Monday, January 31, 2011
Series A, Epiphany 5 February 6, 2011
Lessons for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Isaiah 58:3–9a ~ God called His people to task for fasts that met their interests at the expense of the poor.
Psalm 112:1–9 (antiphon: v. 4)
1 Corinthians 2:1–12 (13-16) ~ The way of God’s grace is discerned only through the working of the Spirit.
Matthew 5:13–20 ~ Jesus held His followers to the perfection of the law, which He Himself fulfilled.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: What About Grace Don’t You Understand?
There was something about Jesus’ compassion that gave people the wrong idea about His message. The law is still the Law, and God’s intent for us is perfection in all its details. In Isaiah’s day, the people couldn’t get away with shows of piety that added further burdens to their oppressed neighbors. The details of God’s demands are spelled out: share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless into your house. Only the Spirit of God can teach us that grace is not a relaxing of God’s demands, but a fulfilling of them in our failures through the cross of Christ.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Gracious God, do not let me mistake Your compassion for compromise. Keep me from being careless with Your demands, and keep me always caring for the needs of the oppressed. And when I see that my life has failed to fulfill Your purpose, give me grace to trust the fulfillment of my life in Jesus’ death on the cross. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Every moment of our lives are given meaning because we have been rescued from waste and given worth through Jesus, the One who fulfilled God’s righteous demands on us by His sacrificial death on the cross. As He is risen to life again, He gives us opportunities to live for Him and for others.
OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, You are the Salt of our lives and the Light of our soul.
You flavor our days, and Your love makes us whole.
With all of these gifts that we bring You this day,
In heart and in action, bring hope to the hurting, we pray.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Salt is for flavor and lamps are for lighting. When they no longer do what they are designed for, they are worthless. God’s people are for living up to the demands of His law, including giving care and comfort to the poor, the oppressed, and the homeless. When we fail, we are worthless, like bland salt and burned out lamps. In a wisdom we cannot understand, but only perceive through the teaching of God’s Spirit, Jesus has fulfilled our purpose and given us new life! Living in Christ’s righteousness we are assured of entering the Kingdom of Heaven!
Good evening, fellow redeemed!
The Gospel for this morning, Matthew 5:1-12, always demands to be proclaimed, even though I preached the Epistle today. In these verses at the beginning of Matthew 5, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount begins with what has commonly been called the Beatitudes. Several years ago, Robert Schuler of the Crystal Cathedral termed these the "Be Happy Attitudes." Sorry, Bob, but you've missed the point.
Take out your Bible and read through these statements. Many try to make them into guides for living, but it becomes as impossible as living the Ten Commandments perfectly. But, read them again, especially verses 3-10! Who is the one who is truly poor in spirit, truly meek, who mourns over sin, who hungers and thirsts for true righteousness, who really is merciful, who is truly pure in heart, who makes a lasting peace, and who is persecuted for righteousness' sake? The fulfillment of these statements isn't anything about us, but is truly our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Clinging to Christ, then, Jesus promises that there will be revulsion and persecution for His sake. Yet, the reward for clinging faithfully to Christ is the great reward of heaven.
O God the Holy Spirit, keep us grounded in the Word of the Cross by faith, that Christ's righteous obedience becomes ours! Amen
With things simmering down a little, this week's schedule at church will be a little more full. Here are a few highlights:
As many of you know, Donnae Blake, our sister in the faith, was called to her Lord this past week. A memorial service for Donnae will be held Friday at 4 p.m., with a reception afterward. Many have asked about the reception, but I still need to get input from the Blake family. As soon as I know something, I'll be forwarding it your way.
Tuesday night, Young Adult Bible Study will meet at Barnes and Noble at 7 p.m. One thing we'll be working out is the dusting off of the Lutheran Book Club. With the Young Adult Bible Study at its core, we'll be taking up books concerned with the Christian faith and Christian living. The first of those books will be C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. The first time to discuss this book will be next Tuesday, February 8, at 7 p.m. Right now, we're planning to continue meeting at Barnes and Noble, unless we can find a better site.
Choir also begins again this week on Wednesday night at 7 p.m., right after Zumba. Singers of all voices are invited.
In the area of music, I'd also like to resurrect the Guitar Worship group to rehearse this Thursday at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Andrew Jones, one of Mt. Olive's faithful, will receive Scouting's highest honor, the rank of Eagle Scout, at a ceremony at Second Baptist Church at 4 p.m. The congregation is invited.
Finally, a note of thanks is in order, even though it won't come close to being enough. Many of you have supplied us with fantastic meals. Others have sent sympathy cards and memorials to our family. To be surrounded by such a great family of brothers and sisters in the faith is indeed a blessing from our Lord. Thank you very much for all your presence with our family during this very trying time.
The Blake family as they mourn Donnae's death
Ruth Prytz, who is hospitalized in Houston
Anton and Pearly Theiss, and Emmett and Emma Wright
My uncle, Raymond Whitaker who was hospitalized briefly over the weekend
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Dru Blanc, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi)
The Church throughout the world as she proclaims the word of the cross
Pastor Allan Eckert, our circuit counselor, Pastor Mike Newman, our Mission and Ministry Facilitator, and Pastor Ken Hennings, our District President - these guys deal with all kinds of issues, including numerous vacancies
Citizens in Egypt during incredible unrest and turmoil
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, January 31:
Tuesday, February 1:
Young Adult Bible Study at Barnes and Noble
Wednesday, February 2:
Bible Study (Deuteronomy)
Thursday, February 3
Cub Scout Pack 278
Guitar Worship rehearsal
Friday, February 4
Memorial Service for Donnae Blake
Saturday, February 5
Eagle Scout ceremony for Andrew Jones at Second Baptist Church
Sunday, January 30, 2011
The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the epistle lesson appointed for the day. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Last week we talked about the unifying power of the cross of Jesus Christ—that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross has unified God and man and has laid the foundation for unity between men—we talked about how divisions between Christians are a denial of that power of Jesus to unite us into one body—the church.
But today we learn that the cross that unites God and man and Christians with one another—also has the power to divide Christians from those who don’t believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Paul writes that:
The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
All of us have had the experience of visiting with our neighbors and chatting with folks at work and school--and feeling like strangers to the world we live in. As we interact with those around us, we discover that the things we value- and the God we believe in- is rejected by more and more people in our nation. And we can’t figure out why everyone does not value and believe what seems so obvious and important to us.
But they don’t. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing. What is this “word of the cross” that Paul is referring to? It is the basic proclamation of the Christian church: that Jesus of Nazareth, a real human man, was also God in human flesh—that his life, death, and resurrection are the only way for sinners to have a life with God—and that reconciled to God through faith, we are called to walk in holiness of life.
And so why does the world around us reject this “word of the cross” as foolishness? It is because this “word of the cross” cannot be seen in nature and it cannot be discerned by our intellect and it cannot be measured scientifically. It cannot be known in any way except by revelation from God—and that is the height of foolishness to the unbelieving world around us. And yet for us Christians, the “word of the cross” is the wisdom of God that is central to our being-- it defines who we are- and what we are to be about in the world- and where we are going when this life is over.
To us who are saved by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ--it is the power of God that has rescued us from sin and death and changed us from enemies of God to his children. How can there not be a division between those who believe this message--and those who don’t? And the truth of the matter is that God has ordained this very thing: that man cannot “think” or “reason” his way into heaven. Paul writes:
It is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
These words are a quote from the prophet Isaiah and Paul uses them here to make the point that God himself has ordained this division between those who believe his word and those who don’t by making our human intellect an insufficient means of knowing him as he desires to be known.
You see, not only has our sin rendered us incapable of having a life with God on our own terms—but God himself—our Creator—has placed limits on our intellect so that we can never “think” our way into heaven. Now, the human mind is a great gift from God. The breadth of human knowledge is vast. The technological achievements of mankind are staggering. But all of it together still cannot bring us to God. And that has been proved true again and again down through human history. Paul writes:
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
At the beginning our message we talked about the division in mankind between those who believe the message of the cross and those who don’t. That dividing line also cuts across human religions and human philosophies. The fact of the matter is that there are really only two religions in the world—true biblical Christianity founded on the message of the cross—and everything else.
Hinduism and Islam and Judaism look very different from one another-- but at their heart they are exactly the same: they are religions that tell their adherents that they can have a life with God based upon their own efforts. The various moral philosophies of mankind have the same message. And they leave their followers in exactly the same place—alienated from God—incapable of knowing God as he desires to be known.
The world’s greatest philosopher—the most meticulous scholar—the most knowledgeable scientist cannot do the one thing for mankind that must be done—and that is reconcile us to God.
And because of that—no matter how pious these religions might be—no matter how earnest the followers of some human philosophy might be—no matter how subtle and sophisticated their arguments: God counts it all as foolishness because they cannot do what he has done through the cross—and that is to reveal himself as the God who loves us with an everlasting love. Paul writes:
Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
That there is a division between those who believe the message of the cross and those who don’t—that it is impossible for mankind to come to God on the basis of his own works or intellect—is not an accident—God in his wisdom has made sure that we cannot have a life with him on the basis of human wisdom.
Certainly we can know some things about God: we can know that he exists by looking at the creation around us—we can know that he loves good and hates evil by the testimony of our own conscience. But we cannot know him as he truly is-- and desires to be known—that has to be revealed to us in what Paul calls “the folly of what we preach.” The truth about God comes only through the proclamation of the church.
When Paul calls the word of the cross “folly’ he is talking about the judgment of the world about the message of the cross-- and he is recognizing the same thing that we recognize as we interact with the unbelieving world around us: that what we regard as the highest wisdom (the Good News of Jesus) the world regards as the worst kind of foolishness.
And yet believing that message is the only way to salvation. Right there is the great dilemma and difficulty for mankind—the human roadblocks to faith. Paul writes:
Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
What we experience in our day of this dividing line between Christians and the world is nothing new--Paul knew it also. Jews didn’t believe in Jesus because they wanted some indisputable sign that he was the Messiah. And even though he did miraculous sign after miraculous sign—they weren’t the signs they wanted. They wanted the Romans overthrown and Israel restored. For Greeks it was unimaginable that God would take on human flesh and die. And while they believed in the immortality of the soul, a bodily, physical resurrection was seen as ridiculous.
And so the “word of the cross” was a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles. But it was also true that the Christian congregation at Corinth was full of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. How did this come to be? Because as great an impediment to faith as was the demand for signs and the human intellect—the wisdom and power of God was even greater than these human roadblocks to faith. Paul writes:
The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
In the years since these words were written, mankind has plumbed the depth of the atom and unraveled the building blocks of life and stood upon the moon. The wisdom and strength of mankind is great indeed!
And yet, in all those years, not one person has come to God in any other way than by the cross. What man cannot do in his wisdom-- and what he cannot do in the strength of his own good works—the foolishness and weakness of Christ crucified can do, and has done, in bestowing the title “child of God’ upon the lowliness of men. Paul writes:
Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
The true power and wisdom of God in the weakness and foolishness of a crucified Jew could be clearly seen in the members of the Corinthian congregation. Very few of the Christians in that place were great scientists or powerful political leaders or members of the upper echelons of society. They were just regular folks whom God had chosen to bestow the divine dignity of being his children through faith in Jesus.
So it is in our congregation and throughout the Christian church today. Those who have great wealth and great power and great intellect are more often found outside the church than within. There are notable exceptions of course—a number of them in this congregation--and those folks have the ability to do great things for the cause of Christ. But by and large-- power and wealth and great intellect are hurdles that have to be overcome to have a life with God-- rather than helps to faith in Christ.
That is because power and wealth and intellect lift us up rather than bring us low and that is what God has to do to save us. So long as: we are trying to come to God on our own terms—to have a life with him that is of our own making—looking within ourselves for reasons that God ought to be pleased with us—we still don’t know the way of salvation that comes as a free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus.
We may boast before men about our wealth and power and influence—but we may not boast before God—because our salvation—from beginning to end—is his doing alone. Paul writes:
Because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
God the Father has chosen us form eternity to be his own. He has sent his Son Jesus Christ to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. And his Holy Spirit has worked faith in our heart through Word and Sacrament so that we can believe in Jesus and be saved.
He is our wisdom—the only way that we can truly know who God is. His holy life is our righteousness before God. He is our sanctification—his resurrection life within us that is the ongoing power to live a holy life. And he is our redemption—the one who has paid the price-in his own blood—to set us free from sin, death, and the devil.
There simply is no room in God’s salvation for the boasting of mankind. But there is a place for boasting in the Lord! The rest of our earthly life and all of eternity is not enough time to sufficiently thank God for the power and wisdom of Christ crucified for us—but we can begin today to serve him and praise him as he deserves. Amen.
And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Epiphany 4, Series A January 30, 2011
Lessons for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Micah 6:1-8 (God desires justice, mercy, and humility.)
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (The message of Christ crucified is the power of God for salvation.)
Matthew 5:1-12 (Blessed are those who recognize their need for God’s mercy.)
GATHERING THE TEXTS: God's Claim to Change
The one to whom you belong makes a difference. The Lord spoke to His people through Micah to remind them that He had brought them up out of Egypt, and to confront them with the challenge to live just, merciful, and humble lives. St. Paul reminded the Corinthians and us that we should remember what kind of people we were before God chose us, so that we can be proud of Christ Jesus, the One who has made us what we are. In the introduction to his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turned the world upside down with His blessings for all those the world considers losers. God has claimed us to change us.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Dear Father in heaven, through Christ my Savior, You have made me Your own. Remind me of the blessings You have given me through faith in Your promises and the power of Your Holy Spirit. Help me respond to Your gift of eternal life with the just and merciful deeds of a humble life in this world. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God has blessed us so abundantly with His grace that we need not hold anything back to enhance our opinion of ourselves. Indeed, He has shared His very life with us, so we can share humble, loving deeds and goods with others as we demonstrate God’s much greater love.
OFFERING PRAYER: Your gifts to us, O Lord, have known no bound,
And in our greatest need, You rescued us!
Send us to those Your love has not yet found,
That they may know your ways are kind and just.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Our pride and self-satisfaction are the enemies of God’s grace. When we refuse to see our sin and our need for a Savior, we stumble over a crucified King and put ourselves above the law. God has come to us in humbled, human form to share our sin and show us our shame. We are truly blessed when the conditions of our life make our need so obvious that it becomes unavoidable. Then we are ready recipients of God’s mercy and eager to extend love and kindness to others.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the Epistle lesson appointed for the day. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Next year we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of this congregation. During those years we have been served by 14 different pastors. Some of these pastors spoke German—some English. Some of these pastors were older men—some younger. Some of these men were fiery, “pound the pulpit” kinds of preachers—others more soft-spoken. Each was different from the one who came before and the one who came after.
Now, we all have our preferences from among these men who have served as pastor in this place. For the children and young people of the congregation I am the only pastor they have ever known—they don’t have a lot to choose from. But for folks like Brian Kriegel who has known 11 of the 14—their differences—I’m sure—are vivid.
And yet as different as these pastors were—one from another--what united all them was a shared faith—a shared pastoral practice when it comes to administering the sacraments—and a shared commitment to provide spiritual care for the folks here.
For 100 years the people of God at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Kingsville, Texas have been able to come to church on Sunday morning and be confident that they will hear the Word of God faithfully preached and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution. This is a profound blessing from God!
But what we see today in God’s Word is that this is a blessing that can be undermined when our individual preferences and personalities become more important than the shared faith and practice that binds us together as a congregation. Paul writes:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
Paul began this letter to the Corinthians by reminding them of their identity—that by virtue of Christ’s saving work—they were now children of the heavenly Father—members of the same family—brothers and sisters in Christ. And when he begins to address the troubles in their congregation, he continues in the same way: I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...
That appeal rings out across the centuries to us sitting here today since we share in that same apostolic faith that was believed and practiced in Corinth. And so the admonition of Paul is spoken to us too—that there be no divisions among us—for divisiveness undermines the identity that God bestows upon us.
When we were baptized, we were baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No matter what name we bear on earth—all of us bear the name of Christ as his people—we have the same spiritual family name. When there are divisions in the Christian congregation-- it is a denial of our identity.
On the other hand, when we are united in the same mind and the same judgment—that unity is a powerful affirmation of the truth of our identity: that we are the heavenly Father’s children and that Jesus is our brother.
It’s the living out of this baptismal identity that is always the challenge—but we must never become reconciled to anything or anyone that undermines and destroys that identity through divisiveness. That’s what was happening in Corinth as they let their own personal preferences about pastors and teachers divide them. Paul writes:
It has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”
Like our own congregation here in Kingsville, Corinth had been served by a number of pastors and teachers. And like our congregation’s pastors, Paul and Apollos and Cephas and the others, taught and practiced the apostolic faith. They were very different men to be sure --with different gifts and abilities and personalities—but they were perfectly united in the Christian faith that they taught and practiced as pastors.
But their common faith and common witness was being undermined by a “cult of personality” that the Corinthians had allowed to grow up in their midst.
Despite a common faith and a common practice between their pastors and teachers (that should have resulted in unity between the members) the Corinthians were identifying themselves with a particular pastor --and allowing their personal preference for this man or that-- divide them from one another.
Now, there is nothing wrong with personal preferences—we all have them—and it is natural to identify more strongly with one person more than another. This happens even with our pastors. We prefer this guy’s style- or we identify with another guy because he’s in the same place in life as we are- or we prefer another man’s personality.
And there is no problem with that UNTIL those personal preferences take precedence over the truth of God’s Word that unites us together. Then those preferences begin to undermine who we are and what we are called to be about as a congregation.
Such was the rancor and quarreling in the Corinthian congregation that it had gotten outside the walls of the church into the greater Christian community.
All of us need this reminder that when there is division and quarreling in a church—it is not just that church that is wounded—but the mission of Christ is undermined. We need this timely reminder that what UNITES us in this congregation is infinitely greater than what DIVIDES us. Paul writes:
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
Any time we are tempted to let personality or preference, divide us as Christians we need to remember these words. In the strongest terms Paul points out the sinfulness of divisiveness in the Christian congregation.
By virtue of our baptism into Christ, each of us are members of his body. Is it possible that Christ is divided? Of course not!
Is Paul or Cephas or Apollos or some individual pastor whom we prefer to another greater than our Savior who shed his life’s blood for us? Blasphemous!
Does one pastor’s baptism make us more of a Christian than the Holy Trinity who adopted us in Holy Baptism? It’s outrageous to even suggest such a thing!
There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism—one God and Father of us all and that God-given unity in the congregation must not be torn asunder by some individual preference on our part.
So strongly does Paul make this point that he goes on to say that he is glad that he only baptized a few folks there in Corinth so that he has as little part in this divisiveness as possible.
Now this is an incredible thing for a pastor to say! The greatest blessing for a pastor is to baptize—to see someone go from being an enemy of God to a child of God—to bestow the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation upon someone in the waters of Holy Baptism is a profound joy! But such was Paul’s opposition to their divisiveness that he is glad that he only baptized a few so that his name is not drawn into it. He says:
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
The cross of Jesus Christ united God and man by the atoning sacrifice that was offered there. The cross of Christ united Jew and Gentile into one family of faith. The cross of Christ is the power that restores life for us as it was in the beginning. To preach the Good News of the cross: Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the sins of the world-- was the great mission that Jesus had called Paul to undertake.
Other men would follow him who would baptize and commune and absolve and do the “day-to-day” work of a pastor in a congregation and together they would work to see that the apostolic message of God in Christ reconciling the world to himself went out into the world with its saving power. Nothing could be allowed to rob this message of its saving power—not fine-sounding philosophical arguments that left people unsure of what was being preached—and certainly not divided congregations that were a denial of the very thing that they were proclaiming.
Over the last nearly thirteen years that I have served St. Paul—Kingsville we have been blessed by God with the spiritual gift of unity. With very few exceptions can I ever remember personal preferences for pastors and individual personalities coming to the fore to undermine our unity and I am profoundly grateful to the saints in this place for their spiritual maturity and respect for the pastoral office no matter who the incumbent of that office is.
But today’s lesson applies to us too if for no other reason than as a timely reminder that congregational unity is a blessing to be sought and carefully nurtured because the consequences of divisiveness cuts to the heart of the deepest parts of the Christian faith and undermines the saving mission of Christ in this world.
And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Lord God heavenly Father, we come to You in prayer to call upon Your name, praise You for Your righteous works, and worship You for your goodness:
We thank You for the work of those who proclaim Your righteousness throughout the world. Bless pastors and teachers, chaplains and missionaries as they tell the Good News of Your Son Jesus. Because so many people walk in the darkness of unbelief, continue to raise up workers for Your harvest field and equip us to bear witness to You as we have opportunity.
Since You desire that the coming generations would know You and serve You, You have ordained marriage and family as the foundation for our common life together. Strengthen the marriages and families of this congregation, that our homes would be places of godliness and love for one another. We especially ask Your blessing upon Craig and Helen as they celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. Continue to bless them in body and soul and draw them ever closer to one another and you in love.
We confess You O Lord to be our true King and the Ruler of the nations. Bless and guide those who govern the nations of the world as Your ministers and those who bear the sword in defense of our nation. Give them gifts of wisdom and reason that they may govern justly. We especially pray for our own nation, its leaders, and our fellow citizens. Rid us of our national sins—especially the grievous sin of abortion—and lead us to support those agencies and ministries that keep before us the value of all human life.
Because we are united in Christ, grant unity to Your church on earth and especially to our own congregation. Help us to always regard one another as dearly loved brothers and sisters in Christ. Grant us the same mind and the same judgment on those things that are truly important and a willingness to live in peace and yield to one another on those things that do not matter.
As Your Son Jesus healed those who were afflicted by various diseases of body and soul, continue Your healing work among us. Especially do we ask Your healing for those who are ill in our own congregation and those near and dear to our own hearts. Bless the work of all medical personnel with your gifts of wisdom, skill, and compassion. Comfort those who mourn with the promise of the resurrection—that death is not the end for us but all who believe in Jesus will rise to eternal life.
Heavenly Father, Your Son Jesus Christ calls us to repentance, announcing that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Help us by the Holy Spirit to turn from our sins and renew a firm faith in the powerful salvation Jesus has provided for us as a gift in His death and resurrection so that we can lead holy lives. As the disciples who worked by the Sea of Galilee, help us to so order our lives that Jesus’ call to discipleship would always come first in our lives.
Whatever else You see that we need, whatever is good for our neighbor and redounds to your glory, grant to us dear Father in heaven for the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ who taught us to pray:
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Sanctity of Human Life Sunday—January 23
You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19b, 20
You shall not murder. Exodus 20:13
On January 22, 1973 the United States Supreme Court declared that abortion was legal in this country. Since that time there have been 40 million abortions performed in the United States. 93% of those have been for “social reasons”—that is, for reasons other than rape or incest.
Christians have always rejected abortion as nothing less than the murder of infants. The Didache (100 A.D.) says: “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.” The Epistle of Barnabas, another early church document written at the same time, contains exactly the same command. In this, they are merely reflecting the teaching of Holy Scripture.
Early Christians were recognized as being different from the pagan world around them because they did not expose their infants. When the Roman Empire became Christian under Constantine, abortion and infanticide were outlawed.
Christians do not get abortions. Christians do not induce others to get abortions. Christians do not perform abortions or assist in abortions. Christians do not facilitate abortions in any way. This is the teaching of the Christian Church.
But isn’t advocating for a pro-life point of view in the civil realm imposing our Christian views upon our fellow citizens who may not be Christians? No! As Christian citizens we desire to see all human life protected by law—not because that is our religious view—but because the right to life is the most basic of all human and civil rights. It is the right from whence all other civil rights flow and upon which all other civil rights depend.
There will come a day of reckoning when God will want to know what we did as tens of millions of our fellow human beings were murdered on the altars of convenience and autonomy. What can we do?
*Pray—Pray for those contemplating abortion. Pray for those who have had an abortion. Pray for our nation and its leaders that they would see truth about abortion and bring it to an end.
*Support the work of national groups like Lutherans For Life and local groups such as the Kleberg County Crisis Pregnancy Center.
*Educate ourselves on the issues. Stem-cell research, artificial insemination, and biomedical research are pressings issues in our day and call for us to keep up-to-date on the issues.
*Be involved politically. Vote. Know where candidates and political leaders stand on the issues. Be aware that there are pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans and so political party alone is not a fail-sake indicator of where a politician stands on the issues. Make you’re your political representatives aware of where you stand when these issues come up for a vote.
*Proclaim forgiveness in Jesus’ name to those involved in abortion. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from ALL unrighteousness—including those involved in abortion decisions and those who have remained silent while it went on.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Epiphany 3, Series A January 23, 2011
Lessons for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Isaiah 9:1-4 ~ God will give light and liberty to those in the bondage of darkness.
Psalm 27:1-9 (10-14) (antiphon: vs. 1)
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 ~ We are united by the saving power of Christ’s cross.
Matthew 4:12-25 ~ The light of salvation shines in Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: The Circle of Light
In "The Magician's Nephew," C.S. Lewis wrote about the creation: "One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out..." Today's lessons speak of one bright point of light that encircles the nations through the ministry and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Isaiah anticipated the time when the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali would be set free from the darkness of Assyrian oppression. St. Paul urged the Corinthian church to recognize the freedom from the darkness of dissension that Christ has provided us through our Baptism. The light of salvation burst upon sin-darkened humanity as Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching, preaching, and healing.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Light of the World. Help me always walk in your light, living out the freedom from sin and death that you have given me as I express the forgiveness and unity that is mine through your sacrifice. Let the light of faith shine in my life so that others will be drawn to your glory. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: The tools of our professions and even the relationships of our lives are at the disposal of our Lord’s call when He gives us opportunities to shine His light of redemption into the darkness of bondage and suffering around us.
OFFERING PRAYER: O Lord, when nets encumber us and family ties restrict
the proclamation of Your grace and cloud Your gospel light,
disburse the storms of prideful strife that hinder and constrict,
so we may shine the cross of Christ on sin’s eternal night.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: God’s day of redemption has dawned in Christ! The bright light of freedom from sin and death breaks forth in our lives just as it did for those first disciples who heard Jesus’ call to become fishers of men. We, too, have been enlisted in the proclamation of God’s Kingdom! When our daily routine makes us indifferent to the task or our personal allegiances overcast the new dawn with dark clouds of division and quarreling, we leave ourselves bound in a land of deep spiritual darkness. Thanks be to God, the power of Jesus’ death on the cross sweeps away the gloom and gives us courage to greet the new day and announce it with joy!
Good afternoon, fellow redeemed!
Perhaps it's a different way to think about Stewardship - what is it an where does it begin? The answer lies not in cows and goats and grain and wine and oil (Old Testament stuff), nor is it found in the giving of money (New Testament stuff). Rather, the answer is located in the true God. All things are His. This was Yahweh's purpose in all of the Law, but especially in the tithe, the sabbath year, and the jubilee.
All things are God's. That has not changed. Yet, in grace, He entrusts house and home, spouse and family, land, animals, body and soul to people - sinful, rebellious people. He even provides redemption in Christ, and faith to take hold of Jesus' saving death and resurrection.
I'll reiterate the challenge for this week. Take a look the Small Catechism, especially the articles of the Apostles' Creed and the accompanying explanations (if you can't find it on your shelf, it can be read at bookofconcord.org). Look for the beginning of stewardship, God's gracious provision for us. Let this be your prayer guide for the coming week.
Almighty God, our Father, in no wise do we deserve anything from Your hand. Yet, in Your fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, You provide all that we need to support this body and life. We stand before You in sorrow, repenting of our rebellion, believing that we are deserving before You, believing that we are owners. For the sake of Jesus Christ, forgive us. By Your Holy Spirit, guide us to a life that thanks and praises, serves and obeys You. Amen
I apologize for no weekly update last week. By the time I got to things, half the week was already past and I elected to take a breather.
Back to it!
The Church Office will be closed tomorrow in observance of the holiday. Regular operations will resume on Tuesday morning.
Zumba continues its regular schedule. There will be a Board of Elders meeting on Tuesday evening. For choir, I'll post an update on Tuesday. Also, I'll be a little late getting to the Young Adult Bible Study at Barnes and Noble on Tuesday. I'll give one of you a shout before I leave.
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), Dru Blanc, John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi)
The students in our family of faith who are either have returned or are returning to school: Brian Smith, Stephanie Peterson, Jessica Peterson, Rachael Proske, Daniel Proske, Matthew Willoughby, Ben Muhr, Bethany Waddle, Victoria Blanc (if I missed someone, please give me a reply)
The sick, recovering, and home bound: Walter and Pearly Theiss, Ruth Prytz, Emmet and Emma Wright, Donnae and Bruce Blake, Ruby Rieder, Raymond Whitaker (my uncle)
The dying: Kathy's dad (John)
The Church throughout the world during this season of Epiphany and its mission emphasis
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, January 17:
Church Office Closed
Tuesday, January 18
Board of Elders
Young Adult Bible Study (Barnes and Noble)
Wednesday, January 19
Bible Study (Deuteronomy)
Thursday, January 20
Cub Scout Pack 278
Saturday, January 15, 2011
The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the epistle lesson appointed for the day. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Here in the United States, 26 percent of the population 18 and older has some form of mental disorder such as depression or anxiety. The cost to our economy in treatment and lost wages is 200 billion dollars a year. 33 percent of our fellow Americans are addicted to drugs and alcohol and the cost to our economy for treatment of these addictions is 300 billion dollars. Millions more of our fellow citizens use pornography and live beyond their means financially.
What connects all of these problems together is that they affect—or really, are reflective of—who we are in the deepest part of our beings. They are indicative of a deep unhappiness within the human soul. This, of course, is nothing new. Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and Christian philosopher explained it this way:
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace. This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him…though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and unchangeable object; in other words by God himself.
St. Augustine said it even more simply: Our hearts are never at rest until they find rest in God.
There are three great questions that lie at the heart of our human existence—questions that find their only real answer in Christ—question that speak to our identity and the meaning and value of our lives. Those questions are: Who am I? What am I doing here? Where am I going? Those are the questions that the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives answer to today as he writes to the congregation at Corinth and to believers in every time and place—including us here today. Paul writes:
Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes…
When you go into Barnes and Noble—one of the largest sections in the whole bookstore are those books devoted to: “self help”. Row after row after row of books trying to answer life’s great questions—all of them offering nothing more than the limited perspectives of their human authors.
But the words we hear today about our identity, purpose, and value are the words of God himself through the apostle Paul who was called by God for that purpose: to tell the world that the answers to the questions that lie at the deepest part of our human existence are found in Jesus Christ and a life with God through him.
God does not want us to go through life addicted to some substance- or seeking fulfillment in sex or money- or brokenhearted and depressed about our lives. God has created us for fellowship with him and that is why he sent Jesus—to remake and restore what sin has destroyed in us. And that is why he called Paul to be an apostle—so that the whole world would know the real answers—God’s answers-- to life’s great questions-- beginning with our true identity. Paul writes:
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This first letter to the Christian congregation at Corinth is one of the most timely, relevant books of the Bible with a profound connection to our modern existence because Corinth was a place that would be familiar to us as Americans.
Corinth was a place of wealth and commerce. It was religiously diverse. It was full of sexual immorality. The things that were valued were material things. A place much like our nation today.
And the problem that occasioned the writing of this letter was that the Corinthian Christians much too readily identified themselves with the culture around them. They were not immune to sexual immorality even in their own congregation—and in fact, bragged about how their freedom in Christ allowed them to live like this. They were very aware of financial differences among their own members and looked down upon those with limited means. They valued spiritual celebrities.
They had an identity crisis like so many in our nation today—even within the church—because they had forgotten who they were—that they were called to be saints.
From the Bible’s perspective, to be a saint is not just someone who lived in Bible times- or someone fantastically holy- or someone listed on a liturgical calendar of a church. To be a saint is to be someone set apart for God. Set apart for God.
That’s what the word means --and to put it terms from the beginning of our sermon it means that we find our identity—how we understand who we are--in terms of our relationship with God.
That is what Christ allows us to do—he sets us apart for God—sanctifies us—by forgiving our sins with his blood on the cross—and living in our hearts by his Spirit—restoring us to the life we had with our heavenly Father in the beginning of time.
It is only in Jesus Christ that the deep craving within our heart that Pascal mentions-- and the rest that St. Augustine mentions—is met—because Jesus brings us back to God and once again makes us his children.
These words from the apostle Paul were not just written for the Corinthians—they were written for us too-- for we also call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and confess him to be our Lord. The Christians sitting in these pews today do not have to find your identity in the world or wonder who you are-- for we know that we are God’s son and daughters—called to be set apart for him in Holy Baptism. And this identity then gives answer to the next great question of our human existence: Why am I here? Paul writes:
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 spiritual gift,
The Corinthians were a spiritually gifted congregation. There were those who had the gift of discernment and those who had the gift of speaking and those who had the gift of healing and those who had the gifts of serving and giving and administration. When God granted them the gift of faith in Jesus Christ-- he also lavished upon them spiritual gifts that gave meaning and purpose to their lives.
But what was happening in that congregation is that the gifts given by God were not uniting them as members of the same body—they were not serving the common good—but they were dividing them-- and exalting some over others. There was a “celebrity” status for those who were remarkably gifted.
But this was completely the opposite of why God had gifted them in the first place. Paul told them: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… so that there may be no divisions in the body but that the members may have the same care for one another. But instead of caring for one another—they were living for themselves.
That is what we see so much of in our world today. Those who spend everything they make and then some on themselves—are living as if they stood at the center of the universe. Those who use pornography-- are turned in upon themselves in a world that exists only in their minds. Lives devoted to the service of a “god” as small and insignificant as ourselves cannot help but leave modern man feeling as if his life does not count for much.
But when we find our identity in Christ, God himself breaks into our narrow little lives and gives us a purpose that is not only beyond the bounds of our individual lives-- but above the bounds of time and space. HIS eternal purposes and plans now include us-- as we serve him and his people. That is the purpose of our lives!
To that end, he gives each of us spiritual gifts with which to serve him and others—gifts of administration and giving and leading and speaking and teaching and serving. This is what Paul means when he says that the testimony about Christ was confirmed among them—the apostolic message of Paul converts us to Christ and the spiritual fruits of that re-birth are seen in our lives in this world.
As children of God, our lives have meaning and purpose: to know God and his ways—to speak of him to others—to serve those around us in the context of our daily vocations. The life of the Christian in this world is the most exciting, fulfilling way to live because it is what we were made for—to love God and love our neighbor. Paul says that this is the way we are to live:
As we 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.
At the beginning of the sermon we talked about the emotional and psychological and spiritual toll that is taken on the human person when we do not know who we are and what the purpose of our life is. This is especially true when we do not know the answer to the third great question of life: where are going? Are we simply going into a grave and that’s it? Will our lives ultimately end in futility and nothingness?
All you have to do is look around at the culture we live in to see people caught up in mind-numbing addictions—constantly seeking one new experiences after another—grasping for their fifteen minutes of fame—to see what happens to people when they do not know where they are ultimately going when this life is over.
All of us, by nature, are afraid of death because deep within us is the realization—placed there by God--that futility and death is not the way it is supposed to be for the human person—the recognition that we were created to live forever—that hopes and dreams and aspirations for the future are not just a cruel hoax perpetuated on us by evolution-- but placed there by God to draw us back to him.
Jesus Christ has made the way back for us to God and a life that does not end. He has taken away our sins that keep us from a holy God. He has conquered death for us in his own resurrection from the dead. His bodily resurrection and ascension is the assurance that our own bodies will rise from the grave and live eternally with God.
To that end, Christ works continually in our lives to keep us in faith until the Last Day. That same faithful God who chose us from eternity -and sent his Son to live and die and rise again for us- and called us into fellowship with by the Holy Spirit—will work in our lives with the same powerful love to keep us in faith and bring us to our heavenly home.
The Good News for us today is God’s answer to life’s great questions about our identity and purpose and value and it’s this: We are God’s children, living lives of loving service here on earth, headed for heaven when we die. May God grant his faith to us all for Jesus’ sake! Amen.
May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Epiphany 2, Series A January 16, 2011
Lessons for the Second Sunday After the Epiphany
Isaiah 49:1-7 ~ The Servant of the Lord is a light of salvation for all people.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 ~ All who call on the name of the Lord Jesus are kept holy in Him.
John 1:29-42 ~ Jesus is the Lamb of God, sacrificed for all the world!
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Chosen for a Greater Task
In the second of Isaiah’s “servant songs” we learn that the Lord’s servant was hidden away within Israel for the special mission of bringing God’s chosen people back to Him; but God would use Him for a greater task than that. His light gathers people from all nations! The Lord’s chosen servant was revealed by John at the Jordan, where he proclaimed: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Now all who call on the name of the Lord are chosen for the great work of pointing out to the nations the Lamb who has brought salvation for all the world.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: How wonderful is your love, Lord, that you should send your own Son to be my servant and give his life as the Lamb of God to take away my sins! Help me, in thanksgiving for your gifts, to be a good witness to your forgiving love until the day of Christ's return. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Just like John, we are to use all of our resources and energies to point out to the world that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who came to rescue us from our sin.
OFFERING PRAYER: Jesus Christ, O Lamb of God, the light
of Your eternal grace has pierced the night!
You draw all people to Yourself. Now send
us out to use these offerings to that end.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We can celebrate Jesus as the promised servant, chosen by the Father to be a light to the nations of the world, but it is in those dismal times, when we recognize with Israel that “we have labored in vain and spent our strength for nothing,’ that we call out to Him who is the Lamb of God, set aside to take our place for all the suffering of our sins. Then we give thanks to God that He has gathered us from the nations and will sustain us guiltless until the coming of our Lord Jesus the Christ!
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Epiphany 1, Series A January 9, 2011
Lessons for the Festival of the Baptism of our Lord
Isaiah 42:1-9 ~ The Servant of the Lord will establish justice.
Psalm 29 (antiphon: vs. 3)
Romans 6:1-11~ Through our baptism in Christ we are dead to sin.
Matthew 3:13-17~ Jesus was baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness.
GATHERING THE TEXTS: Let it Be Done.
John thought it out of line for Jesus to be baptized by him, but Jesus assured him it was to be done to fulfill all righteousness. The servant in Isaiah's song would bring justice or righteousness to all nations as he established a new covenant for all people including the Gentiles. When we are baptized into Christ, God says, “It has been done!” Where the penalty for sin is concerned, it has been carried out; we have died. In Baptism, our new life as God’s children has begun; we are alive! As children of God, we say, "Let it be done, Lord," as we reach out to bring God’s healing to bear on the nations.
PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord, when You were baptized in the waters of the Jordan, You willingly accepted Your task of faithful Servant to restore me to God in righteousness. Help me say, "Let it be," when I see opportunities to serve You by restoring wholeness and health in this world. Amen.
STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God invested Himself in Christ to establish us in righteousness; He has made us whole and holy through Baptism. Reconciled to God, we are now reconcilers in this world, sent out to invest our lives in bringing wholeness to those who are shattered.
OFFERING PRAYER: O Lord, these gifts we bring today
For You to bless in many ways,
To work Your righteous will and way
So all the world may sing Your praise.
CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Our lives are so fragmented by sin that we just cannot do anything right. We are so concerned about doing things right – and proving that we are right – that we drive more distance between ourselves and even those we love. Because of the distance between God and us, Jesus comes to us, just as He came to John. He approaches us in His Word and Sacraments. In Baptism God sets about removing the distance between us by giving us His righteousness. His grace in Christ restores our lives to wholeness and peace, the way He intended them to be in the beginning.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Good evening, fellow redeemed, and Happy New Year!
Coming this week, following Christmas, is the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus - the appearing or manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. The traditional Gospel for Epiphany is the account of the Magi from Matthew 2. Many times, the focus of this text is the devotion of the Magi - the journey from the East, presumably the region of Persia, the persistence in seeing the one born King of the Jews, the presentation of gifts. But, these all pale in comparison to the great significance of the presence of the Magi, the GENTILE Magi.
Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, did not appear solely for a small region of the Middle East. No, with the presence of the Magi, Christ our Lord shows that He has come for all people. As John tells us in 1 John 2, Jesus' sacrificial death was for the sins of the whole world - Jews and Gentiles. Only in Christ is there deliverance from sin, death, and the power of the devil, and He brings this about in His innocent suffering and death in which He shed His holy, precious blood.
A few weeks ago, I listened to an interview with a popular contemporary Christian author and composer. When asked what moved him to write the songs he wrote, he said that the greatness of God moved him. While God may indeed be great, the greatest message of Epiphany is that our Lord Christ has come into this world, condescending Himself and hiding His greatness behind the form of a servant, enduring even the death of the cross for sinners.
This week at Mt. Olive, a mark of the shift from Christmas to Epiphany is the packing away of Christmas decorations. The Altar Guild asks for your help in taking down Christmas decorations this coming Saturday at 9 a.m.
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Dru Blanc, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi)
The teachers in our Sunday School as they continue to teach young people the truths of the faith
The family of Jean Lindermann, at the death of her husband, Pastor Jim Lindermann (former Texas District President)
Those who are hospitalized: Walter Theiss
The students of our community, their teachers, and the schools they attend, as Christmas break concludes tomorrow
This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, 3 JAN
Wednesday, 5 JAN
Saturday, 8 JAN
We hear at Christmas that Jesus is Immanuel—God with us—and we say: Of course! We picture the baby Jesus lying in his manger, with a halo around his head and a kind of golden glow in the background and we wonder to ourselves why everyone doesn’t believe in Jesus. But of course, that scene was not how it was at all.
Mary and Joseph were just two regular people-- and Jesus looked like every other boy born in that day. It took the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the parents and the shepherds and the wise men to bring them to faith—just as it takes the same work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith. After the angel choirs went back into heaven and the Wise Men returned to the east, things went back to normal for Mary and Joseph --and Jesus grew up just like every other boy his age.
Except of course, he wasn’t like every other boy his age—he was God. That is the witness of Holy Scripture. That is the confession of the Church. And that is what we believe. But it is still a mystery that can only be known by faith. Part of that mystery is laid bare before our eyes today as we see Jesus in the temple at the age of twelve—already at that young age doing his Father’s business. Luke writes:
The child [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.
Mary and Joseph were pious and devout. The regular cycle of synagogue and temple worship—of Sabbaths and festivals-- was faithfully observed. This was certainly nothing extraordinary among believers of that day-- and it is only unusual to us because of the large number of people today who consider themselves believers and yet never really make worship a priority. But Mary and Joseph were ordinary, pious believers.
From the Baby of Bethlehem, Jesus grew into a young man of twelve. Working in Joseph’s carpentry shop had made him strong and fit. But Luke also says something remarkable: that already at age twelve he was filled with wisdom. I remember Jacob and Zachary and Henry at twelve. They were bad kids by any means-- but certainly not wise. Jesus was--and not just because he was smarter or more intuitive than other boys his age—but because the favor of God rested upon him.
The hand of the Lord’s blessing was upon Jesus in a special and mighty way. Jesus at twelve was ordinary—but he was also extraordinary.
Children then were no different than children today. Even good kids talked back every now and then or at least grumbled beneath their breath. Even good kids had to be told twice to do something. Even good kids did dumb things. Jesus didn’t.
When we consider the sins of our youth it is a comfort to know that Jesus’ perfect life as a child—perfectly avails in God’s sight as our own righteousness—in place of the sins of our youth.
The Lord’s hand of favor and blessing rested upon him and he was already recognized as being wise at this young age. This is important for us to remember as we hear what happens next. Luke writes:
And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.
It was customary in that day for religious pilgrims to travel together for safety and fellowship. And so when the Passover was complete and Mary and Joseph were heading out of Jerusalem with their friends and family, if they saw Jesus head back into the crowd of pilgrims-- they would not have give it a second thought.
And when they stopped for that night-- they would have thought that he was with Aunt Elizabeth or Uncle Zechariah or playing with Cousin John. But when they couldn’t find him—well you can imagine how they must have felt. As a parent I have a great deal of sympathy for Mary and Joseph. But it’s not as if they had not been warned. Simeon promised Mary’s heart would be pierced with a sword—she would have heartache as the Messiah’s mother.
Twelve uneventful years passed between that prophecy and her frantic search. Yes there was the time in Egypt-- but there were lots of Jewish settlers in Egypt in those days. Mary and Joseph hadn’t had forgotten about Jesus’ miraculous birth or angelic announcers or the visit from the wise men—but things had settled down to normal.
And that’s Good News for us! Jesus lived through and redeemed each part of our lives! From his conception within the Virgin Mary to each stage of prenatal development—from his birth and childhood—to his death on the cross—Jesus lived each part of human life—for us—perfectly re-making what sin has destroyed.
The failures of our childhood—the burdens of family life—the monotony of day to day work—Jesus lived and redeemed by his perfect righteousness and obedience—the new Adam who got right-- what we so often get wrong.
At the beginning of the sermon we talked about how difficult it was for the people of Jesus’ day to see the extraordinary in his very ordinary life—how it took a Spirit-worked faith for them to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior just like it does for us. That was even true for Mary and Joseph who were eyewitnesses to it all. Luke writes:
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
I can picture Mary recounting these events to Luke with a look of chagrin on her face. “Three days! What was I thinking? We should have known where that boy was! Where else would Jesus be BUT in the temple? That is where he had to be!”
450 years before, Malachi closed out the Old Testament by promising that God himself would come to his temple. And you can imagine what the people of Israel were expecting! The Glory of the Lord—Mt. Sinai—Thunder and Lightening!
But what they saw when God came to his temple was a baby being circumcised-- and a twelve year old boy asking and answering questions. And yet Malachi was exactly right in his prophecy! God was in his temple! You see, that tension between what is seen and what has to be revealed is the mystery of the incarnation and it elicits amazement then and now.
The scene in the temple is ordinary. This dialogue between rabbis and students is still a common feature of Jewish life. But what is amazing, is the answers Jesus gave- and the questions he asked-- and the insights he had. Wisdom is from above.
The Word which was from the beginning, the Word through which the world was created, the Word who spoke by the prophets-- had taken on flesh and blood and come to his temple to instruct those whose job it was to bear witness to him. It was the beginning of Jesus being about his Father’s business. Luke writes:
And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress." And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.
There are Jesus’ first recorded words. His last recorded Words were: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” and these verbal bookends capture the whole purpose of Jesus’ ministry: to do his Father’s will—to speak his father’s Words—to accomplish his Father’s saving mission. Already at twelve, that single-minded, saving purpose is clearly seen in Jesus’ life and even if other had forgotten--he had not.
When Mary and Joseph caught up with Jesus they were astonished rather than angry and I think that moment was like a lightening bolt from heaven-- reminding Mary and Joseph as to who Jesus really was and what he had come to do. We can see them in our mind’s eye watching from behind one of the pillars as the truth slowly sinks in. Mary says, “Son, don’t you know how worried your father and I were”? And Jesus answers her kindly but pointedly: “I am here to do my Father’s business and you should know that.”
That single-minded devotion to our salvation was seen throughout his life. It was there at his birth in the name he was given—Jesus—the Lord saves. It was there at his circumcision where he fulfilled the law and shed his blood. It was there at his baptism when he was anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our Savior. It was there throughout his ministry as he healed the sick and raised the dead and set his face towards Jerusalem—to a rocky hill and cold tomb where our salvation would be won.
This is the last biblical picture we have of our Lord’s life until he is baptized by John. But we know what his life was like in the mean-time. Luke writes that Jesus:
…went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
Next Sunday we will see that the One who steps into the waters of the Jordan River to be anointed for his work as Messiah is no usurper of a position not his. He is the Savior of the world and the only way that we can be reconciled to God.
Mary knew that day what all the prophecies had meant—what Jesus had come to do—and she treasured it up in her heart. The next time we hear from her will be at the wedding at Cana where she points the people to her Son and says: Listen to him and do what he says! I pray that God would grant us the same obedience of faith! Amen.