4th Sunday after Epiphany – C LSB #’s 908, 587, 921
Text – Jeremiah 1:9
Then the Lord put out His hand & touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.”
THE WORD OF GOD
Researchers for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority found over 200 dead crows near greater Boston recently. There was concern they may have died from the Bird Flu. A pathologist examined the remains of all the crows, &, to everyone’s relief, confirmed the problem was definitely NOT Avian Flu. The cause of death appeared to be vehicular impact.
During the detailed analysis it was noted that varying colors of paint appeared on the beaks & claws of the birds. By analyzing these paint residues it was determined that 98% of the crows had been killed by impact with trucks, while only 2% were killed by impact with a car.
The MTA then hired an Ornithological Behaviorist to determine if there was a cause for the disproportionate number of birds killed by trucks versus the birds killed by cars. He very quickly determined the reason:
When crows eat road kill, they always have a look-out crow in a nearby tree to warn of impending danger. They discovered that while all the lookout crows were able to shout the word “Caw,” not a single crow could pronounce the word “Truck.”
The conclusion we can draw from such prominent research is this – the words we use are very important. Okay, maybe not from that research, but if you are a child of God you do have to give serious consideration to the Bible, because the Book of James makes some rather stark claims in regard to the words we speak. Chapter 1:26 tells us:
“If anyone thinks he is religious & does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (ESV) In chapter 3:5-6, James wrote: “In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire, & the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” (NLT) Chapter 3:8 concludes: “…but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (ESV)
It’s fun to laugh about whether a crow can shout “Caw” or “Truck,” but the Bible makes some ominous declarations concerning the instrument which speaks the words we use. Human words come from the heart & too often they bring death instead of life. For that reason, the words we speak are very important.
In the 6th chapter of John, Jesus tells us, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit & life.” (6:63 ESV) Simon Peter reiterates that when he answers Jesus a few verses later, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68 ESV)
God is love, & the Word of God is the only source of life, yet four different times Holy Scripture also refers to Yahweh as a consuming fire. He is good, but He is not safe. The 4th chapter of Hebrews describes the dynamic & threatening role that God’s Word plays in our lives, even as it gives us eternal life:
“For the word of God is living & active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul & of spirit, of joints & of marrow, & discerning the thoughts & intentions of the heart.” (4:12 ESV)
The sort of transparency which the Bible promises to make of our thoughts & intentions can be extremely disconcerting. It is that Word which absolutely sets the Church apart from all earthly organizations, businesses, governments. Jeremiah was commissioned to speak words of life & death & promise. The Word of God is the channel through which Yahweh confronts the world. Since our Lord is not commissioning prophets today, it is now the role of the Church to confront the world with that very same two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul & of spirit, discerning the thoughts & intentions of the heart. If the prophet, or the nation of Israel, refused to confront the world, then God removed the prophet, & eventually the nation of Israel.
If the Church today refuses to confront the world, then God removes the Church! Based on the words used to describe Jeremiah, he could have been as young as 12-16 years old when he was commissioned. Does that sound like a lot to place on the shoulders of someone so young? Then you shouldn’t feel so ‘put upon’ that the Word of God has also been placed in your mouth.
The Holy Spirit inspired the prophet Isaiah to write, “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire & achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11 NIV)
Given the choice, Jeremiah would have chosen not to speak for the Lord. His call was to preach mostly words of condemnation to a people that had learned to ignore the true God. Verse 10 of the OT reading began: “See, I have set you this day over nations & over kingdoms, to pluck up & to break down, to destroy & to overthrow…”
In the same way, none of us, by nature, is open to the call to faith, much less the call to speak the word of the Lord to our world today. And still, God says, “Go!” just as He said to Moses & to Joshua, to Peter & to Paul, to all the other witnesses whom He has appointed down through the ages.
The phrase, “I have put my words in your mouth,” is the classic description of the relationship between God & His prophets. For us, the assurance comes as we hear & read the written Word of God. It is there as we daily remember our Baptism, to Whom it joined us, & the seal placed upon us in that moment. Our Lord’s assurance comes to us anew, each time the Triune God reaches out & touches our mouths with His own Body & Blood in the Lord’s Supper. By God’s grace, today, we are the people & the Church of God. His Word has called us. His Word instructs us. His Word is on our heart & mind & lips as He sends us out to declare the power of His Word.
Verse 10 of the OT reading began with words of condemnation. It ends with the words, “…to build & to plant.” Our authority is God’s Word. Our assurance is God’s Word. Our power is God’s Word. To us also, the Lord, who knitted us together in the womb, says, “I have put my words in your mouth.”
It is a dangerous word to have, as we noted earlier in that it is a two-edged sword. It discerns, not just the heart of those to whom we speak the Word of God. It discerns also the heart of those speaking that Word. In Isaiah 5, we hear this warning:
“Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, & as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, & their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, & have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.” (5:24 ESV)
Jeremiah was sent by Yahweh to preach that His plan was now for destruction. The nation of Judah, the chosen people, had themselves despised the Word of God for too long. Yet the promise of replanting & rebuilding is also out there. That promise is ultimately fulfilled in heaven, which Jesus spoke about with Moses & Elijah at the Transfiguration.
In our culture today, Christianity is being twisted to say effectively, “anything goes” because Jesus loves everyone. That’s not exactly what the Word of God says. Satan is still twisting the Word of God, just as he was in the Garden of Eden. That makes it more important than ever to have Lutheran schools where the Word of God can be taught in its purity.
In our early childhood center, & in our elementary classrooms, we are able to use the
Word of God in positive, constructive & helpful ways. Yes, it still discerns the thoughts & intentions of the heart, convicting where necessary, but also building up, healing & restoring to life, the souls of the children who are blessed to attend here.
The Word of God not only gives information, but also imparts transformation. Human words can do well at giving information, but cannot in any way transform a person’s heart. We nag & we hound & we badger, but nothing changes! The Word of God, spoken by Jeremiah, changes the course of history.
Most of the political & religious leaders in Jerusalem rejected both Jeremiah’s message & his credibility. So in calling Jeremiah, the Lord gives him a word of encouragement, & makes plain that Yahweh is in control: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you… I sanctified you… I appointed you!”
The Word of God is powerful to accomplish all things, yet He allows us to reroute His plan through our refusal to believe in & trust in His Word. So the question is, “Do you trust God’s Word or do you reject it?” If we trust His Word, God determines our future. If we reject His Word, we determine our future. Which result would you rather have?
That’s easy to answer in general with no specific conditions. As it’s said, the devil is in the details. It’s in the specific conditions that we often do reject God’s Word & determine our future. Lutheran schools allow their teachers to instruct students, not just in religion classes, but also to teach their students about God in classes like Science & Math.
Do we trust God’s Word in the specific details of Science? Do we trust God’s Word in the specific details of Math? Do we trust God’s Word in the specific details of History? The Word of God has the power of destruction. The Word of God also has the power of life. Happily it is strong enough to destroy all that sin builds or grows. Jeremiah often struggled with the sadness of that alien work of God – as do we – but it must be recognized that God’s destruction is an element of our His love. Without such demolition & clearing of the land, God cannot redeem the soil to build & to plant. Crops are not planted until the field is cleared. New construction requires the removal of the decrepit past.
Jeremiah’s call, in the Biblical context, is part & parcel of the theology of the cross, where God’s grace is most clearly revealed, unobstructed by the glory seeking tendencies of the human heart. God calls a young Jeremiah, maybe 12-16 years of age, because He delights in confounding human wisdom by choosing the foolish, the weak & the young.
Likewise, Yahweh chose David though he was the youngest & least impressive of Jesse’s sons. He sent Jesus as a baby into Bethlehem, a city far from Joseph & Mary’s home. Today’s text is about our Lord & His Word. It truly is an epiphany as it reveals to us God’s way of working on His people in this world. He simply works through His Word.
As Jesus said in John 5, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word, & believes Him who sent me, has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (5:24 ESV)
It was after the wedding service, at the couple’s reception. The pastor was sitting at a table when a distinguished looking gentleman approached & introduced himself as “Uncle Harry.” He started talking to the pastor about his “spiritual journey.”
He said he’d been raised in The Lutheran Church, but left many years ago because of its teachings against lodge membership & some other things. He complained that Lutherans were too authoritarian. He told the pastor he joined another church because it didn’t make such claims to having authority. However, now, he hadn’t been to church in some time.
When the pastor asked why, Uncle Harry explained that his wife had died a while ago.
He was shocked by the sermon the pastor of his new church gave. He found out that this pastor didn’t actually believe in the resurrection of the dead. Uncle Harry said he felt lost & insecure.
The pastor explained to Harry the joy & security that come from having Jesus speak to us with authority. We don’t reject Jesus’ authority as burdensome. Instead, we live in the joy & security that come from Jesus speaking to us with authority: “It is finished!” “This is my body, & my blood, given for you.” “Because I live, you also will live.” “Lo, I am with you always.”
“[Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And He was teaching them on the Sabbath, & they were astonished at His teaching, for His word possessed authority.” “Then the Lord put out His hand & touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.’” Amen.
I know my faith is founded on Jesus Christ, my God & Lord; & this my faith confessing, unmoved I stand on His sure Word. Our reason cannot fathom the truth of God profound; who trusts in human wisdom relies on shifting ground. God’s Word is all sufficient, it makes divinely sure; & trusting in its wisdom, my faith shall rest secure. Amen.
 Luke 4:31-32 ESV
 Jeremiah 1:9 ESV
Life Sunday – 2016 LSB #392
Text – Isaiah 43:1
But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
Created, Redeemed, Called
They can be complicated, confusing, controversial & uncomfortable. I’m talking about those things we typically address on a Sanctity of Life Sunday – the life issues. They can be complicated because of – stem cell research, cloning, in vitro fertilization, genetic engineering. It seems like we need to be scientists to figure it all out.
They can be confusing – should we or should we not remove that feeding tube, stop that treatment, sign that Living Will, or initiate a Do Not Resuscitate order? It seems like we need to be ethicists to figure it all out.
They can be controversial – why do we talk about this in church & bring it up in Bible study? These are political & social issues. Let’s stick to the Gospel. It can seem like we need to be theologians to figure it all out.
These topics can be uncomfortable – people in our pews have had abortions or pressured a girlfriend or daughter to have one, or were unable to stop someone from having an abortion. It seems like we need to be psychologists to figure it all out.
Every one of those is true. The life issues are complicated, confusing, controversial & uncomfortable. It’s how the devil does his best work, but today, on this Sanctity of Life Sunday, we are not going to talk about any of those things. Instead, we are going to talk about something that is not complicated, not confusing, not controversial, & not uncomfortable at all.
We’re going to talk about something that is, in fact, very simple. Yet, its simplicity speaks profoundly to all the life issues. It is where we need to start before addressing anything to do with the sanctity of life. This morning, we will answer the question: “What has our heavenly Creator done that gives value to human life?” In other words, we begin with God.
The sermon text contains the answer in three simple words – created, redeemed & called. We’ll look at each of these, not as scientists or ethicists or theologians or psychologists, but as people of God who live & move & have our very being in Christ, & in His holy Word. Every human life has value because God creates every human being.
The Bible pictures this pro-creative activity as an intimate & hands-on work: “Your hands fashioned & made me.” (Job 10:8) “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13 NIV) We all could have a tag attached to the back of our neck like we see on clothing. Our tag would read, “Made Personally by God!”
Some people want to interrupt here & say, “If every human being is the work of God’s hands, then how do we explain Down syndrome babies, or other physical & mental challenges?” We want this sermon to be simple, so here is the simple answer to that question: They are the work of God’s hands. The Bible is quite clear as it challenges us concerning God’s children:
From Isaiah 45:11, “Do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands?” From Isaiah 29:16, “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘You did not make me’? Can the pot say to the potter, ‘You know nothing’?” It’s as if God is directly challenging those who teach atheistic evolution.
From Psalm 51:5 it is perfectly clear that God makes tiny human beings from the moment of conception, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (NIV) Sinfulness is a human condition, & we are sinful from the moment of conception, so we must necessarily be human from the moment of conception.
That verse also points us to the next thing God has done that gives value to human life.
Since we are sinful from the moment of conception, we need a Savior from that same moment, & we have one! Remember the angel’s words to Mary? Christmas wasn’t that long ago. “You will conceive & give birth to a son, & you are to call Him Jesus.” (Luke 1:31)
We read that verse every Christmas, but note there are two events in Jesus’ life described there – His birth & His conception nine months earlier. It is His conception that was miraculous, not His birth.
When the “power of the Most High” overshadowed Mary (1:35a), Jesus was conceived without the aid of an earthly father, which is why the angel refers to Him as “the Son of God” (35b) from the moment of His conception. From that moment onward, Jesus is God & Man.
“The Word became flesh & made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14a) at Jesus’ conception, not at His birth. Jesus was not only the “God-man,” He was the “God-embryo”! His holiness at conception takes the place of our un-holiness at our conception. What value this gives to all embryos from that moment on! But there’s more.
Jesus needed to develop in a womb. He needed feet to walk among us. He needed hands to touch & to heal the sick. He needed a mouth so He could teach. He needed a heart to be filled with compassion for the lost. He needed a body so He could take little children in His arms to hold them close & bless them.
Jesus needed those hands & feet to be pierced as He was nailed to the cross in our place. He needed a mouth to utter that forsaken cry in order that we never have to. He needed a heart to pump the blood He shed for cleansing our sin, & then be stilled in death. He needed a body to be buried in a tomb, then to rise again victorious over death & the grave!
Paul says we were “bought at a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:20a) All that Jesus did from His conception onward was part of that price. Paul reminds the pastors at Ephesus of the magnitude of this price when he tells them, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28b) God did not purchase us with the blood of a man or the blood of some holy martyr. God purchased us with His own blood in the person & the human flesh of Jesus!
The price paid, for sinful humanity, was high. Thus the value it gives to human life is incalculable. And remember, this price was paid for every human being. Our Lord & Savior died “once for all.” (Hebrews 9:12)
Not every human being knows this, of course, & it is the task of the Church to share this message. But the fact remains, Jesus’ life & death & resurrection give value to each human life, to every human being, in any shape & any form.
So far, we have two pretty simple answers to our question, “What has God done that gives value to human life?” Every human being has value because every human being is the work of God’s hands in creation & the work of His hands stretched out on a cross in redemption. Each human being is created & redeemed.
One simple answer is left. Every human life has value because every person is someone whom God desires to call into an eternal relationship with Him. He “wants all people to be saved & to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) He wants every human life to be splashed with His Holy Spirit in the waters of Baptism.
He who created every life with His hands, & redeemed every life with those same hands, wants to call everyone to be His child & hold us, indeed “engrave” us, into the palms of His hands, (Isaiah 49:16) here in time & forever in eternity!
Created, redeemed, called – it’s not complicated or confusing or controversial or uncomfortable. It’s very simple, yet its simplicity speaks profoundly to all the life issues. It’s where we need to start before addressing any of the life issues. Now, we’ll wrap up this sermon
with some quiz questions. They’re not trick questions at all.
The list could be a lot longer, but the answer will always be the same. Our lives have value. Your life has value. Every life has value because each life is someone created by God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, & someone the Holy Spirit either has called, or wants to call, into an eternal relationship with Him.
The life issues do not have to be complicated! Good never makes things complicated. It is evil that always & only complicates everything. Amen.
God loves me dearly, grants me salvation, God loves me dearly, loves even me. I was in slavery, sin, death & darkness; God’s love was working to make me free. He sent forth Jesus, my dear Redeemer, He sent forth Jesus & set me free. Therefore I’ll say again: God loves me dearly, God loves me dearly, loves even me. Amen.
Baptism of our Lord – C LSB #’s 779, 596, 468
Text – Romans 6:6
We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
TRUSTING THE CRUCIFIXION
The names Agatha Christie & Ellery Queen are recognized, not in the world of church or theology, but in the world of mystery. They wrote stories in which the reader is provided with the clues from which the identity of the perpetrator may be figured out before the story provides the revelation itself at its climax.
To describe this category of literature the term ‘whodunit’ was coined. From the reader’s perspective, it’s the whole point of the book – to figure out who done it. From the author’s perspective, the goal is to write a book in such a way that when the reader is finished, he’s kicking himself for not figuring out who done it.
A whodunit is a book that practically begs you to solve the mystery, while also making that solution a struggle. In the book, the hero often has a sidekick. Sherlock Holmes had Watson. The Lone Ranger had Tonto. Batman had Robin. Together, they do battle against the forces of evil to win the day for those who, although helpless, are good.
St. Paul’s letter to the Romans informs us that as children of God we have been granted an ability to engage in the ongoing battle against sin, & to offer ourselves in service to our Lord. That is what God has done for us in our Baptism. You & I have been delivered from the reign of sin. We honor our Savior by consciously joining in the battle, for ourselves & for our neighbor.
The struggle for us is that we also, consciously, opt out of the battle much of the time. You see, children of God are schizophrenic. We have a dual, or split, mind. We are saint & sinner. We love God & we hate Him. We love our neighbor & we hate him. We love ourselves & we hate ourselves. Yet, our heavenly King calls us in to the battle. Through Baptism into Christ, His followers already “now” have died to the slavery of sin. Nevertheless, as long as our own physical death has “not yet” taken place, we remain a target of the forces of evil throughout our earthly lives.
And in that struggle, between us & the unbelieving world around us, there are plenty of reasons to experience feelings of fear. Listen to these words of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark:
“‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took Him with them in the boat, just as He was. And other boats were with Him. And a great windstorm arose, & the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke Him & said to Him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ And He awoke & rebuked the wind & said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, & there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid?’” (Mark 4:35b-40a ESV)
These were tough, hardened fisherman, who made their living on the sea. Yet God allowed such a storm as to strike fear into the hearts of these men. It could only have been a storm that was certain to kill. They truly had reason to be afraid. They were the targets of the forces of darkness & evil. Still, Jesus chastises His disciples for being afraid.
But that is not the end of the fear. Yes, they feared for their lives during that storm, but after Jesus calms the storm, & after He chastises them for their little faith, do you know what verse 41 says? This is their reaction to the miracle Jesus performed: “And they were filled with great fear & said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind & the sea obey Him?’”
They aren’t fighting the devil in this fear, which should give cause for anyone to be afraid. No, this time they are greatly afraid of Jesus Himself. It’s not just the unbelieving world that we are engaged with in warfare. It is also God Almighty Who is doing battle against you & against me. It’s the dual nature thing again.
Our saintly nature does battle against the spiritual forces of darkness in our lives. Our
Sinful nature does battle against the spiritual forces of light in our lives. Our sinful nature attacks & accuses even our Lord & Savior. And in that struggle, between us & God, there are plenty of reasons to experience feelings of fear or anxiety. It is our heavenly Father’s desire that your sinful nature should die.
As C.S. Lewis penned it in the Chronicles of Narnia, “Aslan is not safe.” Lewis means for that phrase to grab your heart & shake it, so you wake up. Momentarily, he leaves you hanging, because Aslan is a picture of Christ & it bothers us, it makes us nervous, to think that Jesus is not safe. Then the punch line comes in, again written of Aslan, “…but he is good.”
Jesus, our Savior, is not safe, but He is good. That he is not safe is written for our sinful nature, the one that would enslave us. It needs to fear God. That Jesus is good, is written for our saintly nature, that we might trust Him even when we have every reason in the world to be greatly afraid! All that boils down to this, “Are you willing to trust Jesus?”
For people who claim to be Christians it’s an easy question to answer in the affirmative. As St. Paul writes to the church at Rome, however, he’s trying to dig a little deeper. He wants them to have something more than a shallow faith that is easily agreed to. The Apostle wants you to face the fears of your heart while trusting not simply in Jesus, but in His crucifixion.
You see, the disciples were afraid for their lives due to the storm on the Sea of Galilee, but that was a fear of something corrupted by the evil of sin. When Jesus calms the storm, is when their greatest fear comes to the forefront. There are probably a lot of earthly things that come to mind when you think of fear. I want to ask, “What is the greatest fear in your life?”
If it isn’t the sheer holiness of God, then it’ll do you well to hear Matthew’s words in 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul & body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28 ESV) That kind of fear is what the disciples were feeling, not just in their heart, but in their very soul, once Jesus said, “‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, & there was a great calm.” That great calm brought out a great fear from the depths of their souls. In Romans 6, that is what St. Paul is writing to:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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.” (Romans 6:1-4 ESV)
St. Paul reminds the members of the church at Rome of the horrific nature of sin & its effects. Paul has to remind them because their sinful heart is part & parcel of that horror, & some people end up numb to the results. It is natural for us to think if we just do our best God will see to it that everything turns out okay. That is how some struggle to trust the crucifixion.
At other times, or for other people, it’s a real struggle to believe that their sins are erased, forgiven, washed away. They are very sensitive to the effects of sin & Satan lashes them day & night with their guilt & shame. It just doesn’t seem possible that their sin has totally been paid for. That’s another way in which some people struggle to trust the crucifixion.
A third category in which we struggle to trust the crucifixion is when others are taking advantage of us. Every fiber of our being can end up screaming, “It’s not fair!” Of course, Jesus is the only human being who could honestly make that claim. The rest of us do not get what we deserve only by the grace of God, for hell is what we have earned.
In circumstances where we’re taken advantage of, God’s Word calls us to turn the other cheek. When we consciously do that, it’s takes tremendous faith & the God-given ability to trust the crucifixion. This is how the Word of God summarizes the difficulty we have in trusting the crucifixion:
“For Jews demand signs & Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a
stumbling block to Jews & folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews & Greeks, Christ the power of God & the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24 ESV) Millions of God’s children, over the past thousands of years, have firmly believed that God sends His Holy Spirit to call His children out of the darkness of this world through the waters of Holy Baptism.
Leah O’Leary will be/was baptized this morning through the water that was connected to the power of God’s Word. We cannot explain it & thus we concede that it is a mystery. The Latin word Sacrament, simply means mystery. Yet the story of our Baptism is no whodunit, & neither the pastor, nor her parents, nor even Leah herself is the Holy Spirit’s sidekick.
Yahweh accomplishes this miraculous salvation entirely by His own power. Paul reminds us because the nature of God’s reign here on earth is hidden behind the veil of our sin-fogged brain. Paul reminds us because Jesus’ death on the cross did everything needed to make us holy in the sight of God, for this life, & completely free of sin & any of its effects in the next.
Freedom from the dominion of death is ours in Baptism, yet lots of people today still have a difficult time trusting the crucifixion as old age creeps up on them. It is Baptism that connects us to Christ’s death so that sin’s power is done away with in our lives. Baptism is the means by which our heavenly Father creates the relationship we have with Him.
He adopts us there as His son or daughter & there’s nothing He will ever do to sever that relationship. Since Yahweh is holy, He cannot be anything but faithful to us. Thus Baptism is the foundation of our faithfulness, not merely the removal of our sins. Through Baptism, Christ’s resurrection becomes the promise of ours, by virtue of the grace of God!
Through our Baptism, the Spirit of God does battle against the forces of evil to win the day for those who, although helpless, are not even good. Through the water connected to God’s Word we receive the merits of Jesus’ holiness & righteousness. Those merits then qualify us to enter the realms of heaven where we will be good. Mysteriously, our baptism takes us back in time where we continue, daily, to be united with the crucified Christ. In fact, St. Paul tells us in Romans 6:6 that our old self was crucified with Christ.
If you want to be a follower of Jesus, you need to be crucified. Everything about our earthly lives tells us that in death we get death. If we trust the crucifixion we see that such a death is actually our entrance into the life that only the heavenly Creator can give to us. God’s Holy Spirit crucifies us through our Baptism. Do you trust that it was effective?
Mysteriously, our baptism also takes us back, & connects us, to Christ’s resurrection. It connects us to our future resurrection. It is the beginning of our future resurrection, a life which we already begin to live here, under the power & grace of God. We enter this life, not under the compulsion of Law, but by the empowering of God’s grace.
As 2 Corinthians 5 puts it: “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Our present life gets its character, direction & purpose from the fact that we shall live with Jesus who lives a life beyond death. Our future is also beyond death, & it has already begun in the here & now.
“For the death [Jesus] died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin & alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Amen.
O Christian, firmly hold this gift & give God thanks forever! It gives the power to uplift in all that you endeavor. When nothing else revives your soul, you Baptism stands & makes you whole & then in death completes you. So use it well! You are made new – in Christ a new creation! As faithful Christians, live & do within your own vocation, until that day when you possess His glorious robe of righteousness bestowed on you forever! Amen.
 Romans 6:10-11
2nd Sunday after Christmas LSB #’s 386, 331, 366
Text – Ephesians 1:7, 10
In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace… as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven & things on earth.
HEAVEN & EARTH
“Imagine there’s no heaven It’s easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today Imagine there’s no countries It isn’t hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion too Imagine all the people living life in peace You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will be as one…”
Those are the opening lyrics from the John Lennon song Imagine. It’s ironic that his dream was for world peace yet he believed that it could be achieved without religion. Granted, there are a lot of ‘bad’ religions in our world, & all the world’s religious leaders are sinful. It’s not a pretty system, but Christianity is the only one that our heavenly Father has given us.
It has been perverted, misused, corrupted, twisted & taken advantage of, yet it is the only religion of the world that is based entirely upon the truth. It faces the harsh reality of mankind’s depravity & it does so with honesty. There is nothing that human beings can do to fix this broken world. We can’t imagine away disease, or killing, or religion, or heaven or hell.
The Creator of all that exists has a plan to fix everything & it costs us nothing. We don’t have to earn it, plan it or build it. Jesus came as a helpless baby to the sleepy little town of Bethlehem in order to create & reveal the peace between God & man that our Lord & Master was giving to us as a gift. He only asks that we open that gift.
His gift is a simple plan that achieves everything our world needs to be restored, renewed & re-created. Sin ruined our heavenly Father’s first creation but it cannot destroy the second one, nor can it ruin God’s plan to rescue us from the brokenness of the first creation. Jesus only asks that we open the gift & believe that it’s real. Can you imagine the family being gathered around the tree on Christmas Eve & someone refuses to open their gift? That would be highly irrational & the same is true for anyone who refuses to open the gift Jesus brings to us.
Lucifer’s plan is simple as well. His entire strategy involves nothing more than to deceive us into thinking that God’s plan is not real. Satan’s only hope is that he can fool us into not opening the gift, of peace & of re-creation, that our Savior offers. How many of you refused to open one or more of your gifts this Christmas? It’s a foolish thought, isn’t it?
Listen to St. Paul’s description of our Savior’s gift to us: “Blessed be the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, …that we should be holy & blameless before Him.” That is the gift Jesus came to bring from our heavenly Creator – holy & blameless before Him.
Have you ever thought about that, what that means, how it impacts the way we can live? Have you ever pulled that gift out of the box, read the instructions, installed the batteries? Rather than imagine what the world would be like without religion, how about we imagine what the world would be like if all of us, just us here in this room, would open & use that gift?
No more anguish of guilt & shame. No more feelings of insecurity & worthlessness. No more anxiety or feelings of inadequacy. We wouldn’t be afraid to speak about Jesus Christ & His love for us. We wouldn’t shy away from telling others about all that Jesus has done to create peace in our hearts, whether at work, or at home or at play.
What St. Paul is teaching us in Ephesians chapter 1 is this: In spite of the world’s hatred for Christianity, there can only be peace on earth when people are centered in Christ. He alone brings peace that is authentic & real. It is ONLY in Christ that all things will be reunited in perfect harmony, as before The Fall. He didn’t come JUST to pay for our sins, but to restore all of His creation. Forgiveness heals & restores human beings, but we still live in a broken world. At the Fall, our home was also condemned as unsafe. Earthquakes & fire, flooding & draught, they all hurt, maim & kill not just God’s children, but all creatures of land & air & sea.
The prophet Isaiah paints a picture of heaven quite different from the pearly gates picture most people have in their minds. In chapter 11 he writes: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, & the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, & the calf & the lion & the fattened calf together; & a little child shall lead them.” That is a picture of the re-created Creation.
Things in heaven & things on earth will be restored & renewed in a way that today we can scarcely imagine. That’s because things in heaven & things on earth will be reunited in Christ. It’ll be far better than a world with no religion. It will be a world without sin, without corruption & without death.
With Christ as its head, the Church is made alive, raised & seated with our Lord. With Christ as its head, the Church is built together & grows together as an organic temple. This bodily temple has the purpose of glorifying the Father. The Church has been united with & built up in Christ. All the while, within this very temple, the Spirit of Yahweh dwells.
“In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace… as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven & things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:7, 10 ESV)
The pairing of the words heaven & earth occurs over 180 times in the Bible, all the way from Genesis to Revelation. On this 2nd Sunday after Christmas it is good to remember that Christ’s birth was not simply about rescuing the human race, but about reuniting all of the universe, the heavens & the earth – our Lord’s entire Creation. It is being reunited under the headship of Christ who is God & Man. The Fall into sin separated, not just mankind, but all of Creation from the perfection & harmony that existed prior to Adam & Eve’s disobedience. St. Paul wrote in the 8th chapter of Romans:
“The creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death & decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (8:21-22 NLT)
Yes, there are a lot of reasons to imagine people living life in peace. There certainly is a great need for the world to be as one, with nothing to kill or die for. However, trying to eliminate heaven, hell & religion, by imagining it is the devil’s answer, not God’s. Our hope & the certainly of paradise for all eternity lies not in human effort, & thank God it does not.
What the Word of God is teaching us in Ephesians 1 is that our salvation, our life everlasting in paradise, our rescue from the suffering & sorrow of this tragic world, comes out of our heavenly Father’s love for us, pure & simple. He determined that before the foundation of the world, in other words, even before, “In the beginning God created the heavens & the earth.”
Our Father chose us in Christ, which is a special state of relationship. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”
For God’s children, there is no urgent need to imagine a better life. We already have heaven as our home. Yes, it certainly is hidden yet today. It’s kind of like the presents that were under the tree just 10 days ago. Most of them were hidden in wrapping paper, or in a decorative bag, but the gifts were no less real for being hidden. Likewise, the eternal life we already possess is certainly hidden, & under far less decorative means than most Christmas presents. Our frail, aging & even broken bodies are nothing to be impressed by. Our human flesh will certainly betray us in this life. It will be resurrected, however, glorious & imperishable for the next life.
This is certain because Yahweh has washed, marked & sealed us by the power of His mighty Word connected to the waters of our Baptism. Not until we experience everlasting life will we fully realize the wonders of these verses written by St. Paul to the church at Ephesus. They are written though, to strengthen & encourage us for our daily work of repentance.
In the meantime, there are only 51 more weeks until Christmas. Won’t you open this year’s gift – “holy & blameless before God,” & believe it before next year’s gift arrives? Amen.
The everlasting Son incarnate deigns to be, Himself a servant’s form puts on to set His servants free. O Zion’s daughter, rise to meet your lowly King, nor let your faithless heart despise the peace He comes to bring. As judge, on clouds of light, He soon will come again & His true members all unite with Him in heaven to reign. All glory to the Son, Who comes to set us free, with Father, Spirit, ever one through all eternity. Amen. LSB 331:2-4, 6
 Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV
 Isaiah 11:6 ESV
 Ephesians 1:7 ESV
 Ephesians 1:11 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet