First Lesson: 1 Kings 21: 1-10, (11-14), 15-21a
Responsive Reading: Psalm 5: 1-8
Second Lesson: Galatians 2: 15-21
Gospel Lesson: Luke 7: 36 - 8:3
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin with a story about with story about Grandma. Grandma was one-time hosting a dinner party. Grandma put out her best napkins, finest china, and the sterling silver. Grandma then invites the guests to gather around the table. Everyone wondered what Grandma was going to serve? Grandma proceeds to place boxes of Girl Scout cookies on everyone’s plate. People were unsure how to react. The answer to what would be the main course on this day people would soon receive as Grandma proceeded to sit down and open up her box of cookies. Now what I love about Grandma is I know very few people who would ever think of doing what she did here. Grandma always keeps people guessing. Grandma refuses to look at the world like other people look at the world. What I want to talk about today is why our judgments of “How the world should work?” often need to be abandoned especially when it comes to forgiveness.
Many of us know the story of a woman that I’ll call Sarah that lived in a town in Samaria called Sychar. Sarah had been married five times before and was now living with another guy. Sarah was one day out fetching water when she encountered Jesus. Sarah and Jesus meeting each other would have been a scandal on three different levels. 1. Jesus was going to be talking to a woman that wasn’t his wife. Such a form of outreach would have been unheard of for a religious leader within Jesus’ day. 2. Sarah was a Samaritan, Samaritans and Jews were long-standing rivals. Samaritans were considered to be “sell-outs” or “phony” Jews on account of their marriages to a foreign woman and worship of foreign gods. 3. Besides being a Samaritan, Sarah had an extremely questionable reputation besides this. There would have been no reason other than grace for Jesus to interact with Sarah from Sychar. Sarah’s past didn’t stop Jesus from offering her “living water” which sprung forth from the spring of forgiveness. We know this story of Sarah. But maybe what we haven’t considered is what happened to Sarah after she encountered Jesus. Did Sarah backslide in her relationships and her faith? Did Sarah maybe get married a few more times? How did people respond to Sarah after she encountered Jesus?
What I want to do this morning is tell you the story of a woman who very well could be Sarah. I want to tell you the story of a lady who had nowhere to turn in the world until she encountered Jesus. A woman who was so moved by her previous encounter with Jesus that she had to see him again. She would even go so far into break into a dinner party uninvited to see him. I want to tell you the story of the sequel to the woman at the well in Sychar.
Simon was a successful and serious man. Simon never missed a Sabbath day at the synagogue. Simon was generous towards others with his income. Simon’s language was always wholesome. Simon was never a drunkard. Simon was a good and faithful husband. Even those who knew Simon best couldn’t say anything bad about him. Simon had heard about Jesus and wanted to invite him over to dinner. Simon’s invitations because of his place in the community where always accepted. Sure, Jesus was becoming quite well-known as he joined Simon for dinner. Word had been spreading about him raising The Widow of Nain’s son throughout the countryside.
As Jesus walked into Simon’s house, though, he noticed something about Simon’s greeting. Simon was friendly, but Simon was cold. Simon offered no sort of embrace or touch towards Jesus. Simon was failing to make eye-contact. Simon didn’t offer Jesus any traditional amenities given to guests such as a basin to wash his feet or oil to wash his hands. Simon was acting like he was the one doing Jesus a favor by inviting him over for dinner.
On the other side of town was a woman like Sarah from Sychar. The woman with the questionable past heard that Jesus was eating at Simon’s house. She was impulsive and decided that she had to see Jesus right away to “thank him” for what he had previously done for her. She like Grandma didn’t tend to do things though the way that ordinary people do things. She wasn’t going to wait for the next day. She wasn’t going not to make a dramatic scene. She was going to break into Simon’s house uninvited. She was going to fall at Jesus’ feet. She was going to pour ointment upon these feet, and she was going to dry these feet with her hair. Simon would watch this whole scene in shock.
Simon would never dare to have a woman like Sarah from Sychar in his house. Simon was embarrassed in front of his friends. Simon looked at this woman and saw a mess. Her wardrobe was showing off in Simon’s mind too much skin. Simon looked at this woman’s behavior and deemed her to be nothing but a “sinner” with criminal tendencies.
Jesus had to say something now to Simon. Was Simon wrong in his assessment of the woman like Sarah from Sychar? No, but there was more to this story then Simon was considering.
Jesus started talking about money. Jesus talked about money quite a bit because he knew people like successful Simon would understand it.
A certain creditor had two debtors, one owed five hundred days wages, and the other fifty days wages. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now, which of them will love him more?”
The whole scene in our story from earlier begins to make sense finally with Simon being so cold to Jesus and the woman like Sarah from Sychar being so warm. Simon understood the meaning of Jesus’ words regarding the depths of forgiveness.
Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he, who is forgiven little, loves little.
And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
You see forgiveness is not conditional; forgiveness is final. We can’t grasp the unconditional because everything else in the world is seemingly conditional. The same terms for Simon and Sarah from Sychar, it just doesn’t make any sense.
Frank Lloyd Wright is considered to be the greatest American architect ever. What you might not know about Wright is his career contains more twists and turns than you could imagine for someone of his status. From the years of 1924-1933, Wright’s career fell apart. Wright was unemployed after having been at the top of his profession. The only person that would hire him was his cousin. Wright was struggling to buy groceries. What happened was Wright took advantage of everyone he came across, because he believed that he was so talented that he could. In the year 1932, Wright decided to undertake a complete change in philosophy as Wright took in more apprentices to assist him. After Wright had come to terms with his weakness, his career began to turn as he begins to work with others in designing the Fallingwater house which is considered the greatest triumph in American Architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright was in many ways like Simon. Lloyd Wright couldn’t shake from his head that he was better than those around him by his accomplishments. The biggest problem with Lloyd Wright’s thinking though is pride ultimately does cometh before the fall. Falls are inevitable. What forgiveness says to us though is there can be a way forward.
When Thomas Edison was working on the light bulb, there is a story that you might not know. The light bulb in its initials stages was such a complex project that it took a team of men twenty-four hours to put it together. When the first working version got completed, Edison handed it to a young boy helper to take it up the stairs. The helper had spent hours watching the team work together and feared to let Edison down. As the helper walks up the steps, his worst possible scenario becomes reality. He dropped the light bulb, and it broke upon the floor. Edison’s team has to start the process over again for another twenty-four hours. What’s interesting though about the story is not that the light bulb broke, it’s rather “Who do you suppose Edison had carry the bulb up the steps next time?” Who was more grateful either the one who owed five hundred days wages or the one who owed fifty days wages? Who was more grateful Sarah from Sychar or Simon?
You see forgiveness truly does have the power to change the world. In 2012, Chandler Gerber was driving down a remote Indiana Highway on the way to work. Gerber figured that he was safe to text his wife. Gerber didn’t see the Amish buggy on the road ahead of him causing a crash at 60 mph. The scene was bad: the crash destroys the buggy, the horse was injured, and a three-year-old and a five-year-old child were dead. Weeks after the accident Gerber received a letter from the deceased children’s parents which I read this morning:
Trusting in God's ways, how does this find you? Hope all in good health and in good cheer. Around here we're all on the go and trying to make the best we can. I always wonder if we take enough time with our children. Wishing you the best with your little one and the unknown future. I think of you often. Keep looking up. God is always there.
Martin and Mary Swartz.
For many people such a response is unfathomable. Who did Chandler Gerber think that he was? How ignorant are Martin and Mary Swartz? The thing though is we often get forgiveness wrong. We too often believe forgiveness as being a form of weakness. If Simon compared himself to Sarah from Sychar, then he has to admit that he’s just as messed up as she is. Forgiveness though is not about weakness; forgiveness is rather about hope and promise. Forgiveness is about extending a claim that the past does not have absolute power over your life. Once Sarah from Sychar encounters Jesus, her life was never going to be the same again because Jesus sought to take away the past’s power. Forgiveness says the world will not remain full of poison and despair forever. Forgiveness ultimately points us towards the cross. Forgiveness gives life to the dead. A woman at the well in Sychar was spiritually dead; Jesus gave unto her living water. Simon couldn’t make sense of this until Jesus offered him that same water too. Amen
 Church Tradition has never identified the identity of the “sinful woman” from Luke 7. Common tradition has identified her with Mary Magdalene. Less common tradition associates this woman with the woman taken in adultery from John 8. My version of the story is more creative tying this woman in with the Sychar woman.
 Text study courtesy of Markquart, Ed. “Anointing of Jesus’ Feet with Oil: Gospel Analysis.” Sermons from Seattle. Pentecost 3C. Web. June.7.2016.
 Markquart, Ed. “Anointing of Jesus’ Feet with Oil: Gospel Analysis.”
 Luke 7:41-42
 Luke 7:48
 Luke 7:50
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take. Penguin Books. New York. 2013. Print. P.67-72.
 Grant, Adam. Give and Take.
 Zingale, Tim. “are forgiven”. Sermon Central. 11. June.2007. Web. June. 7.2016.
 Zingale, Tim. “are forgiven”.
 Pomeroy, Ross. “The Power of Forgiveness.” Real Clear Science:The Newton Blog. 27. Aug.2013. Web. June.7.2016.
 This letter was read in the You Tube video entitled “From One Second to the Next” by Werner Herzog placed online on Aug.7.2013.
 Pomeroy, Ross. “The Power of Forgiveness.”
 Pomeroy, Ross. “The Power of Forgiveness.”
First Lesson: Isaiah 43: 16-21
Responsive Reading: Psalm 126
Second Lesson: Philippians 3: 4b-14
Gospel Lesson: John 12: 1-8
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story this morning of the most dramatic events that I have ever witnessed. I was at a Basketball game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks at Target Center. I couldn’t tell you who won this game. But I will always remember what I saw on that night. During one of the timeouts, the Timberwolves mascot Crunch was standing in the middle of the court staring at a giant, wrapped box. What was inside the box? I had no idea at the time. When out of nowhere came running in Bango the Buck the Milwaukee Bucks mascot. Bango grabs the box and runs off with it in the process being chased by the Timberwolves mascot Crunch. Pretty soon, Bango and Crunch are out of sight. Half a quarter or nearly fifteen minutes of time passes without a resolution. All of sudden, flashing lights come strolling down upon Crunch chasing Bango throughout the arena still carrying a giant box. Bango soon stops and pushes Crunch down a flight of steps. Bango stops in front of a young woman. Bango gets down on one knee. Bango takes off his head. You can all guess what type of ring was in the box. Now people could ask all sorts of questions about this event. Was it necessary proposing this way necessary? Probably not. Was it practical or cheap? No. Are Bango and Mrs.Bango still happily married? I have no idea. All I know is that Bango the Buck was going to stop at nothing to take a bride.
Today’s Gospel lesson is another tale of someone acting exuberant or a little bit nutty in the wake of the moment. Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead. All sorts of people were excited about this as the news began to spread. Many came to believe in Jesus because of it, whereas others started to plot his death. So shortly after Lazarus’ raising, Lazarus, his two sisters (Martha and Mary) and Jesus sit down for dinner. What happened at this dinner would set the stage for Jesus’ ministry in the days ahead.
There are two key characters in this interaction. The first character is Mary. We know a little bit about Mary from another prominent story in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus had dinner at Mary and Martha’s house previously. What can we say about Mary is that she was a free-spirit, whereas sister Martha was a task-oriented doer. Mary was sensitive, a thoughtful listener, and a crier who people knew for her sheer emotion. When I picture Mary, I picture a hippie, real long hair, maybe some visible piercings, all sorts of tattoos, and someone who wasn’t going to live life by anyone’s rules. Mary especially didn’t care about the progress of her financial portfolio. Mary decides to do something kind of crazy as they gathered for dinner that night. Mary takes a pound of Nard ointment dumps it on Jesus’ feet and starts wiping his feet with her hair. Few things to know about Nard: Nard came from a plant way up in the Himalayan Mountains, Nard had to travel across Asia via camel, and Nard cost an average worker one year's wages to buy. Since women didn’t have much in the way of economic opportunity, Mary was probably pouring her life savings over Jesus’ feet. Now I understand Mary wanting to do something special for Jesus since he had raised her brother from the dead. There just had to be better ways though then to waste a pound of Nard on his feet?
The thing about Mary is she dared to be different. Mary understood the Kingdom of God not to abide by worldly standards. Mary had every right to be excited beyond all rational thought. We know people like Mary. Mary’s non-sensible actions remind me of my favorite story about my grandma.
One day Grandma was bored. Grandma looks out into the yard and sees a deer in the yard. Grandma thought the deer looked friendly enough. Grandma thought the deer looked like it might make a pretty good pet. So Grandma decides to lure with food the deer inside the house. In case you were wondering, deer don’t do really well inside houses for the deer soon grows hysterical in such tight confines. Grandma has to call the Game Warden to help get the deer back outside.
Now I imagine the Game Warden leaving Grandma’s house that day thinking “What is this woman’s deal?” The Game Warden knew how a person was supposed to behave around animals. The Game Warden couldn’t make sense I imagine of Grandma’s behavior. I imagine the Game Warden was kind of like Judas Iscariot on this day.
The other key character at the dinner party with Mary is Judas. Judas didn’t know quite what to make of Mary’s scene. I picture Judas as having the complete opposite personality as Mary. Judas was probably wearing a fine robe, well-groomed, and Judas appeared to be sensible in his decision making. Judas’ talent was in finance. Even Judas’ friends thought he was Mr. Uptight, who would never tell a joke. Judas’ reaction to Mary makes me think of my best friend from college named Cody.
Cody was serious about his studies. They were always priority number #1. Cody in his junior year would ramble on and on about how one professor structured a test in his freshman year so that Cody only ended up with an “A-“. Cody would insist on wearing ties to college on tests day because he was the “money-player” who would not fail. Cody, as you can imagine, didn’t have a whole lot of tolerance for the Mary’s at Concordia College in Moorhead. Cody made snide remarks a time or two. So picturing people you know like Cody, imagine their reaction to a scene such as this one with all sorts of expensive perfume being casually dumped on Jesus’ feet by a young woman rolling around on the ground.
Here was Mary acting tacky like Bango the Buck was acting tacky. So Judas figures it’s his obligation to speak up witnessing the scene: “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”. Now we know Judas had ulterior motives when asking this question. No one can say that Judas’ question was not the right question to ask. Certainly there were more practical uses of money than what Mary was displaying. Judas wasn’t wrong to point this out.
Last week, we looked at the most famous of Jesus’ parables in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The Older Brother was like Judas being reasonable. The Father was being unreasonable. The thing that Judas was not grasping at this moment in time about Jesus ministry is Grace is never reasonable. Grace is not about being right. Grace is not about being practical. Grace is not about abiding by any book whatsoever.
Phillip McLarty recalls the story of the Crim Family, who lived in the town of Kilgore during the Great Depression. Times were tough for everyone in Kilgore and any money was tough to find. The Crim’s owned the General Store in Kilgore, where everyone shopped and decided the only way to eventually save the business was to start extending credit for goods. The credit was good news for the folks in Kilgore, but everyone, including the Crim’s, kept going deeper and deeper into debt.
Finally, one day the Crim’s receive life-changing news no different then Mary finding her brother alive, or Bango the Buck getting a “yes’ to his marriage proposal. The Crim’s received word that oil had been discovered on their property. The Crim Family was never going to have to worry about money ever again. The Crim’s were every Sunday in church Presbyterians. The Crim’s decide that this event was going to serve as an opportunity to proclaim their faith to the people of Kilgore. The Crim’s decide to call a meeting for all of their customers to meet at the general store at 8 AM on Saturday morning. Word spread throughout Kilgore. People were nervous thinking that the Crim’s were going to seize now everyone’s property in town. Just like Jesus was merely expected to mourn at Lazarus’ grave. So Saturday morning, the meeting starts. The older brother, Malcolm Crim begins to speak. In Malcolm’s hands was a box containing everyone’s charges. Malcolm begins by announcing the good news of discovering oil. The Crim’s had more money than they were ever going to need, so everyone’s debts were now canceled, and prosperity would soon come back to Kilgore thanks to the Crim’s oil. Everyone’s was ecstatic on this day. In fact, they were so ecstatic that they would have dumped Nard on Malcolm Crim’s feet in celebration. You see Mary had just received the best news that she would ever hear. Lazarus was alive! Mary was now a believer in the Resurrection. Mary was no longer going to view the world in practical terms; Mary had been given a new hope as she embraced her previously departed brother.
Judas saw this event at dinner differently. Judas was angry that Jesus was celebrating alongside Mary. Certainly Jesus could have associated with a better crowd then this reckless, borderline hysterical named Mary. I imagine Jesus’ smiling the whole time upon seeing Mary’s joy after having seen the power of Resurrection within her life. You see the next week was going to change everyone’s lives for Jesus, Judas’ and Mary. Jesus was preparing for his burial. Judas was beginning to see Jesus’ reckless generosity as foolishness, so he would soon betray him. Mary would soon witness a Resurrection once again! Amen
 Luke 10:38-42
 McLarty, Phillip. “Holy Extravengence”. Lectionary.org. 2004. Web. Mar.7.2016.
 McLarty, Phillip. “Holy Extravengence
 McLarty, Phillip. “Holy Extravengence.”
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: 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: 2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16
Responsive Reading: Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26
Second Lesson: Romans 16: 25-27
Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: 26-38
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
This morning, I want to tell you the story of an ordinary Mary. We all know a girl like Mary. Mary had just turned that awkward age of thirteen. Mary’s body was changing before her very eyes.
She was just coming into the years of your life that unless you’re extraordinarily pretty or cool are some of the most difficult years of life. Mary grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Mary had no distinguishing features. Her clothes weren’t fancy. Mary had to fight breakouts like any other kid. Mary dreaded looking into the mirror to see her own reflection. If Mary had walked down the hall of any middle school that you’ve ever been to, Mary would have blended in with the crowd. For everywhere that Mary looked she saw someone prettier, someone smarter, and someone more physically capable. Mary was at the age where her failures seem to magnify nearly every single day.
Mary didn’t have very high hopes for the future, in fact; Mary thought of the future as depressing. Her mother had been a hand-maiden, a servant. Mary figured that her life would be nothing special. Mary saw herself doing nothing different from what her mother did spending her days washing clothes.
Mary had one positive though in her life. Mary had recently met a guy named Joe. Mary and Joe’s parents had known each other. Joe was a few years older than Mary. Joe was at the age where every little bit of fuzz that sprung up on his face was a sign of pending manhood. Joe was the kid that would have loved shop classes. Joe wanted to be a carpenter like his father and his father before him.
Joe was a nice guy. Mary was at first taken back by Joe because he was the first guy that would have really showed an interest in her. Joe had made a promise to Mary. Joe told Mary that ‘he loved her’. Joe said that they were going to get married someday.
One night Mary’s life changed forever, Mary was in her room, getting ready for bed, performing rituals that she had done countless nights before. When with no prior warning appearing before Mary was an Angel of the Lord named “Gabriel”. Mary didn’t know quite what to make of this at first. Mary figured that maybe she had just eaten something bad, or this was her lack of sleep finally catching up with her.
Mary initially feared Gabriel no differently than we would fear any uninvited intruder into our bedroom.
Gabriel sought to put Mary’s fears to rest with his first words “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.”-Luke 1:30
“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”-Luke 1:31
Mary was by no means a religious scholar. She would attend synagogue with her family on a weekly basis. Mary like many kids her age never followed along with the service all that well. Yet when Mary heard the name “Jesus” she knew what this name meant.
You see Jesus is from the Hebrew word meaning “savior”. The Son she was going to bare was going to be the one to save all of God’s people.
Mary still couldn’t figure out the biology involved in all this. Mary was so young that she didn’t even know that she could give birth to a child.
She heard the word “pregnant” and knew that Joe and her hadn’t been together in “this way” so it made no sense for her to be pregnant. Yet Gabriel assured her that this would be no ordinary birth. Mary would give birth as a virgin.
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”- Luke 1: 35
Mary was at that age where she was completely unsure of herself around any adults, let alone an angel of the Lord. So Mary was timid in Gabriels presence like anyone in her situation would have been upon hearing this most shocking of the news.
Gabriel knew that Mary would need help processing what she had just heard. So before leaving Gabriel gave Mary a little bit of advice. Go visit a relative of yours named Elizabeth. Mary didn’t know Elizabeth all that well as she was an old woman, where as Mary was a young girl. Elizabeth could be a source of support for Mary though as went through her process. Elizabeth like Mary had also been visited recently by an angel. Elizabeth had been told that in her old age that she was going to give birth to a son named “John” who would later be known as “The Baptist”.
What happened after the angel Gabriel left the room? Mary stayed awake almost in a trance. Mary figured that she would break down crying uncontrollably as her world would never be the same again, only Mary didn’t do this. It was as if some higher force was going to guide Mary through this process and give her strength.
Mary’s range of thoughts was no different than any thirteen year old girl. Mary figured as soon as her parents heard this news of her pregnancy that they would scream at her till her ears bleed.
Mary wondered about her friends. Mary thought that she had friends. But Mary knew that people are fickle and will turn on you, once you downgrade their cool factor. Mary worried about her friends ignoring her and making fun of her behind her back.
Mary knew as people saw her ever expanding body that she would look like a “freak”. Mary knew that the next several months would result in Mary being an object of derision and scorn. Mary’s was the type of pregnancy that would have people telling her to get out of it, not to wreck her life by any means possible.
Mary worried about Joe. Would Joe dump her? Joe could make all sorts of assumptions that she was nothing but a no good, dirty cheat. Joe could have gone out and bragged to all his bros “about how was better off without Mary”. For the easy thing for Joe would be to dump her, and never respond to her again.
Mary wondered if anyone could ever possibly love her upon hearing this news.
Mary wondered most of all how much is this all going to hurt?
It was Gabriel’s final words to Mary that she could just not shake from her head, as she prepared to endure the next nine months of her life “For no word from God will ever fail?.”- Luke 1:37
What can we make of the story of this ordinary Mary on a Sunday such as this one?
Whereas Mary might not have been unique to the world around her, Mary was special. Mary hears that her son will be special. Mary’s son would be called “The Son of the Most High.” Mary’s son would be a King.
Mary’s story is a story of transformation, not so much a story about Mary’s spiritual transformation or personal transformation. Mary’s story is a story of God’s transformation. Mary’s story is a reminder how God enters into the world in the most plain and ordinary form.
Surely God could have chosen someone else, yet he didn’t. God could have chosen someone different to bring his son into the world. Perhaps God could have been born into the family of a Roman aristocrat, rather than a hick country girl. God does not work according to our terms; God works in defiance of our terms. In Mary, God saw something different; God saw one that he had chosen, one whom he had favored. Where as Mary might have thought no one would ever notice her, she had been noticed from on high. God was not going to see what other people saw, or even what Mary herself saw.
Every so often you might see a beautiful looking baby with a Mom who seemingly hasn’t gained a pound. We picture the type of Mom whose eyes seem unaffected by sleepless nights. We encounter a Mom who apparently has been blinded to all the weird bodily functions and distress of child-birth. Mary was not this mother. Mary was a scared, insecure thirteen-year-old girl who had just had the weight of the whole world placed upon her shoulders. Mary came to believe that with God nothing shall be impossible.
God promises to Mary on this day a Son. God extends to us on this day, the same type of promise. Today, we will receive a Son given unto the world in words of promise “For Christ’s sake your sins are forgiven”. Do not be afraid as we go home on this day, for you have found favor with God. Just as the Gospels begin with an earth-shaking miracle of birth, they would end with another earth-transforming miracle of resurrection. Amen
First Lesson: Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11
Responsive Reading: Psalm 126
Second Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
Gospel Lesson: John 1: 6-8, 19-28
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Several years back, my dad and I went to a Minnesota Timberwolves game. The Timberwolves were so bad that there were times that you were able to get two hundred dollar tickets for twenty bucks. The Timberwolves had recently traded away the best player in team history and arguably the best player in the league, Kevin Garnett, because they weren’t even able to win with him on the roster. Desperate times call for desperate measures! So what the Timberwolves in the darkest of times wanted to sell was hope, so they came up with a new slogan “Build It”.
“Build It” was meant to encourage fans on the ground level to follow the team because they believed that they would be good down the line.
The “Build It” plan didn’t work on the terms set out for it. The Timberwolves currently have the longest playoff drought in the league and are currently the worst team in their conference. This season the Timberwolves have lost games by 48, 28, 17, 26, 22, and 19. The Timberwolves have only been able to sell hope for the past several years.
What the struggle of basketball fandom reminds us is that in the midst of darkness that we yearn for nothing more than light. A sign that a new way forward is coming soon!
The story of trying to find hope in the midst of despair brings us to our Gospel lesson for today from John 1. It’s another lesson centering around the person of John the Baptist. Whereas last week, we looked at John’s background, today; we look at the specific goals of John’s ministry.
Our lesson includes the goal of John’s ministry quite clear in verse 23 which says “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.”
So how did John make straight the way for the Lord? How did John get people ready for Jesus’ coming?
I think the mistake that we make when we think of John the Baptist’s life is to think of him as Jesus’ sidekick. Sure, John the Baptist and Jesus were related by blood, but they probably had no interaction with each other growing up as children.
Elizabeth had John as an old woman. Mary had Jesus as a young virgin. Jesus grew up in Nazareth. John grew up in the wilderness. It is possible that Jesus’ baptism was the first time that they would have met each other.
Another interesting example of John’s distance from Jesus is the interaction between their followers.
Further evidence that these two men had very little interaction with each other throughout their lives comes from Luke the 7th chapter where a group of John’s disciples approach Jesus by saying “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
If those closest to John were unable to identify Jesus standing before them, this points out how the encounters between these two men were probably quite limited. What this background reminds us is how John the Baptist needed to proceed by faith in his ministry just as much as anybody else.
So where our story connects to John is in the central task of his ministry “Making straight the way for the Lord” or preparing people for the Messiah’s coming. How John built a ministry at the Jordan River is what I want to look at this morning.
The first thing that I noticed about John this morning in reading our text for this morning is John’s great humility. John knows exactly who he is and who he isn’t.
“I am not the light.”
“I am not Elijah.”
“I am not the Christ.”
John states in some of his more famous words that “the one that was coming after him; his sandal he was unworthy to untie.” John’s sense of humility guided his whole ministry. But perhaps even more importantly than this, John believed that he was a part of something much bigger than himself or his sense of earthly comfort.
Second story, a while back I came across a quote by Gopher Football Coach Jerry Kill. Kill took over a program that like the Timberwolves was in the dumps. Kill has achieved some success. Kill said something that struck me during a recent interview. Kill talked about how he didn’t think he would be a witness to the type of success that the Gophers are having. What Kill believed is that he would lay the groundwork, the administration would get frustrated; Kill would get fired, and then the next guy would turn it around.
The often lack of outward success for our work brings us back to John the Baptist. John was a part of something special when he baptized our Lord. This famous baptism is why we know John, yet John didn’t get to see the outcome for his most famous of life events. John didn’t witness any healing miracles, and John didn’t witness the resurrection. John continued to live in hardship until the day of his execution. John’s ministry centers upon fleeting encounters. John was used to this. John probably baptized all sorts of people that he never saw again. What John ultimately believed is that his Baptism would ultimately serve a greater purpose even if he never got to see its outcome.
John’s story can bring us to thinking about people within our life. Each and every person in this room can probably speak about people who have profoundly influenced our faith life without them knowing the outcome.
I’ve spoken before about how I don’t believe I’d be a pastor if it wasn’t for my great-grandpa Arvid. Arvid’s been dead nearly twenty years, he was never going to know the outcome of his influence. This never stopped him from acting! We must remember that God works in a wide variety of ways. God works not only in pastors, God works in people at work, God works in neighbors, and God works in family members.
Another story, a while back I was leading services at the Veterans Home. After the service the chaplain asks me to go visit with a guy we’ll call Bob, who had recently lost his wife. Bob was devastated as she died away from him, living in another nursing home.
As we sat down together that day, Bob recalled a lot of things about life. Bob talked about their sixty years of wonderful marriage. Bob talked about trying to make sense of it all because of his faith. Bob shared his frustration about being confined to a wheelchair. The conversation was emotionally intense as Bob broke down several times within it.
Bob finally put me on the spot in the midst of our conversation when he asked “What was God’s purpose in keeping him around?” Believe me this question seems always to be asked whenever I’m visiting with someone who is unable to live life according to their wishes. I wished I could give Bob a smooth, easy to understand answer. This question got me thinking about our purpose in this world.
The thing about a purpose is that it we often don’t easily discover it. So what I told Bob is “I don’t know why God has you here.” “God might have you here to witness to a great-grandchild or even a nursing home staff member years down the line”, no different than my Great-Grandpa influenced my life well into his nineties.
It’s helpful to remember this as we talk to our own kids and grand kids about faith and seemingly have to bang our heads against the wall. You might not see the outcome of your witness a generation before.
God might have you around for an outcome that you will be unable to observe just like John the Baptist. Remember the famous words from Philippians as we question how we can be more patient and articulate “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
John the Baptist’s greatest trait was that he was able to see the limits of his own powers. Advent is a future looking season. Today we lookout upon the congregation to ask the following questions: What might this church look like ten years from now…or twenty years from now? What might this congregation look like once we are beyond the point of being able to influence it?
I think the important thing to remember is that there will come a day when we are no longer able to change our surroundings. What we must also remember is that day is not today. We must remember that the odds for revival might seem long if not impossible. We must also remember that God builds the church on resurrection.
We are a unique body with a unique purpose and calling, no different than John the Baptist. “To make straight the paths for Our Lord.”
To prepare people for Christ’s coming. We go forth with a mission of seeking to educate people about our God. The Mission is no different than John’s purpose in seeking to instruct the Levites in today’s lesson. Our God is neither an angry God nor a vengeful God. Our God is not merely concerned with petty rules and regulations. Our God seeks to make this world whole once again.
John’s humility saved him from the error that many a pastor and many a church fall into in thinking they can do so much. The future of this church or any church does not belong to us. John didn’t evaluate the success of his baptism in the same ways that we evaluate the success of our own ministry. John wasn’t going to be around to see Jesus rise, John wasn’t going to be around to see the Christian church born, yet for John this didn’t mean that his task wasn’t an important one. John realized that the Lord brought him to a certain time and certain place for a purpose to serve out.
I’m sure as word spread around Galilee of John the Baptist’s execution, his critics felt justified. Yet what the critics could not see was what was going on beneath the surface. A community of faith was in the process of being built that was going to be present long after John was gone. John the Baptist did not fail, because God’s timeline was ultimately going to be more important than his own.
Doors were going to close, people would dream big, ideas would fizzle out, and expiration dates would expire. Within these times, many of John’s disciples would become Jesus’ disciples. These disciples would eventually get to witness a resurrection from the darkest of place. Amen
 Luke 7:20 is the exact verse quoted. The full story takes place from Luke 7:18-35
 A paraphrase of John 1:8
 John 1:21
 John 1:20
 John 1:27
 These comments took place in an interview with WCCO’s Mark Rosen which aired on November 30th, 2014.
 These comments were inspired when re-reading Ed Markquart’s Gospel analysis for John 1:6-8, 19-28 this week at sermonsforseattle.com for Advent 3B.
 Philippians 4:13
 I was reading through an essay this week by Pastor Russell Rathbun entitled “ Give Your Church an Expiration Date” for Renew 52: Ideas to Change the Church put out by Luther Seminary and edited by David Lose. Rathbun’s easy is found on page 87. Rathbun’s essay reminds me of many of the key points that I sought to make within this sermon regarding the nature of failure and success within the church.
First Lesson: Isaiah 40: 1-11
Responsive Reading: Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13
Second Lesson: 2 Peter 3: 8-15a
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 1-8
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.”- Malachi 3:1
“A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”- Isaiah 40:3
I want to begin this morning by having you picture a couple of people. The people that I describe might even sound like people that you know.
There was once a man who seemingly had it all. This man lived in a home that some might even dare call a “palace.” This man was clean-cut and good-looking. This man wore the finest clothes. His meals consisted of only the finest foods. This man was super-smooth, and he had the people skills of the most successful of politicians. This man had nearly unlimited power. This man seemingly had everything. He was so charismatic that people flocked to him figuring they were better off being seen with him. This man was the George Clooney of his day. This man had an ego, but very few with his success in life don’t have one.
This man had a rival. This man’s rival would have seemed far from his equal. These two men being considered rivals would be like a high school football team calling another team its rival having not lost to the other team for decades. If you put these two men side by side together, this would seemingly convince you that life isn’t fair.
This man’s rival was unkept. If you saw him walking down the street, you’d think he looked like a homeless person. This man lived off the grid, far away from civilization. Whenever people would see him, he always dresses in a funny costume. People would snicker behind his back that he looked like a “fool”. The rival ate bugs, locusts to be in fact. When this man opened his mouth, he was super-awkward. He made people uncomfortable whenever he talked. He was the like the type of guy; people wished would leave them alone at the lunch table. People would call him all sorts of names “nerd” “spas” “geek” “freak”.
These two men played life out like a high school movie with the popular jock versus the anti-social weirdo.
Who are these two men? The first man, the cool dude, is Herod Antipas (Ruler of Galilee). The second man is the loner preacher and baptizer John the Baptist. Herod had everything; John had nothing.
These two men are the key figures in our Gospel lesson for today from Mark the 1st Chapter.
As soon as we hear these two men’s names, we instantly recognize something. We don’t know all that much about Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas was merely a cookie-cutter big shot. Herod Antipas was successful don’t get me wrong, just like the guy who drives the nice car with a nice home and above average wife is successful. Herod’s dad had been a real big shot. Herod’s Dad was so power hungry that he ordered all boys born in the vicinity of the town of Bethlehem under the age of 2 to be put to death fearing a move on his throne. His dad even went by the name “Herod the Great”.
Herod Antipas gave people nothing they hadn’t encountered before. Herod Antipas was merely a ruler that no one cared enough in the end to die.
What we know about John the Baptist is as odd as he may have been; he got people ready for the Messiah (the Son of God) in Christ Jesus. Why did John the Baptist’s message catch on whereas Herod’s didn’t’?
I think there’s something worth noting as you consider John the Baptist’s story. Consider the place where John the Baptist lived in the wilderness. John the Baptist was a preacher on the farthest reaches of Herod’s territory. Think of the type of place in Lake County where there are more moose than people. When you get way to the middle of nowhere, this was the type of remote place where John the Baptist preached.
The wilderness was where people were actually going to encounter God, not inside Herod’s palace. The wilderness causes people to think about the important things in life: sin, forgiveness, heaven, and hell.
Funny thing about John, people traveled in droves to hear John’s message. People traveled from as far away from Jerusalem to receive John’s baptism. There was no fancy music bringing them to hear John. John wasn’t one of those preachers who was a great natural story teller. John wasn’t very good with jokes, nor did he have a popular brand of humor. John’s preaching didn’t sell “unlocking your inner potential”. John could have cared less about applause or compliments within the receiving line.
John was just going to deal with the meat and potato issues of life. John was going to speak the truth of God as it was revealed to him.
John wasn’t going to need any elaborate lighting. It was almost as if some unexplainable spirit was pulling people in John’s direction. John’s Baptism was the means to get people ready for Christ’s coming.
There might be truth to the saying that only when we go where John is, do we see that the Messiah is on his way. God’s intention is to come into the muck of life of his people.
John lived at the Jordan River famous throughout the Old Testament as being the boundary to enter into the Promised Land. When God’s people crossed the Jordan River after forty years in the desert, it served as a reminder to them that God’s promises were about to be fulfilled. The coming of John the Baptist spoke to this spiritual truth more than anything else.
John the Baptist’s tale isn’t necessarily an inspirational story; John didn’t pick himself up by the both straps then achieve all sorts of great success. The story doesn’t end well for John.
Herod eventually wins the rivalry by executing John the Baptist. John the Baptist’s big mouth did him in. He had enough of Herod’s shenanigans. John the Baptist was sickened by Herod’s behavior. Herod had it all his whole life, so now he wanted a much younger wife who had impressed him merely by putting her body on display at his raucous birthday party.
See in the end, Herod Antipas was nothing really but an insecure guy, willing to put a guy like John to death, all for the sake of impressing some woman.
In John the Baptist’s execution something funny made itself known. John went forward to death with confidence because he truly believed that God comes to us when we are at our lowest and our weakest. God had come into the world as a little, baby boy. “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” -Mark 1:8
Whereas the big, strong, pretty boy Herod faced death differently, Herod as he goes by in years becomes consumed with a crippling unconfidence. After John the Baptist is put to death, Herod becomes convinced that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead in the form of Jesus from Nazareth. Herod got the story wrong at first, but eventually he would get it right.
Luke’s Gospel has Herod involved in the plot to take Jesus’ life. Jesus merely laughed Herod off. Jesus called Herod a “fox”.
An old washed- up ladies' man. Herod’s hair didn’t look quite like it once did. Herod by this time probably had a gut. His clothes were beginning to fade of color. No one was running to be by Herod’s side as he was at his boldest.
Jesus merely responded to Herod’s threats by proclaiming “"Go tell that fox, 'I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.”- Luke 13:32
When Jesus finally appears before Herod’s presence, Herod put up his own arrogance as a shield. Herod clamored for Jesus to do a “magic trick” to entertain him like so many others before. Herod had salvation standing before him, yet Herod’s mind could only be consumed with earthly things.
Jesus merely responded to Herod’s last desperate grasp for attention, with the same silence and grace that he displayed marching to his own cross hours later.
Herod’s story ends like many a high school jock where glory eventually fades. Everybody’s eventually not as good as they once was.
Herod eventually does fall. Past jealousies rear their ugly head over his past quarreling with his younger, even more ambitious nephew Agrippa. Someone younger and wiser came to knock the former king off the throne, where as history marched on, rest assured that there will never be another John the Baptist.
Why does Mark’s Gospel begin with the tale of John the Baptist? The author wanted to make an important point.
God is here in this day. One day, God will be victorious. God will reign in the halls of the never-ending high-school that is life.
God will reign in the lives of the uncool; God will reign in the lives of the poor, the lame, the crippled, and the blind. God will reign in the lives of the drunkard, the divorcee, and the screw-up. God will reign in the lives of the broke and the lonely. God is in places like Ferguson; God is seeking to reach people like Eric Garner’s family as they mourn his death.
God will reign even in situations where people cannot even begin to fathom his presence.
God doesn’t come to us in high society; God comes to us around the margins of society. God doesn’t come to us at awards banquets; God comes to us at 2 AM when we have nowhere else to turn. What John the Baptist’s story reminds us is that there is no place or no person to whom God will not go to or go through to reach others.
I leave you this morning with perhaps John the Baptist’s most famous words. These were the words that he spoke to many a people who traveled out to the wilderness to get baptized by him. “Repent and Believe the Good News!”- Mark 1:5.
The call to repentance speaks to something important. God is going to do new things in a new way. God’s intention is to come into the lives of his people. God himself is going to The Cross and coming back again. Believe that Jesus is coming soon! Amen
 Think the Gophers vs Wisconsin in College Football.
 Mark 1:6
 Mark 1:6
 Mark 1:1-8
 Matthew 2:16
 This point is well made by Karoline Lewis at her commentary on Mark 1:1-8 written at workingpreacher.com and published on December 4th, 2011.
 The tale of John the Baptist’s execution takes place in Matthew 14: 1-12 and Mark 6:14-29
 Matthew 14:1-2
 Luke 13:31
 The encounter between Jesus and Herod Antipas takes place in Luke 23:7-12.
 This wording is inspired by lyrics to the Toby Keith song “As Good As I Once Was”.
 This section is inspired by Rachel Held Evans who wrote a blog post entitled “Blessed are the un-cool” in 2010 over at rachelheldevans.com
First Lesson: Ezekiel 37: 1-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 130
Second Lesson: Romans 8: 6-11
Gospel Lesson: John 11: 1-45
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Our story for today begins the week before the last week of our Lord’s life.
Jesus had just received word that one of his closest friends a man named Lazarus was ill. Jesus was quite close to not only Lazarus, but also his sisters Martha and Mary.
They were so close to each other that Jesus would frequently dine at their house as mentioned in an earlier Gospel story. The terms that the Disciples use to describe Lazarus’ and Jesus’ relationship of “Lazarus whom you love” were so unique that they were only bestowed upon one more of Jesus’ relations the Apostle John.
Lazarus wasn’t supposed to be so ill at such a young age. Jesus and Lazarus were about the same age near 30. They had joked around together and enjoyed each others stories.
If Lazarus had died it would have been devastating for his sisters Martha and Mary. Lazarus was the breadwinner for the family. Lazarus had done quite well for himself. If Lazarus had died, his sisters’ financial situation would have been devastated. Woman didn’t work outside the home. Martha and Mary would have seen the family’s savings slip away, and be left to live the remaining of their days as nothing more than charity cases.
When the Disciples informed Jesus of Lazarus illness, Jesus’ response to them was odd. He believed that Lazarus’ illness would not lead to death. Jesus had a confidence that the Son of Man was going to be glorified through what had happened. The Disciples had heard this language before. Just recently, Jesus had healed a man born blind where he stated that this man’s blindness occurred “so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” The Disciples had witnessed all sorts of unbelievable things in their time with Jesus.
-Jesus had changed Water into Wine
-Jesus had healed an Official’s Son on his death bed
-Jesus had healed a man who had been unable to get out of bed for 38 years
-Jesus had managed to feed 5000 people with five barely loaves and two fishes 
-Jesus had walked on Water
So when the Disciples heard Jesus predict that Lazarus wasn’t going to die. They didn’t think anything of it. What the Disciples found odd is that Jesus said they were going to wait two days before traveling to see Lazarus.
Lazarus lived in Bethany just outside Jerusalem. Jesus and his disciples were camping out by the Jordan River about 20 miles away. The last time that Jesus had visited Lazarus previously, he was nearly stoned to death after claiming that “He and the Father were one”.
Some of the Disciples were hesitant that going to see Lazarus was a good idea. They feared for their own life.
Yet Jesus needed to go see his friend “His friend Lazarus who had fallen asleep, so that he may awake him.” One of Jesus’ disciples, a man named Thomas. A man who would later be known as “The Doubter” insisted that they travel to Jerusalem together. Thomas figured that if Jesus was going to die that “that he was going to die with him”.
After two days the Disciples started their journey, they finally neared the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Lazarus had already been buried in the tomb for four days.
Martha the older sister heard that Jesus was in the vicinity, so she went to meet him outside the village. I should tell you a little bit about Martha. Martha was blunt. Martha had no filter as to what was appropriate to say. Martha was going to tell you what she thought. She didn’t care how religious Jesus might have been. The last time that Jesus had visited Mary and Martha for dinner, Jesus had to chide Martha for chewing out her sister Mary for her laziness.
As soon as Martha saw Jesus approaching her, she was ready to confront him. The first words out of her mouth were said in a mix of sadness and anger when she stated ““Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Martha knew that God alone could have saved Lazarus’ life. Jesus had dealt with angry people before. Yet there’s something different about seeing anger in someone as close to him as Martha.
So as Jesus heard Martha’s complaint about his lack of presence at her brother’s death, he merely mouthed the following words “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha thought this sounded all good that her brother would rise at sometime in the distant future, perhaps at the end of time itself.
Yet these words did very little to ease Martha’s actual pain at this given moment. Then Jesus paused for a moment. The next words that came out of Jesus’ mouth would be words that Martha was always going to remember. These words gave Martha a faith and a hope regarding her brother’s death that she couldn’t have imagined having just moments prior.
Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
He then asked Martha “Do you believe this?”
To which Martha responded “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
At this moment, Martha and Jesus traveled to their home with Martha. Martha went inside the house to go get her sister Mary.
I suppose I should tell you a little bit about Mary. Mary was the younger sister. Mary was the free-spirit and the life of the party. Mary’s emotions played out though a bit differently then Martha’s. Martha would get angry in her grief, where as her sister Mary was perpetually sad.
In the four days since her brother had died, Mary had done nothing it seemed but cry and cry some more. Mary’s emotions were so strong that had been tough to witness. Mary’s other friends were afraid to leave her alone because she was having such a hard time dealing with her brother’s death. As soon as Mary laid eyes upon Jesus, Mary mouthed the same words as her sister “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Jesus’ response to though to Mary was different than it was for Martha. Jesus was overwhelmed by the emotion in the room. Jesus decided now was not the time for a sermon. Jesus was going to say nothing. Jesus was deeply moved by all the grief that he was witnessing for not only Mary but also her friends. All Jesus could ask was “Where have you laid Lazarus?”
Then everybody in the room witnessed something they never expected to see. Jesus wept. Jesus whole being was overwhelmed by the emotion of this moment. What made Jesus weeping so surprising is that people cry at moments of powerlessness, at moments that they can’t fix the situation that they are in. Yet Jesus weeping was different. Jesus wept because he couldn’t stand seeing Martha and Mary in pain. Jesus couldn’t stand the thought of his good friend Lazarus lying in the tomb. Jesus’ emotions were such that he was acting like someone who had just lost their best friend to a cancer or a car accident. What this scene indicated was that the one who claimed to be of God was not indifferent to the human plight.
Once Jesus began to compose himself, then Jesus, Martha, Mary, their friends, and the Disciples approached Lazarus’ tomb. The tomb was a cave with a giant stone lying in front of it. Jesus commanded that the stone be removed from the front of the tomb. Martha dreaded this happening because of the stench of four days of death having been upon Lazarus. Martha saw no point in moving the stone from the front of the tomb only to see her brother’s dead body. Martha had given up on ever seeing her brother Lazarus again.
Then Jesus said to Martha “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
And as soon as the stone was lifted from in front of the tomb, Jesus lifted his eyes to heaven saying “So they took away the stone.
And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When Jesus had said all these things he cried out in a loud voice “Lazarus, come out.”
What Martha, Mary, their friends, and Jesus’ disciples saw next was the most unbelievable thing that he ever seen in their whole life. Out walks a mummy with his hands and his feet bound with linen strips along with his face wrapped in cloth. Lazarus had risen from the dead!
Word of this miracle spread quickly. Many of the Jews in attendance quickly believed that Jesus was the Son of God. Where as others went to the Pharisees and Chief Priests with fear for what they had just witnessed, the Pharisees and the Chief Priests grew greatly nervous that this Jesus fellow was going to provoke a popular uprising amongst the people. This was going to cause the ruling Romans to removing the religious authorities from their position of powers for failing to keep the crowd under control. In the meantime, rumors of Jesus’ miracle in raising Lazarus started to spread amongst the people of Jerusalem like wild fire.
The word was that he was going to march into the city the very next day. This crowd would gather alongside the road waving palm branches. They had a hope that this Jesus was going to make the upcoming Holy Week of the Passover the most memorable one they had ever witnessed. When the Chief Priests heard of the crowd that was gathering on Jesus’ behalf they plotted to take Lazarus’ life so word of his miracle not spread any further.
Later that night, Martha, Mary, Jesus, Lazarus, and the Disciples gathered for Dinner. At this dinner, Mary the free-spirited sister did something quite odd. Mary grabbed an expensive bottle of perfume (worth one’s year salary) and wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. One of Jesus’ disciples named Judas was mad about this display. Judas couldn’t believe that Mary wouldn’t rather instead sell this bottle of perfume and give it to the poor. Judas didn’t really care about the poor; he rather instead wished to steal from the Disciples’ common purse. Yet Jesus realized the significance of Mary’s actions. Mary was preparing Jesus for his burial. Jesus knew that as dined at the house of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary that he was about to begin the last week of his life.
Jesus’ life would end that next Friday. Standing by Jesus as he hung to death on the cross were Martha and Mary. Martha and Mary then accompanied his body to it’s burial. Just like was the case with their brother Lazarus, mourners were supposed to return to the tomb for three days after burial. The following Sunday, Jesus would walk out of the tomb before their very eyes no different than their brother Lazarus.
As for Lazarus, he and his sisters were amongst the first Christians. They proclaimed to everyone they encountered that there Lord had risen from the dead, and he had promised to be the resurrection and the life for them. They proclaimed God’s love for all people just like he had for Lazarus.
Eventually Lazarus, Martha, and Mary left Bethany behind to move to the island of Cyprus where Lazarus would become a Bishop. Many would come to faith because of their testimonies. According to tradition, Lazarus lived thirty more years after his resurrection. Yet Lazarus never smiled during this time. In the four days of his death, Lazarus had journeyed to Hades where he had to see the fate of unredeemed souls. The sights that he saw caused him to never look at life the same way again.
Lazarus, Martha, and Mary would all pass on in Cyprus. Yet when each one died, their siblings would look at the death bed remembering the time that Jesus wept alongside them in their grief. Yet they were always reminded of those most important words of Jesus’ ministry that he had spoken to Martha long ago when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Amen
 Luke 10:38-42
 John 20:2
 John 9:3
 John 2:1-11
 John 4:46-54
 John 5:2-17
 John 6:1-15
 John 6:15-21
 John 10:31, 39
 John 10:30
 John 11:11
 John 11:16
 Luke 10:38-42
 John 11:21
 John 11:23
 John 11:24
 John 11:25-26 a
 John 11:26 b
 John 11:27
 John 11:33
 John 11:33
 John 11:34
 John 11:35
 John 11:38
 John 11: 39a
 John 11:39 b
 John 11:40
 John 11:41-42
 John 11:43
 John 11:44
 John 11:45
 John 11:48
 John 12:9-11
 John 12:1
 John 12:4
 John 12:5
 John 12:6
 John 12:7
 John 12:8
 This is according to Eastern Orthodox Tradition.
 Eastern Orthodox Tradition.
 John 11:25-26
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story today of a man who didn’t say much. A man best described as the strong, silent type. Yet this man was an integral part of our Gospel despite never issuing one word throughout it. This morning, we’re going to look at the story of Joseph, the Father of Jesus.
Joseph was raised in the town of Bethlehem. Joseph moved to the town of Nazareth probably to find work as a carpenter. The town of Nazareth wasn’t very big; it only had a population of about 400 people. Barely anyone had even heard of Nazareth. Yet Nazareth was nearby the city of Sepphoris which was the regional capitol of Galilee a little more than 4 miles away. Within the town of Sepphoris lived Joachim, Anna, and their daughter Mary. Joachim and Anna knew Joseph, they were distant cousins, and they knew that he would be good for Mary. They both knew that there were things that Joseph lacked mainly money and desirable skill. Joseph was merely a common laborer. Yet Anna and Joachim figured he had the type of character that would see to it that Mary was always treated well and cared for her above all others.
Mary would have been prized above all else for her virginity. The Marriage of Mary and Joseph was arranged when Mary was about 12 years old. Joseph and Mary were then considered to be betrothed to each other. They were considered to be husband and wife in the legal sense, yet they were going to have to wait for a period of one year to consummate the marriage in a moral sense.
Then one day Joseph’s whole world began to change. Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant. Joseph knew that he wasn’t the Father. This news crushed Joseph! Joseph had so much going on inside him when he found out. Joseph feared becoming a laughingstock; once it was made known to those around him that he wasn’t the father. Joseph internally went through a whole range of emotions upon hearing this news: Joseph was depressed, then Joseph was confused, but more than all this Joseph by shattered wishes that things weren’t going to work out with Mary. Joseph’s response to Mary’s pregnancy though was noteworthy. Joseph was a man of high character. He was the type of person who would stick up for someone when the chips were down. Joseph was the type of person who would stay loyal to someone who didn’t give them any obvious benefit.
Joseph didn’t want to try to one up Mary as a way of lessening his own humiliation. Joseph looked upon Mary with grace. So Joseph looked at Mary wishing to divorce her quietly. Joseph knew that if he made a spectacle of what Mary had done the consequences would be dire. Joseph knew that the Law of the Land was such that if a woman cheated on her finance, she and her lover were both ordered to be stoned to death. People were especially harsh if the women involved were a virgin.
One night, Joseph’s whole world changed forever. Joseph was visited by an Angel. The Angel then proclaimed to Joseph- “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”
As soon as Joseph heard these words, he was at the crossroads of his life. He probably couldn’t have imagined the purpose behind such an arrangement. Yet the Angel’s next words brought it all into perspective.
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)
Joseph was given no concrete proof of this new reality of life. He merely knew that he needed to marry Mary as soon as possible to protect his wife from getting stoned to death once evidence of her pregnancy began to show. Mary and Joseph then had to get ready to the 80-mile journey with his pregnant wife Mary to his hometown of Bethlehem to participate in the Roman Census as she readied to give birth.
What Joseph’s story does for us this morning is illustrate how one’s worldview guides them in life.
To illustrate this let me tell a story.
I knew a guy we’ll call Jim that had all sorts of things going for him in life; Jim was smart, he became a lawyer, Jim was hard-working, Jim was detailed-oriented, and made millions of dollars. Yet Jim had one guiding principle that carried him through all human interaction, “Never forget a wrong”. When Jim was getting up there in years, he decided to write notes to all of his 8 children to be given to them upon his death. These notes were going to highlight the ways that they disappointed him over the years. Some of Jim’s children upon reading these notes proceeded to take the last words that they ever received from their father and throw them in the trash. As you can imagine, years after this man’s death kind words are rarely spoken about Jim. I want to defend Jim this morning. Jim had experienced plenty in life to cause him to expect disappointment in other people. Jim had seen others try to take advantage of him for his wealth. Jim wasn’t a villain; he was incredibly smart, and more complex than others would give him credit. He was generous with his money and always wanted what was best for other people. Yet Jim thought like plenty of other people think the same type of people who laughed at Joseph for daring to take Mary as his wife. The type of people who would think it was foolish to risk their whole world on the visit of an angel. Jim didn’t want to embrace the possibility of hope and renewal when it came to other people
Compare Jim to Joseph. I imagine Joseph was taken in with an almost gullible, optimism as he heard the words “and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” These words seemed to be a pronouncement of foolishness. Words that a hardened cynic would laugh at, yet Joseph embraced a great hope that these words could be true. Joseph believed that grace was real and was about to come to him in the form of a child.
There was no real good reason for Joseph to be chosen to be the Father of Jesus. Joseph was no religious scholar, Joseph had no political power. The only real noteworthy thing about Joseph was that he was a distant relative of King David, who had been deceased for over 900 years. For the reason that Joseph’s story is so noteworthy is because it really emphasizes the Gospel. We receive God’s favor not for doing anything. We receive God’s favor in spite of our initial misgivings that a Virgin could really give birth to the Son of God. Joseph’s story says something to us about the nature of faith. How our faith in the Angel’s pronouncements can’t be proven. Yet the whole plan and reality of salvation is so different from our everyday experiences that it really can’t be any other way.
Joseph’s impact upon Jesus’ life cannot just be seen in Gospel lesson for Today. The visit of the Angel to Joseph would be the first of four visits in Josephs’ dreams.
The second dream would occur shortly after Jesus’ birth as the Angel tells Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt, and remain there awaiting further instruction, because Herod is seeking to find and kill Jesus as Herod had ordered the killing of all young male children born in the vicinity of Bethlehem for fear of his own throne-Matthew 2:13.
The third dream has the Angel instruct Joseph to return his family to Bethlehem with news of the death of King Herod. Yet Joseph was still hesitant because of fear of Herod’s Son- Matthew 2:19-20
The fourth dream has God himself assuring Joseph that it was ok to return his family back to Bethlehem, before Joseph eventually leads them to settle again in Nazareth in Galilee where Jesus was raised.
One thing that should also be stated this morning is that Joseph had several other children besides Jesus. Matthew the 13th chapter makes a reference to James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon being Jesus brothers along with a reference to Jesus having sisters who are never named.
The last appearance of Joseph in our Gospels is the story of Jesus visiting the Temple with the Boy Jesus at the age of twelve. This last appearance shed unique insight into their relationship. Jesus didn’t in these moments speak of Joseph as his father, but described himself as being inside his Father’s house. When Jesus spoke this description was not common. No one would have dared to describe God as their Father before this, except the one that came from heaven itself.
Yet the relationship between Jesus and Joseph still remained like that of Father and Son. In the 6th chapter of John upon a return to Nazareth early in his earthly ministry, people from his hometown grew greatly skeptical of Jesus claims to be the one to usher in the Kingdom of God. They saw Jesus as too ordinary, too common to say the things that he said. John 6:42 has the crowd asking “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven?’
Yet as the crowd grew upset with Jesus claims, they missed something very important about heaven. Heaven is not some distant far away reality, we cannot grasp, when instead Heaven came down to Earth in the most ordinary, human of forms raised by a woodworker.
Church tradition has Joseph dying around the year 18 or 19 AD or about 10 years before his son began his ministry. When Jesus and his Mother Mary attend the Wedding at Cana, the sight of Jesus first’ miracle and the beginning of his ministry, Joseph is never mentioned. In Mark the 6th Chapter upon, Jesus is referred to as Mary’s Son a reference that would only make sense in a male-leadership driven culture if the Father was not dead. There is never any evidence given in the Christian Gospels that Mary was anything other than a widow during the time that Jesus lived.
Yet the limited impact of Joseph during Jesus ministry doesn’t take away from the impact of his story. Joseph’s story for us is a story of the Gospel. It’s a story of a young man who had his heartbroken when he found out his young wife was pregnant, yet he wasn’t the father. Though Joseph even upon receiving this most difficult of news wished that harm wouldn’t come Mary’s way. Joseph’s story is a story of hope, a story of being able to embrace that a new day will be different from the old day. Joseph went against every previous life experience, because the Gospel goes against every previous life experience. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Amen
 Markquart, Ed. “Joseph and the Virgin Birth”. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Dec.11.2013
 Matthew 1:19
 Leviticus 20:10
 Matthew 1:20
 Matthew 1:21-23
 Matthew 13:55-56
 Luke 2:39-52
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The following story is based on Today’s Gospel from Luke 23. This is the story of a thief named Titus. Titus had lived a bad, bad life. Titus had spent the majority of his life living in the desert. Titus would seek to rob or murder anyone that would dare cross his path. Titus was even guilty people said of killing his own brother. Titus wasn’t particularly close to anyone. He did have an occasional partner in crime named Dimachus. Titus and Dimachus one day finally went too far with their actions. They encountered a few Roman soldiers on the Road to Jerusalem. Titus and Dimachus were initially excited since they knew Roman soldiers to be wealthy. Titus and Dimachus attacked these soldiers from behind, and then beat them death so that word of their crime never got out. Jerusalem in recent years though had been having plenty of people with Political Zealots, Religious Zealots, and even terrorists like Barabbas. When the Roman authorities heard the tale of these two thieves, Titus and Dimachus quickly jumped to the top of the most wanted list. Titus and Dimachus were soon captured. They were sentenced to death by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. The sentence was bad, a sentence of crucifixion. Crucifixion was considered to be the most shameful and disgraceful way a person could die. Titus and Dimachus had embarrassed the Romans so they were going to be punished for it. Crucifixion was such an awful way to die that the Romans would not allow its own citizens to die such a death. Crucifixion was a special sentence, a sentence of death reserved purely for enemies of the Government. As soon as Titus and Dimachus were sentenced they were forced to carry their own wooden cross beams nearly a mile outside the city, climbing nearly the whole way to the Jerusalem’s highest point atop the hills of Moriah. Yet in the midst of their walk away from Jerusalem, they saw a man behind them sentenced to crucifixion by death just like them only this man was not only surrounded by soldiers but also a large crowd. This man had been whipped so bad that he could barely walk. Roman soldiers had forced another man to carry his cross for them.
When Titus, and Dimachus arrived at Golgotha, otherwise known as the Place of the Skull. They were not alone. Joining them was a man they were calling “Jesus”. Jesus was called the “King of the Jews”. Titus was hung to Jesus’ right. Where as Dimachus was hanging to Jesus’ left. Titus at first couldn’t understand why Jesus would be called the “King of the Jews”. His body was a bloody and battered mess. Titus at first though that this Jesus was a crazy person, that’s why the fellow soldiers and on-lookers were mocking him. Titus then felt the need to join in with their insults. Titus actually heard this King of the Jews say as the Roman soldiers hung up upon the cross “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
This so-called King had been rendered so powerless that the Roman soldiers as a way of mocking his pending death began to divide up his clothes by casting lots. There was a loud crowd of people watching this King of the Jews be put to death to their delight. They mocked him further by saying “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, the chosen one”. The soldiers then approached his stretched out body, then gave him an offer of sour wine as a way to make fun of his thirst. The soldiers then further mocked him by saying “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself”. The soldiers then hung a sign above this man’s head to explain the reason for this death “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS”.
Dimachus kept up with his mockery of the so-called king as he cried out “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! Dimachus knew he was about to die. Dimachus was never going to give up his toughness. Even while being executed by merciless Roman soldiers. Dimachus had convinced himself that he was going to die with his pride intact unlike this foolish King of the Jews. Dimachus wished for his last breathes on earth to be spent cursing out this make-believe king. Dimachus had gone to the Cross defiant. Dimachus was going to stay himself right up until the bitter end. The more Dimachus hurt on the inside, the more he delighted in mocking Jesus.
Something came over Titus though as he heard his friend join in with the crowd, join in with the Soldiers, and laughing at this King of the Jews. Titus had been around plenty of thieves and scoundrels in his life yet this man seemed different for reasons he couldn’t place at this given moment. The Thief even in this King’s great suffering saw something unexplainable compared to how the world normally works. Titus noticed that even in the midst of all this torture and mockery that the King didn’t retaliate or fight back. Yet he didn’t just back down or cower in these last moments either. The King had no interest in trading fire for fire. He had merely mouthed the words “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”. Something about this whole incident struck Titus as awkward from what he had previously thought (before he had encountered this so-called king). This man was able to love in the sense of hatred; this man was willing to extend grace in the presence of injustice. This man was extending forgiveness to the very men that crucified him.
Titus saw a sense of power. Titus saw a sense of love. Titus saw a sense of mercy. Titus saw a sense of grace. Titus’ saw all this as this King’s body laid battered right along besides his, a King who even though seemed nothing, but weak and broken in that very moment. Titus came to believe that one day that this King’s power would be revealed for the entire world to see.
Titus eventually snapped at Dimachus saying “Do you not fear, God, since are you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due rewards of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong”. Titus then proceeded to speak the words of a broken man with no one else in the world to turn saying “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”
Jesus the King of the Jews then looked upon Titus, hearing his confession. Upon hearing his humility, years of wrong, self-loathing, and guilt had led of all of Titus’ life to this very moment. The King turned his head towards his right with some of the last ounces of strength in his body. The last image that people have of this king’s death was his head hanging in Titus’ direction. The king then mouthed out these words “As Today I say you will be with me in Paradise”.
These words that in that very moment indicated that no one can ever be too far gone, to be beyond the reach of Christ.
Darkness would soon cover the whole land. As the King cried out “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. As the king breathed his last breath, Titus would breathe his last breath not long afterwards.
Roman soldiers then walked up to Titus after his death and broke his legs to prove he was really dead. There was not a sign of life in Titus’ body. Titus’ mother looked on at this whole spectacle bawling her eyes out at her son’s life could have gone so wrong to end up like this, only to be consoled by the Mother of the King named Mary who assured her that everything would soon be alright.
Charles Spurgeon describes this story best when he says “What makes this story memorable is that it occurred when Our Lord was at his very lowest, yet the Thief was able to see him as a king anyway.”
This story is memorable because we would think like Titus’ came to think. We would see the King’s agony as evidence of his defeat. Yet Titus went to death truly believing that the one who hung alongside him was going to bring us into his Kingdom.
Titus was the King’s last companion on Earth. This King was not an ordinary King to die with a criminal such as Titus. Yet this wasn’t any different for this King. This was the King’s whole life. This King didn’t associate with the rich or powerful like the Pharisees or the Sadducees. This King didn’t sit around with the other religious big wigs of the day. This king associated with Tax Collectors and Sinners, and was left to die with a thief.
The fact that Titus was the last person the king associated with, the last person our lord made a promise to. This story says something to you and me. It says that the Lord shall choose us; the Lord shall remember us as he enters into his Kingdom. This king is different. This King didn’t seek to only enhance his power. This King didn’t seek to smite all his enemies. This King last companion on earth was nothing more than an ordinary sinner. A sinner that had been mocking him moments earlier, yet still promised to bring him into his paradise.
This King was certainty different then other kings. This King was more than just an ordinary ruler. This King had gone to his death with a purpose, a purpose of ushering in a new heaven, and a new earth. A Kingdom not governed by fear or power, but rather a Kingdom governed by mercy and grace. A Kingdom that Titus the thief would soon experience. Amen
 Luke 23:33
 Luke 23:34
 Luke 23:34
 Luke 23:35
 Luke 23:36
 Luke 23:37
 Luke 23:38
 Luke 23:39
 Luke 23:34
 Luke 23:40-41
 Luke 23:42
 Luke 23:43
 Spurgeon, Charles. “The Believing Thief”. Metropolitian Tabernacle of Newington. 7 April 1889. Web. Spurgeon.Org. November 18, 2013