Category: Events

Sermon for January 1, 2023, The Circumcision and Name of Jesus

Galatians 3:23-29 (The Circumcision and Name of Jesus)

“Free from the Guardian”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 1, 2023

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The text today is the Epistle lesson from Galatians 3:

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

          It is the end of a year and the beginning of a new one. Happy 2023! Our thoughts may be on the past year and its joys, sorrows, accomplishments, and sins, or on the year ahead and our hopes for it. It doesn’t matter that this date is somewhat arbitrary for reckoning a new year, or that calendars have changed in human history. At least this day reminds us of the passing of time. Pagans come to this day, and sometimes lament and curse the year past for their unhappiness, and they hope to be happy in the year to come. Christians, however, should use this day to remember that their days and years are in God’s hands, to give thanks for His blessings in the past year, to repent of their past sins, and to pray for God’s future blessings. It is a good day for us Christians.

          Today’s Epistle has nothing to do with the New Year. It does, however, say something about today’s festival, the Circumcision and the Name of our Lord. On the eighth day after his birth, our Lord was given the name Jesus and was circumcised, in order to fulfill the Law of Moses, particularly the ceremony of circumcision. Is circumcision still an obligation for Christians? If so, are Christians obligated to obey the Law of Moses in all its aspects: the Ten Commandments, the dietary laws, circumcision, and the like?

          The false apostles in Galatia had a pretty strong argument. Jesus was circumcised, after all. And God commanded circumcision to Abraham and had it written down by Moses. Circumcision was the sacramental sign of God’s people. So if the non-Jewish people, the Gentiles, wanted to be saved, they would have to join God’s people, and that would mean they have to become Jewish and be circumcised. They would have to keep the Law of Moses. That’s how the false apostles’ argument ran. It’s an attractive argument, and even in our day, some Christians think the same thing. But it’s completely wrong. It makes salvation dependent on our performance of the Law of Moses, and takes away salvation as God’s free gift. So Paul argues against the false apostles, and Galatians is Paul’s masterpiece, in which he demotes the Law of Moses and proves that salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, not through works of the Law.

          “The Law of Moses” is what I’ve been saying. That’s the phrase. When Lutherans say “Law,” they usually mean the eternal will of God for our behavior, which functions as a curb, mirror, and guide, and which is written in the hearts of mankind. That is, we usually mean the moral law of God, which is also the natural law. But in the Bible, “Law,” often means the Law of Moses in the broad sense—the first five books of the Old Testament. “Law” in the broad sense is how the false apostles at Galatia were using the word: everything that God spoke to Moses, that’s the Law. It includes the eternal, moral law, the ceremonies of the tabernacle, and the civil ordinances of ancient Israel. And that brings us to Paul’s main point.

          The Law of Moses is not the way of salvation. Instead, it points you to the way of salvation. Paul’s main point was in Galatians 2:15-16, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

          In chapter 3, then, he proves what he said, both from Scripture and from the experience of the Galatians. But the false apostles had a strong argument: “The Law of Moses was given by God; therefore, you have to do it.” Yes, says St. Paul, God gave it, and it is holy and good, but only if you use it the right way. The Law of Moses was never meant to be a way of salvation. Instead, it points you to the way of salvation through faith in Him—His life, death, and resurrection. Second, the Law of Moses has the moral law, such as the Ten Commandments, which reveals our sins, and curses and damns all sinners. It shows our need for Christ the Savior. So indeed the Law points to Christ, both by prophesying and by condemning.

          This is shown by the example of a “guardian” or disciplinarian. In our Epistle, Paul gives this example of the right use of the Law. “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (vv 23-25). The Law of Moses was our guardian, or disciplinarian. The Greek word used is where wet get our word “pedagogue.” It doesn’t mean a teacher of children, though. A pedagogue was a slave in charge of disciplining the sons. He would lead them to school and make sure they behaved, and if they didn’t, he would punish them. A pedagogue, a guardian, a disciplinarian—that’s what the Law was. It’s good. It’s given by God. But it was never meant to be a way of salvation for sinners. God set forth the Law through Moses to do the opposite: not to save, but to discipline, reveal sins, rebuke, curse, and condemn. By doing so, all our excuses are removed, and all we can do is confess ourselves guilty before the holy God and pray for forgiveness. We cannot be saved by obeying the Law of Moses, because we cannot obey the Law of Moses perfectly.

          Thanks be to God, you are now free from the guardian. Faith has come, that is “the word of faith that we proclaim” (Rom. 10:8). This proclamation has gone out into all the world. The message of Christ’s person and saving work has come to you, and through it, the Holy Spirit has created faith in your heart. So you are now free from the guardian. You’re not a little kid anymore; you have grown up in Christ. You are no longer under a guardian.

          What does this mean? Two things. First, the ceremonial and civil laws of Israel are not applicable to Gentiles. They have served their purpose and are no longer in effect, now that faith has come. Second, even though the moral law, such as the Ten Commandments, is still God’s will for our behavior, as it always has been, its curse as haven removed through Christ. Christ obeyed the Law perfectly, loved God perfectly, and shed His blood as an innocent sacrifice—the first blood of which was His circumcision. Yes, today in Jesus’ circumcision, we see a prefiguring of His blood being poured out on the cross. So you are no longer under the Law, under its curse. Instead, with the Holy Spirit within you, you now walk in the Law of the Lord (1 Cor. 9:21), and in His Law, we are drawn and called to meditate day and night (Ps. 1:2).

          Through Christ, we are free of the ceremonies, civil ordinances, and condemnation of the Law of Moses, but we as Christians do not set aside God’s commands but walk in the Law of the Lord. Not under the Law, but in it, because you are in Christ, were baptized into Christ, and have put on Christ. You are free from the guardian, for faith has come.

          In this new year of the Lord, be comforted by the kindness of Him and give thanks to Him, who became your Brother in the womb of the Virgin Mary and fulfilled the Law for you, including circumcision, in order to establish your faith securely. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

Sermon for December 4, 2022, Second Sunday in Advent

Matthew 3:1-12 (Second Sunday in Advent—Series A)

“Repentance Unto Life”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 4, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the Gospel reading from Matthew 3:

1And in those days John the Baptist appeared preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2and saying, “Repent, for the reign of the heavens stands near.” 3For he is the one spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying, “A voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight His paths.’” 4And John himself had his clothing from camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the neighboring region of the Jordan began to go out to him, 6and they were being baptized in the Jordan River by him as they were confessing their sins. 7And when he saw that many of the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming out for his baptism, he said to them, “Offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Therefore, bear fruit worthy of repentance 9and do not think that you will go on saying, ‘We have Abraham as father,’ for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise children for Abraham. 10And already the axe is laid to the root of the trees; therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and will be thrown into the fire. 11I myself am baptizing you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in His hand and He will cleanse His threshing floor and will gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.

“You are all of no account, whether you are obvious sinners or saints (in your own opinions). You have to become different from what you are now. You have to act differently than you are now acting, whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you can be. Here no one is godly.” . . . “We are completely lost; there is nothing good in us from head to foot; and we must become absolutely new and different people. . . . Everything in us is nothing but sin (there is nothing in us that is not sin and guilt). . . . For we cannot think of any good thing to pay for sin. There is nothing left. There is only a sure despairing about all that we are, think, speak, do, and so on” (SA: III.3, 35-36). This is the repentance John the Baptist preaches as we hear it from Luther’s Smalcald Articles from our Lutheran Confessions.

          We can live in denial, or we can face reality. John the Baptist was not a man to mince words. He was the last of God’s Old Testament prophets, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight His paths.’” He was what we might call a fiery preacher of repentance who would accept nothing less than the people confess the truth of their sinfulness and their sins and turn and be converted, to become once again the flock of the divine Shepherd. John was calling the people away from God’s wrath in the final judgment to conversion and true faith in the God from whom they had wandered. Just because one could claim, “We have Abraham, our father,” got you nowhere. If God wanted to, He could raise up children for Abraham out of the rocks on the wilderness ground. God’s axe is ready to cut down the fruitless trees, people not producing the life of repentance and faith. If there is no repentance, then you will be thrown into the fire of God’s judgment and wrath.

          God’s Word condemns our sins. It reveals that God is angry with sin. The Word shows us that we are by nature sinful and unclean. It reveals that you and I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, “by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault.” Love and trust in God is not always evident in our daily living. We often withhold from God what is rightfully His. We are often lazy, bored, or distracted in our prayers. We sometimes pay little or no attention to God’s Word when it is read or preached. Have we been angry, stubborn, or disrespectful toward those in authority over us—to our parents, teachers, employers, or supervisors? Do we faithfully represent God the Father in disciplining, caring for, and teaching our children? Have you and I always treated our bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit, or do we hurt or harm it by gluttony, chemical addiction, or other abuse? Do we commit adultery with others in our hearts by looking at them lustfully? We are not always faithful to the responsibilities of our vocations. We are not always generous givers; rather, we are selfish, stingy, and greedy with our time and money. You and I gossip, listen to rumors, and don’t always speak the truth in love. We are many times discontent with what belongs to us, craving something better, different, or more than what God has given us. So, it is God’s Word that condemns this sin.

          This means that you and I rightly stand condemned. Condemn—“to declare to be reprehensible, wrong, or evil usually after weighing evidence and without reservation; to pronounce guilty; to sentence, to doom.” But, John proclaimed, “The reign of the heavens stands near!” God’s divine action has begun. The God of heaven is going to reign, to act as King, to break into history in judgment against His enemies and in salvation for all who would call upon Him. Hence the urgent message of John, “Repent because the reign of the heavens stands near!” It’s now or never—God is coming! Will you receive His judgment or His salvation?

          We need a change, and we need it now. Sin has to be dealt with; our sin has to be taken care of if we are to stand before the God of heaven who comes. As we have heard God’s Word today, our conscience feels God’s wrath against our sins. We see the corruption of sin in our lives. We seriously grieve that we have sinned. Our conscience runs away from God’s dreadful anger. We, like Adam and Eve, try to hide ourselves and our exposed sins. We seek to cover the nakedness of our sin, but it is all for nothing. God comes looking for His people, “Where are you?” We feel God’s disappointment; we become aware of God’s anger and wrath. And we are terrified. We fall into despair because of the terror of facing the holy God with His righteous and holy judgment.

          But them Someone approaches. He pours water on you, washing you. The filth of sin is being removed. You notice that as He cups His hands to scoop and pour the water that there are bloody nail marks on them. His blood mixes with the water as it cleanses you. This is no mere man who has come to your rescue. It is the Lord Himself, the Father’s One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus Christ. Having washed away your sins, cleansing your consciences from every stain, He puts a white robe on you, dressing your nakedness. It is the garment of salvation, Jesus’ own righteousness and holiness. He breathes on you and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. You are forgiven.” He takes you by the hand and brings you out of hiding. Jesus then presents you to His Father. “Here is your child. I paid for all the sin and evil when I gave up My life into death on the cross. I carried the sin in My body on the tree. Your child has died to sin and now lives to righteousness. By My wounds, this child has been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

          Jesus Christ has delivered your consciences from fear and terror at the wrath of God because of sin. For Jesus’ sake, your sins are forgiven because He died to pay the price—He faced God’s wrath for you and suffered death and hell in your place. It is the forgiveness of Christ and His gift of the Holy Spirit through the washing of water and the Word that has made you absolutely new and different people. You are repentant people! And you are expectant people!

           As repentant people, you recognize, by the power of the Holy Spirit, your sinfulness. You are truly, sincerely, sorry for your sins and look to Christ in faith to grant forgiveness. What follows from repentance and faith are the fruits of repentance and faith. You are not like the Pharisees and Sadducees of John’s day. You have the Holy Spirit who leads you into repentance and you do not reject the new life He gives to you by faith in Christ. Having been rescued from the wrath of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, having the new life of repentant living, you now bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

The good fruit that you produce through the working of the Holy Spirit are “prayer, thanksgiving, the confession of the Gospel, teaching the Gospel, obeying parents and rulers, and being faithful to one’s calling. We should not kill, not hold on to hatred, but we should be forgiving and give to the needy, so far as we can according to our means. We should not commit sexual sins or adultery, but should hold in check, bridle, and chastise the flesh, not for a repayment of eternal punishment, but so as not to obey the devil or offend the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we should speak the truth. These fruits have God’s command and should be produced for the sake of God’s glory and command.” (Ap. AC XII.77)

This life of repentance and producing the fruit of repentance through faith in Christ by the power of the Spirit is what enables you then to be expectant people. You are people who are ready for the King, our Lord Jesus Christ, to come. Through lives of repentance and faith, which God creates in each one of us through our Baptism into Christ, the way of the Lord is prepared in our hearts. We do not fear His judgment because He comes with salvation for those who live by faith in Him. Because of Christ, we are no longer God’s enemies. We are His children of faith. Jesus comes to us in salvation because we call upon Him and live our lives in Jesus’ name and in the Spirit’s power. Look forward, then, to your Lord’s Coming at the Last Day. You have been saved from your sins to stand before the King in righteousness and holiness all your days. Amen.

Sermon for November 20, 2022, Last Sunday in the Church Year

Luke 23:39-43 (Last Sunday in the Church Year—Series C)

“What Do You Have Going for You?”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 20, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The text is from the Gospel Reading recorded in Luke 23:

39And one of the criminals who was hanged railed against Him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other answered and rebuked him saying, “Do you not fear God, for we are under the same judgment? 41And we justly, for we are receiving what our deeds deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your reign and rule.” 43And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

          As the very intelligent daughter of rich parents, she has a lot going for her. But he has no job, no qualifications, and no place to live. He doesn’t have much going for him, does he? Sharralanda gained a lot of experience in her last IT job, so at least she’s got that going for her in the new company. Dennis knows that the market is pretty treacherous right now, but he’s got a few things going for him that will help him in his career. What do you have going for you?

          What if we were to ask the criminal on the cross what he had going for him? That’s a sobering thought. He really had nothing going for him. He, along with Jesus and the other criminal, were all under the sentence of judgment and condemnation. None of them received the governor’s pardon. That had gone to Barabbas. No, these three men were led to The Skull to be crucified.

We know Jesus’ “crime” because the charge of which He was guilty was posted in an inscription placed above His head on the cross, “This is the King of the Jews.” What about the two others? Luke refers to them as “criminals” or “evil-doers.” That’s not much help in discovering their crimes for which they were executed. Matthew and Mark call them “robbers” or “insurrectionists.” Perhaps these two were involved in the same insurrection in the city in which Barabbas had participated. That is certainly a possibility. Nevertheless, these criminals were getting what they deserved for their crime, contrary to Jesus of whom the one criminal confesses, “This man has done nothing wrong.”

And it is on this criminal in particular that we focus for a moment. All this criminal had going for him was the awareness of his own sins. He knew that he was justly condemned. And he also knew that Jesus was innocent and condemned to death unjustly. Both he and Jesus were hanged on a cross. Both would suffer unbelievable agony and death. Yet, this criminal who had nothing going for him, put his faith and trust in a man under the same sentence of judgment!

Doesn’t that simply defy reason? Had this man lost so much blood already that he wasn’t thinking clearly? This man and Jesus, under the same death sentence, nailed to crosses, bleeding, and ultimately suffocating together, and the justly condemned places his trust and care into the hands of the unjustly condemned: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your reign and rule.” This unnamed insurrectionist and criminal confesses that Jesus is indeed the King of the Jews. One does not have a kingdom, a reign and rule, unless He is truly a King. And Jesus truly is! While on trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor said to Jesus, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37 ESV). The rulers and soldiers and the other criminal didn’t listen to His voice. They mocked Him, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself! Certainly the great King and Messiah can do that little thing. He saved others, let him save himself!”

But this is a King who rules as the Suffering Servant. His reign and rule is not of this world. Jesus the Christ would not lead a revolt against the Roman occupiers. No, this is the King who comes riding on a donkey’s colt. This is the King whose throne is a cross of wood. This is the promised Suffering Servant who came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for the many. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5 ESV).

With HIS wounds, we are healed. The criminal who placed his trust in Jesus saw his own wounds on Christ’s body. 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24 ESV). Such a miracle of God’s grace to this criminal. The wounds of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, wins this criminal’s forgiveness. He is cleansed from whatever sins he had committed including the ones for which he was condemned. Jesus’ sacrificial death was for him and the results of that death and coming resurrection were made known by the Lord to this dying man: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” It is the promise of life after death, immediate for him, “today”! It is the promise of unimaginable happiness, “paradise.” It is the promise not merely of continued existence but of life with God, “with Me,” Jesus said. And it is the promise to all of us, “You shall be with me in paradise.”

          By HIS wounds you have been healed. That’s what you have going for you! You and I were once under God’s sentence of judgment and condemnation. We were under the sentence of eternal death. That’s what we deserved because of our sins and our sinfulness, which we inherited from Adam and Eve through our parents. Death is the wages, the price, the punishment of sin (Rom. 6:23). But God’s Son, Jesus Christ, became flesh and dwelt among us as true man so that He might take your sentence of condemnation as His own. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5, “For our sake [God the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21 ESV).

          On the cross, Jesus received the punishment that He did not deserve. He had done nothing wrong. There is no sin in Jesus. He is the Holy One, the Righteous One (Mk. 1:24; Jn. 6:69; Lk. 1:35). But on the cross, Jesus became the sin-bearer, the unrighteous one covered with the sins of all humanity, suffering in His own body the wrath and condemnation of God unto death itself, for you. Jesus took your sins from you and paid their price in full with His own sacrificial death. Jesus won your complete forgiveness for all your sins, and He gives to you His own holiness and righteousness by grace through faith by Means of the Gospel Word and Sacraments.

          In this Gospel that grants you forgiveness and everlasting life, you have the promise of life after death with Christ, in heaven when you die and in eternity in your resurrected and glorified bodies. You have the promise of unimaginable happiness in the paradise of God which will culminate in the new heavens and the new earth, the very home of righteousness. You have the promise of life with God forever in that new creation. Take a listen to the promises again. This is what you have going for you because of Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection. From Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ . . . And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son’” (Rev. 21:1–7 ESV).

          Through the power of the Gospel, by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has granted to you these very great and precious promises (1 Pet. 1:3). They are gifts freely given, even as the criminal on the cross received them freely from the Suffering Servant, the Savior Jesus Christ. Through God’s gift of saving faith, this criminal who had nothing going for him, suddenly had everything going for him because of Jesus. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Through God’s gift of saving faith, you have everything going for you because of Jesus. His death and resurrection have won your forgiveness. And where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is truly eternal life and salvation. The gifts are yours in Christ. The promise is solid and sure. Jesus says to you, “You will be with Me in paradise.” Amen.