Titus 2:11-14 Christmas Eve


Christmas Is for Giving

Titus 2:11-14

Perhaps you’ve seen some of the ads for high-end Christmas gifts this year and shook your head in disbelief—the custom made guitar for $12,000, his and hers sport aircrafts for $250,000, the special edition Jaguar XJL for $105,000, or the handbag with matching boots for just under $3,900 (Neiman Marcus 2009 Christmas Book).

And you have certainly heard the reports of our troubled economy: unemployment rate of 9.4%, mortgage foreclosures rose by 23% over the 2008 rate, homelessness and use of food pantries has nearly doubled in some areas.

It may have occurred to you that we live in a world that has gone completely mad in its values; that in over 2,000 Christmases we still have not caught on that name of the game of life, as God wants it lived, is self-giving in love.

So we have come here to this quiet church this cold and rainy evening to sing and say and hear and do all those things, that especially on this Holy Eve, bring us as close to the mind and heart of God as we can hope to get on this side of heaven; and try to see clearly just what God, our Father, wants us, His children in Christ, to know and do.

As is often the case with the Scripture readings for the great feasts of the Church Year, the Gospel for Christmas tells the story, the narrative of the event, and the Epistle concerns itself more with the meaning, the significance, of the Christ event. The traditional Epistle for the late service of Christmas Eve is Titus 2:11-14. In his letter to young pastor Titus, the Apostle Paul sets down in one sentence the central meaning of the Holy Nativity that we celebrate this evening—the truth that Christmas is for giving. St. Paul writes:

11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14 Continue reading

Luke 24:44-53 Ascension


Happy Objects of Grace

Luke 24:44-53

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.  Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

St. Luke has been gathering together on Ascension for so long, you may be surprised to know that many a church is dark this evening. The Ascension, long a pillar in the church year, has lost its standing even among our own Synodical fellowship. But this is no modern problem. St. Mark reports Christ “upbraided [the disciples] on account of their unbelief and hardness of heart.” He upbraided them—rebuked them, chastised them, corrected them. God is no lover of faithlessness and though well-pleased with His Beloved Son, often in His disciples He was less than pleased—less than pleased with their hardness of heart, and unbelief.  Does unbelief seem harsh? Well it is unbelief, for it was rooted and grounded—made manifest—in their not believing the reports of Jesus’ resurrection.

And sharing the faith of our father Adam, just like the Disciples we have hardness of heart and unbelief. We’d like to think that we’re different, but perhaps not? Scripture reports over and over that when Christ would come to this or that place, the whole village shows. Yet here, though Christ has come just as surely now as then, the whole village has not gathered; much less our whole congregation. But before you mistake me, I am not here preaching to you about those who for whatever reason have not come. This day is no different than any other—there are no days of holy obligation, that is, this is not a day that it is required that one attend to the Service of the Church, indeed Christ’s Holy Communion. And that’s why you’ve come, isn’t it? You, like those precious saints of old have also come asking, “Sir we would see Jesus!”

If that’s why you’ve come, you’ll not leave disappointed. You, just like me for so many years, you may have come to church tonight thinking that Ascension Day is a great day of celebration—and it is—a great day celebrating the Lord Jesus’ leaving for heaven—but it’s not. A great celebration it is, but we celebrate not His leaving, but rather we celebrate as the One True Church always celebrates: His coming—again and again and again until that day when, He shall come once and for all bringing that Eternal Feast which we partake of tonight now as a foretaste. Continue reading

Luke 24:36-49 Third Sunday of Easter B


FEAST OF VICTORY

Luke 24:36-49

Preached at Trinity/Cherokee, IA
Confirmation Sunday

I don’t imagine it is different here in Cherokee than it is anywhere else: a family’s busy schedule pulls children, even parents, in a dozen different directions at once. Everyone’s on the go and so meals have the tendency to be on the go too. There was a time in our American culture, where the family dinner table was a place of fellowship. Maybe you parents, certainly you grandparents, remember this. The evening dinner table was where the members of the family gathered together, not just to share the food, but also to share the conversation; to catch up on what was going on in each other’s life; to talk about the joys and the sorrows of each individual, and to strengthen and support each other through the love and unity of the family bond.

That great American institution seems to be on the wane. And, chances are, what goes with it is a regular time of mutual conversation and consolation. American families are growing up apart rather than together. Conversations have moved from face-to-face and intimate, to text messages and whatever can be expressed in 140-character tweets. Rugged American individualism has turned into isolated individuals, even between family members living under the same roof. Continue reading

Matthew 27:54—Passion (Palm) Sunday


“Truly This Was the Son of God!”

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)

What was it that gave it away for this Centurion, this Roman soldier? How did he come to know that Jesus was the Son of God? This question that arises out of the Gospel of Matthew is really the mystery of the ages. It combines the two great gifts and mysteries of the Christian Church: that God became the man, and that God died on the cross for our salvation.

“Truly this was the Son of God.”

So what was it? Was it the thunder and lightening? Was it the temple veil being ripped in two? Was it the dead rising from their graves and going about in the city? What was it that proved to this Roman soldier that Jesus was the Son of God?

St. Paul pondered this question in the first hymn of the Christian Church, found in Philippians chapter 2. Hear a part of it again:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11) Continue reading

Mark 1:12-15—1st Sun. in Lent-b


THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST

At our Lord’s baptism we stood in the waters of the Jordan and witnessed the gracious God who hears his peoples cry for mercy. We watched the heaven’s split open, and heard him announce, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mk. 1:11) We spent the following weeks hearing from the Lord what it means that God declared Jesus to be the Son-we have witnessed miracles, healings and exorcisms. Then last Sunday on Transfiguration, we stood on the mountain with Peter, James and John Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him”.

“Hear Him,” for He knows what is best for you. “Hear Him,” for He is the one who is driven to save you from your sins.

Only the Messiah could-restore our sinful nature, and recreate the world as God’s good creation. It would not happen easily. It would be violent-Satan would attack God’s Son-and He would suffer and be killed in the most gruesome manner. Our Epiphany readings revealed to us who this Messiah is. Mark records the miracles and deeds of Christ to help establish his power and authority. Now in Lent, we again turn to the inspired holy writers to witness what this Messiah would have to do to complete the Father’s plan of salvation. We have ringside seats for the battle between Jesus and the Devil, between Good and the Forces of Evil.

This battle was not to be fought like we would have it fought. It is not fought with staff and banner held high, with the words of a strong hymn in our throats. NO! Instead of a triumphant forceful march out of the Jordan immediately after God’s announcement at Jesus’ baptism, He was driven into the wilderness to suffer temptation at the hands of Satan for forty days. He was driven by the Spirit to do this. Jesus baptism is one of suffering and of death because in the waters He stands as one of us, and He stands for us taking our sin upon him. What we deserved, He received. Continue reading

Matthew 17:1-9 Transfiguration of Our Lord


Transfiguration: A Glimpse into Eternity

Matthew 17:1-9

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Ame

It’s usually easy to create a picture of the Transfiguration in our minds. Jesus takes three of His disciples up on a mountain. It’s just the four of them – by themselves. Then, all of a sudden, Jesus’ likeness is changed. His face shines like the sun. The color of His clothing becomes as white as light. In other words, there is a brightness and splendor here that makes Jesus virtually impossible to look at. Continue reading