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During Lent at 7:00 p.m.
Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
On Ash Wednesday, as we began the season of Lent, I invited the congregation to meditate on the treasure we have been given in the sacraments of baptism and communion. Certainly Lent can be a time of repentance, self-denial and abstinence. For some, the forty days of Lent may be a time to give up something they enjoy. Giving something up can be a helpful discipline for you for every time you are inclined to enjoy or imbibe you will be reminded of what Jesus has done for you. Of course, there are some who have merely chosen to give up their New Year’s Resolutions. And others still, who are considering giving up church for Lent. Though, beware, that can be a bit embarrassing.
I am reminded of the toddler who attended the baptism of his baby brother in the local church, with his not so frequent church-going parents. After the service, the boy sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. The boy’s father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, “That pastor said he wanted us be brought up in a good, Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys.” That was not any parent’s finest hour.
Lent, however, doesn’t have to be marked by a dreary focus on repentance. Historically, Lent was a time of reflection and renewal in preparation for baptism at Easter. And that is the intent of this series of Lenten meditations.
In Luther’s Small Catechism, we are taught that the sacrament of holy baptism “brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation.” These are wonderful promises which should be celebrated, but how should we experience this joy in Lent? Truthfully, I don’t think it happens by denying yourself a chocolate or two on Valentine’s Day- just because you have chosen yet again this year to give up chocolate. Though that may serve another purpose. No, I believe that Lent is a time for renewing your commitment to God by remembering your baptism.
For generations, the story of Jesus’ testing in the wilderness has been interpreted as a Lenten call to withstanding temptation. After all, regardless of their age, all of God’s children are tempted. When children are small, we teach them that the devil tempts them with cheating, stealing and lying. When our children become teenagers, we teach them that the temptations of the devil are coming home late, waking up late, and turning in home work late. And for adults, there are the more spectacular temptations that tear apart caring and loving families.
Certainly abstaining from earthly pleasures is a part of this morning’s gospel as well. Jesus ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over he was famished. There is, however, another biblical tradition. Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness was an intentional period of renewing his faith and exploring the promises of God. In the Old Testament, the wilderness was not a simply a desolate place, but it was a sacred place that prophets went to meet God. Unfortunately, the devil had chosen to sojourn out to the wilderness as well.
Now at first glance, the devil seemed to be tempting the famished and hungry Jesus with power, riches and greed, or in this instance, bread, power and strength. But I don’t think that this story is really about specific temptations. No, I believe the story is about the nature of our own human temptation, and the devil’s longing to seduce us. Professor David Lose has suggested that temptation isn’t simply about being drawn towards something that you shouldn’t have or something you desire which is forbidden to you. There are countless earthly pleasures that do not tempt me what so ever. No, these are not the temptations we should fear. No, the greatest temptations are what we are being drawn away from – the things which should be important and integral to our lives and our identity- the love and care for family and friends, and our relationship to God.
Jesus understood the devil’s words, which is why when the devil offered him bread, Jesus responded with a statement of his assurance that he could trust in God’s word. The devil then offered Jesus treasure and power which would draw him away from God’s loyalty. Finally, the devil challenged God’s very integrity, by tempting Jesus into testing the relationship of Father and Son and jumping from the temple. To all these temptations, Jesus refused.
Power, riches and greed perhaps; or for you it may be influence, affluence and opulence. Whatever the names of your temptations, they are the devil’s way to draw you and your confidence away from God. He knows your possibilities and potential. That is why it is so important for you to renew your faith in God, to build up your defense, and to remember your baptism.
Of course, it’s not just the devil and all his empty promises which are testing us. Day after day we are surrounded by the commercial world of advertising which tries to wean us away from God as well. The majority of the times, the ads are to create within us a sense inadequacy that can be overcome with a new loyalty and allegiance. In this political year, consider how many uncivil messages are being produced to create within us a sense of anger, greed and mistrust. All you need to do is redirect your allegiance in the ballot box. Vote for the candidate who will give you what you think you need. Tempting, isn’t it? Remember your baptism.
We live in a world, where it is easy to forgot about baptism, and the promises that we have made both as parents and in our words at our rite of confirmation to live in the covenant of baptism. The devil is not tempting you to do something. No, he is tempting you away from relationship of trust with God. And he is subtle.
A young boy named Martin arrived at Sunday School late one Sunday morning. Miss Walter, his teacher, knew that Martin was usually very punctual so she asked him if anything was wrong. Martin replied nothing. He had been planning on going fishing but his dad told him that he needed to go to church. Miss Walter was very impressed and asked the lad if his dad had explained to him why it was more important to go to church than to go fishing? Martin replied, “Yes he did. Dad said he didn’t have enough bait for both of us.” The devil’s temptation to draw you away begins in subtle ways. “Don’t worry. Your life is in order. Nobody else takes faith so seriously these days. What is baptism? It’s just water and words.”
My friends, God has given the sacrament of holy baptism as a means of grace to help you renew your confidence and trust that there is a loving Father who watches over you and will provide all that you need from day to day. In fact, he will provide so much that you can dare to share with others. In the sacrament of holy baptism, you are reminded of a heavenly Father, who loves you more than you love yourself. And he loves your neighbors as well, so that he can dare to invite you to call them your brothers and sisters. This heavenly Father is the one who gives you your true identity as a child of God. In the sacrament of holy baptism God has given you the assurance that there is nothing in all of creation, not even the devil and all his empty promises, that can separate you from his love. So do not be anxious or be afraid. God will walk with you with his Spirit all your days. That is why we should remember our baptisms and celebrate our own true encounter with the water and God’s word.
Years ago, there was a man in my congregation who was a strong and devout leader. I had always known him as an example of decency and helpfulness. His wise faith gave guidance to our whole church, and his courageous commitments gave leadership. But, by his own admission, he had not always been that way. He told me that as a young man, he was always looking for trouble. But then he met his wife. She was kind, sweet and moral. She loved him me no matter how great a scoundrel he was. And little by little, because he wanted to live up to her love, he became less and less of his old self. Finally when they were married, he decided to spend his whole life trying to make her as happy as she made him. He said, his wife loved into being loving and loveable. That is how you are invited to remember your baptism. In the waters of baptism, God pours out his unconditional love and mercy upon you so that you can be the child he longs for you to be. Remember your baptism.
There are many statements attributed to Martin Luther that he never uttered or wrote. Supposedly, Luther said that every day when you wash your face you should remember your baptism. Despite it sounding “like Luther,” it doesn’t really match 16th-century practice of hygiene where the notion of washing your face wasn’t necessarily a daily chore. He did, however, write that “Baptism is not a work that we do but … a treasure that God gives us and faith grasps. … In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life.”
My friends, we are tempted daily in so many ways to abandon our faith in God and our confidence in ourselves. So instead of denying yourself from something this First Sunday in Lent, choose instead, to invest yourself in the people you love and reach out and embrace them. Touch the waters in the baptismal font. And remember your baptism and the promises God has given to you his beloved child. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.
February 2nd has many names. In popular culture, we refer to it as Ground Hog’s Day. In the church, it has been known as Candlemas, the Festival of the Purification of Mary, and as the Presentation of Lord. According to St. Luke’s gospel, the infant Jesus was carried by Mary and Joseph to the Temple in Jerusalem on the 40th day since Jesus’ birth, which is February 2nd. It was during this visit that the old prophet Simeon, who had been assured that he was to see the Messiah before his death, saw the couple and their infant son Jesus walking across the Temple. Having seen the infant Messiah, Simeon took the child into his arms and announced, “Now, oh God, I can leave this world in peace- for I have seen my salvation.” He then continued his prophecy with the word that Jesus would be the light for all the world.
This year as we celebrate the Presentation of Our Lord, we will invite the families and children of those baptized in 2015 to be a part of the worship service. They will be presented a medallion imprinted with their child’s name and their baptismal date to serve as a reminder of their connection to Lake of the Isles and their more important relationship as a child of God.
The First Sunday after Epiphany is traditionally marked as the Baptism of Our Lord. It is the day in which the church remembers Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. In the yearly retelling of Jesus’ life, it is the shift from the Christmas story to Jesus’ adult ministry. The Baptism of Our Lord also allows us to reflect on the meaning of baptism. In particular, the day allows us to reflect on the sacred gifts and benefits offered at baptism.
Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is not easy to preach on Christmas, and I’ll confess it is just as hard to preach on the Sunday after. On Christmas you struggle with toddlers impatiently tugging at their parents’ arms to head home and open Christmas presents. One Christmas, I heard a little boy say a little too loudly. “Daddy, has the preacher finished yet?” The father painfully whispered a little too loudly as well. “Yep, he’s finished. He just hasn’t stopped talking.” And of course, there are the usual critics. As Mark Twain once chided. “He charged nothing for his preaching. And it was worth it.”
The First Sunday after Christmas, however, offers its own set of challenges. Most often, you simply wonder whether anyone will be in church at all. As a missionary family in Lithuania, 15 years ago, our little family began the worship with just the four of us and the organist sitting in the organ loft. Ten minutes into the worship service, a curious tourist walked into the church. We were so excited about another worshiper, that I ran down, welcomed him, grabbed him by the arm and led him to the organ loft, and then started the worship service all over again. The poor fellow didn’t know what hit him.
There is another challenge as well. What should the theme of the sermon be? The 12 Days of Christmas offer a host of possibilities from triumph through tragedy. The First Day of Christmas tells the story of peace and good at Jesus’ birth, yet the second day of Christmas, December 26th is traditionally remembered as the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the church. It is a poignant reminder that there may be a cost in telling the story of Christ’s birth. Today, the Third Day of Christmas is often celebrated as the Feast of St. John, the author of the gospel who captured the mystery of the incarnation in the words, “And the word became flesh.” In the Roman Catholic Church this Sunday can also be celebrated as Holy Family Sunday. It is an occasion for honoring the roles of Mary and Joseph in raising the Christ Child. For me, there is yet another more personal option. Today is Janna and my 29th wedding anniversary and the lesson we read was actually the scripture read at the wedding. So I may try to pull them all together into one.
Now, there are very few passages in scripture that tell us of Jesus’ childhood. The gospel we have heard this morning is perhaps the only story in the Bible where we are reminded that the “Little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” did indeed cause a few tears and gray hairs. There are of course legends recorded in non-canonical writing such as “The Infancy Gospel of St. Thomas.” Here you can read of Jesus breathing life into birds he fashions out of clay, and leading wild lions out of the city to the amazement of his neighbors. There is even a story of Jesus raising an angry man back from the dead. Apparently, the man was scolding Jesus and was struck dead. Mary and Joseph pleaded with Jesus to make him bring him back to life.
I am sure that St. Luke’s story is the edited version of the true conversation between mother and son. What Jewish mother, finding her missing child after three days, would simply be amazed? Can you imagine your mother saying in polite English, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” I don’t think so. It certainly wouldn’t be the response in our home. And it doesn’t surprise me at all that when Jesus went back to Nazareth, he “was obedient to them.” In the telling of this event, it may be that St. Luke is helping us to discover the heart and the mind of Jesus. He is also helping us to know that Jesus understands the joys, tensions and struggles we have within our human families. But St. Luke highlights that family can be life’s greatest blessing. They don’t have to treat each as titles, but they can treat each other as people with real feelings.
Over the past 18 years, I have also learned that parents can be totally confused frequently by their children’s behavior. And frankly, children can be confused by their parents’ behavior. So I find comfort in this story knowing that even the holy family of Mary and Joseph who were hand-picked by God were confused. But there was one difference. And that should be our lesson today. In spite of what happened in Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph did not burst into a rage nor did they shame their son with words. They seemed rather to follow the example that Jesus himself had set when he was lost in his thoughts in the temple. He listened and questioned. That is the true gift of family. But how are we to live as a this human family.
Let me share with you a few simple thoughts drawn from the Letter to the Colossians.
First, As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Over the last 18 years of parenting, and 29 years of marriage, I have learned that clothes do not make the man- nor the woman, the mother or the father, the husband nor the wife. Nor frankly, do the clothes make the pastor. The late J. Elmo Agrimson, my Bishop in the old American Lutheran Church, told me , “Pastors make two mistakes in dressing- thinking too much about it, or not enough.” This was quite a contrast to another Bishop Lowell Erdahl, who joked that that he wore his clerical collar so seldom that he had to rent one. As people of God, clothes don’t make you a better person, but you must consider your appearance. I receive cards every year from families in striking, color coordinated clothes. They are wonderful pictures that brighten a gray, December day. But they are painful images as well when I know that the clothes are simply masking an anger, or sorrow or emptiness. As mothers and fathers, sons and daughters consider wisely how you are dressed for those you love. Do not be so comfortable with your bad habits and patterns that you would not dare to dress up for those you care about. “Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.”
As mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, we spend far too much time fretting about our appearance. We need to choose the garments wisely and the moments of combat carefully. When hair was long forty years ago, my grandmother to the chagrin of my mother, complimented my brother on his long hair. She said, “As long as it is clean it is beautiful.” Or as it was often said, “Jesus had long hair.” There are some choices that are not healthy, wise or humble. Be mindful of those. But “Above all, clothe yourself with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” That is what you must practice in your family.
Second, “Bear with one another.” In my previous parish in Marine on St. Croix, a couple showed up in Church one day, when I was gone. They were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. The husband explained to the staff, that they wanted to visit the scene of the crime. Janna and I have returned occasionally to the scene of the crime, to the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church just down on East Franklin Avenue. Many of our closest friendships were established in those years. Unfortunately, many of the friends and relatives who were present for the wedding are no longer with us today. There have many good times, as well as hardship and loss, and we have stuck together- through sickness and in health- for richer, for poorer. It’s a quality of loyalty which is to “Bear with one another.” It is giving of yourself and of your time. My friends, it may be annoying, and time consuming. Believe me it is worth the price. I have no regrets in “bearing one another at a time of loss.” But I do have regrets, when a friend was in need, and I could not stand beside him. As mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, you need that same commitment to the family.
And in those moments, when loyalty is broken, “Forgive each other; just as the Lord as forgiven you, so also you must forgive.” Inevitably, you and I do disappoint each other, as husbands and wives, mothers and father, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues, but God’s love and forgiveness will not disappoint you. So do not disappoint God by holding back the gift of his forgiveness. Let forgiveness sustain the life of your family.
Finally, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Our twenty nine years of marriage and 18 years of parenting have been blessed by many wonderful experiences. But the most fulfilling times have been those moments when we allowed God’s imagination to fill our days. Our great adventure to the Baltic States as the Iron Curtain was falling down began as a simple New Year’s Day Resolution. We had no idea, what the year would bring. It happened again when we allowed God’s imagination to run wild as we opened our hearts and our home to two foreign- born boys living in Russia. The possibilities for God are endless when you allow the peace of Christ to rule in your hearts, and to practice this in your home.
Now, you may wonder, so why does God place such great emphasis on the role of the human family? Why would he place his own son Jesus into the care of Mary and Joseph. Why not look to a good Sunday School program, the work of professional teachers, or even an ordained pastor? For one simple reason. God knows that within the sheltering arms of your home, within the cradling arms of loving mothers and father, within the safety of a healthy marriage, Jesus is blessing your children every day, and he is blessing you. There is no more important place for the spiritual development of your children, than in your home. For it is in your home that they experience the wonder of sacrificial love. It is in your home that they experience forgiveness. It is in your home that they experience protection. Yes, it is your own home that they experience the truth of the Christian faith. That is what you and I are called to share.
My friends, when you listen to and care for your family as real live people with flesh and blood, you can be like Mary, who would treasure all of these things in her heart. Yes, when you work to listen and question and treat others as real people, you can even learn to treasure the confusion of your children- and your parents. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.