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Ransom for Debt

 

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Ransom for Debt” based on Romans 5:1-11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, February 25, 2017

There stands the Apostle Paul in the courtroom.  It is not Felix or Festus, the Roman governors, who are presiding at this trial.  The Sanhedrin of Pharisees and Sadducees have no authority here either.  Instead, Almighty God, with his long flowing robes that fill the building, is seated with his gavel that will, with one swift swing, state the eternal fate of the Apostle.

The trial has been long and difficult to endure.  The prosecuting attorney, that ancient and slithering serpent named Satan, has built up a pretty strong case against Paul.  Stacks of facts have been entered into heaven’s evidence.  Exhibit A was pretty powerful; a DNA test proving that Paul was born of sinful parents and, therefore, was sinful, himself.  The case was open and shut right there, but he kept piling on.

Exhibit B was a record of Paul’s words and actions, back when he went by the name of Saul, all done in service to work righteousness, as though he could have earned heaven by his own merit.  Under those false pretenses, everything he tried to put on the positive side of the eternal judgment scale ended up, instead, shifting the balance far beyond the point of no return.

Written affidavits, witness testimony, and even appealing to the omniscience of the all-knowing Judge, himself, the Devil was able to rest his case.  He didn’t even have to work with his typical tools of lies and deception.  Openly and honestly, he made it clear that Paul had incurred quite a debt.  Not to society, but to his God.  And, instead of going to jail, his debt deserved death as punishment; eternal death in the fires of hell.

If you were Paul’s lawyer, what defense would you try to put up?  With even just a small sampling from the book of Acts, you could come up with a few factors that would seem to work in your favor.  You could play the blame game.  Paul was tricked by the prosecutor, himself, into much of his sin.  With every weapon in his arsenal, the Devil convinced Paul that he was doing either what was right or, according to his human rights, what he deserved to do.

Or, maybe, you could try to make the end justify the means.  Yes, Paul did some subjectively sinful things, but that is also what led him to accomplish so much for the good of the Christian Church at large.  He was the greatest missionary who ever lived.  He started a number of churches across the ancient world, in Asia Minor, Achaia, Italy, and Macedonia.

Paul was a good guy.  He changed his life.  He became a completely different person.  Free him because of the man he’s become, not the man that he was.

Would that be the defense you’d argue for yourself as well?  If it was you in the hot seat, with your own sin history heaped in a pile in front of you, would you try to pass the buck or balance the scales with your own record book of good works?

Friends, unfortunately, this is not simply some training exercise for the worst-case scenario.  While it is an illustration, the meat of the matter is all too real. Your God has a class action suit against all of humanity for its sin and guilt.  And, carried to its logical conclusion, the verdict you would deserve would be death.  There would be no defense you could come up with on your own to free your soul from that eternal fate.  As Jesus himself said in the Gospel reading for today, What can a man give in exchange for his soul?

The implied answer to his rhetorical question is that mankind has nothing worthy enough to compensate for the crimes that they have committed; nothing valuable enough to pay the debt they owe to their God because of their guilt and sin.

You don’t have an answer to Christ’s question or a defense for your misdeeds.  You are, as Paul declares in these words from Romans 5, powerless.  You are not simply weak.  It is not as though, now that you know your situation, you can beef up your resume or your record book of good works.  You have nothing.  You are impotent before the omnipotent.

And yet, like the infamous children’s song says so simply, because Jesus loves you, you belong to him and, though you are worse than weak, he is strong.

No, he doesn’t give you a not guilty verdict based on any changes you have made in your life or the good deeds that came in tow.  Instead, in keeping with the courtroom terms, he pounds his gavel with the verdict of justified.  He declares you not guilty, not because of a change in you, but because of an exchange made for you.  Your debt has been paid.  Listen to Paul explain what he knew would acquit him of the case held against him.  Listen to God’s Great Exchange again:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

Jesus paid the debt you owe with the ransom price of his own precious blood.  He didn’t simply bribe him to forget about the evidence and ignore the consequences he set down in eternity for breaking his Law.  Instead, God fully poured out his wrath on sin.  It just so happens that his wrath ended up being poured out on the man that Jesus had become, not the man that he was.

Your God saw all sinners of all time in a line, and that line led nowhere but to hell, the place that they deserved to go because of sin. But as he saw you there, primed and ready to receive the wrath that you so righteously deserved, something happened.  He rearranged things.  He exchanged Jesus’ perfect life and precious ransoming blood in place of your imperfect life and debt that you owed.  He put all his attention, all his focus, all his wrath on Jesus in place of you.

That is Jesus’ answer to his own rhetorical question and his defense for your courtroom case.  Your sin cannot condemn you.  The prosecutor has lost the open and shut case against you.  With one swift swing of his eternal gavel, God hammered nails into the hands and feet of his Son and, in return, received the ransom payment that covered your debt and the debt of the whole world.

When your day in court finally comes, have no fear.  In that Great Exchange, God has declared you justified.  You are not guilty, now and forever.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

This is NOT a Test

 

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “This is NOT a Test” based on Genesis 22:1-14 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, February 18, 2017

CNN reported that “people hugged their children…and they prayed…and they uttered a few final farewells, then they waited for the attack.” A little over a month ago, every iphone in the state of Hawaii buzzed and came alive with a dire message on its screen: Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.

People were jumping down into manholes, abandoning their cars on the interstate, but in the end, there would be no impact, no lives lost, no destruction-because there was no missile. It was indeed only a test. A state employee had missed the memo about there being a training exercise and had sent out the warning text in error. But the people of Hawaii, didn’t know it was test. For them, it was all very real.

I couldn’t get that thought out of my mind when I read the first line of our text for today. “Some time later, God tested Abraham.” God knew this was a test. Reading it today, we know it was a test. But Abraham didn’t. God didn’t announce beforehand “Okay, Abraham, this is just an exercise in preparedness, a little bit of litmus for your faith.” No Abraham didn’t know it was a test. For him, it was all very real.  God had said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

He didn’t know that this was going to have a happy ending during the agonizing, sleepless hours that followed God’s command….and when he got up early the next morning and to leave as God commanded….and when he traveled the three days that it took to get to Mount Moriah, with each step forward bringing his dear son one step closer to the knife.

By the way, if you’re wondering how old Isaac was at this time, we can only ballpark that answer. The Hebrew word that’s used to describe him is used in other places to describes boys as young as toddlers and as old as marrying age. So he could’ve been 4…or 24. The Holy Spirit didn’t think that we needed that information! All we know is that he walked innocently alongside his father to the place of his sacrifice.

It just seems like the oddest story, doesn’t it?  The one who created life, now commands that it be taken away in brutal fashion. In so many other places in Scripture he specifically says, “You shall not murder.” Now he says, “You shall.” And in no other place in all of Scripture, does God command a parent to sacrifice their child—a thought so repulsive, so nauseating that our brains would sooner shut down completely than give any room to any hint of such a horrific prospect. What kind of God is this?

It’s the kind of God who knew exactly what Abraham was going through, the kind of God who knew exactly what it was like to sacrifice his Son, his only Son, the one he loved. Don’t think for a second that the Father wasn’t repulsed and nauseated by the prospect of his Son on a cross. But he found his heart was captivated by an even more horrific prospect—seeing you and me and billions upon billions go to hell.

We might see parallels Abraham and God the Father. We might also see parallels between Isaac in our text and Jesus many years later—both only sons, both dearly loved by their respective fathers, both carrying the wood upon which the sacrifice would take place, both walking up a mountain to their demise.

But it’s the differences that really make you shake your head in wonder and amazement. You see, Isaac was able to walk down from the mountain on his own. Jesus had to be carried down.  The Lord stopped Abraham before he could lower his knife. There was no such last minute reprieve on the cross. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his Son, but God the Father actually did. With Abraham it was only a test, but with the Father—it was the real thing.

It had to be real, because our sins are so real. The hurt feelings that we cause when we lash out in anger or speak without thinking. Those hurt feelings are real. Our desire to please people even if it means displeasing God. That’s real. Our willingness to let other people look bad as long as it means we come out looking good. That’s real. Our distracted worship, our apathy in prayer. They’re real. Our unholy love for the stuff of this world, the unhealthy influence of the people of this world. They’re all real. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to take all those very real sins that fill our days and multiply them by 365 days in a year and then multiply that by every year you’ve been alive. All those real sins all had to go somewhere. That huge pile of stinking garbage had to be dealt with. If that mountain was going to be moved, there could be no last minute reprieve, no interruption from heaven as the hammer was about to hit nail, no voice from above saying, “Okay, stop. That’s enough. This is only a test.” Somebody had to really be punished.

So the hammer did hit the nail. And real blood spilled onto the ground. And the body of the innocent Lamb of God, convulsed and cried out in unspeakable agony. Good Friday was not a test. It was the real thing. Real suffering. Real death. A real substitution–the really perfect taking the place of the really guilty. All resulting in real redemption. And so you can be really sure. God’s love for you is not a test. It’s real. And so is the heaven that waits for you.

So then, back to where we started….why the test? Was God just messing with Abraham? Cuz that doesn’t sound very loving at all. God doesn’t mess with anyone. He’s not petty or manipulative. His goal is too important, too serious for any of that junk. He will do whatever is necessary to get you to heaven. A heart that never gets exercise can become clogged up and even shut down altogether. So also a faith that never gets exercised. And so, to carry the metaphor one step further, our God might schedule a little stress test for us every once in a while.

God has not asked us to make the kind of sacrifice that Abraham was asked to make. But we can all probably think of ways our faith has been put to test. Those times, when the Lord, through the circumstances of life, makes it clear…Your health situation is going to change drastically overnight. Your family situation is going to cause you many tears. Your money situation is going to threaten your way of life. Your faith is going to put a target on your back. Your future is not going to go as you had it planned out. Maybe you come here today in the midst of such testing. We will keep on obeying even when obeying is difficult? Will we cling to him in faith even when nothing makes sense?

Remember Abraham’s obedience and his stubborn clinging to God’s promises. The writer to the Hebrews says, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son….he reasoned that God could raise the dead.”

You see it? When his faith was put to the test, Abraham doubled down. Instead of letting go, he grabbed onto God even tighter, even if went against his every inclination. He obeyed, laser focusing—not on the what ifs or whys—but simply on the promises of God and the power of God. That doesn’t take all the strength we can muster. It takes all the weakness we can muster—surrendering ourselves entirely to the care of the God who promises that he loves us. It’s saying, in effect, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but whatever happens, I’m going to be holding on to your cross.”

For tests can weary us and tempt us to lose heart. Appearances can deceive us and tempt us to forget. Circumstances can overwhelm us and tempt us to lose perspective. But the cross and what it represents…that will always be there, firmly planted, unmoved, even if in our most difficult of days. There God’s love was put to the test. There his love proved true. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Jesus – The Dazzling Deity

 

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus-The Dazzling Deity” based on Mark 9:2-9 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, February 11, 2017

Throughout this Epiphany season, the readings you’ve heard, the songs you’ve sung, and the pictures your mind’s eye has seen have all been focused and centered on one thing: revealing Jesus to be the God-man who came into the world to be its Savior.

Today, on this last weekend in Epiphany, the theme is no different.  And, really, that shouldn’t be too surprising considering the Gospel reading that you heard just a few minutes ago.  Showing to his disciples a glimpse of his heavenly glory, Jesus transfigured before them.  He trans—or changed his figure—or his appearance.  His clothes became whiter than anything you’d see in a Superbowl Tide commercial and, according to another accounting of this occasion by the evangelist Matthew, his face even shined like the sun.

Yes, Jesus is God.  If nothing else, that sight alone should have convinced Peter, James, and John of that fact.  The same is true for anyone who has read or heard this account.

And yet, even as amazing and clear as that would seem, apparently the sight of the transfiguration was not the main attraction of this mountaintop event.

Peter wanted to stay up on that mountain.  And you can certainly understand why.  He saw two Old Testament prophets, who lived a little under and a little over a thousand years earlier, talking with his transfigured Savior.

Filled with wonder and amazement, without knowing what to say, but, because he was Peter, speaking anyway, he said “It is good for us to be here.” But, before Peter could finish his nervous rambling, God the Father stopped him.  This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!

Rather than what Peter and the brothers, James and John, were seeing with their eyes, the Father wanted them to focus on what they had heard with their ears.  What, in particular, was he directing them toward?

The answer to that question is hinted at with 3 little words that are somewhat easy to overlook in the gospel reading for today—the first three words recorded in your bulletin for today: After six days.  Well, six days after what?

At the end of chapter 8 in Mark’s Gospel, the evangelist notes that [Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.

He did not say that the Son of Man must sit at the head of the banquet table and feed you by multiplying bread and fish to feed you every day or to change the world’s water supply into wine for you to drink.

He did not say that the Son of Man must stand at the entrance to every emergency room and heal every disease, open all the deaf ears, give sight to all the blind, or make all the lame to walk again.

He did not say that the Son of Man must manipulate the algorithms on Match.com to pair you up with your soulmate or sort through the classified ads to find the occupation that fits your gifts.

That, though, is where, like Peter, it is so easy to get caught up in what you see.  Because, in truth, sometimes, Jesus does bestow those blessings, and many more miraculous signs and wonders, upon you.

And that is the Jesus that, so often, you want.  That is the glory that, so many times, you would rather bask in.  But, friends, that is also the sight that Satan and your sinful nature secretively seek for you to yearn for.

Why?  That ancient serpent and the original sinful selfishness inside of you wants you to focus on the stuff that is outwardly pleasing to the eyes because they have nothing to do with your eternal life or getting rid of what prevents you from entering into it.

Listen to him!  The revelation of Jesus as the God-man who came into the world to be its Savior is not found in fancy clothes.  Yes, Jesus performed miracles that proved his power over his creation, his supremacy over evil, and his absolute authority over sickness and disease.  But, he did not come to be your Savior from hunger and thirst.  He was not anointed and appointed at his baptism in the River Jordan to be your Savior from sickness and disease.  He came to save you from the hell that you deserve because of your sin.

The revelation of Jesus as your Savior comes, instead, in the sights that hurt your eyes and your hearts; the stuff that makes you turn away in shame and disgust.  Jesus’ revelation as the dazzling Deity comes in the only One who was without sin taking the sins of the world on himself and receiving the punishment that was due them.  It comes in his bleeding hands, feet, and side.  It comes in what he said to his disciples—in what he was about to, and later did, accomplish with his perfect life on the cross of Calvary. He sacrificed himself there to save you from the punishment that your compliance to the Devil’s temptations and your innate self-centeredness cause you to deserve.

When you are in the deepest pits of despair over your own sin or the painful consequences of life in this world so filled with corruption, the fiery darts of the Devil will come at you.  They will try to force your focus on receiving some sign from your God that you can see to prove to you that he is your God and in control of your life.

Stop looking and start listening!  The Son of God reveals himself to be the One who saves you from this world that is temporary and will bring you, instead, to the world that is without end.  The world without evil and pain and suffering and sickness and disease and loneliness and depression and worry and anxiety and sadness—where he will wipe away every tear from your eye.

Over the next seven weeks, both at our midweek and weekend services, you are going to hear a lot about Jesus.  You are going to hear about him suffering.  You are going to hear about him dying.  You are going to hear about his Passion.  You are going to hear about his glory.  Listen.  Hear that the very Son of God, himself, was hung on a cross next to criminals, suffocated to death, and was buried in a tomb that was not his own. Listen to your dazzling Deity tell you, with holes in his perfect hands, feet, and side, that it was all done for you—to be your Savior.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus-the Authoritative Instructor

Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus-the Authoritative Instructor” based on Mark 1:21-28 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday, January 28, 2017

It could have been all the talk of tradition.  When questions came to light, the reaction had always been to say or to do this—and it worked; so whenever it came up again, they reacted in the same way.  There weren’t specific bible passages that addressed that particular topic. They weren’t saying it had to be done that way, but rather than re-inventing the wheel, you worked with the pattern and blueprint that was time-tested and approved.

Or, it might have been something a little worse.  Maybe the issue was their teachings that were but rules taught by men.  They came up with regulations for how many steps you were allowed to take on a Sabbath Day, how long your robe had to be, or what psalms you had to sing after a new moon celebration.  No specific bible passages on these topics either, but there was no Judaic freedom allowed.  You couldn’t re-invent the wheel, even if you wanted to.  You were called a sinner if you didn’t do exactly as they directed.

But, it may not have been so bad.  In those days, not everyone; in fact, almost no one, had a Scripture scroll at home that they could reference whenever they had a question about the teachings of God.  So, they would, with good conscience and good reason, go to the people who did.  They went to those whose job it was not only to make copies of those sacred writings, but to study them day and night.  And, when they did, those teachers of the law would, at times, simply respond with what the bible said and finish by saying, “Thus says the LORD.”

When Jesus went into the synagogue on that Saturday Sabbath in Capernaum, he taught the people.  They had questions and he had answers.  But his responses were different that the ones that the teachers of the law gave.

He didn’t relay the traditions of the Church because he is the one who established the Church.  He didn’t explain any reasonings behind additional statutes that went above and beyond what the Scriptures said because he came up with the original ordinances himself and declared them to be sufficient.  He didn’t have to search the Scriptures to quote them word for word because he was their initial author.

In that way, most certainly, Jesus taught with authority.  He was autonomous.  Yes, his teachings were precisely in line with what the bible said.  Those teachers of the law could have copied down every word he said and compared it with their sacred scrolls without finding any inconsistencies.  But that wasn’t the point.  They didn’t need to.  The message he shared, and the way in which he shared it, gave credence to who he was.  It revealed him to be the very Son of God who was promised to come into the world and save it.

You see, Jesus’ teaching in the synagogues was not simply meant to impress people.  There have been and still are plenty of speakers in the world who have either done thorough study in a particular topic or are able to share the lessons that they have learned through their own personal experience.  Many of them not only have a wealth of information, just waiting to be shared, but also have the ability to present that information in a way that is easy to hear, to follow, and to understand.  You believe them because they know what they are talking about.

However, no matter how engaging their discourse may be, no matter how intriguing their subject matter, it pales in comparison to the importance of what Jesus so authoritatively instructed throughout his ministry here on earth.

Jesus’ authority with his words meant that he was able to things, simply by opening his mouth, that no one else could do.

example of just that followed his bible class while they were still in the synagogue.  Listen again:

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

Even the demons listened to, and submitted themselves to, the authoritative teaching of Jesus.  They did so because they knew that he was the Holy One of God.  They knew that he was the one who had created them and the one who could, with his authority over them and all things, do whatever he wanted to them.

Yes, Jesus’ authority means that he can say whatever he wants and it will happen.  No matter what stands in his way, if he so chooses, he has the ability to overcome it simply by speaking.

He could, if he desired, take away all of the problems that you face in your life.  Cancer is nothing to him.  He could tell it to leave.  He could bump up your bank account without making even one deposit.  He could introduce you to the love of your life, make your sister apologize for what she did to you, clean your house, fold those stupid socks, or add that additional bedroom you’re going to need in nine months without even lifting a finger.  He could even raise your deceased spouse back to life and make it so that you never even felt the pain of their departure.  If it was his prerogative, he could make it so without a second thought.

So why hasn’t he?  Why won’t he?

That, friends, is the more important part of Jesus’ authoritative teaching.  Those things would be amazing.  But Jesus’ authority also means that he knows what is best for you.  He knows what you need and when you need it.  He also knows what you don’t need and why you don’t need it.

He knows, just like the best teachers you have had in the past, that, at times, you need to be tested.  He knows that, sometimes, the best way for you to learn is not simply to give you all the answers to the questions that you have asked.  He knows that, for you to understand and pay attention to the lessons that you need to learn, there are times when you need the distractions that surround you to be removed.

He knows that, while the blessings of health, wealth, and the love of family and friends may indeed be beneficial to your life here on earth, there is only one thing that you need to learn and trust to be true so that you have life forever in heaven.

Listen to his instruction on how to be declared perfect and righteous in the sight of your God as he said, The Son of Man did not come into the world to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  And further, God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Listen to his instruction on how his ransom for your sins and the sins of the world was paid and accepted as payment when, from the cross, he said, It is finished.

Listen to his instruction on what he is doing, even now, for you, after that payment was made and accepted when he said, In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.

Listen to his instruction on how to deal with the day to day struggles and disappointments you face when he said, Do not worry, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, What shall we wear?  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  And further, Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.

Listen to Jesus, the authoritative instructor, and be amazed at the way in which he speaks.  Give him praise and glory—and your attention—because of it.  But don’t stop there.  Listen to him as he reveals himself to be your Savior.  Listen and believe it to be true for you because Jesus has the authority to do whatever he wants; and he uses that authority over all things for your good, both now and forever.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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.