The Feast of Saint Matthew

We would require sacrifice. Our heart’s desire is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We are very good at seeking out vengeance. And we’re willing to be a Matthew, a tax collector, a cheat, a liar, or a thief as long as we get a fat wallet or can stick it to the man. It’s the heart of each of us that is the problem.

“Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

And we are the ones that complain about a God that includes the less fortunate, the poor, the ones that dress differently than us, the ones that talk differently than us, the ones that we don’t like. And yet it is everyone of us that have fallen short of God’s desire. His image shattered and his likeness lost on a people that thrive on boasting, pride, covetousness, and all those things. We are a sick people.

Repent.

It won’t get any better for you on your own. You need a doctor. Rejoice with me, God has sent one to you and to me. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, if there were such a one. He did not come to yuck it up with the experts on prayer and keeping the law. Rather, he came to the sick… to you and to me. He comes to rip from your chest the heart that causes all your evil desires. He comes to give you a new heart, a right spirit. And with that clean heart, then he eats with you, rejoices with you, prepares you for the battle to come, and goes out into it with you.

He comes to the most unlikely—to the ones that don’t deserve it and makes us worthy, he comes to the sick to call us righteous. That he did at your baptism as he clothed you in the blood that he shed on the cross. That he does today as he gives you that body and blood again for your forgiveness and life. You see, the cross is his death, but your life. When he dies, he brings and end to the reign of boasting, of death, of graves, and sin. As a sacrifice, he shows his mercy… his long suffering love. For it is showered down on you today. Love calling your righteous, holy, and forgiven.

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Stones for Abraham

What did you go out into the wilderness to see? What did you wake up early on a Sunday morning to see? Was it just a man or is it something more?

John was the first to leap for joy at the coming of the Christ. But the herald of Advent, its great messenger sent from above uses his voice to prepare you and to give you the advent you need. “But among you stands one you do not know,” he says. Among you God comes to dwell. The great I AM that created you and gave you all things comes to stand among you. But you don’t know him. Your path is not straight and there seems to be too much in your way. Christ is in your way or maybe it’s his bride—the church? Maybe the Ho, Ho, Ho of Santa Claus has removed what the Holy Spirit has worked to proclaim in the wilderness?

And so God sends you John and he sends you advent. He sends you four weeks of preparation, prayer, and repentance at the voice of the Prophet John. He is not the Christ. He isn’t even the prophet or Elijah (except he is)! He wants no attention of his own but instead wants you to see God Almighty —Jesus Christ—who stands among you. He will splash the water of the Jordan river and speak the Word of the Lord as he points you to this. one. man. He came to his own and his own did not know him… yet He stands here, not by virtue of your faith or your good works or your reputation, or your building, BUT —by virtue of His Word proclaimed and his sacraments administered. John is not worthy to untie his sandals and you to be called by his name and yet he comes to serve you with his life.

A brood of vipers then —gathered at the banks of the Jordan river—a brood of vipers now. Time does nothing to cleanse and change the human nature. We are sick in our sin and dead to God because of it.

Who warned you to flee the wrath to come?

How do you deal with your sin? How do you deal with your brothers and sisters when they sin against you? How do you deal with it when you sin against others…or even against someone you love??!! Do you try to reconcile yourself with some gods of your own liking? God is not mocked. Your sin, all of your sin, deserves punishment. You can’t justify it away with circumstance, logic theory, or memory loss. You are a sinner and nothing you can do about it can change it. And don’t begin to say to yourself that you are a Christian… that you have been a member of the Lutheran church for a month or two—or well, your whole life! God is able to make Lutherans out of the very stones in the parking lot. Every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. You can’t deal with your sin. It is too much for you. Stop trying. Stop telling yourself that you don’t need the Word of God, stop insisting that you can go a week without the holy communion… stop thinking that you can keep some sins from God and tell him only the ones for which you’ve worked out the plan! Stop reasoning that you don’t really need to hear absolution for that sin, that the one thats burning you up inside, doesn’t need the certainty of the Word preached to its context and circumstance.

Stop listening to Satan and the world tell you to forget this Christ since you don’t even know him. The message of the devil is that you will find the comfort of Christmas in your homes with family or in reindeer or in a jolly old elf or in red cheery coffee cups, but not in the Word of God and in our Lord’s holy Sacraments. The preaching of the Cross of Jesus and the celebrating of his sacraments gets in the way of the devil’s agenda.

Repent! The kingdom of God is near! The voice of one calling from the Jordan makes straight the way of the LORD. An Advent for you! The Word of God opened the lips of John the Baptizer as he stood in the Jordan’s water and drenched us in the Word of God. The Word of God comes here, too. The Holy Spirit calls you by name and leads you in a straight path…and so it is that every preacher since John has preached by the water… for in your Baptism the Old Adam in you by daily contrition and repentance is drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires, and a new man daily emerges from that water and rises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

And God keeps sending his Word to you. He will not allow the world to hide this great gift from you. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He came for broods of vipers. He only comes for sinners. You have to be a sinner to qualify. Thanks be to God that he sent his Son—that dying on the CROSS, all sin would be destroyed, the power of Satan unraveled, and the sting of death removed.

God gives you Advent, he gives you John, he gives you your pastors and he marks his Word upon you. Christ stands here among y’all and the voice of his Word shouts in this wilderness called life. And it shouts through Water, through called and ordained preachers, through bread and wine, that Christ died upon his cross and with his blood he paid the ransom that gives you life eternal. So Advent prepares you for this life eternal. Advent is the Word of God coming to you to make Jesus Christ known to you as you live in this busy life. Advent is God giving life and salvation to you.

The font is in a slightly different spot because of the Christmas tree…which I think is good because when you stumble into it, you remember that God has made you his child and an heir to the Heavenly kingdom. Water to remind you that you have been washed from your sins and made clean by the blood of the Lamb. An altar for you to see and know that God makes his dwelling with you. A pulpit to give you the assurance that God’s Word is not hidden but heard. The Holy Spirit knows that you need this Christ and gives you his body and blood in the bread and wine and there you have forgiveness. There is Christ. That is Christmas. God dwelling here for you, in you, to forgive you. Happy and Blessed Advent. God has made your way straight and given Jesus to you. He is yours, not just today, not just December 25, but always. He is not far from you, but always with you and you know him. And because of his love…you are forgiven.

Advent Meditation on Genesis 49:9-10

We never would have planned for it to be Judah’s reign… but then again God always seems to turn our reason on its nose.  So not only do we have a lion of the tribe of Judah (remember Judah), but Mary places her little lion cub in a manager for you and for me.  Isn’t that just strange?  The God that made you and the entire universe, that will conquer Satan and Hell and death, we first meet as innocent and harmless as a kitten.

And that is the mystery of our God.  He takes created things to deliver to you his promises and the goods of that very promise.  He doesn’t beckon you to his high and holy throne; NO… instead he comes to you as part of the very creation he made.  He comes as the man… to redeem man… by clothing himself not only in the flesh and blood of you and me, but in the temptations and the sorrows and tears of living in the valley of the shadow of death.  Indeed, he who knew no sin becomes sin and devours it like a lion – a full grown, roaring lion.

Judah’s line is a royal line and this King of the Jungle reigns by being crucified on a Roman cross.  The full strength of our God is realized in the death of a man… The full strength of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah cannot be stolen from him, but instead he rises again to life and the scepter shall not depart from him.  He stooped down, to grab you and by the water of your baptism – now you have lion’s blood in your veins.

Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Steven CholakLion

Ephphatha

Jesus healing the Deaf Man by Richard Caemmerer

Jesus healing the Deaf Man by Richard Caemmerer

Jesus takes the Deaf man aside (away from the crowd)… There he can speak to the man without distraction.  That’s seems to be one of our biggest weak points: distractions.  The Deaf man was no different and you are no different either.  Jesus takes us in our poor miserable sinfulness and pulls us out of our distractions and out of our silence.

He speaks to us.

He speaks words that we understand.  He speaks our language.  He speaks a Word that gets through all our man made garbage and sinks into the heart.  For it’s what comes from the heart that is the tell tale of a man.  Of our own doing it’s always a mess… but when Jesus rips out the weeds, tills the soil, cultivates and waters there…it’s of a new Spirit.

Away from the crowd, Jesus signs to the Deaf man to let him know what is about to change and what is the object of his performative Word: fingers in the ear, touching his tongue… spitting, sighing… and then what he always does… Jesus speaks a commanding and creating Word, “Ephphatha!”  The Deaf man hears.  Sinners are forgiven.  The dead live.  God’s wrath is taken away.

A moment alone with God: the Deaf man away from the crowd or you hovering with the Spirit above the font of your baptism.  You’re there because God is calling you out of your distracted and sinful life.  He has you there, to push you under the water, to push you away from your death… and to give you Christ’s life.  He has you there only for a moment. Jesus has you there in order to graft you into the crowd that is his Church.  And that’s exactly what he does: baptized you are no longer alone, no longer damned, no longer caught in the devil’s distractions, no longer separated from God.

Be open ears: to hear the Word of God.  Be open chest: to have your heart of sin and death removed.  Be open mouth: to be filled by God to declare His praise.  The God-man, Jesus, was separated from his Father on the cross so that you could be brought to the midst of the Church, near to the Son, alive in the resurrection.  Ephphatha!  Jesus has done all things well.  He even makes the Deaf hear, the mute speak, and the sinner forgiven.

Luther Quote on Baptism

Since we know now what Baptism is and how it is to be regarded, we must also learn why and for what purpose it is institution.  We must learn what it profits, gives, and works.  For this also we cannot find a better resource than Christ’s words quoted above, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” [Mark 16:16].  Therefore, state it most simply in this way: the power, work, profit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is this– to save [1 Peter 3:21].  For no one is baptized in order that he may become a prince, but, as the words say, that he “be saved.”  We know that to be saved is nothing other than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil [Colossians 1:13-14].  It means to enter into Christ’s kingdom [John 3:5], and to live with Him forever.

–Large Catechism, Part IV.