality:

Roses are red,
Ashes are gray;
Remember you’re dust–
You’ll return there one day.

But Ash Wednesday is also a day for returning to the Lord and receiving his grace from his heart of love. So this is a day, as we’ll hear now, for “Hearts and Ashes.”

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Published in: on February 14, 2018 at 5:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Where Is the Healing?” (Mark 1:29-39)

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 4, 2018

“Where Is the Healing?” (Mark 1:29-39)

Every year during the Epiphany season, we get Gospel readings in which Jesus is doing the activities of his public ministry. We see Jesus busy with things like preaching, teaching, and healing the sick. For example, take the readings from Mark 1 we’ve had these last few weeks. Two weeks ago we heard Jesus preaching, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Last week Jesus was in the synagogue teaching, and “he taught them as one who had authority.” Now this week we see Jesus healing the sick, healing Simon’s mother-in-law–in fact, doing a whole lot of healing: “And he healed many who were sick with various diseases,” it says.

So in his ministry Jesus was very much engaged in these activities: preaching, teaching, and healing. But this raises the question: Is Jesus still doing these things today? Preaching? Yes, Jesus still today is preaching to us, proclaiming the gospel of God. To be sure, he does it now through his preachers, for he says, “He who hears you hears me.” Alright, so there’s the preaching. What about teaching? Yes, same thing. In Bible class, the Lord opens our minds to understand the Scriptures, so that we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So preaching and teaching–yes, Jesus still is doing these things today, through the ministry of his church.

But then that leaves healing. And now we’ve got to ask: Where is that going on today? Has Jesus given up on the healing part? Was that only for back then, and that’s it? Is there nothing for us today? And so our question this morning: “Where Is the Healing?”

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Published in: on February 3, 2018 at 8:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The War of the Worlds” (Mark 1:21-28)

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
January 28, 2018

“The War of the Worlds” (Mark 1:21-28)

Have you ever heard of “The War of the Worlds”? No, I’m not talking about H. G. Wells’s classic novel about Martians invading Earth. Nor am I talking about Orson Welles’s radio version of “The War of the Worlds,” which had some people thinking it was an actual news broadcast. And I don’t mean the movie versions that have been made, either.

No, “The War of the Worlds” I’m talking about today is no piece of fiction. It is very real, and it has been going on for a very long time. It is the war we see exemplified in the Holy Gospel for today, from Mark chapter 1. It involves the attacks that Satan and his crew launch upon humanity, to inflict every evil of body and soul upon us–upon you. It is the devil’s domain vs. the kingdom of heaven, and guess which one will have the upper hand? Let’s find out now, as we witness “The War of the Worlds.”

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Published in: on January 27, 2018 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Hold Lightly to the Things of This World” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 21, 2018

“Hold Lightly to the Things of This World” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

Are you married? Some of you are, some of you aren’t. OK, so let’s broaden the field. How about these questions: Are there times when you mourn? Are there times when you rejoice? Or how about these: Do you ever buy goods? Do you ever have dealings with the world? OK, now I think I’ve got everybody covered. Well, here’s what I want you to do today. Two words: Stop it. That’s it: Stop it. Stop doing those things! Live like you’re not married. Stop mourning. Stop rejoicing. Live like you have no goods. Live like you have no dealings with the world. Just: Stop it. Why? Because the time is short. This world is passing away.

Alright, lest you think I’ve gone off the deep end, let me explain. What I just told you is a somewhat simplified version of today’s Epistle reading, from 1 Corinthians 7. So if you’re going to send me to the funny farm, you’ll have to send St. Paul too. He’s the one who said it. But the reality is, this is God’s word we’re hearing today. And today God is encouraging us to “Hold Lightly to the Things of This World.”

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Published in: on January 20, 2018 at 8:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Philip and Nathanael: A Story of Witnessing” (John 1:43-51)

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 14, 2018

“Philip and Nathanael: A Story of Witnessing” (John 1:43-51)

The Holy Gospel for today, from John 1, takes place very early in Jesus’ ministry, when he was first gathering his disciples. It’s the story of Philip and Nathanael, how they came to be disciples and follow our Lord. It’s the story of “Philip and Nathanael: A Story of Witnessing.” Now today let their story become your story also.

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Published in: on January 13, 2018 at 9:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“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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“And the Word Became Flesh” (John 1:1-18)

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
Monday, December 25, 2017

“And 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.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Christmas marks a dividing line between truth and error. The reality of what happened at Christmas–namely, that the Word became flesh–that reality is so shocking, so utterly unreasonable and offensive, that it drives people crazy. It causes them to deny the truth and to promote error in its place. Most all the classic heresies that have been around for 2,000 years now, in various forms, have this in common: They cannot handle the truth of Christmas. They cannot stand the idea that the Word, the eternal Son of God, had to become flesh, with all the implications that flow out of that.

Now we like to think of Christmas as kinda soft and fluffy and inoffensive. Cute and cuddly. But to reduce Christmas to that–well, nothing could be further from the truth. Christmas is not “cute.” Rather, it is raw reality that deals with the root problem of humanity. It is earthy, not fluffy. It is flesh-and-blood stuff that brings God to us up-close and personal. And that is why ultimately it is so shocking and controversial. But to us who know the truth of Christmas, its “fleshiness” is absolutely crucial. Your very salvation depends on it! And so the church must always be vigilant about confessing this truth: “And the Word Became Flesh.”

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Published in: on December 25, 2017 at 12:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” (Luke 2:1-20)

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
Sunday, December 24, 2017

“From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” (Luke 2:1-20)

For our Christmas Eve homily tonight, I thought I’d let Luther lead the way. This is the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, after all, and Martin Luther wrote and preached much on the wonder and the mystery of Christ’s birth. It was a favorite theme of his. So tonight we’ll use Luther’s great Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” as the basis for our meditation. You’ll find it as Hymn 358 in your Lutheran Service Book.

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Published in: on December 24, 2017 at 6:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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