Christmas 1 Sermon

First Sunday after Christmas
Luke 2:33-35
December 29, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

2.

A good myth can be made even better with a good child prophecy.  All of the mythological collections of antiquity feature a special child who is the fulfillment of prophecy, or about whom prophecies are made.  It’s at this time of year that you’ll hear some self-proclaimed experts, who’ve read an excerpt from a Wikipedia article or two, try to say that Jesus is just one of those myths—that later on in His life, the writers of the Gospels (or even later editors) superimposed these myths of antiquity on His childhood to make Him seem more important and to reinforce their claims that He was God.

Today’s Gospel is one such story.  It’s the account of Joseph and Mary bringing their newborn child to the Temple for His presentation.  This was a common ritual in Israel, commanded by God in Leviticus 12.  The firstborn male child required a sacrifice for purification and atonement for the mother 40 days after his birth.  While Joseph and Mary are in the temple to make this sacrifice, a man by the name of Simeon appears out of nowhere and begins singing.  He prophecies concerning the child, and then another old woman comes up and begins praising God for His great gift.

Here is Simeon’s prophecy: And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother, “Behold, this One is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken against—and for you a sword will pierce your own soul—so that the dialogues of many hearts would be revealed” (vv 34-35).

Not a bad job.  This prophecy puts Jesus right up there with the other children of myth and legend who grow to do heroic things.  This One is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel.  A true child of destiny.

Except that Jesus never really quite lives up to the prophecy that’s spoken of Him.

If Jesus behaved like a good myth, He would have come on the scene in His adulthood, gathering a secret army while overcoming a series of obstacles, winning some small victories that led to even greater ones, eventually overthrowing the powers the powers that be in a spectacular coup.  And although He may have sacrificed Himself, maybe even giving Himself into death for the sake of His cause, His followers would have certainly risen to high positions among His people.

But history says otherwise.  Not just the history that’s written in the Holy Gospels, but secular history also attests to Jesus being a supreme failure of a revolutionary hero of legend.

Even before He can walk, Jesus is on the run—fleeing to Egypt in His family’s arms to escape Herod’s death sentence.  After He returns, He grows up in relative obscurity; even the Holy Writers don’t bother telling much about His youth and young adult years.  When He does come on the scene, it’s out in the wilderness getting baptized by John, and He overcomes some obstacles in the form of Satan’s temptations (ok, now we’re starting to get good).

But then it’s remarkable who doesn’t flock to His banners.  No one important.  He gets some fishermen, some peasants, a lot of poor and those who are spiritually oppressed.  He gets sick and lame and lepers.  The few important people in Israelite society who do come to Him, come to Him by night for fear of getting caught.

And then things get real interesting.  He starts to teach with more intensity, saying things like, “My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink” (John 6:55), and most of His followers up and leave.  He makes His way to Jerusalem, and only a few days after His triumphal entry, He’s set before an ad-hoc tribunal, tried, convicted, and crucified in the space of one day.  Herod Antipas accomplishes what his father could not and finally puts this whole Jesus thing to rest.

Then when the stories of His resurrection begin to circulate, thousands flood to the cause.  But instead of rising to positions of respect and admiration, these followers of Christ, these Christians are persecuted, mocked, and martyred much in the same way as their Christ.  In the many years since, the Christians faith has on more than one occasion come within a hair’s breadth of extinction because of heresies, errors, and schisms.

If you’re going to write a myth, you could do a lot better than the story of Jesus.  Because in the secular-political sense, He just doesn’t live up to the prophecies spoken of Him.

1.

However, Simeon makes sure to let us know that this prophecy isn’t really about the falling and rising of many in Israel in the secular-political sense.  This old man is speaking of something other than the movements of earthly kingdoms and rulers.

First, He will be a sign that is spoken against.  He will be a controverted figure, someone who puts the present order of things on its head.  He’s the One who reveals that it’s the poor who are truly rich, the last who are truly first, the weak who are truly strong.  He’s the One who doesn’t even aspire to a high position in Israel, because it’s the lowest positions that are blessed in His kingdom.

He is the one who is continued to be spoken against.  How many people go out of their way to prove that Oedipus, or Horus, or Perseus, or any of the other mythological fantasies are false?  But every year at Christmas, you can be sure to find scores of people rehashing the same, tired arguments as to how this whole Jesus thing is just a made up myth.

How will He cause this falling and rising?  “A sword will pierce your own soul,” Simeon says to Mary.  Remember that Mary’s soul is the one that magnifies the Lord.  He hath shown strength with his arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.

The work of this God is to raise up that which has fallen.  And there is no deeper depth in which to fall than death.  This sword that will pierce the soul that magnifies the Lord is the crucifixion.  Jesus Himself will fall in death—nails, spear shall pierce Him through.  But He is also the first among many in Israel to rise again.  For the word Simeon chooses in his prophecy is also the word for resurrection.  This child in Mary’s arms is appointed for the falling and the resurrection of many in Israel.

So that the dialogues of many hearts might be revealed.  Again Simeon indicates that this is not a secular-political prophecy, but a spiritual one.  It’s the dialogue of hearts for which Jesus comes, not the diplomacy of nations.  First, this falling and rising is a matter of words—a dialogue.  The falling and rising of many in Israel will be on account of His Word.

The Word of this Child penetrates the heart, dividing joints and marrow; it cuts to the quick.  He speaks harsh condemnation for those who try to exalt themselves with money, power, or ambition.  These are the ones He causes to fall into disgrace and shame—not before the world, but before His Father who is in heaven.  But the ones who are brought low, who are humbled, who are emptied, these are the ones whom His Word raises up.

The rising and falling will take place for many in Israel.  In Jewish thought, many means more than allAll is limited: all of …what?  But many means many and more.  Simeon’s prophecy is for the many in Israel, by which He means the Israel of faith—the many and more that will come to trust in this child.  Simeon’s prophecy is for you.

In a spiritual sense, the Christ child does precisely what Simeon foretells—and He continues to do so in the ministry of the Church.  He is appointed for your falling—to bring you low when you place yourself too high, to tear down the pedestals you raise yourself upon, to crush your pride.  He does this with His Word—He convicts you of your sins and drives you to repentance.  But He is also appointed for your rising, because His last Word is a word that can raise even the dead.  He has come for the lowly, for those who have been humbled, for the penitent.  He raises you up upon your own two feet, which He places in the paths of righteousness.

Christ Is Appointed for Your Falling and Your Rising Again

Because He is the one who fell into death, and rose again on the third day.

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Christmas Day Sermon

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day
John 1:14
December 25, 2013 (Revised and updated from Dec. 24, 2010)
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

1.

And the Word…  The Son of God is given a peculiar name by St. John.  He is the Word, or in Greek, the Logos.  To the Greek mind, to whom St. John wrote, the Word is much more than a collection of letters that sound a certain way.  The Word is the expression of what is in your heart and in your head.

We can hear this usage in our phrase, “I give you my word.”  That is to say, the intention of my heart is to do what I promised.  Jesus is the Word of God because He is the expression of what is the heart and mind of God.  From the beginning He was with God, and from the beginning He was God.  He is the Divine Intention.

God first gave this Word to men when he promised that the Seed of the woman would come to crush the serpents head.  This Word was given again and again through patriarchs and prophets.  The descendent of Abraham, through whom all nations would be blessed.  The One who brings Light to our darkness.  The One to takes the government upon His shoulder with the cross.  The Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  The Branch from the stump of Jesse.

2.

And the Word became flesh…  This Word is not an ethereal, conceptual, and spiritual reality, but the Word becomes flesh.  The great mystery of the Incarnation is that God joins Himself with that which He created.

When Jesus is born in Bethlehem, we see that the Word and promise of God from the foundation of the World was to become one of us.  In the beginning, God’s intention was to take on flesh.

He is born of the flesh of His mother, yet, because she remained a virgin, He did not inherit the sin that infects all flesh from an earthly father.  He is the Son of His Father in heaven, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

3.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…  The purpose of our Lord’s becoming flesh was to be with us, to live as one of us, to experience what we experience.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15).

The word translated as “dwelt” has a deeper meaning.  Literally, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled with us.”  He pitched His tent with us.  Just as the children of Israel knew that God was to be found in the Holy Tabernacle that travelled with them, so also can we be sure that we can find God in the flesh of the Babe of Bethlehem.  He is not a God who demands us to make our pilgrimages to Him, but He comes to us, He abides with us-our Lord Immanuel.

The account of the building of the Tabernacle concludes the book of Exodus.  Moses begins by setting up the foundations, raising up its frames and pillars.  Then he covers it.  The kind of covering for the tabernacle was a particular kind—a covering of skins, a covering of flesh.

4.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory…  The glory of God was found in the pillar of fire and of cloud when He led His people out of bondage in Egypt.  That is, God made Himself known—made Himself visible through these means.  Later that same glory descended on the Tabernacle and there He was seen.

The Tabernacle was the place where sacrifices were made.  By these sacrifices, the sins of the people were atoned for.  Thus, the glory of God is always where there is the forgiveness of sins.

The glory of God in Jesus Christ is beheld in its fullest sense when He goes to the cross.  There the Son of Man is glorified because He is sacrificed—a sacrifice greater that all the blood of beasts.  For the sacrifices of the Old Testament in the Old Tabernacle did not forgive sins of their own power, but by pointing to the sacrifice that atones for the sins of the whole world.

5.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father…  There is no other who glorifies the Father like His own Son.  In Him the Father is well pleased because He willingly takes the task given to Him.

Yet He is not the only Son of the Father.  He is indeed the only-begotten of the Father, begotten before all worlds, God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father.

As the Father was well pleased with His Son when He was baptized, He also finds pleasure in bestowing adoption as sons to each and every man, woman, and child who is baptized in His name.  In Holy Baptism, the glory of God washes over sinners and covers them with the righteousness of Christ.

6.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  All of this, the Father does through His Son without any merit or worthiness in me.  He does it all by grace.  This is the true gift of Christmas: that the Son of God wraps Himself in human flesh and places Himself under the tree of the cross.

Believe this, for Christ’s sake.  This Word is Truth, for God cannot lie.  Your forgiveness is found in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  Find it in the manger, on the cross, and upon the altar.  For Christ still dwells among His people, in the flesh, under bread and wine.  He comes to make His blessings known, not only on Christmas, but each and every week in the Divine Service.

The true Gift of Christmas is yours by grace, the only-begotten Son of God, whose glory you behold wrapped in the flesh of the eternal Word of God.

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Christmas Eve Sermon

Christmas Eve
Luke 2:14
December 24, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

Glory to God in highest heav’n
   Who unto us His Son hath giv’n!
While angels sing with pious mirth
   A glad new year to all the earth.

Martin Luther’s children’s Christmas hymn ends with the hymn of the angels, sung for an audience of shepherds:

Glory in the highest for God
and upon earth peace,
among men favor
     -Luke 2:14

Glory to God in highest heav’n.  It is a peculiar glory that comes at Christmas.  The glory of God is a frightening thing.  When God revealed Himself to Moses, He said that His glory is lethal for sinful mean.  When the angels come from heav’n above with heavenly splendor, their glory is enough to make the shepherds quake in their boots—and they are simply God’s servants.  In fact, angels are so frightening, that almost every time they appear in Scripture, the first thing they have to say is “Fear not.”  The glory of God is a frightful thing.  Yet this particular glory of God—the glory of which the angels sing—is a glory that brings peace on earth.

What kind of glory is this, that we sinful men would not fear to behold it?  To you this night is born a child/of Mary chosen virgin mild/This little child of lowly birth/shall be the joy of all the earth.  The glory of God is wrapped up in human flesh, in humility, in weakness.  God makes Himself approachable; He makes Himself a peer, a friend.  Yet the infant child is the full glory of God, Because in Him dwells bodily all the fullness of the divinity (Col. 2:9).

The Son of God makes Himself the Son of Man for a reason; and it is His purpose from the foundation of the earth.  He will Himself your Savior be/From all your sins to set you free.  The one who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a wooden manger would 33 years later be stripped of His clothes and nailed to a wooden pole.  Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest/Through whom the sinful world is blest!/Thou com’st to share my misery/What thanks shall I return to Thee?  Too often our thanks sounds more like the Pharisee’s—I thank You, Lord, that I am not like other men—instead of: I thank You, Lord, that though You are by nature quite unlike other men, You have made Yourself like men, to make peace between God and man.  You have made Yourself like me, to bear my sin and be my Savior.

Even angels marvel that the eternal Son of God would take human flesh, and they sing with pious mirth at the birth of this dear Child.  Yet, it’s not just the song of the angels.  Every week the Holy Christian Church joins Her voice with the angels’ choirs and sings, Glory be to God on high/And on earth peace, goodwill toward men.  For Christ came at Christmas, in the flesh, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and He also comes in the Divine Service, in the flesh, wrapped in bread and wine.

Glory to God in highest heav’n/Who unto us His Son hath giv’n/While angels sing with pious mirth/A glad new year to all the earth.  When I was a child and sang this hymn, I always thought of that last line as a reference to the holiday that happens a week from today.  Happy New Year!  Pop some chapagne!  But now I think it’s more than just ringing out 2013 and ringing in 2014.

The birth of Christ is a singular event in human history.  When God becomes man, nothing can be the same; everything changes.  The birth of Christ is the hinge in human history, upon which the gates of heaven swing open.  Without God in the flesh, man has no access to God.  But through Christ, the doors open.  Not so much that we would enter, but so that God would pour out heaven upon us.

He will on you the gifts bestow/Prepared by God for all below/that in His kingdom, bright and fair/You may with us His glory share.  That’s what the angels mean when they sing

Glory in the highest for God
and upon earth peace,
among men favor

Heaven has opened, and its treasures pour out.  It is indeed a new year, a new age, a new generation, a New Testament.

Merry Christmas.

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Advent Midweek 3 Sermon

Sacrament of the Altar

Advent Midweek 3
Christ’s Continued Advent
December 18, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church – New Haven, MO

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

2.

Christ’s first advent was over 2,000 years ago, a half a world away.  Born as a child in his ancestral town, yet born as a stranger, born to a virgin mother and laid in a manger, the Son of God came in humility as the Son of Man.  Godhead clothed in flesh.  The wood that held His infant body would also hold His mature body—beaten and bloodied for the sake of sinful men.

But the babe who was born in Bethlehem was reborn, in a sense, in Jerusalem.  Three days after He breathed His last, He rose again from the grave.  But no sooner had He come from the grave, He went away again, ascended into heaven on the clouds.  He now sits at the Father’s right hand, from whence He will come in the same way to judge both the quick and the dead.

In the season of Advent, we turn our hearts and minds to Christ’s coming, but the unavoidable, proverbial elephant in the room is that He’s not come, He’s gone.  Gone away.  And because He is gone away, we behave as if He’s nowhere to be found.  And this behavior can be found in two ways.

The first is behaving like rebellious teenagers whose parents are away for the weekend.  They are the ones who treat Christ’s absence as a license to descend into debauched living.  Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow mom and dad come home.

But when He delays His return, they find out how much they’ve come to love His absence.  At first they may try to cover up their excessive indulgences, but soon even that becomes too much of an impediment to what they consider to be a good time.  They are the world, the sons who squander the heavenly Father’s good gifts in prodigal living.

There is another way to treat Christ’s absence—the way of the older brother who follows all the rules.  They are the ones who treat the Word of God as a checklist of rules to keep while mom and dad are away—no parties, no boys in the house, keep your room tidy, don’t take dad’s vintage Ferrari on a joyride through Chicago.  They are the Christian people, the morally upright and outwardly righteous.

These are the ones who treat God as some kind of abstract, spiritual entity, who’s left a set of rules of Christian living, as well as an example of how to follow them.  For these, the essence of Christianity is what they do from day to day, and worship is a time to sing about a pray to a spiritually present, but bodily absent God, in order to thank Him that He has not made them like other men.

Now, you may fall somewhere in between these two poles, between licentiousness and smug self-righteousness.  In reality, human nature is more of a blend of the two.  Your flesh is both inclined to indulge its lusts and to justify itself with the things you imagine would fulfill God’s Law.

Outwardly these two ways of behaving in Christ’s absence appear to be polar opposites, but they are the same at the root.  Both ways of thinking spring from the belief that Christ has gone to God’s right hand and has left you in charge of your own life. But it’s not as if Christ is the bookends of New Testament history, that His only important work is at the beginning and end, leaving you to chart your own course through life.  He has ascended to the Father’s right hand, not to leave you to choose your own adventure, but precisely so that He could come to you again, and again, in grace, to forgive, renew, and strengthen you.

1.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “God works in mysterious ways”?  People say that when something bad ends up being not so bad, or some unlooked for good thing happens.  It’s one of those things that sounds like it should be in the Bible, but it’s really not (like the phrase, “This, too, shall pass”).  It’s really more of a pious cliché than a Word of God.  But I think it can be understood properly.

The Greek word mysterion shows up a few times in the Bible.  When the Greek was translated into Latin, that word mysterion became sacramentum.  A mystery is a sacrament.  So to say that God works in a mysterious way is really to say that God works in a sacramental way.  And that’s true.  His ways are mysterious because He comes in a way that’s hidden to plain sight, but revealed in other ways (that’s what a mysterion is), and through these means by which He hides Himself, He renews His vow to us (that’s what a sacramentum is).

The Sacrament of the Altar is the way in which Jesus continues to come.  In this Sacrament, He hides His true body and blood under the humble external forms of bread and wine.  It is a mysterious union—we can’t see how bread can be body or wine can be blood—but it is revealed to be so by His Word.  Eyes can’t make out this coming, but faith believes what He promises.

Jesus truly comes in the bread and wine.  This is truly a Sacrament—not that you make a vow to God to be obedient, but that He renews His vow to you.  He forgives your sins, creates in you a clean heart and renews a right spirit within you.  He pledges Himself to you again and again.

Jesus is not gone.  He promises His disciples, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age,” (Matt 28:20), “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” (John 14:8).  He keeps these promises, borne by the Holy Spirit upon the means of grace, to visit you with His favor and forgiveness.  Again and again.

This is the weekly rhythm of the Church from Christ’s ascension until His return.  One of the great comforts of Christ’s continual Advent in the means of grace is that it’s not an earth-shattering event.  Newspapers don’t report it, the television crews are not on hand to record it.  There may be a few random Facebook statuses or tweets, but by and large, Jesus’ sacramental return goes unnoticed.

But the comforting thing is that despite how unremarkable it is, Christ continues to come in these means, every week, on altars and from pulpits across the world.  In New Haven, and outside New Haven off of Beouf Lutheran Road.  In Washington and Hermann, Port Hudson and Beaufort and Union and Drake and Freedom and Owensville and Belle.  In St. Louis and Kansas City and Columbia and Jefferson City.  In Chicago and Milwaukee and Los Angeles and New York City.  In the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, the southwest deserts and the Gulf Coast.  In Germany and Britain and Sweden and Latvia and Russia and Siberia. In Nairobi and Africa’s west coast.  In Singapore and Japan and Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong and Australia and New Zealand.

Christ continues to come upon Christian altars and from Christian pulpits across the world.  He comes to prepare you for His final Advent by delivering what He earned for you by His first Advent.  When He comes on the Last Day, it will not be a day of fear or dread, because you’ve already experience His coming.

Christ Comes Each Week in His Word and Holy Sacrament for Your Continual Preparation

Amen.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Advent 3 Sermon

Third Sunday in Advent
Matthew 11:2-11
December 15, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

3.

Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (played by Morgan Freeman) sits before the parole board in Shawshank prison and they ask him, “Ellis Boyd Redding, your files say you’ve served 40 years of a life sentence. Do you feel you’ve been rehabilitated?”

Ten and twenty years prior to this interview, he was asked a similar question at parole hearings and he eagerly answers with “Yes sir, I am,” and his parole is denied.  But now as an old man, an institutionalized criminal, he gives up all pretenses.

“Rehabilitated?” Red asks.  “Well, now let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means.”

“Well, it means that you’re ready to rejoin society…” the interviewer responds.

“I know what you think it means, sonny. To me it’s just a made up word. A politician’s word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?”

“Well, are you?”

“There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret.” says Red.  “Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time.”

After a moment of silence, digesting Red’s remarks, the parole board stamps “Approved” on his form.

Now I’m far from an expert on modern criminology and penology, but it seems to me that the concept of rehabilitation rests on the belief that a criminal is not a criminal at heart, and that there is a spark of good that can be recovered.  After 40 years in prison, Red understands that he can’t return to what he was, because what he was is what caused him to commit his crime in the first place.

Today’s Gospel also begins in a prison.  John, the forerunner of Christ, is behind bars.  But his imprisonment isn’t for his rehabilitation, to make him a contributing member of society once again.  John is in prison to silence him from preaching the kingdom of heaven.

Later in Matthew’s Gospel, he fleshes out the story of John’s imprisonment.  King Herod, who was actually a tetrarch or a regional ruler, was the son of Herod the Great (the Herod referenced at Jesus’ birth).  The son, Herod Antipas, followed in his father’s footsteps.  Herod the great had taken multiple wives, and begotten many children by them, several of whom he executed for fear of treason.  He was also the one who ordered the slaughter of the holy innocents when Jesus was born.

Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, fancied his brother’s wife Herodias (who also happened to be his half-niece), and arranged a divorce in order that he and Herodias could be married.  Matthew reports that John preached to Herod that this was unlawful, and Herodias wanted him imprisoned.

John’s preaching of the kingdom of heaven had come into a violent clash with the kingdom of man.  John’s imprisonment was not for his rehabilitation, but his fate was Master Hans the executioner.  After one particular raucous party, Herod promised Herodias’ daughter Salome anything she wanted.  She replied that she wanted the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

This is John’s context when he sends his disciples to Jesus.  But after hearing in prison the works of Christ, John sent and said to Him through his disciples, “Are you the Coming One, or shall we wait for a different one?” (vv 2-3).

2.

            Are You the Coming One?  This is a Messianic title that John gives to Jesus.  Although there is not an explicit reference to this title in the Old Testament—like Immanuel—the Hebrew equivalent of this name is found in Isaiah’s and Zechariah’s prophecies, in two different Psalms, in the Song of Solomon, and in 1 Chronicles.

It is a strange question coming from John the Baptist.  He is the one who stood at the banks of the Jordan and pointed to Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who witnessed Jesus’ baptism and the voice from heaven and the dove landing on Him.  He was the one who was filled with the Spirit before birth, who leaped in his mother’s womb in the presence of Jesus in His mother’s womb.

After John’s disciples left Him, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the desert to watch?  A reed that is shaken by the wind? So what did you go out to behold?  A man who is clothed in soft clothes?  Behold, those who dress in soft clothes are in the houses of kings. So what did you go out to behold?  A prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and an extraordinary prophet. This is the one about whom it has been written, ‘Behold I am sending My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your path before You.’ Amen, I say to you, There has not been raised up among those born of women one who is greater than John the Baptist; but the least in the reign of the heavens is greater than he” (vv 7-11).

John was like the prophets of old in his ascetic life and his powerful preaching, but he was also an extraordinary prophet in that he beheld the promised Messiah face to face, flesh to flesh.  The prophets of old were given brief visions of the Messianic age, but John saw it in real time.  And he saw just how ordinary this Messiah was.

John was a preacher of the kingdom of heaven, but Jesus didn’t really seem to be bringing a kingdom with him.  Where were the armies flocking to His banner?  Jesus only had a rag-tag band of fishermen, a tax collector, a failed revolutionary, and some other pretty unremarkable disciples.  Where were the liberators?  Where was the glory?  How long would John have to wait?

There are two competing schools of thought as to why John sent his disciples to Jesus.  The first is that John experienced no doubts of his own, but rather, was sending his disciples to Jesus so that they would stop following John and start following Jesus.  The second is that John was despairing in prison and doubted even his own previous preaching.

I tend to think that both of these things happened in John’s cell.  John was a preacher of the kingdom of heaven, but even he was surprised to find out what it really looked like.  John didn’t despair and lose faith, but what he saw was a sharp distinction from what he believed.  Preachers also need the comfort of the Gospel.  But to get that comfort, John did what he had been doing from the outset.  He pointed to Christ.  He prepared the way for his disciples to become disciples of Jesus.  And John was comforted.  Are You the Coming One, and if so, when will Your kingdom come?

1.

            The kingdom of God certainly comes without our prayers, when our heavenly Father gives us the Holy Spirit, so that we believe His Words—even when those words are contrary to our sight.  And answering [John’s question], Jesus said to them, “When you have gone, report to John what you are hearing and seeing: the blind are looking up and the lame are walking, lepers are being cleansed and the deaf are hearing, and the dead are being raised and the poor are being evangelized, and blessed is whoever is not scandalized in Me” (vv 4-6).

The comfort for John in prison, and for you, is that the kingdom of heaven comes, even when it doesn’t appear so.  In fact, the kingdom of heaven comes particularly hidden under weakness, under plainness, under trials and the cross.  And what’s more, the kingdom of heaven is particularly for those who are suffering.  It’s for the blind and lame, lepers and the deaf, the dead and the poor.  Blessed are you, if you are not scandalized by this kingdom.

The coming of Jesus is the advent of a new creation, not a rehabilitation of the old.  After 40 years in prison, Red understood that you can’t rehabilitate evil men.  Jesus came, and indeed still comes, to raise up good out of evil, to bring sight to the blind, to set the lame on the path of righteousness, to cleanse evil men of all sin, to open ears to hear His Word.  To raise the dead.

This is the Evangel that is preached to the poor.  This is the Good News that is delivered to John.  This is the Gospel that’s for you.  Jesus is the Coming One, the One long promised by prophets, witnessed by John in the flesh.  The One whose kingdom comes under His cross, in the forgiveness of sins.  The One who rose from death to recapitulate all creation. 

The Coming One Comes to Begin a New Creation

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Advent Midweek 2 Sermon

Advent Midweek 2
Christ’s Second Coming
December 11, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church – New Haven, MO

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

2.

            Clouds in Holy Scripture always indicate the presence of God.  During the Exodus, the Children of Israel were led by a pillar of fire by night and pillar of cloud by day.  When they came to Mount Sinai, the Lord said that He was coming in a thick cloud.  When a cloud was settled on the Tabernacle, they knew the Lord was present; when the cloud was taken up, they knew it was time to leave that place.

In the New Testament as well, you know the presence of God by clouds.  When Jesus was transfigured, a cloud descended upon the mountain.  When Jesus ascended into heaven, a cloud took him from their sight.

These clouds aren’t the cirrus or cumulous clouds that float by high in the sky.  The cloud of the Lord is close, intimate.  It settles in the midst of His people, hiding the fullness of His glory from sinful eyes and hearts, while allowing Him to interact with His beloved people in mercy.

And so, when Jesus was taken up in the cloud at His Ascension, the angel says to the disciples, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into the heavens, will come in the same manner you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11b).

Jesus Himself says of His Second Coming, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And then He will send out the angels and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mark 13:24-27).

            The season of Advent is a season to prepare for Christ’s coming.  But our preparations are not just for His coming as a baby on Christmas—we also prepare for His Second Advent on the Last Day.

On that great day, Jesus will be seen as He truly is with His great power and glory.  He will emerge from the cloud with which He hides Himself and reveal His exalted and glorified humanity.  On that day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Php 2:10-11; Rom 14:10-12).  There will be no more doubt, for all will see Christ as He is.

On that day, those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ and who have disobeyed the Gospel will be handed over to the suffering of eternal punishment, removed from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might (2 Th 1:9).

But the elect, those who are prepared for His Second Advent, will be gathered by the angels into His kingdom.

1.

            How do you prepare for Christ’s Second Coming?  Well, He offers a rehearsal every week.  For even though He has been taken up and removed from our sight in the cloud of the Ascension, He yet comes to us through the Gospel and the Sacraments.

Every time you encounter the Gospel of Christ proclaimed, every time you return to your Baptism through repentance and forgiveness, every time you approach His altar is a rehearsal of Christ’s final coming to judge both the living and the dead.

But, through His holy Word and Sacraments, you have already experienced the Lord’s coming to judge you.  And the judgment He proclaims is, “Not guilty!”  For He Himself came at His First Advent as a baby in Bethlehem to take your guilt and to bear your judgment on the cross.

So, with Christ’s Holy Word and Sacraments you are prepared for Him to come again, whether it’s tonight, in another year, or after your body has been laid to rest in the grave.  Then, on that Last Day, the Son of Man will come with the clouds, and He will gather you together with all the elect to live under Him in His kingdom in righteousness and purity forever.

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Advent 2 Sermon

Advent 2
December 8, 2013
Luke 21:25-36
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

1.

            Last week, the Holy Evangelist went out of his way to show Jesus’ humility as He entered Jerusalem to reflect the nature of this king and His kingdom.  His is a kingdom not of this world, a kingdom that is ruled by grace and not by power.  It’s a kingdom hidden under humility, under suffering and the cross.  Its King is robed in mockery, crowned with thorns, and enthroned on a cross.

But today there is a sharp distinction between the kingdom that Christ brings on a donkey and the one He brings on the clouds.  This kingdom shakes the foundations of the world, the heavens shudder at His coming.  This is no kingdom of grace, it’s a kingdom of glory, when Jesus is revealed as He is, and all things are revealed as they are.

2.

            Here’s what will happen when Christ comes again in glory.  And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of the nations in despair of the sound of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and expectation of that which is coming upon the habitation.  For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see for themselves the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and much glory (vv 25-27).

First the signs.  Last year, I drove to meet my friend for the midnight showing of the new Hobbit movie in Indianapolis.  One of the less bright moments of my life was the decision to drive the three hours home when the movie let out around 3 a.m.  But the poor decision for my sleep cycle paid off with a fantastic light show from the Geminid meteor shower.  Some of the falling stars were quite impressive, actually lighting up the night sky like lightning.

Looking up at a calm sky you feel somewhat inferior in this vast creation, but when something unusual happens you definitely get a sense of foreboding.  Even if you know that the eclipse of the moon is caused by the moon passing through the earth’s shadow, to see it happen is a wonder to behold.

These are signs that we are in the days leading to Christ’s return.  But the signs aren’t just in the heavens.  On earth there is distress of a different kind.  Have you ever stood at the edge of the earth in the middle of the night?  You can hear the waves, but you look out and see only black.  A vast emptiness.  And you wonder if at any time the seas might just break their boundaries and swallow you whole.  And they do from time to time.  Typhoon Haiyan and the Japanese tsunami and Hurricane Sandy have all made headlines in recent years, and despite the experts’ attempts to peg these things on global warming Jesus wants you to know that, whether or not they have anything to do with CO2 levels, they still point to His return in glory.

St. Paul writes to the Romans, We know that all of creation continues groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (Rom 8:22).  There may be an ebb and flow to these signs, but they will certainly be increasing until that day when Christ returns.  Because the creation is preparing for Christ to reveal it as it is.

Up to this point God has dealt with His creation in a hidden way.  God hidden in man, power hidden in weakness and humility, victory hidden in suffering and the cross, body hidden in bread, saint hidden in sinner.  But on the last day He will come with power and great glory.  Glory is one of those million-dollar words in Scripture.  It’s peppered throughout the sacred writings, but maybe it’s used so often it gets kind of abstracted.

Glory means visible manifestation.  In the Old Testament, God’s glory was when He appeared—specifically in Exodus in fire by night and cloud by day.  This same cloud settled in the Tabernacle and when the cloud departed, the Israelites knew it was time to move on because God was moving on.  In this same sense, Jesus is the glory of God because He is the revelation of God.  God in flesh made manifest.  But how He truly is, is still hidden under a humble exterior.  There are glimpses in His miracles and His transfiguration, and certainly in His resurrection, but you always get the feeling that He’s holding back.

Not so on the Last Day.  Much glory.  Full glory.  The whole creation will see Jesus as He is.  And the creation will be revealed for what it is.  The sin and corruption on earth will be revealed in such a way that creation itself shudders at the revelation.  It will be a dread and mourning.

3.

            But, When these things begin to happen, straighten up and raise your heads, for your redemption is drawing near (v 28).  This is another instance of the Divine Irony.  What appears to be the final victory of the kingdom of the evil one—the world trembling in fear and distress—is in actuality, the Advent of your redemption.

Redemption is a term that St. Paul uses often with reference to the body.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23).  This redemption is the resurrection of the dead.  Jesus is the firstfruits of the Spirit, the first body to rise from the dead glorified, revealed as He is.  You, too, will be revealed for what you are—sons of God.

4.

            And He said a parable to them, “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees, when they at last put out leaves, you see for yourselves and know that at last summer is near. In this way also you, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near.  Amen, I say to you, that this generation will certainly not pass away until all has happened. The heavens and the earth will pass away, but My words will certainly not pass away (vv 29-33).

Signs are only as good as what they point to.  Like the buds on trees pointing ahead to summer, so these things that appear outwardly to be the destruction of God’s kingdom point to the hidden reality that will be revealed when Christ comes again.  And here’s the promise.  Amen, I say to you.  Jesus only says that when He has something of particular importance to say—say like the main point of this whole thing.  This generation will certainly not pass away until all has happened. The heavens and the earth will pass away, but My words will certainly not pass away.

This is the promise.  Though you will see signs in the heavens and even more frightening ones upon the earth, though it appears that the evil one is winning the day, this generation will not pass away.  That is to say, this present Kingdom of Grace will not end before Christ comes again.  Hidden under these awful exterior signs is the grace of God.  Why?  Because though even the heavens and the earth pass away, Jesus’ words will certainly not pass away.  The Word of the Lord endures forever.  And because His Word endures, you will endure this present age.

When the Heavens and the Earth Pass Away in God’s Wrath, You Will Endure to Eternity with Christ’s Word

5.

            The problem with words of great comfort is that you may also become too comfortable, so Christ also adds these words.  Watch yourselves, lest your hearts be burdened in intoxication and drunkenness and cares of life, and that day come upon you suddenly, like a trap.  For it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth.  Be alert in all times, praying that you have strength to escape all these things that are going to happen and to stand before the Son of Man (vv 34-36).

Drunkenness dulls the senses.  That’s why drinking and driving are a deadly combination.  You lose sight of things.  Jesus compares the cares of this life to a spiritual drunkenness or intoxication.  I’m not sure if Jesus intended these words to be assigned to the weeks leading up to Christmas, but surely He knew they would.  ‘Tis the season for cares of life.  There’s a lot going on at this time of year, a lot that can cause you to lose sight of things.  Seems like if that day will come suddenly like a trap, the month of December would be the time that He would come again.  Are you prepared?

To be alert for the return of Jesus is to pray.  Pray for strength.  Usually when we pray, we fold our hands and bow our heads.  But that’s not the ancient position for prayer.  The ancient way of praying is to stand up straight, and raise your head, and hold out your hands.  Straighten up.  Raise your head.  And pray.  Pray that the Lord would make you straight by forgiving your sins, that He would lift up your head to watch for His return, that He would send the Spirit to intercede for you with groanings too deep for words.  Because when you have the Word of God hidden in you, you have the work of God hidden in you.  And you will be prepared.

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Advent Midweek 1 Sermon

Advent Midweek 1
Christ’s First Advent
December 4, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church – New Haven, MO

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

The season of Advent is a season of preparation and penitence.  Both big box stores and mom and pop boutiques take these four weeks or so before Christmas to put you in the Christmas spirit with the hopes that it’ll make you open your wallet a bit easier, and so Advent has really become a season of pre-Christmas.  The kind of preparation that’s on most people’s minds are the gifts that still need to be bought, when the lights will go up, where the decorations are stored, who’s on what list to what party, what lines the kids have to memorize.

These aren’t bad things, and they certainly help occupy these long, frigid nights at this time of year.  But that’s not why Advent was invented.  It’s not simply a preparation for Christmas.  Advent means, “coming.”  The season of Advent really looks ahead as much as it looks back.  In fact, there are three distinct ways in which Christ comes to His people, for three different purposes.  Not only did He come as a baby in Bethlehem, but He promised that He will come again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead.  In between that first advent and His final advent, He also repeatedly comes to us in a sacramental way.

3.

But before we consider Christ’s advent, let’s first consider yours.  How did you come to be, how did you come into this world?  St. Paul makes a comparison to an heir.  Now I am saying, for as long a time as the heir is an infant, not even he is differentiated from a slave, even though he is lord over all.  But, he is under guardianship and a steward until the time fixed by the father.  In this way also you, when you were infants, and were under the fundamental principles of the world, you had been enslaved (Gal 4:1-3).

An heir, even though he is lord of all things in the household, while he is still a minor he is treated no differently than a slave.  When an heir comes into the world, he is immediately under the authority of a guardian or a steward.  The heir is disciplined and taught the house law, the way the household is run.

St. Paul first names this guardianship, this steward, under which you came into the world the fundamental principles of the world.  Much has been made of this phrase among interpreters.  Some think it refers to the spiritual powers of darkness—the devil and his demons.  But in the context of this passage, the better interpretation is that the fundamental principles of the world is the Law.

It is the Law that holds this world together.  Gravity holds the earth in a delicate balance as it runs its course, fluid dynamics control the wind and the rains, the coefficient of friction for rubber on asphalt keeps your tires stuck to the road when you’re driving.  These are the fundamental principles of the world.

They also govern behavior.  God created you to be a person who has but only one God, who uses His name rightly, who keeps the Sabbath rest, who honors authority, who helps your neighbor’s physical needs, who remains faithful to husband or wife, who respects other’s property and reputation, and who doesn’t scheme to get stuff that God has not given to you.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made—God knit you together in your mothers’ womb.

You came into this world under the fundamental principles of the world, under the Law of God.  And you were enslaved, St. Paul writes.  The Law isn’t a whimsical and fun governess like Maria or Marry Poppins.  It’s a cruel taskmaster, demanding that you do things the opposite of what you desire to do.  The fundamental principles of the world are at odds with what your flesh desires.

The reason why is that you are made from the same stuff as your father, and your father’s father, and on and on.  You are the seed of the first man, and you bear his guilt.  Because you were born into that original guilt—yes, because you were conceived in sin—your inclination is to rebel against the fundamental principles of the world, against the Law of God.  Like an heir who considers himself lord of the manor before his time, who demands his inheritance right away.

 2.

However, St. Paul also in his comparison makes it clear that this guardianship is only for a set time—in particular, until the time fixed by the father.  The time of slavery to the Law was fixed by the Father long ago, from before the foundation of the world.  He revealed it when He first preached to Satan that the Seed of the Woman would crush his head, which pointed to a birth quite unlike the birth of natural men.  Isaiah fills in another piece of the puzzle when he prophesies that God will give a sign—the virgin will conceive and bear a son.  And then, when the fullness of time came, the Seed of the woman was revealed to be a boy born of a virgin named Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Son of God became the Son of Man when God knit together in the womb of Mary the divine and human nature in one person—Jesus Christ.

Though He came into the world in a most unnatural way, in a miraculous way, He also shares something with how you came into the world.  But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born from a woman, born under the Law, in order He would buy back those under the Law, in order that we would receive adoption (Gal 4:4-5).

Though Jesus is of the same stuff as His Father—being of one substance with the Father—He is also of the same stuff as His mother.  Though He is holy and righteous and without sin, He came under the Law.  The Author of the Law put Himself under His own rules and regulations.  Not just gravity and wind currents and friction, but also the revealed Law of God—every particular jot and tittle and nuance, He subjected Himself to it.  He gladly submitted to this cruel taskmaster and bore its punishments, though He was and is truly Lord of all things.

1.

He did so, In order that we would receive adoption.  Adoption is an expensive endeavor.  My sister works with adoptions in Haiti, and she told me recently that it costs about $15,000 to adopt a child, mostly legal fees.

That’s what Christ did on your behalf.  He wrestled with the Law in order to give you divine adoption.  He paid for you, bought you back from the Law’s custody—with His holy, and precious blood, shed under the Law.  Though He did not abolish the Law, He did pay its strict demands.

The sign and seal of Christ’s work on your behalf is the Holy Spirit.  Now since you are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, who is crying out, “Abba, Father.”  Therefore, you are no longer slaves, but sons; and if sons, then heirs through God (Gal 4:6-7).

The Spirit of the Son is in your heart, implanted by the Gospel and Holy Baptism.  And He produces in you a clean heart, and a right spirit, and a new obedience to the Law of God.  The Spirit cries out from you, “Abba, Father.”  That’s the first commandment—the commandment upon which all the others rest.  Because of Christ, and the indwelling Spirit, you know God as your Father.

Which means that you’re also a son.  No, not a generic child of God.  Even you ladies are made sons of God.  Because son means heir.  If you are sons of God, then you are heirs of God.  And because Christ came in the fullness of time, born of a woman, born under the Law, your inheritance has come.

This is Christ’s first advent.  His holy Incarnation at the appointed time of the Father.

Christ Came in the Flesh, as a Slave to the Law, To Make You an Heir of God

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

2013 Advent 1 Sermon

Matthew 21:1-9
Advent 1
December 1, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

Around 550 years before the first Palm Sunday, Zechariah prophesied the way in which Jesus would come to His people. “Behold, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and upon a colt, the foal of a donkey” (v 5).  The first word of this prophecy is significant.  He says, “Behold,”  “Look.”  But how can you behold the invisible God?

Zechariah’s prophecy is also a promise that God will make Himself visible, manifest.  And He does so by taking on human flesh.  Though to human eyes He looks like any other man, to the heart that is enlightened by the Holy Spirit in faith, He is the way to behold God.  And when you behold Jesus, you behold Him in a way quite unexpected for the all-knowing, all-powerful God of creation.

2.

            Behold, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and upon a colt, the foal of a donkey.  The first thing you see about your King is that there’s not a whole lot to see.  He’s not very impressive.  Pretty ordinary, in fact.  He doesn’t exceed the standard deviation with respect to looks, or strength, or standing in society.  When He makes His final entrance into the Holy City, the King’s city, He doesn’t choose a warhorse or a chariot like other kings might.  It’s a donkey—an animal that’s remarkable for being unremarkable.

The image that we have of God in our heads and the image that He presents in the flesh are at odds with one another.  American Protestantism has become very creative at reimagining Christ, because He’s just so plain in real life.  If you know the right places to look, you can find Jesus action figures so that you can have your own Jesus adventures, maybe sending Him out with a platoon of G.I. Joes for battle.  One of my favorites is a picture of Jesus on the cross.  Only the picture is not of a suffering servant.  This particular Jesus has pecs chiseled by Biogenesis and when He flexes His guns the arms of the cross break off.

These are perhaps crass examples, but they illustrate the way we desire to see God.  We want a God who’s bigger than our problems, stronger than our bullies, and triumphant over our enemies.  We want a God who’s so great, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing that God cannot do.  And against this desire is the cry of Zechariah: Behold, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and upon a colt, the foal of a donkey. 

The donkey isn’t a random choice, or simply an outward show of humility.  The donkey is a very deliberate choice by our Lord—not just because of the prophecy, but because it says something about His very nature, about what shape His humility takes.  The donkey is a beast of burden, and his load is more than just a man.  For he bears the One who bears the sins of the world on His shoulders.  Christ Himself is a beast of burden, shuttling your sins before the priests, before rulers, before His own Father.  He bears those sins to the cross.

Behold your King’s humility.  Taking the form of a servant, He humbled Himself to death, even death on a cross.  He’s not just a humble guy who doesn’t like to take credit for things.  His humility is that He rides that donkey to the cross.  Behold Jesus, your humble King.

1.

            The New Testament writers are often very liberal in their quotations of the Old Testament.  Sometimes they conflate two seemingly disconnected verses from very different parts of the Old Testament; sometimes they leave out details.  This prophetic quotation does both of these.  Except it’s not as if Matthew is trying to rewrite the Old Testament for his own devices, but that in the minds of those who are familiar with these prophecies, these pithy quotations should bring to mind the entire context—so the hearer sort of fills in the blanks.

Well, today the preacher’s going to fill in those blanks.  What Matthew leaves out of his quotation is that this humble King who is mounted on a donkey is the One who is righteous and having salvation.  Why does he leave it out?  Probably because the crowd makes it obvious what Jesus is coming to do.  They cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He who is coming in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”

First, hosanna. Hosanna is a word that means, “Save us!”  The crowds who went before and behind Jesus were shouting these words, which they learned from Psalm 118.  The salvation that Jesus came to bring wasn’t an earthly victory over occupying forces in Jerusalem.  His salvation is that for which He is named.  You will call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21).

Your salvation is in the particular, cruciform humility of Christ.  He humbled Himself to the point of riding a donkey into Jerusalem, to the point of enduring false accusations and mockery without answering a word, to the point of torture and execution.  He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.  But God has exalted Him.  From the grave, Jesus is risen to life again with victory over death and the grave.  And when He ascended to His seat at the Father’s right hand, He led a host of captives, just as Isaiah also prophesies, Tell the daughter of Zion, “Look, your salvation is coming. See, His reward is with Him, and what He has earned goes ahead of Him” (Is 62:11 AAT).

The crowds went before Him and after Him into Jerusalem.  So also the crowds go before Him and after Him into His spiritual kingdom.  He leads you—captive by faith in His Word—to His eternal kingdom.   You are His peculiar possession, peculiar because you were bought, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.  That you may be His own.  He is your King, and He has your salvation.  Hosanna to the Son of David.  Hosanna in the highest.

Your salvation is with Christ, your king, because He is the Righteous One.  One of the great ironies of the New Testament is that it took a Gentile, pagan soldier to first realize this.  One of the centurions at the foot of the cross, having witnessed Christ’s last breath, glorified God and said, Truly, this Man was righteous (Lk 23:47).  The soldier watched an innocent man die—innocent not only of the trumped up charges against Him, but of any sin.

Yet He died the death of a sinner.  His righteousness is not only in following the letter of the Law, but also its spirit.  Owe nothing to no one, except to love each other, for loving another has fulfilled the Law, St. Paul writes to the Romans (Rom 13:8).  It’s not your love that fulfills the Law (though you are not free to be unloving).  It’s the love of Christ.  O Love how deep, how broad, how high, that God, the Son of God should take, a mortal’s form for mortals’ sake.   

            Christ is the One who fulfills the Law by His all-encompassing love, the love that drove Him into the flesh, the love that drove Him to the cross.  He is the Righteous One because He is the One who loved another more than Himself.  He is the innocent One who died in place of the guilty.

Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.  Blessed is He. Blessed is He.  Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest!  The hymn of Palm Sunday is also your hymn before communion.  Each Lord’s Supper you join your voices with the Palm Sunday crowds and shout for Jesus to bring you salvation, to save you from your sins.  And He does.  Our Lord has a way of choosing humble means of transportation.  But it’s not a donkey that He rides to you, it’s bread and wine.  Mounted on circle of baked grains, He comes to you, righteous and have salvation.  Look.  Look to the Sacrament, and you will see your King.  He comes in humility.  He comes with salvation.  He comes as your Righteousness.

In Jesus, You Behold God in His Righteousness and Humility

Blessed is He who comes in the + name of the Lord.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Thanksgiving Eve Sermon

Day of Thanksgiving (Harvest Observance)
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
November 27, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

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

2.

            Theology is the art of making distinctions.  So say some theologians.  It really is true, though.  In Lutheran theology, we make distinctions between Law and Gospel, two kingdoms, two kinds of righteousness, the two natures of Christ.  Luther once said that anyone who could distinguish between Law and Gospel was worthy of being called a doctor of theology.

There is a particular set of distinctions that our Lutheran confession of the faith makes with respect to works.  The first distinction is between a Sacrament and a sacrifice.  A sacramental work is any ceremony or work in which God presents to us what the promise of the ceremony offers, such as Baptism.  Baptism is not a work that we offer to God, but rather a ceremony through which God works for us.  A sacrifice, on the other hand, is any ceremony or work provided to God in order to give Him honor.

A sacrifice can be further distinguished as either a propitiatory sacrifice or a eucharistic sacrifice.

Now, those are technical theological terms that mean this: a propitiatory sacrifice is a work offered to God to make satisfaction for guilt and punishment.  It’s an atoning sacrifice that reconciles God and man, and is made on behalf of others.  A eucharistic sacrifice is a sacrifice of thanksgiving (eucharist means thanksgiving, or, to give thanks).  This sacrifice of thanksgiving does not merit the forgiveness of sins, and is only practiced by those who are already reconciled to God in order to return thanks and give gratitude.  Hence the name eucharistic sacrifice.

Why is this distinction important?  Because it has to do with the heart of the Gospel—justification by faith alone.  This distinction is necessary because there has only ever been one propitiatory sacrifice—the death of Jesus Christ on Calvary for the sins of the world.  Not even the sacrifices of atonement and guilt offerings of the Old Testament were sacrifices that forgave sins of their own power, but pointed ahead to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.

Eucharistic sacrifices, on the other hand, happen all the time.  A sacrifice of thanksgiving can be any work or ceremony that gives honor to God.  These include the preaching of the Gospel, faith, prayer, thanksgiving, confession, the troubles of the saints, yes, even all good works of the saints.  Sacrifices of thanksgiving include doing your job to the best of your ability, speaking kindly of your neighbor, raising children in the fear and nurture of the Lord, remaining faithful to husband or wife, giving of your own resources for the sake of those who have none of their own.

When this distinction is not held, when the two kinds of sacrifices are muddled together, you will fall into the error of the pope, even if you maintain the name Lutheran.  I once heard someone say that within every Lutheran pastor, there’s a little pope just waiting to get out.  I can’t argue too much with that—at least from my own experience.  But it’s not just pastors.  Within every Lutheran, period, there is a little pope just waiting to get out, a little priest with his arms full of his own sacrifices to dump in God’s lap in order to merit his own forgiveness and reconciliation.  It’s the Old Man in Adam, the sinful flesh.

Sacrifices of thanksgiving are good, and they are necessary to bring honor to God.  But a true eucharistic sacrifice is not something that you work in yourself.  It’s is God’s work in you, though the one propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

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            This is why St. Paul so elegantly weaves together without confusion the two kinds of sacrifices in his stewardship letter to the Corinthians.  2nd Corinthians (which may actually be the fourth letter Paul wrote to this congregation) is a follow-up correspondence for a troubled congregation.  The Church in Corinth suffered divisions, infighting, worship wars, culture wars, even a case of incest in the congregation.  Members had been excommunicated.  This letter that we call 2nd Corinthians was hand delivered by Titus (one of the pastors appointed by St. Paul) as well as two other brothers in the faith (there’s an indication that one of them may have been Luke).

In addition to hand delivering his message St. Paul sends his three colleagues to gather a collection for the saints in Jerusalem, who had been hit with famine and were in great need.  A little over halfway into the letter, St. Paul launches into his appeal for this sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Now this, the one who sows sparingly, sparingly also will he reap, and the one who sows upon blessings, upon blessings also will he reap.  Likewise each should plan [his gift] beforehand from the heart, not from reluctance or from compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  This particular sacrifice of charitable giving is not something that’s motivated by the Law, by a command from God.  The giver is not coerced to give.  No, if it were a Law to be obeyed, then it would not be a sacrifice honoring God, but honoring man.

But God is strong enough to abundantly grant all grace toward you, so that having full sufficiency in all things at all times, you would abound in all good works.  The good work for what St. Paul is making an appeal, the eucharistic sacrifice, is enabled by the abundant gift of God’s grace.  Because God’s gift abounds, your works will abound.

As it has been written: “Scattering abroad, He gave to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.” But the One who supplies seed to the sower and bread for the eater will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  The seed that God scatters that produces the harvest of righteousness is the one propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  He is the Seed of the Woman who was buried in the earth, and who arose as the firstfruits of a new creation.  Now seated at God’s right hand, He implants His Word of promise in your heart.

In everything we have been enriched for all generosity, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.  Because the service of this liturgy is not only filling the needs of the saints, but also abounding through many thanksgivings of God.  Because of the approved character of this service, they are glorifying God on account of your submission to the confession in the Gospel of Christ and a generosity of common things for them and for all—and they are petitioning on your behalf, longing for you because of the surpassing grace of God among you. 

St. Paul has many names for this gift, but twice he calls it a thanksgiving.  This is the truest thanksgiving you can offer God—not heaping up “Thank you” upon “Thank you,” but by serving your neighbor in his need.  This is your eucharistic sacrifice, your sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Sacrifices of thanksgiving come in all shapes and sizes.  Monetary collection for the poor is but one.  Sacrifices of thanksgiving are shaped and formed by vocation and are as unique and varied as the number of neighbors you have and the kinds of needs they have.  Who is your neighbor?  What’s his need?  How can you serve?  This is the first part to offering God a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  The second?  Trust Christ.  He will provide you with what you need, His righteousness implanted in you, which is bound to produce a harvest of generosity, of service, of fellowship, and of thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Grows Out of God’s Grace

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA