Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
There is no greater story then someone emerging from the humblest of backgrounds that eventually changes the world.
A number of years ago there was a girl born to a teenage mother in small-town Mississippi. This girl’s mother was a housemaid. This girl was so poor growing up that she had to wear Potato sacks for clothing, as all the other children made fun of her. At the age of 9, this girl was sexually abused. At the age of 13, this girl ran away from home. At the age of 14, this girl got pregnant but lost the child shortly after birth. This girl then turns her life around, becomes an Honor Student in both high School and college. Shortly after College, this girl lands her dream job as a TV Anchor in Baltimore, Maryland only to be fired after several months with the station executives declaring that “she was unfit for TV”. This woman though soon found a TV format that better suited her style, which allowed for more ad-lib and free-flow. This woman would eventually become one of the most well-known and richest women on the planet. This woman’s name is Oprah Winfrey.
The US Presidency, in my lifetime, has been occupied by the son of a shoe-salesman and a homemaker from the small village of Tampico, Illinois who is Ronald Reagan. While another President was born three months after his father died in a car-crash, then his mother would remarry a man who was an alcoholic and a spousal abuser. The child from these humble begins was Bill Clinton. These are just three stories of people from unlikely backgrounds changing the world.
These stories are not unlike today’s Gospel reading which deals with people from unexpected backgrounds being called by God to change the world. Today’s Gospel is the calling of the disciples Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Digging into these men’s background we find some interesting things. Jesus encounters these men in the town of a Capernaum a town of a thousand people that very few people had even heard. These men were odd choices as Jesus’ earliest of followers since they were not educated men or religious scholars, in all probability these men couldn’t even read. These men had no influence, or money, there most notable skill was that they were fishermen. Yet this wasn’t even all that unique a skill because the whole economy of the area of Capernaum was centered on fishing. These men were not uniquely good at fishing, as their nets were unable to produce any fish on that day.
Why Jesus would have chosen these men doesn’t make any sense. Peter! Peter lacked courage, when Peter would later be asked if he knew Jesus upon Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied knowing him three times. James! And John! Here Jesus was choosing a couple of hot heads. Later in Jesus’ Ministry, after not be received by a village of Samaritans, James and John got so worked up that they ask that Jesus would consume the city with fire. James and John were nicknamed the Sons of Thunder. Andrew! He made no sense either, when Jesus would give sermons later on his ministry such as on “why bad things happen to people” in John 9, Andrew failed to get the point of his sermon. On the night of his arrest- Andrew was supposed to be on watch for people to come to arrest Jesus, only for Andrew to fall asleep within the first hour. For if one were to just look at the calling of these men in the moment of our Gospel to be Christ’s disciples, this move seems to be the epitome of foolishness. These men probably hadn’t traveled more then a few miles from home in their entire life, yet now they were being asked to change the world. For it might have seemed everything that God would want as a leader in his church, the disciples lacked. Yet, years down the line something funny happened. Immediately after Jesus’ rose from the dead something came over these men, so that where as days prior they were hiding for their life, these men were willing to travel to every corner of the earth under threat of death saying that the one who promised to make them fishers of men, had risen from the dead for their salvation. The disciples after being bumbling, stumbling, and uneducated cowards had become great speakers, who Christ chooses on this day to start his Church.
This idea of God calling the unexpected was not a new one. God had previously called whose personal faults seemed to disqualify them. The scriptures describe Noah as a drunk, yet God used him and his family to save the world from a great flood. Moses murdered an Egyptian, but God used him to deliver and rescue the Israelites from the Egyptians and lead them to the Promised Land. David committed adultery with Bathsheba, but God turned him into Israel’s greatest king. Jonah openly ran from God’s call so fiercely that he ended up in the Belly of a Whale. Then there is Paul. Paul held people’s coats, as they stoned Stephen to death for confessing the Christian Faith. Paul is described as seeing to it that Christians were arrested, and Paul describes himself as persecuting Christians more then anybody else. Yet Paul became the Christian church’s greatest missionary. Paul wrote more books of the Bible then anyone else, thereby shaping Christianity forever. For it was only through the most magnificent of sinners in Paul that people could understand the Christian Gospel.
The idea of God using flawed, ordinary people to do God’s work is one I can attest in my own life. When I was three years old, I had such a bad speech impediment; I had to begin therapy in Pre-School. Making R and L sounds just doesn’t come naturally for me. When I was nine-years old, I was talking to a very kind man, who was my Speech Therapist, named Mr. Kelly. Mr. Kelly asked me “What I wanted to be when I grew up”? I replied that I wanted to be a Sports Broadcaster. Mr. Kelly at that moment proceeded to inform that a job with that type of public speaking wouldn’t be possible with my speech impediment. When I was in Seminary, my advisor Jim Boyce proceeded to inform me that my nerves causing me to stutter would be an almost impossible obstacle to overcome within a Congregation. When I first started preaching, I would have bad stomach aches on Sunday morning before having to face a congregation to hopefully deliver so small bits of wisdom into people’s lives. I can speak first hand to how the tasks placed before so many of us are not going to be easy or even realistic.
I remember when I was in Seminary; Luther Seminary had a mission statement which declared that “God could use someone like you”. This campaign was developed by the Seminary’s marketing people and would always seek to find the most photogenic, attractive people it could to be front and center of this campaign. The only exception to this would be when they would feature people from parts of the world that Lutherans generally knew nothing about it. There was something that I noticed about the people that were front and center of these campaigns. They might have been nice enough, smart-enough, and hard-working enough to be effective Pastors. Yet they often went through life having everything handed to them on a Silver-Platter, receiving every blessing that youth, polish, and attractiveness often brings. Yet when I talked to these people, I noticed a seeming inability to really understand the muck and mud of life, to understand loneliness when you’ve never been lonely, to understand heartbreak with better options seemingly around the next corner, to understand job struggles when people are always going to want to hire you. As I think back to all this perhaps the calling of simple fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James, and John begins to make sense. It’s a story of how the Gospel is best understood the most ordinary of people, who live the most common of lives, who retain the ability to not get a head too high in the clouds, because they would never forget going on home on days without catching any fish.
Why do Peter, Andrew, James, and John decide to leave behind all that they ever know to follow Jesus? We know that Capernaum was the area that Jesus had moved to after his temptation in the Desert at the hands of the Devil. So perhaps there was a relationship established with Peter, Andrew, James, and John that caused them to come to trust Jesus’ words. This wouldn’t be a bad outcome to the story as it encourages us to build relationships as a way to further the Gospel. Yet perhaps something more interesting and even more significant is at work here during this story. Perhaps the reason why Peter, Andrew, James, and John drop everything that they had ever known to follow is because they had been overwhelmed in the moment. Perhaps something came over them in their encounter with Our Lord in this moment so that they didn’t think about acting; they just believed it was what they were being called to do. Jesus didn’t promise the Disciples any great earthly benefit or success if they followed his calling. They were being asked to do the most radical thing imaginable in leaving behind all that they had ever known to face the unknown. Yet that’s the thing about a Calling it doesn’t promise to be easy, it doesn’t promise to bring great earthly success, yet a calling presents itself in an almost unexplainable way that we can make a difference in the world whether we are fishermen, teachers, mechanics, or factory-workers.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John the men that Jesus calls today to be his disciples didn’t come from the most sterling of backgrounds nor did they have standout abilities. They weren’t great religious scholars who immediately grasped the point of every sermon that Jesus ever gave. These men didn’t have the greatest work ethic, or great courage with nerves of steel. Yet God called them to be the people, he used to start the Christian church. For the thing about the Disciples is they were not unlike the flawed, ordinary forgiven sinners that Christ calls to serve him everyday. It is must be true what they say “God can use someone like you”. Amen
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Last Week, we were having a brief discussion about sermons here at Sychar during the Board of Worship. During this discussion, I made mention that I was going to be preaching on today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 3 on the Baptism of Jesus. A suggestion was made that I spend this Sunday speaking about “What Lutherans believe about Baptism”, due to this woman admitting that most of us didn’t pay really good attention during Confirmation.
Yet as soon as I heard the request to speak about what we believe about Baptism in relation to Jesus’ Baptism. I had to state an important point in that the reason that Jesus got baptized at the age of thirty and the reason we get baptized generally as infants; has no connection. When we try to compare Jesus’ Baptism to our own Baptism, we are comparing Apples to Oranges, or life on Mars to life on Earth.
This leads us to the first question for this morning. “Why did Jesus go to John to get baptized?” Was Baptism present in the Old Testament?
Our lesson begins with the following words:
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tries to deter him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”-Matthew 3:13-14
Note in these verses John the Baptist’s initial shock at being asked to complete the task of baptizing the Son of God. John considered himself to be unworthy. John didn’t really see how his Baptism applied to Jesus since it was centered on the idea of washing away one’s sinful state; John recognized right away that Jesus wasn’t a typical applicant for his Baptism.
I think as we seek to understand the meaning of Jesus’ Baptism this morning it is helpful to understand the history behind John’s Baptism explained by the Old Testament which helps us understand how we should contrast it from Christian/Lutheran Baptism explained by the New Testament.
One of the big themes within the Old Testament was a huge distinction within worship between those who were clean and unclean. For example if a man touched bodily discharge or fluid that made it’s way to a bed that man would not have been able to enter a worship space without a ritual washing. This ritual washing would always take place in the form of a bath.
Another type of uncleanliness would be disease. In the Book of 2 Kings comes a story that I will eventually test the Confirmation students on where the Syrian Commander Namaan contracts the skin disease of Leprosy. Leprosy would have also kept a person from being welcomed in God’s house. Yet when Namaan seeks to go find the prophet Elisha, Elisha gave Namaan the command to cure his skin condition by dipping himself several times in the Jordan River. At which point Namaan’s Leprosy would be healed in a type of Baptism.
This brings us to John the Baptist. John’s Baptism was quite a bit different than ritual washing as a means to end uncleanliness. John’s Baptism was focused around repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist spent most of his life living in the wilderness, living apart from the traditional spaces of religious worship. John’s outreach was spent mostly reaching out to the lower classes who were the types of people who were often excluded from God’s House on account of their poverty.
The way that people typically had in generations past received the pronouncement of the forgiveness of their sins was they would buy an animal and bring it to the Temple so that the Priest would perform a ceremonial sacrifice on their behalf. But due to the distinction within the Old Testament about clean and unclean an animal had to be inspected and deemed ritually pure before it would constitute an acceptable Temple sacrifice. So buying clean animals was expensive, even today if someone were to visit a Jewish restaurant that keeps Kosher, the food will be more expensive due to the thorough inspection process an animal must undergo to be determined to be clean. The key point about the origins of John’s Baptism is it provided a sharp contrast against the Rabbis of the day by claiming that there was a way to God outside of the Temple system, and outside of traditional religious means.
So this brings us to the question of utmost importance to our lesson in “why was Jesus baptized?’
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”-Matthew 3:15
So we know the reason that Jesus had to get baptized was “to fulfill all righteousness”. There are a few points that need to be stated here.
1. The first point is in regards to the age of Jesus getting baptized at thirty. Our Baptist friends think this is important. I’ve heard the objection to Infant Baptism on more than one occasion that “remember Jesus was baptized as an adult.” This is true (no doubt). But why be baptized at the age of thirty? It couldn’t have been for insufficient religious knowledge. At the age of twelve, Jesus was able to walk into the Temple and amaze the greatest religious scholars of his day. John couldn’t get the reason for Jesus’ Baptism since he saw no sin in him to indicate he was turning over a new leaf in life. It makes no sense that Jesus got baptized as a means of publically stating his faith in front of an audience, since this seemed to be pretty on display at the Temple at the age of twelve. Something else is at work here, perhaps it is explained by the 4TH chapter of Numbers describes thirty being the traditional age to enter the Priesthood. And a couple of additional things that one had to do to properly enter the Priesthood according to the Old Testament were to be washed with water along with anointed with oil to symbolize the blessing of the Holy Spirit. When one digs deeper into this background information. It begins to make sense why we have little to no details of Jesus’ life from the age of two to the age of thirty. His ministry was only going to begin with a proper initiation into it or “a fulfillment of all righteousness.”
2. Jesus’ existence is radically different from ours in that he needed to fulfill the Law such as a proper initiation into the Priesthood. One of the toughest things for Christians and Non-Christians to do is to get the Old Testament to understand its meaning. The Old Testament has a lot of strange laws in its pages. The people of Israel are told not to eat pork, so Jesus didn’t eat pork. The people of Israel are told not to eat Shellfish, so Jesus didn’t’ eat Shellfish. The people of Israel are told not to mix meat with dairy, so Jesus didn’t mix meat with dairy. The Old Testament is filled with all sorts of seemingly strange laws dealing with touching animals, offering proper incense in worship, even mixing fabrics on one’s clothing. Yet the whole point of the Gospel/the Ten Commandments and any other strange law within the Old Testament’s pages is that Christ would end of the demands of the Law. Christians have been set free through to the cross to take confidence in one’s salvation because it is about what God has done for you, not what you must do for God. While there might be plenty of good reasons not to eat a Cheeseburger or Bacon (I can’t think of any, but this is what I’ve heard) because of death and resurrection these reasons have nothing to do with your salvation. This has been recognized since the earliest days of the Christian church.
This leads to a final question. What is the relationship between John’s Baptism and Christian/Lutheran Baptism?
John the Baptist would baptize people several times; John even had followers who underwent daily Baptism rituals. Christian Baptism was different from John’s Baptism in it’s invocation, Christian Baptism always occur in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The difference between John’s Baptism and Christian Baptism is on display in the 19th chapter of the Book of Acts where the Apostle Paul came across some disciples of John the Baptist who had been baptized by John, but had not yet heard of the Holy Spirit. At this point in time, they are rebaptized by Paul in the name, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Paul explained to John’s followers that John’s Baptism was merely pointing the way to one that would come after him in Christ Jesus.
Paul in Romans the 6th chapter states the true nature of Christian Baptism in contrast to John’s Baptism when he says:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
John the Baptist even drew a distinction between the inadequacy of his baptism and the baptism to come in Christ Jesus when he said:
“That he only baptized with water, but the one to come after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”
If one were to seriously study the New Testament they could in no way conclude that Christian/Lutheran Baptism and John’s Baptism served the same purpose or possessed the same meaning. Since Christian Baptism was only given it’s origins through the death and resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The key point to understand the comparison between Jesus’ Baptism and our Baptism is our Baptism has nothing to do with following Christ’s example. Our Baptism is rather centered on the unique promises given by God within Baptism. The declaration given by God is really no different then the declaration which ends our lesson for today.
“This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”-Matthew 3:17.
Christian Baptism is ultimately about the promises of God’s Word. God came down to wash away our sin. Jesus’ Baptism is not our Baptism. Today is the “First Day on the Job” that our Lord undertook to be our savior. The beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus’ Baptism took place to lead to the day when he took our sin unto himself. Christ took on our sin so we may be washed clean in the Baptism into his death that was to come. Amen
 Leviticus 15
 2 Kings 5:1-14
 Numbers 4:3
 Leviticus 8:6, Exodus 29:4- taken from Slick, Matt. “Why Was Jesus baptized?”. CARM. 10.Dec.2008. Web. Jan.8.2014
 Acts 19:1-7
 Romans 6:3-5
 Mark 1:8/Matthew 3:11
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
In 1965, the Coca-Cola Corporation primarily as a means for advertising commissioned Cartoonist Charles Schultz to create a Christmas special. Charles Schultz then began to create a vision of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Schultz embarked on the project not merely wishing to entertain, he insisted if he was going to attach his name this special was going to be about some sort of deeper meaning. Charles Schultz wanted to craft a special that captures the melancholy or bitter sweetness of the Holiday season faced by so many people. To add to the realness of the story, Schultz insisted that there be no laugh-track so the story would develop organically. Schultz also insisted upon having children rather than adults do the voices (unheard of at the time) as a way of emphasizing the lack of polish he wished for his characters to convey. But the ultimate request that Charles Schultz made to CBS was that a reading of the Nativity Story from the Gospel of Luke be included. Executives were reluctant of the overt religiosity of a special that dared to include a 51 second reading from the King James Bible. Executives after A Charlie Brown Christmas sneak previews were convinced that this would be the last Charlie Brown special because it was going to bomb, so bad. They would have taken it off the air, yet it was already on the schedule with the backing of one its biggest sponsors in Coca-Cola. Yet a Charlie Brown Christmas was a smash hit. Half the TV’s in America were turned into it; it won Emmy and Peabody awards later that year. The same special in 2010 was a given a five year extension by ABC taking it up to 50 years of Christmas viewings. A Charlie Brown Christmas is the definition of a Holiday Classic. What I wish to talk about tonight is the reasons for its popularity.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is popular because Charlie’s experience is all of our experiences. Charlie comes to the Holidays living in a painful place, feeling isolated from the world around him, it’s the story of feeling sad on what is supposed to be the happiest of occasions, yet it is in the midst of all this that Charlie Brown through his friends Linus receives the surprise of Grace. It was in the magical 51 seconds of a reading from tonight’s Gospel from Luke 2nd Chapter that the Charlie Brown was lifted from his gloom and his existence changed forever.
For those unfamiliar of not remembering the story well, A Charlie Brown Christmas tells the story of a depressed Kindergarten boy on the eve of Christmas. Charlie couldn’t understand why he wasn’t in the mood for the Holidays. Charlie had a hard time grasping why he felt like he did with everyone around him seeming to be so happy. Charlie on the advice of his friend/enemy Lucy agrees to direct a Christmas play as a means of trying to get into the Holiday Spirit. Yet Charlie’s leadership soon encounters kids who seem more interested in just trying to have fun then discovering the true meaning of the season. Charlie figures the only way to fix the cast’s attitude, with the play, is to go purchase a tree. Lucy gives Charlie the suggestion of purchasing the biggest, shiniest, pinkest tree in the lot. Yet when Charlie gets to the Tree Lot a certain tree stands out to him, the only real tree in the lot. Yet this tree was not a beautiful tree it was a wimpy tree, a weak tree, a dying tree. Yet there was something about this tree that captivated Charlie Brown. The Tree was a metaphor of how Charlie Brown saw himself. Once Charlie returns with this puny tree, he is instantly laughed at. Lucy couldn’t believe how dumb Charlie would be to purchase such an ugly tree. This last bit of mockery began to break Charlie Brown down. Charlie had come to the point in his life where he viewed everything he touched as a disaster. The cruelty of the children around him caused Charlie to eventually break down as a he said in a tone of agony, “Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Then out onto the stage walks Linus. Linus was an interesting choice to read the Christmas story in front of an audience since Linus whole existence was marked by a lack of self-confidence. Linus was known by everyone else around him for his famous security blanket, which people thought of as being silly, childish, and unnecessary. Yet Linus needed this blanket as something to grasp so that when he was weak and heavy laden, he could be given comfort and rest- Matthew 11:28.
So as soon as Linus steps onto the stage- he reads Our Gospel Lesson.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
As soon as Linus proclaimed to Charlie Brown the true meaning of the Holiday. Charlie Brown was given a new sense of purpose. Charlie decided to pick up his fragile little tree, and then walk home. After hearing Linus’ words, Charlie decided that this tree was important because it was his tree. Charlie wasn’t going to abandon his tree; he was just going to keep on loving his tree. In the meantime, moved by Linus’ reading as a critique of their selfishness the Peanuts gang follows Charlie Brown home, where Linus upon seeing the tree standing before him proclaimed another word of Grace as he says, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little bit love.”
Linus saw hope where no one else saw it in the scrawny, little tree. The Peanuts Gang then decorated the tree revealing its beauty and self-worth, right before singing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing“ together as the show closed.
As a way of illustrating the impact of this special on the American public about the weak, little tree. One thing that should be noted for anyone born in 1979 like myself is that a very popular trend of the early 1960’s was skipping real Christmas trees for brightly colored aluminum ones hence the pink trees being prominent in the special. But when viewers saw Charlie Brown stand by his tree in spite of its ever diminishing life span, it caused the aluminum tree market to collapse. Hence aluminum trees were no longer being manufactured just two years after A Charlie Brown Christmas first made it on the air.
The story of Charlie Brown brings us to our Gospel lesson for today. It’s a message to the Charlie Brown’s and Linus’s other there. It’s a message that Jesus Christ was born as a way of bringing good news to those who have been beaten down by self-doubt, anxiety, and despair. It’s a message to those who see in the mirror everyday all the ways they’ve fallen short, for not being pretty enough, rich enough, tall enough, or strong enough. It’s a message that seeks to break down the fake human masks that we tend to portray for all the world to see versus the weakness of our very reality as emphasized by Charlie Brown’s little tree. It is a message that seeks to reach those who feel forgotten and abandoned by the world. It is a message about Shepherds, the people who occupied the very margins of society. Shepherds were considered to be the type of people who society had given up on yet. Yet when the Angel comes to them it illustrates that God does not give up, when others around you do.
For born this night was a baby lying in a manager wrapped in swaddling clothes as a mere mortal, the Son of God was born in a feeding trough. It’s a story which proclaims that Jesus is being born amongst those who least expect it. It’s a tale that says when you’re like Charlie Brown and about to give up as you’re broken by the world, broken by your own sin, to remind you that God does not give up on you. God sent his own son into the world, born of a Virgin. So that as a many as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ- Galatians 3:27. The message of tonight is we are all ultimately Charlie Brown. So that even when we are afflicted by that which occurs around us this Holiday Season or the months that come after it, we know that we are not alone in this world.
Be assured that on this night a baby was born to be your savior. This baby was born to unexpected parents in the lowliest of places of a feeding trough. This Baby was born to embrace you in the midst of your failure, and never let you go. This is the story of A Charlie Brown Christmas and this is our story for tonight. Amen
 Cavna, Micheal. “ ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas 2012’: The gospel truth behind how tonight’s ‘Peanuts’ special became a beloved holiday classic. Washingston Post. 28.Nov.2012. Web. Dec.10.2013
 Cavna, Micheal. “ ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas 2012’: The gospel truth behind how tonight’s ‘Peanuts’ special became a beloved holiday classic. “
 Habeeb, Lee. “The Gospel According to Peanuts”. National Review Online. 25.Nov.2011. Web. Dec.10.2013
 Habeeb, Lee. “The Gospel According to Peanuts.”
 Habeeb, Lee. “The Gospel According to Peanuts”
 Marciuliano, Fransesco. “6 True Facts about ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’. Smosh Online. 3.Dec.2012. Web. Dec.10.2013
 Cavna, Micheal. “ ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas 2012’: The gospel truth behind how tonight’s ‘Peanuts’ special became a beloved holiday classic.
 Habeeb, Lee. “The Gospel According to Peanuts”.
 Johnson, Matt. “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.” Resurgence Online. Mars Hill Church-Seattle, WA. 21.Dec.2012.Web. Dec.11.2012.
 Schneider, Matt. “That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts, Pt. 2.” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 7 Dec.2012. Web. Dec.10.2013
 Schneider, Matt. “You’re a Hopeless Case, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts.” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 18.Jan.2012 Web. Dec.10.2013
 Schneider, Matt. “You’re a Hopeless Case, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts.”
 Schneider, Matt. “That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts, Pt. 2.”
 Marciuliano, Fransesco. “6 True Facts about ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’
 Satterlee, Craig. A. “Commentary on Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]”. Working Preacher. 24.Dec.2012. Web. Dec.11.2013
 Satterlee, Craig. A. “Commentary on Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]”.
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,
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and Fire”- Matthew 3:11.
These words from our Gospel lesson for today which reflects upon the ministry of John the Baptist, how John the Baptist preached in the wilderness encouraging people to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. Our Gospel shows how John’s Baptism in being similar set the stage for our own Baptisms. But what exactly do John’s words mean “I have baptized you with water, but he who is to come will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
To reflect upon these words’ meaning, I want to reflect upon the wisdom of one of America’s greatest religious thinkers in Archie Bunker.
For those of you who don’t know Archie Bunker. Archie was the lead character on a very popular TV show “All in the Family” in the 1970’s. Archie Bunker was anything, but polished or politically correct in his thoughts. Some might call him TV’s most lovable bigot as most of the show’s humor revolved around Archie making derogatory comments to those who were of different races, nationalities, sexualities, or held different political views from his own. Archie was the definition of a hothead, who would just say whatever thought popped into his head without regard for the consequences.
When it came to Religion, Archie Bunker was complicated. Archie would frequently assert during the course of the show, how important his Christianity was to him. Yet Archie rarely went to church and when he would go he’d storm off because he wouldn’t like the Minister’s Sermon.
When Archie does finally commit to start attending church, he does everything he can to get out of it, when it starts to conflict with his wishes to attend a Football game. So, why do we reflect on the wisdom of Archie Bunker this morning?
Because in 1976, there was an episode of “All in the Family” that dealt with the Christian understanding of Baptism like no American TV show before or since.
In this episode, Archie gets into a huge argument with his Daughter Gloria and Son-In-Law Michael or Meathead over whether they should have their Baby (Archie's Grandson) Joey baptized. Archie's Son-In-Law Meathead didn't want Joey baptized, “Because Meathead considered himself to be an Atheist”.
When Archie tried reasoning with Meathead, he reminded him that Meathead had been baptized. At which point an angry Meathead cried out “How he renounces his publically renounces his Baptism and it means nothing to him”.
At which point, Archie points out with his normal sense of tactfulness, how this is the stupidest thing he had ever heard. This would be the same thing as Meathead renouncing his belly button, it's impossible to do; just because you say renounce your Baptism doesn't make it so.
This scene brings up all sorts of questions that people have about Baptism. Meathead thinks of Baptism like most people do (Atheists and Christians) alike. It's just a ceremony were water is poured over the head. Sort of a family rite of passage with religious meaning for Michael and many others, Baptism doesn't actually do anything.
For example, when I worked down in Lamberton, I was at the Funeral Home for a Visitation when a guy comes up to me because he heard that I was a Minister. This guy wanted to quiz me or interrogate me.
This guy asks me, “If I actually believe Baptism saves anyone?”
This guy proceeds to tell me it’s more important that someone asks “Jesus into their Heart” as a true measure of their salvation.
Before giving me a chance to respond, perhaps because this guy knew he wasn’t going to like what I had to say.
He then starts quoting from the 3rd Chapter of John of how one needs to be “born-again” of BOTH Water and the Spirit so Baptism isn't enough. How we can't trust in our Baptism to save us.
At this time I pointed out how we I agreed with him that if everyone who is saved must be born-again.
Yet where we differed is when I pointed out how we participate about as much in our Rebirth and as we do in our Natural Birth. Where we disagreed on what it means to be “born-again”. Where as he associated being born-again with a dramatic life-transformation where you overcome your doubt and sin, instead being born-again is the very act of God to create faith and eternal life in the midst of sin and death in the waters of Baptism.
We are not born-again because we are effective Christians; we are born-again when we're rescued from drowning in sin by work of God's own Spirit.
Water by itself means nothing. Yet when water is connected to the promises of the Word of God then new life can come into being.
For the main issue involved in studying Baptism comes down to one fundamental question. This doesn't matter if Lutherans and Baptists are debating whether to Baptize Infants or Meathead is claiming to renounce his Baptism, “Is Baptism the work of God or the work of Man?”
If Baptism is the work of God then it's proper to associate Baptism with salvation. If Baptism is the work of God then one's age or intellectual ability is meaningless. If Baptism is the work of God then the Mark of the Cross upon our forehead given in Baptism is as difficult to take away for who you are as a permanent scare across your own leg. Whereas if Baptism is the work of Man then your Baptism can be declared worthless if you claim to lose your faith like in the case of Meathead.
But what do the scriptures say on these issues.
Titus 3:5-7 states “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
This passage clearly associates the act of Baptism with the work of the Holy Spirit to do wonderful, magical acts in Baptism of renewal and regeneration.
I Peter 3:21 states this truth more explicitly when it states “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
One of the most common misunderstandings I here about Baptism is in relation to Confirmation. When people seem to believe that “Confirmation makes Baptism valid” or “Confirmation completes Baptism,” while Confirmation is useful for religious instruction, the celebration of it is little more than a family ceremony or rite of passage.
This is in direct contrast to Baptism where
To quote my good friend Dr. Joe Burgess
“In infant baptism the Word of promise (Our Gospel) produces faith, and such faith is obviously not a decision. Nor is such but a fragment of faith, a kick start, as it were, for the infant receives the Holy Spirit, who cannot be divided into parts and is not merely potentially present. Just as the infant does not potentially receive forgiveness and eternal life, but actually and fully.”
Yet people get nervous if you associate Baptism too closely with Salvation. They say what about professing Atheists like Michael from “All in the Family” who refuses to get even his own kid Baptized? They say what about people who show up for Baptism then you never see them again? What about the nominal Christians like Archie Bunker of the world?
I think part of the problem with all this is we love to hear Grace for ourselves and judgment cast upon everyone else. We're continually wanting to associate God's salvation with our worthiness in some way, shape, or form. Yet the only hope any of us for the gift of eternal life whether we're active Church members or never in attendance is the Grace of God to save whom he wants to save.
God does not save any individual unfairly, God saves every individual he chooses unfairly. If God chooses to save more people through Baptism then we think he should, this is God's business not our own.
So, what do we say about Atheists who have been Baptized years ago like Michael?
It's important to point out that people's faith is often complex.
When people claim to be Atheists they may have been jaded by the church or people in it somewhere along the line. These people then consider themselves to be Atheists. When it's just anger they hold at other people.
Sometimes people claim to be Atheists when they're just plain angry at God. A famous example of this type of Atheist would be Larry Flynt who's the Publisher of Hustler Magazine had a very public conversion to Christianity in the 1970's only to become a very public Atheist after he was shot and permanently paralyzed. Flynt then began cursing God at every turn.
Some teenagers might claim to be Atheists just because they're looking for attention. And it's sometimes tough to differentiate between a person's reality and person's pose.
So, in cases of Atheists like Michael or Meathead, we would never say one's Baptism didn't work since faith was there at some point in time. God did not fail these people. Rather they fell away from the Christian faith due to their own sin, pride, and anger.
As far as a Baptized Atheists' final eternal destination I prefer not to attempt to answer this question. The scriptures clearly state in several places that those “Who do not believe, shall not be saved?”
Yet at the same time-plenty of people have been saved in spite of imperfect beliefs. None of us can ever believe rightly on the basis of our own sin.
So, we always want to stress caution when considering one's final destination, instead we just proclaim the promises of Baptism which are the promises of our Gospel. We might not see magical transformations right away. Yet the power of the Holy Spirit is such that he can breakdown the seemingly most impenetrable of walls. And reach people with the hope that God has claimed them as his own.
Back to the conclusion of this “All in the Family” Episode. Archie comes up with some scheme to get Baby Joey out of the house with him. Once Archie realizes the Minister is going to be of no help with his dilemma. Archie takes the radical next step of sneaking the Baby into the Church himself and bringing his Grandson to the Baptismal Font. Archie then dips his hand in the water and places it over his Grandson Joey's head at he mouths the words “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”.
Archie Bunker may have seemed or appeared to be one of the worst people possible to shed light into how Christians understand Baptism. But in reality, he was one of the best. Because Archie wouldn't have thought Baptism was important, if he didn't understand the darkness in his own soul. Archie wouldn't have thought, Baptism was important, if he didn't realize his own powerlessness to change himself. Archie wouldn't have thought, Baptism was important, if he didn't realize how we all fall short of the glory of God. How spiritually dead we all are inside yet within the waters of Baptism, a miracle takes place which washes away our sins and gives us new life.
Why this happens? This makes no sense, other than the love of God who gave his life to save our own and will stop at nothing to bring us into his presence by the power of his Holy Spirit in Water.
For as our Gospel lesson states just as John baptized with Water, the one that came after him in God's own Son, Jesus Christ our Lord has baptized us through water with the Holy Spirit. Amen
 Mark 1:8
 John 3:18, John 3:36
 Romans 3:23
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
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As we celebrate All-Saints Sunday today, I want to tell you the story of a Saint and the impact that one such Saint made on my life. Now when I was growing up, I didn’t have a Grandpa that enjoyed spending time with kids.
Yet I had an ever bigger blessing, I had a Great Grandpa Arvid. Arvid lived a few blocks away in Lindstrom in a big, brick house that reminded you of Wrigley Field with the Ivy hanging down from it. Arvid’s place would be my get away from home.
Perhaps the most special year of our relationship was the summer of 1991 as the Minnesota Twins completed a turn-around from “worst” to “first” bringing the World Series Trophy back to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Arvid’s Daughter “My Grandma” would often have to leave for the night. So when I was in Junior High, I would often spend the night at Arvid’s house to make sure nothing happened to my ninety- something Grandpa who had trouble moving through the night.
Arvid died in November of 1995 at the Age of 95. Arvid might have made 100, yet his diet was absolutely horrible. That’s why I liked hanging out at his house so much. I rarely saw Arvid without a bucket of Caramel Corn in his hands.
My first experience with death was visiting as a 16 year old nursing home in the last few hours of Arvid’s life as he struggled with his last breath.
Arvid’s legacy in Lindstrom was such that the week he died, the Chisago County Press editorialized about his death. Arvid brought a lot to the town of Lindstrom. Arvid founded the Victor Agency in 1948, the business my Dad runs today. Arvid served as Mayor. Arvid was the last original member of Trinity Lutheran Church to die. Arvid brought the Dairy Queen to Lindstrom that eventually became the most profitable DQ in Minnesota.
But the one thing that I’ll remember from that editorial given about Arvid’s life is how the editor John Silver recalled that in all of Arvid’s life experiences, no one had come across him saying a bad word about another person.
In my line of work, you see people brought down from their public image all the time, where words don’t match reality. Yet Arvid remains the figure I try to emulate in relating to other people even when I fall short in these regards.
What I’ll remember most about Arvid is how he would absolutely drop everything for others. One time I was 8 years old and had broken my leg due to my stupidity. Arvid calls me up on the phone asking if there was anything I needed.
I said I wanted “Dorpa-Scorpa”. Dorpa Scorpa was dried Cinnamon Toast, so hard that I still have a chipped tooth from eating it as a kid. Remember we’re all Swedes in Lindstrom. Five minutes later, Arvid shows up with a bag of Dorpa Scorpa as my request had become instantly the most important thing in his life.
I remember Arvid’s funeral. We were so close that it ended up being the first time in my life that I ever spoke in front of a church as I delivered a eulogy. I remember thinking that I was going to be able to tough it out, throughout the service. The worst thing you can do as a 16 year boy is cry. Yet leaving the sanctuary I remember the reality of Arvid’s loss just overwhelming me as I broke down. I stand before you today almost 18 years to the week after Arvid passed. I have been blessed with new relationships, yet I know that I will never come across another Arvid.
Our Gospel Lesson for Today comes from Luke the 6th Chapter. Today’s lesson comes from the Sermon on the Plain from Luke 6. The Sermon on the Plain is known for speaking some very dramatic language. It describes the people who are blessed as those who are hated, those who are poor, and those who are begging for just one crumb of food.
The message of our Gospel for lesson for today is simple. The things that Jesus describes are about who God blesses through his gospel, not about individual blessings that we receive. How God is present in the deepest, and darkest places of human despair.
A few years ago, I met an old High School Classmate for Lunch. I hadn’t seen this classmate named Matt for a few years. Matt walks up to me and without any tact whatsoever says to me “Boy-Stew you’ve sure gotten gray”, gray just like my great-grandpa.
Hundreds of days had passed marching closer to death since Matt and I had last seen each other. Hundreds of days had been spent trying to deny this fact. Hundreds of more days have been spent looking in the mirror trying to convince myself that I look the same as yesterday, looking in the mirror seeing that I’m not as strong as I might think.
For to whom can forgiveness be extended but the weak? Who can be given mercy other than the broken? Who can be given new life but the dead?
“None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” –Romans 14:7-8
Luther on his death bed, put the Christian’s life in the most simplest of terms. “We are all beggars. This is most certainly true.”
I want to talk a bit today about the nature of Sainthood. A number of years ago, a Time Magazine article came out with the scandalous title “The Secret Life of Mother Teresa”. This story detailed how Mother Teresa had been held up as a Hero and Saint for nearly half a century, while at the same time struggling with her own sense of doubt. Prominent Atheists jumped on this story as proof of the untruth of religion as how even one of its most notable proponents struggled with self-doubt. Yet perhaps Mother Teresa’s story tells us something else. It tells us how Saints don’t become Saints due to the human will, Saints rather become Saints because their molded into them. For it’s at moments when we’re at our lowest, that our need for a savior tends to be the most revealed.
One thing worth noting about Sainthood is Saints are never described throughout the scriptures in singular terms. Saints aren’t merely Super Heroes of the Faith. Saints are rather the whole communion of believers. The word Saint means “Holy”. We are called Saints not because we are ourselves are without flaw, we are declared to be Saints because the Holy One seeks to call us home through his gospel.
A few years ago there was a Saturday Night Live Character named Debbie Downer played by Rachel Dratch. Debbie Downer’s claim to fame is that whenever someone was on the verge of having a fun conversation, Debbie Downer would come back with some really unpleasant fact about life. Debbie Downer is actually a fairly good illustration of how too many people misunderstand religion as pointed out by Religion Blogger Kate Norris. Too many people tend to think of a Christian’s life only in terms of human glory.
Today we come face to face with the harshest downer of all in death. Death is not beautiful. Nor is Death desired. Death is not natural. Nor is Death peaceful. Death is never what God intended for his creation. As evidenced by the tears it sheds and the pain it brings. What happens in Death is we come face to face with Death’s tragedy. We come face to face with the fact that we’re just as mortal as those who have gone before. Ashes to Ashes. Dust to Dust. Yet in Death we are brought forth to the cross. So we do not face death with uncertainty. We face death with confidence because of the one who conquered death on our behalf.
“I am the resurrection, and the life”, says the Lord, “he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”- John 11:25-26.
Today we remember Matt Banovetz who rose from the Pelletizing plant all the way to being the final president of Reserve Mining. Yet Matt never changed one bit. Matt who had sleepless nights because of the burden of watching his friends and neighbors future be thrown into chaos as the Reserve was in his final days. Matt was so hurt by all this, he decided to retire rather than move on when the plant shutdown.
I’ll remember being with Dee Guzzo in the last years of her life. As she struggled with the loneliness brought on by Tony’s loss. As her eyes began to fade, as her hearing began to go, as her body kept breaking down. Yet Dee’s bond with her family was so strong that family members would spend the night at her side in the final hours. Keep trying to say the last words to her not unlike I had to say to Arvid years ago. Dee’s dying days were a testimony to how much she had given to others throughout the course of her life.
We remember Ardell Granlund for his quiet and gentle nature. We will remember Ardell always being willing to give of his time to help others as an electrician. We will remember how he loved our ladies cooking.
We will remember Ivy Grotberg as a feisty, old lady. Ivy loved music especially hymns and harmonica. Ivy will be remembered for her sense of humor. But Ivy will be remembered most of all for always putting her family first.
We will remember Pam Mattila for her ability to always see the best in other people. How Pam through her illness never wished to see other people brought down. How Pam will be remembered this Christmas Eve as the Matilla’s gather to light Ice Candles as Jon plays Silent Night at the Cemetery.
We will remember Debbie’s Nelson’s stirring renditions of Harper Valley PTA and These Boots Were Made for Walking along with her deep laugh when working at the Ye Old Store.
We will remember Lee Roy Jacobson’s tragic loss. How there were so many people at Sychar you’d think the Fire Marshall would shut it down, but the fire-men were the ones standing along the side wall as we heard stories of his sense of humor and zest for life.
We will remember Virtus Schultz trying to flirt with any woman who came his way. We will remember Virtus’s greeting, smile, and continual presence at the Northwoods. “We will remember how Virtus served as an example for so many men and women for years and years in the AA Program. How Virtus believed that if he could have his life brought back together than anybody else could”-Andi Stebelton Bourne Remembrance
How all of the Saints that we recognize today influenced lives of those around them much like Arvid influenced my own. I remember being 18 years old, trying to explain to others, where I believed I was being led with the rest of my life.
I remember sitting down at My Sister’s confirmation with my Pastor Tom. The same pastor that had buried my Great-Grandpa two years earlier, I told Pastor Tom I was feeling called to go to School to pursue a career in Ministry.
Pastor Tom just looks at me saying ‘I can see it after seeing you with your great-grandpa growing up.” Arvid wouldn’t have known it at the time, but if it wasn’t for how his life exemplified grace as I’m getting into all sorts of trouble at school and home, I’m probably doing something else, far away from here. We never know how the Saints around us impact us.
As I think back to Arvid’s funeral. I can’t remember much. I can remember processing to the Front of the Church as family. I can’t remember what Pastor Tom said. Yet I’ll forever remember something that Pastor Tom did during the sermon, something that I’ve never before seen during a sermon.
Pastor Tom had the congregation open up their hymnals and sing. He had them sing the song that we’ll sing in a just a few minutes. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. A hymn that points out the true meaning of All-Saints Sunday, a hymn that points out how any Sainthood we possess comes because Our Lord knows us not just in our triumphs, but our Lord knows us when we’re at our lowest, and most broken. How Our Lord takes us to the very place of our death and judgment only to bring us on the other side through his resurrection.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”-John 5:24
So that even when we’re weak as we’re struggling for our last breaths, even as we’re weak as we doubt the future and uncertainty through our tears, on the cross we are made strong. How by his death Jesus destroyed the power of death and how by his resurrection he opened the Kingdom of Heaven for all believers.
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed”-1 Corinthians 15:51-52.
All this so that Sinners may be declared to be Saints. Amen
 Van Biema, David. “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith.” Time Magazine. 23.Aug. 2007. Web. Oct.29.2013
 Davis. “The Exposed Lies of Saints.” Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA.10.Oct.2010. Web. Oct.29.2013
 Norris, Kate. “Debbie Downer”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 4 June 2010. Web. Oct.29.2013
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Jesus Christ,
I want to tell the story this morning of Bill Blasiak. Bill Blasiak was born in a town not unlike Silver Bay. Bill’s parents were not unlike people we know. Bill’s Dad was a Miner, whereas Bill’s Mom stayed at Home working harder than anyone else in the family trying to raise Bill’s Brothers and Sisters. Bill’s parents didn’t have much money so they dreamed of a better life for their children. Bill did the church thing as a kid. Bill was baptized; Bill went to Sunday school, and eventually Confirmation Classes.
Bill viewed his Confirmation Sunday as a graduation of sorts. Bill was never going to have to listen to another one of the Preacher’s boring sermons, Bill was never going to have look silly wearing an Acolyte Gown, Bill’s Wednesdays were soon going to be free for Video Games, and Bill’s Sundays were going to be free to sleep in.
Bill went through High School as a good student and soon College was on the horizon. Bill had to begin to consider what he was going to do with the rest of his life. Bill’s Dad had instilled in him one goal. “Make as much as money as possible”.
Around this time, Bill heard of a lawyer that had won hundreds of Millions of Dollars in a Class Action Lawsuit. Bill realized that a career in the Law was what he should pursue then. Bill was an extremely motivated young man. Bill went to college, studied hard late into the night, and woke up early in the morning.
As soon as Bill graduated college he appeared to have his life on the fast track. Bill’s parents were so proud. Bill soon began Law School, yet the future soon began to crumble apart.
While Bill was in Law School, one of his Best Friends growing up named Alex had been out on the roads a bit later at night then he should have been, when a drunk driver end up hitting Alex taking his life. This event set Bill through a whole wide range of emotions.
Bill was angry! Alex’s sudden death considered Bill to consider a whole host of questions such as the role of God in it all, and what would happen to Bill if he didn’t make it through the night. Bill began to consider what he thought was at first a crazy idea that he was going to start attending Church again. Bill went in with an open mind that it might help him.
Yet what Bill heard added very little to the questions that he sought to answer. All Bill heard was of his need to do more: pray more, give more, read his Bible more, and in Bill’s mind have fun less.
Bill’s was about ready to give up on the Religion thing until one fateful afternoon. Bill had to journey back to School from his parents place. It was a drive of about three hours. Bill had driven in snow before. As Bill started driving he was confident that the drive would be no big deal. Yet the snow kept falling harder and harder. The wind kept gusting harder and harder. Bill hadn’t understood what the term zero visibility meant till that day.
After Bill had recently lost his friend Alex in an auto-accident, Bill started to get greatly nervous. Bill figured that if there was a God in control of the universe that now was the time to call out to him. Bill in a moment of temporary insanity yelled out that “If the Lord were to save his life on that snowy afternoon then Bill would give up big money as a lawyer to become a minister”.
Once Bill made it safe back to school, he figured that fate had intervened. Bill was going to go to Seminary. Bill’s Dad was upset at this all. Bill’s Dad thought he was throwing away all sorts of money, all sorts of opportunity to move to maybe end up at a small town in the middle of nowhere.
Once Bill enrolled in Seminary, he quickly began to consider that he had made the worst mistake of his life. Bill had no idea how he could issue words of comfort to other people, when he could not even comfort himself. Bill worked at his studies though as hard as ever.
Bill studied the scriptures. He came across all sorts of apparent contradictions. Bill came across all sorts of strange and goofy laws that didn’t make sense as he read Leviticus. Bill began to consider that no one throughout the scriptures really got him or thought like him.
Bill one day was talking to a Seminary classmate Hans who was tired of hearing all of Bill’s questions. Hans suggested that Bill just sit down one night and read through the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel was Hans’ favorite and figured it would make sense of Bill’s issues. Bill started reading John read until he came across Our Gospel Lesson for today from John the 8th Chapter whose words leapt off the page at him.
“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”- John 8:31-32
Bill began to consider the meaning of these words. Bill’s life had recently been defined by a lack of answers, a sense of personal bondage to the powers of this world to the powers of life and death since his friend’s death. As Bill kept reading Jesus response to the disciples about life and death would change the course of the rest of Bill Blasiak’s life.
“Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave[b] to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”-John 8:34-36
These words shed new insight to Bill into God’s role in the world. That it wasn’t ultimately about Bill. Bill was incapable of setting himself free. Bill could only be set free by the acts of a gracious God poured out in Baptism and sustained in the Lord’s Supper. Bill came to realize that the only thing that he was to contribute to his salvation was his sin in need of saving.
Bill was at this moment no longer fearful of death or the wrath of God.
Bill in this moment came to understand the meaning of the words “Gospel” and “Good News”. Bill wasn’t going to be able to question surrounding his friend Alex’s death. Yet Bill knew that on the Cross the will of a gracious God for the whole world was revealed. Bill was going to dedicate the rest of his life to correcting the ways people had previously understood God and the Church with this treasure that he had discovered. Bill discovered in this moment that God’s love and mercy is given without cost.
Bill Blasiak had truly been set free. Set free from his own bondage to sin and inability to free himself. Bill Blasiak came to realize that in this moment that Christianity is not a series of what ifs that define the relationship between God and his people. Christianity is rather about proclaiming the God that loves us and will stop at nothing to bring us into his presence on the Cross. For Forgiveness is granted, not earned.
What can we make of the story of Bill Blasiak? Bill’s story is ultimately Luther’s story as told in 21st Century America. Luther’s story is ultimately our story, a story of personal brokenness leading to the road to our redemption.
Today we celebrate Reformation Sunday. October 31st, 1517 the day that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Castle Door at Wittenberg, this event would lead to the birth of the Evangelical Church quickly called the Lutheran Church as a way of making fun of its founder and his adherents within a few short years. The Evangelicals eventually claimed the Lutheran name as their own.
Last summer I taught a class on the Life of Martin Luther. During that class someone made the remark that they had heard that Lutherans worship Martin Luther?
We worship no man Luther included. Luther had plenty of faults. Luther was Stubborn. Luther was a man of quick-temper almost to the point of his life. Luther made plenty of comments about his opponents such as the Pope that were ultimately not helpful. Luther was crass, often seeking to use Bathroom humor as a way to articulate his points. Luther often spoke of God’s mercy on one hand, while displaying very little to his opponents on the other hand. Luther towards the end of his life made many unfortunate comments about the Jews that no one would defend today. Luther made a huge error in public leadership in agreeing to the secret marriage of a 2nd Wife for Phillip of Hesse for political reasons.
I don’t wish for my life to look like Luther’s. Luther’s life from his earliest days was marked by an almost paralyzing depression and anxiety. Luther had plenty of attributes that didn’t make him a great hero of faith.
Yet why do we celebrate Luther’s life today?
About Twenty Some Years Ago, a movie came out called Leap of Faith. Leap of Faith starred Steve Martin who played a traveling evangelist named Jonas Nightengale who had aroused the suspicions of the Local Sheriff that he had no real purpose in town other than bilking the townsfolk out of money.
When the Sheriff shows up to one of Nightengale’s revivals to confront him about his criminal past, Nightengale- (Steve Martin’s character) gives a beautiful answer about sin from the falsest of preachers.
When Nightengale chimes to Sheriff-,
“Everything you said is true, absolutely true. Yes, I was born to lowly circumstances. Yes, I ran with a bad crowd that taught me to smoke weed and steal. I hung out in bars, and I hot wired cars. I grew up mistreated, so I lied and I cheated. I learned hard crime, and I served hard time. I have walked that crooked road and I have danced with the demon Satan. I’ve been face down in the gutter and looked up into the face of God. And I say to you tonight, if you wanna give up the bottle, who you gonna talk to? Someone who’s never touched a drop? And if you wanna give up womanizing, who you gonna talk to? Some pale skinned virgin priest? If you wanna give up sin, and I believe everyone here tonight wants to give up sin, who can lead you off that crooked road? You need a real sinner people. A sinner of such monumental proportions that all your sins wrapped up in one couldn’t possibly equal the sins of this king of sin. Because you know, if he can walk that straight and righteous path, if he can go from grit to grace, from sin to sanctity, from lowliness to holiness… then you, with all your everyday sin, can rise up like an angel and ride that golden elevator to God’s own penthouse in the sky.”- Jonas Nightengale- Leap of Faith (1992)
Steve Martin beautifully summed up the life of Martin Luther and the Reformation of Christianity without knowing it. Luther found the Gospel because he came to grips with the human condition. You needed someone as broken as Luther to proclaim to people how far God’s Grace and Mercy could extend.
Luther is the Church’s greatest thinker and influence since the Apostle Paul for one simple reason. Luther was politically incorrect. Luther rejected the I’m Ok, You’re OK, It’s All OK mindset that dominates our culture. Luther was one of the most honest people to ever walk the face of the Earth. Luther rejected the fakeness that people claim when discussing God and Man. This is what makes Luther’s proclaiming the Gospel hit each and every one of us so directly.
Leap of Faith eventually ends with the Con-Artist Preacher seeing the value of faith in not his life, but the lives of others in spite of our imperfect intentions. As the movie ends with Jonas going from being convinced that he’s a fraud to shouting out “Thank You Jesus”.
Jonas realizes that Christianity went way beyond how his preaching matched his life, but rather how Christianity wasn’t about Jonas at all. Jonas had been viewing God like a sinner always putting himself at the center of his existence, yet it wasn’t ultimately all about him, Christianity is all about a Cross.
The Reformation that we celebrate is a testimony to the life of Bill Blasiak, Martin Luther, Jonas Nightengale, You and Me. The Reformation is ultimately our story. It’s the story of our brokenness, the depth of our sin, and how our God will stop at nothing to set us free.
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this morning by telling a story from when I was in High School. I had gone to meet my friend Josh and we were going to go get something to eat. We decided to go to a place called the Traprock Inn, right across the Wisconsin Border in the village of Dresser not far from where Josh lives. As I’m pulling into Dresser, distracted by talking to Josh, and with very few other cars in sight, right behind me I see bright flashing lights. I pull over to the side of the road when the officer comes up to tell me that I had been speeding, than hands me a speeding ticket.
I got mad! I got mad because I thought this whole thing was totally unfair. I had ridden with friends who would drive windy Chisago County roads at over 100 miles per hour putting people’s lives in danger. Yet, here I was being given a speeding ticket for not knowing where the speed limit changed in a town of 600 people.
My response to all this was not rational. I decided that I was going to go the Polk County Courthouse to fight the ticket. My parents for some silly reason decided to let me skip school to do this. I dragged my Dad and my Grandma to these proceedings.
I was 18 years old, stubborn, foolish, the ticket was given the weekend of a Viking/Packer Game, and figured I had a case. So, my name is called up by the Judge. The Judge asks “Whether I plead innocent or guilty?” I pleaded innocent, never mind I had no case. Never mind, I would be forced to argue against a radar gun and a cop.
I figured persistence would lead to this ticket be dropped.
The Judge amused by this spectacle, asks “If I was really innocent”? “If I was sure that I wasn’t going a few miles an hour over the speed limit?” The Judge than ordered me to meet with the cop where he agreed to drop a few miles per hour off my speed for insurance purposes.
My afternoon at the Polk County Courthouse draws a parallel with our Gospel lesson from Luke the 18th Chapter. In Today’s Lesson you have a Plaintiff standing before a judge without any sort of case, hoping that the judge will relent from the normal way of doing business. Our Lesson consists of Jesus telling a Parable regarding a Widow standing before a Judge.
To understand our Lesson for Today, we need to understand the role of Widows within Ancient Palestine within Jesus’ day. The Author BB Scott describes the Widow as such:
“According to the Customs of the day, a marriage contract stated a husband’s obligation to his wife, and on his death she had the right to be supported out of his estate as specified in that contract. The widow had no legal right to inherit. Normally a husband’s estate would take care of a Widow’s needs. But the normal conditions were by no means universal. Many widows and their children were left destitute. So, common was the state of affairs that “widow” came to mean not simply a woman whose husband was dead, but also one who had no means of financial support and thus needed special protection.”
Consider that the Widow in today’s lesson was so vulnerable, that she had no family to support her even as she went forth before the judge. Consider the character of the Widow versus the character of the Judge. The Judge is supposed to be righteous and impartial.
I know a woman who serves as a Minnesota District Court Judge. She is obsessed with her reputation within the community. She refuses to go to Bars, not because she doesn’t like a cocktail, rather she fears interacting with someone she has previously sentenced. She doesn’t wish to go to church, because she doesn’t want too much attention drawn to her presence. Yet the Judge this Widow went before was different than the average judge.
“In this certain city of which Jesus speaks there resides a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people”-Luke 18:2
This Judge had no reason to hear the case. This Woman owed creditors. .This Widow was so low on the social ladder that any normal judge would have considered resolving her difficulties a waste of time. “In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent’.”-Luke 18:3
The Widow had no legal or coherent case to make. It was the equivalent of when I stood before the Judge in Balsam Lake. The only hope was that the Judge might decide to relent on upholding the law. This Widow was persistent in bringing before the Judge, her request, no matter, how absurd it might have seemed. The Judge eventually relented because the Widow kept on bothering him.
What this parable is meant to speak to is the nature of God. It seeks to compare God to an Unjust Judge. Yet point out how God’s mercy will even far surpass this of the Unfair Judge.
Robert Farar Capon summed up Today’s parable best when he said:
“What does this parable say about God? It says that God is willing to be perceived as a bad God and for no better reason then he wants to get the problems of a world full of losing winners off his back. It says he is willing, while they are still mired in their futile pursuits of the spiritual buck, the moral buck, the intellectual buck, the physical buck, or the plain old ordinary buck, to just shut up about whatever is wrong with them and get the hassle over with. It says in fact what Paul says in Romans 5:8 “While we still sinners, Christ died for us…God simply wants the wet blankets of his back, and to let the party begin.”
Our parable today causes to consider the nature of our own judgment day. Ask ourselves whether we want to receive a fair judgment of our lives or receive an unfair judgment of our lives?
A Just Judge would give the defendant what they deserve in Death and Hell, whereas the Unjust Judge would not. A Just Judge would make sure that the Widow repaid every last penny, where as an Unjust Judge might repudiate the debt. A Just Judge would obsess about the widow’s motives or her sake of repentance, whereas an Unjust Judge wouldn’t care about the self-perceived current state of one’s soul.
Our parable for today is similar to many of Jesus other parables. The Shepherd who seeks the Sheep who wanders off from the fold, the Woman who celebrates finding the coin that she had lost, the Father who welcomes home the Prodigal Son that had blown his wealth.
The focus of this parable is on the nature of God in reaching his chosen ones. How this God will not delay in rescuing and saving them no matter how desperate a situation his loved ones find themselves in throughout the course of their life.
What every one of Jesus parables is to meant to do is challenge the given audience into a wider understanding of how God’s reign transforms the earth. How God’s power is able to reach in the words of Mark Vitalis Hoffman, those who are last, those who are lost, those who are least, those who are little, and those who are ultimately lifeless.
Parables such as our lesson about the Unjust Judge are always defined by a surprising even potentially scandalous outcome regarding the nature of God’s grace. To illustrate this all let me close with a Modern Day parable in The Parable of the Bus Driver.
A while back there was a college student who in pursuit of needing to make a few bucks took a job as a bus driver on the South Side of Chicago. The Young Man soon grew to enjoy this job greatly as he enjoyed the people he dealt with on a daily basis. Although one day this all began to change, as a group of punks or hoodlums got on the bus and refused to pay the fare. This same sequence went on for a few more days. When eventually this Bus Driver sees a Police Officer on the Corner and reports the young punks who refused to pay the fare. The Officer then got on the Bus and made the young hoods pay their fare. The young men didn’t take this act so well and soon began to plot their revenge.
So, then a few days later, the young men stayed on the Bus till the end of the line. They then attacked the Bus Driver. They not only robbed this Bus Driver, they beat him within an inch of his life. This Bus Driver was in such rough shape, he had to spend several weeks in the Hospital recovering from injuries. And deep down inside, the Bus Driver got angrier and angrier at the young men that attacked him. The Bus Driver wondered “what would possess people to act such a way”.
The Bus Driver eventually got out of the Hospital just about the time the Young Punks were about to go to trial for their crimes. The case was pretty clear cut and sentencing was just around the corner. Yet the Bus Driver still deep down was angry and though he’d never be able to forgive these men who beat him.
But then the Bus Driver got to thinking about these Young Punks from the perspective of his Christian Faith. He thought of how he was far from perfect. He began thinking about how much forgiveness had changed him. So, the Bus Driver decided that he was going to something to illustrate the power of the Gospel to forgive sins on the next day at sentencing. The Bus Driver was going to illustrate something about God’s sense of justice and fairness. The Bus Driver was going to illustrate the meaning of Today’s lesson.
So, the very next day, right before the sentence was handed down, the Judge asks the Bus Driver if he had anything he wished to say to his attackers before their sentenced was announced. At which point the Bus Driver stood up and said “Yes your honor there is, I wish for you to add up all the time these young men are going to serve and assign me to serve it in their place.”
Jaws dropped throughout the courtroom. It was so quiet that people could hear the sound of their own breath. The Judge was flabbergasted and barely articulates a response as he muttered “This has never happened before… there is no precedent.”
To which the Bus Driver said “Yes it has” “It happened on the Cross, For You and For Me.”
So, therefore let us give thanks and praise for the sentence of the Unjust Judge. Amen
 Scott, Bernard Brandon. Hear Then the Parable…p.180. Retrieved on October 7th, 2013 from http://www.gettysburgseminary.org/mhoffman/parables/other/UnjustJudgeSWMN.pdf- Mark Vitalis Hoffman
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Justice, Grace, p.332. Retrieved on October 7th, 2013 from http://www.gettysburgseminary.org/mhoffman/parables/other/UnjustJudgeSWMN.pdf-Mark Vitalis Hoffman
 Vitalis Hoffman, Mark. “Parable of the Unjust Judge”. Southwest Minnesota Synod Assembly. 10-11 June 2006. Lecture taken from http://www.gettysburgseminary.org/mhoffman/parables/other/UnjustJudgeSWMN.pdf
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Sally and Sully had met in High School. Sally had caught Sully’s eye from across the Diner. Sally wasn’t at first, quite sure what to make of Sully. Yet Sully was so persistent in trying to win her over, she gave him a chance. As Sally began to spend time with Sully, she soon became smitten. Sully was always the perfect gentleman, always offering Sally his coat to keep her warm on a cold Minnesota Fall night. Sully also had the ability to make Sally laugh like no one else she had ever met. A few years after meeting Sally and Sully were married in a church not unlike this one. Sally and Sully then proceeded to spend nearly 60 wonderful years together raising three children in the process.
Shortly before Sully’s 80th Birthday though troubles arose, Sully’s breath started getting shorter and shorter. Sully then started coughing up blood. Sally insisted that Sully go to a doctor immediately. In the past Sully would have been stubborn and refused to go. Yet even Sully knew that he didn’t feel like he ought to feel. Sully feared what would happen to Sally if anything happened to him. The Doctor’s visit led to Sully seeing a Lung Specialist who brought grim news, Sully had Stage 4 Carcinoma. Sully and Sally were told that the Cancer had spread to a point where treatment yielded little to no benefit. Sully had less than six months to live. The community and family rallied to Sully’s side in his final months. Sully heard from friends that had moved away years before, which led to the opportunity to say goodbye.
Sully’s final days were tough; Sully had to be placed on Oxygen and had difficulty communicating with his loved ones. Sully’s funeral happened on a Tuesday. Pastor Neil preached a beautiful sermon at the funeral about the Christian Hope of Resurrection.
The kids stayed with Sally for a few weeks. Eventually everyone drifted back towards to their normal lives. Only Sally didn’t have Sully around anymore. Sally decided that she was going to try to find ways to keep her days busy: meet friends for coffee, playing cards and go volunteer down at the local nursing home. Yet every day when Sally went home it was tough. As soon as Sally walked in the front door, everywhere she looked reminded her of Sully. The quietness of the house without Sully’s ranting and raving was often unnerving. Not having Sully to tell about her day would leave Sally with a sense of sadness as she lay down to sleep every night. Sally was a regular at the local Lutheran church in town. Sally rarely missed a Sunday because it was one of her best opportunities to interact with people throughout the week.
One Sunday though Sally went to church where she heard the preacher say something that greatly troubled her. Sally’s Pastor, Pastor Neil, was preaching on our Gospel lesson for Today from Luke 20 when he said “There will be no Marriage in Heaven”.
Pastor Neil said plenty of words after this, yet Sally couldn’t shake these words from her head “There will be no Marriage in Heaven.”
As tough as the last several months had been on Sally, the one thing that comforted her through it all was thinking that she was going to see Sully again. Sally couldn’t imagine something really being Heaven without Sully enjoying it along with her. Sally eventually gathered the courage to talk to Pastor Neil about what she was going through when she heard those words “There will be no Marriage in Heaven.”
Pastor Neil was blunt and direct in answering Sally’s questions. Pastor Neil was convinced that there would be no Marriage in Heaven. Pastor Neil believed that the scriptures were clear on the subject.
To be sure, Pastor Neil made some good points in his conversation with Sally. Pastor Neil pointed out how the afterlife cannot be compared to this life in any way, shape, of form. Pastor Neil reminded Sally that we have no knowledge based of a world without sin, a world without pain, and a world without death. Pastor Neil tried to comfort Sally by assuring her that as wonderful as her marriage to Sully was. The afterlife is defined by the things of this world, but rather by the goodness and mercy of God extending beyond what we can even imagine.
This story of Sally, Sully, Pastor Neil, and the state of our relationships in Heaven brings us to Today’s Gospel Lesson from Luke 20. Our lesson comes to us from the Jerusalem Temple during the Last Week of Jesus’ life.
Jesus is engaging a group of Jews called the Sadducees. The Sadducees were made of primarily wealthy and high to do individuals in Judea. The Sadducees were the primary authorities of the Jerusalem Temple. A unique aspect of their belief system was that they only regarded the Torah or the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) as their authority. Since these books never mentioned the Resurrection of the Dead or any sort of afterlife then the Sadducees weren’t going to believe in it.
So, our lesson for today consists of the Sadducees attempting to set a trap for Jesus by seeking to expose his foolish beliefs about the resurrection. They engage Jesus about a hypothetical situation involving a woman and seven brothers. The women’s first husband dies leaving his wife without any children to support her. It was the custom of the day that in such situations that the widow would then marry their husband’s brother. Such an action would help keep a brother’s name and lineage alive. Yet this widow had terrible luck. Her luck was so terrible that she eventually ended up marrying all seven brothers.
So, this big question in our lesson is “Who is this widow paired up with in Heaven?” Which one of these seven brothers?
The situation behind our lesson might seem crazy. Yet similar situations occur today as widows remarry and end up being very happy for a number of years, whereas others seek different forms of companionship after the death of a spouse. What about those who endure divorces due to the decay of a fallen humanity on earth? Is there a possibility of reunion in Heaven? What about those who aren’t blessed with happy Marriages? This lesson raises a big question of “What form do human relationships such as Marriage take after the Resurrection of the Dead?”
I think a few points on this question need to be stated.
The big issue in the text for today isn’t the status of relationships in the great beyond. Jesus isn’t intending to give the Sadducees a description of the literal inner-workings of heaven. So, if someone were to just say Jesus said “There will be no Marriage in Heaven.” They should be reminded that this was not the point that he was trying to make in our passage.
The real issue for our passage has to do with the Sadducees denial of the afterlife. The Sadducees whole belief system was based on the idea that what one received in this life was as a direct result of their own personal goodness. Since they had been so generally blessed in this life then they saw no need for their own redemption. The Sadducees would not believe that which they could not confirm by either science experiment or life experiment. The Sadducees would see Dead bodies in the ground and believe that was all there was.
The debate between Jesus and the Sadducees is well described in today’s lesson which states “But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”-Matthew 22:30-31
For the real issue that our lesson deals with seeking to answer the question of whether God can raise the dead, and to that question an answer would soon be given.
Additional comment should be given regarding the nature of relationships in the afterlife.
Jesus words from this passage are often misunderstood. The best translation of the passage from Luke 20 isn’t that there will be no Marriages in Heaven. The best translation is rather that “There will be no given or taking in Heaven, they neither marry nor are given in Marriage”. Basically what this passage says is that there will be no new Weddings in Heaven. The point of this passage is not to declare relationships null or void after the Resurrection.
So, this brings back to the question of “What forms do relationships in the afterlife take?” “What will Sally and Sully’s Relationship look like?”
We can start by saying that we do have scriptural evidence of being able to recognize other people in the afterlife. Within the story of Jesus Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah were recognized by three of Jesus’ disciples. The Rich Man and Lazarus were able to recognize each other during their encounter in Hades. In the 15th Chapter of Genesis, God tells Abraham that when he dies then he will join his ancestors thereby strongly implying some sort of reunion. Even within today’s lesson in seeking to discredit the Sadducees view of the Resurrection Jesus invokes one of the most famous stories of the Old Testament in the encounter of Moses with God in the Burning Bush. It is a noteworthy reference as Jesus invokes God declaring himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “Father, Son, and Grandson. Jesus draws reference to their family bond remaining in place even after the resurrection.
Yet as we leave here this morning we must remember that many of the questions that we are considering are ultimately open questions or questions that we don’t really have a knowledge base to answer. Questions about the nature of the Resurrection aren’t really dealt with by the Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians the 15th Chapter (Perhaps the most drawn out statement of Christian belief within the scriptures regarding the afterlife).
Perhaps the reason that we don’t have a lot of details regarding our heavenly relationships is that they will be so different from our earthly realities that they cannot be expressed.
The thing about Resurrection life is it does not serve as the end of any relationships, it merely makes our present and earthly relationships stronger to such a degree that we cannot comprehend it. The nature of the resurrection is such that it will destroy all the former things of existence.
As Apologist Steven Ray points out, “We cannot understand our new spiritual bodies and heavenly existence any more than a caterpillar can comprehend what it is like to be a butterfly. We cannot anticipate how personal relationships will flower in glory any more than any acorn can anticipate standing 50 feet tall.”
For those of who have gotten married later in life to a second spouse, I think the best advice is to let God alone worry about what forms your new relationships take after the resurrection in comparison to your previous relationships. Heaven will not define relationships according to the pettiness and jealously that we often do. There will not be two men fighting over to whom a woman belongs in heaven (I can say this with relative confidence).
We go forward today by seeking to grasp the certain acts of our savior rather than the uncertain speculation. For in the words of Revelation 21 and “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Sally lived several more years after Sully died. These years which at first seemed meaningless eventually developed into something meaningful. Sally began to consider how her continual presence on the Earth even without Sully served as a chance to impact others from children to grandchildren to friends to fellow widows.
Sally’s last days were spent with her kids and Pastor Neil by her side.
Sally overtime came to accept what Pastor Neil was trying to get across in the sermon several years before. The afterlife wasn’t going to be comparable to this life in any way, shape, or form. Even as Sully and Sally had become one flesh. The nature of their relationship was going to take a much different form in the afterlife then what they had previously experienced together. Yet for both Sally and Sully it was going to be for the better.
 Ray, Steve. “Marriage in Heaven? Will We Know and Love Our Spouses in Heaven “. Defenders of the Catholic Faith. 22 Jan.2013 Web. November 4, 2013.
 Ray, Steve. “Marriage in Heaven? Will We Know and Love Our Spouses in Heaven “
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.