October 1, 2017 – Named and Claimed by God in Baptism- Matthew 3:13-16

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Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. Matthew 3:13-16 (NRSV)

Lutherans observe two sacraments. A sacrament is defined as a special way to connect with God that was specifically instituted by God, and that has a tangible connection to the elements of the earth. When the Word is brought together with an earthly element, such as water or bread and wine, God makes that a sacrament.

Baptism is the first of the two sacraments. We baptize because Jesus was baptized, and we are baptized into His death- and into His resurrection.

Baptism is first and foremost an act of God, a tangible reminder of His covenant of grace. It may be done with human hands, through a human pastor, with plain city tap water, but it is the Word flowing through the water, the Word being spoken through the pastor, that accomplishes the saving work of God.

In Baptism God names and claims us as His own. In Baptism we are given the gift of salvation, freely and without any condition save our faith in Christ, which is also a gift from God. We do not “choose God.” God chooses us.

This is why it is not only appropriate but fitting that we baptize people of all ages, regardless of cognitive ability. One does not need to understand or make a conscious choice to come to the font for the water and the Word to be effective.  It is all God’s doing.  It doesn’t matter if the person is three days old or ninety five years old.  It doesn’t matter if the person is sprinkled with water or dunked in the river.  God is the One at work in Baptism, and it is not just a one-time event but a way of life.

Luther taught that we are to “put on Baptism as daily wear.” When we wash our faces or take a shower it is an opportunity for us to remember our Baptism- that through the water and the Word we have been named and claimed by God, and set apart by Him for the purpose He created.

It is always good to take a moment now and then to remember that in Baptism we are named and claimed and set aside as children of God.

September 5, 2017 – Justice vs. Mercy and Life Together- Romans 3:21-25, John 8:5-7

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Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? We are speaking in Christ before God. Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up. For I fear that when I come, I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; I fear that there may perhaps be quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again, my God may humble me before you, and that I may have to mourn over many who previously sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and licentiousness that they have practiced. Romans 3:21-25 (NRSV)

(Jesus said, speaking of a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery and who was brought to the scribes and Pharisees for judgment): ”Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:5-7 (NRSV)

It’s not easy trying to do the right thing. There is a fine line between justice and mercy, and a vexing paradox between, “should we dish out what they deserve,” or “should we just forgive it all and move on?”

Part of us wants to seek out vengeance and justice and not be merciful at all. Here in the earthly kingdom we necessarily categorize- and levy sanctions for- individual transgressions based on their impact and the damage they do to society. The purpose of law on earth is to maintain order in society. When there is no consequence for breaking the law, anarchy, rioting, looting and all sort of debauched behavior become the norm.

“Everything goes” is not a good way for humans to live. This is why God gave us the gift of the Law, and the Ten Commandments, to put protective boundaries around our behavior so we don’t hurt ourselves and others.

When forgiveness becomes enabling and we make excuses for our bad behavior as well as for others’, we are not living the life that God has intended for us.

We are called to forgive. We are called to leave judgment to God. But we are also called to encourage each other (in love) to strive to become the people God created us to be. In the earthly kingdom we have an obligation- if we respect the rights and livelihoods of others- to administer justice and to keep people safe from those who would do them harm. Those who commit crimes against others should face the consequences of their crimes.

Martin Luther speaks in depth of the obligation of society to maintain order and safety in his explanations of the fifth, sixth and seventh commandments in the Large Catechism.

Even though we must have order in society to live together, we must always be willing to help, to forgive and to encourage each other.

How do we encourage in love? How do we find that balance between justice and mercy that we need to have as Jesus followers?

March 20, 2017 -Marked with the Cross of Christ Forever… Acts 10:44-48 and Luke 15

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Marked with the Cross of Christ Forever…

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said,  “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.  Acts 10:44-48 (NRSV)

In Baptism we are spiritually buried with Christ. We enter into His suffering and death, as well as we are welcomed into the promise of His Resurrection.

In the Lutheran tradition any person may be baptized regardless of age or cognitive ability. This tradition affirms the truth that God’s Kingdom is open to all, and that it is God doing the choosing, not us.  God chooses us, even when we fail to choose Him.

When infants or children or the infirm are baptized it becomes the parents’, caretakers’ and the greater community’s obligation to see that these most fragile and impressionable members of the community are cared for and instructed in sound Biblical teaching. It is both an obligation and a delight to lead children in the way they should go even though today’s prevailing culture and social mores don’t make it easy.

Often we get discouraged when we see teens and twenty-somethings fall away from a life of faith. Unfortunately for parents and for people who care for young people, often there are times when our children and loved ones take a little hiatus in the pig pen.

It’s challenging for us to keep from distancing ourselves from our children when we can’t agree on their life choices or mode of living, but it is so essential for us to look to Jesus’ example and love them unconditionally, even if we don’t love their current philosophy or approve of their behavior.

Our hearts ache for them to come back to the church, to worship, to study, to love Jesus and live as Jesus followers. The reality is that none of us can do those things apart from the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Even those of us who strive to be Jesus followers miss the mark.  This is where the promise of Baptism gives us hope.

We are- and our children- are, in Baptism-marked with the Cross of Christ forever…not just when we’re behaving, or when we feel like it, or when we acknowledge God is with us.

So he (Jesus) told them this parable:  “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?  When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.  Luke 15:3-7 (NRSV)

In other words, as Jesus also illustrates in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), a person who belongs to Christ might take a trip to the pig pen, but those who belong to Christ also belong in our Father’s house, and He will find a way to get us back there. We may choose the easy way or hold out for the hard way, but we can trust that God finds a way to bring His own home.

Martin Luther once said that we should “put on Baptism as daily wear.” In the morning when we look in the mirror or stand under the shower, maybe, is a good time to remind ourselves that we are baptized. Chosen. Washed clean.  Named and claimed as a child of God.

March 17, 2017 – Light and Dark, Saint and Sinner – 1 John 1:5-10

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This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;   but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.   If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.   If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  1 John 1:5-10 (NRSV)

While we as Jesus followers walk this earth we are Simul Iustus et Peccator – as Martin Luther put it in Latin. We are justified (Iustus) in Christ, but sinners (Peccator) at the same time (Simul) because we are still human, and we are still living in the “here now, but not yet.”

We live with one foot in the tangible earthly kingdom and one foot in the Kingdom of God. Paradox is not easy but it is part of our journey on this earth.

Time and time again in Scripture God is portrayed as being light, without darkness. Yet in our lives we see darkness all the time, all around us. We live in the darkness, and sometimes it’s hard for us to find a way out of the darkness.  When we live through illness or strained relationships or other difficulties it can be hard to see the light.

In our thought lives and actions we often have to choose to embrace the light and let the darkness go.  This is why we need to make time for prayer, for study, and for encouraging other believers.  We should seek to “put on our Baptism as daily wear.”  The gift of confession should be seen not as something scary or shameful, or even formal, but as a sanctuary, a blessing and a release.  In Christ we have the privilege to come to Him and let that darkness go, and let Him fill us with the light of the Holy Spirit.

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The good news of this teaching is that in knowing we are sinners and our only justification is in Christ alone, is that we are reminded of our reliance on God. We can’t walk in the light apart from Him. We look to Him – the true Light- to keep us from walking in the darkness.

Jesus is indeed the Light of the world, the Light that no darkness can overcome.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. – John 1:5 (NRSV)

And that is the Good News that a dark world needs to hear.

December 16, 2016- Mary, Did You Know? Luke 2:15-18, Luke 9:46-49

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When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. Luke 2:15-18 (NRSV)

I know that sometimes Protestant Christians- even Lutherans- sometimes shy away from talking too much about Mary, the young woman who God chose to be Jesus’ earthly mother.  We get uncomfortable talking about her because we don’t believe that she is equal to Jesus or that she is a deity in and of herself.  Yet we should most certainly look at Mary as a woman who was blessed by God.  We should certainly look at Mary as a role model and an example of a person who was open to God’s will and purpose for her life.

God had an infinitely important and special plan for Mary’s life even though she was not wealthy, influential, well educated or any of those things that the world puts value upon.

Is it too hard to believe that God has unique and important plans for all of us in His grand scheme of things?

One of the most interesting themes in Scripture is that we see that the only real “hero” in the Bible is God.  God has a deep sense of humor in who he chooses to do His greatest things.  David was a youngest son- a scrawny shepherd boy- but God made him the greatest King of Israel and Jesus’ greatest earthly ancestor.  Ruth stepped into the Scriptural story as a destitute widow and an outsider in her community, yet she is also in Jesus’ lineage.  Paul was a misguided Pharisee who had been behind persecuting the church and killing Christians, yet God used him for a powerful Christian witness who speaks to God’s people even today.

God uses the least likely people to accomplish His biggest purposes- the meek, the weak, and the flawed.  And that is good news.  God is in control in spite of our failings, weaknesses and missing pieces.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you. – “Mary, Did You Know”- Mark Lowry

I wonder if Mary knew as she watched Jesus grow up and as she did all those things that mothers do for their children for Him, just how important this tiny child would prove to be.

Sometimes we lose sight of our own importance in God’s eyes.  Do our lives matter?  Do all the mundane and repetitive and dirty chores make a difference?  What about the people around us?  If we truly believe that God is Who He says He is, can we look at ourselves and others knowing that God is always at work in and through His people?

An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side,  and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.” Luke 9:46-49 (NRSV)