Confession of Peter

 

Remember Peter before Pentecost?  He was a man who seemed to put his foot in his mouth on a regular basis.  His words and actions careened between courage and fear.  “Bid me come to you on the water, Lord,” he asked of Jesus.  His water walk went fine until he saw the wind and waves, and then his confidence began to sink along with his body.

“You are the Christ,” he confessed when Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?”  When Jesus began to teach his disciples that he would die and three days rise again, Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him.  As his arrest neared, Jesus told his disciples that they would all desert him.  “Not me,” said Peter.  He then proceeded to deny he even knew the guy from Galilee.

The post-Pentecost Peter is quite different.  In Acts 4:8-15, Luke notes that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit.  He addresses the Jewish leaders who had him arrested for healing a crippled man in Jesus name.  Now, Peter proclaims, “…by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-by him this man is standing before you well…and there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

What enabled Peter to go from wavering between blustery self confidence and self preserving cowardice?  The answer is the Holy Spirit.  Peter finally got what Jesus was all about.

In the Collect of the Day we ask that we may make the same bold confession that Peter made.

Heavenly Father,

You revealed to the apostle Peter the blessed truth that your Son Jesus is the Christ.  Strengthen us by the proclamation of this truth that we too may joyfully confess that there is salvation in no one else; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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Let the Word of Christ Dwell

 

Father Christopher, the priest at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church outside Clayton, Wi. challenged the congregation to choose a word of Christ to dwell in them in 2017.

Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”

The preceding verses gives us a place to start. Col 3:12-15 “Put on then as chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another…forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you…put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony…let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…And be thankful.”

Most of us would have read I Cor. 1:1-9 as the epistle lesson.  Paul also includes words that we might dwell in us.  Grace of God, enriched in Christ, call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, give thanks to God for others,

From the Gospel Lesson, John 1:29-42a we have even more words which might dwell in us as we dwell upon them.  Lamb of God.  Come and see, stay with Him.

Next Sunday from Matthew 4:12-25, you might garner, “repent,” “follow,”

Of course, Matthew 5:1-12 contains a host of words we might adopt as our own, as Jesus teaches the crowd, about mourning and comfort, meekness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, mercy, purity, peacemakers.

How does one let a word of Christ dwell in us?  I like the old prayer which tells us to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.  Let it become a daily part of our life while it seeps into our hearts, minds and actions.

 

Mary had a Little Lamb

 

In one of the rhymes from our childhood we note a report that:

“Mary had a little Lamb,

whose fleece was what as snow.”

In John 1:29, John the Baptist, identifies another Mary who had a lamb.  John calls out, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”  This is Mary’s lamb and God’s Lamb whose fleece was white as snow.  He came and walked among his own without spot or blemish.    No human, no other lamb in God’s flock could such a claim.  We all had gone astray going our own way.

Unlike Mary’s lamb in the nursery rhyme or Mary’s lamb whom we meet in the Christmas story we have not followed God wherever he goes.  We have romped in place where God has placed no trespassing signs.  We have gorged ourselves on poisonous and noxious weeds when God would feed us on the enriching green pastures and the living water of his word.

Jesus, the Lamb of God, brings to mind a much different image than the cuddly, cozy, romping lamb of the nursery rhyme.  The task of taking away the sins of the world is an enormous one.  Jesus, Mary’s Lamb, will be the sacrifice for all our willfulness regarding God as he alone follows the will of God – even to the cross where he becomes the Lamb who is slain and rises again that we may be made white as wool.

 

Wells of Salvation

 

With joy, you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Isaiah 12:3

The six-verse psalm which makes up the 12th chapter of Isaiah, follows the promise of a second exodus for the people of Israel.  As the people of Israel came up from Egypt, so now they will follow a highway from exile in Assyria to return home.  Such a journey would be across inhospitable and dry lands as had been the first exodus.

But the result is the same, in words reminiscent of the song of rejoicing in Exodus 15 the people once more sing, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

However, the first obstacle the Israelites faced once they were safely across the Red Sea was thirst.  But God turned bitter tasting water into sweet water.

In a dry and arid land, finding water was often a matter of life and death.  Isaiah uses that image as he imagines God’s salvation as wells of water.  The “you” and the “wells” in verse 3 are plural.  Wherever God’s people find themselves, there will be a source of salvation, for there is God.

Believers in Christ carry with them a constant source of salvation in their baptism.  In baptism, the church (God’s people) draws water from the depths God’s well of salvation, which is Jesus Christ the source of living water.  Day by day we can go back to our baptism and draw upon its quenching blessings of life, and salvation. For as Jesus said, “The water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

 

Basil and Two Gregory’s on Baptism

 

Basil and two Gregory’s are known as the Cappadocian Fathers.  They were leaders in the church in the later fourth century in modern Turkey.  The two Gregory’s were brothers.

Basil: Baptism in the Threefold Name

Let no one be misled by the fact that the Apostle often omits the name of the Father and the Holy Spirit, when he mentions baptism: let no one therefore assume that the invocation of the names was not observed….for the use of the name of Christ is the confession of the whole, since it points to the God who anointed the Son, and the Spirit who is the unction…Faith and baptism are two kindred and inseparable ways of salvation:  faith is perfected by baptism; baptism is established by faith and both are completed by the use of the same names.  As we believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so we are baptized into the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Gregory of Nazianzus: Infant Baptism

Have you an infant?  Do not let wickedness seize its chance.  Let him be sanctified from babyhood, and consecrated by the Spirit in his tender years.  Are you afraid of the seal because of the weakness of the child’s nature?  What a faint hearted mother you are!  How weak is your faith…  You have no need of charms and spells…  Give your child the powerful and lovely amulet of the Trinity…It is better to be sanctified without being conscious of it than to depart without being sealed and initiated.

Gregory of Nyssa

Baptism is a purification of sins, a remission of transgressions, a cause of renovation and regeneration.  By regeneration you must understand a regeneration perceived by, though not observed by the eyes.  We shall not change the old man into a child…but we do bring back, by kingly grace, one scarred with sins and grown old in evil habits, to the innocence of a babe.  For just as the new-born infant is free from accusations and penalties, so too the child of regeneration has no charges to answer, being released from accountability by kingly bounty. It is not the water that bestows this bounty, but the commandment of God and the intervention of the Spirit, which comes sacramentally to give us liberty.

Theophany

 

We are in the first week of Epiphany. Epiphany means “showing forth” or “manifestation.”   For us in the west, Epiphany relates to the coming of the Magi.  Jesus is manifested by the star which led the Magi to the house in which the family lived in Bethlehem.

In the Eastern Church, the Orthodox Church, January 6 &7 commemorates the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River.  It’s the festival of the public manifestation of Jesus, the Word made flesh.  It is also the occasion of the Theophany (manifestation of God) as the Holy Family, the Trinity, shows itself as the Son who is baptized, the Holy Spirit coming upon him in the likeness of a dove and the Father, speaking from heaven, declaring Jesus to be the beloved son of the Father with whom he continues to be pleased.

In the Orthodox Church, Epiphany is more important than Christmas.  Epiphany stands with Easter and Pentecost as the chief festivals in the church year.

LSB Hymn 394 St. 2 (310 in ELW)

Manifest at Jordan’s stream,

Prophet, Priest, and King supreme;

And at Cana wedding guest

In Thy Godhead manifest;

Manifest in pow’r divine,

Changing water into wine;

Anthems be to Thee addressed,

God in man made manifest.

LSB 405 St. 2

The Savior came to be baptized-

The Son of God in flesh disguised-

To stand beneath the Father’s will

And all His righteousness fulfill.

 

Jesus begins to make us all right

Baptism of Jesus 2017 Epiphany 1 Matthew 3:13-17

“Then came Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized.”

When Matthew wrote of Jesus’ birth, the coming of the Wise Men, the jealous rage of Herod and flight of the holy family into Egypt, he relayed to us numerous names which our Lord to us through the water and the word of our baptism. These names tell us of the blessings we received.  Jesus, God’s Savior sent to save us from our sins.   Immanuel – God with us for rest of our lives and into eternity.  King of the Jews, who draws Gentiles like you and me to come to him and worship him.  The ruler, who shepherd’s us through our life.  God calls him a child and my son, My beloved Son. Christ, the anointed one.  With the grace of all those names upon us god changed the course of our life. A new person was born to live a new life as God’s own child, a child of paradise. St. Paul writes, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Today, Matthew helps us focus on Jesus’ baptism which was the first step in God’s plan of salvation.  Today we see Jesus, carrying all his grace filled names, coming to the Jordan river,  to John, to be baptized.  Now the baptism John offered was different than ours.  His was a baptism of repentance, of reconversion, of reentry into God’s people.  The breaking in of the kingdom of heaven was near. The establishment of God’s reign was at hand.  In those days when John was preaching in the Jordan wilderness, people were flocking to the Jordan river to baptized by John.  They waded into the water confessing their sins, determined to turn away from their failure to live as God’s people and be reconverted as faithful children of God.  This movement was something of a mass altar call. They vowed to bear fruits fitting for a people chosen by God as his own precious planting in the land of milk and honey.  They promised to walk in the paths of the Lord as they prepared to welcome the Messiah. As they re-entered the promised land from the wilderness of the Jordan, they were determined to do better than their forbearers who had crossed that same Jordan river more than a thousand years before.

John warned that the coming of the kingdom of heaven would be accompanied by judgment for those who did not repent and turn from their ways.  A mightier One was coming, so much more mighty that John didn’t even qualify to be his lowest servant.  John spoke in vivid language. This mightier one would come as an axe swinging woodsman cutting off the branches, and the trunk down to the very root of the unrepentant’ s connection to God’s people.  Picture a tree service cutting down a tree and grinding out the stump.  He would come with a winnowing fork separating the grain from the chaff and letting the wind blow the chaff into an unquenchable fire. Like a combine mowing through a field of wheat at the end of June.    This mightier one would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

These threats of judgment were leveled against none other than the paragons of virtue, the Pharisees and Sadducees, who believed they were above walking into the muddied water with a bunch of unclean sinners.  To be baptized by this shouting preacher dressed in camel’s hair and dining of honey and locusts?  Give us a break.  Who needs that?  They didn’t want get near the likes of us, who are here once again this morning confessing our sins.

Then one day Jesus came from Galilee.  He didn’t come as a cool observer of this phenomenon down in Judea.  He didn’t come as a sceptic or a critic.  He didn’t come expecting someone to carry his sandals.   He brought no raging fire from heaven.  The mountains did not quake, nor the wind blow.  Oh, that would happen, but not until he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” and died, then the earth would quake.  It would quake again when the angel of the Lord came and rolled back the stone from Jesus’ tomb.  Then he would show that he truly was the mightier one, mightier than sin, mightier than death itself.  The fire and Spirit and the wind would come, but not until Pentecost.

But I’m getting ahead of the story.  When Jesus came to John, he simply waded into the water with all the other sinners to be baptized. John was stunned.  He tried to prevent him.  He needed to be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around.  There always seemed to be people trying to prevent Jesus from doing what he was sent to do.  Herod to kill him, the devil to tempt him, later it would be Peter trying to dissuade him, at the cross those challenging him to save himself, and finally the guards at the tomb.

There are times when we wish Jesus would act in power and take care of whatever is troubling us.  However, Isaiah told us in the Old Testament lesson that Jesus would be a different sort of Messiah than John expected.   He would be persistent, neither growing faint nor discouraged at what he would face.  But he would not come yelling at people. If he came across a bent cattail, he wouldn’t break it.  He would not snuff out a guttering candle struggling for oxygen.  He would come as God’s instrument to heal a broken world; with the fresh air of the gospel.

Jesus tells John, “Do it, because it’s fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness?” John did it. Being baptized was in total agreement with God’s plan for the universe.  In being baptized Jesus was taking the first step in completing all righteousness.  That is, he would be obedient to God in doing what his name says.  He would save the world from their sins.  Righteousness here means “salvation.”  Listen to psalm 71 “By your saving power rescue and deliver me, hear me and save me…Your might and saving power will reach the highest heavens…All day long my tongue will tell of your saving power.”

Jesus will make us “all right” again.  Joseph Sittler, a great 20th century theologian, often told of the time his car broke down in Jerusalem.  A mechanic fixed and started the car up so Sittler could hear that it was running perfectly.  The mechanic exclaimed, “Zadik.”  Zadik is the Hebrew word for righteous.  But in that auto shop it meant, “it works.”  Jesus righteousness is his actions in making us all right so that we can function again as God’s people.

Did you notice that word “us” when Jesus spoke to John?  “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteous.”  John played a part in this first step to making us all right again. As we play a part in telling that Jesus has made the world all right.

But then what happened after John baptized Jesus?  The hope expressed in Isaiah 64, that God would at last tear open the heavens and come down, happened.  As Jesus went up out of the water, the heavens were opened to him and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and came to rest on him.  A voice told the gathered people, “This is my beloved Son with whom I continue to be well pleased.”

God’s pleasured rested on him as it rests on us.  Jesus would now begin his ministry.  And baptism marks the beginning of our service to God. Baptized in the name of Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit we too are beloved children of God and are made all right.

 

 

Still Time to Arise and Shine

On my facebook page I had asked on Epiphany.  Have you had any today?

A pastor friend of mine posted this morning.  Its the second day of Epiphany.  We can still rise and shine.

Epiphany pretty well coincides with the movement of sunrise to an earlier time.  Here in St. Louis sunrise has been stuck on 7:19 ever since winter began.  But on the ninth or tenth  of January, it begins to move.  I wait for that day.  I know that winter will not last forever.

With the coming of Christ our spiritual winter in which darkness predominates also ends.  Isaiah writes, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”  Verse 2 of Isaiah 60, promises that our spiritual winter will not persist forever.  “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.”

The fullness of the promise of light is fleshed out in Verse 20, “Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light and your days of mourning shall be ended.”

May epiphany continue in our lives this season and may we have epiphanies in the days and weeks ahead to strengthen our faith and life in Christ.

Epiphany: The Twelfth Day of Christmas

 Morning Prayer

January 6

  1. O Lord, open my lips,
  2. and my mouth shall declare Your Praise.

All: glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

  1. All Kings will bow down to him
  2. and all nations will serve him.
  3. Long may he live; may gold of Sheba be given to him.
  4. May prayer be made for him continually,
  5. and blessings invoked for him all the day.

 Isaiah 60:1-3, 6

Arise! Shine! Your light has come;
the Lord’s glory has shone upon you.
Though darkness covers the earth
and gloom the nations,
the Lord will shine upon you;
God’s glory will appear over you.
Nations will come to your light
and kings to your dawning radiance.

Countless camels will cover your land,
young camels from Midian and Ephah.
They will all come from Sheba,
carrying gold and incense,
proclaiming the Lord’s praises.

Matthew 12:1-2, 7-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

7They went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

Prayer: O God, by the leading of a star you once made known to all nations your only-begotten Son; now lead us, who know you by faith, to know in heaven the fullness of your divine goodness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, now and forever. Amen.

The almighty and merciful Lord, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, bless and preserve us. Amen.

 

 

 

The Wise Men; Who were they and where from?

Questions on the Eve of Epiphany

We were studying the early stories in Matthew surrounding Jesus’ birth last Sunday.   What we found as we proceeded was that Matthew doesn’t give us a lot of details.  With Epiphany coming tomorrow, several questions arise regarding the story in Matthew 2:1-12.  We are left to try to fill in the background from what we hope we have learned.

The wise men or magi, just who were they?  How many wise men made the trip?  How did they travel?  They came from the east, but where?  How did they come to realize that the star was a sign that a king of the Jews was born?  If they had access to the scriptures, why did they not figure out that the new king was to be born in Bethlehem?  Did anyone else see the star?  If they departed by another way, did they take a whole new route or simply circumvent Jerusalem?

One of the class members thought that those to whom Matthew wrote would have known the details without having to study and make best guesses.  They understood the times, because they lived in the times or soon after the times in which the events occurred.

To answer some of our questions, we have created what the Jews called Midrash.  Midrash is an interpretation of the events, but also a way to fill in the gaps.  Thus, we picture the wise men coming from Babylon riding on camels who arrive at the stable along with the shepherds, even though it must have been sometime later, because Mary, Joseph and their baby were living in a house by the time the wise men arrived.

The wonder of Christmas is contained within the stories of Jesus birth as we have them in Matthew and Luke.  We fill in the gaps, but our salvation is not in the gaps, but in Jesus, God’s Savior from our sins.