Luke 5:1-11

In the darkness, they had toiled all the night. It didn’t matter how hard they worked, how rested they were, how strong, how well dressed, how prepared. They had brought their best, but in the darkness their nets were empty. There was no power or skill in these men that could force the fish into the nets— as anyone of you that has tried out fishing surely knows —especially if you were hungry. You can’t make the fish bite the hook…and no fish wants to bite the hook, get stuck in the net, get filleted, and cooked. Perhaps their spirits were crushed, they toiled and took nothing, they worked what they knew best, but they cleaned the nets with nothing to sell, nothing to eat, nothing to show for a long night at sea.

The enemies of God love the darkness. The devil, the world, and our own sinful nature wage war against the church and the church is rightly called the Church Militant. You confess the faith of the Church that is at war. They attack, they swarm, they surround, and they accuse. Our own sinful nature is an accomplice. The world is all around us. The devil is breathing his foul hot breathe upon our necks. The struggle is real. The darkness of sin cast upon the whole of creation. In the darkness, they attack, and in the darkness, we sin. Oh, the things we would have locked up in the depths of darkness so that no one will ever know. Our sin is a stench, it’s a terrible mark, a weight to bear. And it would drive us to an eternal death.

And then in the midst of our struggle and attack, a peculiar and frightening thing takes place. Here you are so desperate to hide what destroys you and God comes standing in front of you. In his mercy, God becomes a man to live with you, to die for you, and to rise again to life to resurrect you. But what does your sinful nature do with Almighty God that stands in your presence? It knows that sinners deserve the wrath of Almighty God. It knows that you are a sinner and that the God that stands in your presence should destroy, lay siege against you, and shower you with wrath. Almighty should terrify you.

At first, Peter is polite. The Lord taught with authority. Peter listened and looked on while he cleaned his nets. Jesus sits in his boat to keep the crowd at bay in order that he could be heard, for the people were pressing down upon him. “Put out a little from the land,” Jesus told Peter, and he taught from Peter’s boat. When he was finished he commanded that the nets be let down. The nets that were being mended and cleaned, Jesus ordered to be let down. They’d have to be mended again, cleaned a second time, and for what?? They took nothing after toiling all night, in the darkness. But Peter puts out to the deep and lets down his nets for a catch. “At your Word, I will let down the nets.”

He expects nothing. We expect nothing. Our reason and experience tells us what to expect. This rabbi knows nothing about fishing. We know about fishing. [Insert here our own expertise.] We toiled all the night and caught nothing. We’ll let down the nets to be nice. We toil all night and all day. We struggle and we sorrow. We weep and we hurt. For you and me, appearances are everything. All this pain, all this suffering, all this everything, and we have nothing to show for it. Friends and family see your life and know your work and your words and still don’t care about Jesus or their faith. What about your faith? Is it where you think it should be? Have you tried to work out your salvation and still have nothing? All for what? This Word on a page. This recitation of ancient script. A little bread and a little wine. It’s anticlimactic.

Just another man sitting in Peter’s boat. A teacher who thinks he knows something about fishing. And at Jesus’ word, Peter let down the nets, but unbeknownst to Peter, Jesus commanded the fish into his net. He commanded an abundant number of fish into his net. So many fish that the nets began to break. So many fish that the other boat needed to come and help. So many fish that both boats began to sink. Appearances had failed Peter and they fail you, too. This man is God. This man, Jesus, commands the creation with authority and power and he commands your heart and Peter’s heart and everything because he is God Almighty. And this terrified Peter.

Peter knew that sinners can’t stand in the presence of Almighty God and live. So he does the thing we are so good at. He writes his own absolution like the prodigal son (I am no longer worthy to be called your son, make me one of your hired servants). “I am a sinner, depart from me!” “Woe is me!” Oh, no! You caught me, God. This is what I want you to do: just leave. Go away and depart and I’ll save a few minutes or days, maybe years. Depart for I can’t be here now.

Yet, Jesus will have nothing to do with your made up absolution. He refused to depart. To depart would mean that Peter would go to hell. In his terror, in our passion, and our present predicaments, we bid Jesus depart so we can live the life we have designed for ourselves. So that we can wallow in our sins, enjoy our passions, eat, drink, and be merry according to our design…all the while forgetting that we are part of Jesus’ design. He is the creator and now he is the redeemer.

Instead of departing, he says, “Do not be afraid!” It’s as if he said, “You won’t be destroyed. I come to save you, rescue you, love you, and keep you. I have come to fight for you.” It’s the same thing that Gabriel says to Mary, “Do not be afraid!” It’s the same thing Jesus says to the disciples when he walks on water, “Do not be afraid!” It’s the same thing that the angels say to the Marys at the Easter tomb, “Do not be afraid!” Our God becoming a man, the incarnation, is just this: Don’t be afraid. I have become one of you in order that I might save all of you.

And with that Jesus gives Peter a new place to toil. “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men!” Jesus’ words give comfort and peace. The absolution God gives has depth and seriousness. Now the disciples will toil in the day. They will preach the Word of Christ to the far ends of the earth. Men will be sent to speak. Their power will not be driving fish into nets or other great signs and wonders. Their power will be in Jesus’ Word of absolution. He will compel men into the nets of his Church. He will be the one that forgives and gives life. He is the one that will refuse to leave you. So appearances will fail the world, but this God Almighty comes here to dwell with sinners. Like unto Peter’s boat, he may not look like the God that created heaven and earth, but he is that God, the same God that became man and was crucified (taking the weight of our sin) for the salvation of the world, for you! This is the same God that rose again to newness of life to live with you, fight with you and for you. Yet, the war has been won. The victory belongs to Jesus and if the victory belongs to Jesus, then it belongs to you. You confess the faith of the Church that is at war, but you also confess the faith of the Church that has won that war: the Church triumphant.

Salvation and life are gifts from Christ! Stop your worry! Sometimes we gain nothing by our work, and that is okay. Jesus sends his Word to you. In that Word you gain everything. Rejoice with the angels. You’ve been caught in the net of the Church, compelled there by Christ’s command. Rejoice in the giving of heavenly gifts. The Lord’s mercy endures forever. That will shelter you in the storm and bring you home. The Lord compelled you here. He sustains you in his peace. The boat must sink, but every Christian is pulled from the water by the hand of Jesus. Harmony is Jesus given for sinners. Peace is Jesus given for you. Don’t be afraid.

Many are called

A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife. At last, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. She will be called woman because she was taken out of man. And the two shall become one flesh. Each wedding was an extravagant event. A suitable, perfect, wonderful helper was found for Adam, and likewise the perfect helpmeet for each husband [for you]: to show the world the love of Christ for his bride the Church. The day God gave Eve to her husband rocked the newly formed cosmos. He changed his creating pattern, got his fingers in the dirt, and even moved flesh and blood so that Adam would have a wife to die for. Every marriage is a mystery, but I’m talking about Christ and his Church. Your marriage, my marriage, Adam and Eve’s marriage, defined by a better, more perfect, most perfect union: Christ for his bride the Church.

But we have made it into a burden. Whether a mere annoyance to our calendar or a conflict that harbors hate and anger, we have degraded, misused, and discounted this gift, this extravagant and lavish gift. But this gift is a lens by which we see Jesus and his love. This gift is what defines who the church is…Your marriage does not define marriage. Likewise, the state or the opinions of men and women cannot and do not define what marriage is. No court or judge can define what was established at the cross of Jesus as some blanket civil union between the emotions of two people—regardless of who they are. Call it what they will, the facts remain. The marriage of Christ to his bride, the Church, is what defines marriage. Today we see into that wedding. Today we see that not only our own marriages are defined by Jesus’ marriage to the Church, but our faith—our Christian life—is defined by this Jesus by virtue of his death and resurrection, which is of course his marriage to the church.

[We have made Christianity into a burden. Jesus says, “If any man would follow me, let him deny himself, pickup his cross and follow me.” We must lose our life in order to find it because if we hold on to our life, our selfishness, if we try to make a name for ourselves, we will lose ourselves to the outer darkness. The world would have you believe that you have a unique identity by yourself, by virtue of yourself. But your baptism changed that. Your identity is not of yourself, but of Jesus. Your identity is of the Church, of absolution, of self-sacrifice, of denying yourself.]

The school children often ask what heaven will be like. Today, Jesus gives us an answer. The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a King who gave a wedding feast for his Son. Not a wedding feast like your wedding or my wedding. This kind of wedding feast was not a short event, a day or evening alone event. A wedding feast was an event that required lodging, clothing, food, drink, entertainment. It was days long…it was extravagant. And the wedding feast prepared by this King would have just been over the top. When it’s all set and ready to go, the King sends out the servants to find those invited and escort them in. The Word goes out. This is the preaching of the Gospel. In the Garden, from above the waters of the Flood, from the mountains of Moriah, from the burning bush, the midst of the Red Sea, from Canaan, and Israel, Judah, Babylon, and Bethlehem. From Corinth, Rome, and Spain, India, and Asia…Africa, Europe, America…the four corners of the world. And even to the midst of New Mexico. From the mouths of apostles, evangelists, and pastors everywhere, the Word goes out.

But there are excuses. They pay no attention to this great gift, this extraordinary invitation. You didn’t have to pay for anything! The King wants his people in his presence and he’s stopped at no expense to take care of his guests. [It is a testament to his character, his very identity. This Father has given us our body and souls, our reason and senses, he gives us our eyes, ears, and all our members and still takes care of them, wife, land, animals, and all we have. Only out of his Fatherly divine goodness and mercy.] And instead of running to hop on the carriage—the people invited seize his servants, treat them shamefully, and kill them. Anger rules in our hearts. Selfish desires have us wrapped up so tight that we even think of the Gospel and the heavenly gifts as hostile to us. We think our own way and our own plans are just as good or better than the King’s. We are proud of our own dirt and our own sin and even the fig leaves we have tied together as our clothing.

This is not some text to shame us into coming to church on Sunday and to make you feel bad about missing church on a given week. No, this is a text to show us that we have forsaken God and his gifts.

But the King will not have an empty wedding hall. Compel them to come in. I will clothe them and feed them and they shall be my people. It isn’t some decision in your heart. You didn’t cause the others to forsake the invitation. You were just walking the main roads. The servants found you minding your own business. They invited you to something out of the world. It sounds too good to be true, but it is true. It’s a wedding feast that has no end. The King will take care of you forever. There will be no need to fear anything. The Son of the King has married a wife. She is without spot or blemish. The King will attend to your every need. Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live!

The stops on Sunday morning are tastes of the feast that has no end. When the Church worships, it is the Bride of Christ gathered together. The little pieces of the whole, the members of the Body together with the Head. You’ve heard it called a foretaste of the feast to come. You’ve never tasted anything like this. But there is the temptation to say you don’t need to taste. The devil, the world, or maybe your own heart will say you’re okay another week. Perhaps you’ve been used to making it. Maybe you have your own business, your own plan. For the King, he bids you come. He says, they are weak, my Son is strong. They need to eat. My Son leads them to the green pastures of his body and his blood. The Hall won’t be empty. He compels you. Come, eat! Come, drink!

And just as he did in the Garden so long ago, he still does. He walks in the midst of you. He looks as his guests. He brings his Word right up to you. Even here, he brings his Law and Gospel: to show you your sin and to give you your Savior (the BrideGroom). It was necessary that he clothe you. Like Adam and Eve, the fig leaves we have used to cover our shame—whatever you have conjured up to cover your sin and guilt, won’t do. He must kill the Lamb and use his righteousness to cover you. No one can gather in the presence of the King if the King doesn’t first clothe him. In the waters of baptism, he does just that. He wraps you in the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus, too. Having been wrapped in Jesus’ clothing, the King delights in his Son and in you. He delights with you.

A suitable, perfect, wonderful bride was formed for Jesus. She was created as his hands were nailed to a tree. And so the man has left his Father and has been joined to his bride. She has been taken out of him. By virtue of the Water of Baptism and the Blood of the Sacrament she is joined to him—bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. They are no longer two, but one. He sustains her. He keeps her in safety. He feeds and nourishes her. He gives his everything to have her. Jesus dying on the cross is the definition of marriage. His resurrection is the bride’s life: your life. The day Jesus died on the cross, the cosmos was rocked to its very core. He created by dying. He sustained her by giving up himself to take her to himself. You are the Eve he died for and now he lives to give you forgiveness and life with him.

Come, for all things are now ready. The King has prepared the dinner, the Lamb has been slaughtered, and now he lives again. Come, all you who thirst and are hungry. Come to the waters and to the Lamb. Eat and Drink. Come to the wedding feast. Christ will transform you. You are his beloved.

Walk by the Spirit

There can only be two masters. One is good and the other is not. The entirety of the human experience is summed up in this: you are either born of the Spirit and walk by the Spirit or you are not and are caught up in transgression. The human heart is either aligned to a religion of Law or it is called to the religion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Either you are on your own, pleasing the flesh and the manifestations of your own heart… or you are redeemed and washed by the living God who is Jesus Christ.

One who sows by the Law will also receive the harvest of the Law’s demands. There can be no escaping the Law’s stern requirements and accusations. Do not depend upon the Law to save you, it is no respecter of persons, and you are incapable of meeting the demands it sets before you. It’s a sharp sword and will cut you open and leave you for dead.

However, the heart will convince you that you are actually fulfilling the law and you are pleasing your false gods…even as the world delights in providing you pleasures and sweet nothings. Your focus is upon yourself and your envy is for things…whether they belong to others or not. Instead of bearing burdens and loving the neighbor, there is deception, envy, and strife. But the day of harvest will demand instead of provide. He who sows by the flesh will reap by the flesh. The wages of sin can only be death.

But the one that sows to the Spirit will reap from the Spirit eternal life. It is the Lord Jesus who has paid for your sin. Cast your cares and your worries on Jesus. He is the true master that rescues and restores, he creates new and buys back from death to give life and salvation.

The world and our sinful flesh will grow weary of doing good. But the Spirit of God does not weary. You have been created for Good Works. There is much to be reaped as the burdens of the neighbor become your own. What does God do to your focus? He redirects it from within to your neighbor and to love that is given and shared.

One master sacrificed on the cross to give everything to you. He also is no respecter of persons. His blood covers all —even you and me. He did fulfill the law completely so that he could give you all of the Gospel. The life of a Christian is one of testing and discipline. We give and help and bear the burdens of those around us. We love because the Lord Jesus, our true master, became a servant and loved us so completely that he died and shed his blood. Shed blood as the payment for your sin and mine. The wages of sin are paid.

So put your worries and cares on him. He will care for you. What will we do? What will we drink? What will we eat? What will we wear? It is all prepared for you. It is all ready. Come, recline at table. Wear the robe of Christ’s righteousness, eat his body, drink his blood, and live.

Galatians 5:25–6:10

Holy Cross of Jesus

There is no food and there is no water! The sinful nature speaks in lies and hyperbole. We grumble by nature, we tell everything in exaggerated terms. We don’t like the daily bread come down for us and we love to worry and be anxious. Yesterday’s Gospel in the one year lectionary told us that we can’t serve two masters and that sufficient is the day for its own trouble. But we won’t listen. The sound of our anxious grumbling has wafted up to the ears of God. Perhaps we meant it for our other master. The Israelites meant it for Moses, but God knew that they were really rebelling against him. It was his plan. His exodus. His daily bread that we don’t like.

What about you? What cares have you cast on your spouse, your neighbor, your children? What grumbling have you insisted on and what worry have you orchestrated trying to add one moment to your span of life?

The Living God hears your grumbling and he listens to the prayers you pray to your false gods. He is a jealous God and he will not let it be. There may not be fiery serpents coming for you, but there is fire for those who serve a different master.

Cast all your cares on Jesus. You need a intermediary. Apart from him, your grumbling only produces more pain and trouble. Apart from Jesus we will see and know only death. Indeed, apart from Jesus there is nothing but wrath, anger, and death. But the living God hears the prayers of his people. In the midst of our pain and darkness he gives hope, life, and salvation.

God gave the people a bronze serpent to look upon to live. He did not get rid of the snakes. There is an antidote, there is an answer in the midst of pain and sorrow, but it may not be that he will take away the pain and the sorrow. What he will give is Jesus and his cross. That he gives to you and me. He gives his only begotten Son that you would have love, mercy, and grace in the place of anger, wrath, and death.

Through the blood of Jesus lifted high for everyone to look at there is life. It is the cross alone that is our theology. We wish to see Jesus because our faith bids us look to the sacrificed for our transgression. We not only see him, but we taste and see that the Lord is good.

You have one master. You have one Lord. He is the crucified one. He is the Son of God. He is the one that speaks to the Father for you. There is no need for worry and there is no need for anxiety. Jesus comes for you. Jesus comes near you and gives you himself.

There is food and there is water and there is wine. Food has come down from heaven for you to eat and water that wells up to eternal life. What will we eat? The bread that is Christ’s body. What will we drink? The wine that is Christ’s blood. Listen to the Word of God. Eat his body. Drink his blood. See the one lifted up on the pole and live with him forever.

Numbers 21

The Cupboards Are Bare

At the city gates the widow of Zarephath stooped down low, gathering sticks, so that she could prepare her final meal. The God of life is found in the depravity of death. But the anxiety and worry of life will cloud our sight and we’ll miss the God who is standing in the middle of our troubles. The cupboard was bare, the flour was running out, and there was barely enough oil to do anything. Her anxiety about life, with many worries running through her brain, are interrupted from above. “Go fetch me a glass of water,” Elijah said, “and while your at it, grab me a small morsel of bread.” But I don’t even have enough for my son, the flour is running out, there is barely enough oil to do anything, and I’m preparing a meal of sticks. It seems as if death is reigning, worry is supreme, fear is everywhere.

The depravity of life had met this woman. Times were hard in Zaraphath. But, times were harder in this woman’s life. The weight of hunger, the disease of malnourishment, and the alienation of picking up sticks off the ground – had brought her beyond anxious. Her worry was her life, and her master was death.

Life is hard. Age gives aches and pains. We loose loved ones and the dinner table isn’t as full as it once was. Our minds are quickly distracted by worry and anxious thoughts. What will I wear? How will we feed our family? . . . How long will we have? What are you seeking? Even the wicked seek their own righteousness and love those that love them.

And how many masters do you have? You will love one and hate the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You either have one master or you have the other. It is impossible to serve them both. The widow’s master may be yours. One has many names and faces, as many, in fact, as you could possibly want. You can call him “God.” You can call him “Allah,” or “Buddha,” or “Scratch,” or simply make up a new name. He doesn’t mind. He’ll go by anything. He’s kind and tolerant…oh and patient. He’s never jealous and hardly ever gets upset. But he’s a liar…and a cheat. He’ll tell his followers they can have as many masters as they want. He’ll give you choices and let you indulge yourself. But it’s all so he can trap you…devour you and ruin you forever.

The other master is jealous and stubborn. He never bends and always demands. He won’t let you call him something else. He exposes the sensitivities of man. He calls you a sinner. He won’t let you have other masters. He is the God of truth. He is light of light. He has no empty promises and fading pleasures. He is life…but he is found in death. If you belong to him then you can follow no one else. But there is no need for anyone else. Jesus is life and comfort. He is help in every time of need. He is our rock and our fortress. And this Jesus still wants you.

Is your cupboard bare? Is your master anxiety, worry, and death? Who arrays the grass of the field? And who is it that makes the flowers grow and the sparrows fly? It is Jesus. Elijah answered the widow of Zaraphath with the truth of God’s word. As that woman made a small cake for Elijah, he gave that woman food from heaven. Jesus became her master there, even as he was her servant.

Standing in the midst of your trouble is Jesus.

Life will be hard. Times will be rough, and the cupboard may from time to time seem bare. To the human eye, the small morsel of bread on the altar may seem like the fixing of your last meal before you die. All the world seems like it is resting on your shoulders and your mind will seem like your master. Death will be your focus, and work will overwhelm you. But our God does not reign from heaven above—not yet, not now. His wisdom and power is only made known in Christ Jesus who reigns in the midst of his people. His reign and his work is here. Awesome and powerful and mighty only in Jesus. Without him and his righteousness, without Jesus, he has no mercy, no grace… we would not call him awesome, but awful.

What shall we eat? We shall eat the Body of Jesus, born of the Virgin, executed for crimes He did not commit, and raised again to glory by His Father given for you. What shall we drink? We shall drink the Blood of Jesus poured out outside the city gates for the remission of your sins. What shall we wear? We shall wear His righteousness, the wedding garment of joy that He provides by Grace.

You have a bread that will last forever. When the times are hard, and the morsels look small, know that God dwells here. His reign, his kingdom is here and everywhere his Word is preached and Holy Supper given…in a small voice and a morsel of bread, a sip of wine. He has conquered your hurts and sorrows. He has died so that you live. And so when you partake of his body. . . When the pastor places Jesus on your lips, you are partaking in your death. Life is found in the depravity of death. It is your death and it is Jesus’ death. It is a putting of his cross before you and in you…It is a death that frees you from Satan and eternal torment because it is the death of Jesus’ cross that stomped the head of the serpent and undid death and sin’s debt. It is your foundation and your life. It is your reward and your nourishment. On your knees, before that altar, your strength and your song are placed upon your lips and you are in fellowship with God.

Despite the temporary nature of the things God provides for us now, we know this: Jesus is coming back. Death has been defeated. He will not abandon us to the grave. For the meantime, it might get better and it might get worse. Lilies bloom, wilt, and die but new ones rise up behind them to bloom again. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Eat the Body of Jesus. Drink His Blood. Wear the clean garments of righteousness that He gives to you. All things pass away except this one thing: the Word of God. The Word made Flesh has paid your debt. You are forgiven, clean, and whole. And on the last day He shall call you forth from the grave. No one will stop Him.

Matthew 6

Stir up your power + Christmas Eve

The coming kingdom of David is at hand. “Come,” the Father said, “Come, it’s time to have compassion—a King to sit on my servant David’s throne forever, God, yet man, to free my people from their sins. To save them—stir up your power and go—have compassion and from sin and sorrow set everyone of them free.” And where did he go?

At once, to find you, to Royal David’s little city… from heaven above to earth below taking on the flesh of you and me, to suffer all things, to take that which he knew not—sin and sorrow—from you. And to save you, he gives you his life by dying your eternal death to bring to you salvation. He comes a baby born to die that you may live with him forever.

But why a king? What need have you for a savior? Why must God be with you?

Evil comes forth despite the good Law of God. Thus God sends a Savior because you have been left for dead, indeed dead in your trespasses, your reason, your will, your power, leaves you fighting for more of your own good pleasure—fighting against God’s judgment, DEAD, a living hell, no good remaining. A flesh that is a full and steady accomplice of your spirit…weak and teetering on hell’s steep cliff. Every good plan, every program—all pushed aside. And thus we wallow in lies told, promises forgotten, anger harbored, and love left undone.

And even then, we’d have Jesus be a king like we have a man be our president. Someone to do our bidding, always under a magnifying glass and prepared to boot him if he doesn’t deliver, waiting for his November. A Jesus like you’d have your holiday season…to be jolly and love everyone, giving no one coal, but things you like and want and covet, and when you’re done with him, push him back up the chimney or over the river and through a different wood until the next time. The religious establishment seconds your thoughts as they implored Jesus, “Make your disciples be quiet!” We don’t like the noise, the ruckus, the hoopla. It’s causing a scene, it’s not always convenient, it’s loud, and the rest of the world doesn’t like it.

Remember when they lined the streets with their cloaks and palm branches, and hailed him as their king? Have you lined his road in your life and then pulled it up again when you noticed he wasn’t the Jesus you thought you needed or wanted?

Repent. The coming kingdom of David is at hand. For God has seen your poor state before the world’s foundation. That’s right. Your state, your sin, your person—personality, heart, and soul… you! And thus he planned to free you, bless you, and save you.  Not from your plans, neighbors, and the things you want in this life, but to save you from sin and death and the devil. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in this one night, in this one child, in this baby born of Mary. GO! My Son, have compassion on the world. Bring to all salvation. From sin and sorrow set them free…from Satan’s cheap tricks, poisoned tongue, and tormenting lies, from your sinful flesh and the temptations of the world—GO! Be their king, their Savior! Slay bitter death, undo Satan, and steal the sting away from death and the grave.

That is exactly what he did. The Son obeyed his Father’s will and was born of Virgin mother. His power? stirred up…complete obedience to his Father’s will, God’s good pleasure to fulfill. Now this changes everything forever. God has flesh and blood, God who is now a man (the God-Man, the Son of Man, the Son of God) now leads the devil captive and came to be our brother. A servants form — just like you and me — he wore to lead away our enemies forever.

A king forever— what is his crown? Thorns. And his throne? A cross. A kingdom forever to make you his own, giving life to the dead, sight to the blind, hearing to the Deaf. He is your rock and your castle, never leaving you, never retreating up up and away, instead always remembering his promises and delivering his life into your midst, things of need, things of salvation, the very things for you.

The world isn’t going to like it. Satan will scowl, fierce as he will. You will even war with your own nature: the old Adam with the new. All kinds of people, places, things, demons, and the like will tell you to put this farce, this hoax, behind you…to grow up and get serious. But the Spirit of God at work in you will not be silenced by that which has been defeated. The faith that is alive in your hearts and in your lives cannot be dismantled by that which is judged and dismantled itself. Don’t listen to the lies of the devil, don’t be coerced by the sweet whispers of a world captivated by sin, don’t let your Old Adam have a word in edgewise. Instead, listen to the God-Man Jesus. Come to him and bring with you all your cares. You who are heaven laden, come! Be gathered to the manger of the newborn King. Rejoice in the death of death and the undoing of the grave. Stand at the feet of the cross of Jesus and be transformed into his image by his work and mercy and love.

And thus the great power of our Lord has been stirred and He has come to us. Like little John the Baptists still in our mother’s womb leaping for joy, our hearts for that very joy must leap and skip at this the Christmas greeting. Our lips cannot silence keep, our tongues with joyous words must sing. Glory to God in the highest heaven, who unto us his Son has given. The end of all time has come. The reign of sin and death has ended. The peace of heaven reigns in our hearts, in this world, and even to highest heaven…and God is born in Bethlehem, a Savior for all the world.

God has had compassion on you. The great power of the living God has been stirred and he has come. This shall be a sign unto you… you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, teaching the priests in the temple, announcing the year of the Lord’s favor to the crowds, feeding thousands, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, giving hearing to the deaf, crucified to a cross on Golgotha, raised from his tomb, present in the preaching of this Gospel, in the water of Baptism, and the bread and wine of his supper. The compassion of our God is found in this Jesus who has saved you from your sins and now dwells here with you.

Happy Christmas! Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace and good will among men!

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.


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.

Christmass Morning


In the beginning was the Word and the Word created the heavens and the earth. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. Now the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the deep. In the Word was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Genesis and John speak of beginnings (Genesis and John speak of the same things?), the beginning of man and the beginning of sin…of death…and of darkness. We learn of darkness that continues on in every person’s life…even the lives of you and me. As Adam and Eve took the fruit all men entered with Adam into sin and death and the darkness that is such a favorite of Satan. All men entered into sin, even the Psalmist reminds us, “in sin my mother conceived me.”

Can you comprehend this idea of darkness and sin? For the action of Adam and Eve that brought sin into the world…is just like darkness. If you walk into a room and turn off the light, does only the area of the room by the lamp get dark? No…the whole room falls under the vale of darkness. It is also the case with sin, the corruption and death and darkness that entered the world affected the whole world, all the world. The entire wonderful creation, all of its beauty, all of the paradise, everything was and is tainted. It was all darkened by sin, darkened in the shadow of death – stuck in the bondage of the devil…stuck in the darkness.

But it gets worse… Like unto the darkness of the ninth plague of Egypt that preceded the Exodus… John uses a word for darkness that means a darkness that most of us don’t quite get. It is a darkness that is heavy, that you can reach out and touch, pull on, and wrap yourself in. It is a tangible darkness… a darkness that has a punch. That’s your sin, my sin, the sin of the world is a weight that wraps us up and weighs us down— not like a blanket on a cold night, but like a lead apron you must wear to have an x-ray taken, like a ball and chain, like sickness and death that plops down upon you and sucks the life from you. At first it seems fun, but then…

Even we are not immune from the shackles of death, from this darkness. St. Paul reminds us that we are all sinful and fall short of the glory of God. That means us, that means darkness, that means eternal damnation and nothing we can conjure up can save us from it. It tricks us and deceives us…we think we know better than God. Even Adam thought he knew more than God…even the Israelites thought they knew more then God as they molded their golden calf.

Repent. The kingdom of God is with us. God never fails. He continued to assure his people of Christmass. He assures his people of his Word that is life and that life is the LIGHT of men. He assures his people of the light that would overcome, conquer, and stomp out the darkness. God’s people knew of Christmas. God gave a promise of a light, a light so bright that nothing would overtake it!

And the darkness did not and could not overcome the LIGHT. The darkness will never overcome it. From the very beginning, this Christ has been the light of the world and this Christ has been our light. And this Christ has become man. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. It was in familiar ways with familiar things that God came to his people and Christmas was no exception. Christ came as baby – with skin and bones and crying set of lungs. He came as human flesh and blood to be like us, to be for us and to be with us.

But how so for us? For us on on a cross for us. He came that man’s debt would be paid and the curse of sin would be removed. He came so that he would die on the cross of Calvary and would rise again to destroy darkness and its sting. So the manger, the beginning of Jesus ministry, always sits in the shadow of the cross. But from the cross forward there are no shadows. The valley of the shadow of death all comes undone there. The sun and the stars didn’t give their light, but Christ still shined through as he conquered your sin and made the world new again.

And so this is the fullness of time, Christ still comes to us for us in familiar ways. It is here in the font with water and with Word – in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, that we have been joined to the death—the cross of the Lamb of God— and to the resurrection of Christ and freed from the darkness. With ordinary Words preached and proclaimed into our ears…we are joined to the one who was nailed to the cross for our transgression, the one that said from that cross, “It is finished!” The darkness no longer has a hold on us. It is this death of Christ that makes us alive. Alive! With bread and wine he combines his Word to give you food and drink from heaven. He comes not to better himself, but to bring light to you and me. He comes as man because of his great love. He comes out of great love—for us! Here today we have Christ! Here today we have the forgiveness of our sins! Here today we can celebrate in the light that never fades.

Christ is the light that shines on as a beacon this Christmas. Christ shines on for us! Christ who was, who is, and who always, always will be! Rejoice! Merry Christmas! The LIGHT shines!

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.

The Fourth Watch of the Night

Mark 6… In the very midst of life… do you know the life you have, governed by science and math. What is gravity to you or how much weight can the surface of the sea hold?? The snares of death surround you. Don’t they? This upward climb of life, all that you endure, do you feel the ground slipping under you? What happens when the world you think you know becomes a world of unknowns and looking out on the sea of life (like you have your whole adult career, you see what MUST be a ghost?) The air getting thin from time to time? How about the sorrows of loss and pain and sickness… and death. Are you lonely, depressed, or hurt? Are you mad or angry? The snares of death surround you. Not only that, the snares of the world, the snares of your flesh, and the snares of Satan’s wily tongue, they would press in on you from every side and finally in the midst of death’s dark vale the powers of hell overtake you.

Who will help you when they assail you? Where shall we for refuge go? In the midst of utter woe, when your sins oppress you, from where does your help come?

Have your sorrows and pain assaulted you for many years? Have you turned every which way and have never found comfort? Have you been pulling on the blanket only to never have it cover you in the cold long years of your life? Or rather, has your sin and sorrow come in the middle of the night, like a thief and in the innocence of your – minding your own business – assaulted you and left you for afraid and fearing a ghost walking on your water?

When faced with that question, we would exhaust our resources. It’s there that your flesh takes over again. Your reason, your own strength, right? How often in this world, in your fight, do you think your are doing the sailing? That you have all the answers or that the world has a teacher that you can find, to be your help. And that is exactly what you have done. You come here, and sail your boat past your God and around waters you think you’ve charted, but you ignore who he really is. And when you think you’ve lost, “Why trouble the teacher any further?”

Do you remember so long ago, the words… “The LORD keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore”? It was spoken at your baptism. It is sung in Psalm 121…to remind you, and not just that, it’s the Spirit telling you that Jesus won’t let you think you’ve troubled the Teacher or to think that you have been abandoned to sin’s oppression. He won’t let you sink into the snares of Satan and his dark stormy waters. It’s there that Jesus bids you into his arms again – to carry you up a different mountain. For your help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

Repent – for the Kingdom of God has come to you. He overhears you, he perceives your thoughts, he speaks to you in your sorrow and pain and in the guilt of sin and despair. You have sailed around and about him. You have called him your Lord, but you have not called upon his name in every trouble, you have not prayed, nor given thanks. You’ve used him for your devices and when the going seemed convenient, you’ve used him, but what about when everything is over and sin and death crouch at the door?

It’s just then that Jesus reminds you, like he reminded the disciples, “It is I, do NOT be afraid.” They had sailed that sea so many times before, but the Lord had walked right through their dark night of sorrow and pain, right through the storms of their sins, and getting into the boat he bids them peace.

Do not fear, only believe! Do not fear, your sins are forgiven! I am the Help that comes from the Lord – I made heaven and earth and my Word performs. It performed when I called you out of darkness in the waters of your baptism and it performs today. I’m not a ghost like you presume, IT IS I, your Lord and teacher! I make all things well.

But why would Jesus do such a thing to his poor disciples? Why didn’t he meet them on the other side, or tell them to wait as he dismissed the crowds? Jesus came to those disciples, walking on the water…he came to strip them of their confidence in themselves. He came in the midst of earthly turmoil to point them to the calm of the kingdom of heaven. They heard their master’s voice…they heard what was sure and comfortable in the midst of the persecution of this fallen world, but distracted by the waves, distracted by their own confidence, when we revert back to our sinful ways, we sink. And that is what you fear. To sink…to drown…to die. Your conscience will confirm that the knife of the Law is above you and the stormy water of the Sea of Galilee is below you.

And that is why Jesus walks on the water. The Lord does not stay high above you and watch as you squirm in the waves of life, he comes all the way to the water and the waves. He knows that you will sink and drown, so he comes all the way to the place where you are and holds out his hand and calms you. There in the water he drowns holding you up. It is Jesus that dies when your sin should have killed you. It is Jesus that drowns in that water, hangs upon the tree of the cross – endures what you fear, suffers your death and walks out to you in the storms of your life.

His Spirit gives you faith to call him Lord. His Holy Spirit gives you his death and his life in your baptism. His Holy Spirit opens your ears to hear your Lord say to you, “Come!” “Come!” He says to each one of you, “Come to me you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest! For my yoke is easy and my burden is light and you will find rest for your souls!” Come! But that simple whisper still isn’t enough for your Lord… Christ reaches out his hand and he touches you! He catches you…His body – he puts upon your lips – and his blood he pours into your mouth. And there from his cross he strengthens your faith. And with Jesus, just like Peter and all the saints, you climb into the safety of his boat – which is the church! He is the Son of God, he encamps around you – walks on stormy water to find you, comforts you with his gentle whisper, and with his hands, his feet, and his side, his death delivers you from all your fears. And YOU are FORGIVEN!