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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.

 

John the Baptist – Unique Preacher

Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “John the Baptist – Unique Preacher” based on Mark 1:1-8 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday,  December 10, 2017

In America the first printed ad appeared in the 1700’s.  As you would imagine, the ad was basic.  Wordy.  Visually blah.  Over the course of time that changed.  In the 1900’s Ford Motor Company started to use flashy images and flashy slogans.  Ever since ad campaigns have been trying to engage the senses and ignite the imaginations of the consumers.  Now focus groups and surveys and demographic studies have turned advertising into not just an art, but also a science.  Big business too.  In 1941 TV ad would have cost $9; today a 30 second TV ad run during prime time goes for over $300,000.  Run that same ad during the Super Bowl and you’ll pay $4M.

Cutting edge.  Innovative.  Eye-catching and thought-provoking.  That’s what advertisers are shooting for.  With one goal in mind.  To draw attention to the product.

Is it too much to say that God’s prophets in the Old Testament were living, walking, talking advertisements for the Lord?  Is it too much to say that we are too?  We’re not selling anything; but our main goal is to draw attention to Jesus. And we don’t have to be flashy.  Just take a look at one of the best, most effective walking, talking advertisements in the Bible, John the Baptist.  He was unique, one-of-a-kind.

He broke just about every rule.  Fancy packaging?  No.  He wore camel’s hair and a leather belt.  Publicity stunts or celebrity appearances to attract attention?  No.  He preached the word, straightforward.  He used the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

His pulpit was even unique.  He didn’t preach in synagogues or even the local street corner.  He was a “voice of one calling in the desert.”  The desert.  That seems a strange place for John the preach.  Maybe so, but God taught many a lesson to his people in the desert.  The children of Israel learned how to look to God for their daily bread – do you remember the manna and the quail?  They did their share of grumbling and complaining too, and when chastised by the Lord, they learned to repent and turn to him for healing and salvation – do you remember the bronze serpent on a pole?  In the desert, which is stark and lifeless, the people were stripped bare.   They realized it was them and God and the only way they could survive is if God were to be gracious to them and bless them.

Come on out to the desert, John says to you and me.  Come on.  Leave behind your life for a moment.  Step away from your neighborhoods.  Take a short leave of absence from your jobs – the 9-5’s or the shift work or the overtime.  Come sit in the sand just for a bit.  Forget about the shopping and the decorating.  Turn off the phones and the TV’s and the computer screens.  Leave behind that world where possessions and money seem to matter most…where people are admired and almost idolized for having successful and full lives (and yet those same people may never have been baptized and may never have knelt at the manger – how full could their lives be?).  Leave behind that world where people are elbowing each other as they try to get ahead, striving to be the better student, the better athlete, the better employee.  Come, John says, join me in the desert.  Strip everything else away and just sit here in the sand.

See how everything else in life, even the good stuff, is just clutter?  See how the “full life” has nothing to do with money and possessions?  See how often we have chased after treasures in this world that will one day deteriorate, while the real treasures are between Genesis and Revelation and on this altar and in the font?  See how the sand of the desert is a reminder of the dust and the ashes and the dirt that we will one day return to?  See how the dry, fruitless desert is a picture of our human hearts…what they once were before Jesus came to dwell within us?  See how we are no different than those children of Israel?…the only way we can survive here in this place and the only way we can be rescued from this place is if God is gracious to us and blesses us?  O Lord, be gracious to us and bless us!

John wasn’t afraid to call people on the carpet.  Do you remember when the Pharisees came to hear him in the desert?  He called them a brood of vipers and he warned them of being self-righteous and spiritually unprepared.  Do you remember how John spoke the truth of God’s Word to King Herod…and it landed him in jail…and eventually cost him his life?  Yes, John preached the law, but the main goal was to draw attention to Jesus.  So “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Forgiveness of sins.  That’s what Jesus has for our thirsty souls.  Wouldn’t it be tragic if that weren’t the case?  Can you imagine if the Bible said it differently.  What is Psalm 32 read:  “I confessed my sins to the Lord; but he refused to forgive me”  Or if you opened up to Psalm 103 and it read:  The LORD is not compassionate or gracious…he is not slow to anger…instead he treats me as my sins deserve.”  Or what if the thief on the cross, after he said, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom,” heard Jesus say, “No.  I won’t forgive you.”

O dear Christian, see how amazing it is that our Lord reaches out to us even while we are in the desert of our sins, and he assures us again and again that he is faithful.

  • David did write in Psalm 32: Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  When I kept silent, my bones wasted away…For day and night your hand was heavy on me…Then I acknowledged my sin to you…And you forgave the guilt of my sin.
  • And Psalm 103 so beautifully proclaims: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
  • And the thief…that repentant, dying thief heard the best reply: Today you will be with me in paradise.

In the year 430, in the region of Hippo North Africa, church father St. Augustine was nearing the end of his life.  He begged one of his friends to paint the words of Psalm 32 on the wall opposite his bed.  So as he lay there…dying…and his mind remembering all the sins of his youth and all the times he fell short in his Christian living and every time he brought dishonor to his Lord by his faulty words and deeds…he would see the words:  Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.

Can you think of more important and more meaningful words to cling to while dying?  Can you think of more important and more meaningful words to cling to while living?

John the Baptist draws our attention to Jesus.  And as we leave the desert sand and go back to our lives, it will be our challenge to keep the attention on Jesus.  Not only that, but that the Lord might use us as living, walking, talking advertisements for Jesus.  Not flashy.  Not drawing attention to self.  But through the course of our days – good times and bad – we see the passage painted on the wall: Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Living, walking, talking, FORGIVEN advertisements for Jesus.  Amen.

 

 

God is My Hero

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “God is My Hero” based on Luke 1:26-38 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: Sunday,  December 3, 2017

Advent is the time of year when we talk a lot about name meanings. Because knowing that, for example, the name Jesus, literally means “Savior” or Immanuel means “God with us”, knowing that adds supplemental wonder to the already wonderful Christmas story, God becoming man to save man. You probably knew the meaning of those names already. But you might not know the meaning of the name Gabriel, the angel who plays a prominent role in our text for this morning on the First Sunday of the Advent season. Gabriel is the combination of two Hebrew words–gibor which means mighty warrior or hero and el which means God.  So Gabriel’s name literally means “God is my hero.”

The Biblical moniker doesn’t always fit the Biblical personality, of course. King Zedekiah, for example, whose name means “The Lord is my righteousness” was one of the smarmiest fellas to ever sit on the throne as king of Israel, and that’s saying a lot.  But in the case of Gabriel, the name fits. God is my hero. Today we’ll say the same.

Even though Gabriel is technically the focus of our Sunday service, we should be clear right off the bat. He’s not the hero. God is the hero. God is my hero.  How Gabriel fits in becomes evident right off the bat in our text. In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth.”  He’s the messenger. Just like the angels in the sky outside of Bethlehem that first Christmas, just like the angels at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, Gabriel was the messenger, not the hero. He came to tell someone what the hero was doing.

The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Think about that for a second. The one who stands in the presence of God comes and tells Mary that she’s the one who is highly favored! Isn’t that what God’s messengers say to us every Sunday? They’re like Gabriel in this regard—they’re messengers, sent to us to point us to what the hero is doing now. So they stand before God’s people and they say, “Greetings, you who are highly favored, the Lord is with you.”

Only problem is, we might come here wondering if either one of those statements is actually true. We might come here wondering if we are truly highly favored and if the Lord truly is with us. Because honestly, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why should he favor me, we might ask? Why should he favor us when he sees all that goes on in our homes, in our minds and in our lives? Why should he favor us when he knows the cringeworthy words that have come from our mouth, the stomach turning sights our eyes have seen, the unseemly places our feet have stood?  We might well ask, “Why would he favor me when he should be repulsed by me? Why would the Lord be with me….shouldn’t he be running to get as far away from me as possible?”

But that’s the thing about heroes. Being a hero isn’t about doing an extensive evaluation and then saving people who are most likable, deserving or somehow worthy of saving. Being a hero is about saving people who need you, people who would be lost with you, people who absolutely cannot save themselves.

Just like Gabriel did long ago, just like Pastor Steinbrenner did last week and Pastor Husby will do next week, today I have the privilege to stand up here and say to you, though world weary and weighed down by sin, Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you. Not because of something you have done, but because of something God has done. Remember, God’s the star of this show. A hero comes not to the people who deserve it, but to the people who need saving. People like you and me. That’s why God is my hero.

Showing up is half the battle. But it is only half the battle. But a hero doesn’t just show up on the scene. A hero also does the things necessary to save people. That was part of Gabriel’s message, too. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

You might think, “That all sounds very royal, and impressive, but it ain’t particularly heroic, per se.” Fair enough, but think about what Jesus did so that we call him great. Think about how he ascended to the throne of his father David, to his kingdom that will never end. How did he become king? Remember what the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians?

He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This king became king by wearing robes most unroyal, the filthy rags of our wickedness. This king became king by wearing a crown not of gold, but of our shame. Our hero shed his blood and gave up his life, so that our sins would be erased and our eternities spared. A hero sacrifices his own well being to save people. That’s what Jesus did for us. That’s why God is my hero.

Mary didn’t totally understand how it could be that she would become a mother at all, much less the mother of God’s Son. Gabriel’s message continued. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”

Nothing is impossible with God. Now don’t take the wrong way. It doesn’t mean that we should expect to do the impossible. It means that God can do anything he sets his mind to. You might look at your life and see impossibility. It’s impossible for God to love me and save me after I’ve done so much wrong and done it so long. Nothing is impossible with God. It might seem an impossibility that faith can come through water and the word or the forgiveness can come through eating and drinking. It might seem impossible that he will raise the dead, impossible that he will come back to judge, impossible that there is indeed waiting for God’s faithful children a much better life than this one in a much better place than this one. Nothing is impossible with God. This hero can actually do the impossible. That’s why God is my hero.

The hero who came once to save us, will come again to take his people home. So here is a serious question that demands a serious answer. When our hero returns, on the blessed day of his second advent, what will he find in our hearts and in our lives?  May he find hearts that shun sin in humble contrition. Hearts that cling to him in humble faith. Hearts that serve our neighbor in humble love. People that know their name is Christian and are personify what it means. That will be the reception Jesus deserves. That will truly be a hero’s welcome. Amen.