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Archives - January 2020

Grace-fully

January 26, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this celebration of the National Lutheran Schools Week comes from our gospel text where John records, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

We prefer a “full” reading on the gauges of our lives. It’s a good feeling to drive away with a full tank of gas, and we are thankful for the full feeling after a delicious meal. The desire for fullness follows us to church. We rejoice in a full sanctuary of worshippers; we celebrate full enrollment in educational programs; we are relieved when a project has a full list of volunteers. Lutheran schools prefer full classrooms, fully-funded budgets, fully- and professionally-staffed classrooms.

The reality of our lives is that things are often less than full. Fuel tanks need to be refilled … shortly after one meal we start wondering about then next … and not every classroom is full or every budget fully funded. More challenging than the discomforts or inconveniences of physical “tanks” left unfilled is the reality of emotional emptiness. “I feel so empty” is the lament of the one who has lost a family member, the spouse who has been abandoned, and the child who’s been rejected by a friend.

Most devastating is our spiritual emptiness. Matthew’s gospel tells of Jesus’s encounter with a rich young man who is described as one with great possessions. In his own eyes, he was full of righteous deeds. In many respects, his life was full … of possessions and power. When Jesus asked this young man to take what he had and give it to the poor, the man could not walk away from his earthly fullness. In reality, his life was empty.

Our schedules may be full; our homes may be full of goods and conveniences; our garages may be full of vehicles and toys; we may be filling our retirement coffers; and yet our lives are empty. Without Jesus, emptiness prevails. The apostle Paul had authority in the church, significance in his heritage, and a well-rounded education, and yet his life was empty. By grace through faith, he received the riches of his grace. Peter, Andrew, James and John may have had nets full of fish, but when Jesus came and called them, they were filled with His presence and grace.

“But, when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under that law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4–5). God emptied Himself so that we might receive the fullness of His grace. Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus’s journey in the flesh is described briefly in the gospel of John. The God who rightfully could have chosen to be full of anger and judgment is described as “full of grace and truth.” In the gift of His Son, the Father grants full forgiveness of all sins.

John, who introduces “the Word made flesh,” goes on to describe Jesus’s earthly ministry. The first sign of Jesus’s power and authority as the Son of God occurred at a wedding in Cana. Jesus took jars full of water and miraculously turned it into “good wine” for the wedding guests. He would go on to fill diseased bodies with health and vitality. He would fill hearts emptied by grief with the joy of seeing family members raised from the dead. He would fill panicked disciples with the peace of His presence and Word.

Every action of Jesus was part of His journey to the cross. His spirit was emptied in prayer in the garden, and His body was emptied of all life as He announced, “It is finished.” Every part of Jesus’s being was fully emptied to pay for the sins of the world. The sacrifice was full and complete. Receiving by faith the fullness of Jesus’s sacrifice and the full assurance of His resurrection, we receive John’s gospel promise: “And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” We have fully received God’s grace. The infant is held above the baptismal font. Physically small and mentally not yet developed, the child receives the fullness of God’s grace with sins fully forgiven. The communicant comes to the altar. The meal is small — a wafer and a sip of wine — but the feast is plentiful. In faith, the penitent receives the fullness of Christ’s body and blood. Worshippers gather with guilty consciences, complicated lives, strained relationships, fearful hearts, and every other malady imaginable. The Word is spoken:

“As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins.” There is no sin that does not receive pardon. The forgiveness is full and free. The “Joy:fully Lutheran” theme is a celebration of the fullness of God’s grace in Christ. Our Reformation heritage reminds us of God’s grace. Lutheran schools may not always meet the quantitative measures we desire. However, as the Word is taught and the Sacraments are administered, these schools are always full of grace. The grace-filled Lutheran school teaches the truth of grace from the Scripture, celebrates grace in worship, and lives grace in relationships.

By God’s grace, that is St. James. The greatest strength of our Lutheran school is that we are a “grace place.” The grace of God, which became ours through Christ, is shared in Word and Sacrament and received by every student, parent, and other person blessed by our ministry. By no means are we perfect or sinless – quite to the contrary, God’s people are more targeted by the enemy’s schemes, and we may not always be “graceful” as we go about our hectic daily routines here, but we are always “grace-full” as we hear Christ proclaimed in our school. St. James Lutheran School is grace-full! We are full of God’s grace to be shared joyfully, thankfully, faithfully, peacefully, and hopefully with all.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: John 1:14-18

Glory Shown

January 19, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this second weekend in Epiphany comes from our gospel text, where John records, This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.  Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

The people of Israel were reeling, no doubt, and we know the reason why. In Moses’s absence, as he had gone up onto the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments from YHWH himself, the people had sinned a great sin. They turned to idolatry, worshipping the golden calf instead of the almighty God who had just brought them up out of the land of Egypt. They made merry themselves, with revelry and debauchery, gluttony and drunkenness, seeing that the golden calf did nothing to stop them, nor did YHWH. What they did not know was that Moses had heard from YHWH what the people had done, and He told His prophet to “let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” Moses intercedes, begging God to “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And God relented of His intended wrath.

You know what followed: Moses came down off the mountain and punished the people, making them drink water tainted with the pulverized remains of their shiny false god. The sons of Levi rallied to Moses and, at his command, slaughtered about 3,000 of those who had worshipped the golden calf. The rest were made to endure a plague that the only true God sent among them as punishment for their idolatry.

As the people were preparing to leave Sinai for the Promised Land at YHWH’s instruction, they received the following word from the true God, “I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people. … if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.” And the people mourned. They knew God would hold to His promise to guide them to the Promised Land, but because of their sin, His glory would not and could not be among them. Divine holiness, unveiled glory, in the presence of sin-broken people would utterly destroy them.

It is curious, then, that Moses would ask to be shown God’s glory. The prophet speaks with YHWH to intercede on behalf of the people, and after God promises nevertheless to be with His people Israel, Moses politely but boldly asks, “Please show me your glory.” Clearly, he doesn’t know what he’s asking for, but YHWH does. He knows that a display of His glory would not be good for the life of Moses. Instead, He offers to show Moses, not His glory … but His goodness. “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But … you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

A mere glance at the face of divine, holy, perfect glory is enough to five-finger-death-punch a lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinner like Moses, so what hope would there be for any other Hebrew, especially in light of their recent escapades into idolatrous paganism? They wouldn’t stand a chance. Though God promised to be with them through their travels to the Promised Land, they would not see His glory, only His goodness.

Centuries after YHWH veiled His glory from the sight of Moses, He would do so once again, and again, He would show His goodness as well. The incarnation of YHWH in the person of Jesus Christ is the ultimate veiling of God’s glory, with only nonlethal glimpses scattered here and there throughout His earthly ministry, and our gospel text contains the first. We aren’t seeing a sinful people mourning over their sin, preparing to trek across the wilderness; instead we see a wedding reception. Jesus is there with His mother and a few of His disciples … and something goes wrong. A nuptial faux-pas, the groom didn’t have enough wine for the entire celebration, and now the vino has run dry.

Mary approaches her son, asking Him to rectify this embarrassing situation for the bride and groom. Jesus replies, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” It’s true what He said – the time to reveal His glory would come much later. Nevertheless, in that moment, in Cana, YHWH would once again allow His goodness to pass by unworthy descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. His goodness is revealed as He instructs the servants of the feast to fill six massive stone jars with ordinary water; that water would, before it reached the lips of the host of the feast, redden into the most exquisite wine ever tasted by those in attendance. They had no idea from where it had come, only that it outshone the wine previously served by a long stretch. And this, we are told, was the first, the beginning, of the seimeione, the signs, that Jesus would perform.

It was the first, but by no means the last. He would feed the masses, heal the sick and the lame, cast out demons, raise the dead, but the most incredible sign Jesus would perform would be a demonstration, not only of His perfect goodness, but also of His glory. On the mount of crucifixion, YHWH does what man could never hope to do: He bears the full weight of all sin, and bears the due punishment that comes with it. Unbelievably, we see the glory of God most perfectly in Jesus as He is dying on the cross, as He cries out with His last breath, “It is finished.” To see Jesus, whipped and bleeding, nailed to the cursed tree on Golgotha’s hill is to behold God in all His glory, and still, it’s more than we can bear to look at. There, we see God’s glory and His goodness, raw and unveiled, as the Son of God and Son of Man dies the death that you and I deserve, on that Good Friday.

What we see in Jesus is an uncanny revealing of both God’s goodness and His glory. What would normally kill us, actually becomes our salvation, because this is how God operates. YHWH allows His goodness to be shown to His people: veiling His glory in simple water, as He Himself comes and drowns your sin, baptizing you into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Hiding His glory in, under, and with humble bread and wine, but nevertheless promising that you are tasting and seeing that the Lord is good, as you eat and drink Jesus’s own true body and blood. In the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, we see YHWH’s glory and His goodness, and with the psalmist, we wretched, unworthy sinners bless Him and sing, O give thanks unto YHWH, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: John 2:1-11

To Fulfill All Righteousness

January 12, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this, the celebration of our Lord’s Baptism comes, from our Gospel text, where Matthew records, Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Do you know the types of people who were coming out to be baptized by John in the wilderness? Sinners. More than that, sinners who needed to have their sins forgiven. Most of them were people who were repentant, who came down to the waters of the Jordan, weighed and worn down by the evil they had done and the good they had not done. They came for a washing away of that sin with the promise that it would be forgiven.

It’s fair to say that many who came were like that, but hypocrites also approached the water’s edge. The Pharisees and Sadducees, who looked at John more like a sideshow attraction than a prophet sent by the Holy One of Israel, would occasionally walk down to the Jordan’s banks. But John knew their hearts, and he didn’t mince words: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Abrasive words, yes, but not unwarranted for those who claimed to keep the law, who chastised others for not doing so, but were nevertheless blind to their own sin.

These were the people John was used to coming out to him: sinners wanting to be baptized, and hypocrites who couldn’t care less. They were all sinners. That was the norm … and no doubt, that’s part of the reason why John was so surprised by the arrival of Jesus, his cousin, at the water’s edge and His request to be baptized.

See, John knew who his cousin was; less than half a month ago, we heard how John was the first to recognize Jesus as the Lord by leaping in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s greeting. The apostle John’s gospel account records how the baptizer declared to his own disciples, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” as Jesus was passing by. John knew that this man was more than just a man, that He had come with a purpose, and that He most certainly did not need to be baptized like others did who came to the river. Thus, we see his rational statement, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Why did Jesus need to be baptized? That was the question that was on John’s mind, and I’m sure you’ve asked it yourself before. “Jesus is the blameless Son of God! He’s the One who took away the sin of the world; why would He, of all people, need to be baptized?” Why did it need to happen? Well, thankfully, neither we nor John are kept in the dark. Jesus answers this question: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Only after saying this, we are told, did John consent to baptizing the sinless Lamb of God. Only then was Jesus baptized in that historic river. Only then did we see the Spirit descend upon Him like a dove, and only then did we hear the Father’s voice saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

To fulfill all righteousness. What did Jesus mean when He said that? Did He mean to fulfill the Law, or something else? Paul’s words to the Galatians may shed a little light on this: … it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

No, Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for sin; He didn’t have any sin to repent for! No, like all of the work that He did during His earthly ministry, Jesus was baptized … for us. There’s a phrase in the baptismal rite that you can find in your hymnals (page 269, if you wish to check) that makes clear the purpose of Jesus’s baptism, in a prayer to our gracious heavenly Father: “Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.” By His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus made your baptism a participation with His. By your baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you became partakers with Jesus in His work – all His work. Paul wrote to the Romans, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Jesus was baptized in the Jordan for you. Just like He was marched up Golgotha’s hill for you. Just like He was nailed to the cursed tree and died for you. Just like He rose from the dead three days later … for you. Because you needed it. As He is being baptized in the Jordan, Jesus is fulfilling your righteousness. There is one difference between you and the other sinners who went down to be baptized by John: they would have to keep coming back. You do not. Paul wrote to the Galatians, There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. We confess one baptism for the full remission of all our sins, and that is a promise that we can hold to!

Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan is ultimately about your baptism. There, in that blessed flood, the Holy One of Israel plucked you out of the darkness of your sin, pulled you into the marvelous light of His grace and forgiveness, placed His name and seal both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as redeemed by Christ the crucified and resurrected Lord! Your confidence, the assurance of your salvation is there, precisely because you didn’t do it; God did it for you. Because Jesus was washed in the Jordan by John, because the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove, because the Father proclaimed Jesus to be His beloved Son, you are able to boldly and confidently declare the words of that favorite hymn, “God’s own child; I gladly say it! I am baptized into Christ!” and nothing can snatch you away from Him!

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Rose-colored Glasses

January 05, 2020
By Rev. David French

I’m sure you’ve noticed how quickly people can forget how things really were in the past, and with time, remember them or see them, as the saying goes, through “rose-colored glasses.” It happens all the time when we’re thinking about the good old days. The times we did this or that thing with this or that couple or family. Those really were good times. We often just seem to forget about the this, that, and the other things that caused us to complain about how unfair and hard life was during those same “good old days.”

We see the same kind of thing with moms. I don’t know what it is in women that makes them this way, but it seems like all moms have a gift for remembering the “joys” of pregnancy and childbirth, while forgetting all about the discomfort, the mood swings, and the pain. When asked about that you hear “Oh it wasn’t that bad.” Really? That’s not what you’ve been saying the last few months. But, really, that’s a good thing, I mean, if it weren’t for those post-partum rose-colored glasses, even two children in a family would be a rare thing.

As we gather together on this second Sunday after Christmas, it’s with that same understanding of amnesia-like, rose-colored glasses that we begin our meditation this morning. Why? Think about it. I personally don’t know of anyone who looks at Christmas as a sobering or dark time. To be sure, there are examples of seasonal depression. I understand the short hours of daylight, the cold, the money pinch, the family issues that can make this time of year hard for some people. I know full-well that this time of year can be depressing for some people. I get that, but that’s not what I’m talking about. 

I mean, no one looks at Christmas the way we look at 9/11 or Pearl Harbor Day. No one ever considers Christmas to be a day of “infamy.” Through our rose-colored glasses, we see only a festive, joyous time, the same way we think about the Fourth of July or Memorial Day, complete with parades and family reunions and festive meals. And, obviously, that includes Christians. But still, I’m not just talking about the commercialized version of Christmas. I’m talking about the theological, churchly understanding of Christmas. It too is all fun and joy and Christmas cheer and the mystical Christmas spirit.

Now you may be thinking, “ … What’s wrong with that?” Well, it goes back to what we’ve been talking about this past Advent season. Why did Jesus come to this earth? Why was He conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin in a dirty stable in little Bethlehem? Simply put, He came because of our sin. Jesus is God’s plan for our salvation. His Son came to live in our place and die for our sins. That is, He came to pay the debt we owe for our sin because He loves us and knows we can’t afford the payment ourselves. The truth is, we can’t afford the price for even one actual sin, not to mention the original sin we inherited.

Tell me, do you think Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil for you came easy? Do you think satan just rolled over and played dead when Jesus came into the world? My friends, not only did satan not roll over and play dead then, but he is still actively roaming and tempting and seeking to destroy the faith and all who are in the faith. No one who confesses Christ as their Lord and Savior is immune from satan’s attacks.

That’s what I mean when I talk about the rose-colored Christmas glasses we all wear. I don’t think most people, even Christians, know that Christmas time is also supposed to be remembered as a very bloody yet triumphant time in the life of the Church. It’s no accident that our earliest church fathers set aside the three days that follow Christmas Day as special days of remembrance and thanksgiving for fallen, faithful saints, that is, people who suffered and died in the name of Christ Jesus.

December 26th is recognized as St. Stephens Day. You remember Stephen, right? He’s one of the very first martyrs of the New Testament church. He was stoned to death because of his faith. December 27th is remembered as St. John’s day. Again, you know John. He wrote a gospel, three epistles and the book of Revelation. He was the one who suffered years of tribulation and pain and exile. Why? Because he was faithful to Christ in a world that wasn’t. And then there’s December 28th—the day we remember as “the slaughter of the holy innocents.” It’s hard to imagine the killing of all those babies whose only crime was that they were born around the same time as Jesus. That, by the way, is why they’re referred to as “innocent,” not because they were without sin, which is how some Christian churches view babies today. The truth is, like us, they were offspring of Adam and Eve, and so, born of sin.

So, what does all this mean? Why did and should the church care about these special days? Remember, satan didn’t roll over and play dead when Christ came into this world. Christ’s victory over sin came with a very high price tag. What most people either don’t understand or don’t remember is that this price wasn’t just paid on Good Friday.

In Christ, the babe born in Bethlehem, God was already rooting out sin, and so already reconciling His fallen and sinful people back unto Himself. But unfortunately, sin doesn’t die without a fight. It never has, and it never will. And so, truly, those little ones whose only crime was being born in the wrong place at the wrong time are martyrs, the very first to be murdered because of Christ in the New Testament church. Kind of puts Christ’s words, “unless you repent and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven” into a different light, doesn’t it?

That’s what we’re called to remember today. We’re called to take off the rose-colored glasses and remember that Christ’s victory over sin, your victory over sin, came with a price. A price Jesus paid in full for all, but that doesn’t mean being a faithful child of God will be easy. It never has been, and it never will be, at least not on this side of heaven. In fact, I heard just the other day that this past year, Christianity was the most persecuted religion in the world. Daily, Christians are being killed because of their faith in Christ. But even the thought of dying for the faith is completely foreign and perhaps thought of as outdated to us sophisticated westerners.

My fellow redeemed, as we continue to journey through this Christmas season into Epiphany, take some time to view your reality through the lens of the cross and not through those rose-colored glasses we so often wear. Recognize in humble, penitent faith that Christmas time really is a sobering time. Understand that I don’t mean to say that it’s a sad time. It’s not. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. By grace through faith alone, we know that this really is a time to celebrate. Jesus came to earth for you and me and fully paid the price for our sin, and in Him we are forgiven.

My prayer for you this next year and every year that follows is that you recognize this joyous truth in all its fullness. I pray that you recognize the depth of your sin and what God’s gift of salvation means for you. While you will be tempted, it’s not something to be taken for granted. It came at a price, a price Jesus freely and willingly paid for you His precious child.

In His name, Amen.

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