Friday, January 12, 2018

Jesus Manifests His Glory in Cana

When Jesus was baptized, he publicly identified himself as the Savior who would take away our sins.  John pointed to him and proclaimed:  Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! 
The next day Jesus began to gather disciples and teach them about life in the Kingdom and on the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee where Jesus’ first miracle turned shame into joy-- and lack into plenty. 
Here, in just a few short verses at the beginning of his Gospel, the Apostle John tells the story of our salvation:  that the One who was in the beginning, the One who was God took on flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, became our sin bearer so that our lives in his kingdom would be filled to overflowing with all the blessings of God. 
Throughout the New Testament a wedding feast is the picture of the fulfillment of Jesus’ work-- and rich, abundant wine is the sign of rich, abundant life.  It is not an accident that that Jesus’ first miracle points to the culmination of his saving work in providing us with new life of overflowing blessings in his kingdom.  The Bible says that:
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”
            Before we talk about what happened with this young couple at Cana in Galilee-- I want to talk about what happened in Eden with another young couple named Adam and Eve so that you can see the difference that Jesus makes. 
When God created man and established marriage, Adam and Eve found delight in one another.  They were not ashamed in one another’s presence.  There was no conflict between them.  This is what God intended every marriage to be.
But we know the rest of the story don’t we—how sin wrecked God’s perfect creation beginning with the life that Adam and Eve shared with one another as husband and wife?  With sin came blame and recrimination-- where before there was love and respect. 
But God stepped in to help.  He promised that he would continue to bless marriage and send a Savior who would re-make and restore everything that sin and evil had destroyed.
Then he did something that had never been done before—he shed the blood of a living creature and clothed Adam and Eve with its skins to hide the shame they felt in one another’s presence—and in this sacrifice he gave a picture of what the Savior would do with the sin that destroyed creation and his good gift of marriage.
Many thousands of year later, Jesus stepped into the waters of the Jordan, identified with our sin, was proclaimed as the sin-bearing Lamb of God and attended a wedding in Cana of Galilee where a son of Adam and a daughter of Eve faced a problem that would begin their marriage in shame and blame.
They ran out of wine.  They ran out of win.  Now maybe we say to ourselves—big whoop—serve the sherbet punch and life will go on. 
But that’s not how it worked in that culture.  Wine was not just suggested at a wedding—it was expected—and to run out of wine was to begin your marriage with a scandal that would define your relationship from that time on.
You can imagine what would have come next can’t you?  The blame:  “I told you to get more wine”!  “I thought you were handling that”!  “Your mother never plans for enough”.  “Don’t bring my family into this this—it’s all your extra relatives that made us run out”!  And in the blame and recrimination they would be just like every other married couple.
Except that God had promised a Savior who would restore and re-make what sin had destroyed—a Savior who began his saving work at the exact place that sin had begun its destructive path—with a marriage. The Bible says that:
Jesus said to her [that is, his mother], “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
            For almost as many translators as there are, there are that many translations of this passage from the Greek.  What is there in the Greek is this:  Woman, what to me and thee.  Sadly our text follows many other English translations by having Jesus ask:  What does this have to do with me?  But that is just the opposite of what Jesus is saying!
Beck gets it right.  Jesus says:  Will you leave that to me!  In other words, Jesus says to his mother:   this situation is not going to be fixed by me and thee—but by me!
That is why Jesus addresses his mother as:  woman.  He is not being disrespectful- but he is reminding her not only who he is-- but he is reminding her WHO SHE IS as the WOMAN of Genesis 3.  God promised Adam and Eve the one who would undo Satan’s evil work and restore and re-make creation was the Offspring of THE WOMAN. 
Here’s the point:  to know who John the Baptist was as the forerunner of the Messiah is to know who Jesus is as the Savior.  To know who Mary is as the woman of Genesis 3 is to know who her Son is as the destroyer of Satan’s work and the re-newer of God’s good gifts. 
Jesus was the One who would accomplish his mission and no one else (not even his mother) and he would not be carried along at the mercy of forces beyond his control but his mission would go forward at exactly the right time, in exactly the right way to accomplish the salvation of the world. 
Mary needed to understand that-- and she did.  St. John the Apostle writes:   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 
There are no suggestions from her as to what Jesus ought to do—no helpful hints as how to make this embarrassing situation right.  Mary was content to take him the problem and leave it at his feet and trust him with the results.  And not only does she offer Jesus the obedience of faith—she calls upon all of his servants to do the same.  She is an example to us all!
Do whatever he tells you.  Mary’s words are still spoken to the servants seated here today in these pews.  Do whatever he tells you.  No “yes, buts”.  No trying to have our own way.  No trying to find a reason why in this instance the words of Jesus can be ignored. 
Is this easy?  No!  But Jesus asks his servants to trust him just like Mary and his other servants did that day.  The Bible says that:
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  And Jesus said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it.
            When Jesus commanded the servants to fill those water jars they must have thought to themselves—this guy has lost his mind!  This is just going to make things worse!  Was he really going to serve water to all these guests and bring shame upon this couple? 
But the words of the Blessed Mother of our Lord must have been ringing in their ears:  do whatever he says.  They ring in our ears too! 
Does Jesus really expect me to forgive and keep on forgiving?  Is he really asking me to stop worrying and start trusting him when I’ve got all these things on my mind?  Should I really give no thought to my material needs and trust him to provide?  At the heart of all of these questions is this:  can Jesus be trusted?  The answer from Cana is yes!  The Bible says that:
When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
            There are really two different parts of this miracle:  what the servants knew in terms of hundreds of gallons of water being turned into wine—and what the master of the feast knew in the unexpected goodness of the wine—together, a miracle of both quantity and quality.
The Word who called the world into being at the beginning—the Word through whom all things were made—once again touched his sin-ruined creation with gifts and blessings that were abundant and rich and overflowing and good-- so that as creation was in the beginning, it was restored and renewed that day at Cana by its Creator.
 In the presence of the One who gave Adam and Eve to one another as husband and wife, this young couple would never know the shame of their poverty.  Their names would never become a watchword in the community for failure.  Their lives with one another would begin as God intended:  with delight in one another and gladness in God’s provision.
On the third day at Cana in Galilee Jesus showed what he would do on the third day at an empty hillside grave:  giving us the gift of life—life that is good—life in his presence—just like it was in the beginning.  A life he wants us to share with others.
The wine that Jesus created by his almighty word was much more than the wedding guests would consume—it was a gift of plenty that could be shared with others in their community so that they too could hear of their Savior and receive his gifts.  That Bible says that:
This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

            It wasn’t an accident that this was his first miracle- or that it was done at a wedding in Cana of Galilee- or that it was accomplished on the third day.  Jesus did it this way so that his disciples could see his glory and believe in him and share him with others.  May God grant the same to us this day!  Amen.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

"In View of God's Mercy: Sacrifice and Service"

Romans 12:1-8 Our life with God is only by his mercy.  That is what is taught in the chapters and verses leading up to our text—that it is only by God’s mercy that we can call ourselves God’s children and claim a place in God’s family—only by his mercy. 
By nature, all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  All of us by nature are under God’s judgment which is “guilty” and his punishment which is death.
And yet in God’s mercy, Jesus was given into death in our place and raised him from the dead so that we can be right in his sight—so that we can justly be declared “not guilty” in God’s court of justice.
So that we can believe this Good News and claim it for ourselves, the Holy Spirit has worked in Baptism and preaching to give us faith and because we now belong to God, we can be confident that God is working all things for our good and nothing will separate us from his love.
That is the message of Romans up to our text in Romans 12 and there is nothing else for us to say or believe but that our life with God is by his mercy alone. 
It is that same foundation of God’ merciful love for us in Christ that now shapes how we live out our lives as Christians through service and sacrifice.  Paul wrote:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.   
By the exact same mercies of God that saved us and brought us to faith keep us in faith, we are called to live out that faith in sacrifice and service.
In these verses, and those that follow, there are no legal demands made of us; there is no talk of a debt that has to be paid or an obligation that must be fulfilled.  Instead, Paul simply says:  I want you to fill your eyes of faith with the mercies of God that he has shown to you in Jesus Christ and then you will understand how you yourselves are to live. 
And so then, dear friends in Christ, before we say another word about how we are live as God’s people, can you see, by faith, the mercy of God that made you his people? 
Can you see your great need for salvation?  Can you see your terrible inability to save yourself?  Can you see the great gift that God has given you in Jesus and the burden he bore for you and the death he died for you?  Can you see the hope and peace and comfort from knowing that you are now, by God’s grace, his child?  If so, hear again the words of the Spirit:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice
 As God’s child you are called to a life of sacrifice and service because that is the life that God’s only-begotten Son gave for you-- and when our hearts and minds and spirits are filled with those scenes of mercy that are found in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, we will want to live our lives in the same way, wholly devoted to others.  In fact…
Paul says that this life is truly what it means to worship God—to offer our lives as living sacrifices out of love for the one who sacrificed himself into death on the cross. 
I am glad that all of you are here today for public worship.  We need to hear God’s Word and receive the gift of Holy Communion and be strengthened in our faith.
But this hour of worship was never intended to be the highest expression of what it means to be a Christian-- but rather a strengthening moment for an entire life of worship where we gladly offer our lives as living sacrifices in service to others-- just like Jesus did, devoting his life to doing his Father’s will.  The Bible says:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
            The world says that we are to put ourselves first, and follow our dreams, and climb our way to the top, and look out for number one.  Power and money are the highest goods the world has to offer-- and many seek them to their eternal peril.
We too are tempted by the values of the world because they appeal to our flesh.  But when compare them to the example of Jesus Christ, we see how far apart that kind of life-- and the life of a child of God-- really is. 
And so then, to live a life of sacrifice and service as God’s child it is necessary that we have a change of heart and mind and will.  That change in us—what Paul calls the renewal of our mind—happens as we keep God’s mercy firmly in view.  We ask ourselves… 
Where in the life of Christ do we see anything that resembles the thinking of the world?  Nowhere!  And so we must not conform ourselves to that pattern or adopt those values.
Instead, we are to shape and pattern our lives after the example of our Lord’s life of service and sacrifice—to test and measure and evaluate our thoughts and actions and words and motivations against the pure standard of our Lord Jesus Christ-- and in this way learn the truth about ourselves and the truth about the greatness of his mercy—but also how to live as his people in service and sacrifice.  Paul wrote:
By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
            On the night when Jesus was betrayed, he gathered in the Upper Room with his disciples for the Passover Meal.  Common courtesy dictated that the feet of the guests would be washed. 
But all of the disciples stood around, looking at one another, waiting to see who would give in and take the lowest place; who would become the servant of all; each of them refusing to consider that maybe, just maybe he could do it.  Not one of them was willing to sacrifice what he thought was his place and his prestige.  Not one of them was willing to serve the others. 
And so Jesus took the towel in hand and the wash basin and he knelt at the disciple’s feet—the one, true and living God of the universe sacrificing his divine dignity and honor, serving them all in the lowliest way.  And he said:  I am leaving you an example
And so then, hear again the Spirit-inspired words of the Apostle Paul:  I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought.  In your marriages and in your families and in your workplaces and schools, do not think too highly of yourself.  And so then…
How should we think about ourselves as the people of God?  Is the servant above the master?  Of course not!  Are we the ones standing around, waiting to see who will bend the knee and serve?  As God’s sons and daughters we should think about ourselves like God’s only-begotten Son and serve one another as fellow members of the body of Christ.  Paul wrote:
As in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
            We are the body of Christ in this place—members of the church that stretches out across the world, spanning space and time.  We are member of Christ and we are members of one another.  We belong to Christ and we belong to one another.  We are men and women, boys and girls.  We are young and old.  We have different places and roles in society.
But what binds us together into the one body of Christ is infinitely greater than these differences.  We have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.  We share this meal of his body and blood.  We confess one faith and have one hope.  We have one heavenly Father and we follow one Lord and Master. 
That said, this unity we have together in Christ, this recognition that we belong to one another for the good of all, does not mean that we are all the same.  We are not!  And that is a good thing!  We have different experiences and perspectives, and especially we have different gifts and abilities so that we can serve one another in the body of Christ.  The Bible say:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
            This list illustrates, but does not exhaust, the various gifts that the Spirit gives to Christians.  Everyone who is a member of the body of Christ is gifted by the Spirit in some way so that we can all serve one another and serve the cause of Christ in the world.  Everyone is needed.  Everyone is valuable.  Everyone is necessary.  Everyone is gifted for service. 
And so then, for your reflection, I want to ask you:  what do you do to serve one another in the body of Christ in this place?  Beyond worshiping and giving an offering, what is your function in the body of Crist in this place?  How are you using your gifts to serve one another and God?  What are the concrete ways you are demonstrating that you are a member here?
Over the last several years we faced a significant challenge in terms of our facility.  It was far greater than any one of us could fix on our own.  And so we came together and worked together and we each did our part and the Lord blessed our efforts.
In a much more significant way than a roof that needs to be fixed, we face a spiritual challenge here that needs to be addressed. 
If we are to move forward with the mission the Lord has set before as the body of Christ in this place, if we are to become, for ourselves and our community everything God wants us to be, each and every one of you needs to understand that by the mercies of God, the Spirit has not only given you faith in Jesus, he has gifted you for service in this place and you have a function in this place that no one else can fill. 
The Bible says:  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them!  Let us use them!  Amen!


Saturday, December 30, 2017

We Are Heirs of God

Galatians 4:1-7 From Advent to Ascension, through the words of Holy Scripture, the Church tells the story of everything that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. 
From the promises of a Savior to come-- to the birth of a child-- to the beginning of his public ministry-- to his death on the cross and resurrection and ascension—the festival half of the church year tells the story of the great events in the life of Jesus Christ. 
But what must be told along with those events—the “what” and the “who” so to speak—is the “why”. 
Why did Jesus come into the world as a baby?  Why was he so careful to do everything commanded by the Law?  Why did he go to the cross and rise from the dead and ascend to heaven? 
That is the story that must be told if we are to understand why the birth and baptism and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is such Good News for us!
That story –the “why”-- is what we hear today in these verses from Galatians. 
God made these promises and fulfilled them in Jesus Christ so that each of us sitting here today could become God’s child and his heir.  This identity, this status, this inheritance is the purpose of God’s saving work in his Son Jesus Christ for us.
During his earthly ministry our Lord taught this again and again—that a life with God and the blessings of God came only through the Son. 
When Jesus concluded the Parable of the Prodigal Son there was a man who was restored to “sonship” by his father-- and there was a man who was alienated from the Father, angry that he hadn’t received what he thought were wages due him for all that he had done—the point being that our place in God’s family is only by his grace.
When many of the Jews began following Jesus, he reminded them that slaves had no permanent place in the family but the Son did-- and if they were to be free, it was the Son who would have to set them free.
It is impossible to overestimate how important this biblical teaching is regarding our identity, our status, our purpose as God’s children is!  It is ONLY when we understand that God has broken into our world in the person of his Son Jesus Christ to make us his children and heirs that we begin to understand why it was necessary for God to do what he has done.  Paul wrote that:
the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.  In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.
            Our text catches Paul in the middle of an ongoing argument and he is using an example from the ancient world to make his point that our place in God’s family comes only through the Son—not through what we do.
If you were the son of a prominent father, he would entrust your care and training and education to a guardian who would watch over you and teach you how to be a gentleman and prepare you to take your rightful place one day as the heir of your father’s possessions and place in society. 
And so you learned how to behave and what to value and how to speak and how to relate to various kinds of people in various stations of life.  You did your lessons and you obeyed the master your father set over you. 
Until that day came when you took your rightful place in your father’s house, you were effectively no better than the guardian appointed to you and, in fact, you were under his authority even if he was a slave-- and so, essentially, were you-- even though you were a child of the lord.
But when the date came for you to take your rightful place in your father’s house, that guardianship came to an end. 
That’s the way it was for the Jews.  The law—and obedience to the law-- was never intended to be the way for them to be counted as God’s children—that status would only come through God’s Son.  Jesus told them, “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.”
So it is for us.  Our life with God; our status as God’s children; our right to lay hold of the riches of the living God and claim them as our own precious inheritance, comes only through Jesus Christ who God gave to the world for this purpose:  that we too could be counted as God’s children, adopted into his family by faith in his Son.  Paul wrote that:
When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
            The great miracle of the Christmas Season is that God’s only-begotten Son became Mary’s Son so that we could be adopted into God’s family as his children too.
            The One who is born on Christmas morning IS God’s Son.  He is from everlasting to everlasting; he is before all things and after all things; he is the Alpha and the Omega.  He was there in the beginning with his Father and all things were made through him-- and he will be there when all things come to an end and a new heaven and a new earth will come from him as well.
And at just the right time, when God had perfectly ordered all things on earth for his arrival and fulfilled all the promises of his coming, Jesus was born of Mary—one of us—the Creator of all-- become a creature so small.
To bring us to himself and make us member of his family and give us the riches of eternity, he did not hold himself aloof from his creatures and from his creation.  He did not shrink form even the smallest act of obedience his laws demands. 
He was circumcised under the demands of the law to identify himself as one under the covenant-- but also to show that he was the covenant itself, shedding the same blood that would be poured out on the cross as the payment price to set us free from sin and death.
He was born under the law like every one of us—with God’s holy expectation that he would keep every command.  He was born under this law because he was one of us-- but he was also born under this law to redeem us from its demands that we cannot keep, by filling it up with his holy obedience.
That word redeemed has to do with slaves.  It is the ransom that is paid, the purchase price that is given, so that slaves can go free, so that their masters’ just demands can be satisfied to the fullest degree.
That is what the Son of the Woman has done for us.  He was born under the law along with all the rest of us so that his holy obedience would fill up the righteous demands of the law that rest upon all of us; demands that proclaim us unfit, unworthy slaves again and again. 
His holy, precious blood was poured out for us upon the cross to pay the penalty for every failure to be the faithful servants we ought to be.  And he has done this so that we might receive adoption as sons.  For this purpose:  that we might receive adoptions as Son. 
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a purpose in the promises that were made to Adam and Eve and Abraham and Sarah. 
There is a purpose in God’s faithfulness in fulfilling those promises. 
There is a purpose in God’s wise, powerful providential ordering of all of human history and the rise and all of great nations. 
There is a purpose to the living, powerful, holy, righteous, just God of the universe taking on the flesh of a baby and living under the law and dying a terrible death and rising again. 
There is a purpose—and that purpose is you.
Can you imagine it!  Can you imagine it!  That God’s purposes and God’s plan and the person of God’s Son has always and will always have in view this purpose:  that you would be restored to God’s family; that you would be God’s child; that all the blessings and riches and dignity of the living God of the universe would be your own precious possession now and forever.  Paul wrote:
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
            You are God’s children!  You have been adopted into God’s family through faith in God’s only begotten Son.  The Holly Spirit has called you to faith.
Everything that God has purposed and planned for you from everlasting to everlasting, he has accomplished for you in his Son Jesus Christ.  You are God’s child and he is your Father and that relationship you have with God is of such deep intimacy that you may call him, “Abba”,
As God’s child, you are no longer a slave to your flesh.  You are no longer a slave to the demands of the law.  You have been set from your failures and you are an heir of all that Jesus has earned for you by his life, death, and resurrection:  forgiveness for all your sins, God’s abiding presence in your life, and your own special place in heaven when this life is over.

In this New Year there is simply nothing more important for you to know and believe than the Good News that you are God’s own dearly loved child and an heir of all that Jesus has done for you.  Amen.