Saturday, January 29, 2022

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany of Our Lord

(Audio)

Matthew 8:23-27; Romans 13:8-10; Jonah 1:1-17

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” But what is “the sign of the prophet Jonah?”

The LORD commanded Jonah to go the great city of Nineveh, notorious for its worldly and fleshly wickedness and godlessness, to call its inhabitants to repentance. Jonah disobeyed and promptly boarded a ship sailing in the opposite direction. What you need to understand here is that Jonah wasn’t afraid to go to Nineveh and preach repentance, but he believed that the Ninevites didn’t deserve it. Jonah wanted the Ninevites to remain in their sins and be condemned by God. Jonah knew that if he called them to repentance that the Holy Spirit had the power to turn their hearts, and that this was indeed God’s will in sending him. Thus, Jonah failed in showing love and mercy to sinners that the LORD desired to forgive and restore. That’s why Jonah fled.

And so, “the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.” Believing that the gods were angry with someone on board the mariners called out to their gods in terror, and they cast lots to determine who was responsible. The lot fell on Jonah who did not deny that the LORD, the God of Israel, had sent the tempest because he had disobeyed and fled. Jonah told them to throw him overboard, which they did at once, all the while praying to the God of Jonah and Israel, and the wind and the waves ceased, and all was calm.

What then is “the sign of the prophet Jonah?” The sign of the prophet Jonah was that the LORD was about to judge His people. Jonah, whose name means “dove” or “pigeon” was a type of Jesus Christ. As the LORD sent Jonah to preach repentance to the Ninevites, so did the LORD send Jesus to call the world to repentance and to offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. A dove or a pigeon was the sacrificial offering of the poor under the Law of Moses. Thus did Joseph and Mary offer the sacrifice of two doves for the redemption of their first-born son when Jesus was presented at the temple forty days after His birth according to the Law of Moses. Likewise did Noah send out a dove from the ark to see if the flood waters had receded. When the dove failed to return Noah knew that God’s wrath had been assuaged and that the LORD was at peace with mankind once again. Thus, the sign of the prophet Jonah was that God was about to judge the world innocent, not guilty, by laying all the sins of mankind upon His Son Jesus in His sacrificial death upon the cross. “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

Whereas Jonah did not want to preach to the Ninevites because he had already judged and condemned them, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” After the mariners called upon the God of Jonah and threw Jonah into the sea, “the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Though Jonah was as good as dead, he was not the Christ but only a type of Jesus. The LORD spared Jonah’s life and the fish spit him out on dry land. Then Jonah went and preached to the men of Nineveh as the LORD had commanded and they repented and were saved. History and archeology both demonstrate that Nineveh, modern day Mosul in Iraq, had an ancient, significant, and continual Christian population even unto the present day, a population that has been the target of Islamic genocide in recent history.

And this fact gets at the heart of why this story appears in the Epiphany cycle. The world epiphany means “to make manifest” or “to show forth.” The Scripture lections for the Epiphany season each manifest and show forth who Jesus is and what He has come to do. An important fact that is revealed about Jesus during Epiphany is that He has come not only for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abraham that through an heir from his own flesh all the nations of the world would be blessed. The Gentile Mariners came to call upon the God of Jonah and Israel. The Gentile Ninevites repented and were saved and became the foundation of a lasting Christian community.

Also revealed in today’s lections, and throughout Epiphany, is that Jesus is God in the flesh, God with us, dwelling in the midst of His people. The same LORD who caused a mighty tempest to come upon the ship in which Jonah fled from the LORD calmed the wind the waves that threatened His fearful disciples by His Word from the mouth of His Son Jesus Christ. “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?” What sort of man indeed! This man Jesus is the Lord, God in the flesh come to save His people from their sins.

We prayed in our collect this morning, “Almighty God, You know we live in the midst of so many dangers that in our frailty we cannot stand upright. Grant strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations.” Because we live in the midst of dangers and temptations, and because we are frail and weak, we are often filled with fear, anxiety, and foreboding. Our fear can keep us from fulfilling our God-given vocations, lovingly serving one another with the love of God. St. John teaches us how fear can stifle our love saying, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” The prophet Isaiah comforts and encourages us that we have no need to be afraid for God is with us saying, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” And St. Paul encouraged a young pastor Timothy with these words, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

Do not be afraid. The LORD is with you. He who created you, the wind and the waves, the world and everything in it, and sustains it still, will deliver you from all your distresses. “He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany of Our Lord

(Audio)

Matthew 8:1-13; Romans 12:16-21; 2 Kings 5:1-15a

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but speak only Your Word, and my servant will be healed. Do you hear the faith of the Centurion whom Jesus praises saying, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith?” Jesus made a point of this Gentile’s confession within earshot of His Jewish disciples and hearers so that they might know that it is faith that makes one an heir of Abraham and not Jewish descent or the works of our hands. It is faith that clings to God’s Word of promise and trusts in Him that saves us by God’s free grace: grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

Indeed, this doctrinal axiom was stated by God to Abraham when He made His covenant with Him saying, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be.” We are told that Abraham believed the LORD, and the LORD counted Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness. This is to say that Abraham was not righteous in himself, and neither was his faith righteousness, but rather the LORD chose to look upon Abraham’s faith in this way and to count his faith to him as righteousness. Abraham contributed nothing in his part of the covenant – nothing that is, except for his faith, faith that God Himself had raised up within him.

And, so is it with you as well. You bring nothing to the table to offer to or to negotiate with the LORD, just as little James brought nothing with him today as he was baptized. Indeed, spiritually, you were not even alive before God’s gracious intervention, but you were dead in sin your and unable to make any movement toward God spiritually, mentally, or physically. You were like Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, Jesus’ friend, who was dead and buried in his tomb. Could Lazarus have done anything to change his dead condition? Could he have chosen to rise up and walk and to accept Jesus into his heart? No. The only thing Lazarus could have done was to decay, and to stink, and to waste away until he was no more. So, also, you, like little James, were conceived and born in sin that leads to death. You were spiritually deaf, dumb, and blind until the Word of God opened your ears and eyes and raised you from death to life in Him, just as He has done for little James this morning. Your faith, like Abraham’s, is the LORD’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

And, truly, even after faith and conversion, you are not worthy in yourself that the Lord should enter under your roof. However, the Lord has made you to be worthy by His grace, which you receive through the faith He has raised up within you (just like Abraham and Lazarus!), and therefore you are worthy! You are worthy because the Lord has made you to be worthy, even as you believe, because the Lord has called you to faith, and therefore you live, because the Lord has given you His life.

Indeed this is true for all the Lord’s saints from Adam and Eve to you, your children, and your children’s children, even unto those whose life is yet to be conceived. We all inherit Adam’s sin and the death that is sin’s due wage. And, likewise, we are all saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in God’s Word alone (which is to say, Jesus Christ alone). Therefore, in terms of justification before God in Jesus Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” But, you see, this passage from Galatians does not teach the equality and non-differentiation of roles as is popularly thought today, but rather it teaches the universal atonement of all humanity in Jesus’ death and resurrection which we all may receive through faith in Him. Therefore, St. Paul continues by saying, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” And, here the Apostle is teaching to the Church what Jesus taught His disciples: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” But, those who come do so by God-given faith in His gracious gift of His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

Our First Mother Eve had this God-given faith. The LORD made His first promise of salvation shortly after our First Parent’s fall saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” While this promise was made directly to the serpent, Eve took those words to heart and believed. When she gave birth to her firstborn son, Cain, Eve famously proclaimed, “I have begotten a Man, the LORD!” believing that the LORD had already fulfilled His promise, delivering the Seed of Promise. While she was mistaken about the identity of the promised seed, Eve’s faith in the LORD’s Word of promise is extraordinarily clear. As an interesting side-note, Jewish tradition holds that Cain’s name was a prophecy of the instrument he would later use to murder his brother Abel, a reed cane. Further, instead of Eve’s faith being shaken by the horrible sin of her firstborn son whom she believed came in fulfillment of the LORD’s promise, Eve named her third son Seth, a name that means “planted” as in “a planted seed.” Again, though she was at first mistaken about the identity of the LORD’s promised seed, nevertheless, she remained faithful that the LORD would keep His promise and provide.

There were many faithful men and women between Adam and Eve and Joseph and Mary, including Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and David. And then comes Mary. In many ways, Mary was a Second Eve. If Eve was the “mother of all the living” who, by her sin, plunged all her offspring into death, then Mary is the New “Mother of all the Living” who, by her faith believed the Word of the LORD, as incredible and ridiculous as it surely seemed, that she would conceive and bear the Son of God who would save His people from their sins, and in faith replied saying, “Let it be to me according to your Word.”

“Let it be to me according to your Word.” “But only speak your Word, and my servant will be healed.” “Abraham believed the Word of the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” This is the Christian faith: Faith in the Word, and in the Word of God made flesh, Jesus. It is this faith that God counts as righteousness, Christ’s righteousness imputed to you by grace. You receive this faith as a gift, a gift that lays hold of Jesus and clings to Him alone. In this faith you receive Christ’s righteousness, righteousness that clothes you and covers you, righteousness that you did not earn, merit, or deserve, but that was given to you, declared of you, by God for the sake of Jesus.

This righteousness was given to God’s chosen people first, that through them all the world might be embraced and covered. Hence we are continually given in the Scriptures examples and stories of Gentiles who believe and are forgiven and declared righteous through faith in the God’s Word of promise. Indeed, this is the case with Naaman the Syrian leper who, despite how foolish it seemed to his reason and wisdom, finally submitted to the Word of God and permitted himself to be washed in the Jordan River, a precursor of Holy Baptism. When he emerged, his flesh was restored as that of a newborn child. In a similar way his sins had been forgiven. Also, as I stated earlier, this is the case with the Roman Centurion who trusted in the Word of God spoken by Jesus that his servant would be healed without His even being present.

The Gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, but apart from faith in Christ, there is no salvation – neither for the Jew or the Gentile – but only weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Word of God is powerful, authoritative, and creative, bringing about what it says. This Word creates faith where there is nothing even as it brought forth all things in the beginning and continues to sustain all things to this day. This Word is Truth, the only truth, and therefore it is the only way of salvation and life. This Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us that, in beholding Jesus, we behold the fullness of the Godhead and His glory. This Word was baptized for you, obedient for you, suffered and died for you, and was raised from the dead for you and ascended to the Father in heaven for you. And this Word will soon return to raise your body from death to eternal life with Him, which was His goal and purpose for you in the beginning.

No, because of your sin you are not worthy that the Lord should enter under your roof. However, you believe and trust in His Word by the faith He has created in you, therefore the LORD counts you as righteous and worthy for Jesus’ sake. You have heard His Word to you this day: “You are forgiven.” Now, therefore, come, and receive His body and blood shed for you, the source and seal of God’s forgiveness, trusting His Word, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins,” and receive the life that He gives and keeps on giving, for where there is the forgiveness of sins, there must surely follow life and salvation.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Christian Funeral for Merlyn Rahlf Kasemeier

(Audio)


John 10:11-16; Romans 8:31-39; Isaiah 43:1-3a, 25

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

If there was anything that was important to Merlyn, it was his faith and his family. Merlyn enjoyed cooking for family get-togethers and even washing the dishes thereafter. He was the go-to guy for important dates like birthdays, confirmations, anniversaries, etc. Merlyn loved his family, and he loved people in general. He could talk to anyone. Sadly, Merlyn, and you his family, are representative of something that has become quite rare in our day and age – the family that stays local and sticks together. The oldest of five siblings, Merlyn grew up on the family farm south of Sumner in the Buck Creek region. He was baptized and confirmed at St. John Lutheran Church in Spring Fountain and attended country school at Dayton #2 through eighth grade followed by high school at Sumner Community High School. After graduation, Merlyn worked on the family farm until he was drafted into the Army three years later. All those years Merlyn was content to stay local and work and worship with his family.

Though the Army took him away from home for the first time, at Fort Riley in Kansas Merlyn served as a Chaplain’s Assistant – still practicing his faith, still serving others. Then he returned home to Sumner and began studying at Wartburg College, from whence he matriculated and became a teacher – once again, still serving others. Though he never married nor had children of his own, as a Chaplain’s Assistant, a teacher, a son, a brother, an uncle, and more, Merlyn loved and served others. Though his first teaching assignments took him away once again to Indiana and then northeast Iowa, after five years he was back home in Sumner, teaching at the same high school he graduated from until he retired in 1992. When Dad died in 1971, Merlyn took on a natural and fatherly leadership role amongst his siblings and helped his mother. Because of his assistance, Mom was able to remain home until she died in the Lord as well. Up until his own death this past week Merlyn lived near his family, three siblings living at Eisenach Village here in Waverly, and another not too far away in Dubuque.

Merlyn loved antiquing, gardening, cooking, and playing cards. He was a kind and generous man who couldn’t understand the violence and division plaguing our world today. Merlyn’s solution was simply to keep on doing what is good, right, and true: Faith, family, kindness, generosity, compassion. He was a man of peace who was at peace with God and man. He knew the Peace of God which passes understanding, Jesus Christ, and therefore was at peace should the Lord call him home at any time – which he actually thought was happening some time ago when the cemetery supervisor from Spring Fountain called to ask Merlyn if he would like to purchase the plot next to his own, to keep it in the family. Merlyn had fallen asleep and thought that God was calling him home right then and there!

Well, God was not calling Merlyn home at that moment, however God was calling Merlyn throughout his long life: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Here at St. John, those words are associated with two events in a Christian’s life – his baptism and his funeral. That banner over there in the chancel is a reminder of that promise: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”

God was for Merlyn, as He is for all whom He has elected in His Son Jesus Christ. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, shepherded Merlyn all his long life. Jesus led Merlyn through the still waters of Holy Baptism. Jesus guided Merlyn through the valley of the shadow of death that is this life and world with the rod and staff of His Word. Jesus prepared a table and nourished Merlyn with His own body and blood in the presence of the enemy. Jesus anointed Merlyn with the chrism of His Holy Spirit and promised to be with him to the end of the age. Jesus filled Merlyn so full of His love, mercy, grace, kindness, charity, compassion, and forgiveness that, not only was he full and satisfied and content, but he was filled to overflowing in abundance which he shared freely with others. Jesus’ goodness and mercy followed Merlyn all his long life and now Merlyn dwells in the house of the LORD forever.

In fact, when I think of Merlyn, I think of the Good Shepherd. In many ways Merlyn was a shepherd of various flocks of sheep. Merlyn shepherded soldiers during the Korean conflict as a Chaplain’s Assistant. Merlyn shepherded his mother and siblings after his father died, taking on a father-like roll. Merlyn shepherded his students in his various teaching roles. Merlyn shepherded his family in his later years, enjoying and encouraging their company and preparing food for them all to enjoy together. Yes, Merlyn was a shepherd, following in the steps of his Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. But Merlyn was also a sheep cared for and protected by his Good Shepherd. And now the Good Shepherd has called His sheep Merlyn by name to His Father’s house where His sheep may safely graze. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

The Second Sunday after Epiphany (Epiphany 2)


(Audio)


John 2:1-11; Romans 12:6-16; Exodus 33:12-23

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Our Lord simply loves weddings! After crowning His six-day’s work with the creation of man – male and female He created them – He joined them together in the one-flesh union of marriage and blessed them that they would be fruitful and multiply. And, it was at a wedding that Jesus performed His first sign, or miracle, and manifested His glory. Then, in the Revelation, we see our glorified Lord, standing as a Lamb slain, being wedded to His Bride the Church coming down from heaven. From the beginning, it has been God who has joined together; from shortly thereafter, it has been man who has separated.

Thus, Jesus blesses the wedding party at Cana with His presence. He wants to be there as two of His beloved children are made to be one. Our Lord simply loves weddings. He came with His mother and with His disciples who believed in Him. But, the wedding party ran out of wine. How many marriages today are at risk of running out of wine, or have already run out of wine? What God created as holy and as a fruitful blessing, marriage, has, because of man’s sin, become bittersweet and fraught with lies and deception, sorrow and pain. What was to be a brilliant image of the union God would have with man has become but a dim reflection. For, more than our fragmented marriages between husbands and wives, it is our marriage with God that has run out of wine. This Jesus came to restore, but His hour had not yet come.

Jesus’ hour, in John’s Gospel, is the appointed time of His passion and death on the cross. It is a time that will not be forced upon Jesus apart from His will: His life is His to lay down, no one takes it from Him. When His mother informed Him that the wedding party had run out of wine, Jesus replied that it was not a matter of concern between them now and that it was not yet the time for the shedding of His blood. Mary clearly understood this. Nevertheless, she instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus told them. It seems that Mary, who pondered the mystery of her son in her heart, who heard the prophecy told about Him by Simeon that He would be for a sign spoken against and for the rising and falling of many in Israel, and that a sword would pierce her own heart too, it seems that Mary urged her son along His destined path to the cross that He would perform this first sign and manifest His glory.

For, Jesus’ glory was manifested, not primarily in the miracle of changing water into wine, but Jesus’ glory was manifested in this first glimpse of His hour of passion that was yet to come. The water in those six stone jars was for the Jewish rites of purification. It was water that had been set aside to wash away the wedding party’s uncleanness that Jesus changed into wine. Amongst the sadness and the shame of this wedding party that had run out of wine, Jesus began to take the curse of man’s great divorce from God upon Himself and to fill its place with joy and life, the finest of wine. For, the glory of Jesus is not manifested primarily in wonders and miracles, but the glory of Jesus is manifested in the Lamb of God’s self-offering in death on the cross.

The wedding of Adam and Eve was an image of man’s wedding with God. That was the first day. Succumbing to temptation, tasting the forbidden fruit, man became the whore and divorced God in adultery. That was the second day. But, on the third day, there was a wedding. The third day is the day of resurrection, the Lord’s Day, the day on which the sun never sets. Jesus came to turn man’s sorrow and death into joy and life. He came to fill what the Law demands of us to the very brim, and not with mediocrity, but with the finest works, obedience, and love. He came to lay down His life for His friends, the greatest expression of love possible, that they might be restored unto God and live.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the Church, His body, and is Himself its Savior. Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love you wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her, that He might sanctify Her, having cleansed Her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that She might be holy and without blemish. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.

Jesus’ first sign at the wedding of Cana points us squarely to the greatest sign, the sign of Jonah, that is Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection on the third day. For, it was from Jesus’ riven side upon the cross that was brought forth His Bride the Church. From the side of the New Adam was brought forth the New Eve in water and blood.

It is still the Third Day, the Day of Resurrection, and we are gathered here as one body in the water and the blood of our Bridegroom Jesus Christ. This is the New Cana, where the Lamb of God stands as though slain, still bearing the marks of His Calvary as glorious life-giving signs. And, the master of the feast, Satan, is stunned, knowing not from whence this precious wine comes (though you know) saying, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This is the Lamb’s High Feast, the Feast of Victory of Our God. He has fulfilled the Law, filled its gaping tomb-like mouth to the brim with the finest wine of His holy blood. No longer need you repeatedly, ritually return to the water for cleansing, but having been cleansed in His blood once and for all you are clean, holy before the Lord. This feast is but a foretaste of the Feast that is to come, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom that has no end. But, it is all you need for today, for tomorrow, until He comes. Come quickly Lord Jesus. Come quickly, come.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

The First Sunday after Epiphany

(Audio)


Luke 2:41-52; Romans 1:1-5; 1 Kings 8:6-13

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

When I lived in New York I typically watched the ten o’clock news which iconically opened each evening with these words: “It’s 10:00 pm, do you know where your children are?” In mental response to that question, I often found myself answering, “Yes I do. I do know where my children are. In fact, they’re in bed asleep, right above me, right now.” Now, it may seem a bit simple, but there’s no small amount of comfort to be had in answering the question, “Do you know where your children are?” in the affirmative: “Yes, I know where my children are. I’ve done at least something right as a parent. Tonight, right now, my children are all safe, asleep in their beds. Of that much I’m certain. They’re not lost.”

However, standing in stark contrast to my 10 o’clock parental reassurance is the story in our Gospel lesson today about the Holy Family’s visit to Jerusalem for Passover when Jesus was twelve years old. Mary and Joseph lost their child. They did not know where their child was, even a full day’s journey from Jerusalem on their way back home to Nazareth. Yes, that’s correct, they had traveled a full day’s walking distance before they even began to look for Him amongst their relatives and acquaintances. However, you shouldn’t be too shocked by that particular detail. After all, it wasn’t too many years ago that children roamed the neighborhood from home to home from dawn to dusk. That’s how it was for me growing up; on the weekends or when school was out, I left the house in the morning after breakfast and I didn’t return home until dinner time. And, when I was older, I am certain that I came back well after 10:00 pm. But the world was different then, wasn’t it? Somehow, safer? Or, were we just na├»ve? Anyway, in first century Judea, families and clans of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins would travel together along with other families and clans from the same town. The children moved freely from family to family and nobody feared for their safety, knowing they were among relatives and acquaintances.

Nonetheless, you should take note that the stories in the Bible always have a bit of an edge, even the ones about Jesus and the Holy Family. We tend to sanitize them and to remember them and the characters in them as holy, perfect, and beyond reproach. But, consider the lies and deceptions, the treacheries, adulteries and fornications, denials and betrayals of such important figures as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, and David, and Peter and Thomas, not to mention Paul. These people all made mistakes, disbelieved, and showed their weakness and frailty, and yet they are heroes of the faith and they examples for us of humility and repentance and of God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness poured out upon them through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. Likewise, the Bible is filled with sinners and outcasts in need of God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness: prostitutes and tax collectors, adulterers, lepers, the sick, the dead, and the unclean.

Thus, you should take note of the edgy details of today’s account of the Holy Family, for they literally beg you to examine them and to dig a little deeper. For instance, it should surprise you that Joseph and Mary lost their child and did not know where He was. It should surprise you that Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without His parent’s knowledge. It should surprise you that He was lost for three days before they finally found Him. It should surprise you that Joseph and Mary seem not to understand whose Son Jesus truly is. It should surprise you that Jesus answers His concerned and astonished parents with perplexing questions of His own. It should surprise you that they seemingly still didn’t understand who He was and what He must do. It should surprise you that He then became submissive to them and returned home to Nazareth where He seemingly lived as a normal young adult until He was approximately thirty years of age. It should surprise you that His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And, it should surprise you that Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. What does this mean?

Indeed, this well known and beloved story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple is so filled with unexpected and perplexing details that it literally invites you, even begs you, to probe deeper into its mystery. For, it is a mystery, a mystery concerning the identity of Jesus, a mystery concerning the epiphany or manifestation of His divinity, then veiled in human flesh, breaking through in such a way so as to draw you closer to Him and deeper into Him, that you may treasure all these things in your heart.

Yet, it is often said that the devil is in the details. And, indeed, the devil has worked much mischief and harm by tempting the faithful to get caught in a web of symbolic interpretations of details in the Holy Scriptures. Thus, let us not consider foremost the details, but the One who lies beneath the details, and what is manifested for us through the revelation of the mystery of God in the flesh. That it was Passover when the Holy Family visited Jerusalem is an important detail. The Holy Family was in Jerusalem to make a sacrifice and to eat the Passover as commanded by the Law of God. Most families would have either brought a sacrificial lamb with them or they would have purchased one in Jerusalem. The Holy Family brought Jesus. That Jesus was twelve years old is also an important detail because that was the age of spiritual adulthood for a Hebrew male, the year of his Bar Mitzvah making him a Son of the Commandment. This age indicates that Jesus was now recognized as an adult who could make decisions for Himself. Thus, the Word of God made flesh, Jesus, circumcised on the eighth day of His newborn life to fulfill the Law and Command of God, now recognized by men as having achieved spiritual maturity and adulthood, presents Himself as the unblemished Passover Lamb of God in a foreshadowing of the self-sacrifice that He would make in Jerusalem during the Passover twenty-one years later.

Likewise, it is an important detail that Jesus willingly stayed behind in the temple and that He demonstrated there His wisdom and knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. For, He did not merely demonstrate that He understood the Word of God, but He permitted the teachers in the temple and you a small glimpse and epiphany that He is the Word of God in their midst, and in your midst, by the questions that He asked and the answers that He gave. And, that Jesus was seemingly lost for three days is also an important detail, for, in the Holy Scriptures, and particularly in the parables of Jesus, being lost is likened to having died, and being found is likened to being made alive again. Indeed, even the question Jesus asked of His parents when they finally discovered Him in the temple seems a portent of the question asked by the angel at Jesus’ tomb when the women came expecting to find His dead body: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” and “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

It is an important detail that Joseph and Mary did not understand what Jesus meant. For, how could they not understand? Both of them were visited by angels proclaiming who their child was. They had heard Simeon’s and Anna’s prophecies concerning the child. They heard the testimonies of Zechariah and Elizabeth as well, not to mention their own faith, knowledge, and trust in words of the Prophets. Certainly, they believed and knew that their son Jesus was the very Son of God. Then why, why did they not understand Jesus’ meaning that He must be in His Father’s house? And, why was that not the first place that they looked once they came to realize that He was not amongst their relatives and acquaintances? Perhaps their confusion was precisely because they did believe and know who He was. That is to say, perhaps Joseph and Mary so believed and trusted in Simeon’s prophecy that their son would be for the rising and falling of many in Israel and for a word spoken against that the first place they ventured to look was not the temple, but the morgue! Perhaps they believed so strongly that their son was destined to die as God’s Passover Lamb for the sins of the world that they, like Eve, who believed that her first born son was the one promised to crush the serpent’s head, were anticipating the fulfillment of His destiny now, even at His young age. But, whatever it was that they did not understand, nevertheless, Jesus submitted to their parental authority, honored and obeyed Joseph and Mary, and returned home with them to Nazareth. And, from that point on, until He formally began His ministry at the age of thirty, the Scriptures are silent, indicating that Jesus lived and grew as a son and as a man, increasing in wisdom and in stature and in favor with both God and men.

Jesus’ very first words are misunderstood, a theme for His entire life. As Simeon had prophesied, Jesus was destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel; were Joseph and Mary the first to stumble over Jesus and the cross? It is a mystery! That is exactly the point. A mystery draws you in deeper. You, children of God, you Christians, are Mary during this Epiphany season, invited to ponder the mystery of Jesus in your heart. Why did the Magi present an infant boy with gifts fit for prophets, priests, and kings? What was the significance of Jesus’ changing water into the finest of wines at the wedding in Cana? What does it mean for you that God is pleased with the man Jesus and that to Him heaven has opened and that upon Him God’s Spirit has rested and remains? What does it mean that creation continues to respond to and obey His Word as it once did in the beginning? These are but some of the questions for you to ponder during Epiphanytide that you may grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.

In the Word made flesh Jesus Christ, God has returned to His temple. As in the tabernacle of old, so in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple, so now in the flesh and blood of Jesus, God dwells amongst His people to bless them and keep them in Holy Communion with Him until the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Christian Funeral for Lavon Rosa McEnany


(Audio)


John 10:11-16; Romans 8:31-39; Lamentations 3:22-33

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord, also known as Little Christmas. Today the Church commemorates the arrival of the Magi or Wise Men from the East who followed a star to the infant Jesus and presented Him with the unusual and costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh: Gold because Jesus is our King; Frankincense because Jesus is our Great High Priest; Myrrh because Jesus is the promised Prophet to whom all the prophets of old pointed. As important as these things are however, the most important thing we celebrate on Epiphany is that Jesus is all those things, not only for the Jews, but for all the world. The Wise Men were Gentiles just like you and me, and Jesus was their Prophet, Priest, and King also. Jesus is your King, and Jesus is Lavon’s King also. And Lavon has fought the good fight, she has finished the race, she has kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for her the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to her on that day, and not only to her but also to all who have loved his appearing.

A fight and a race, those are the images St. Paul chose to describe the Christian faith and life. Fights and races are not easy things, but they are arduous, difficult, and exhausting. So too, the Christian faith and life is often arduous, difficult, and exhausting. I have little doubt that our dear sister in Christ Lavon would agree. In preparation for today I read a bit about Lavon’s childhood and life in her own words, an obituary of sorts that she wrote in February 2011. By the way, Lavon wrote a number of such documents, sometimes even including the date and location of her death and who was there. Lavon wrote, “I was born into a rural community of church-going farmers who understood the value of hard work, perseverance, and dependability. […] I believe I lived in the best of times even though it was the years of the Great Depression and World War II.” Those times were arduous, difficult, and exhausting, yet Lavon still considered them the best of times.

Lavon’s father was orphaned at the age of four and lived at the Waverly Lutheran Orphans Home with his brother. His other siblings, deaf and mute, were sent to a school for the deaf in Omaha. Lavon herself was born and baptized at home in Jefferson Township, “seven miles equally from Shell Rock, Clarksville, and Allison” as she put it, but she considered Clarksville to be her home. She spent the first eighteen of her years in that rural family home. Though the way she describes her childhood and family seems humble, simple, and difficult at times, you can also hear her contentment, joy, and more than a little pride: “These are now just some notes about me,” she wrote, “I like sunrises and sunsets, watching the moon and stars, traveling, playing cards, especially cribbage, visiting, coffee with friends, photography, bird watching, and being with family.”

Lavon attended Gates Business College in Waterloo and landed her first job at Schield Bantam in Waverly. It was during that time that she began a relationship with Loren. They were married in 1955 and moved around quite a bit while Loren was in the Army, but they eventually settled down in Waterloo with their children Loretta, Mark, and Anita. Lavon states that she was a mother and homemaker until Anita began kindergarten, but then she worked at Friendship Village in Waterloo, the Waverly Parks and Recreation Office, and finally at Wartburg College in the Controller’s Office. Lavon made many lifelong friends in her various vocations, many of whom she continued to gather with for coffee and talk up until her last few weeks.

Lavon was an active and dedicated member here at St. John and at the American Legion Auxiliary. She and Loren loved spending time together camping, fishing, boating and bike riding, cheering on the Cubs, playing cribbage, and so much more. When asked what her interests were, Lavon simply answered, “My interests are those of my husband’s.”

What hasn’t been spoken thus far is that Lavon and Loren, and Anita, and all of you family, have suffered the immense loss of loved ones, and in tragic ways. Lavon and Loren’s son Mark was killed in a car accident in 1977. Their daughter Loretta was killed in 2001, also in a car accident. Anita’s husband Dean died in 2016 after a long battle with lymphoma, and Loren died less than two weeks later. That’s a lot of tragedy and death, and a lot of loss for anyone to suffer and keep their faith. That’s a lot of tragedy and a lot of loss that only faith can help you to bear.

Thus our reading today from Lamentations: “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” In the Scriptures, waiting is akin to trust. Those who trust in the LORD – who trust that He is good, that He is faithful, that He knows what is best – no matter what they are facing – disease, unemployment, marital troubles, rebellious children, death, whatever – wait for LORD in patient faith, hope, and love believing that “the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not afflict from His heart or grieve the children of men,” and that, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is His faithfulness.” Though she knew hardship and grief from the beginning, Lavon also knew the steadfast love of the Lord all her long life, and she waited for Him to act, to comfort, and to deliver her, and He did, again and again, unto this very day.

The Christian faith is often arduous, difficult, and exhausting. It is like a fight or a race that you must grind through, in which you often feel defeated or like you simply cannot bear anymore. St. Paul knew those feelings well. Nevertheless, he concluded, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Our God, who did not spare even His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, will also graciously give us all things. No, St. Paul says, in all our trials, sufferings, and tribulations “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us, and neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height or depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, is our Good Shepherd. He laid down His own innocent life for us stubborn, wandering, and not all too bright sheep because He loves us and because He loves His Father who loves us so much that He gave His only Son over to death that He should redeem us as His own. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He knows His sheep, and His sheep know Him, and He laid down His life for His Sheep. Our Good Shepherd Jesus passed the way we all must pass, through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. That Valley is not something we pass through only at the end of our lives, however, but that Valley is where we live our lives surrounded by enemies and dangers, ending in death. But our Good Shepherd Jesus has passed through that Valley before us and has defeated and destroyed our greatest enemy, death, and made it a passageway to His Father’s house forevermore. Christians wait on the Lord in patient faith, hope, and love because our Good Shepherd shepherds us through the Valley of the Shadow of death, because He leads us to green pastures and still waters, because He guides us by the rod and staff of His Word, because He feeds us with His own body and blood in the presence of our enemies and anoints us with His Holy Spirit. This our Good Shepherd Jesus has done for Lavon all her long life, and now He has guided her to His Father’s house where His sheep may safely graze. Lavon waited on the Lord in faith, hope, and love all her long life, and when it was time she said repeatedly, “I’m ready.” The Lord had made her ready, ready to receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. Dear family and friends of Lavon, as you grieve, grieve in hope – hope mixed with contentment and peace, and even a little joy – for the Lord has had compassion upon Lavon and now she rests from her race and her fight. And you will see her again when you finish your race and pass through the Valley and your Good Shepherd shepherds you to that place in His Father’s house where His sheep may safely graze. There you will see Lavon again, and Mark, Loretta, Loren, and those you love who have followed their Good Shepherd home, and no one will take your joy from you.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

The Second Sunday after Christmas (Christmas 2)

(Audio)


Matthew 2:13-23; 1 Peter 4:12-19; Genesis 46:1-7

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Eight days after His birth, our Lord was given the name announced by the angel Gabriel before His conception, Jesus, and then His infant flesh was cut and His blood was shed. For the Name Jesus, which means “God saves”, brings suffering, bloodshed, and death for Jesus, and for those marked with His holy Name. The prince of this world, the devil, as well as earthly princes, powers, and kings seek to destroy and to wipe out the true King and Creator of the universe along with those who follow Him.

Thus, Joseph was warned in a dream to flee that very night into Egypt, for Herod sought to murder the child and to erase His Name from the face of the earth. Herod’s hatred for the Christ child was so extreme that he ordered the slaughter of all male children under two years of age in the city of Bethlehem. And so, Jeremiah’s ancient prophecy was fulfilled, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

But why did God permit it? These children had done nothing to deserve such a fate. Why must all these parents suffer? It would have been so simple for God to prevent it all. Angels constantly flit in and out of the Christmas story. Why did God not send one to Herod and settle everything? But no, Joseph, the son of Jacob, although innocent, must spend two years in prison. Moses must flee from Pharaoh and hide forty years in the wilderness. David must flee before Saul. Daniel is thrown to the lions because he prays to the true God. St. Paul must suffer many things for Christ’s sake.

And today is no different. We are prone to imagine that all who surrender their life to the King and are at peace with God should be shielded from all sorrow and affliction by an omnipotent, loving God and led to experience only joys and pleasures. Instead, we see frequently that the most devout Christians suffer. That’s why God tells us stories like that in today’s Holy Gospel. He permits us a glimpse of the inside workings of His counsels that when His ways seem incomprehensible, we may cling to the one consolation: A loving, kindly disposed Father permits all for a glorious purpose.

In the story of the Holy Gospel, He lifts the veil and shows not only that there is a clearly defined purpose, but also what His purpose is. The flight into Egypt perplexes us, but there is ample evidence of His omnipotent hand. His ever-watchful eye is on the Christ Child. First, He supplies the Holy Family with funds for the journey through the rich gifts of the Magi. Then He sends an angel to warn Joseph. God sees to it that when the slaughter begins in Bethlehem, the Child is far removed from danger. In Egypt He finds a safe haven. There He can quietly await the death of His enemies. After four years the angel commands Joseph to return to the land of Israel.

What was God’s purpose? The flight into Egypt served to proclaim the Christ Child as the Savior. By it the word of the prophet was fulfilled: “Out of Egypt have I called My Son.” An attempt to give all the reasons why God permitted the murder of the Innocents would be presumptuous. One reason God Himself states is that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

But this story teaches us chiefly three things. First is that if God permits affliction, He never loses control of events. Things never get out of hand. Herod could go just so far and no farther. God set a definite limit. He always does. We are never asked to carry more than we are able. We have His promise that He will supply the strength needed to carry the carefully measured load. We need not carry it one moment longer than God wills. At all times His omnipotent hand is in complete control.

Second, we are to learn that God always has a very clearly defined purpose in view. Things do not just happen by chance. There is no blind fate. In Bethlehem God’s purpose was probably correction. Children of God must know that they are not punished, but they are disciplined and corrected. Christ has suffered all our punishment, and God will not and cannot punish the same sins twice. By permitting affliction God seeks to correct our faults in all love.

The third thing we are to learn is that God is deeply concerned about His Word. We are told three times that the Word of the Lord was fulfilled. First, by the flight to Egypt, then by the wailing of the mothers over their babes, and last when Joseph settled in Nazareth. God’s Word is important to Him. This is the same Word so many neglect and ignore. To them it is not important. As a result, they miss endlessly much in life and always remain spiritual paupers, crippled and paralyzed. The Holy Gospel impresses on us that God’s Word is always fulfilled. Not one of His Words ever fall to the ground. If this to mean anything in our lives, we must know the Word, we must know what God tells us about Himself. There is, for instance, the Word “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you.” If we never had a day of trouble, we should never call on God in that day; so God permits the day of trouble to come. When we know God’s Word, we call on Him confidently, and we experience that His Word is always fulfilled. Without knowledge of God’s Word and of God we should never learn to know God from this side. We would miss endlessly much if we never learned by experience how dependable His Word is.

The greatest comfort in time of affliction is the unshakable assurance that there is not a trace of wrath or punishment in it. We, God’s children, suffer because Jesus, God’s Son, suffered. In those times when you can't make sense of things, when there seems to be no valid purpose or meaning to what's going on in your lives (and that happens to us all at one time or another), God points your eyes again to the cross. For there in that greatest display of God's almighty vulnerability, there in that senseless and yet most meaningful death of Jesus, you are assured that God's love for you is limitless and unshakable. There is nothing in all of creation that can separate you from Him and His love. In fact, the Lord comes so near to you with His love that He actually gives Himself into you in the Sacrament of the Altar. He imparts to you His very own life with His body and blood. If the almighty Lord would go so far as to take on your vulnerable human flesh, to die in the flesh and shed His blood, and then give you His resurrected flesh and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, then certainly you can trust Him even in those times when there seems to be no reasonable answers to your questions. For ultimately, the answer to all of those questions, the solution to all of those problems is the One in the manger, and on the cross, and in the bread and the wine.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.