Receiving What has been Fulfilled in Your Hearing

Biblical Text: Luke 4:16-30

The text is Jesus returning to Nazareth to preach in his home synagogue. His message in the first place is right in line with what they all hoped and expected. He announces that he is the messiah. He also describes what kind of messiah he is – one that is bringing the Year of Jubilee. That is on OT concept the sermon explains a bit. Jesus is our Jubilee. But his message in the second place is much tougher. So tough that the Synagogue of Nazareth, full of people who knew Jesus from childhood, wants to cast him over the cliff. The text says they are full of wrath as the words of Jesus. The contrast is Jubilee and wrath. And that is what is put before us. Which way shall we choose. God has given us the kingdom, and he’s given us the kingdom in times and ways he feels best. Do we live in wrath against God for any perceived slights, or do we join the Jubilee?

Virtual Bulletin – 1/23

January 23rd, 2022 – 3rd Sunday after Epiphany

UPCOMING ACTIVITIES FOR WEEK OF:  Jan 24th – Jan 30th

Monday.………………..            Timothy

Tuesday.………………..           Conversion of Paul

Wednesday…………….            Titus

                                                 2:30 PM           Confirmation

Thursday……………….           John Chrysostom

                                                 10:00 AM         Bible Study

Sunday: ………………….          10:00am           Worship

                                                 11:00am           Bible Study

COMMEMERATIONS

The lives of the saints from the get-go have been interesting. Paul’s conversion, the Damascus Road experience, remains the example of the dramatic reversal that the gospel can work.  Saul, the zealous persecutor of the church, turned into Paul, the Apostle who walked the Roman world with the message of Jesus, whom I persecuted.  John Chrysostom was a pastor and eventually Bishop of Constantinople c. 397 AD. He is primarily known for his preaching which can still be read profitably and clearly today.  Chrysostom means “golden tongued.” To this day on Easter Sunday in Eastern Orthodox churches the sermon read is one he preached in 400 AD.  Give it a read (http://anglicansonline.org/special/Easter/chrysostom_easter.html). The one with a golden tongue eventually picked a fight with Eudoxia the Empress over a silver statue of herself she wanted erected. She had him exiled not long after that Easter sermon.  He died in exile, but about 30 years later they brought his bones back. The body of Christ recognizes its own and tends not to forget its saints.

PRAYER THOUGHT AND MEDITATION

“Divide and conquer” has been a proverb going back to at least Julius Caesar who used it to describe how he conquered “all of Gaul” by dividing it into three parts. But it is less a description of a military strategy or political program than simply a statement of human nature.  The second we recognize a difference between people we can turn it into a status game or a reason for division. The common reasons for division that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 12 (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) are “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.” Jews and Greeks is important specifically because salvation comes from the Jews, but everybody thinks they are special.  The Jews in biblical times used “the people” and “the nations” as the division.  The Greeks divided between “Greeks” and “Barbarians”.  Romans between “citizens” and “subjects”. China is the “middle kingdom” which puts the rest of us on the periphery.  Turning to the other division, the ancient world ran on slavery.  There was no more important division than slave or free.  If Paul were to write to us, I imagine the Jew and American line would remain, but he’d probably call out some other divisions as well.

Because what Paul is preaching is that all of our human divisions are nothing in Christ. Anything we might consider as significant or identity defining from this world has to die.  The church, Christians, share one baptism in which we receive one Spirit.  We eat one meal where we receive one Lord. We are all incorporated into One Mystical Body. If your pride stands in the way of acknowledging unity of faith with those this world might look down upon, the one with the problem is you.  In the world divide and conquer is wisdom; in the church it is heresy and not to be tolerated.

Now, looking at the current divided state of the church we might say there are significant problems.  But return to the illegitimate reasons for division.  They are personal characteristics or worldly status.  The Kingdom of God does not care about these things because it is united in the Spirit. But are there legitimate reasons for division? Back in chapters 3 through 5 Paul address these things.  Did they have theological divisions? Sure, “some followed Paul and others Apollos”.  Paul’s conclusion is that “the Day” will disclose the quality of work. Just “let each one take care how he builds upon [the one foundation of Jesus Christ].” “The Day” will surely expose the quality of Lutheran or Dominican or Wesleyan work. But in chapter 5 Paul is more emphatic, not willing to wait for the day.  “Purge the evil person from among you,” he writes.  What brings on this more explicit division? “Anyone who bears the name brother who remains unrepentant.”  It is not the sin that excludes, because repentance is immediately available and we have all fallen short.  It is the hard heart that justifies itself separate from Christ and persists in evil.

The body of Christ is something distinct in this world. It is all of those who share the one Spirit.  There are those who have rejected that one Spirit for their own way and the body is not wrong to recognize this.  It has eyes that can see.  But also, within the body the one Spirit gives a variety of gifts.  That one Spirit appoints a variety of offices.  None of these gifts or offices are for division the way the world divides. They are how God blesses his church. Instead of divide and conquer the proverb of the church might be unite and love, but that is getting to next week’s reading.

CHURCH CALENDAR/WEBSITE

I was forced into doing some long-delayed church website maintenance which included changing the method of keeping the church calendar.  It is now all on google calendar.  You can add the church calendar to your calendar list from the church webstite (www.saintmarkslutheran.org) by clicking on the +GoogleCalendar in the lower right corner.  And while I’m at it, do you know, besides the calendar, everything else that is on the church website? A recording of the lessons and the sermon is posted every Sunday.  Sometimes a hymn or two is included.  There are links to add the feed to your favorite podcast player. (I joke that the feed reaches 3-5x our in person attendence.  Now if I could only get them here.) This newsletter (in shortened form) is posted weekly, along with notes about other events.  Most of the people reading this are connected enough to never look at the website, but that site is the first thing anyone else sees about St. Mark’s. Take a look.

A COUPLE OF LONGER RANGE EVENTS

  1. Spring Beef on Weck is going to be on Saturday, April 2nd.  There will be a couple of workdays prior.  Please put it on your calendar, consider helping, and picking up a meal.
  2. The Elders would like to have a Potluck & Mission presentation following service on Sunday, March 13th.  There are several things that happen in the church. This is an opportunity to fellowship over some food and to learn something about a few missions and how you might be able to get involved.

BIBLE STUDIES

  • Thurs 10am: “The Necessary Bible Stories to Know Our Own Story”
  • Confirmation: Creed, Article 1, part 3
  • Life Application Fellowship (LAF):  I think I was told Mondays on Zoom for a bit. Jan 31st Next?
  • Sunday Morning: Psalm of the Day for the Epiphany Season. Come Join Us in the prayer book of the Bible.
  • Catechism Moment: In hibernation

Marriage, Faith, Good Wine

Biblical Text: John 2:1-11

Preaching on John is always interesting. The wedding at Cana is one of those texts that you just can’t drain it all. 180 gallons of good wine will do that. This sermon has three movements. The first is doctrinal. The wedding at Cana reminds us how much God loves and blesses marriage. The second is personal. Mary is the picture of Faith. The interaction of Jesus and his mother is a picture of the test of faith. And what God gives through that test. The last movement is what the church used to call a spiritual or mystical reading. Why six stone jars, why water to brim, and what about the wine? This one goes in the keeper file.

Virtual Bulletin – 1/16

January 16th, 2022 – 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

UPCOMING ACTIVITIES FOR WEEK OF:  Jan 18th – Jan 23rd

Monday.………………..            6:00PM             Women’s Group – Canceled

Tuesday.………………..           Confession of St. Peter

Wednesday…………….            2:30 PM           Confirmation

                                                 7:00 PM           Church Council

Thursday……………….           Sarah

                                                 10:00 AM         Bible Study

Sunday: ………………….          10:00am           Worship

                                                 11:00am           Bible Study

COMMEMERATIONS

The confession of Peter can be found in Matthew 16:13-20/Mark 8:27-29/Luke 9:18-20. Each one of them captures it a bit differently, but Matthew is probably the fullest. What is the confession? “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” What are the effects of that confession? There are two connected things: 1) that confession is the message of the church and 2) through that confession and that church the sins of mankind are forgiven.  They are the means of the gospel.  And that is still true today.  The church confesses Jesus as the Christ, the son of God, and the forgiveness of sins is had only in His name.  

PRAYER THOUGHT AND MEDITATION

The Epistle Lesson this week starts a continuous reading from 1 Corinthians for the season of Epiphany. And where we pick it up in chapter twelve (1 Corinthians 12:1-11) nicely dovetails with the commemoration this week of Peter’s Confession.  Paul’s discussion of Spiritual Gifts starts with that foundation.  “No one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, the giver of every gift, starts with the gift of confession.  And the gift of confession is also the most basic gift of discernment. If someone is minimizing Jesus, don’t bother listening.  They are not from God. The church is founded on the confession of Jesus.

But the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives are not limited to confession.  Faith expressed in confession is the first and greatest, but there are many and various gifts given to the members of the church.  And the Holy Spirit is neither democratic nor egalitarian.  “The Spirit apportions to each one individually as He wills.”  But “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Individualistic Americans may not like it, but in the church we are bound together because we need each other. If we withhold our gifts from the church, the common good is made that much poorer. If we despise the gifts of others we ourselves will be made poorer.

If you read Paul’s list of the “manifestations of the One Spirit” you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Pentecostal church is probably where we should all be at. The Corinthian context can help think about that.  They were fighting with each other over everything, but especially over worship.  Paul’s list here has the effect of saying, “hey, why don’t you let that guy who is good at preaching do that, and that gal who is quite wise offer advice, instead of everyone doing what is right in their own eyes.” Romans 12:6-8 offers a slightly different list that might be more recognizable amongst us. And there are other lists.  LAF has been studying the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 which read more like virtues.  The One Spirit gives many gifts, but they are all for the common good of His people.

Usually associated with each listing is an apostolic exhortation to “examine yourselves” or to “think with sober judgement.” On the Corinthian side that encouragement might have been taken as cool your jets a bit.  In Galatians you have the encouragement to “keep in step with the Spirit.” May we in faith soberly examine ourselves and make the common good richer.

CHURCH CALENDAR/WEBSITE

I was forced into doing some long-delayed church website maintenance which included changing the method of keeping the church calendar.  It is now all on google calendar.  You can add the church calendar to you calendar list from the church webstite (www.saintmarkslutheran.org) by clicking on the +GoogleCalendar in the lower right corner.  And while I’m at it, do you know, besides the calendar, everything else that is on the church website? A recording of the lessons and the sermon is posted every Sunday.  Sometimes a hymn or two is included.  There are links to add the feed to your favorite podcast player. (I joke that the feed reaches 3-5x our in person attendence.  Now if I could only get them here.) This newsletter (in shortened form) is posted weekly, along with notes about other events.  Most of the people reading this are connected enough to never look at the website, but that site is the first thing anyone else sees about St. Mark’s. Take a look.

A COUPLE OF LONGER RANGE EVENTS

  1. Spring Beef on Weck is going to be on Saturday, April 2nd.  There will be a couple of workdays prior.  Please put it on your calendar, consider helping, and picking up a meal.
  2. The Elders would like to have a Potluck & Mission presentation following service on Sunday, March 13th.  There are several things that happen in the church. This is an opportunity to fellowship over some food and to learn something about a few missions and how you might be able to get involved.

BIBLE STUDIES

  • Thurs 10am: “The Necessary Bible Stories to Know Our Own Story”
  • Confirmation: Creed, Article 1, part 3
  • Life Application Fellowship (LAF):  I think I was told Mondays on Zoom for a bit. Jan 31st Next?
  • Sunday Morning: Psalm of the Day for the Epiphany Season. Come Join Us in the prayer book of the Bible.
  • Catechism Moment: In hibernation

The Two Edged Nature of Baptism

Biblical Text: Isaiah 43:1-7 (Luke 3:15-22)

Sorry for the delay in getting this uploaded. Busy weekend.

What this sermon encourages you to think about is a very Lutheran topic, the roll of faith in the sacraments. The sacraments, in this specific case Baptism, are the physical promises of God. They are a word made flesh if you will. They do what they promise. But to receive that promises for us requires faith. Faith in the promises and faith in the giver of the promise. That leads to the two edged nature of the sacraments that is so highlighted by Luther’s baptismal prayer. The flood destroyed the world, yet saved Noah and family. The Red Sea swept away hard-hearted pharaoh and all his host while Israel walked on dry ground. Baptism grants us forgiveness, new life and eternal life for those who believe. But for those who walk away, the condition is worse than before.

Virtual Bulletin

January 9th, 2022 – Baptism of Our Lord

UPCOMING ACTIVITIES FOR WEEK OF:  Jan 10th – Jan 17th

Monday.………………..            The Cappadocians (Basil, Gregory & Gregory of Nyssa)

                                                 5:30PM             Church Undecorating

Monday.………………..            Pastor’s Circuit Meeting

Wednesday…………….            2:30 PM           Confirmation

Thursday……………….           10:00 AM         Bible Study

                                                 7:00PM            LAF

Sunday: ………………….          10:00am           Worship

                                                 11:00am           Bible Study

COMMEMERATIONS

The three men grouped under “The Cappadocians” (central to eastern Turkey today) were two brothers (Basil and Gregory of Nyssa) and their cousin Gregory (sometimes specified as of Nazianzus). They were born around 330 AD and worked roughly through 390 AD.  The fruits of their work are roughly what we say in the Nicene Creed.  That creed was put together in 325 at the council of Nicea but took its final form in 381 at the council of Constantinople. Gregory ended up as the Patriarch of Constantinople and through the preaching and teaching of these three the church affirmed the Nicene understanding of the Trinity contrary to the Arian heresy which subordinated Christ to a creation and not “being of one substance with the Father.”  This was no sure thing, as “the smart set” at the time including an Emperor were all Arian. It is worth mentioning that Saints such as The Cappadocians don’t just come from nowhere.  Their maternal grandfather was a martyr and their understanding as a Christian family stretches back into the churches Paul founded. God typically works through means, like a faithful family to form souls.    

PRAYER THOUGHT AND MEDITATION

When the kids were younger there was a music group called Butterflyfish.  They had a couple of albums and lots of catchy songs that communicated the gospel in a childlike way.  I say childlike, not childish or simplistic or some other term, because it is not about dumbing things down.  In fact that is exactly what you can’t do. Children aren’t dumb.  They can tell better than most adults when they are being condescended to or rolled.  (The TV series “The Chosen,” something of an evangelical world sensation, interestingly has Jesus “working out” things like The Lord’s Prayer, The Beatitudes and his announcement of himself which is the gospel in a couple of weeks with a group of children before he has even started his public ministry.) Childlike is much tougher and Butterflyfish was good at it. 

One of my favorite songs from those albums was “Great and Small.” Call it childlike law and gospel.  “Deep down here inside my pocket is a little piece of paper/I take it out and read it when I’m feeling out of shaper/to keep my fears at bay/it says you are great/deep down in my other pocket there’s another piece of paper/take it out and read it when I’m getting into shaper/when I’m walking tall/it says you are small…” When you ponder creation, if you think of yourself as anything but a speck, you’ve missed something.  But when you ponder God himself, who made himself manifest in a manger, who did not refrain from sharing our humanity, that speck becomes part of the Godhead because you are part of the body of Christ sanctified in Him. Great and small.  Small in the face of the law whether that is the natural law of the universe or the revealed law of Moses. Great in the face of your creator worthy of adoption into the royal household.

Ephesians 3:1-12 was the epistle reading for Epiphany and it has for my money the best “great and small” line of the entire bible. Ephesians 3:8-12 is one long sentence.  The diagram of it takes a full page.  But it is verse 10 that staggers me. “So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Eph. 3:10 ESV)”  The basic sentence is up in verse 8, “Grace has been given”.  But why has grace been given?  So that everyone can see (v9), everyone can have the Epiphany. What is the means of everyone seeing? The church (v10). Who is the ultimate audience of the church? When looking at the full sweep of history of the church in this world, who is God trying to show forth to?  “The rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (v10).” The powers that be. The ones God set in place at the start (v9).  The ones that we feel so small against are to look at us and receive the manifold wisdom of God. And that wisdom is that God’s plan has always been grace given.

That grace can make us feel small because what if it is withdrawn? The tower of Babel always read to me like that post flood story of “there is no way we are depending upon His grace.” Even if their project was doomed they were going to try without Him. Likewise Satan himself, at least according to Milton, was not willing to humbly accept grace. It hurt his pride. But that grace is never withdrawn and never will be. Even in the flood God preserved the family of Noah, 8 souls in all. And He has taken out deserved baptism standing in the place of sinners, while we receive His, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. “He, though heavenly high and holy, deigns to dwell with you most lowly (LSB 636).” Great and small.

BIBLE STUDIES

  • Thurs 10am: “The Necessary Bible Stories to Know Our Own Story”
  • Confirmation: Creed, Article 1, part 2
  • Life Application Fellowship (LAF):  This Thursday (1/13), maybe?
  • Sunday Morning: We are back.
  • Catechism Moment: In hibernation

Consolation Under the Cross

Biblical Text: Luke 2:40-52

This sermon is a reworking of one given by Luther in 1523. I took from that one its main points and the general outline. But the flesh of it I had to rework for 2022. I did this because I felt the main point was both one that we rarely hear in churches today and that it needs to be heard. That main point is the reality of testing in the life of the believer and why God brings that into our lives. The biblical basis is Mary’s losing the young Jesus. The second point is where our consolation is found in the midst of testing. Mary searches for Jesus: in the group, among relatives and acquaintances, around Jerusalem before finally coming to the temple. They say that Luther was against allegory, but he could use it well while preaching. This sermon updates his examples for all the places we look for God before going to where he has promised to be.

Recording note: I’m not sure of the complete quality. You might occasionally hear a dropped first syllable, especially after a pause. I think it’s time to replace the mic batteries. That is what tends to happen when they are starting to go. It takes a syllable to recognize line volume again. I only heard a couple, so it doesn’t ruin the recording.

Virtual Bulletin – 1/2

January 2nd, 2022 – 2nd Sunday in Christmas

UPCOMING ACTIVITIES FOR WEEK OF:  Jan 3rd – Jan 9th

Tuesday………………..            7:00 PM           Board of Elders

Wednesday…………….            2:30 PM           Confirmation

Thursday……………….           Epiphany

                                                 10:00 AM         Bible Study

                                                 7:00 PM           Epiphany Vespers

Sunday: ………………….          10:00am           Worship

                                                 11:00am           Bible Study

COMMEMERATIONS – Epiphany

There isn’t a saint day this week, but Thursday, January 6th is Epiphany, the official end of Christmastide and the coming of the Magi. You are invited to Vespers (7 PM) followed by a bit of end of season cheer.

PRAYER THOUGHT AND MEDITATION

Graffiti is rarely deep, but I saw a bit recently that stuck me. In bright red paint on a stone building: “Merry crisis and a happy new fear.” We tend to think of fear through psychology. To us it is a mental state. But that is not the only way. In Psalm 4 the way of talking about fear is spatial.  And it is something our most modern translations have all but bulldozed.  My Hebrew is terrible, but I took a crack at King David’s first line because like those words painted on a building, the physical nature of it struck me.

ESVKJVMPB
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! (Ps. 4:1 ESV)Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer. (Ps. 4:1 KJV)When I call, Answer me! My justifier.In a narrow space, you made it wide for meBe gracious to me and hear my prayer 

The first line captures the panic. Nobody is going to answer.  Anxiety or fear is like being an animal caught in a corner.  But God has answered before.  I’ve been in narrow spaces.  I’ve been between rocks and hard places. And God has opened them up.  Do so again.  I don’t know how.  If I did, I’d do it myself.  But I can’t justify myself.  God, be gracious and hear by prayer again.

And the rest of Psalm 4 is something of a reminder that this is what God does.  Verse 2 is some gentle chiding, “O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after lies? ( KJV)” We turn to the Lord as a last resort, when the walls have closed in.  But even then, “know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him. (Ps. 4:3 KJV)”  This is the promise of the care of the Lord for his own.  God does hear his people.

So how do we calm our anxiety before we find ourselves back in that narrow space?  To me Psalm 4 gives us three pieces of advice:

  1. Be honest with ourselves.  We feel what we feel, but don’t use those feelings as a justification for sin.  Instead ponder those feelings in your hearts on your own beds. Yes, you’ll probably be awake a few nights.  But we must become self-aware of what is causing us our distress.  Do not spread our distress to other weak people needlessly.
  2. Offer the sacrifices and trust in God.  God has made us promises to both hear us and to protect us.  Whatever your heart comes up with on that bed, take it to God.  This is the step of faith.  Actively live the faith.  God has promised to hear and will make the way wide.
  3. Instead of counting the ways that we think God is absent or has failed us, we should instead count the many blessings that he has given us.  The psalmist says, “you have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Luther’s catechism on the first article of the creed is a wonderful place to start that catalog.  Luther’s explanation gives us the general catalog of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy.  Not a sparrow falls without His knowing, and you are worth many sparrows.

If God has opened the way before us in the past, and he continues to this day to watch over us, do we have anything real to fear?  Is there any reason we should be awake at 3AM pondering in our hearts?  “In peace I will both lie down and sleep” is the psalmist conclusion.  “For you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”  

BIBLE STUDIES

  • Thurs 10am: “The Necessary Bible Stories to Know Our Own Story”
  • Confirmation: Creed, Article 1, part 1
  • Life Application Fellowship (LAF):  Next Year!
  • Sunday Morning: We are back.
  • Catechism Moment: In hibernation

Waiting for Consolation

Biblical Text: Luke 2:22-40

This sermon is some ways continues the contemplation between fortune and blessing started last Sunday, but it stands by itself, that continuation is just the pattern of the Chistian life. One person’s praise becomes the next person’s blessing and promise. This sermon focuses on the characters of Simeon and Anna, and specifically how they receive the blessings of God. There are three different ways we might respond. The pattern of Simeon is for us. He is “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.” If we receive the blessing, this is the pattern. (I’ve also left in a couple verses of a couple of the hymns sung. You forget how good “See Amid the Winter’s Snow” is.)

Comfort, Redemption, Peace

Biblical Text: Isaiah 52:7-10

This is a Christmas Day mediation coming from the Isaiah Text which has a very specific context behind it: the decisive battle of a War. Christmas Day is the day that the messenger appears on the mountain with a message. Victory is ours. The victory has been given to us. And what are the effects of that victory? What does the coming of the Lord to Zion bring? Comfort, Redemption, Peace. For all who might be feeling at the end of a war, this is the proclamation.