5 January 2019 - Vera Heminger Memorial Service

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” This prayerful verse from Psalm 9 was the verse I chose to give to Vera on the day she was confirmed as a Lutheran, and became a communicant member of our congregation, on May 24, 2015.

She was one of the most extraordinary catechumens I have ever instructed. The study book we were using for her classes had a series of questions at the end of each chapter, with the expectation that each question could be answered with maybe one or two sentences. Vera answered each question with one or two pages!

I’ve never known anyone who was more eager to learn, and to grow in her understanding of important things, than Vera. I think she took this approach toward a lot of subjects. But where I really saw it, was when the Holy Spirit had planted within her a desire to learn about God and his saving truth.

When she first came to Redeemer, Vera jokingly referred to herself as a “pagan.” But it’s been a long while since she said that!

The more she studied, the more excited she became about what she was learning. But for Vera this was not merely an intellectual exercise, to satisfy a religious curiosity. As the Holy Spirit drew her ever more deeply into the Holy Scriptures, he thereby drew her ever more firmly into the embrace of Christ.

When we began our course of study, she did not yet have a firm grasp on exactly who Jesus was or what he had done for her. A lot of this was a new thing for her.

But by the time she received her first Holy Communion, she knew, by the faith that God had worked in her, that she was mystically receiving into her body and soul the living Savior who had forgiven all her sins, who had promised eternal life to her, and who had pledged always to abide with her as her divine guide and heavenly protector.

She continued to be a voracious learner. Those who took part in the Bible studies in which she was a participant, all know what thoughtful questions she asked, and what helpful insights she shared with the group.

Our Thursday study group recently concluded a thorough study of the Book of Job - from which one of today’s readings is taken. Vera was an active participant in our explorations of how to understand the trials and sufferings of the righteous; and of how God brings good things out of bad situations, and teaches his people even in the midst of their doubt, weakness, and confusion.

Vera took a great interest in how ancient history in general sheds light on the ancient cultural context of Scripture. She took a great interest in Christian apologetics - that is, the defense of the faith against the faulty and baseless criticisms of skeptics.

Today’s reading from St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is an example of that sort of thing. Paul did not simply assert that Jesus rose from the dead, but he gave a list of the names of the people who saw him alive - people who could be consulted and interviewed if any of Paul’s readers doubted the veracity of his testimony to the real historicity of this cosmic event.

Vera’s critical yet open mind wrapped itself around this kind of scholarly material, and was invigorated by these studies.

Her commitment to the church also took practical forms, as she sang in the choir, served on the altar guild, provided rides to church for someone not able to drive, and tried to be helpful and encouraging to others in so many ways. She always sought to discern what the right thing to do, in any given situation, would be; and then with God’s help and wisdom she would try to do it.

Vera loved Christ, because Christ loved her. And because she loved him, she loved this church, and the people in it, because Christ’s Word was honored here, Christ’s voice was heard here, and Christ’s grace was experienced here.

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” Indeed, Vera sought the Lord, so that she could put her trust in the Lord. And she was not forsaken by the Lord whom she sought and trusted.

This is not the way it was for Vera for most of her life. She had been baptized, but was not raised in church.

About four years ago, however, when I received an email from her asking for a summary of the beliefs of our congregation on certain questions, and when she responded to my response by joining us for worship the following Sunday, something new, something wonderful, and something deeply meaningful, began to happen to her.

A new life from God, which was continually nurtured by his Word, became a part of her. Her baptism came back to life within her, and she began to live, every day, under the righteousness of Christ.

She knew that by his gracious justification she was right with God, she was at peace with God, and she would have a joyful future with God - not only in this world, but also in the world to come.

When, therefore, she was taken ill with the effects of a cancer that had been growing inside her body, and when a cascade of health problems soon began to emerge as a consequence of this, she told me that she was ready to depart from this world if that would be God’s will for her.

I wasn’t ready to lose her, as a parishioner and as a friend, and tried to encourage her not to think in such ultimate terms. But somehow she sensed that this may very well be the beginning of the end, as far as her mortal life was concerned. And sadly, she was correct.

But her illness was not just a sad time for her. She rejoiced in the compassionate and tender love that was experienced between her and her husband David during this trial, as he took such good care of her and spent so much time with her. This was very important to her, and was greatly valued by her.

Her daily reliance upon the mercy of God was brought into sharper focus by her loss of all illusions of self-sufficiency. She was in God’s hands - as she always was - but now she was vividly aware of that fact. And her faith in God’s promises was greatly strengthened.

This is all reflected very beautifully in the words of the hymn that Vera herself requested to be sung at her funeral:

Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

During her last illness, visits from Christian friends - and from me, her pastor - were deeply appreciated. The last time I visited Vera was on the day before she died.

This was a Monday, and for our devotion I quoted from the Gospel, from St. Luke, that had been read in church the previous day, and that had been the basis for my sermon that Sunday. What I quoted, and then commented on, was the song of Simeon:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

What Simeon was talking about, was his readiness to depart from this world, and to die - whenever the Lord would call him from this life - because he had seen, and had had a personal encounter with, the divine Child Jesus. This holy Babe embodied in his very person the Lord’s salvation.

Jesus was destined to live, die, and rise again for the redemption of all nations - and of Simeon. This removed from Simeon all fear of death, because he knew that through this Child his sins would most certainly be forgiven, and therefore were already - in God’s heart - forgiven.

Since God most certainly would be, and therefore was already, at peace with him, he was at peace with God, and within himself. And because Simeon was ready to die, he was also ready to live - to live without anxiety or worry, in the confident joy of who he was in God’s eyes, and of the certainty of what God had promised him.

Those of you who were in church here last Sunday heard some of this; and heard about how these things also apply to us, who know Christ today through his Word and Sacraments. And Vera heard this the day before she died. In the midst of all the uncertainties of her life, she rested in the comfort of this message.

We prayed the Lord’s Prayer together, and then we parted. She smiled, and I said that I would see her again. It won’t be as soon as I thought it would be, when I said it at that meeting, but I will see her again.

All of us who know the Savior she knew and knows, will see her again. We will see, and experience for ourselves, what the Apostle John saw, as recorded in the Book of Revelation:

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

“And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’”

John was then given an explanation of who these people are:

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.”

“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

It is comforting for each of us to know that Vera believed these things, and is now experiencing these things as she awaits the final resurrection. To us, she was too young, and was taken from us too soon.

But we can accept it, if God had a different plan for her - a good and gracious plan for her eternal joy - even if his plan deprived us of as much of her companionship in this life as we would have wanted.

At a time like this - when we see, and are distressed by, what happened to someone as vigorous and vibrant as Vera was - we are also thereby confronted with the reality of our own mortality.

But each of us can be personally comforted - with respect to our own standing before God, and our own readiness to depart from this world - by a renewal within us of the same faith as Vera had, planted into our hearts by the same Spirit who indwelt her, and focused on the same Redeemer who claimed her through his gospel.

We want - we need - to hear these words from the one who is also our own Savior, and our own Shepherd:

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. ... My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

If this is a new thing for you - if you are not, as we might say, very “religious” - that’s OK. It was a new thing for Vera, too, four years ago. In the past she was also not very religious, until she became religious - or more precisely, until she found a home in God’s house, as a member of God’s family, where she was embraced by, and in turn embraced, her brothers and sisters in Christ.

You, too, can find a home where Vera found a home. You, too, can know God as your heavenly Father, and Jesus as your constant friend and companion. And, you can be ready, as Vera was ready.

We are still in the Christmas season. The decor of the church today testifies to this. But we should not think that our sobering thoughts about the loss of Vera are somehow incompatible with the joy of Christmas.

The message of Christmas is a joyful message precisely because it gives us hope as we face the inevitability of death. Jesus was born to die.

And Jesus died - for us - so that when we die, we will also live, forever, with him. The Christmas hymn that we will sing in a couple minutes ties this together for us:

O Jesus, dearest Child, On Thee will we rely,
And, calling on Thy name, We die not when we die.
To Thee alone we cling, For Thee all else forsaking;
On Thee alone we build Tho’ heaven and earth be quaking.
To Thee alone we live, In Thee alone we die;
O Jesus, dearest Lord, With Thee we reign on high.

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” Amen.

6 January 2019 - Epiphany - Matthew 2:1-12

In the Middle Ages, in western Europe, the festival of the Epiphany came to be seen as a festival about three gentile kings - from Arabia, Persia, and India - who were guided by a star to come and worship the Christ child. The names that were attached to these kings were Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar, respectively.

It was believed that these men each eventually became Christians in the full sense of the term, and were martyred for their faith. It was furthermore believed that the relicts of these three kings were housed at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany - which helps to explain the popularity in Germany of the festival of the Epiphany - or as it is commonly called there, the Day of the Holy Three Kings.

But St. Matthew’s inspired account of their visit, which we heard a few minutes ago, does not say that these men from the east were kings. It calls them “magoi,” or magi - rendered in some English translations as “wise men.” The “magoi” were a caste of religious leaders and astronomical scholars within the Persian Empire.

And St. Matthew also does not say that there were three such magi. Many in the Eastern Church - especially among the Christians of Syria - believe that there were actually twelve magi.

Where did the idea of three kings come from? Probably from the fact that Matthew lists three specific gifts that they brought, so that people assumed that each visitor brought one gift; and probably also from that portion of the Book of Isaiah that was read today as our Old Testament lesson. Isaiah prays to the Christ child from across the centuries:

“And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. ... A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.”

But this passage is not specific enough, with respect to the particular event of the visit of the magi, to establish as a fact that the magi were kings. From what Matthew says about them, there is actually no reason to think that they were kings.

But that doesn’t mean that there are no kings in the story of Epiphany. There are two kings.

The first king is Herod, who was not of the Davidic line, and who was not even Jewish, but who had been appointed as King of the Jews by the Romans.

The second king is Jesus, the legal son of Joseph - whom the angel had called “Son of David” when Jesus’ conception was explained to him in a dream. And Jesus himself was referred to by the magi as “he who has been born king of the Jews.” St. Matthew writes:

“In the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”

Herod certainly took notice when the magi told him that they were looking for this legitimate king, because Herod knew that his kingship was not, in the final analysis, legitimate. He had not been “born” King of the Jews, with David counted among his ancestors, but he had been made the King of the Jews by an invading foreign power.

He was vulnerable to being overthrown by the rightful king. His throne was not secure. So the baby the magi were seeking, whoever he was, was a threat to Herod.

St. Matthew continues his account:

“Assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, [Herod] inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’”

“Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’”

The magi did go to Bethlehem. They did find Jesus. And they worshiped him when they found him. They did not worship Herod. He was not the king they were looking for, and they knew it. But Jesus was that king.

In the United States of America, with its Constitutional government, we do not live under a king - or at least not under a conventional, political, earthly king. But we can consider the ways in which we do, in our hearts and minds, recognize the authority of a supernatural “king” or ruler.

Our rightful king is Jesus. The Book of Revelation tells us that “on his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”

Indeed, he is the rightful king over all human beings, because he has redeemed the entire human race from the power of sin, the guilt of sin, and the temporal and eternal consequences of sin. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.”

And St. John writes in his First Epistle that “Jesus Christ the the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

We also recall St. John’s description, in his Gospel, of the salient points of our Lord’s conversation with Pilate:

“Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ ... Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. ...’”

“Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world - to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’”

Jesus is a King over an unusual kingdom. He reigns, not through the power of earthly military might, or through the power of human political skill, but through the power of divine truth - the divine truth that he speaks to the mind and conscience.

All people rightfully belong to him, including those who rebel against his authority, who turn away from the blessings of his redemption, and who submit themselves, in their moral and spiritual life, to the pretended authority of an illegitimate king - a king like Herod.

And the illegitimate, supernatural king or ruler who ultimately stands behind all false authorities that compete with the genuine authority of God’s Son, is a being whom Jesus several times refers to as the “prince” or “ruler” of this world. In various places in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says:

“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

“The ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me.”

“The ruler of this world is judged.”

This supernatural being is the devil, or Satan. His claim on the souls of men is not a legitimate claim - just as Herod’s claim on the nation of the Jews was not a legitimate claim. But the devil rules over large segments of fallen humanity anyway, because people listen to him and follow him.

And yet, as the passages that we have quoted say concerning him, the “ruler of this world” is being cast out, and his feigned authority will be taken away from him by the judgment of Christ, the true king of all - just as Herod, not long after the magi visited him, died a loathsome death, and no longer sat on his throne.

As we have noted, Jesus reigns over his spiritual kingdom through the power of the truth that he speaks into the lives of those who do honor his rightful authority over them. In contrast, the devil reigns - while he still has the illusion of reigning - through the lies that he speaks.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us about this, too, when he says that “the devil...was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Satan has, as it were, stolen the throne from which he rules over the deceived mind and hearts that are under his spell. And he has stolen their allegiance, since their true sovereign is the Lord who died and rose again for them - not the liar who has bedeviled them.

And the devil’s reign, such as it is, is markedly different from the reign of Christ, over those whose know and believe the truth that he proclaims. Jesus paints this contrast in John’s Gospel:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

When the magi were looking for their true sovereign, and for the genuine King to whom they owed honor, they were able to tell the difference between the phoney King of the Jews - the one who had been installed by the Romans - and the real King of the Jews - who had been born to that office and station under God.

Can you tell the difference between the two supernatural kings who are competing for your loyalty and respect? Can you tell the difference between the king who is telling you the truth, and the king who is lying to you?

Can you tell the difference between the king who has been judged, and whose reign is coming to an end; and the king who will reign forever in goodness, righteousness, and peace?

Jesus says: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

There is an extraordinary spiritual power in the very words of Christ, that gives those words the ability to persuade you of their truthfulness, as you hear them. Jesus also says: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

And in the Gospel of St. Luke, when the disciples who had been talking with Jesus on the road to Damascus reflected on that experience, they said: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

The devil’s lies are often crafted by him in such a way that they will appeal to your baser impulses. He excuses and praises your pride, your lust, and your greed; your self-righteous anger and your lack of concern for others.

He tells your sinful flesh what it wants to hear. In the short term what he says seems true, if you want it to be true. But in the long term, you come to realize that his words are full of death, and not life.

How often have people believed the devil’s lies, and then in time experienced the consequences of that gullibility and foolishness, as they stood in the rubble of broken relationships and lost reputations, covered with shame and disgrace?

This is so different from the words of Christ, and their effect. His words do, when necessary, bring warning and condemnation on account of your sins - your undesirable and harmful sins of pride, lust, and greed.

But his words also and especially bring hope and peace, when he applies to you, and bestows upon you - through his words - his pure and perfect justifying righteousness, his cleansing and liberating forgiveness, and his regenerating and renewing Spirit.

And the more you meditate upon his words, and let them sink into your soul and conscience, the more confident you are able to be that his words are true, and wholesome, and life-giving. Those who know Christ as king are able to pray the words of Psalm 119:

“With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the just decrees of your mouth.”

“In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”

In contrast, those who serve the devil, and who submit themselves to his manipulations and deceptions, can never describe their faith in his lies with such joy and delight. They are the walking dead. But those who trust in Christ have eternal life.

So, there are not really three “kings” in the Epiphany story. But there are two kings in that story. And there are two kings who are even now vying for your attention and loyalty, in the “story” of your life.

One of those kings loves you, and the other one hates you. One of those kings wants to lead you to heaven, and the other one wants to lead you to hell. One of those kings is your real king, who has the right to be obeyed, and who has earned your love and devotion; and the other one is an illegitimate usurper.

Make sure you have found, and are serving, the correct king: the king who speaks to you the truth about human sin and divine grace, about God’s mercy and forgiveness, and about your salvation in him.

All hail the power of Jesus’ name! Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem And crown him Lord of all.
Bring forth the royal diadem And crown him Lord of all.

O that, with yonder sacred throng We at his feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song, And crown Him Lord of all.
We'll join the everlasting song, And crown Him Lord of all. Amen.

2019 January 13 - Sharon Schmeissing Memorial Service

In 1968, in a church in Illinois, immediately before he administers the sacrament of Holy Baptism to a baby who has been brought there by her parents, a pastor lays his hand on the head of the baby, and says:

“In order to implore the blessing of our Lord Jesus upon this child, let us pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

In 2019, in a hospital room in Arizona, soon before a seriously ill woman goes into surgery - which the doctor says she has only a 50-50 chance of recovering from - that woman’s mother is by her bedside, with moistened eyes, and in the midst of all the uncertainty of this scary situation, leads her in prayer:

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

These are, we might say, the two “bookends” of a life in this world - at the beginning and at the end of that life - in which the Lord’s Prayer brought definition, clarity, and the comforting presence of God himself, to this person’s life. The Lord’s Prayer brought definition, clarity, and the comforting presence of God himself, to Sharon Schmeissing’s life.

The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray, but it is not a prayer he would ever be able to pray himself. And that’s because of this petition: “Forgive us our trespasses.”

Jesus, as God in human flesh, was a man without sin. His work as Savior involved his taking upon himself the sins of humanity, so that he could carry those sins to the cross, to die in our place as our substitute, and as our great high priest to offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins.

He was able to do this on our behalf, because he had no sins of his own to pay for. St. Paul writes in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians that “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Since Jesus has done this for us, and since the blessings of his atonement and reconciliation are now offered to us in the gospel, we are invited to pray to the Lord that he would indeed be merciful to us, and forgive our sins. We read in the Epistle to the Hebrews:

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and find grace to help, in time of need.”

Unlike Christ, we all always do need to ask for God’s forgiveness, because we all sin and offend him. Indeed, even though forgiveness is not the first thing we ask for in the sequence of petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, our request for forgiveness is nevertheless the foundational petition.

Knowing God’s forgiveness, rather than God’s anger and displeasure, is the only basis on which we can approach our holy God without fear and trepidation. And we can also be confident - because of the objective facts of our Lord’s death and resurrection for us - that God does forgive us, and will always forgive those who approach him in repentance and humility.

The faith that would prompt the speaking of such a prayer to our Father in heaven - in a time of weakness and fear, remorse and need - is summarized and unfolded in these words from Psalm 103:

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”

“For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him.”

With that confidence, we then open our hearts to God, and lay before him all our needs, and all our requests. We pray for things that honor him, and that help us in our struggles and doubts.

We know and approach God as a Father - who loves us, and who wants only good for us - because we have become the adopted children of God through faith in his only-begotten Son. In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul gives us this encouragement:

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

A while back, I had an opportunity to visit with Sharon. Her health had begun to deteriorate, and she had become very much aware of the frailty of her bodily life.

I spoke to her of eternal things: of God’s grace, through his Son Jesus Christ, by which he lifts up the fallen, strengthens the weak, and gives comfort to the troubled in mind and heart. She was receptive to what I shared with her, and at the end of our visit, we prayed together.

St. Paul writes to the Philippians:

“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

So that’s what we did. We prayed that it would be God’s will to bring healing to her body.

We didn’t know that this would be his will, even though we hoped that it would be. But we did know - and today we can all know - the unconditional truth of what Jesus said in the Gospel according to St. John:

This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

As the conclusion of our prayer, we joined together in the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

In the name of Jesus and through faith in him, we called upon our Father in heaven, asking that his name would be hallowed. We prayed that, in the midst of all our confusion and mistakes, our uncertainty and anxiety, his good and gracious will would be done, and he would take care of us in our daily needs.

We prayed that by his loving and protecting hand, he would lead us away from temptation and deliver us from evil. And we prayed that he would forgive us our trespasses.

As the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, “here,” in this world, “we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” In prayer, Sharon and I sought that eternal city. “Thy kingdom come,” we prayed.

And all of us, here today - in our grief and sadness - likewise seek that eternal city. In a few minutes we will seek it through speaking the same prayer that Sharon and I spoke, and that millions upon millions of Christians have been speaking, at our Lord’s invitation and direction, for almost 2,000 years.

And because we say “Our Father” and not just “My Father,” when we pray this prayer that Jesus gave us, we are praying it together. We are lifting up each other, and encouraging each other. And we are praying for each other.

For those of you who are feeling the loss of Sharon most intensely - the loss of a daughter, a sister, a mother, a close friend - know that the rest of us deeply sympathize with you, and grieve with you.

And we will pray for you, and with you, with the confidence that God our Father will hear that prayer. God hears this prayer for the sake of his Son Jesus, who died and rose again for our salvation, and who has given us this prayer.

Jesus gave this prayer to Sharon on the day she was baptized into Christ, and received from God the washing of regeneration. And during her life - in moments of weakness, regret, and fear; and in moments of reflection, remembrance, and rejoicing - she returned to this prayer.

Jesus has also given this prayer to each of us, so that we, too, can return to it again and again. He gives us this prayer to instruct us and to comfort us.

And more so than with almost any other prayer that we might speak, when we speak this prayer, we can do so with the certainty that God does hear and heed our petitions and intercessions - since we are quite literally speaking back to him the very words that he has taught us, and told us to say.

St. Paul also writes in his Epistle to the Romans:

“Jesus our Lord...was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access, by faith, into this grace in which we stand.”

Returning to the Lord’s Prayer is not just a matter of external ritual and rhetoric. Returning to the Lord’s Prayer, is returning to the Lord - even if in much weakness. Psalm 51 expresses very nicely the thoughts and yearnings that are in the mind and heart of one who devoutly prays this prayer:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”

“Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

We have entrusted Sharon’s spirit to the mercy of God, in the hope of a peaceful rest in Christ for her, as she awaits the day of the resurrection of all flesh.

But in a certain sense we are also still praying with Sharon - even as we pray with all our brothers and sisters in the Lord according to the mystery of “the communion of saints” - when we say, “Our Father.” The worship of the saints in heaven, and the worship of the saints on earth, is united in the Spirit of Christ, who inhabits all of God’s people.

This worship, in this world and in the next, is united in Christ himself, whom we all adore. And this worship, from both sides of the grave, is united in the Father of Christ - who is also our Father in heaven - whose loving face Jesus had made known to all his children.

We close with these visions of what is coming for God’s people, from the Revelation to St. John:

“From the throne came a voice saying, ‘Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.’ Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory...’”

“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”

“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” Amen.

13 January 2019 - Baptism of Our Lord - Romans 6:1-11

Earlier in today’s service, we offered this prayer to the Lord:

“Father in heaven, at the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River You proclaimed Him Your beloved Son, and anointed Him with the Holy Spirit. Make all who are baptized in His name faithful in their calling as Your children, and inheritors with Him of everlasting life.”

What does it mean for us to be faithful in the calling of our baptism?

Does it mean that we should engage exclusively in “religious” activities, withdraw from the ordinary activities of life, and withdraw from other people in this world? Should we join only Christian organizations, attend only Christian meetings, and read only Christian books?

Should we, as it were, be so heavenly minded, that we are of no earthly good? Well, in today’s lesson from the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul does not paint that kind of picture of what it means to be a baptized Christian on this earth. He asks,

“Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

We who have been united to Christ in baptism are called no longer to live in sin. But we are called to live - to be a part of things in this world, and to be involved in the lives of other people in this world.

When we live in the grace of baptism, and in the love of Christ, we will live in such a way that we will not harm, or cheat, or lie to our neighbors.

Instead, as we “walk in newness of life,” we will help our neighbors in their bodily and material need; we will be concerned about the well-being of our neighbors; and we will cultivate relationships of mutual honesty and mutual respect with our neighbors.

Today, we remember the baptism of our Lord. His baptism shows us - among other things - that humanity’s Savior was willing to descend all the way down to where humanity actually lives, in this world, and to cover himself with the suffering and hardship that humanity endures in this world.

Without himself being sinful, he immersed himself in a world that has been corrupted by sin. He was willing to experience for himself the disappointments, the injustices, and the sadnesses that we all experience.

Jesus did not insulate himself from the difficulties of living on earth. Instead, he embedded himself right into the middle of our human predicament. His willingness to receive a baptism that was intended for sinners - like us - shows this.

As most of you know, my wife and I have a long-haired Balinese cat. Even with our efforts to keep our house vacuumed, those who have entered our home will probably notice, after they leave, that at least a few strands of cat hair have attached themselves to their clothing somewhere. It’s virtually inevitable for anyone who spends some time in our house.

During the time when Jesus was in the world - a world that he came to redeem - he allowed all human sin to attach itself to him, even though none of that sin had proceeded from him personally.

And he also allowed the divine judgment that all human sin deserves, likewise to become attached to him. That’s what was happening in his trial, and in his death by crucifixion. It was all a part of his willingness to become a part of this world - for us - and to endure everything that would eventually come his way in this world.

During his earthly life, Jesus walked the pathway that had been laid out before him, to its bitter end. He heeded the calling of his baptism, and followed that calling all the way to the cross. And in so doing he saved us from sin and death.

And now, as we are baptized into Christ, and are united to Christ, we - like Christ - are also called by God to follow the pathway that is laid out before us in this world. The baptismal life of God’s children is not a life that is lived above the fray, untouched by the challenges of this sinful world.

We, too - like Christ - are embedded in this world. We are a part of it, like everyone else.

We share in all the ups and down of life in this world. We experience the same kind of grief and disappointment, and endure the same kind of tragedies and afflictions, that all other people experience and endure.

The way in which we live on earth does not accomplish our redemption from sin, or even contribute toward our redemption. Jesus alone was and is our Redeemer. The only true salvation from sin and death that can be had, is the salvation he gives.

Through faith in him, and in his Word of pardon, we receive the blessings of his saving work for us. We do not, and cannot, atone for our own sins.

Only Christ - the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world - can atone for them. And he has atoned for them.

But, in the way in which we do live in this world, our baptism does call us to imitate Christ, and to do as Christ did, in this respect: Our life in Christ - insofar as it is in Christ - will not be a life of sin. It will not be a life of shameful exploitation of others, or of gratification of our own selfish and proud ambitions.

Such an old pathway - a pathway of death - is not the pathway we are any longer to take. Rather, in Christ, and by the power of our baptism into Christ, we will “walk in newness of life.”

The manner in which we conduct ourselves in our relationships; the manner in which we fulfill our obligations and duties; and the manner in which we meet challenges and face trials, will be different from those who live and walk only in their original birth from Adam, and who have not been born anew in the Spirit of the Lord.

This does not mean that there will not be external parallels between the lives of Christians, and the lives of those who do not know Christ. In many cases, there will be external parallels. But even where there are outward similarities, there are also significant inner differences.

In their baptism, God’s people have become the light of the world, and the salt of the earth.

We love all other people, because we know that God has made them; and because we know that Jesus has redeemed them and offers his grace to them. And that love will manifest itself, not only in the unique kind of things that we say to others - as we respectfully bear witness to our Christian hope - but also in how we act toward others.

For example, both believers and unbelievers get married. But those who look at marriage from within their baptism, see marriage in a different way.

It is not simply an institution of society that satisfies certain emotional and practical human needs - to be entered into by a man and a woman in many cases after a “trial period” of fornication and cohabitation.

Rather, in the divine calling of marriage, God bestows on his sons and daughters the profoundly sacred privilege of participating - reverently - in his own wonderful work of creation, and procreation.

Those who reflect on the meaning of their marital union from within their baptism, and as a part of their life in Christ, are also able to see something else that unbelievers cannot see.

As St. Paul instructs us in his Epistle to the Ephesians, marriage is a sacred symbol of the gracious and forgiving union of Christ and his church. It is a living testimony to the unswerving sacrificial devotion that Christ, the heavenly bridegroom, bears toward his chosen bride. The apostle writes:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. ... Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

Again, both believers and unbelievers are happy when they are able to have a lucrative job, and the ability to make a good living by their work. But when Christians look at their job or profession from within their baptism, they remember that the cattle on a thousand hills, and all things in this world, actually belong to the God who created these things.

We are but stewards, who are grateful to the Lord for the daily bread he gives us through our work. We are temporary custodians of what God has entrusted to us.

And we know that we are accountable to him for how we use the material resources we have - according to his will, for his glory, and in service to others in his name.

On the day when each of us was first united to Christ in our baptism, and when we were thereby - in faith - united to everything that Christ did and continues to do for us, this was the beginning of a whole new life.

In many ways we are, of course, still the same as we were before. We still live in this world, and we still do many of the things that others do.

But in many other ways, everything is now different for us, because of our baptism. By the transforming power of God’s forgiveness, and with the resurrected Christ now living within us - and living his life through us - we do what we do with a different motive, and with a different understanding of what it all means.

And we do what we do in this world with a different hope. We know that in the end, when our pilgrimage on earth has ended, we will be welcomed into our heavenly homeland - through the doorway that is Christ, and his righteousness.

St. Paul writes to the Philippians that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

And as St. Paul also says in today’s text: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Now, I imagine that you are probably thinking to yourself right now, that in so many sad and shameful ways your life has not in fact matched the description of the baptismal life that I have been giving. I know that this is what I am thinking.

I have to admit that I often approach my relationships in a prideful way, and that I often use my possessions in a selfish way. I don’t have the kind of love and respect for my wife that I should have.

My motivations in my work often do not flow from the ideal of fulfilling my divine vocation in the service of others, with a concern only for them and their needs.

These are my sins. And these are your sins, too. These are the sins of us all. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

As those who have been baptized into Christ, we have been called no longer to walk in the way of sin and death. But we have so walked, far too often. We must repent of these departures from our baptism, and from our baptismal pathway.

But then let’s also remember what it is, in the life and ministry of Jesus, that we are commemorating today. Jesus was baptized, with a baptism that was intended for sinners - as if he were a sinner. Our sins were imputed to him and credited to him, and he carried them to the cross.

And on the flip side of that, we, through our baptism into him, receive his righteousness - as if we were not sinners. His righteousness is imputed to us and credited to us, and we are forgiven.

And so, as we penitently recall our baptism - every day - and as our baptism once again raises us up with Christ - every day - we are renewed in that baptism, and in everything that it promises and gives.

And we are restored to the pathway of Christ, on which we are called to “walk in newness of life,” by faith: faith in a Savior who died for us, who rose from the grave for us, who was baptized for us.

“Father in heaven, at the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River You proclaimed Him Your beloved Son, and anointed Him with the Holy Spirit. Make all who are baptized in His name faithful in their calling as Your children, and inheritors with Him of everlasting life.” Amen.

27 January 2019 - Epiphany 3 - Luke 4:16-30

Through the prophet Isaiah, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity - many centuries before the incarnation - had spoken of his future messianic mission on earth in these words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And so, that’s what the Jewish people throughout history - according to their messianic hope - were watching for. Whenever they would begin to wonder if an eloquent and charismatic individual who was rising in prominence might be the Messiah, they would pay close attention, to see if his words and actions were leading to these things happening.

There were lots of poor people in the land. Would these disadvantaged individuals now start getting the material resources they lacked?

There were plenty of captives - people who were physically deprived of their liberty by the Romans and others oppressors. Would they now get sprung from jail, and regain their freedom?

And everyone was aware of the people in every community who were unable to see, hear, or speak, or who were afflicted with other infirmities and handicaps. Would these pitiable people now be healed, and restored to bodily health and wholeness?

When Jesus appeared on the scene, with his preaching and miracles, he, too, was noticed. Some of the Jews may very well have begun to think that maybe he was the one whose wonder-working ministry had been described, all those centuries ago, in that messianic passage in the Book of Isaiah.

And so, people were watching him. Also in Nazareth - his hometown - Jesus’ recent neighbors were intrigued by the reports they were hearing that in Capernaum, and perhaps in other places, Jesus was healing people.

Financial enrichment for the poor, and bodily release for the captives, might be just around the corner! They were waiting to see if such unfortunates - including the needy people who lived in their community - would receive such benefits from Jesus.

St. Luke reports that Jesus

“came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.”

“He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”

“And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

Jesus was in Nazareth to proclaim his desire and willingness to offer help to those who were needy - liberty to the captives, sight to the blind, and good news to the poor.

But what Jesus had in mind as he read these words, was different from what the townspeople had in mind as they heard these words, in two important ways. First, his understanding of which Nazarenes were in fact in need of these blessings, was different from the suppositions of the respectable townsfolk regarding who the needy people among them actually were.

The people of Nazareth were no doubt thinking of the relatively few disadvantaged individuals they knew - people they perhaps had stumbled over in the streets, as they were shuffling around with their canes, or begging for money or food. This small number of people in their midst who were physically handicapped, with their noticeably humiliated condition, were the ones they thought Jesus might be there to deal with, and take care of.

But Jesus had a larger category of needy people in mind. He had the whole town in mind - the poor and the well-to-do; the lower classes and the prominent citizens.

All of them, as they were gathered together in the synagogue on the Sabbath, were addressed by Jesus as those who were the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. In the presence of the entire community, after he spoke or chanted the lesson from the prophet Isaiah, he said these words - these controversial words that were ultimately unacceptable to Jesus’ audience that day: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Not just in the hearing of the town beggar with his hand open for alms, but in your hearing. Not just in the hearing of the blind man, pitied by everyone else, but in your hearing. What Jesus said impacted their sense of spiritual satisfaction, and challenged their human pride.

Now, the majority of the residents of that town were certainly not callous people. They felt sorry for those neighbors who were down on their luck, and who were the victims of hard times. But the majority of residents also enjoyed the feeling that they were above these problems.

Jesus, however, had just identified them - all of them - as being among the poor, and the blind, and the captives, and the oppressed. How dare he say that?

Who does he think he is? Why, he’s one of us! Where does he get off saying something like that to us?! We don’t need his charity. We don’t want his charity!

And the second thing that Jesus had in mind in applying this text from Isaiah, which differed from what the townspeople would have expected, was this: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

The deliverance, the enrichment, and the healing that Jesus had come to accomplish for people, was - in the final analysis - focused on a level of human existence much deeper than the level of people’s noticeable outward problems - their physical infirmities, their material poverty.

He came to bring healing and deliverance through his Word, as that Word would be proclaimed and penetrate to the otherwise darkened human mind, and to the otherwise wounded human heart.

That’s why this messianic prophecy was fulfilled in their hearing, and not in their material enrichment or bodily healing. In this message of hope and deliverance, Jesus was offering to the people something very different from what previous messianic pretenders had presumed to offer. He was offering them something for their souls.

Of course, God is not indifferent to the plight of those who do suffer from material poverty in this world - although he actually expects us to take care of the poor in our mist, with the use of the resources that we have received from the hand of the Lord, and not just to sit back and wait for God to do it miraculously.

But the true poverty that God is concerned about relieving, on a universal scale, is the poverty of the unregenerated human spirit, in which God’s Spirit does not dwell.

Humanity was created in the image and likeness of God, to be in fellowship with God and indwelt by God. But human sin and rebellion evict God, and expel him from our lives.

And when that happens, we are easy pray to the lies and manipulations of Satan, and become captive to his destructive influence. We are blind to what Satan is really doing, as he promises us pleasure and success, but ultimately delivers only grief and misery.

When the words of Jesus come to us, however - in Baptism and absolution, in sermon and Supper - those divine words offer to us the grace of God’s forgiveness: which washes away all our sins, and absolves all our rebellions. And, the words of Jesus offer to us the renewed gift of his life-giving Spirit.

In the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection for our reconciliation, God’s Spirit returns to us: to enrich our hearts, to enlighten our minds, and to restore in us the image and likeness of our loving creator.

In the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection for our redemption, we are delivered from captivity to the devil’s lies, and are transported into God’s kingdom and family.

St. Paul tells the Corinthians: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him.”

The Epistle to the Hebrews teaches us that God’s Son partook of our human flesh and blood - in his incarnation - “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

And Jesus himself says, as recorded in John’s Gospel: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

All of this is what Jesus was offering to the people of Nazareth, in his reading of that text from Isaiah, and in his declaration that these things were now fulfilled in their hearing. It was all offered to them - no strings attached - as a divine gift.

But it was not received by them - or at least not by most of them. They might have initially admired the rhetorical eloquence of Jesus. But when they came to realize what he was really saying to them about their deep and personal needs, and about his capacity to meet those needs, they turned on him.

St. Luke tells us that

“all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ And he said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’”

“And he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.’”

“When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.”

God does not coerce people to believe what he says, and to receive what he offers. The Nazarenes rejected their Messiah. And so, their Messiah “went away.”

I’ve known people who by any definition were clearly in need of the forgiveness of God, and the regenerating grace of God. Of course, all of us are in need of these gifts.

But for some people, their need for God in their life is dramatically obvious. Yet these are the same people who have so often proudly said to me, “Religion is okay for those who need it. But I don’t” - as if the term “religion” is an accurate description of what Jesus is actually offering.

But that, in essence, is what the people of Nazareth were saying to Jesus - with a vengeance! “We don’t want what you are offering, Jesus. We will not admit our need for it, and we will not acknowledge you as the person - appointed by God - who can give it to us.” So, they didn’t receive it.

Today, as we are seated here in this “synagogue,” so to speak, Jesus - through the pages of St. Luke’s Gospel - is once again reading to us the messianic passage from Isaiah. And he is once again declaring to us, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In your hearing, he says; not in someone else’s hearing. You need what is being offered. And it is being offered to you in your hearing.

Jesus, your Savior from sin, death and the devil, is not demanding anything from you. But through his words, Jesus is giving you his salvation. In preaching and teaching, and in those special sacramental speakings of his Word in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, he gives himself to you as your Savior.

He is pledging his unconditional love and forgiveness to you. And he wants you to believe that what he is saying is true. In repentance he wants you to admit that you need what he gives. In faith he wants you to receive what he gives.

In your spiritual poverty, Jesus proclaims to you the good news of his grace. And by the power of his Word, his grace fills you and enriches you, as the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within you.

In your spiritual captivity to the powers of darkness and death, Jesus proclaims to you a message of liberty. And by the power of his Word, he sets you free - free to be who and what you were created to be, in fellowship with God, and living for God.

In your spiritual blindness, Jesus announces to you a supernatural recovery of your sight. And by the power of his Word, he opens the eyes of your heart, that you may see the goodness and love of God.

Jesus is doing all of this for you right now. His divine Word, and his messianic mission, are being fulfilled for you, right now.

And his Word and mission are fulfilled for you every time you hear his gospel - every time you reflect on his promises, and ponder them, and meditate on them, and inwardly digest them.

Your salvation is enshrined in the proclamation of Christ. The salvation that his death and resurrection accomplished for you is available to you in that message. And together with the promises that are preached, the God-given power to believe those promises is also offered and bestowed.

May our response to this offer, and to this gift, never be the reaction of foolish pride and hardened unbelief that Jesus found in his hometown of Nazareth. May it instead always be a humble response of faith.

May our hearts always be opened by God’s Spirit to receive what Jesus offers. And may we always thereby be enriched, and healed, and liberated, according to our true inner need.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Amen.