5 January 2020 - Christmas 2 - Luke 2:40-52

“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

With these words, from today’s Gospel from St. Luke, the boy Jesus explained to his mother why she and Joseph should have known where he would be, when they were looking for him, throughout the city of Jerusalem, for three days.

As the Son of God in human flesh, even in his state of humiliation, he knew that he was just as much at home in the Temple of Jehovah, as in the carpenter’s house in Nazareth. He wondered why they didn’t know that, too.

And the text does not say simply that it was likely or probable that Jesus would be in the Temple. It says that he “must” be there - that it was “necessary” for him to be there.

From the first moment of Jesus’ conception in the womb of his mother, he was fully and completely divine. Jesus, as a man, did not evolve into the Son of God, or at some point in his earthly life receive an adoption as the Son of God.

Rather, he was always the Son of God. The eternal Word, through whom all things were made, descended into the womb of the Virgin Mary, and there took to himself a human nature.

From the very beginning, therefore, the house of God in Jerusalem was the house of Jesus’ Father - since Jesus’ Father was God the Father. The Temple was not simply Jesus’ “home away from home.” According to his divine nature, it was his home, plain and simple.

He belonged there. And so, even as a boy, if he would find himself in Jerusalem, he would be drawn to this specific place.

Of course, what made the Temple to be the Temple was not the structure or building itself. During the history of the people of Israel, going back to the time of King Solomon, there had been three different buildings in Jerusalem which had functioned as the house of God.

And before the time of Solomon, the house of God was a tabernacle - a temporary structure that could be moved from place to place, according to circumstances.

The Temple was the Temple, because the sacrifices and other prescribed rituals - which the Lord had specifically commanded for his people - were performed there. And where the sacrifices of God were taking place, there too would be the teaching and preaching of the Word of God.

Priests and teachers would station themselves at the Temple: to give people the instruction they needed as they prepared for their participation in the Temple rituals; and to instruct them also in the benefits and blessings - attached to these rituals - that God had promised to them.

These sacrifices and rituals, of course, pointed forward to the final and ultimate sacrifice that would be offered for all human sin by the coming Messiah: the Suffering Servant of the Lord; the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The teachers in the Temple therefore explained and proclaimed these things, too - according to the light they had - when the people who came to the Temple sat at their feet for instruction from the Scriptures.

The special presence of God in his special Temple, was not merely his presence as the almighty creator and governor of the universe. It was his presence as the redeemer of his people, and as the forgiver of their sins. It was the personal presence of a personal God who makes and keeps promises, and who loves those who are his.

In the era of the Old Testament, the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, could be in only one place at a time. God set things up in such a way that there would be only one Holy of Holies; only one sacred altar; only one location where the priests and Levites would perform their designated sacrificial duties.

Since the days of Solomon, that one place was in Jerusalem. And so, Jesus would need to go to Jerusalem in order to be in this place. And whenever he did go to Jerusalem, this was a place where he was sure to be found.

During the events described in today’s text, Jesus was only twelve years old. He had not yet been publicly inaugurated into his Messianic ministry.

So, on this occasion, he was not there as a teacher, but as a student. St. Luke is very careful to tell us that when Mary and Joseph found him, he was “in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”

To be sure, his questions were filled with wisdom and insight, and anyone who heard the questions, no doubt learned a lot from them. But the form and manner of Jesus’ dialogue with the rabbis, was the form and manner of a boy who was showing respect to their teaching office, and who was not presuming to place himself over them as their rabbi.

That time would come, of course - after Jesus had been publicly installed as the ultimate prophet and teacher of Israel, in his baptism. Following his baptism, during his public ministry, Jesus did often preach and teach at the Temple, on those occasions when he was in Jerusalem.

But before his official “inauguration” as the Messiah, he did not do this. Whenever Jesus was in the Temple - depending on the stage of life he was in - he acted in accord with the vocation that was in effect at that particular time of his life.

In light of the coming of Jesus, and in light of his fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises concerning the Seed of Abraham and the Son of David, there is no longer a physical Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. But this does not mean that there is no Temple at all.

In his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells us about the Temple that does exist today. And he explains the implications of this: for what we believe, and for how we live:

“What partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Martin Luther also summarizes and applies what the New Testament teaches concerning these matters, when he states that

“The church is the house of God, which leads from earth into heaven. The place of the church is in the temple, in the school, in the house, and in the bedchamber. Wherever two or three gather in the name of Christ, there God dwells.”

Elsewhere, Luther expresses this truth in these words:

“The temple is now as wide as the world. For the Word is preached and the sacraments administered everywhere; and wherever these are properly observed, whether it be in a ship on the sea, or in a house on land, there is God’s house, or the church, and there God should be sought and found.”

The “house of God” among us is not a physical house, and it is not limited to one physical place, as it was in the Old Testament era.

The one sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world has been offered. Jesus died on the cross for all of us, once and for all time.

Much of what the one Temple in Jerusalem symbolized has therefore found its fulfillment in the death of Christ - and in the resurrection of Christ, which testifies to the complete acceptance of this sacrifice by God the Father in heaven.

And so, there are no more sacrifices for sin. And there is no longer a need for a physical Temple for such sacrifices.

But there is a need for the continual distribution of the blessings and benefits of the one finished sacrifice of Christ: in the washing of regeneration, by water and the Word; in the sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood; and in the preaching of the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners. This preaching delivers Christ and his gifts to us, and it also prepares us for the sacrament of Christ.

God’s Word - as it is taught, preached, and sacramentally applied - brings the Lord’s pardon and absolution to us, and establishes and reinforces the Lord’s mystical union with us. God’s Word - as it comes to us within the living Temple of the church - instructs us in how God’s grace and forgiveness change our status with God, and change the way we live with one another.

Today, the spiritual house of God is in the place - any place - where these blessings and benefits are distributed and shared with believers from all nations. This special dwelling place of the Lord can be found wherever two or three are gathered together in the name of Christ, around the gospel and sacraments of Christ.

And today, just as in the days of his earthly life, Jesus “must be” in his Father’s house. According to his promise, he is always present where this spiritual Temple is present. He is always there: in his ascended glory, and in his sacramental love, to bestow upon his people his forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Today, just as in the days of his earthly life, those who would look for him - like Mary and Joseph - will always find him in the house of God - where the Word of God is sounding forth. As with Mary and Joseph, they should not waste any time or effort looking anywhere else for their Savior from sin and death, because they will not find their Savior from sin and death anywhere else.

Jesus has pledged to be available to us - to forgive us, to comfort us, to strengthen us, and to instruct us for life - in the gatherings of his saints around his Name and Word. But so many of us don’t pay attention to this.

Like Mary and Joseph, people often spend days and years looking for God in all the wrong places - looking for a feeling of spirituality, or for a sense of meaning and purpose that they think would come from God - but without finding him or it. And that’s because, in this quest, they bypass or ignore the church - either by not going to church, or by not taking church seriously when they do go.

We too often try to find an ultimate peace and a deep joy in human relationships, in material objects, or even in the self-made spiritualities of the human religious imagination: anywhere but in that special place - that divine Temple - where true peace and joy can actually be found.

The Son of God from heaven - insofar as he is the Savior of the world, and the forgiver of our sins - will never be found in those other places, and in those other things. But he who is the Prince of Peace, and the Joy of man’s desiring, will always be found in his Father’s house.

That is where he must be, because of his unbreakable promises. He has promised that he will always be where two or three are gathered together in his name.

He has promised that he will be with his disciples always, until the end of the age, as they administer Holy Baptism according to his institution, and teach all that he has commanded.

He has promised that, through the lips of his absolving ministers, as they exercise the loosing key, he himself will always forgive the sins of the penitent.

And he has promised that he will always come to his people in his very body and blood - to feed and nurture them with his life, and to unite himself with them most intimately - as often as his sacramental command, “This do,” is reverently followed.

Those gatherings in which such stupendous things are happening, and in which such marvelous things are seen and heard, are the special dwelling place of God among men. Such gatherings - gatherings like this congregation, in this church - are the Temple where Jesus comes among us, and abides with us.

Those of us who are called by the Lord to be pastors and teachers in the church, are accountable to God for our service in his house. Since the “Temple” today is the gathering of God’s people around the gospel and sacraments of Christ, we preachers are obligated to proclaim only the gospel that God has revealed in Scripture, and to administer the sacraments only in the way that Jesus has commanded.

But those who are not preachers and teachers also have a proper place, and a proper role to fill, in God’s house.

When Jesus was just a boy of twelve years, before he had entered upon his public ministry, he still knew that the Temple of the Lord was where he should be: to ask questions; and, according to the human nature that he shares with us, to put himself in the place of one who listens to God’s Word, who learns from God’s Word, and who grows in God’s Word.

If the Son of God, during his time on earth, was not ashamed to do this, neither should we be ashamed to do this.

The Second Person of the Holy Trinity in human flesh knew that being in his Father’s house was important. How could it be any less important to us, who in so many ways are in need of God’s grace and help?

Psalm 26 enshrines what should be the prayer of the hearts of all of us:

“O Lord, I love the habitation of your house, and the place where your glory dwells.”

If this is not where your priorities are focused, as they should be, then the Christmas season - a seasons of new beginnings for God and for his people - is one of the best times for this to change.

Today is a good day for each us to ask the Lord to forgive our past negligence and half-heartedness in this respect. Today is a good day for us to implore the Lord to renew our minds, to transform our hearts, and refocus our commitments.

In a few minutes, as we begin the Communion Rite, we will pray the Preface for the Christmas season. In this prayer, we will humbly recount to our heavenly Father:

“In the mystery of the Word made flesh, you have given us a new revelation of your glory, that, seeing you in the person of your Son, we may be drawn to the love of those things which are not seen.”

By the Lord’s guidance and grace, may we today be drawn to God’s Temple: not the physical Temple of the Old Testament that could be seen; but the spiritual Temple of the New Testament church, that cannot be seen, but that is nevertheless very real.

May we be filled with a love for Christ, as he is present in this true Temple; and with a love for the blessings of his salvation, which he distributes to us in this true Temple.

And when our search for God, and for meaning and purpose, comes to its end and is fulfilled at this Temple - and when we, with the eyes and ears of faith, see and hear Christ within this Temple - we too, with Mary, will hear Jesus gently welcome us to the place where we have now found him:

“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Amen.

6 January 2020 - Epiphany - Psalm 72: 8-15a, 17

Please listen with me to these words from Psalm 72, beginning at the 8th verse:

May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! May desert tribes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust! May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight. Long may he live; may gold of Sheba be given to him! ... May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!

So far our text.

The traditional descriptive heading of Psalm 72 is “Of Solomon.” This probably means that it was written about Solomon, likely at the beginning of his reign or at the time of his coronation, as an invocation of God’s blessing upon him, and of God’s direction to him.

But as is so often the case in the Old Testament, this sacred text also points forward prophetically to something else, and to someone else.

Solomon, as the literal son of David, was himself a type or foreshadowing of the ultimate son of David: Jesus the Messiah. Many of the things said in Scripture about Solomon, and his reign in the earthly kingdom of Israel, are at the same time being said - at a deeper level, and with a deeper meaning and application - about Jesus and his reign in his eternal kingdom.

What is said in Psalm 72 is of that character. It is ultimately about the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and is not only about Solomon.

The magi, or “wise men,” who visited Jesus on the first Epiphany Day, were almost definitely high-ranking astronomers and aristocratic scholars from what is now Iran or Iraq. But in some strands of the Christian tradition, there was a belief that these men were actually kings: from Arabia, Persia, and India.

One of the reasons for this belief, was the way in which Psalm 72 seemed to be pointing to, and interpreting, the visit of the magi, when it said:

“May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!”

And again:

“Long may he live; may gold of Sheba be given to him!”

But the term “magi,” which was a common term in the ancient Persian empire, did not refer to kings. It was a reference to astronomers and scholars. And so that’s what the magi of St. Matthew’s Gospel were.

But, these magi, coming as they did from a non-Jewish land in the east, did in a sense represent the gentile world as a whole, and they did in a sense symbolize all kings and kingdoms among the nations of earth.

Jesus was not going to be a Savior for Jews alone. As the angel told the shepherds on the night Jesus was born:

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

And when the baby Jesus was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem, Simeon prayed concerning him:

“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.”

Last night on television, I watched a program called “The Queen’s Garden,” about the many acres of open lawn, manicured gardens, and even stands of trees, connected to Buckingham Palace in London.

The program showed scenes from one of Queen Elizabeth’s famous garden parties. The guest lists for these parties are usually comprised of aristocrats, nobility, and other members of high society: wearing gowns and tiaras, tails and top hats.

One might almost get the impression from those verses of Psalm 72 that were just quoted, that the visit of the wise men to Jesus was like one of these garden parties: aristocrats, noblemen, and even royalty from one country, visiting the king of another country.

But the Psalm goes on to say more than that. The magi, as they came to Jesus to worship him and bestow gifts upon him, represent more than that. As the text of Psalm 72 continues, we also hear this regarding the king of whom it speaks:

“For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.”

God’s mercy in Christ is certainly not withheld from the high and mighty of any land or people. The Lord certainly has no special disdain for people like the wise men - who had a high social status in their homeland; and who had the financial means to be able to travel as far as they did, to find and worship the Christchild.

But God’s Word does tell us that the Savior King - that is, Jesus the Messiah - specifically notices, and offers his grace and help to, those whom many do not notice: the needy, the poor, the helpless, the weak.

They matter to him. Their psychical lives are important to him, and even more so, their souls are important to him.

He has come into this world to lift from them, and from all people, the oppression of the devil. He has come into this world to take upon himself the sins of the world, and to redeem the world from the guilt and power of sin.

No one in this world - whether Jew or Gentile, prince or pauper - is excluded from the invitation to faith that God offers to those for whom Jesus died.

If things are going well for you, generally speaking, that’s great. In your conscience, things will go even better, when you come to Christ in faith; and when you worship him as your Savior from sin, and as your Lord and King.

But if things are not going so well, some of the time or all of the time; if you can see yourself - especially your inner self - in the Psalm’s description of the needy, the poor, the helpless, and the weak; you can also see yourself in the Psalm’s words of comfort:

“For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.”

When you pray, “Deliver us from evil,” your Father in heaven will deliver you. When you pray, “Christ, have mercy upon us,” your Savior will have mercy upon you.

When you hear the story of the wise men from the east - traveling a great distance to come and worship Christ; and to come and receive spiritual gifts from Christ , even as they lay temporal gifts before him - that is also a story in which you can see yourself.

The Prophet Isaiah, in God’s name, issues this invitation from God:

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

The wise men, according to the light then had, heeded this invitation. And you, too - whoever you are - can heed this invitation.

Jesus is not waiting for you in the house in Bethlehem where Joseph and Mary were staying. When you come to him, you will not come there.

But for you, as Christ is present today in the consecrated bread and wine of his Holy Supper, you can heed his invitation in that way.

Jesus would say, “All who are of noble or royal birth, of all nations, come to me.” Jesus would say, “All who are scholars and scientists, come to me.” Jesus would say, “All who are needy, poor, helpless, and weak, come to me.”

And Jesus does say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “I will forgive your sins.” “I will give you eternal life.”

I come, O Savior, to Thy Table For weak and weary is my soul;
Thou, Bread of Life, alone art able To satisfy and make me whole.

Oh, grant that I, in manner worthy, May now approach Thy heavenly Board;
And, as I lowly bow before Thee, Look only unto Thee, O Lord!


12 January 2020 - Baptism of Our Lord - Matthew 13:13-17

With the exception of Mary, Joseph, and perhaps a few others, it is very unlikely that anybody who knew Jesus as he was growing up would have expected him to turn out to be who he turned out to be, and to conduct the kind of public ministry that he did in fact end up conducting.

He was a small-town carpenter, and the son of a carpenter. Most people who knew him would have expected him to be a carpenter for life, to get married and raise a family, and in general to lead a respectable, yet unassuming, life.

That’s why his public ministry, once it began, got the kind of reaction that it got from the “home town crowd” in Nazareth. They didn’t expect it. And they didn’t like it, either.

“Is not this Joseph's son?” “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?”

St. Luke tells us that when Jesus rebuked the people of Nazareth for their lack of faith, they “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.”

The small-town lifestyle that Jesus was expected to lead would certainly have been an honorable and respectable lifestyle. And we can almost imagine Jesus himself, according to his human nature, having been happy to embrace the “simple life,” as it were, and joyfully to pursue an uncomplicated existence as a good husband and father, with all of the rewards and joys that come from this.

But any such hypothetical potentialities for the earthly future of Jesus, were shown not to be what his purpose in this world really was, on the day he was baptized.

From that day forward, everything he would publicly do and allow to be done; everything he would publicly say and allow to be said, would not be for the benefit of himself, and for a happy earthly life for himself. It would be for the benefit - the eternal benefit - of others.

The kind of personal rewards that he might have experienced as a faithful husband, a loving father, and a small-town carpenter, were not going to be his lot in life. His was a different calling.

The occasion of our Lord’s baptism was, among other things, the occasion of his public call to begin his public ministry. According to his divine nature, of course, Jesus was, and always had been, the supreme teacher of humanity.

The Holy Spirit was his Spirit; and through the Holy Spirit, he, as God, has inspired the Scriptures, and was continually teaching people by means of the Scriptures.

According to his divine nature, Jesus had been the Son of God from eternity, and in his hidden divine majesty was always functioning as such - even during his time on earth. But according to his human nature, during his state of humiliation, Jesus did not visibly become a preacher and teacher until he was publicly called to this work by the voice of his heavenly Father.

In his description of the boy Jesus in the temple, at the age of twelve, Luke is careful to state that the religious scholars were amazed by his questions, and not by his preaching. He wasn’t “preaching” to them at that time.

Jesus had always been the Son of God. But in his incarnate state he didn’t manifest himself to be the Son of God, or begin his public ministry as the Son of God, until the day on which he was baptized by John the Baptist.

As we heard in today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, that’s when the voice of the Father rang out from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” That’s when the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, to anoint him for the ministry that he would now begin to carry out.

His preaching, his performance of miracles, and ultimately his sacrificing of himself on the cross and his resurrection, occurred only after this public call - and because of this public call.

And again, our Lord’s messianic ministry was carried out, in every respect, for the benefit of others. It became clear to everyone who followed him, that from this point forward, Jesus was living his life with an unswerving commitment to doing everything that needed to be done for the salvation of men.

Indeed, from that point forward, he lived - and died - for you and me, and did what needed to be done so that you and I could be saved from the guilt and power of sin, and live forever in a restored fellowship with God.

Whatever life Jesus might hypothetically have lived for himself, and for the fulfilment of his own hypothetical human dreams and aspirations, was instantly buried and nullified under the supreme obligations of divine duty, in the moment when he was baptized.

And even now, in his ascended glory, Jesus continues to live for others, and not for himself. He protects and takes care of his church. He governs and guides his people. He forgives them. He justifies them. He teaches them.

Through his mystical union with his church, he makes his home within and among them, and never departs from them. He never stops thinking about, and accomplishing, whatever is good and beneficial for his people, and for those whom he is calling to be his people.

Admittedly, I’ve engaged in a little speculation about what the life of Jesus of Nazareth might conceivably have been like, if he had not been baptized, and if he had not answered the call of his Father to begin his public ministry on that day. As far as Jesus’ identity and mission were concerned, the way things turned out is the way things absolutely had to turn out.

But what about your life?

What would your life have been like if you had never been baptized? What kind of existence would you be leading, if you had never been introduced to the grace and forgiveness of God, and if the seed of faith had never been planted within you by God’s Spirit?

We don’t have to engage in as much speculation to answer that question, because in our human experience we know what an existence without the grace of God is like.

It is possible, of course, for people who do not know God, but who are nevertheless attuned to God’s natural law in their conscience, to find some level of happiness and satisfaction in marriage and family life, and in an honest job. But at a deeper level, what St. Augustine prayed still applies:

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”

An endless inner striving for an un-achieved sense of meaning and purpose. An unceasing inner struggle for an un-attained feeling of peace and contentment. An inescapable inner captivity to destructive passions and impulses that pollute the soul and lead only to pain and grief.

One or more of these things also mark the lives of those who do not know the blessings and gifts that come with baptism. Those who endure these inner struggles and trials know, in their own private thoughts, that they are enduring them, even if they don’t admit it.

And God’s Word also tells us what life without the gospel is like.

St. Paul says in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in regard to “those who are perishing,” that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

And in his Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of those who are “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

That’s the kind of life you could have expected without baptism, and without the faith and regeneration that baptism brings. That’s what the devil - your sworn enemy - may very well have expected of you, and hoped for with you, when he saw you enter this world as a sinful member of a sinful race.

But something happened one day that the devil didn’t like, and that put your life on an entirely different pathway. This was the day when either you personally, or your parents on your behalf, heeded the words spoken by St. Peter on the first Christian Pentecost:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children – and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

On the day you were baptized, God interrupted the devil’s plans and expectations, and changed the direction of your life forever.

In baptism, God called you to a life of repentance and faith. And with that call came the supernatural power to lead such a life. God called you to be a part of his family. And with that call came the forgiveness and reconciliation that make this spiritual adoption possible.

St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Galatians that “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

In his baptism, Jesus identified with you, and took your grief and pain upon himself. Now, in your baptism, Jesus invites you to identify with him, and to receive the imputation of his righteousness.

Paul writes in his Epistle to Titus:

“When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

In his baptism, Jesus gave up the potential joys and personal pleasures that might otherwise have been his on this earth, so that in your baptism, he can deliver you from the pointless and meaningless existence that would otherwise have been yours, and give you an eternal hope.

The church is Jesus’ beloved bride. And as St. Paul explains in his Epistle to the Ephesians,

“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.”

In his baptism, Jesus was called by God to step out on a pathway in life that most of the people who knew him at the time did not expect or want him to follow. In your baptism, you, too, were called by God to step out on a pathway in life that the devil, and this sinful world, did not expect or want you to follow.

In today’s reading from the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul asks:

“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.”

God’s ways are always best. That’s true for the earthly life of Jesus, and the unique saving work that he accomplished for us. And that’s true for you too, and for the baptismal life that God has bestowed upon you.

And just as the Lord’s baptism impacted and defined the rest of his life, so too your baptism, according to the Lord’s gracious will, impacts and defines the rest of your life.

To draw near to God through baptism, and to know God by means of baptism, is to draw near to God, and to know God, through the living faith that baptism bestows and strengthens. And so the Epistle to the Hebrews gives us this encouragement and exhortation:

“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

You can’t put your baptism behind you and forget about it, as you move on to other things - or at least you can’t do this and retain the blessings of your baptism. You can’t disconnect yourself from your baptism through unbelief or indifference - and begin pursuing instead a life without daily repentance and faith - and still stay connected to God.

But if you have departed from God, and from the eternal life that God’s Word in baptism promises, you do have a pathway back to God. It is a pathway of repentance and faith that runs through your baptism. And so we are taught in the Large Catechism:

“How dare we think that God’s Word and ordinance should be wrong and invalid because we make a wrong use of it? I say, if you did not believe then, believe now and say this: The Baptism certainly was right. But I, unfortunately, did not receive it aright.”

And again, we read in the Large Catechism:

“Baptism not only illustrates...a new life, but also produces, begins, and exercises it. For in Baptism are given grace, the Spirit, and power to suppress the old man, so that the new man may come forth and become strong.”

“Our Baptism abides forever. Even though someone should fall from Baptism and sin, still we always have access to it. So we may subdue the old man again. But we do not need to be sprinkled with water again. ...”

“Repentance, therefore, is nothing other than a return and approach to Baptism. We repeat and do what we began before, but abandoned.”

According to God’s saving will, the grace of your baptism goes with you in every decision that you make, and with every step that you take, every day. The enlightenment of your baptism refocuses the way you look at God, at other people, and at yourself, every day. The invitation of your baptism draws you to your Lord’s forgiveness, life, and salvation, every day.

No one explains the blessings of this baptismal life better than St. Paul, in today’s lesson from the Epistle to the Romans. Listen again to what he says there:

“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. ... For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

That’s what God gives you in your baptism. That’s what God himself works and accomplishes within you by means of your baptism. That’s the eternal hope with which God comforts you through your baptism.

There is nothing worth comparing To this lifelong comfort sure!
Open-eyed my grave is staring: Even there I’ll sleep secure.
Though my flesh awaits its raising, Still my soul continues praising:
I am baptized into Christ; I'm a child of paradise! Amen.

19 January 2020 - Special Service - 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

Please listen with me to a reading from the first chapter of St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, beginning at the fourth verse:

“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 in all speech and all knowledge - even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you - so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

So far our text.

Today, the members and friends of Redeemer Lutheran Church are marking an important milestone in the history and mission of our congregation. Through the generosity of many people over many years, and especially through the generosity of one particular family last year, the congregation now holds the title to our property free and clear, with no debt or financial encumbrances.

We were able to pay off the debt several months ago, but have waited until today to commemorate this with a special service of thanksgiving - so that Redeemer’s seasonal worshipers, and more of our friends, could join us for this service. And this is indeed a joyous thing, which we want to share with as many people as possible.

At a human level, having the deed to this building gives us a stronger sense of stability and permanence than was the case previously. And not having the financial obligation of paying down our debt to the synod frees up our financial resources for other worthwhile things - in particular, support for mission work both at home and abroad.

These are significant practical benefits of the great blessing that is now ours, to be debt-free as a congregation. And in this world - which is the world in which we live and work - the importance of such practical benefits should not be underestimated.

But today, as we pause to thank God for his faithfulness and kindness toward us, other things enter our minds and hearts as well.

The significance of this day pertains not only to the first article of the Creed, where we acknowledge God’s material blessings for our life in this material world. On this day God would teach us things that pertain also to the second and third articles of the Creed.

God would want us to reflect on the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; and on the forgiveness of sins that is offered to us, for the sake of Christ, in the gospel. And God would want us to reflect on the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, in calling us to faith in this gospel; and in preserving us in that faith within the fellowship of his church, for time and eternity.

As we think about these things - on an occasion such as today’s observance - it is only to be expected that we would ponder the past, and the history of what has happened in this building since it was first dedicated in 1991.

Most of this history is beyond the personal memory of almost everyone who is a part of the congregation now. But our knowledge of certain painful aspects of that history, from many years ago, does humble us, and cause us to whisper a prayer similar to the prayer of Psalm 73:

“Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. ... Nevertheless, I am continually with you, [O God]; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. ... My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.”

All Christians, in all times and places, have - or should have - the prayer of Psalm 19 on their lips:

“Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults, [O Lord]. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

In a congregation named after our rock and redeemer, we certainly join the Palmist in repenting of our sins - even the one we are not fully aware of. We join him is seeking the justification that God in his mercy declares to his penitent people.

And we join him in asking God to transform our hearts and minds, so that we too, in the future, may please and honor him in all our thoughts and words.

Those who have worshiped here over the years have known times of trial and disappointment, born of human weakness and sin. But they have always also known the forgiving, restoring, and healing grace of God. We are taught in the Book of Lamentations:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness, [O Lord]. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

And we, in response to the Lord’s patient mercy toward us, joyfully and thankfully acknowledge what Psalm 40 confesses:

“The power to the faint, and to him who has no might, he increases strength. ...they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

The house of worship in which we are gathered this morning, which has marked the horizon of North Scottsdale since 1991, is an enduring symbol of faithfulness. It is not a symbol of human faithfulness, but of God’s faithfulness.

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

We are instructed by the Epistle to the Hebrews:

“God...has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”

God did not leave or forsake his congregation in the past. He was its helper. And God continues to be our helper today, as he continually sends his Spirit to us: to renew our faith in him, and our love for one another.

And so, whenever we gather in this place - in the name of Jesus, and around his Word and Sacraments - we pray with Jeremiah the Prophet: “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.”

God does heal and save us, as Christ - the Great Physician and the Good Shepherd - comes among us and dwells among us, to deliver to us the forgiveness, life, and salvation that he won for us.

In our weakness, he is our strength, and helps us to stand. In our fears and doubts, he remains in our midst, and steadies us.

In our guilt and shame - for all of our many sins and failures - he is our righteousness, and justifies us by his grace through faith. And so we are comforted by Psalm 46:

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.”

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

On an occasion such as the one we are marking today, we do not, however, look only to the past. We look also to the future. And we know that Christ - and God’s grace in Christ - will be a part of our future.

What God promised his people Israel through the Prophet Jeremiah, he likewise promises to his church, as it endures the faith-testing struggles that it so often faces in this world:

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

If Jesus is the Lord of the church - and he is - then the pathway that he has laid out for the future of this church is not difficult to discern. As recorded in St. Matthew, Jesus tells us:

“Go...and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

As recorded in St. Luke, Jesus tells us:

“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. ... This cup that is poured out for you is the new testament in my blood.”

As recorded in St. John, Jesus tells us:

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

And again, as recorded in St. John, Jesus tells us:

“True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”

The invitation that our Lord has issued to us, he also issues to everyone who, by his divine providence, ever steps through the doors of this building. As recorded in St. Matthew, Jesus tells us:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

And the commandment that our Lord has left with us, as he himself lives within us, undergirds everything we think, say, and do: among ourselves, and in our witness to the community, the nation, and the world. As recorded in St. John, Jesus tells us:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

God has graciously entrusted to us the stewardship of this holy house. According to the civil law, of course, the congregation of Redeemer Lutheran Church is now the legal owner of these premises.

But on the basis of the Word of God, we know that he is the true owner; and that we are caretakers, who are beholden to him in how this building is used.

We are what Jesus Christ, in his regenerating gospel, has made us to be. Our sacred calling - to which everything is to be brought into submission - is the calling that Jesus Christ has given to us. And Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Therefore we humbly pray that today, tomorrow, and for as long as this wold endures, we in this place would heed, and find our purpose, in the words and promises of Jesus Christ.

“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 in all speech and all knowledge - even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you - so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.

26 January 2020 - St. Titus - Titus 1:1-9

St. Titus was a companion of St. Paul and a coworker with him in the ministry of the gospel. The New Testament does not give us a lot of detail about his life, but it would seem that he was originally from Antioch, where he became a Christian within the congregation there.

It is sometimes claimed that Titus was one of the Seventy-two whom Jesus at a certain point sent out to go before him into the towns of Israel. Today’s Gospel, from St. Luke, describes this event.

But it cannot be so, that Titus was one of these men, since Titus was a gentile, and not a Jew. In his Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul describes Titus as an uncircumcised “Greek.”

Titus is also sometimes called an apostle, but this is meant in the broader sense of that term, according to which the companions of the “apostles” in the strict sense, are referred to by the same term through association. Titus did have an apostolic ministry, and was supervised and guided in that ministry by the apostle Paul. But he was not an apostle in the same sense in which Paul was.

In his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul writes that “God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” That comfort came specifically in the form of Titus reporting to Paul that the Corinthians Christians had taken to heart the admonitions Paul had addressed to them in his First Epistle to that congregation.

Titus had been Paul’s emissary to Corinth, where it would seem he dealt with the many disorders that had become evident in that congregation. The success of Titus’s pastoral visitation is indicated in his report to Paul that the Corinthian believers had repented, and reformed their ways.

We know from Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy that Titus was later working to spread the gospel in Dalmatia, along the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, where the modern state of Croatia is now located. And in the Epistle that Paul sent to Titus himself - from which today’s Second Lesson is taken - we can see that Titus was then working on the island of Crete, where he was active in organizing the church, and arranging for the appointment of pastoral leadership for the Christians there.

According to the later tradition of the church, Titus finished out his public ministry on Crete, and died there of natural causes when he was over 90 years old. He was one of the few leaders of the church in these early years who did not die a martyr’s death. And this is why the ecclesiastical color for his commemoration is white, and not red.

One author has described Titus as “a troubleshooter, peacemaker, administrator, and missionary.” And he was all those things. But Titus is best known to us, not because of what he did and said, but because of what was said to him by his teacher and mentor St. Paul.

Paul’s Epistle to Titus, in which Paul addresses him as “my true child in a common faith,” is a foundational text for our understanding of how the ministers of the Christian church should be chosen; and for our convictions on how the ministry of the church’s spiritual overseers should be conducted.

As we heard in the section from this epistle that was read as today’s lesson, there are some important moral qualification for bishops, elders, or pastors in the church, which Titus was to take into account in the leadership arrangements he was to make for and among the Cretan Christians. In the time of the apostles, bishops or overseers, presbyters or elders, and pastors or shepherds, were interchangeable terms.

These moral traits and ethical qualities are not unique to ministers, of course. All Christians should aspire to be people who could be described as “above reproach”; and as not arrogant or quick-tempered or drunkards or violent or greedy, but as hospitable, lovers of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.

Still, in listing these things as qualifications specifically for bishops and pastors, Paul is accentuating the fact that the lives of the church’s ministers should be characterized by these traits and qualities in a fairly noticeable way.

And St. Paul also gives what we might call professional qualifications specifically for church elders and shepherds, that arise from their specialized training and competence, and that are not shared by all Christian men generally. Paul writes that a bishop “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

The primary qualifications of a pastor, as a pastor, are his understanding of the Word of God; his ability to expound and apply the Word of God among those whom he serves, and among those who come within the purview of his evangelistic outreach; and his ability to rebuke and correct those who defy, distort, or dismiss the Word of God and its saving message.

Having spiritual leaders and teachers who are able to do these things is not optional for the church. When Paul told Titus, “I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town,” this indicates that the organization of Christian congregations is incomplete and unfinished if such appointments have not yet been made.

The specific details of how the ministry of pastoral oversight is set up, and the specific methods by which pastors are trained for their service, have not always been the same in all times and places. But the pastoral ministry in its essence is indispensable in all times and places.

According to the way in which Christ established his church, the church cannot exist without the public preaching and teaching of the gospel, or without the public administration of the sacraments, by properly-trained and properly called men. And so Martin Luther wrote on one occasion:

“Paul says to his disciple Titus: ‘This is why I left you in [Crete], that you might complete what I left unfinished, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you, men who are blameless, the husband of one wife, whose children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate. For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless,’ etc.”

“Whoever believes that here in Paul the Spirit of Christ is speaking and commanding, will be sure to recognize this as a divine institution and ordinance, that in each city there should be several bishops, or at least one. It is also evident that Paul considers elders and bishops to be one and the same thing, for he says: Elders are to be appointed and installed in all cities, and that a bishop shall be blameless.”

Because this is God’s will for his church, as St. Paul reiterates that divine will in today’s text, such a ministry should be valued by all of God’s people. But sadly this is often not the case.

People today often want a non-judgmental religion, where no one is criticized for his views, and where no one is told that there are certain things that he is obligated by God to believe. Tolerance is the watchword, not truth. But the directives that St. Paul gives to Titus don’t fit those expectations. He writes:

“There are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers... They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. ... Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to...myths, and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.”

Ouch! That’s pretty sharp. But God has the right to be clear and direct with us. And through the apostle Paul, it is indeed God who is speaking here.

Much of this epistle is dedicated to the promotion of good works, in accordance with God’s revealed moral law, and in the context of the vocations and stations of life in which people find themselves by divine providence.

Guidance is given for older people and for younger people, for masters and for servants. And then Paul summarizes the reasons why Christians should care about these things, and why they should want to lead lives that honor God, and that show forth love and respect for other people:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Paul does not merely affirm the existence of moral truth, without telling us what it is. The truth is not “out there,” but is here with us, wherever and whenever the Holy Scriptures are properly taught among us: through the lens of Christ’s life of goodness and service to others; and through the lens of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Teenagers often think that disobeying their parents brings them freedom and happiness in life. This is seldom true. Sinful men often think that disobeying God brings them freedom and happiness in life. This is never true.

The Son of God came into the world to redeem us from our sinful captivity to this disobedience, and to this foolishness. He came into this world to reconcile us with our creator, and to give us new hearts that desire what God desires, and that love what God loves.

This isn’t just someone’s opinion. This is the truth - God’s objective, unchanging truth - from which we must never turn away.

This is the truth that God would want the pastor or minister of every church on the face of the earth to proclaim, and to defend, as he holds firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

God’s Word does indeed teach a definite moral code. Because these are God’s ethics, all of us - as God’s creatures who are accountable to him - are obliged to commit ourselves to living as God would want us to live, and to treating others as God would want us to treat them.

We are to exercise the authority we have over others with love and fairness. We are to submit to those who have authority over us with love and respect.

We are to bear with the weaknesses of others, with patience and kindness. But we are not to compromise with the falsehoods that are embraced and promoted by others, as they might seek to persuade us to abandon God’s definitions of love and hatred, of truth and error, and to embrace their definitions instead.

And yet, because there is sin inside all of us, we never live up to these obligations fully and consistently. We are not righteous, as God wants us to be righteous, by our own works, because sooner or later our works fail. We fail.

If we are going to be able to stand before God with a clear conscience, without fear of his judgment, it’s going to have to be by some method other than obeying the law. And God has made a way - a way that he reveals through his servant Paul in the Epistle to Titus! St. Paul writes:

“We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

This, too, is the truth. It is the truth that God invites you to believe, when you feel guilty or scared, when you doubt or are afraid, when you yearn for his peace and comfort, when you seek out the meaning of your life as a member of his family and as a citizen of his kingdom.

It is the truth that God would want the pastor or minister of every Christian church on the face of the earth to proclaim, and to defend, as he holds firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

You have been baptized into the life of Christ, in the washing of regeneration. You have been baptized into the righteousness of Christ - the borrowed righteousness, as it were, that covers over your unrighteousness, and that justifies you and makes you acceptable in God’s sight. You have been baptized into the hope of Christ, so that you know, through faith in him, what your eternal destiny will be.

This truth is not to be preached only once. It is not to be believed only once. It is the content of the preaching that God wants to sound forth everywhere and at all times, from the lips of all who have been called to be the overseers of his flock, and the stewards of his mysteries.

Whenever you slip or fall from the moral standards by which God calls you to live, in repentance you may then heed his other call - his call and invitation to return to your baptism, to be renewed in your baptismal life by his Holy Spirit.

In the introduction to his Epistle to Titus, St. Paul summarizes the gospel that he continually proclaims, when he writes that he is “a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.”

You, who know the mercy of God in Christ, are God’s elect. For the sake of your faith - and for the sake of the daily renewal of your faith - the gospel of our God and Savior Jesus Christ is continually preached to you. In this way you are preserved in your knowledge of his truth, and in your hope for eternal life.

Any human teaching that questions, compromises, or rejects this sacred divine teaching, must be repudiated in God’s name by the bishops and pastors of God’s church - if those bishops and pastors are to be faithful to the duties of their office. Any teaching that points troubled sinners to their own works for salvation, and not to God’s baptismal gift of the righteousness of his Son, must not be heard or tolerated in God’s church.

It is for the sake of his truthful Word, and the teaching of his Word, that God has instituted the public ministry of pastoral oversight for his church. It is for the sake of your faith in his Word, and your justification in Christ by faith, that God gives you pastors who remind you of the promises of grace and salvation, made, before the ages began, by God - promises that God, who never lies, wants you to believe.

Titus, whom we commemorate today, was such a minister sent by God. We thank God for Titus’s example of faithful service.

And by means of the directions that God gave to Titus - in the letter that Paul wrote to him by God’s inspiration - God continues to guide and instruct his church, as he uses the church as his instrument for raising up new ministers of the gospel in every generation. We thank God for his faithfulness, in providing for our spiritual need.

May all Thy pastors faithful be; Not laboring for themselves, but Thee;
And may they feed, with wholesome food, The sheep and lambs bought by Thy blood;
Tending Thy flock, O may they prove How dearly they the Shepherd love!

That which the Holy Scriptures teach, That, and that only, may they preach;
May they the true foundation lay, Build gold thereon, not wood or hay;
And meekly preach in days of strife The sermon of a holy life. Amen.