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The Dream Team

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “The Dream Team” based on Mark 1:14-20 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, January 21, 2017

In the Name of the One who calls us, shows his glory to us, and then shows his glory through us,

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Family of God,

Jeff Grayer. Willie Anderson. JR Reid. Ever heard any of those names before? Probably only if you are both a die hard basketball fan. Those obscure names from the hardwood were members of the 1988 US Men’s Olympic Basketball team. They lost to the Soviets in the Semifinals and ended up with a disappointing bronze. In the four years that followed, the rules were changed, and NBA players were allowed to participate for the first time.

Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson. Ever heard any of those names before? Probably. They played on the 1992 Men’s Olympic basketball team. When NBA players were given the green light to play in the Olympics, the powers that be selected professional basketball’s best scorer. And then they handpicked the NBA’s best passer, best defender, best shooter, best rebounder, best shot blocker. And they brought them all together for a historic run of decisive victories. Defeating their opponents by an average of 44 points, they easily won the gold medal. History remembers them as the “Dream Team.”

I thought of the Dream Team when I read our text for tonight from Mark, chapter 1. 14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” This was a one of a kind moment in history. “The time has come!” The often promised, long awaited Son of God had come to save the world. And his gospel would need to go out from there to be preached to hundreds of nations, over thousands of years, to billions of people. You would think that, with so much hanging in the balance that Jesus would have assumed a dream team of helpers, servants, disciples.

“Okay, let me find the book smartest guy with the eidetic memory, so he can dispute the Torah with the Pharisees and scribes. Let me hand pick the street smartest guy, so he can figure how we’re going to put food on table and a roof over our heads. Let me find a few Type A personalities to plan our travel schedule and a couple of finance guys to take care of the treasury. (Anyone but Judas!) Give me a funny guy because he’ll be able to keep things light when times get stressful and tense. And give me the strongest guy who can fight off any enemies who decide they want to come after me with swords and clubs and what not.”

That would’ve made perfect sense—for Jesus to select a “Dream Team” of disciples to surround him during his life and then to send out after his ascension. Is that what he did?

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.

               19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

It almost seems like it’s the opposite of the “Dream Team”–like Jesus was walking on the seashore and said, “Ok, give me those two. And those two.” It wasn’t random, of course. Jesus’ time was too short and his mission too important to do anything randomly. He knew exactly what he was doing when he called Peter and Andrew, James and John. But we might be wondering…they themselves might’ve been wondering…..why Jesus chose them.  They were trained in, a quite likely very successful at, an entirely different career field. And as the gospels play out this team of disciples reveal themselves to be something less than dreamy. We hear a lot about them misunderstanding Jesus, fighting amongst themselves for seniority in the organization, trying to run with hare-brained and half baked ideas. In short, they seem like pretty regular guys. Perhaps that’s exactly why Jesus chose them!

               He didn’t put together the dream team, but instead he called people who didn’t always get it, and didn’t always have all the answers. Look beyond the disciples and you see that Jesus called people with emotional baggage, people with checkered pasts, people with confidence issues, people with family drama. People who weren’t good enough for anybody else were exactly the people that Jesus drew near to himself.

They were the ones who realized that they needed him the most. The Dream Team of Disciples, maybe they would’ve started to think this was all about them. And that maybe any success that they achieved was due to their proficiency, their brains, their eloquence. The anti-Dream Team starts with nothing and because they do, they eventually come to realize that Jesus is everything.

Jesus didn’t need a Dream Team to lead him. He called the anti Dream Team to follow him.”  They would follow him—to other lakeshores, to mountainsides and open fields filled with thousands of people. They would follow him and learn about how he had come to pay for their sins. They would follow him to a cross and see for themselves how much he loved them—enough to be stripped of everything he had and crushed under the fist of a punishing God.  They would follow him to a tomb on Easter Sunday morning, little knowing that he wasn’t going to be there.

Did they know they would see all those things and so much more when they heard his simple invitation on the sea of Galilee? Of course not. Following Jesus, took them in directions they never could have anticipated, but they never went there alone. Eventually, by faith, the followed Jesus to their heavenly home.

I hope you’re seeing it already. I hope it’s obvious. How much the folks he called to follow him back then have in common with the folks that he calls to follow him today. Everybody sitting around you comes here carrying some pretty heavy stuff. Just like you come here carrying some pretty heavy stuff. We come here looking a forgiveness for our guilt ridden hearts. We come here looking for a little calm in a chaotic world. We come here looking for hope when sadness overtakes us, purpose when life seems meaningless and heaven when it comes to die. We come looking for all those things and Jesus come, follow me, and you will find them.

A dream team of disciples we are not. That’s not implying that all God’s people are plain scoop of vanilla, in a cup, no sprinkles. That’s not denying that God’s people have a variety of gifts and talents. What it is saying is that we don’t have to be supermen or superwomen to be valuable to our God and useful in God’s kingdom.

He took Peter and Andrew, James and John, regular guys and he used them as the pillars in his visible church on earth. They were no dream team. Neither are we. Our names won’t find their way into any history books, most likely. They probably won’t mean much to people who live 100 years from now. But we can make a big difference in the lives of the people around us right now as Jesus works through us in their lives. So we follow him as the disciples of old—learning from him, caring like him, serving for him. Superstars, not at all. We’re just happy to be on the team. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Lord Make Me a Better ________

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Lord Make Me a Better__________” based on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, January 14, 2017

Just for fun I googled Ten Best Role Models, and two seconds later google had a list for me. The list included a couple pro athletes, some actresses, a few pop/country singers, even a member of the British royalty. I don’t know about you, but I have a really hard time relating to celebrities. Regular people who work regular jobs and have regular incomes – I can relate to them.

So our role models don’t need to be celebrities. We can find role models from within our own ranks…in fact, I hope we do. And I hope we keep that in mind. For instance, our children may pay some attention to pro athletes and celebrities, but the role models that will influence them the most will be you – moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas. Athletes can show our kids what to do after making a three-pointer or after scoring a touchdown…
– they will learn how to be loving husbands and wives from you
– they will learn how to treat people with respect, even when you disagree with them from you
– they will learn how to and how often to worship from you
– they will learn how and why to bring offerings to church from you
– they will learn about what’s most important in life from you.

And isn’t it also true that our children can often be really good role models for us. It’s so encouraging and refreshing when we see in our children a child-like trusting faith in Jesus…when we see the excitement they have when they have learned a Bible story…or how unafraid they are to speak openly about their faith in Jesus. Today in 1 Samuel 3 we see a great role model for all of us. He’s not a celebrity…he’s not royalty…he’s a young boy and his name is Samuel.

Samuel teaches us how to listen

Just to understand the setting a little bit better. We’re told “in those days the word of the LORD was rare.” The first five books of the Bible had been written and compiled and were kept in the tabernacle. But the people ignored those books of the Bible…even the priests. And instead of being good spiritual leaders, the priests were taking advantage of the people…living godless lives and being very poor examples for the people. They had no good role models. And nobody seemed to be listening to God’s voice.

Enter Samuel. (now the 4th time the Lord called to him) The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Listening is important. In catechism class, we talked about how it is estimated that there are roughly 4,200 different branches and types of religions or belief systems in the world. Think about that a moment. All those different opinions and ideas about
– who is in control?
– what is right and what is wrong?
– why am I here and how did I get here…and where will I go when my “here” is over and done with?

Only our true God has the true answers. But it seems listening to him, even though we know he has the answers, can be harder than we think. Can I bore you with some stats for a minute?
– Over 200 billion emails are sent each day (that’s 2.4 million per second)
– Over 500 million tweets each day
– Between 2-3 billion snapchats per day (average user opens the app 18 times per day)
– Average American devotes 10 hours per day to some kind of screen time (computer/TV/phone/tablet)

I would say the average American is certainly connected and tapped into technology and the internet. In your opinion, have all those activities and connections translated into a greater and more consistent connection to God’s Word? And what happens when people stop listening to God’s Word?
• Things didn’t go well for Adam and Eve – they listened to the serpent.
• Eli and his sons closed their ears to God’s voice and they became bad role models and were judged for it.
• David, a man after God’s own heart, took a break from listening to God – that led to adultery and murder and cover-up and what he would later recount, the worst, most guilt-stricken time of his life.
• Judas, he stopped listening to God too…and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. He hanged himself in despair.
• It’s not good for us either. When we don’t listen to God’s voice, then we’ll end up only hearing all the garbage the world pumps into our eardrums and all the lies the devil whispers and all the rationalizing and justifying and bargaining our sinful nature hurls at us.

So with Samuel, we cry out, Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. Speak, Lord, when I err…when I stray…when my immaturity gets the best of me…when my stubbornness doubles down…when my sinful nature digs in its heels…Speak, Lord, and cut me to pieces and help me see the danger and depravity of my sin. Knock me down into the dust and help cry out, Lord have mercy. Then speak, O Lord, and give me your mercy. Speak to me in your Word, and show me how deep and how unmatched your love. Speak…and give me the same promises you gave to Adam and Eve and David. Speak to me about Jesus. Speak to me in my baptism…speak to me in the supper…speak to me your words of forgiveness. Speak and never cease to speak. Help me to believe and never cease to believe.

In the bulletin the sermon theme was left blank. Lord, Make Me a Better _____________. I could think of several ways to fill in that blank. Lord, make me a better spouse…a better parent…a better pastor…a better evangelist…a better disciple…a better coworker…a better role model…and the lost goes on. You may fill in your blank however you wish. But might I suggest, Lord, Make Me a Better Listener?

If I am a better listener…If I am truly hearing the voice of my God over and through the many distractions…If I am listening to how patient he is with me – won’t that move me to be more patient with others? If I hear again and again how he graciously tracked down and found and claimed my lost soul – won’t that invigorate my efforts to reach out to the lost souls in my own neighborhood? If I am listening to how consistently he protects me and provides for me and attends to my prayers…how compassionate he is and how kind and generous to me even when and especially when I do not deserve one lick of it – wouldn’t that make me a kinder, more compassionate spouse and parents.

Lord, Make Me a Better Listener…and by the power of your gospel, increase my faith…and make me a better servant to those around me. Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Chosen Substitute

Video not available.

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “The Chosen Substitute” based on Mark 1:4-11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday,  January 7, 2017

If you were to sit in on a class over at Peace Lutheran School, you could probably learn a lot of information.  You could study the history of the United States or take a closer look at her presidents.  You could relearn the basics of algebra or, if you are like me, maybe it would be better to take another glance at simple arithmetic.  Perhaps sitting in on an art class or a lesson in music theory would be enlightening for you.

However, if you could only afford the time to participate in one class, the young people who would probably share with you the fact with the most significance are the preschoolers.  If you were to ask them what Jesus did for them, they would likely give you one of two answers.  They would tell you that Jesus either took away or washed away their sins.

That is most certainly the most important truth that anyone could ever learn in any classroom.  While it would certainly be difficult to live your life without knowing how to read or to add two numbers together, if you did not know what Jesus has done for you, you would not live forever in heaven.

That truth is something that your pastors hope to teach or reteach you every weekend here in worship.  Whether you are hearing it for the first time or for the four thousandth time, the hope is that you would walk away from this place knowing that Jesus took away or washed away your sins.

Forgiveness is an idea that is conveyed to Christians with many different metaphors.  Forgiveness could be taught to be a cleansing.  It could be explained as a courtroom acquittal.  It could be seen as the result of a ransom payment or an undeserved reconciliation with someone you have offended.

Today’s Gospel reading from Mark, though, is literally a textbook example of how Jesus took away or washed away your sins.  Even though you don’t see it at first glance, those phrases and descriptions of what Jesus did for you are right there in black and white.  It just so happens that, in your bulletin, they are a little bit hidden.  Listen again:

John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…at that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

There it is.  God has declared that your sins are washed away because Jesus took them away.  That’s what the preschoolers know after hearing these words.  That’s because, even know they may not be aware of it, they know the nuances of the Greek language, from which this English translation was originally written.

The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were coming out to John in the desert for a reason.

Make no mistake, John was a preacher inspired by the Holy Spirit.  That was enough to make people flock from all over to hear him.  His camel hair clothing did make him a sight you had to see to believe, but not just because he had a different sense of style.  He chose those clothes because that is what prophets before him, like Elijah, also wore.  He was simply identifying his occupation.

People went out to see him because he was a prophet of God who was preaching the very Word of God and, on top of that, the Word that he preached was not only what the people needed to hear, but was what they were craving to hear.

Those people of God, like their forefathers before them, had been enslaved by an evil overlord who forced them to work against their wishes and think, say, and do what they did not want to do.  But it was not Pharaoh from Egypt who was in control over them.  It was the Devil, himself.

Each and every day they were crippled with their guilt and were taunted by Satan’s reminders that, because of their sin, they were not worthy to be God’s children, let alone to live with him forever.

They had something they needed to get rid of and so John came, offering to them a way for that guilt to be washed and taken away. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

That word that is translated as baptized is used over and again in the New Testament and, every single time that it is used, it means washed with water.  Whether it was pots and kettles, a ceremonial rinse of their hands, or a cleaning of a couch, the Israelites always used water to wash away whatever had been soiled.

So, when John offered to them that, through this baptism, they themselves could be baptized; that their sins could be washed away, it is no surprise that they flooded that desert region.

When they went into that water, that guilt that plagued them day and night was removed from them.  It was taken away from them and they came up out of the water fresh and clean.

And, friends, that is why it is so important for you today to hear and to know that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, too.

As you well know, Jesus did not need to be baptized for the forgiveness of his sins.  He, up unto that point and afterward, lived a perfect life, free from even a single sinful thought, word, or action.  No he was not baptized so that his sins could be taken away, but, rather, so that he could take away your sins.

The sin and guilt of the Israelites did not remain in the water of the River Jordan like the dirt and grime of a third grader stays in the bathtub.  When Jesus came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended upon him and the Father’s voice thundered approval from above because he did there what he was chosen to do.  He took on himself the guilt that was taken away from the Israelites and all of the sins that were washed away from you in your Baptism.

And, after he got up out of that water, with your guilt and the sins of all people of all time covering him, he started his walk to Calvary’s cross.  There, he not only took your sins away from you, but shed his own precious blood to pay the debt that sin had incurred.

In this great exchange that takes place through Jesus’ baptism and yours, God gave to Jesus the punishment that you deserved for your sins and gives to you the salvation that Jesus earned with his perfection.

Because of baptism, Jesus’ and yours, you are declared to be children of God, who he loves and, with Jesus’ righteousness substituted for yours, with you God is well pleased.

There are plenty of great things that have happened or that will happen in church today.  It would be great if you leave here humming the tunes of the hymns that we sing or remember those we pray for in just a little bit in your own prayers at home.  But if there is one thing that is most important for you to learn or to relearn today, it is what Jesus has done for you.  He took away your sins by washing them away from you.  You were baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things to Keep in Mind as the New Year Begins

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Three Things to Keep in Mind as the New Year Begins” based on Hebrews 1:1-6 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday,  December 31, 2017

Telephone.  That’s the name of the game people have played while sitting around campfires or attending youth-group ice-breakers.  Multiple people stand in a line or in a circle.  A short phrase is whispered to the first person, who in turn whispers the phrase to the next…and so on and so forth…until the message reaches the final person.  By that time, having been passed along and repeated multiple times, the final message is usually altered, hardy resembling the original.

The message God gives us in the Bible…the message about Jesus…is nothing like that.  Instead, In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.”

God spoke through his prophet Moses, and in very general terms promises a coming Savior.  But as the centuries went on, God would give more details to his prophets. To Micah, God supplies the birthplace – Bethlehem.  To Ezekiel, God tells how this Savior will shepherd and love his people.  To David in Psalm 22 and to Isaiah in chapter 53 the Lord gives very detailed descriptions of how this coming Savior will suffer and die and pay for sin.

What we read about and know about this Savior Jesus is not an ever-evolving story with ever-changing details, like some century-upon-century-old game of telephone…these are the very true and detailed words of God.  There’s nothing like it in all of human history.

Michael Grant is an author of a book about Constantine the Great.   As we wrote, he struggled to get to the true story about this Roman Emperor.  He knew he couldn’t trust the anti-Christian historians – they have nothing good to say about Constantine.  And he couldn’t fully trust the Christian historians – they have nothing bad to say about him.  And so, as other writers have done with so many other historical figures, Michael Grant tried to sort through all the slants and spins of past historians…and in the end, we may never really know who the real Constantine was.  Again, nothing like the Jesus we see in the Bible.  Moses, Ezekiel, David, and Isaiah were not slanted historians putting spin on their reports.  They were mouthpieces and scribes for God himself.  What you read about Jesus in the Bible is factualThat’s the first thing to keep in mind as a new year begins.  You have so many other unknowns around the 2018 corner…whether or not the Gospel of Jesus is true or trustworthy – not one of them.  You know the real Jesus.  You have the real and true words of God himself.

Here’s something else to keep in mind as the new year begins…as days and months are laid out…what will life bring?…what neat surprises await me?…what unwanted challenges are waiting to leap out at me?  Keep this in mind, whatever comes your way, you have a fantastic Savior.

If you take a look back at some of the blockbuster movies that have hit the big screen over the past 6 years, a very large percentage of them have something in common.  Can you guess what it is?  The majority of those hit movies featured superheroes or characters who had superhuman abilities and powers.  People are intrigued…maybe even drawn to characters that are more capable than themselves…that are able to confront and conquer problems that would otherwise floor the average person.  Having a superhero as your next-door neighbor wouldn’t be all bad.

But you have something better…you have a Savior who is fantastic…not filmmaker-fantastic, in that he can leap tall building in a single bound…but truly life-and-death-and-eternal life fantastic!  Just take a listen to these verses again.  Who owns and carries the entire universe?  Who single-handedly paid for sin?  Who rose from the dead and now rules over all things?  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory…sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Do you think during these next 12 months

  • Will there be any times you’ll want to fold your hands in prayer and ask for his help or understanding or patience? – who better to help than the One who sits at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
  • You’ll need assurance that your sins have been paid for? – who better to assure than the One who paid the debt.
  • You’ll have sickness ad maybe even death knock on your door or that of a family member? – who better to sit by you in the hospital or walk with you to the cemetery than the One who has been there before…he knows how badly it hurts and he also knows how badly he defeated death and he also knows how wonderful the heaven is that awaits.
  • Having a fantastic Savior is much better than having a superhero for a neighbor. It’s also more realistic.

The words of our Lord are factual.  The Savior he’s given us is fantastic.  The good news is familiar.  That’s the third thing to keep in mindthe good news about Jesus is familiar.

When you celebrated Christmas this year, it wasn’t the first time, was it?  You’ve heard the Christmas Gospel before and you’ve sung the Christmas carols.  This is all very familiar to us…not in a boring way…but in a beautiful way.  You know where to find Jesus, your Savior.

  • He’s in the Word…waiting for you to turn the pages and learn even more about his love and forgiveness.
  • He’s in Holy Communion…waiting for you to bring your heavy hearts so he can make your burden light.
  • He’s in Baptism…

There will be plenty of unfamiliar roads you’ll have to navigate through in 2018…maybe some problems you’ll have to solve…some answers you’ll have to search for…but you won’t have to search for Jesus.  He’s familiar…he’s right there for you…He’s right there with his factual and fantastic and familiar gospel.  And he wants more

 

 

 

 

Joseph, Guardian of our Lord

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Joseph Guardian of our Lord” based on Matthew 1:18-25 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday,  December 24, 2017

It’s a love story. That is what this whole season of Advent has been building up toward. The angel, the Baptizer, and the prophetess Anna. The songs of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon. They all set the stage, before and after, leading up to the peak of this narrative and back down again, for this greatest story ever told.

Now, tonight and tomorrow morning, you will most certainly hear the climax of this account. But, like any great Hollywood blockbuster, this tale can’t all take place on that peak of the mountain of joy. There has to be tension. There has to be struggle. The audience has to be lead to relate to the characters and, once they do, to feel the pain and the heartache of some adversity
that stands in the way of the star of the show.

Though you have followed along over some bumps and hurdles on the way, today’s gospel account relates an example of what might be the most heart-wrenching hindrance to love that human beings experience.

It is important to remember, though, as you watch this film unravel in the theater of your mind that, unlike big budget movies, this tale is not fiction. It isn’t simply
“based” on a true story with some literary liberties taken. This is actual and factual.

Mary and Joseph were real people. They weren’t simply forced together in some sort of arranged
marriage. They caught each other’s eyes from across the room. Joseph felt butterflies when Mary entered a room. Mary blushed when Joseph whispered sweet nothings into her ear. They felt nervous about saying “I love you” for the first time.

Now, to be fair, things were a little different back then. It was a different culture, so some things need a little further explanation. After Joseph popped the question, they did become engaged, but engagement meant a little more than it does today.

In the eyes of their family and friends, their community, and even their God, their engagement meant that they were husband and wife. The difference was that, throughout their engagement, they would remain living in their parents’ homes until plans could be made for a great wedding banquet, likely about a year later. And, most important to remember for today, that meant that the physical part of their husband and wife relationship would also be reserved for after the marriage feast and festival.

But, during that betrothal, their dramatic romance became a crushing tragedy. After spending 3 months away at Elizabeth’s, her elder relative’s, house, Mary started showing. She was pregnant. And, because
Joseph was a righteous man, there was no chance the baby could be his.

As deep as his love for Mary burned in his heart, so devastatingly did he feel this apparent betrayal. Did all of the stolen glances mean nothing? Was he not enough of a man for her? Did he mean so little to her
that she could ruin not only their relationship, but their lives in the community as well? Would anybody now buy a table built by a man who couldn’t keep his wife? Would anyone be able to ignore his shame and hire him solely on his carpentry skills?

With redeeming quality, Joseph decided to take the high road. Rather than suggesting her name for
stoning, his love for her won out against his hurt. He decided his only solution was to cut his losses and
divorce her quietly. That was the only answer that he could find on his own. But, thankfully, he wasn’t the
only one working toward a resolution.

After he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of
David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”-which means, “God with us.”

Cue the dramatic music and an Oscar-worthy look of understanding on Joseph’s face. All the pieces of the
story arc were now falling into place. In a gripping twist, along with Joseph, the audience begins to realize that this love story doesn’t center on him or his relationship with Mary. He isn’t the star of the show. Instead, it is all about lmmanuel. The love story is God
with us.

Like a superhero movie paying homage to the whole comic book universe, the angel’s message to Joseph
brings in the rest of the characters of the story. His words call to mind volume 1, issue number 1-the one with Adam and Eve in the Garden, along with the rest, like Abraham and Isaac, Moses and Pharaoh, Kings David and Solomon, and, most importantly, you and me.

You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

Joseph did not divorce Mary, but, instead, did exactly what the angel told him to do. Even though, by all
appearances, she did not deserve it, he loved her anyway. Does that sound familiar?
Joseph, in this Gospel today, serves as a shadow of his step-son, showing a small glimpse, in his character, of a true characteristic of Jesus. His name is Immanuel, and Joseph was to give him the name Jesus, because he is so faithful to you that he became God with us to save you, his people, from your sins.

But, in Joseph’s character, you don’t only find a glimpse of Jesus’ true characteristic, but your own as well. The reason why Joseph jumped to his first conclusion wasn’t simply because he lived in a sinful world where it wasn’t out of the ordinary for a woman to cheat on her husband. He came to that conclusion because of his deep-seated character flaw-the true malady of this love story-he was sinful and needed to be saved.

Thankfully, messenger from God came and made him understand by sharing with him the Word of his God.

When the tragedies of your life strike, when the adversities that you face are more than just perceived betrayals by a loved one, but actual and factual sufferings and pains, remember that while they may hurt you deeply, they are not the main malady of the story.

Listen to a messenger called by God who shares his Word with you. It’s a love story where Jesus is the star of the show and he made himself Immanuel, which doesn’t mean God with Joseph or God with Mary or God with any of them. The love story is God with us.

Jesus became a human being to demonstrate his great faithfulness to you. At the creation of the world, he announced his love to you and to all of humanity and expressed his desire to share his life with you for all of eternity. But, because a marriage to Jesus is a little different than the weddings of this world, your engagement to him lasts as long as time lasts on this earth.

During your engagement, you were unfaithful to him, but, because he is the righteous man, he took the high road. Rather than suggesting your name for stoning or the eternal flames of hell, he took the high road. His love for you won out.
Unlike his shadow, though, your Jesus didn’t seek to divorce you quietly. He kept his betrothal despite your betrayal. And, even more, he made it so that you would not experience the painful effects and consequences of your unfaithfulness.

Because he united himself to you when he took on human flesh, his faithfulness to you and to the Law of
God was substituted in place of your unfaithfulness and the times when you have broken God’s Law.

And because he has kept his vow to you, your engagement, still stands. And because of his great faithfulness, you can endure this Advent anticipation with certain hope, knowing that your husband is coming soon to take you to a wedding feast that is, quite literally, out of this world. And, afterward, you will live with him, in his home, forever-where you will, in truth, live happily ever after. Amen.

 

Anna-A Fixture in God’s House, Jesus-A Fixture in our Hearts

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Anna-A Fixture in God’s House, Jesus-A Fixture in our Hearts” based on Luke 2:36-38 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday,  December 17, 2017

 

Even in retirement, Faye Polhemus still gets up at 4 a.m. every day. She can’t help it. Old habits die hard. You see, Faye retired last year at age of 82. But for the previous 66 years, she’d worked as the breakfast shift waitress and also part time cook at Miller’s Family Restaurant in Adrian, Michigan. Think about that for a second. Prior to her retirement, Ms. Polhemus of had been giving customers coffee refills since Harry Truman was president. She had served eggs and pancakes for hungry diners while they read the day’s headlines about the Korean War…and then the Vietnam War and the Cold War and the Gulf War, the War of Terrorism, the War in Iraq. For 66 years, she was what you might call a fixture. When you went into Miller’s Family Restaurant for breakfast, you knew Faye Polhemus was going to be there.

You know anyone like that in your life? The teacher who has been at a school so long that she has taught 2 or maybe even 3 generations of the same family!  Or the mail carrier who has walked the same route for decades.  Some of you are fixtures, too, by the way. You’re sitting right now, in the exact same church pew that you’ve sat every (Thursday) since I’ve been here and probably long, long before.

I mention it because our character for this week’s Advent Characters and Songs was a bit of fixture herself. If you went into the temple courts of Jerusalem, around the time of Jesus’ birth, you knew that Anna was going to be there. Our text says that Anna never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”

You might wonder how that practically worked…I mean, did she actually sleep at the temple? There were living quarters on the temple grounds that were set aside for the priests who would come into to serve their two week stints on duty in the temple proper. Maybe Anna was such a fixture there that the powers that be gave her a place to call her own.

The real question is not so much about where she was there, but about why she was there. We know she was very old, that she was widowed as a young woman and never remarried, if she had any children or grandchildren, they are not spoken of. Was she there in the temple, possibly, because she had no other place to be? That she was all alone in life. That God’s house was her happy place, the place she felt at home, the place she belonged.

Pray with me, dear friends, that he that the Lord would work the same in us. That he would give us the dedication and devotion to be fixtures in his house, regardless of our circumstances. Whether we are all alone or surrounded by multitudes of branches in our family tree, whether we have no other place to be or feel like we have a thousand different things on our to do list, how blessed it is for a person to call God’s house our happy place, a place we feel at home, a place where we belong.  Understand that it’s not really about the church building itself—that can change over the years. It’s not primarily about the people who are at church—some times they can mess up, let us down and hurt us real bad. This is the place where we belong because of the God to whom we belong. Here we sing his praises, here we gather around his Word and Sacrament, here we are asked to ponder the depths of our sin and the heights of His mercy. Here we see Jesus.

Actually, that’s what Anna saw, too. She saw Jesus, live and in the flesh. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph were there at the temple with their young baby to offer a sacrifice and consecrate their little one to the Lord (v. 22-23), as faithful Jewish couples regularly did. That was not extraordinary. But Anna knew that this child was. She gave thanks and told everybody was

I know, it doesn’t sound particularly exciting compared to angels appearing announcing that “a virgin will be with child” and a woman “way past child bearing years” would also soon find herself in the delivery room. Anna’s story seems rather pedestrian in comparison to the stories of Jesus’ birth and John the Baptist’s birth. Anna was just a lady who saw a baby and was happy about that baby.

On the other hand, maybe that makes Anna a character we can relate to more than the other major players in the story of Advent and Christmas.  She had no angels appear to her, no miracle announced to her. She simply saw Jesus and rejoiced.  Just like us.

Most of our days are pretty simple, pedestrian, unspectacular, consumed by the routine of the day to day.  They seamlessly flow one into another, to the point where we might find ourselves stopping and asking on occasion, “It’s Wednesday already? Where did this week go?” “It’s December 14th already, where did this month go?” Most days aren’t Christmas. Most days are go to work, come home, go to bed. Do it all again tomorrow.

But in the midst of the pedestrian, the unspectacular, the routine—we see Jesus, like Anna did and we have reason to rejoice. Had he not appeared, the devil would hold all the cards, our sins would be our own to carry all alone, death would be our destiny and the end to our pathetic story of misery. Because sin is a fixture in our world, and sadly a fixture in our hearts.

But in the midst of our shame, our bleak hopelessness all of sudden—we see Jesus. He says, “Place your speeding and your stealing, your lusting and your lying, your discontent and your disrespect, all of them, all of them, place them on my back. We’ll switch. I’ll be the sinner, you’ll be the sinless child of God. I’ll be punished. You’ll go to heaven.” Who does that? Who says stuff like that? Jesus, that’s who.

So he becomes a fixture, too—in our hearts. And we pray…Heavenly Father, when you look at my heart, see Jesus and his perfection there, too. Never, ever look upon me, O Lord, without seeing him, too.  Even more steadfast than Anna in the temple or Faye Pohlemus at the restaurant, become our fixture in our hearts, Lord Jesus, and never ever leave.

Do you think his presence there, might change the way your life looks when you leave here? Seeing Jesus moved Anna to give thanks to God and speak with all around her concerning the Christ-child. What will seeing Jesus inspire in you and me today? Will it be a closer rein on our tongues or a more avid commitment to serve and help spouse, children, parents, or neighbor? Will seeing Jesus move you to give thanks by doubling down on your commitment to stomp a particular sin out of your life or doubling up on the prayers you offer for those in need? I can only suggest, of course. It’s your heart. And God’s the one who makes it happen. All I know, is that when Jesus is a fixture there, there’s less room for sin to be a fixture there. And there’s more room for rejoicing. Rejoicing in sin’s demolished, rejoicing in conscience clear, rejoicing in strength for the trials and comfort for the troubled. Rejoicing in the promise of and the prospect of life eternal. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Amen.