First Lesson: Genesis 9: 8-17
Responsive Reading: Psalm 25: 1-10
Second Lesson: 1 Peter 3: 18-22
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 9-15
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”- 1 Peter 3:21
Baptism now saves you. There are arguably no more controversial words in the entire scriptures for their meaning then this verse from 1st Peter 3. To understand the meaning of the 1st Peter, you need to know the story behind 1st Peter. I want to tell you its story today.
I want to tell you the story of two characters.
I want to tell you the story of a man that we will call Billy Baptism. Billy got baptized as a baby because Mom and Dad had been baptized as infants. Billy’s Baptism was going to be an excuse for Grandma and Grandpa to come see little Billy. So Billy grows in years, Billy attends Sunday School then Confirmation. In Confirmation, Billy is forced to wear what he thought was an ugly acolyte gown against his wishes. Billy finally gets confirmed. Billy looked at his Confirmation like a kid looks at the end of high school, he’s going to celebrate because he is not going back again. Billy went off to college, where he met and married a girl that wasn’t real religious either. Billy figured his kids should be baptized, yet when they didn’t want to be bored in Confirmation, Billy was fine with this. Billy eventually becomes an old man who occasionally attended a Christmas or Easter service. Billy dies. Billy’s preacher didn’t know Billy at all, so he had to think of what to say at the funeral. Billy’s preacher gets up at the funeral saying “Billy was saved because of his Baptism.” Billy’s Baptist cousin is furious! Billy was baptized eighty-some years ago. Billy’s life showed all sorts of evidence that he didn’t take the meaning of his Baptism all that seriously. Billy’s Baptist cousin started to complain about the Lutheran preacher to anyone who would listen. Everyone in this room knows Billy Baptism.
Now I want to tell you the story of another man named John Pilgrim. John Pilgrim was the type of person to whom the book of 1st Peter was written. John Pilgrim grew up in a devout Jewish home. Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, John Pilgrim encounters one of Jesus’ followers who convinces John Pilgrim that Jesus was the Messiah. John Pilgrim’s family was not happy with him. John Pilgrim was disowned by his family. Things were getting hot for Christians during John Pilgrim’s life. Many of them were forced to flee the lands where their family lived for generations to go into exile. John Pilgrim’s life was going to be hard because of his faith. John Pilgrim was not going to be able to maintain much in the way of social relationships outside the Church community. Think of confessing that you were a proud and open communist in the midst of the Cold War, this was the type of social ostracism that John Pilgrim would face. People often didn’t just think of John Pilgrim as wrong, they thought of him as “evil”.
John Pilgrim was “maligned” (2:12), and “reviled” (4:14). He lived in constant fear (1:17) of criminal charges being brought before him on account of possessing insufficient loyalty to the emperor. (3:15)
Where in the land where Billy Baptism lived, persecution of Christians might be people thinking you were some sort of religious weirdo. In John Pilgrim’s land, Christian faith could often be the difference between life and death. Billy Baptism would have no understanding of what John Pilgrim would have gone through on account of his faith. It seems foolish that Baptism as salvation applies equally to everyone involved here.
Let me tell you why John Pilgrim’s story matters as we consider the meaning of 1st Peter. John Pilgrim’s underground church would have probably received a letter like this through a messenger who traveled under the cover of darkness.
When we think of the famous words from 2 Timothy “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” These words would apply to a man like John Pilgrim like no other man that we know.
The thing about 1st Peter is its promises of Baptismal salvation are meant to apply to Billy Baptism just as much as John Pilgrim, and this is what I want to talk about this morning.
Let me begin by telling a story, as I’ve talked about before when I was misbehaving at fourteen years old, my parents sent me to the local Baptist high school to get corrected.
When I first started attending school there, I encountered an entirely different type of kid than I had encountered at the public school. There were kids that competed in Bible memorization contests (I didn’t know before there were such things), whereas my friends could only quote inappropriate Snoopy Doggy Dogg lyrics. At the public school, you were considered an odd duck if you weren’t watching R-rated movies at 12. At the Baptist school, you were regarded as a rebel if you ever watched an “R” rated movie. Kids would not attend dances, I knew a kid that got expelled for smoking a cigarette in the school parking lot. These kids knew the scriptures backward and forwards. I remember hearing the line again and again “It’s not enough to be baptized as an Infant”. I heard all sorts of dramatic testimonies of salvation from previously failed Christians.
I struggled with the question of Infant Baptism until I got to Concordia. At Concordia, I wanted to put qualifiers on Baptism to make my position acceptable to my Evangelical Free friends. It wasn’t until I got to Luther Seminary, where I fully grasped the Lutheran beliefs on Baptism. What changed me was seeing over and again, how messed up were the lives of even the best Christians.
Whenever someone claims Baptism is not enough, it is based on a misunderstanding of Baptism.
A few points about the scriptures and Baptism always need to be repeated.
1. The Scriptures never describe Baptism as one’s personal confession of faith. When people say that no infants are baptized in the Bible (this is true), but this is missing the point rather the key point is that God is the actor, we are the audience. God is giving to us, and acting for us, not we to him. Within Baptism, the direction is always Heaven to Earth, never Earth to Heaven. So in theory, God could baptize a rock to eternal life, no differently then he made a bush burn. Do not the scriptures say “"if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”- Luke 19:40
2. Baptism does save because it delivers Christ. Lutheranism gives all credit to God and no credit to man when it comes to salvation. For this reason, we place importance on things like Baptism and Communion like no other church does. Lutherans believe that Baptism bring Christ unto us. Baptism is the means by which God gives unto others his grace.
Perhaps the key words in the entire scriptures dealing with Baptism take place in Romans 6 where the Apostle Paul connects Baptism to one’s own death and subsequent rebirth and resurrection. Remember the scriptures describe Baptism as an act of “rebirth” of which we are as active of participants as our natural birth.
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned,”-Mark 16:16
Often I’ll people say that it’s not enough to be “baptized” that you need to believe instead. Baptism though cannot be separated from belief. Baptism is the means by which receive Christ.
People will wonder what about the guy that his faith, yet is never baptized. When we say Baptism creates faith, we don’t believe that Baptism is the only means by which faith is created. We are a church of Word and Sacrament. The Gospel preached could be just as effective as the Gospel received. Whereas God reaches some through the spoken word, he also reach people from the physical element.
Educators will often talk about different types of learning styles how they learn either by seeing, doing or hearing. You talk to any long time teacher; they will not dispute this truth for a second. Different learning styles explain why some people thrive in shop, yet struggle in history. It’s not a question of brains but rather how they process information. Yet many people can’t understand that grasping Faith can come to us in different means.
What we must remember is that God reaches us through ways outside Baptism. No, differently than kids learn different ways.
Now we get back to the story of Billy Baptism and what are we to make of his salvation. What are we to make of the kid that grows up Lutheran, and comes home for family Christmas declaring himself to be an Atheist.
Do we believe that if someone is saved in Baptism that therefore they are always saved? Do we believe this, even if they publically profess against the faith of the church at a later date?
I don’t have a position on the question of “Once saved, always saved.”
“If God wants to be more generous than I would be, this is God’s business, not mine.”
When I was in Seminary, my preaching professor Micheal Rogness said something about funerals that’s always stuck with me that we never make a judgment as to a person’s salvation at their funeral.
Pastor Jason Peterson cites an excellent example. Peterson mentions how that “sweet church lady with the huge offering statement might be a prideful, callous unbeliever at heart”. “At the same time that drug-addicted pervert just might remember the Gospel from his Confirmation instruction during the seven seconds when his motorcycle collides with the semi and his heart stops beating”. We should not begin to attempt to answer these questions. We really don’t know what exactly Billy Baptism believes in the depths of his soul.
Today’s lesson from the Book of 1st Peter ties in baptismal salvation with an issue a story that we do know. It’s the story of Noah. The story of a world that had grown so wicked, and so thirsty that God needed to overwhelm the whole world with water in the midst of a dessert. The flood served as a reminder that God was not going to sit idly by in the face of destruction. God was going to come into the world and overwhelm once again through his death and Resurrection. Baptism is the completion of God’s salvation brought down from heaven brought unto the people left behind.
As we reflect upon the stories of John Pilgrim (the faithful 1st Century Christian) who risked his life nearly every single day for his faith. John Pilgrim was the type of man our Baptismal promise from 1st Peter was given. We also reflect on Billy Baptism the man who never found a preacher good enough to bring him to church. We remember the words about the meaning of Baptism found in Ephesians 4 that there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. The same baptism is given to two men that although very different, stood at the pearly gates with the same one hope given through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
 2 Timothy 4:7
 Titus 3:5-7.
 Peterson, Pastor Jason. “Does Baptism Save? Lutheran Reformission Blog. 9. Sept.2010. Web. Feb.15.2015.
 Peterson, Pastor Jason. “Does Baptism Save?”
 John 3:1-8
 Romans 6:3-5
 Peterson, Pastor Jason. “Does Baptism Save?”
 Peterson, Pastor Jason. “Does Baptism Save?”
 Ephesians 4:5
Evening Lesson: Genesis 3: 17-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Tonight, we begin a six-part Lenten sermon series based on the teaching of Luther’s “Catechism”. Tonight, we start with the topic of “confession”.
I want to begin by asking you to picture a particular time in your life. Picture a time that you got in trouble. A time when you did something that you know you shouldn’t have done, and people weren’t going to let you hear the end of it. I want you to keep that moment in your head.
Let me tell a story from my life. When I was about four years old, my Dad bought a new VCR. VCR’s were the latest hip technology at this time. This VCR cost a few hundred bucks. Mom and Dad gave four-year-old me, very concrete instructions, not to go near the VCR. Although as everyone knows when you tell a four-year-old not to do something, this only motivates them to do the exact opposite. So one day after eating a popsicle, I needed to do a little exploring of the VCR. I decided to use the popsicle stick like a Doctor might use a scalpel. The popsicle stick falls in, and no one could fix the VCR. Now my dad was mad!!! Dad is a yeller. Out of fear of punishment, I kept saying “sorry” over and again. Now when I was four years old, I would have done anything or said anything to put an end to my punishment.
Fear of confession was a major issue during Luther’s life. People thought the way that four-year-old me thought during Luther’s day. People weren’t sure how to rightly confess their sins before God. People believed that when you confessed your sin that you needed to confess every single detail or else God couldn't forgive you. The perfect memory standard means remembering every mean and angry thought towards your neighbor; this means remembering every word that you really shouldn’t have said. The burden of confession was thought to be impossible.
For the reason the Roman church required such detail in their confession is because the way that you would make amends for your sins would be to do some type of work (such as saying Hail Marys of writing Bart Simpson like sentences on a chalkboard) as a way of avoiding punishment for your sin. For correcting this understanding of confession was the basis for Luther’s most famous work, his 95 Theses.
Luther realized that remembering every sin a person committed throughout the day or week was impossible. Especially, if you have an understanding of sin as Jesus spoke about throughout the Gospels.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire”.- Matthew 5:21-22
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”-Matthew 5:27-28
For Luther recognized that confessing every individual sin was impossible for any mere human being to complete. If the standard at the pearly gate was confessing every particular sin to receive God’s forgiveness then “No one could be forgiven”.
Luther’s issue was that confession had become misunderstood. People feared confession when they should have drawn comfort from it. Confession is a two part act in the Word of Law or judgment followed by the Word of Gospel or forgiveness. Luther wanted people to understand confession as a reminder that no matter how much of a jerk someone might be that no one is outside the possibility of God’s grace.
So in looking at some of Luther’s beliefs about confession we turn to Ash Wednesday tonight. Ash Wednesday is the day of confession within the church.
People often wonder “Why do we use Ashes?”
The reasons are both Biblical and Historic for our Ash Wednesday practice.
The first reference to ashes within the Bible occurs from our lesson tonight right after the Fall of Adam and Eve in the third chapter of Genesis. In words that we speak at every funeral, we are reminded of the curse of death.
“Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
For just as the Lord created Adam out of the ground, the Lord would see to it that Adam’s sin brought him back into the ground.
So ashes serve as a reminder that we shall all face death because of our sin.
The second significant mention of Ashes from within the scriptures come from the New Testament where Jesus encourages the city of Bethsaida to confess in sackcloth and ashes as a way of expressing sorrow for their sins.
Within Church History, the first mention of ashes being used in the history of the Church occurs in the third century. When those who were viewed as really bad sinners and had been kicked out of the Church, such as murderers and adulterers would put ashes on their forehead to state their sorrow for their sin, and hope to be let back into the Church.
But during the Middle Ages, the most common time for public sinners to try to get back into the Church was during the season of Lent.
So ashes on the forehead soon took on a different meaning.
In the 12th century, Ash Wednesday became the beginning of the Lenten season. By placing the ashes on the forehead, we give a confession of our sins, and one’s need for forgiveness by the Cross of Christ. When we place Ashes on our forehead tonight, the statement is simple “I Am A Sinner.” Nothing more, nothing less.
So we’re as we might face sorrow for our sins (I still feel bad about the VCR!). We need not leave tonight in a state of despair because a message of hope and forgiveness comes with it.
This world is not the end for us. Because it was on the Cross, Christ experienced our death, so that one day we shall be raised to life eternal. Whereas we sin, Christ endured the Cross so that we may be forgiven of all our sins. So that as we leave tonight we can look to our confession with ashes like Luther looked upon confession as a joyous event that frees us. While assuring us of the victory over sin and death won by Lord and Savior on the Cross.
To close with the words of Luther from the Catechism, “This is most certainly true”. Amen
 Genesis 3:17-20 is the evening lesson.
 A section of Genesis 3:19
 Matthew 11:20-24
First Lesson: 2 Kings 2: 1-12
Responsive Reading: Psalm 50: 1-6
Second Lesson: 2 Corinthians 4: 3-6
Gospel Lesson: Mark 9: 2-9
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want you this morning to picture a moment in your life? The moment that I want you to picture is the moment that you would deem to be the most special or unique. The moment could be the time in high school, when you hit the shot at the buzzer to win the game. The day, when you looked down at the scale to see a particular goal weight achieved. It could be a major life accomplishment in the day that you received the significant award or got offered the new job. For many people, this moment might be the moment that you saw your bride getting ready to come down the aisle, or the time that you held your child for the first time. Chances are these moments define your life. I want to tell you the story about one such moment for three men today in Peter, James, and John.
Peter, James, and John had been traveling with Jesus for about two years throughout all of Israel. They had heard Jesus give plenty of sermons. They had seen him walk on water, heal the sick, and even feed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. For Peter, James, and John their minds could not fathom what they were about to see next. For one day, Jesus took Peter, James, and John on a hike. They could not quite figure what the purpose was for this hike, yet it would soon become apparent.
Once they reached, the top of the mountain, they saw a fireworks show like one could not imagine. Jesus’ appearance changed right before them “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Peter, James, and John knew the famous Old Testament story of God appearing before Moses in a Burning Bush and Moses’ life changing forever as he encountered the living God.
After overcoming the initial shock, of Jesus’ change in appearance, Peter, James, and John mind were further blown as appearing before them was Moses of said Burning Bush fame and Elijah the only man to ever ascend to Heaven in a whirlwind. There were not two more important figures in the history of Israel than Moses and Elijah. The whole Old Testament was summed up in these two men the Law and the Prophets. These men were Israel’s George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Here they were back to life, after, not having been seen for hundreds of years. Think if you could invite any three people living or dead to dinner who would you invite? This question had just become a reality for Peter, James, and John upon the Mount of Transfiguration.
So Peter’s reaction to this most incredible of scenes is expected. Peter wants the moment to last forever. Peter wanted to camp out at the Mount of Transfiguration for as long as possible. Peter figured this was the payoff to his faith. The scene to which they were witnesses was the completion of the years of getting ready for that one shining moment. Jesus quickly had to correct Peter’s imagination as soon as this moment came to end.
What are we to make of this story of Transfiguration today?
As many of you know, I’ve hiked the North Shore as much as anyone possibly could. You ask me about a hiking trail from Duluth to the Border, I could give you a description of nearly every trail’s difficulty, its scenery, and its logistics.
My favorite hike on the North Shore is Mount Josephine up in Grand Portage. Most of you have been to Palisade Head, many of you have been to Shovel Point, but what makes Mount Josephine, so spectacular is its climb. Mount Josephine is an ascent of 600 feet in about 6/10 of a mile. You will huff, and puff to get up to the top of Mount Josephine regardless of your fitness level. But the difficulty of the climb is what makes Mount Josephine so spectacular. The steep angle gives you an incredible view of Lake Superior where you can see out even as far as Isle Royale. Once you get to the top of Mount Josephine, you feel a sense of accomplishment as your breath gets taken away by the view. You vow to stay at the top of Mount Josephine for maybe a half-hour staring a site like you will never see again. Something happens though during your time on the top, the view from Mount Josephine becomes more ordinary. Eventually right before that one last look, you now know that it is time to descend the mountain.
Misunderstanding the moment is the problem with Peter’s mindset in our Gospel lesson for today. What people seemingly can’t grasp about life is the life is mostly spent down in the valley, not upon the mountain. For like Peter seeing Jesus transfiguration before his very eyes, this experience was going to be fleeting.
When I was in seventh grade, I had a science teacher named Mr. Collins. The benefit of being around science people is they tend to see the world not in terms of emotions and feelings, but rather how pieces fit together. Now Mr. Collins wasn’t much to look at he was short, he was bald, and he had put on a few pounds since high school. Mr. Collins though knew seventh graders quite well. He knew they were at the age where every single person was judged on the basis of physical appearance or “how hot they were?”
Mr. Collins one day addresses the class, where he points out that looks are a terrible reason to choose to marry. Mr. Collins reminded us that he didn’t think of his wife in the morning for how she looked, but rather he thought of her as his wife. The one to whom he was going to spend the rest of his life, long after both their looks had faded. The problem that Mr. Collins was addressing is that basing a marriage on its initial excitement or romance leads to the moment fading and the marriage not lasting. You can not create the same thrill on day in and day out basis. For as Jesus seeks to illustrate to Peter, mountaintop experiences don’t last.
Our question for today is ultimately “Where do we find God in the world?” Peter, James, and John in the rush of initial excitement believed that they had discovered God upon the Mount of Transfiguration. They believed there would never be any bigger moment in their lives than seeing Moses, Elijah, and Jesus standing together.
Often, I’ll hear people talk about grand spiritual life-changing experiences. When I was fourteen years old, I spend the week at Bible camp in South Dakota in the Black Hills. I made some new friends, had some cool counselors, had my faith challenged. This initial surge of the moment led me to believe that this was proof of God’s presence. I vowed that I was going to be a changed man from this day forward. I remember going home and apologizing to my parents for being such a brat in the months prior. Something happened after I got back from South Dakota called everyday life. I kept encountering the same friends, I got back into the same routines, and as the initial surge of South Dakota wore off, I reverted to being just as big an attention starved brat as ever. Just like as soon as Peter, James, and John traveled down from the Mount of Transfiguration, they were forced to encounter a boy begging to be healed of Epilepsy. The snap back to reality is often difficult for us to grasp. We want certain moments to last forever, only for us to be disappointed when they don’t. Disappointment can confuse us as to the realness of God’s presence.
What we must remember this morning is that God’s presence is not found merely in mountaintop experiences, we find God’s presence in the everyday world. When we say that we live by faith, what this means is that we live by promise. We live with the belief that even though we might not see Jesus at this moment, this doesn’t mean that he is not present in our lives.
Often, I’ll hear people say “I wish God’s presence could be clearer.”
As we begin Lent in a few days, we look towards the hope of Easter. We look towards the God, who at the world’s creation said, “Let there be light”, and we see this light in the light of the world who shone amongst us in Christ Jesus.
When I was working down in Lamberton, I took a Sunday off to go to California with my aunt and my grandma. I had a guy I knew from seminary pinch hit named Mark Lund. Mark was just getting a comfort level for speaking in front of others. Mark this Sunday is giving a Children’s sermon. The thing about Children’s sermons is that kids will blurt out just about anything at the most inopportune moments. So, after being asked a question that Mark was unsure how to answer, Mark just told the kid “Remember the correct answer is always Jesus.” So when I return to teach Confirmation, when the kids didn’t know an answer they just kept answering like Mark had taught them. The right answer is all spiritual questions, all spiritual doubt and despair is “Always Jesus”.
We will all have plenty of events and experiences in life that we won’t know their meaning. This much is true. What I also know is that Christ comes to us on this day in two ordinary forms (Word and Sacrament), the promises of our Gospel given to us in Bread and Wine.
Plenty of us can clamor that we wish that God would deal with us a bit differently than he does. The reason, that God deals with us as he does, is because we need to encounter God within humble means. If I was to call down fire from heaven, like Elijah this morning. People would go home amazed with me, or the fact that they were worthy enough to be part of this congregation, rather than to look towards the cross the reality of God’s work in the world.
In closing, one of the big news stories of the last few months has been the Charlie Hedbo massacres that took place in France where three armed gunmen stormed a newspaper office killing twelve people within the building. The reason for the attacks is the Muslim Gunmen were deeply offended by a series of satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that had been published a few years previously. One of the central tenants of Islam is that Muhammad cannot show any weakness, Muhammad cannot be humiliated. So the Gunmen inevitability react like they did. What separates Christianity from Islam is that Christianity is a religion of weakness rather than strength. Christianity grew through martyrdom rather than warfare. The whole central premise of Christianity is that God became weak. God entered into our sinful flesh. God suffered humiliation upon a cross to bring us salvation.
What Peter, James, and John were reminded on the mountain about the Transfiguration is that we as Christians are never defining God in the present, rather we are always looking ahead. We’re always looking towards Easter. We are always looking towards the Resurrection. Amen
 Let the record show that the Gospel text for this sermon is Mark’s account of the Transfiguration found in Mark 9:2-9.
 Matthew 14:22-33
 Matthew 14:13-21
 Mark 9:3
 Exodus 3
 2 Kings 1:1-18
 Matthew 17:14-20
 Genesis 1:3
 John 1
First Lesson: Isaiah 40: 21-31
Responsive Reading: Psalm 147: 1-11,20c
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 9: 16-23
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 29-39
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want you this morning to picture the type of person that you all know. Imagine the kind of person that can never say no to anyone. Visualize the type of person who wants everyone to like them. Think of the kind of person that is afraid to offend others with their opinions. You know the type of person who is willing to bend their principals as far as possible to avoid any potential conflict. Their names are probably on the tip of our tongues. We would call this type of a person a “people-pleaser”.
The people pleasers you know bring us to our lesson for today from 1st Corinthians 9. Our lesson centers on one man, the Apostle Paul. Paul wasn’t your typical people-pleaser. Paul had spent the first few decades of his life as anything but a people-pleaser. Paul was gruff, Paul was quick to anger, and Paul didn’t care whether certain people liked or disliked him. Persons in a former life knew Paul as Saul. Saul was the harshest critic and persecutor of 1st century Christians. Then one day, Saul’s whole life changes as he is blinded on the Road to Damascus. Paul’s experience on the road was truly life-changing. Paul was now the 500 LB guy running marathons. Paul was the guy set free from prison; wanting to tell everyone how awesome it was being outside. Paul went from killing Christians to seeking to convert new Christians. Paul traveled all over the world starting new churches. One of the places where Paul started a new church was in a town called Corinth.
Corinth was an important city. Corinth would have been one of the main centers of trade between Asia and Europe in the days that Paul lived. Corinth attracted people and ideas from all over the world, for this reason.
A church had started a few years before in Corinth. The church in Corinth was a mess. The Corinthians had numerous divisions within their midst. The Corinthians division was between the old guard loyal to Paul (the church’s founder) and the new guard loyal to the young, charismatic Apollos. The Corinthians argued about food, they argued about whether they could meat sacrificed to other gods; they argued about whether they had to eat certain diets to be followers of Jesus. The Corinthians argued about spiritual gifts and authority amongst their members; they argued whether God had given a select few the gift of tongues. The Corinthians argued over women’s roles within the church. The Corinthians argued over what it meant to live as a Christian. The Corinthians even had a reputation as a bit of a rowdy church. The Corinthians had members who wanted to sleep with everything under the sun. When the Corinthians got together for the Lord’s Supper chaos would reign, as certain members would attempt to drink all the wine before other members could get some. The Corinthian’s were even suing each other. Any church horror story that a person has maybe heard ties into the story of the Corinthian’s.
So Paul writes a letter to the Corinthian church with the hope of trying to sort out their myriad of problems. Within this letter comes the following passage from within the 9th chapter.
“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To the Gentile, I became like the Gentile. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. “
Let me put Paul’s words in modern terms to understand them. What Paul is saying is that if he walked into a room full of Republicans, he would talk and act like a Republican. But if Paul were to walk into a room full of Democrats twenty minutes later, he would talk and act like a Democrat. If Paul were to walk into a room full of Lutherans, he would talk about his faith like a Lutheran talking about his baptism. Whereas, if Paul were to walk into a room full of Baptists, he would speak of the day that he was saved. If Paul were to walk into a room full of Vikings fans, he would wear the Helga horns on his head. If Paul walked into a room full of Packer fans, he would wear a giant block of cheese upon his head.
Paul is saying these words as a way of reminding the Corinthians of the point of his letter “that there be no divisions amongst them”-1st Corinthians 1:10
People might hear Paul’s words and be unsure of his motives. They might assume Paul lacks principle. Paul being a flip-flopper though was not the point of this passage.
Paul was not like the insecure Junior High Student, who if their friends like a particular type of music, they will like a certain kind of music. If their friends like a particular type of activity, then they will like a certain type of activity. If their friends like to eat worms, well you can guess the rest. Our passage for today we can only understand in the context of the rest of Paul’s life and Ministry.
Paul did not go through life a popular guy. Paul was run out of towns, Paul was beaten by mobs, Paul was called all sorts of nasty names, Paul was thrown into jail, and Paul failed to reach all kinds of people.
Paul writes his letter to the Corinthians so he could let them know a little bit about his understanding of the church. Paul didn’t necessarily see the church inside the doors of it.
Let me tell a story, I have a friend whose name is Matt. Matt is a hospice chaplain in Las Vegas. One time Matt is assigned to go visit a patient. We know the type of gentleman, lonely, old angry bachelor who had just been given months to live. Matt tries to engage in a variety of subjects: his cancer, his family, his fear of death. Matt quickly discovers that he’s not going to get two words from this guy. The Guy soon finds out that Matt grew up in Cleveland and a Cleveland Indian fan. This guy had one request for Matt during his visits to come see him during Cleveland Indians games, so they could watch them together. This guy wanted nothing more in his dying days then just having someone to talk Baseball. Matt knew that this wasn’t what his bosses wanted him to do, yet Matt then began to consider “What exactly is ministry?” Once Matt got into the door with this guy, once this guy realized that Matt was on the level only then could the ministry begin.
Paul realizes that his personal calling is not to claim power for himself; rather Paul’s calling is to try to reach all kinds of people. Paul comes to realize that having knowledge of people’s lives doesn’t give him power, it rather gives him opportunity.
Let me tell a personal story. When I first entered the ministry, my Mom wanted me to start wearing clergy collar shirts. She was even going to pay for them! Mom saw these shirts as people in the days gone by see them as a sign of respect and authority within a community. So I buy a black shirt and a gray shirt. I would wear them occasionally. One time, I wore them for a Hospital visit at the Mayo Clinic and got free parking, so I thought this was a pretty good deal.
Where the problem arose is when I would do stuff out of town, I would usually have to run other errands. Let’s just say walking through Walmart, you could get some weird looks wearing a clergy collar. Clergy collars in a generation past were thought to make a person approachable, yet prying eyes seemed to indicate that I was anything but approachable. People often rightly or wrongly think a guy that wears a Vikings jersey on Sundays is often more understanding of their day to day struggles than the man who wears the weird collar. My goal within the Ministry has never been to attain a certain amount of power or respect, but rather build a particular type of relationship for the sake of the Gospel. Building relationships with all kinds of people was Paul’s goal for the church in Corinth.
So what is Paul saying to us today? Paul is approaching the situation in Corinth like any good politician would.
One Bible commentary that I was reading this week describe Paul’s words to the Corinthians well when it says “What we see here is Paul walking a tightrope, “blending sacrifice with reward, freedom with constraint, boasting with humility, law with love in order to optimize the Gospel”.
I had a roommate in college named Gabe. Gabe was a particularly colorful character. Gabe was a good guy, but Gabe didn’t care what others were going to think of him. Gabe would walk around campus eating rolls of cookie dough, which was funny since he weighed about 115 lbs. I asked Gabe one time why he wasn’t in class. Gabe said he needed to check his Fantasy Baseball lineup. Gabe would stay awake all night and sleep all day. People wouldn’t always know how to respond to Gabe.
Paul is telling the Corinthians that Gabe will be sitting next to you in church. Gabe’s way of doing things isn’t going to be your way of doing things. What the Corinthians needed to abandon was the mindset that too many modern people within the church have that God prefers the churched to unchurched, the rich to the poor, the faithful to the faithless.
The thing about being a community of faith that means anything is that it's not always going to be comfortable. People are going to wear obnoxious colognes, people are going to ramble on with their stories, and people are going to have all sorts of ideas that you can poke holes. These are the types of imperfect people that make up a church and the community that it's trying to reach.
Paul is attempting to get the Corinthians to reflect on what they stand for as a community of faith, what are their makes or breaks. For Paul realizes something that plagues the modern church- most people’s makes and breaks are trivial. What ultimately defines us is how the Gospel says that every single individual matters to God and this church. Right beliefs are essential, yet right beliefs only matter to the extent that we proclaim them to those around us.
Paul was a people-pleaser. Paul was a people-pleaser though with a purpose. Paul’s purpose was different than a lot of the other Corinthians purpose; Paul’s purpose was making the cross known. Paul’s purpose was reaching people from all walks of life, with a promise of forgiveness given directly to their ears. Amen
 Acts 9
 1st Corinthians 1:12
 1st Corinthians 8:1-13
 1st Corinthians 12:1-11, 1st Corinthians 14:1-25
 1st Corinthians 11:1-16
 1st Corinthians 6:12-20
 1st Corinthians 11:17-34
 1st Corinthians 6:1-11
 The following is a paraphrase of verses 20-22
 Crouch, Frank. L. “1st Corinthians 9:16-23”. Working Preacher. 2. Feb.2015. Web. Feb.4.2015
 This was inspired by a really good reflection entitled “Clergy Colllars: What Not to Wear” written by Sarah Condon over at Mockingbird (MBIRD) 29. Jan. 2015. Web. Feb.4.2015
 Mast. Paul. “Epiphany 5B: Lectionary Epistle” Center for Excellence in Preaching. Calvin Theological Seminary. 2. Feb. 2015. Web. Feb.5.2015
First Lesson: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20
Responsive Reading: Psalm 111
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 8: 1-13
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 21-28
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to talk this morning about one of the few Bible topics that everyone can identify with the topic of “food”; think of how much food dictates our lives. Imagine that you hear that later tonight for dinner, your favorite meal will be served. Chances are that you would spend that whole day eagerly anticipating the first few bites of that delicious meal.
Another thing worth noting about food is that food can cause disagreements amongst people. This year at Christmas, my sister Anne was coming up. Anne’s in her third year of law school and a yoga instructor. Anne chooses not to eat meat partly for health reasons and partly ethical reasons.
Whereas everyone who knows me well knows my favorite Christmas dish is Swedish meatballs made with 80/20 (because Zup’s doesn’t sell anything fattier!), half and half, and butter. So it’s safe to say I needed to help find Anne some alternative options to enjoy the Holiday season. These are the types of considerations that you want to make as a member of a family, regardless if you think the other family member is right or wrong.
This story sets up our second lesson for today that is dealing with the topic of food within the Bible. The Bible says quite a bit about food especially in the Old Testament. Leviticus 11 gives a huge laundry list of food that followers of the God of Israel should or shouldn’t eat. When it comes to birds don’t eat Eagle, Falcon, Ostrich, Owl, or Pelican, but you can eat clean birds such as Chicken or Turkey. When it comes to insects, most insects are no good for you, but Locusts and Grasshoppers are o.k. Fish are ok, but not Shellfish. When it comes to Mammals: do not eat Dog, Cat, Rabbit, Pigs (Pork), or Rats because they are unclean animals. Animals such as Ox, Sheep, Cattle, and Goats are good to eat. In case you were wondering, eating Snakes isn’t considered a good idea either.
The reason God gave a lot of these restrictions had to do with a certain animal’s diet and whether it made them safe for human consumption. In an age without food safety, and refrigeration God placed limits on what people should and shouldn’t eat. The Jewish people lived by these laws without much controversy for a number of generations.
Fast forward from the time of Moses to the time of Paul, a period of over 1500 years, in Israel’s history. There was a town named Corinth. Corinth was a sea port city in what is now Greece. Due to its location, Corinth attracted people and religions from all over the world. Corinth was the type of place that the Apostle Paul made a priority to start a church in the years after Christ’s resurrection.
The church in Corinth consists of two kinds of people. The first kind of persons was former Jews, the type who had strictly adhered to a particular diet since birth. The guys who knew what they believed and weren’t going to waver much. When you’ve held a belief for a long time, it’s not easily abandoned.
The second type of person within the church in Corinth was the new believers, those who previously held all sorts of strange religious beliefs before becoming Christians. There was going to be some tension between these people. One of the significant issues of division was going to be food. One of the most prominent debates within the Early Church on this very subject took place between Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
I should tell you something about meat within Corinth. Remember the key to the story is the lack of refrigeration in 1st century Greece. In these days, one of the ways, that meat would become readily available, is when non-Christians would have their religious festivals. Non-Christians would sacrifice a small portion of an animal to their own God, and then the rest would have to be sold at market quickly. Think of this as a special on steaks or ground beef or whatever you favorite meat at Zup’s after pagan sacrifices had been performed. Buying this meat used in non-Christian ceremonies created a problem.
Corinth was the pagan, worldly town of the high seas. Living in Corinth without seeing meat sacrificed to Idols would have been like living in Las Vegas without seeing any gambling. You can stick your head in the sand, but the issue will always be there.
So Paul is addressing the question of how to deal with this tainted meat, this is such an important issue to Paul that he spends three whole chapters 8-10 in 1st Corinthians discussing the matter.
How Paul addresses the argument is note-worthy.
Paul proclaims that whether the meat has been blessed at an altar of a non-Christian God is irrelevant.
Paul first of all figures that a piece of meat is a piece of meat. What you eat affects only your body; it doesn’t affect your relationship with God.
On the other hand, Paul realizes that not everyone is going to see this meat issue quite like he does. Paul recognizes this meat issue goes way beyond “I’m right” and “you’re wrong”. Paul personally believes that eating such questionably sacrificed meat is fine. Paul even thinks that Christians may eat previously banned foods like Pork and Shellfish. Paul realizes though that many former Jews they just haven’t come as far in understanding the Freedom of the Gospel. Whereas former Pagans might be uncomfortable with looking their old way of life in the face.
The issues that Paul talks about might sound silly or non-applicable to people living in Silver Bay in 2015. Paul's letter to the Corinthians has some very practical applications for our lives. I want to share some of these applications this morning.
A while back, I wrote an article for The Scroll on whether we should use “grape juice” or “wine” during Communion. Being an egghead, I only looked at the practice through the lens of how churches have traditionally understood the Lord’s Supper. I wrote about how grape juice wasn’t invented until the 19th Century due to fermentation issues. So we stopped offering a non-alcohol option on Sunday mornings. I then get sent a message from someone with alcohol recovery concerns asking if there could be a non-alcoholic option to use. I came to realize that I was wrong about this issue. I wasn’t wrong in my beliefs, where I was wrong was in their application. I was seeking to pastor by book work rather than by asking “What is good for my neighbor?”
Second story, my best friend from college is named Cody. Cody works as an associate editor of Model Railroader magazine. I was the best man in Cody’s wedding. I talk to Cody about every week on the phone. What you need to know about Cody and his wife Dorothy is that they are Wisconsin Synod. I’ve attended services at their church, and spoken with their pastor. I’ve got nothing but positives to say about these experiences. One time, though I attended a communion service. Within the Wisconsin Synod, the rule of thumb is that non-members don’t receive communion. The Wisconsin Synod has no gray area on this issue. For many people this would be a huge stumbling block, it would cause them to go around saying a bunch of nasty things about the Wisconsin Synod. As I attended Cody and Dorothy’s church service, this doesn’t bother me. Cody and Dorothy are fine people who live by a different set of values and understanding of Communion than I do. I’m confident enough in the promises of salvation given to me in Baptism that this doesn’t bother me.
For as long as there shall be a Christian church, there will be differences amongst believers. Our lesson for today isn’t so much about food, but rather how we handle all sorts of disagreements within our midst.
In just a few weeks, we will face the modern day issue that the Corinthian’s were facing at the beginning of Lent. Many Christians especially our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters choose to give something up for Lent. I know Lutheran pastors who enjoy this practice as a way of remembering Christ’s suffering on our behalf. I’m personally not a fan of this practice. My reasons for opposition are multi-faceted:
A. The scriptures never require such a practice. The lack of scriptural support doesn’t mean such a practice is wrong only we must acknowledge that it is neither required nor forbidden.
B. It seems to take the focus away from Christ and place it unto ourselves and our ability to endure for a number of weeks. I believe it’s a much healthier spiritual attitude just to admit that we can never begin to pay back or understand The Cross; rather we believe it as shear act of grace.
C. Perhaps, the biggest reason that I’m against the practice is that promotes a misunderstanding of the Christian life by making it about what we do rather than about what we do for our neighbors.
So I will not be giving up red meat or chocolate during Lent. I don’t feel the least bit guilty about making this confession before you like Paul felt free to eat meat sacrificed to idols. What I wish to acknowledge is that not everybody feels the same way that I do. I do not judge or look down upon others who give something up for Lent. I believe Luther would have been fine with Lenten disciplines, as long as one doesn’t require his or her fellow Christians to do the same. The Christian calling in this situation is one of respect towards the neighbor. I’m free to eat steak on Fridays during Lent, yet I shouldn’t go to the parking lot at Saint Mary’s to flaunt it before those who choose not to engage in such a practice. If I invite a Catholic out to dinner on a Friday night, I should find a place that serves Fish regardless of my personal feelings. Paul’s calling to the Church in Corinth is to respect the Christian Freedom of others different from you.
In just a few minutes, we will together as communities of faith receive our most sacred of meals in the Lord’s Supper. We will never approach the table together as a consensus amongst our community. For the inevitable nature of the Church is there will be issues of tension. We can enter into name-calling contests with our opponents; this ultimately does nothing to build up the Body of Christ. For if every person acted according to their desires all the time, the community of faith that we have would soon be no more.
Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again so that I will not cause him to fall."-1st Corinthians 8:13
What happens over time is things that we see as earth-shattering end up, not being as big a deal, just like the food controversy that plagued the Corinthians. If a community is too guided by any one individual’s power or presence then the whole community inevitability collapses unto itself. The Gospel sets us free from demands before God, yet the Gospel doesn’t set us free from our callings unto our neighbor. There will be those strong, and weak gathered together within our midst. We are called to build up rather than tear down, for this reason.
So our point for this morning is even if you think a vegetarian might be wrong, you should probably feed them a soy burger no matter how awful you might think it to be. Amen
 1st Corinthians 8:1-13
 Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14
 The Law was given for the protection of God’s people in the time in which they lived. Gerhard Forde and Martin Luther wrote about the need to re-write “the law” to fit our own times. Paul in Romans 6 makes the case that Christians are no longer under Old Testament because of Christ (Romans 6:14)
 Galatians 2:11-21 lays out the roots of the disagreement between Paul and Peter over food. It should also be noted that Acts 10:9-33 consists of Peter receiving a vision to not only welcome the Gentiles, but make all foods permissible to eat.
 Excellent commentary provided by Rick Morley entitled “Where’s the Beef” found at rickmorley.com written on January 17th, 2012.
 This point was well made by Dr. David E. Leninger in a sermon entitled “It’s Not What You Know” found at Lectionary.org that I found on January 27th, 2015.
First Lesson: Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 62: 5-12
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 14-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
NPR tells the story of a guy named Jason Comely1. Comely recalls one Friday night sitting in his apartment alone. Comely was trying to spend this Friday night distracting from his personal pain. Comely’s wife had left him a number of months earlier. She had found someone taller, richer and seemingly just all around better than Comely believed himself to be. Because of this rejection, Comely went through life, not wanting to interact with anyone. Comely feared interacting with strangers, especially women because he believed that they were going to hurt him just like his wife. This Friday night, Jason Comely just snaps. He breaks down crying, feeling devastated by the weight of the world. Comely though on this evening realized something that would eventually be life-changing.
Many of Jason Comely’s fears were irrational. If all that he had to fear was another person’s rejection, the worst thing that rejection was going to bring was leaving him exactly where he already was.
Jason Comely decides to challenge himself. He was going to get rejected by someone, nearly every day. He began this quest by going to his local grocery store, approaching a complete stranger to ask for a ride across town. The response was a predictable “no”.
Jason kept at it, day after day, looking to make an outrageous request to get turned down. “Barter for a discount before purchase” “Ask a stranger for a breath mint” “Ask an unapproachable girl on a date.” He soon figures that it isn’t a successful day unless someone turns him down. The change in approach changes Jason Comely’s life. He becomes much better at interacting with people because he becomes indifferent to their response.
Jason Comely eventually comes up with an idea to make a deck of cards with different challenges inviting rejection. Slowly, the rejection game becomes a cult phenomenon all over the world. What Jason learned from all this is something about the nature of fear?
We tend to overstate most fears. Think of the city slickers who visit the North Shore, who believe they’re going to get attacked by a bear after spending five minutes in the woods. Think of the media fear-mongering from such low-grade risks as Ebola or Swine-Flu. One of the easy things as human beings is to envision the worst case scenario.
You might think Jason Comely is a nut, you’re probably saying to yourself that you would never act like him. We’ll get back to why his story matters a little bit later this morning.
Today’s Gospel Lesson is a story that we all know2. It’s Jesus calling the first disciples in Simon Peter, his brother Andrew along with their friends James and John.
The thing that you need to know about this story is that Simon, Andrew, James, and John’s lives all revolved around fishing. We all know people like Simon, Andrew, James, and John. They fished all day, and their fathers probably fished all day. They probably envisioned the rest of their life being spent fishing all day.
You should probably know a little bit about where our scene for today takes place the Lake of Galilee. The thing about Galilee where Jesus lives is that looks nothing like Minnesota3. You don’t have a choice of lakes to fish; you are going to fish one lake in the Lake of Galilee. Fishing the Lake of Galilee was these men’s jobs and if they weren’t catching fish, then they were ending up like Jason Comely depressed and dejected on a Friday night.
Jesus notices these men as he is preaching along the lake shore. Jesus sees two boats with these men, washing their nets. Jesus knew their life needed to change. These men knew their life needed to change. So Jesus walks over to these men, steps into Simon Peter’s boat, and asks to be cast out a little way from the shore.
Jesus' request stumped Simon. Simon Peter was a professional Fisherman. Simon Peter had fished this lake his whole life; he knew all the best spots on it, where as Jesus was just some preacher dude.
Simon figured though what do I have to lose. So Simon casts down the net, and so many fish come into it that his net begins to break.
“Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”-Mark 1:17
For once the Disciples saw this miracle of fish there was no turning back. Sure, the Disciples could have come up with all sorts of legitimate reasons, not to act. Perhaps, tomorrow they would make it big like Forrest Gump in the fishing business, or perhaps their kids won’t know what to make of Dad always talking about God. Truth be told like Jason Comely, you can always find an excuse not to act.
For what the Disciples were being asked to do was not going to be easy. There were going to be times that they feared for their lives. Many of Jesus’ earliest followers would even die for their faith. The Disciples encountered all sorts of individuals to say “no” to them. They kept on keeping on.
I want you to picture an individual in your head this morning. I want you to picture the best salesman that you know. The one thing that makes any salesman great is they aren’t distraught by the possibility of hearing the word “no”.
For what prevents us from being great missionaries/evangelists is fear. We fear anger, we fear rejection. We keep this mindset, and things stay exactly the same.
This week, I read an article by writer Rod Dreher reflecting on the state of the church and the culture within America4. Dreher’s fears are that we are a generation or two away from American Christianity looking like European Christianity where few people identify as Christians and even fewer sit in a church on Sunday morning. It’s becoming increasingly uncommon where the children are more religious than the parents. Sychar Lutheran is not a unique church, the only real difference might be the time-frame.
We’ve heard the solutions before to follow the model of another church that is supposedly having success. The problem is marketing a church like any other business, takes away from its unique witness to the world around it.
Dreher’s suggestion is that we not that we need to blend Christianity into culture; we need to go radically against the culture.
Gerhard Forde was one of the most influential voices of American Lutheranism in the second half of the 20th century5. Forde wrote a famous article in 1987 where he stated that the future of American Lutheranism exists in being more radical about what we believe6.
We need to get on the mountain tops and proclaim Christ “dying” and “rising”. We need to say don’t come to this church because we can make your Sunday mornings a little bit better. We instead need to say that the old self and old way of life, the only way of life that you’ve ever known will be put to death. Only to proclaim that you shall rise in Christ as a new creation7. We don’t preach too much forgiveness as Christians; we often fail to preach enough forgiveness as Christians.
For we live in a nation that often gets the Christian religion wrong.
When I was working down in Lamberton, I knew a guy named Stan. Stan was an amateur clown. Stan had a neighbor who wasn’t a church-going man. Stan suggested that he watch our church service on public access, Wednesdays at 4. The man watches the service. During the service, I talk about how I personally don’t drink alcohol not for religious reasons but rather reasons of taste and health. Stan’s neighbor gets mad. I believe this guy liked to have a cocktail. He goes over to Stan to start yelling about his preacher. What he told Stan I said is that “Anybody who drinks is going to Hell”. Stan and this guy then started yelling at each other over the point of my sermon, and he got nowhere closer to any religious truth.
For this Man heard what he wanted to hear. He identified a problem within Christianity.
For Robert Farar Capon says it best “We’ve talked so loudly about should and shouldn’t s that it has eclipsed the forgiveness of sins”8.
I find that much of the opposition to Christianity has its roots in ignorance about Christianity. People often have too narrowing an understanding about Christianity. People like Stan’s neighbor have heard anything but the Gospel and use it to define Christianity.
For there will always be people out there who believe that they know a better way forward. We will not reach every soul, to whom we reach out.
Jesus himself said that there will be times that we just need to shake the dust off our feet and move on9.
“Those who think they are well do not go to a doctor”-Matthew 9:12.
So what can we do here as the people of Sychar Lutheran Church? We must be brutally honest about the world out there.
Too many people have this image of the American dream in their head. Life is supposed to look a certain way with an above-average wife and above-average kids. The thing is the world will break your heart. It might not happen for years, or it might happen way too soon. We must begin to claim this darkness as our own. We are an imperfect church, made for imperfect people.
The thing about rejection is Life will show it to you just like it had Jason Comely. What rejection does is point you to the day that you will hear that “Yes”, and it will sound like nothing that you’ve ever heard before in your life.
The reason that we evangelize is because The Cross is God’s yes, to our no. The Cross is God’s acceptance to our rejection, failure, sin, doubt, and despair. On that day on the Lake of Galilee, nets were breaking. The Disciples could have believed their situation was hopeless, yet it wasn’t. Christ was in their midst. Soon without knowing they would become Fishers of Men. Amen
1 Spiegel, Alix. “By Making A Game Out Of Rejection, A Man Conquers Fear.” NPR: Your Health Blog. 16.Jan.2015. Web. Jan.20.2015. An interview with Comely also took place on the second episode of NPR’s new show Invisiblia
2 This is the Year B text which is Mark 1:14-20. Other versions of this story are Matthew 4:18-22, and Luke 5:1-11.
3 Markquart, Edward. “Fishing for Christ: Gospel Analysis” . Sermons from Seattle. Life of Christ Course. Web. Jan.20.2015
4 Dreher, Rod. “Making Christianity Weird Again”. American Conservative. 18. Jan.2015. Web. Jan.20.2015
5 Further information about Forde can be found at www.crossalone.us
6 Forde’s article published in Lutheran Quarterly is entitled Radical Lutheranism. The point of this article is that we need to distungish Lutheran witness from various other forms of Protestantism. Lutheranism is so much an German/Scandavian ethnic movement, but rather a radical way of understanding the Gospel.
7 1 Corinthians 5:17
8 H.T. to my Facebook Friend and LCMS Pastor from Webster, Minnesota Donovan Riley on this one.
9 Matthew 10:14
First Lesson: 1 Samuel 3: 1-10 (11-20)
Responsive Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 6: 12-20
Gospel Lesson: John 1: 43-51
I want to tell you the story of your Baptism. Your Baptism took place on January 18th, 2015. It was an atypical North Shore winter with hardly any snow on the ground. You were surrounded by people that you know well: Mom, Dad, Uncle Joe, Grandma, and Grandpa.
You were also surrounded by people that you didn’t know very well before this day in the people of Sychar Lutheran Church. You see these people played a huge role in your Baptism.
They made a promise to walk alongside you, and support your Mom and Dad as you grew in years and your faith.
Many of the people that were at your Baptism are no longer with us. Don’t feel sad for them though! For they have undergone a different type of Baptism. In the words of the Apostle Paul, they were baptized into the death of Christ Jesus (Romans 6:4). In this Baptism, they received all the benefits of Christ’s resurrection unto themselves (Romans 6:5). In this Baptism, they received eternal life.
I am writing you this letter, Kinley, because many Christians misunderstand Baptism. Many Christians tend to view Baptism as a public exhibition as to your faith’s effectiveness. Baptism's effectiveness never centers though on anything that we do. You see your Baptism doesn’t promise you, a life without problems. Instead, what your Baptism promises you is that God will remain your God, and you will remain his child even in the midst of these problems. These promises are what we call “grace.”
Kinley, I don’t know what direction life will take you. I do know of a story that tells of your Baptism’s meaning. On the day of your Baptism, we read a passage from the scriptures about a child who we know from the time that he was just an infant like you in Samuel. On the day of your Baptism, we read from the story of Samuel and Eli.
The story starts out with Eli being a sad, sad man. Eli had a couple of sons named Phineas and Hopni, who were naughty kids. Eli’s sons’ bad behavior was so extreme that the Lord issued a curse that neither of Eli’s sons is around for his old age. Eli didn’t want the story to end this way.
Around this time, there lived a woman named Hannah. Hannah believed that it would be impossible for her to have any children. Hannah was desperate, so she went to see Eli. Eli, in spite of his sons was held in high regard. Eli was a judge, a ruler in one of Israel’s twelve tribes like Samson or Gideon, who you learned about in Sunday school. Hannah is so desperate for a child that she promises to dedicate her child to God if the Lord provides. After Eli gives Hannah a blessing; baby Samuel would be born. Hannah chooses to honor God by entrusting Samuel to Eli’s care.
You see Eli had been watching over Samuel’s life from before he was even born. No, differently than how God was watching over the people of Sychar as they formed as a community of faith in the years before your Mom and Dad even met. Samuel was left in Eli’s care; just like how the whole congregation assumed responsibility for your care on the day of your baptism.
Samuel’s life certainly took its twists and turns. Samuel saw his homeland enslaved by the Philistines; then Samuel rose up to lead Israel to victory against the most insurmountable of odds. Samuel shed plenty of tears in his life, Samuel experienced plenty of disappointment, and Samuel saw both wealth and poverty. Samuel saw bloodshed and peace. Samuel’s most famous life achievement was appointing a man named Saul to be the first King of Israel. Like you will, Samuel saw plenty of events where he couldn’t quite understand God’s role in it all.
This brings us back to the story of your Baptism and how people often get it wrong. You see too many people associate Baptism’s effectiveness with our response to it. Baptism is not a test given, but rather a promise extended. The best way, to understand Baptism, is to think of it as a “gift”. For what God does in Baptism is declare “You” Kinley to be his child. You don’t remember the day of your salvation, because you participated about as in it as the day you were “born”. This is why Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be “born-again” of both water and spirit.
We often can’t make sense of this. I’ve heard people claim that “Baptism” is too generous an event, that Baptism is too easy for “sinners.” The thing about Baptism is you can never be too generous with grace. Baptism works just like when you were an infant, you would lay in your crib all day, dependent on Mom and Dad meeting all your external needs from food to sanitation. This is just like how God acts within Baptism. We have no reason to have to protect the Lord from his own generosity. We merely give thanks for God’s goodness.
Kinley, as you go through life my wish, is that you remember the promises given unto you on the day of your baptism. The day that your sins were washed away (Acts 22:16, Titus 3:5-7), the day that you were incorporated into the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13), and the day that you were given a new garment to wear to remind you that from this day forth you will be clothed in Christ’s righteousness (Gal 3:26-27). What makes this such good news to hear is all these things that the Scriptures associate with Baptism are God’s doing never our own.
Kinley as you go forward in life. I wish for you to cling to the promises given to you in Baptism when times get tough. I pray that you draw comfort and peace from your Baptism being a hopeful event. Baptism says that your hope in this life shall come forth from the forgiveness given by a gracious God on this day.
In the Grip of Grace,
 The reading for this Sunday was 1 Samuel 3:1-20.
 This is basically the story of the Book of 1st Samuel which tells the story of Samuel from conception to the death of King Saul.
 Romans 3:24
 Further discussion of John 3 takes place in the 3-23-2014 sermon entitled “Born Againsm” that can be found on the Sychar website.
First Lesson: Isaiah 60: 1-6
Responsive Reading: Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14
Second Lesson: Ephesians 3: 1-12
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2: 1-12
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Today’s Gospel lesson tells us the story of the Wise Men. We know a little bit about the Wise Men, we know they came from the east, we know they brought three gifts, and we know they came to worship the Christ child. We don’t know much about the Wise Men beyond this. This morning, I wish to tell the Wise Men’s story.
One night some men were studying the stars like these men did every night. These men were known as “Magi”. Magi came from Persia where today Iran sits. You see several hundred years before the Birth of Christ; a man was born named Zoroaster. Zoroaster was the founder of a religion called Zoroastrianism known as the “Religion of the Stars”. Zoroaster’s followers would look to the sky every night as a way of trying to interpret the relationship between the movement of the stars and human events. We might know what these men do today as Astrologers. I don’t know what you think of horoscope readings. To understand the Magi’s story, you need to know that Astrology was a highly respected science in the days that Jesus lived. Hence, this was why people would call the Magi “The Wise Men.”
One night while gazing at the stars, the Wise Men saw something like they had never seen before. The Wise Men weren’t quite sure what to make of it at first. They didn’t know if it was an unusual alignment of the planets, whether it was a comet, or even whether it was a nova or an exploding star. This star rose, unlike anything the Wise Men had ever seen before in their lives. From where the Wise Men came, there was a significant belief about a rising star. Rising stars were thought to predict the birth of a ruler. The Wise Men witnessed the most important astrological sign of their life, so they decided to follow it for a thousand miles all the way to Jerusalem.
Once the Wise Men arrive at Jerusalem, they arrive at the palace of King Herod looking for answers. Considering these men’s esteemed role as scientists, Herod welcomes them into his presence wishing to find out details about the star they were following.
When Herod hears a child has been born who the Wise Men deem “The King of the Jews” he searches out answers. Herod had a great fright come over him upon hearing about the Messiah’s birth. Herod feared for his own throne. Herod did not think of the Messiah’s birth in religious terms.
Herod gathers together all the great religious scholars in the Chief Priests and Teachers of Jerusalem to find out where this child may have been born.
The scholars knew that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. The scholars knew the words of the Book of Micah written several hundred years before
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”- Micah 5:2-4
So Herod sent the Wise Men off to Bethlehem. Herod wishes for them to return to his presence, claiming to want also to worship the child. Herod's heart burns with jealously in wishing the child death.
As the Wise Men left Jerusalem, they still had no clue though how they were going to find this child within Bethlehem. Their despair quickly changes though when what appeared to be the same star they had seen months before appeared over them again. The Wise Men were “overwhelmed with joy”- Matthew 2:10. This star led the Wise Men to a house in Bethlehem where the child they were looking for laid.
Upon stepping foot, into the house, The Wise Men saw the child with his mother, Mary. The Wise Men’s reaction to this King of the Jews was interesting though. The Wise Men bowed down before him. What made this so interesting is that the Wise Men shouldn’t have cared about a King of the Jews. The Wise Men weren’t Jews themselves; this child wasn’t supposed to be born to be their king. The Wise Men become overwhelmed with reverence bowing down to this child as a sign of reverence and respect. A conviction that can't really be explained came upon the Wise Men at this moment that they were standing in the presence of a holy one of God.
The Wise Men then present Mary and Joseph with gifts. These weren’t going to be the standard gifts though of sheep and cattle. The Wise Men presented Mary and Joseph with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
I suppose I should tell you a bit about these gifts and how they figure in our story.
The first gift was gold. Gold was the gift that you gave to a King. You might wonder what ever happened to the gold since you never hear about Mary and Joseph being rich. You see Joseph shortly after the Wise Men’s visit has a dream. The dream says that he needs to take his family out of Bethlehem and fast. King Herod is going to be looking for his child to eliminate any potential threats to the throne. Joseph is going to take his family to the land of Egypt. The trip to Egypt though was going to be expensive. Imagine staying for a year in a country with no place to stay, no work, and a young child. The gold that the Wise Men gave was going to keep this child safe in the year ahead.
The second gift given was frankincense. Frankincense was what burned during temple worship as they were offering prayers up to the Lord.
The final gift was the gift of myrrh. Myrrh was an embalming oil used for funerals and cremations till about the 15th century. The Wise Men give this child myrrh to point to how his kingship would not be made known in life, but rather in death. The King was going to die, and then three days later rise again.
What else can we say about the Wise Men? We often assume that there were only three of them because of the three gifts. We really don’t know how many Wise Men were present; the traditions of their homeland often believe that there may have been up to twelve Wise Men that journeyed to see the Christ child.
We also often talk about the Wise Men as Kings as sang in a famous song. The reason people believe this is because the pages of the Old Testament speak of “all kings fall down before him”-Psalm 72:11. Magi within Persia weren’t kings, but more so advisors to kings.
We also don’t know quite how long after Jesus’ birth that the Wise Men’s visit took place. Scholars debate this from being anywhere from a few months to a few years. King Herod would soon instruct that all boys under the age of two be put to death in Bethlehem. Herod though with his unchecked power probably wasn’t the most likely to show great restraint in whom he killed.
So what happens after the Wise Men leave Bethlehem? Christians from all over Asia began to claim the Wise Men as their own. Pakistan, Mongolia, China, Russia, Arabia all had their Christian communities claim to be descendants of the Wise Men. When famous benevolent kings rose up within these lands; they were thought to be descendants of the Wise Men. Rumors like this can only lead one to conclude that as the Wise Men journeyed back home on a different route from which they came, they reached people with the birth of the Christ-child. The Wise Men became some of the church’s first evangelists. In the year 1270, the explorer Marco Polo claimed to have seen the Wise Men’s bodies lying in the grave, uncorrupted on a visit to their homeland to the city of Tehran.
Other parts of the Christian Church though forgot the story about the Magi. Christians and Astrologists became bitter enemies from the Church’s earliest days. As Christianity spread throughout the empire, Astrologists like the Magi became increasingly denounced as quacks. Perhaps that is why in decades after their visit they were no longer known as “Magi” but rather “Wise Men” or “Kings”.
The Magi were strange men, with strange beliefs, with a strange way of life. The Christ child brought them into his presence. This child was going to bring in all sorts of people no matter how others may have regarded it.
When Matthew wrote his gospel telling the Wise Men’s story, it would be deemed “The Jewish Gospel”. Matthew wrote his Gospel to hardline Jews whose whole way of being in the Roman Empire was their adherence to tradition. The Wise Men stood far outside this tradition. Matthew tells this story to illustrate how the Wise Men would usher in a new age of religion, a religion that would be open to all comers regardless of background or levels of brokenness.
The thing about the story of the Wise Men is we often get it wrong by making it about how they went forth to Bethlehem to show praise for the Christ-child. Instead the story is really about God bringing forth these unique men to see the picture of their salvation.
This is the story of the Wise Men. Amen
 This section of the story was inspired by Markquart, Edward. “The Wise Men: Gospel Analysis”. Life of Christ Course. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Jan.5.2015
 This bit of knowledge was discovered by researcher Anders Hultgard in his 1998 writing “The Magi and the Star: the Persian background in texts and iconography”. This was discovered on the Wikipedia article on the Biblical Magi. “Biblical Magi”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 4. Jan.2015. Web. Jan.4.2015.
 Matthew 2:1-2
 Matthew 2:3
 Matthew 2:4
 Matthew 2:8
 Matthew 2:10
 Matthew 2:13-18
 This is one of several traditions as to what happened with the Wise Men receiving the gift of gold. I use this story because it makes the most sense.
 This tradition has rose up in Syraic Churches which tend to actually bestow upon the Wise Men “Persian Names”.
 There is no such thing as a uniform tradition about the Wise Men. It’s worth nothing that the Wise Men play a prominent role in several different Asian Christian Traditions. “Biblical Magi”. Wikipedia
 Matthew 2:12
 This account from the journals of Marco Polo is also found in the Wikipedia article on the Magi.
 This background on the Wise Men’s origins in connection to Matthew’s Gospel was inspired by Bowen, Dr. Gilbert W. “Transcending the Tribe”. Lectionary.Org. Web. Jan.5.2015
First Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 7-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20
Second Lesson: Ephesians 1: 3-14
Gospel Lesson: John 1: 1-18
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”- John 1:1
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I was at Luther Seminary, I took a class where the goal was to help us articulate our beliefs about Jesus. The professor of this course proceeded to announce that he didn’t believe the story of the Virgin Birth. He continued to try to explain the Virgin Birth story a few different ways. He believed that the scriptures possess this story merely to indicate that Jesus’ birth was unique. He believed that one didn’t have to believe in the Virgin Birth as a matter of salvation. He believed that we can’t minimize Joseph’s role in Jesus’ life as a Jesus’ father.
My radar immediately went off after he said these words. I can’t explain my visceral reaction. Someone questioning the Virgin Birth was not the first time during college or seminary that I heard the teachings of the historic Church questioned. I honestly believe that was set me off was an innate understanding that we can't separate the Virgin Birth from the uniqueness of Jesus’ being. How Jesus was not merely a man, how in the words of our Gospel lesson for today the Word became flesh and dwelt among us1. The Virgin Birth is the means by which the one who was present at the creation of the world assumes human form.
So I proceeded to write a paper trying to set out why I needed to prove my professor wrong. Any student going for a grade knows this is a terrible idea.
I get the paper back; this is a long paper (longer than any sermon). As I read the paper, the Professor’s response was unusual. The Professor would respond to every point of argument that I made on this paper in depth in red ink. The side margins of the paper contain hundreds of words of red ink. The back of the pages possess nothing but red ink. My essay produced other essays in response.
I get my professor’s angle. He attended Harvard. He wanted to be taken seriously as an intellectual when he attended cocktail parties. Serious thinkers don’t hold to such impossible events as the Virgin Birth.
What I say about the topic this morning is the Virgin Birth is that we must always defend it. Apart from the Resurrection there is arguably no more critical belief in the entire Christian faith. One can quibble with how we can interpret certain Bible verses? One can debate the relationship between religion and science? The discussion over the Virgin Birth touches on the question of whether “Jesus is really God?”
So how would I respond to my Professor’s arguments about the Virgin Birth?
Argument A: The Virgin Birth merely meant to show that Jesus was special.
Special in what way, I don’t get. If Jesus comes into the world like every other human being born before and after him, then he is really not special in any unique way. The specialness of Jesus comes from the Virgin Birth. Jesus could have come to Earth as a fully formed adult, but then he would not be one of us, if he lived a life without diapers. Jesus could have been born as billions of people before or after him as a byproduct of the normal birds and bees, yet this doesn’t make him God.
Argument B: Belief in the Virgin Birth is not necessary for salvation.
The Professor was right, yet wrong at the same time. The Professor was right that because of sin, none of us is ever able to believe rightly. We don’t want to claim that we are the only true church or pure church. I will freely admit that there are beliefs I hold that might be proven wrong at the gates of Heaven. Saying something is unnecessary for salvation shouldn’t cause us to just casually dismiss it.
Grace says that we will not always believe rightly; grace does not give us carte blanche permission to dismiss Biblical ideas that do not mesh with our “world views”. We must also state that the Virgin Birth has been a part of the faith of the church since its earliest days.
A while back, the Jehovah Witnesses stop by me house. They proceed to tell me for 20 minutes how all Christian churches have been led astray over the years. My response to all this ranting was to ask them about the Holy Spirit? What I said is “Why would the Holy Spirit abandon his church to damnation?” The Jehovah Witnesses were not arguing with me on this day; they were rather arguing against the Holy Spirit when they denounce all Christian churches as holding false beliefs. Since the Church does not belong to us, we will never have permission to assume ownership casually over it.
Argument C: We can’t minimize the importance of a Father within Jesus’ life.
A number of years ago, Basketball player Shaquille O’ Neal made rap music on the side. Shaquille O’ Neal never knew his father. Shaq’s dad had been imprisoned for drug possession when Shaq was an infant. Shaq’s mom marries a guy named Phil. Phil raises Shaq. The biological father wants no role in Shaq’s life until seeing him dominate in a high school all star game. Shaq gets mad; Shaq eventually writes a rap about how Phil is his father, because his biological didn’t bother2.
We should not assume fatherhood in such black and white terms. Joseph had a significant role in Jesus’ life because he was placed in such a role. Joseph’s role is no different then the important role that Phil enters into in Shaq’s life despite providing nothing to Shaq’s conception. Joseph was not a typical father, as there are plenty of non-typical fathers out there. Fatherhood is not merely about a father’s role in conception. Fatherhood is rather about the role that a father plays in influencing their children, no matter how fathers enter into these lives. Understanding Joseph in this way seems to be a much more meaningful understanding of the role of Joseph than purely thinking about it in terms of his role in the conception.
Blogger Nadia Bolz-Weber made a good point in regards to this whole Virgin Birth that “Christians must admit that our faith is going to sound preposterous to those who don’t believe3?” This guy rose from the dead after three days seriously? We will always fight a losing battle when we engage with people who try to make the Virgin Birth a matter of biological probability. Yes, we know that children do not get made without sperm. We admit that science questions only lead to science answers4.
Instead, what we believe is that the Virgin Birth is a unique act of God coming into our world. The thing about the Virgin Birth is that we cannot separate it from the mystery of how God could ever come into our world; we cannot and will not ever be able to explain this. We merely say how a Virgin Birth happens is God’s doing, and not for us to know ultimately.
Our Gospel lesson today is the beginning of the Gospel of John5. John’s Gospel doesn’t begin with the tale of the Virgin Birth. Instead what John’s Gospel communicates in its beginning is that Jesus’ birth was not his beginning. Jesus has been here since the beginning of time itself.
Our lesson ties in the Virgin Birth with the story of creation. To understand our lesson for today from John 1 think in terms of what we do know about Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden, how they fell into sin, eating some rotten fruit. The whole of creation falls apart after that.
One of the most popular Christian funerals hymns that we all know is “In the Garden”. People like this romantic image of the Kingdom of Heaven being compared to a garden.
What you maybe don’t know is the whole meaning behind the famous scene from Luke 23 where Jesus talks to the Thief on the Cross to mouth his famous words ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise6”.
Paradise comes from the Persian word for “garden”. If you think of what Jesus is saying as ‘Today you shall be with me in the “garden’, what Jesus is saying “the Thief” shall be with him on the day of humanity’s restoration. Jesus is referring to the day that sin and death shall be wiped from the face of the earth forever.
How this ties into the Virgin Birth is the Virgin Birth’s purpose is God saying that although sin came into this world, I am going to reverse it by bringing forth forgiveness. The Virgin Birth is God taking a do-over for the sake of a fallen world7.
As we talk about the Virgin Birth, I should also make brief mention of the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception is the idea that Mary’s birth comes as a result of a virgin mother. The Immaculate Conception says that Mary’s birth came without sin. I think the problem with Mary being born of a virgin is that it probably requires her mother Saint Anne also experience birth from a virgin, and so and so on until the beginning of time.
My intention is not to bad-mouth Catholic devotion to Mary. I believe that we should honor Mary as we do all other mothers. Mary was called forth by God with a particular, unique purpose. The issue with the Immaculate Conception is that it makes Mary almost more God-like than human. Mary’s unique from all women because of her role in Jesus’ life; Mary is not unique from all women because she possesses any additional super-powers in child-bearing that other women do not own8.
During the Virgin Birth debate period that took place during my second year of Seminary. There was a lawyer in this class named Roger. Roger wasn’t just a run of the mill lawyer though. Roger would frequently appear on the Twin Cities “best lawyers” lists. Roger knew how to frame an argument and also how to respond to an argument. Roger would take the opportunity to denigrate the Virgin Birth at every chance he got.
I remember asking Roger the lawyer one day the following question “If you believe that there is a God up there who created the Heavens and the Earth? Why don’t you believe that this God is capable of intervening in his creation as he sees necessary even in the form of a Virgin Birth?”
Roger sits there for a couple moments thinking; when Roger finally admits that he had no counterpoint to the argument?
This breaks down the whole question of the Virgin Birth of whether our faith possess a God worth following that can resolve the problems of sin in our daily life? The Virgin Birth is a debate over whether our God is a worthless being?
The reason that the Virgin Birth is so essential to defining the Christian religion is because Christianity centers on the issues of life and death or death and resurrection. If we believe that Jesus couldn’t have come into this life in miraculous fashion then why should we possess any confidence that Jesus could overcome death in extraordinary fashion?
A God that cannot intervene in Life and Death we should abandon. Take miracles away from Christianity then Christianity is merely a system of moral beliefs from people who might know or not know about what they are talking. Christianity then is just one of many options claiming to have discovered the truth on Oprah Winfrey’s couch.
The Virgin Birth illustrates that Christianity centers upon God coming down to Earth for the sake of our own salvation. God doesn’t do his part, and then we do ours. God did it all for our sake upon a cross. We are merely mortal, we march towards death like the sheep before the slaughter9, yet the Lamb of God came forth to this earth to die and rise again. The Virgin Birth shows that there is a way forward for even if it might seem to be biologically impossible. Christianity is a religion of miracles; it’s a religion that claims that this life is not always going to be how we see it today. Amen
1 John 1:14
2 “Biological Didn’t Bother” rapped by Shaq in 1994 can be found on You Tube.
3 Bolz-Weber, Nadia. “The Virgin Birth: Fact, Fiction, or Truth?”. Sarcastic Lutheran: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner&Saint. Patheos. 17.Dec.2014. Web. Dec.24.2014
4 M. James Sawyer.“The Virgin Birth: Why It is Important”. Parchment and Pen: Credo House Blog. 12. Dec.2011. Web. Dec.24.2014
5 John 1:1-18
6 Luke 23:43
7 M. James Sawyer.“The Virgin Birth: Why It is Important”.
8 Bolz-Weber’s article provides excellent commentary also on the Immaculate Conception.
9 Romans 8:36
First Lesson: Isaiah 9: 2-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 96
Second Lesson: Titus 2: 11-14
Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 1-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Author Barbara Robinson tells the tale of the Herdman children1. We all know kids like the Herdmans. The Herdmans were the type of kids that Mom didn’t want you to play with growing up. The Herdmans were unsupervised children who traveled all over town creating mischief. You think of something that a kid would do to get in trouble then the Herdmans probably did it. The Herdmans lied; they stole, they swore, and they even set fire to their neighbor’s’ tool shed. Teachers kept passing the Herdmans along in school, because no teacher would ever want to put up with two Herdmans at the same time.
One day though one of the Herdmans (Leroy Herdman) hears something that changes his life forever. Leroy hears from one of his classmates that they could get all the free desserts that they ever wanted if they went to church. The Herdmans begin to show up at church every Sunday. Church didn’t initially change the Herdmans though; their behavior remained as rough as ever. The Herdmans would take from the offering plate as it was passed in front of them, they stole and drank all the wine from the Communion jug, and they even smoked cigars in the church bathroom.
The troubles between the Herdmans and the church were just beginning though; soon casting would begin for the church’s annual Christmas pageant. Most of the kids were bored by this, figuring it was the same story with the same people in the same parts every year. This year would be different though as the Herdmans wanted to take part. The Herdmans landed all the parts through the only ways they knew how in bullying and intimidation. All the characters from Joseph to the Wise Men to Angels were going to be played by Herdmans. The most interesting casting choice though was the meanest Herdman of them all in Imogene Herdman was going to be playing Mary.
The whole church gets in an uproar upon hearing this news. No one was going to dare to let their infant play Jesus so that he could be taken care of by the rough and tumble Herdmans. Everyone in the church assumes that the Christmas pageant starring the Herdmans will be a disaster.
The evening started off according to predictions as the Herdmans went off script, not knowing the Christmas story all that well. The Wise Men thought the gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh were stupid, so they decided to bring the Baby Jesus a “Ham” instead they received from the church’s welfare basket. Mary starts burping a “baby doll” just like it a real baby. The Wise Men fail to exit the stage at the proper time. The Angel gets mad at the audience so to get them to quiet down starts yelling “Unto to you a child is born.”
Something happened though over the course of the pageant, and it was the most unlikely of outcomes. The Herdmans begin to get the meaning of the Christmas story. The Herdmans begin to realize that this birth about which they knew nothing was special. Mary shocks the audience when she begins to cry on stage. Mary played by Imogene Herdman had dealt with years of feeling broken not quite right with the world. It was on stage that Imogene became overwhelmed by the depths of God’s love for her. The meanest of girls had come to realize the meaning of grace. The meaning of grace is that God forgives even when we might be unable to forgive ourselves.
The Herdmans story is a humorous portrayal of the Christmas season, the idea of the rough and tumble being at the center of God’s story has some basis in reality.
Let’s look at the main characters in our Christmas story for tonight as we see how they’re not that different from the rough and tumble Herdmans.
Let’s start with the Shepherds. Shepherds did not possess high esteem in the days that Luke wrote his gospel. Shepherds were considered to be one step above the sheep that they took care. No one desired to be a shepherd. Shepherds spent their nights lying in the field, where food was often lacking. The role of shepherd tended to fall to the youngest and weakest son. The shepherd was the son who wasn’t going to receive any land out of the father’s inheritance. Being a shepherd was a job that tended only to appeal to the anti-social. Being a shepherd only made sense if you had no desire to have children on your own. Shepherds were the type of family members that every year, you hoped would finally get their act together.
Let’s look at Joseph. Joseph was a mere common laborer, a carpenter more of a grunt than a master builder. Joseph’s bank account probably had very little in it. Joseph’s contributions to the synagogue were probably quite meager. Joseph was such a sub-standard provider for Mary that he didn’t even have a safe place for her to give birth.
Finally, we get to Mary. Mary was merely a girl about the age of thirteen. Mary didn’t stand out from the crowd in that she was no great beauty, no great talent, or didn’t even possess extraordinary piety. Mary even lacked any sort of socially acceptable explanation for her pregnancy2.
These were the people that were the cast of characters at the scene of the Lord’s birth. If you took a photo of this scene to put on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, people might have pictured this baby’s birth as evidence of all that is wrong with society.
Perhaps there is something to say for Jesus being born amongst the people who most desperately need him.
What we can take from our message tonight is that we know the Shepherds, we know Mary and Joseph, and we know the Herdmans. To all these people a savior has been born on this evening.
The thing about the Herdmans is their role had a genuine skepticism attached to it by people who had experienced them before, people who couldn’t believe that the future could be different3.
The future is different. At the center of our story tonight is a helpless baby. Tonight, we hear a story of how God became powerless, how the word became flesh to dwell among us4.
Martin Luther one time gave a sermon on Christmas and the Shepherds roles within it when he explained the Holiday quite well. I read Luther’s words on this evening.
“The Christian faith is foolishness. It says that God can do anything and yet makes himself so weak that either his Son had no power or wisdom or else the whole story is made up.”… “If I had come to Bethlehem and seen it, I would have said: ‘This does not make sense. Can this be the Messiah? This is sheer nonsense.’ I would not have let myself be found inside the stable5.”
What we hear tonight is that God came into the world amongst those living at the bottom of it. The Angel announced Christ’s birth to the very people you wouldn’t have expected to hear it.
What this background says as we gather here on this night is that some force is bringing us together here. I believe that the Lord has led you here: whether you were nagged or attended out of “family obligations”. The Lord led you here tonight so you may see that Christmas matters because The Cross and Resurrection matter. Christmas matters because “New Life” has been breathed into an old and dying world at a manager in Bethlehem. Amen
1 Robinson in 1971 wrote The Best Christmas Pageant Ever published by Harper& Row. The Best Christmas Pageant ever serves as the motivation for this evening’s sermon. H/T to my mom Joan Carlson a retired middle school English teacher from North Branch, Minnesota for giving me this sermon idea.
2 This description of the Holy Family was inspired by an article written by Matt Fitzgerald published over at The Christian Century on December 19, 2014 entitled “God among the imperfect”.
3 An excellent faith-based commentary on The Best Christmas Pageant Ever can be found at classbookworm.wordpress.com published on December 24,2012.
4 John 1:1-18
5 These quotes were found in an article published by David Zahl at mbird.com (Mockingbird) in an article entitled “Martin Luther on Christmas” published on December 14th, 2010. These Luther quotes come from a Christmas sermon on The Shepherds.
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.