Sermon, February 10, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 5th chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.

1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. (297)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Call stories are well known throughout the scripture.  A call story is the story we tell when we talk about how God calls us to serve.  People are often curious to hear the call stories from deacons and pastors and bishops.  They want to know when we knew we were called.  They want to hear if there was something special that happened in our lives or if we just always knew.  

It isn’t just deacons, pastors, and bishops who have call stories, though.  You all have call stories, too, even if you haven’t shared them out loud with anyone. There is no higher calling than being a baptized child of God.  You may have a call story with a lot of drama, or like many of us, your story might be that you grew up in the faith and never wandered. 

Our Old Testament reading is the call story of the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah may win the prize for the most dramatic call story ever.  In his vision he gets to see the greatness of God and there are angels flying all around the Temple.  In this story we also get the hymn “Holy, holy, holy” we sing every week as part of our communion liturgy. 

Today’s gospel reading is Luke’s version of the call story for Simon Peter, James, and John. The call story of these three disciples is more of a process than a one time thing.  

Michigan ELCA Bishop Craig Satterlee has suggested that a call story is always a process, not just a one time event, and that we are always somewhere in the midst of the process, both as individuals and as a congregation. We are always in the boat with Jesus.

The first part of the process for Peter, James, and John is instruction.  Jesus gets in the boat and starts teaching the disciples and the surrounding crowd, (that is, us).  It seems logical and wise that the life of faith should begin with instruction. When we were young our parents began by reading us Bible stories. Then it was time for Sunday school and confirmation classes.

But, instruction from Jesus is not something we ever outgrow.  We are never too old to learn from God’s Word.  We can attend Bible studies throughout our lives. God is always using the word to open our hearts and minds. 

Perhaps you are at a place in your life where you are sitting in the boat with Jesus listening to his teachings.

After the time of instruction, Jesus told Simon Peter to put out the nets into the deep water. In the ancient near east, deep water was symbolic of chaos. The disciples had already been fishing all night.  They had the boats out in the deep waters already and hadn’t caught anything.  

There are times in our lives of faith that we feel like we are deep in the waters of chaos and aren’t accomplishing anything.  It feels like we are doing the same things over and over with no results, and before we even get a chance to rest, we have to go do it over again. 

This part of the story reminds me of a verse from the hymn, There is a Balm in Gilead: “Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.” 

Because, that’s exactly what Jesus does next!  He revives their souls! The disciples were discouraged, but this time, Jesus is in the boat with them.  Jesus is in the boat!  

This time they catch more fish than anybody knows what to do with. This is an overwhelming experience of love and acceptance for the disciples. This is a clear sign that God has blessed them and their work.  

Maybe you can remember a time in your life when you experienced a clear sense of God’s love and acceptance.  A time when you know that you are blessed.  Last month, when we baptized four new members on a Wednesday evening and then six more new members 10 days later, I looked out on the congregation and saw your faces.  Those were times when we didn’t just know that those new members were blessed, but we as a congregation were able to experience God’s abundance. 

The next stage in the call process is resistance.  Peter recognizes that he is a sinful man.  He tries to send Jesus away.  He feels completely unworthy to even be in the same place as Jesus.  

Perhaps you have been there, too. You know you don’t deserve the good news you are hearing.  You try to get away from Jesus because you feel unworthy.  You know what you have done and what you have left undone.  You avoid coming to worship.  You stay away from anything that reminds you of church.  

But, Jesus didn’t leave Peter.  Jesus didn’t let Peter leave him.  And Jesus hasn’t left you.  He is still in the boat with you.  Jesus reassures Peter.  He tells him not to be afraid.   

Then Jesus tells Peter and Jesus tells us what the call means.  “From now on, you will be catching people.”  We know what that meant for Peter, James, and John.  Their lives were changed forever.  

Perhaps you can remember a time when you were confident in the midst of change because you can hear Jesus say to you, “Do not be afraid.” 

When we hear the call to follow Jesus, our lives are changed forever.  We don’t know what that new life is going to look like. Peter, James, and John dropped everything and followed Jesus. 

Jesus may call you to drop everything, to leave your home and family and job to follow him.  Or, He may call you to follow him by staying where you are, because he has work for you to do right here. 

Where are you in your call process?  Listening to teaching, over the deep waters, experiencing abundance and blessings, resisting the call, being reassured, or dropping every thing and following Jesus. 

The good news for all of us is that no matter where we are in this call process, this process of Christian living, Jesus is in the same boat with us.  Jesus is in your boat and Jesus won’t get out of the boat without you. Amen.

Sermon, February 3, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 4th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" 23 He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, "Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, "Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.' " 24 And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s gospel is a very difficult text. I promise you, every pastor remembers this story and accepts the invitation to preach in the church they grew up in with great fear and trepidation. Pastors do not like to think that preaching can make people want to push even Jesus off a cliff.  This is a reminder that the gospel is dangerous and hard to hear sometimes.  Good news isn’t always received as good news.  

So, what’s the issue here with Jesus’ sermon?  Why are they so upset? Don’t we come to worship to hear a nice message? We want some good news that reassures us, something that makes us feel better, something that makes us feel loved by God. 

I think it’s very easy to identify with the people of Nazareth because they have a point.  Haven’t you heard the expression, “Charity begins at home.”  I mean, why doesn’t Jesus heal a couple of people there?  There must have been somebody in town who needed healing. There must have been hungry people there. He is Jesus, after all.  How much trouble would it have been?  He could have gotten a lot of good will out of doing a couple of small miracles. 

Jesus does things we don’t understand.  Sometimes other people get good news and we don’t.  Sometimes the answer from Jesus is “I’m God and you’re not” - which doesn’t feel like a satisfactory answer to us mortals. We might worry that God is rejecting us. After all, we know ourselves well enough to know we are sinners. 

It is very hard to be rejected.  Nobody likes rejection. I think of all the times I wasn’t chosen for the softball team on the playground and the captain who picked last had to take me.  Actually, that was all the time for every game. I learned to tell myself it didn’t matter since I didn’t like playing sports anyway.

I remember trying out for regional band and making last chair flute when my younger sister made first chair saxophone.  I remember many times of applying for jobs I didn’t get.  

You have your own rejection stories.  That time you didn’t make the team or the cheerleading squad. Or you didn’t get into the college you applied to.  That time you didn’t get the job you wanted, or you didn’t get a promotion you deserved.  That time your boyfriend or your girlfriend dumped you.  

Or you remember your divorce.  You remember how difficult it was to share the bad news with your family.  Maybe they didn’t take it too well, maybe they rejected you, too.  

Maybe your business isn’t going as well as you hoped.  The people at work don’t respect you or appreciate your ideas.  

One of the places I worked when I was between calls quite a few years ago was a very toxic work environment. I was mostly on the sidelines, as an observer, since I didn’t work directly with the people involved. I was sad about it because I realized I couldn’t fix things. The boss was in on it and the administration didn’t care. 

Some of the staff members formed a clique and they decided whether they liked a new person or not.  If they didn’t like a particular staff member, they tried to push them off the figurative cliff.  They worked hard to undermine that person, to get them fired or make them quit. 

They took turns individually going to the boss and telling her about mistakes the new person made.  They bullied the person, saying things like “I don’t think you are going to make it here. You are making too many mistakes. This work is really hard and you aren’t smart enough.”  

This clique all took their breaks at the same time leaving the new person alone on the floor to work, then alone to eat lunch.  They had a sense of entitlement, the idea that they could choose their co-workers.  The idea that being there for a few years meant they didn’t have to work with anyone they didn’t want to.  The idea that they deserved certain privileges.  That they were special. 

This clique had a lot of power.  The boss was afraid of them.  She didn’t want to be their victim.  She didn’t want them doing to her what they did to several others.  She didn’t want to be thrown off the cliff next.  So she tried to be their friend.  I was very happy when I could quit that job.  

There will always be people who think they are special and that they deserve certain privileges.  Jesus found that out.  Do a few miracles and preach a few good sermons in other places, and the people of Nazareth want to know why they don’t rate even better than the others got.  Don’t friends and family deserve some preferential treatment? Those are the questions they have for Jesus. 

The truth hurts sometimes.  Jesus went to Nazareth and he preached the truth and they didn’t want to hear it.  They were his family and friends so knowing this famous rabbi should make them special.  

Jesus told them the truth.  God blessed them so that they could be a blessing to the whole world.  Including everybody!  But especially including all those people that you have been leaving out.  

Including the foreigners, including the ones from the countries you consider your enemies. Including the people you are afraid of.  Including people of different races. The ones with the different religions. Including the ones whose sexual orientation or gender identity is confusing to you. 

Including the people who need extra help, who don’t do things as easily as you do.  Like the little girl who can’t catch a softball.  You have to let her play on your team.  You can say, “But Jesus, maybe we won’t win the game. And our whole team will look like a bunch of losers.”  

Jesus says, “yep, still gotta include them.” He says, “you gotta include the new coworkers who aren’t as efficient as you are with your ten years experience.  You have to be patient and help them learn the job.”  You say, “But Jesus, that will take more of my time and if I am nice to them my friends might reject me, too.”

That’s part of the problem with rejection.  When you are rejected, people don’t know what to say to you.   I worked at hospital for a while that went through staff restructuring every year or two, and people would be laid off each time. The first few times it happened, I avoided people who were laid off. 

Other people treat you like it is contagious.  I know that’s how I felt when it was my turn to be laid off. It seems like the people who are closest to you should be the most supportive, but that is not how it always works.  I had to keep reminding myself that God chose me even before I was born, claimed me and named me at baptism, and would now call me to something new.

As the prophet Jeremiah says, "Don't be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you."  Once God calls you and names you, it is forever.  No matter how often you are rejected in this world, God still sends you out to love your neighbors.  You will always be a baptized child of God.  

Jesus knew what rejection felt like.  He was rejected in his home town when he preached the truth to them. The truth that God's love includes everybody, and that means the people that the rest of the world rejects. 

We will all experience rejection in life.  Jesus shows us how to act when that happens.  He doesn’t act spiteful.  He doesn’t repay rejection with rejection. He just keeps on going on his way, doing what God called him to do.  

God had a mission for Jesus’ life.  That mission led him to the cross.  That mission was to save the whole world, everybody, including those who tried to reject him, including the ones who are themselves rejected.  

God has a mission for your life, too.  It won’t be easy and there will be rejection along the way.  Just keep going forward.  Don't be afraid.  God is with you. God delivered Jesus from rejection and death. God will deliver you, too.  Amen.    

Sermon, January 27, 2019

The video for January 27 is unavailable. Here is the sermon text.

The holy gospel according to Luke, the 4th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord. 

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.  

Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?  What did your parents want you to be?  When I was in first grade, I wanted to be a teacher.  Basically, the only adult women I knew who worked outside the home were teachers, so I wasn’t aware of other options. 

My parents expected that I would go to college.  My father thought the best thing anybody could be was a doctor or lawyer. 

The year I was in second grade was when John Glenn orbited the earth.  Our teacher told us we could all be astronauts and fly spaceships when we grew up, so I thought that would be a great idea.  So, for a couple of years, I was going to be an astronaut when I grew up.

When I was in the fourth grade, our Sunday school curriculum was called “Great Christians,” and I learned about pastors, and missionaries, and deaconesses from the 19th and 20th centuries.  

From that point on, I knew I was going to be a deaconess when I grew up. Back then, being a deaconess was the only option for women serving the Lutheran church.  Men were pastors, women were deaconesses. Deaconesses served as nurses, teachers, social workers, and parish workers.  

I was definitely going to be a parish worker. I knew that because I sent for the catalog from the Lutheran School for Church Workers and marked the classes I wanted to take.  Parish workers got to take a class called “Sunday school crafts.” Who wouldn’t want a career where you get to make crafts? 

I am one of the rare people who actually did grow up to be what I said I was going to be when I was ten.  I was a deaconess for thirty years, and I did work as a parish deaconess for a while, and got to make my share of Sunday school crafts.

But, I changed careers in my fifties.  God called me to be a pastor later in my life. I am doing something that wasn’t even a possibility when I was ten.  

Sometimes people turn out to be totally different from what you expected when you knew them as a child. 

In today’s gospel, we hear that Jesus has come home to preach at the congregation in his home town.  This is the congregation where he grew up.  They have known him since he was a toddler. 

They had certain expectations about him from the beginning.  When Jesus was a boy, chances are nobody asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.  There were no opportunities for children to choose their own career.  Girls grew up to get married, keep house, and raise children. 

Boys followed in their father’s footsteps.  Jesus was going to be a carpenter just like Joseph. And he was, for a while. But then, God called him to leave that behind. God called him to go do something entirely different. 

The grown man Jesus was not the little boy the Nazarenes thought they knew.  He wasn’t even the young carpenter any more.  He wasn’t even acting like the great preacher and healer they had heard about. 

When we have known someone their whole life, when we know their family, we have certain expectations about them, about who they are, and how they should act, and what they should do with their life. When they grow up they claim their own identity.  When they write the narrative of their own life it can be very different from what we expected. It can be confusing for us, difficult for us to accept.  

I think maybe it’s hard for us because it means we have to admit we we wrong about somebody. And nobody wants to admit they were wrong. 

We don’t just have these expectations about other people we know, or about our children. We have them about ourselves too.  We don’t always turn out to be the people we thought we we going to be. We don’t always meet our own expectations or others expectations about us. 

What do we think we know about the people sitting next to us in the pews today?  What do we think we know about our families and friends? What do we think we know about our neighbors?  What do we think we know about people who seem so different from us? How do we help each other be the people God calls us to be? 

Jesus has good new for us today. Jesus claims that scripture is fulfilled in our hearing. In Nazareth, this contradicts everything his home town crowd thinks they know about him. Jesus is the anointed One, the Christ. The home town crowd wasn’t expecting that for sure. Maybe a prophet, maybe a healer, but they weren’t expecting him to be the Christ, the Savior of the world. 

Jesus’ good news for the poor is that we can all be the people God calls us to be, even when that’s not what anyone expected. We don’t need to fulfill the stereotypes that society lays out for us.  We can live like the people God made us to be.  

We are set free from the captivity of our past. We are set free from the captivity of what everyone else thinks we should say and do. We are set free from the voice inside our own minds telling us that we are not enough. 

Today, in your hearing, Jesus proclaims release to you from all that is holding you back, release from everything that’s keeping you from being the person God made you to be.  

Jesus says even more, though. He proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor.  This was a familiar concept to his listeners, but may be new to us. The year of the Lord’s favor is also called a Jubilee Year.  Jubilee is declared after a Sabbath of sabbath years, meaning 7 times 7, so it’s the 50th year.  

Several things happen in a Jubilee year. The first and most important is that all slaves were set free. People became slaves because of poverty, so this was a declaration that their debts were forgiven. It was a reminder to masters and slaves alike that they were all forgiven and equal in the sight of God. 

The next thing that happens in a Jubilee year was that all property reverts back to the original family owners. The only way that a family would have lost their land would be because of extreme poverty. If they were forced to sell their land it meant they needed the money to eat and they basically became the servants of the man who bought it. So this proclamation gives people back their own homes and enables them to once again earn their own living and support their families. 

The third part of a Jubilee year is that it’s a year of sabbath rest for the land as well as the people. They are to let the fields lay fallow and only harvest what grows naturally. Then everyone will know that they are truly trusting God to provide for them. 

Jesus comes to his home town to preach. But he is not the person they think he is. He isn’t who they expect him to be. He is so much more. He is the Christ, the anointed One. He proclaims to you today that you are released from false expectations. You are free to be the people’s God calls you to be. 

Your debts are forgiven. You have your true home now with God’s family. God will always provide for you. Amen. 


Sermon, January 20, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to John, the 2nd chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord. 

1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4 And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Well, the decorating committee has taken down all the pretty Christmas things.  The paraments and banners are green again.  The holidays are definitely over.  Ordinary time is here.

We call the “green season” ordinary time, not because it isn’t a special holiday, although it isn’t.  We call it ordinary because it is numbered, or ordered.

The good news for us today is that Jesus comes to us in ordinary times.  Jesus blesses ordinary times and ordinary things and transforms them with grace.

There is a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin who was paraphrasing St. Augustine.  He says, “We hear of the conversion of the water into wine at the marriage of Cana, as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.”

Today, God is using some ordinary water and transforming it before our very eyes.  God is using this ordinary water combined with the Word to welcome new children into the family of faith and promise them salvation.  Today, like the disciples at the wedding, we get to celebrate God’s love as we welcome new members and celebrate their baptism day. 

The wedding at Cana was an ordinary Jewish wedding.  It was so ordinary that the gospel writer doesn’t even bother to mention the names of the couple or their families. 

Weddings held symbolic importance for the Jewish people.  Marriage was often used to describe the relationship between God and the people.  Just as our reading from Isaiah says, " the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

We think weddings and receptions are ridiculously expensive now, and they are.  But our weddings have nothing on the Jewish wedding celebrations in New Testament times.  

In those days, weddings lasted a week.  The whole town was invited to the party.  The hosts were expected to keep the party going with food and drink the whole week.  Running out of wine would have ended the celebration early and the unhappy guests probably would have left.  

Hospitality was extremely important in that culture.  Running out of wine would have been a major social embarrassment.  It would have been the story that everyone told about that couple for the rest of their lives.  

Cana was a small town.  It was so small that Bible scholars aren’t even sure where it was. If you have ever lived in one, you know how things are in small towns.  This would have been the topic of conversation at every wedding in town for years and years. 

Everyone would be snickering about it. “Remember how they ran out of wine after only three days at Dave and Carolyn’s wedding? Everyone went home early.  I sure hope this couple isn’t embarrassed like that...” 

Wine had a different meaning for them, too.  Wine was a symbol of God’s abundance and blessings. 

Back then, people of all ages drank wine just like we drink tea or pop or coffee.  Thomas and Charles Welch didn't develop the process to make “unfermented wine” until 1869, so grape juice as we know it did not exist back then.   

The gospel of John is full of symbolism and this story is no exception. Jesus and his family and disciples were at a wedding party in Cana.  They had been there a while already, and it was the third day.  

We of course, remember that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.  So when, John tells us it was the third day, we know something important is going to happen.

The mother of Jesus was there.  Her presence is also a signal that something important is going to happen.  Jesus protested to her that his hour had not yet come.  He used that expression to refer to his time of suffering and death. Mary was there then, too.

I love the interaction between Mary and Jesus in this scene.  She tells him the wine has run out. He says that isn’t their concern. After all, it isn’t their party.  She tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. 

It is kind of like a mom asking her son to play the piano for their dinner guests.  The child protests that they aren’t there for a recital.  The mom hands the child the music book and pretty soon everyone is singing along. She knows he is going to do it even when he protests. 

The servants had six stone jars there.  Six is the biblical number of incompleteness.  God created the world in six days, but creation was not complete until God rested and gave us the Sabbath day.  

The six jars were large - 20-30 gallons a piece.  They were used for the rites of purification.  These rites consisted of hand washing and bathing.  They were prescribed by the law and required before religious activities.  There were varieties of reasons that someone might need to either wash their hands or take a full bath.  

Because they are used for the purification rites, the jars full of water are symbolic of God's Law. 

The Law is good.  It is a gift from God.  It gives us information about how the world works and helps us make decisions about how we should live.  If we all follow it, we will live well.  The law promotes justice and order in society. Many of the psalms celebrate and praise the gift of the law. 

The Law has another purpose besides promoting justice and order.  The law convicts us.  The law shows our sin.  The law shows us that we never, ever, can keep it perfectly. We all fall short of obedience. 

Jesus does not get rid of the Law for us.  He does not tell the servants to empty the water and break the jars used for ritual purification.  He does something new.

Jesus transforms the Law.  He fulfills it himself.  He makes something new.  He changes the water into wine. He makes it into something that is a sign of God’s blessings for us.  He transforms something ordinary and gives us grace.  

It isn’t just a little bit of grace either.  He makes one hundred eighty gallons of wine. More than enough for the wedding feast. There is enough wine there that the bride and groom could toast the joy of their marriage every day and every night for the rest of their lives.  

Not just the cheap stuff, either.  No cheap grace here.  This is the best wine ever.  

Interestingly, it is the servants who know what Jesus did. The steward didn’t know and the bridegroom had no idea.  Neither did the party guests.  The servants and the disciples are the only ones who know who Jesus really is. 

We are the servants and disciples in this story.  Jesus comes to us in our ordinary times.  Our ordinary times may be work or school or family time or even a party. 

Our ordinary times are the times when we are just trying to get along and do what we are supposed to be doing. Our ordinary times may be going all right. 

Or maybe not. They could be the times when the law seems to convict us.  Our ordinary times may be the times when, as hard as we try, we just can’t seem to do what we need to do. 

No matter what they are like, Jesus comes to us in ordinary times and ordinary things.  Through his love, he transforms the law that convicts us, into abundant grace.  Grace enough for us to celebrate every day and every night.  Grace enough for everyone. Amen. 

Baptism of Our Lord, January 13, 2019

Due to technical problems, this week’s video is not available.

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 3rd chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The baptism of Jesus changed everything.  It changed the very nature of baptism itself. 

John knew that baptizing Jesus was different from baptizing anyone else.  Could he have realized just how different things would be?  

Luke tells us that after Jesus was baptized, he was praying.  While he was praying, the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove.  A voice came from heaven and said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism.  And when the Holy Spirit comes down, everything changes about baptism.

You received the Holy Spirit at your baptism, too. The pastor marked a cross on your forehead with oil and said your name, “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”  

Baptism is forever.  It is God’s action.  God makes a forever promise to us in baptism.  It isn’t like the baptism of John.  We don’t have to repent and say we are sorry for our sins first.  That’s because baptism is all God’s work, not ours.  Baptism brings the gifts of the Holy Spirit to us. 

We Lutherans talk about Jesus a lot.  We talk about God the Creator, a lot.  We talk about the Holy Spirit usually once a year, on Pentecost.  We need to remember that our God is Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

So what does the Holy Spirit do for us in baptism? 

First of all, the Holy Spirit calls us.

Luther says we don’t even believe in Jesus on our own.  He says we can’t.  No human has the power to believe in God.  We receive our faith as a gift.  The Holy Spirit calls us through the message of the Gospel and gives us faith.

We hear the message of the Good News, that God loved the world so much, that Jesus came to live among us as a human, just like us.  

While he was here on earth, Jesus preached the good news of God’s love.  He healed the sick and fed the hungry.  He showed us how to live - how to be the people God calls us to be. 

He gave his life on a cross for us.  He rose from the dead and opened the gates of heaven for us.  

When we hear that good news - that God loves us that much - we respond in faith.  That faith is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  

The Spirit gives us many other gifts, too.  We hear about them in the baptism liturgy. In it we pray that the newly baptized will be sustained with the gift of the Holy Spirit: “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, and the spirit of joy in God's presence.”

These gifts of the Spirit enlighten us.  Wisdom and understanding show us what we need to get along in the world.  They help us see how to live.

The gift of counsel is the gift of good judgment.  It shows us right from wrong.  It helps us decide what we should do when the world is confusing.  The gift of counsel helps us we are faced with all of life's choices.

The gift of might is the gift of courage and strength to do the right thing.  It is also the strength to endure suffering for the sake of our faith.

The gift of knowledge isn’t about knowing facts. It is the gift of knowing the Lord. 

The fear of the Lord is a sense of awe in the presence of God.  It is the gift that calls us to worship the Lord in holy splendor, as we prayed with our psalmist today. 

The Holy Spirit gives us the spirit of joy in the presence of God.  All joy comes from God and being in God’s presence.  There is no joy without the presence of the Holy Spirit. So, the next time you experience joy in your life, remember to thank the Holy Spirit.  Joy means that you are in the presence of God. 

The Holy Spirit calls us and enlightens us with gifts in our baptism.  But, baptism is not just about an individual's relationship with God.  The Holy Spirit gathers us together with the whole Christian church.  

When we are baptized we become a member of the church. As we confess in the Apostles Creed, we are part of the holy catholic church and the communion of saints.   We are joined with all the Christians of every time and every place. 

That sounds great - until you look around you and see that means you are also part of this great company of sinners.  You belong to the family of the church. 

The good news for us is that the Holy Spirit has another gift.  The Holy Spirit is often called the “Sanctifier,” which means, the saint maker.  The Holy Spirit is the One who makes us holy, or makes us saints.

When I say all Christians are made holy, I don’t mean we have a “holier than thou” attitude.  I can’t make myself holy.  You can’t make yourself holy either.  So we can’t take the credit for our sainthood. It is just like believing in Jesus, we can’t do it ourselves.  

The Holy Spirit makes us holy, makes us saints, by forgiving our sins.  As Luther said, “Daily in this Christian Church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins - mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”

It can be said that the promises and gifts of the Spirit in Baptism are like the promises at a wedding.  At the ceremony, the couple makes lasting promises to each other.  

It can’t stop there though.  To make a marriage work, you have to regularly tell each other, “I love you.”  

The Spirit makes lasting promises to us in baptism.  Every week in Holy Communion, the God the Spirit says, “I love you.  Your sins are forgiven.” 

Thanks be to God. Amen.   

Sermon, Epiphany, January 6, 2019

The Holy Gospel according to Matthew, the 2nd chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;  and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:  "And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.' "  Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.  

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Christmas is finally over.  This is the season of Epiphany, and if I had to pick a favorite season in the church year, it’s probably Epiphany.  That might sound a little strange, I mean most people would probably go for the obvious choices of Christmas and Easter, but I just love Epiphany.  

Epiphany means that God is made manifest, that is, God is more easily visible to us humans.  In Epiphany, we can see more clearly that Jesus Christ is Lord.  And I like that.  I prefer good visibility to cloudiness any day.  

The story we heard today is a very familiar one. Since we only celebrate the visit of the Magi when January 6 falls on a Sunday, this story is usually included as part of the Christmas pageant.  However, it likely happened as much as two years later. The holy family is out of the stable and in a house by now and the wise men had been following the star for a couple of years.  

Our story today is a tale of two cities and a tale of two kings.  The cities are Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  The kings are Herod and Jesus.  

Jerusalem is the capital city of Judea.  Herod is the king of the Judean people. His title is “king of the Jews.”  The city of Jerusalem is the obvious place the Wise Men would have gone.  It is the center of the population, the center of commerce, the center of religion, the center of power. Even in their wisdom, the Magi made the obvious choice and went to Jerusalem.  

The Magi were not actually kings, like the rulers of countries.  They were astronomers who were followers of the Zoroastrian religion.  Their religion taught that the stars and the changes in the sky could be read as signs of change on the earth.  They believed that stars predicted the birth of new kings.  

The Magi would have been familiar with our first reading from Isaiah 60.  This is a poetry writing from the prophet known as second Isaiah. He wrote to the people who had just returned from two generations of exile in Babylon, which is modern day Iraq.  They returned to find their city of Jerusalem in ruins.  They were in despair.  Where were their beautiful buildings?  Where were their towers?  Their economy is failing and nobody knows what to do about it. 

In the midst of this despair and tragedy, the prophet invites them to look up in hope.  He paints a picture of a time when the city of Jerusalem will again be a place of glory, a shining star among the nations. Leaders of other nations will come on camels bringing expensive gifts of gold and frankincense. 

The magi would have known this poem from second Isaiah as well as Herod and his court knew it.  Herod would have expected that any new king would be born in Jerusalem. Herod would choose his own son as his successor.

King Herod was not one of the good guys in the Bible. He wasn’t just a bad king though.  He did some really evil things.  He was a career politician and did whatever he wanted to increase his power.  He was first appointed governor of Galilee, then moved up to be Tetrarch of Judea (ruler of 1/4 of the country), then finally king of Judea. 

Herod had no problem getting rid of people who interfered with his climb to political power. He had 10 wives.  He ordered multiple assassinations, including some of his own sons.  He changed his succession plan multiple times as he decided who would take his throne when he died.  It is no surprise that he would order the murder of all the babies in town when he felt his power was threatened.  

When the Magi arrived and told him the news of the star, it is no wonder he panicked.  He asked his advisors about these people who seemed to be the ones from the Isaiah 60 prophecy, the ones on the camels with the gold and frankincense.  His advisors told him that wasn’t the right prophecy for this occasion. Isaiah 60 implies that the old order will be restored.  In that scenario, Jerusalem will return to being the center of the global economy.  The rich city folks will recover their former power and prestige and nothing will really change. 

His advisors were Bible scholars.  They told him it’s important to study the scriptures in order to understand them.  They told him to read the prophet Micah. They told him the new king isn’t about the restoration of the city of Jerusalem.  They said the Messiah, the new king, would be born in Bethlehem, the city of King David.  Of course, Herod was threatened. A new king is a threat to the old king and the old order.  Herod was not descended from David.  

Surprisingly, Herod told the Magi the truth, and they went to Bethlehem.  Of course, he was expecting the wise men to come back and tell him who the child was and where to find him.  

The second city in this tale is the little town of Bethlehem.  It’s nine miles away from Jerusalem.  It was a tiny community, home to peasants, farmers, shepherds.  It is a small, unpretentious place.  It is home to people without influence, power, or importance. 

The prophet Micah tells us that the new king will be someone who cares about the people without political power.  The new king will bring shalom - health, well-being, and peace to all the people.  

The story of the Magi is a story that contrasts two cities and two kings.  Jerusalem is the place of power and the center of commerce and religion. Bethlehem is a modest little town where poor hard-working people live.  

Like the wise men, we are tempted to go to Jerusalem to look for our king.  We are attracted to power.  We are tempted by wealth.  But the real king is nine miles away.  He is in the little town.  He is living among people you wouldn’t expect.  He came to bring them shalom.  He came to bring peace, and health, and well-being to all the people, especially the ones ignored by the rest of society. 

When we make that trip to Bethlehem with the wise men, we will see the real king.  We will see King Jesus, the One who did not come for earthly power, the One who did not ask for riches, the One who did not take the lives of others, but the One who gave his life for us.  He is the One who has compassion on the lowly and the poor and preserves the lives of the needy.  He is the king who ends oppression and violence. He is the king, not just of one nation, but of all the nations.  

When we make that journey to Bethlehem with the wise men, we reject the tyrant. When we meet the real king, we are changed forever. Like the wise men, we can defy the orders of the unjust ruler and go home a different way. This epiphany, our King Jesus is the One who gives us the vision of the glory of God. Amen.  

Sermon for the First Sunday of Christmas, December 30, 2018

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the second chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." 49 He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ. 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Just a few days ago we heard the story of the birth of Jesus.  We heard about the shepherds and the angels.  We heard that Jesus’s mother, Mary, pondered these things in her heart.  She must have wondered a lot about what it all meant.  

The story we hear this week takes place twelve years later.  Jesus and his family have traveled to the big city of Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.  They probably made this trip in a crowd with their family and neighbors. People traveled in large groups so that they would stay safe on the road and so they could help each other.  It was a long walk from Nazareth to Jerusalem. They would walk for a week to get there, stay a week for the celebration, and walk for a week to get home.  

They probably stayed with relatives while they were in Jerusalem.  Extended family was important. People often looked after each other’s children.  We know Jesus had brothers and sisters who were younger than he was.  Mary and Joseph would have had their hands full with the little ones.  

Since Jesus was the oldest, maybe they thought they didn’t have to worry about him.  After all, in those days, 12 was practically a grown-up.  Twelve was the age when Jewish boys made their Bar Mitzvah, a kind of Jewish confirmation, where they were considered to be a man, not a child anymore.  

It is hard for us to understand, though. How could they leave town and head home without Jesus? I can’t tell you how upset my parents would be if they couldn’t find me for three days.  And if they found out I just decided not to go back with them because I was talking to interesting people, well, I don’t want to think about how much trouble I would be in.  

I wonder if things had been ordinary in their lives for so long that Mary and Joseph hadn’t been thinking about who their son really was? It had been a long time since the shepherds and the angels and the prophecies of Simeon and Anna.  Had their memories been fading?  Did it seem like it was all a dream? Had Mary’s life become so busy that she stopped pondering these things in her heart?

Or did Mary and Joseph just have trouble seeing that their son was growing up? It seems like all parents look at their children and see them as babies sometimes.  Maybe Mary and Joseph just wanted to keep Jesus close to them as long as they could.  Maybe they just wanted to keep him young as long as they could. 

But Jesus does grow up.  His priorities change.  Now he is putting the will of God ahead of the will of his human parents.  Mary asked Jesus, “Why have you treated us like this?”  

We in the church ask God the same thing when we get anxious and when things happen in life that we were not expecting.  “Why have you treated us like this, God?”

Jesus asks Mary, “Why were you searching for me?”  We are like Mary. We also aren’t always ready to accept that Jesus did not come to fulfill our wishes.  We don’t find Jesus when we go around looking for the way things used to be.  We don’t find Jesus when we keep focusing on the way we wish things were.  

Jesus was born and lived and died and rose again to be about God’s business.  He puts an end to our searching.  We don’t have to look for Jesus. He finds us. He shows us the way to God. 

The scary part in this story is that Mary and Joseph searched for three whole days.  They found Jesus alive and well on the third day. Luke, our gospel writer, knows that when we hear “three days” we will automatically think about the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

The good news for us this Sunday after Christmas is that we don’t need to search for Jesus.  Mary and Joseph find Jesus alive and well in a place they didn’t expect. Even when our lives end up in a place we don’t expect, Jesus will always be there with us. 

And, no matter how old we are, as we respond to God’s love, we will all grow in wisdom, just as Jesus did. 

May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.  

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2018

Christmas Eve 2018

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the second chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord. 

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 

This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 

All went to their own towns to be registered. 

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  

He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." 

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"  

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 

and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our newborn Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

This is a familiar story to most of us.  We love to hear it every year on Christmas eve. In our minds we paint a beautiful picture like the children's pageants we all remember with the pretty angel costumes and the cute little shepherds with their crooks walking in together and all of them standing beside the manger and singing "Away in a Manger."  

Maybe you got to be Mary in her beautiful blue robe smiling down on the sleeping baby.  Or you were Joseph, standing by, ready to help.  Or your children were among the adoring shepherds standing there with the fluffy white sheep.  Or you were in the angel chorus spreading your wings over the stable and singing the Glorias.  

We all treasure scenes like this even though we know the reality has been photoshopped to make a nice greeting card picture.  In truth, the first Christmas was not quiet and serene. Baby Jesus was a normal human infant who really did cry.  

Those of us who are parents know the truth.  And even if you aren’t parents yourselves, your parents know the truth.  A child changes everything.  The whole focus and purpose of your life is changed forever, when a child enters the picture.  

The little town of Bethlehem was so crowded that Mary and Joseph had to stay in the shed with the cows and goats. It was so crowded that they had to lay baby Jesus in the feed box.  God came to earth and and people said there was no room for him. But, God came anyway.  God loves us that much. This child changes everything. 

There are those among us who think it is a nice pretty story, but that's all it is.  They think Christmas is just a time for get-togethers with family and friends, exchanging presents, and sharing old stories. They like having a day off work. 

If you fall into this category and you came to church tonight because it made someone in your family happy, you are welcome here. We are glad you came. 

There are others who do not want to bother with Christmas celebrations because they have given up on God. Perhaps you are one of those people.  If you came to church tonight, we are glad you are here. 

Or maybe you are a faithful Christian, but you know somebody like that.  Somebody whose life has been hard, somebody who has tried to pray, but hasn’t seemed to get any good answers.  Somebody who has been rejected by their family or rejected by society, somebody who just can’t seem to get a break.  Somebody who has been forgotten by society. 

There are some who don’t feel that way all the time. You just have some of those days and times where you felt isolated, like you are in your own painful spiritual wilderness. 

In the time of Jesus, shepherds fell into that isolated, given up on God category.  They were the kind of people came from the bottom of the social ladder.  They were the ones who took the only job they could get - the dangerous night shift watching a bunch of stinky sheep when there were wolves lurking in the darkness.  Shepherds were the ones who were stereotyped as liars and degenerates and thieves.  Their testimony wasn’t admissible in court.  Many towns wouldn’t even let them into the city limits.  

They were considered ritually unclean, and, like tax collectors and prostitutes, shepherds couldn’t worship in the temple.  So, if you were a shepherd, you had a job that separated you from the worshipping community.  You were among the folks who had given up on God or felt God had given up on you. 

But, this child changes everything.  The good news of the angels doesn’t come to Caesar or Quirinius or even to the priests at the Temple in Jerusalem.  The good news of great joy comes to the shepherds in the fields. 

You see, not only does this child change everything - he is born to the people who need him the most.   His birth is announced to the people that were least expected to hear it.  His birth is announced to people who were despised and rejected.  They were the ones that the prophet said were living in a land of deep darkness. And the focus and purpose of all life is changed forever. 

This child changes everything. He even changes how we mark time, how we tell what year this is.  Historians tell us that Herod died in 4 BC, so the original calendar makers didn’t get the dates quite right, but that’s not even important. And God comes to people who don’t always get things right. 

The prophet Isaiah tells us that this child has all authority and his authority continues to grow.  He is the one who will bring endless peace and justice and righteousness. 

This child changes everything. He changed the world in his time.  His birth, his death, his resurrection, changed everything forever.  He conquered sin and death for us.  He brings us our salvation. 

So we sing our Christmas carols and we celebrate the birth of the Child today. 

We remember that Jesus was born for the outsiders as well as for the religious people.  

Remember the thief on the cross who repented?  Jesus told him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  

Remember the other thief?  The one who harassed Jesus and bullied him?  Jesus hung with him and died with him, and for him, too. Jesus was born for you even if you have given up on God. 

Just as God sent the angels to the shepherds - God sends the message of the birth of a Savior to everyone tonight.  You are here.  You have heard it. There is a place for every one at the manger.  No matter who you are or what you do - we are all part of the scene at the nativity tonight. 

Let us go with the shepherds and proclaim the news to all the world. 

Alleluia! Christ is born today! Amen. 

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the first chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,  where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Sermon Advent 4

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from the God who comes to save us. Amen.

The decorations are out in the stores along with the toys and candy. There are all sorts of Santas and twinkling lights everywhere you look.  Gifts have been purchased and wrapped. Most of us have sent the cards and attended the parties already. 

But, it’s not Christmas, yet.  

Many people are impatient this time of year.  They want Christmas to be here already. Kids can be especially excited and impatient because they anticipate all the gifts and excitement.

I know it is almost Christmas.  But it’s not Christmas, yet.

Today’s gospel is for the fourth Sunday in Advent, a time when it especially seems like it ought to be Christmas already, but it’s not yet. 

Today we hear the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.  Elizabeth and Mary are both pregnant already, but have not yet given birth to John and Jesus.  

Being pregnant is definitely an “already, but not yet” state of being.  

In a sense, you already “have the baby” but you haven’t “had the baby” yet.  


In today’s gospel, Mary and Elizabeth remind us that, even when we are distracted by our impatience for the things that are “not yet,” God is looking on us with love and blessing us. 

Luke tells us that, after the angelic visitation, Mary immediately, perhaps impatiently, heads to the hill country to visit her relative Elizabeth.  

As soon as Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps.  

I have been blessed with two children and I know what it feels like when the baby moves inside you.  They do flips and turns.  They kick you with their little feet and pound you with their little tiny fists. It is very exciting, especially the first time you are pregnant. 

Elizabeth is delighted to share the joy of her pregnancy with Mary, and rejoices with Mary over the news that Mary, too, will have a child. 

Mary is overwhelmed with joy as well.  Seeing for herself that Elizabeth is indeed pregnant confirms for her that the angel’s words are true.  She knows that she, too, is blessed by believing what was spoken to her.  

In her joyful response, Mary gives us a wonderful hymn known as the magnificat.  The church traditionally sings the magnificat at every service of evening prayer.   Including hymns and service music, eight songs in Evangelical Lutheran Worship are based on it.  

My favorite hymn paraphrase is the one in Holden Evening Prayer by Marty Haugen. We sang it on Wednesday nights this Advent.

“My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you. You have looked with love on your servant here and blessed me all my life through.”  

In her visit with Elizabeth, Mary recognized God’s blessing in her “already, but not yet” time. She knew the blessing came from the God of her ancestors.  

In her joy, she sang of the God who is merciful, the God who favors the weak, the God who uses strength to raise the lowly, the God who uses power to feed the hungry.  

Mary proclaimed the God of her ancestors as the God of the covenant.

We all know that our sin caused God to put up a flaming sword to guard the way back into Eden and prevent us from eating from the Tree of Life.  We have heard the stories of the covenants with Noah and Abraham.  We recall the covenant of the Law given to Moses.  We have heard the prophecy of Isaiah and the promises given to David.

Mary knew these stories, too. Mary knew that God would keep all these promises.  

Mary was very young when she learned she would have a child.  She may have been less than half as old as I was when I had my first child.  She was probably about the age of some of the students in confirmation class.  She was blessed with a child-like faith that trusted the promises of God.

God keeps those promises.  Elizabeth and Mary could not have anticipated 

everything that would happen when their sons grew up.  

We certainly cannot anticipate everything that will happen to us, either.  Our lives are pregnant with possibilities whether we are impatient for Christmas to come, or to learn where God is calling us next.  

Now is the very time when God looks on us with love and blesses us.   

Despite all the challenges and distractions of our every day lives, God blesses us with new relationships and new experiences.  

God uses all of it to help us grow stronger in faith.  No matter where we go, or what we do, or what those experiences are like, God’s love and blessings will allow us to share our faith with those we meet.  


We can share God’s love and blessings with others and they will share God’s love and blessings with us.  

Our “already, but not yet” time began with our baptism. In Holy Baptism, God showers us with love and promises to bless us our whole lives through. 

Like Mary, we receive the blessing as a gift, with a childlike faith.  

Like Mary, we can look forward to the time of Jesus’ birth, as we pray that Christ will be born in us this Christmas.   

Today’s gospel tells of the joy of two women who are pregnant.  

They both recognize their pregnancies as blessings from God.  

Elizabeth’s son John, grew up to preach a baptism of repentance and to prepare the way for the Messiah.  He was beheaded by Herod.  

Mary’s son Jesus, grew up to preach the coming reign of God, the fulfillment of the promises his mother sang about.  He died a horrible death on the cross.  

But God remembered the promises.  The cross was the very time God looked on the whole world with love and blessed us.   

God raised Mary’s son Jesus from the dead. He lives and reigns forever, and of his kingdom, there is no end.  Through Jesus, God looks on us with love and blesses us all our lives through. 

We proclaim the greatness of God.  We rejoice in God our Savior.  

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

Sermon, December 9, 2018, The Second Sunday of Advent

The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 3rd chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord. 

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' “

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ. 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from the God who comes to save us. Yyyhy

At a precise yyu moment in a precise moment in history.... 

When Donald Trump and Mike Pence were president and vice president of the United States; and Jay Inslee was governor of Washington State; and Dan Newhouse served the 4th congressional district; when Kathy Coffey was mayor of Yakima; when Elizabeth Eaton was bishop of the ELCA; and Kristen Kuempel was Bishop of Eastern Washington Idaho - the word of God comes to the people of Central Lutheran Church in Yakima, Washington.

Luke, our gospel writer for this year, set out to write an orderly account.  He cared about the details.  He listed five political rulers and two priests who were in charge when the Word of God came to John the Baptist. 

Luke was a historian.  Telling exactly when things happened is important to a historian.  Placing John the Baptist and Jesus precisely in human history is one of the gifts we receive from Luke. 

The political leaders and religious leaders were very important people in their time.  Luke names everyone who was anyone from the Emperor on down.  His first readers knew something about each of the seven people he listed.  

Most of us have only heard of a few of them because of the parts they played at the end of Jesus’ life. We would never have heard of any of them except for their relationship to Jesus. 

We do know John the Baptist, though.  We know John because the first good news in this gospel lesson is that the Word of God came to John.  

John was the son of an assistant priest and his elderly wife.  He was the child of a couple who were thought to be barren.  He was nobody special compared to the emperor and governor and the rest.  

Yet Luke makes the claim that John the Baptist is even more important than all these figures.  John is important because the Word of God came to him.  John is important because he proclaims the coming of Christ.

The Word of God that came to John was this: We are to prepare the way for the One who is to come.  

The One who is coming is bringing our salvation.  This is the second piece of good news in this lesson today. The One who is coming is worth preparing for.  

We are going to our son’s house right after Christmas.  We are very excited to visit them in Minnesota.  This is the first time they are preparing to host the family for the holiday.  This is important to them so they have already begun preparing for it.

They are important enough that they will clean and decorate the house.  They will do the laundry so the guest towels are fresh.  They will prepare the traditional holiday foods.  They are planning fun activities we can all do together.  They are buying gifts for everyone. 

The Christmas time together is special because family members are the most important people in our lives.  We prepare carefully for for the visit. 

When someone special is arriving, we must prepare.  John the Baptist tells us to prepare for the coming of the One who brings our salvation.  John tells us the One who is coming is worth preparing for.

John tells us to prepare for the Lord by repenting for the forgiveness of our sins.  Repentance means turning your life around. Repentance means setting off in a new direction, the right direction this time.

When John was born, his father Zechariah was finally able to use his voice for the first time since he doubted the angel’s prophecy that he would have a son. After naming his son, Zechariah sings a song of praise to God.  That song, from the first chapter of Luke is our psalm today.

Zechariah helps us understand what forgiveness and repentance look like. Although it seems backwards from what we expect, forgiveness comes before repentance.

That’s right, forgiveness comes first.  God saves us and forgives our sins.  We cannot earn God’s forgiveness by saying we are sorry.  It isn’t like kindergarten where you are supposed to forgive the kid who took your toy because the teacher made her say she was sorry.  

God is gracious by nature.  God forgives.  There is nothing God wants more than to be in relationship with us.  

Christian writer, Anne Lamott, says that grace always bats last.  This is true, but I would like to add that grace always bats first, too. Right now, we are in the middle of the game.  We are at the time when we are still preparing the way, still trying to find the way of peace.

Repentance follows forgiveness.  Repentance is part of the longing we have to turn our lives around and live as the people God wants us to be.  Repentance is hard work.  God is good, but we are sinners and we keep forgetting and getting lost and going the wrong way.  

Repentance is the preparation we do to welcome Christ.  It isn’t just a kindergarten version of “Sooooorrrry.” It isn’t a moping around, beating yourself up for what you did, feeling guilty all the time thing either.  

Repentance is turning your back on the past and going in the right direction.  It is not just that we make a pathway for God - we need to be sure the road is pointing the right way.  

The last thing we want to do is pave the road to the wrong place with our good intentions.  Zechariah tells us we will know when we are on the right road because it is the road that leads to peace.

You will know that you are paving the right road when the crooked things in your life look like they are starting to get straightened out.  I don’t know what those crooked things might be, but you do. You know what you did, or or what you didn’t do that you should have done.  God has already forgiven you.

You will know you are paving the right road when the rough places in your life are becoming smoother.  You know where the rough places are, too.

Preparing a pathway for God is long, hard work.  It is worth it though.  Because the One who is coming is bringing our salvation.  

This mighty Savior brings you forgiveness.  He brings you mercy.  He brings you freedom.  He brings you compassion. He brings God’s love down to earth.  And he does all this before you were even born.  There was nothing you had to do to earn it.  There is nothing you could have done.  There is nothing you can do now. It’s all grace. 

As Paul said, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”

At a precise moment in a precise moment in history...

The Word of God comes to the people of Central Lutheran Church - and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.  

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.