You and Jesus are like water and salt.

photolibrary_photo_of_salt_sprinkled_into_water

Baptism of our Lord
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
January 14, 2018
Genesis 1:1-5, Romans 6:1-11, Mark 1:4-11

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

You have a quarter cup of salt and a cup of water.  You pour the salt into the bottom of a drinking glass and then pour in the water and stir, what do you have now?  Saltwater.  Saltwater is a solution.  The salt and the water are now merged together as one; if left alone it will remain in solution.  You can only separate the two items by boiling off the water or letting the water evaporate.  The salt and the water have merged into a new identity with each other.  They are one.

At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River He is baptized into your sin and the sin of the world.  Pure, holy, innocent Jesus becomes one with the ugly filthiness of sin.  Jesus is mixed into your sin and he becomes one with your sin.  2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.[1]

  At your baptism you are merged with Jesus.  You are made one with Jesus.  In the waters of baptism you are mixed together with Jesus like water poured into salt.  In baptism you lose your individual identity and you are made one with Christ.  You and Christ are intertwined.  You are identified with Christ; you are a Christian.

Jesus and your sin are inseparable until Jesus takes your sin to Golgotha; the place of the skull, and your sin, and my sin, and the sin of the world are boiled off of Jesus through His suffering and death.  Jesus pays the price for your transgressions with every blow of a fist, every lash of the whip, every nail driven into His flesh; every agonizing gasp for breath as the sin is violently removed from Jesus.  Jesus is the sacrifice for sin giving His body and blood and His very life.  He gives everything…everything to save you.  He merges Himself with your sin and He is brutally purged of your sin through His suffering and death.  He rises on the third day, again pure, holy, innocent.

At your baptism you are merged with Jesus.  You are made one with Jesus.  In the waters of baptism you are mixed together with Jesus like water poured into salt.  In baptism you lose your individual identity and you are made one with Christ.  You and Christ are intertwined.  You are identified with Christ; you are a Christian.

In baptism you have been merged with Jesus.  You, body and soul, are one with the Lord God Almighty.  In baptism you are merged with Jesus in His death on the cross.  His death becomes yours; for your benefit.  Romans 6:3-4 (ESV) 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.[2]

You are a Christian; your identity is in Christ; you are one with Christ.  In baptism you are born again into new life in Christ.

This new life in Christ is your life to live in this world.  This new life in Christ also means that death will not defeat you forever.  Romans 6:5 (ESV)  5 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.[3]

Being made one with Christ in Baptism means that your body will be raised from dead on the last day, and body and soul reunited, clothed in the white robe of Christ’s righteousness you will march into the Heavenly City of New Jerusalem to live forever with Christ.  You will be one with Christ forever.

In baptism you died with Christ.  Now you live with Christ.  You bear the name of Christ.  You are a Christian; made one with Christ.  This is good news, but it also makes you a target for you are living in a world that hates the name of Christ.  You live in a world that hates Christ and since you are one with Christ, the world hates you for bearing the name of Christ.

The world is all about self-serving greed and pleasure and egotism and power.  The world teaches you to be all about yourself; all about what is in it for me; all about how does this help me; all about how many likes I can get on the latest selfie; all about how much attention can I get.  All about me, me, me.  The world tells you that you need to sacrifice everything and anything in order to follow your dreams and achieve success.  We admire successful people.   But many whom we admire are those who have left a trail of broken marriages and families and relationships in their wake as they relentlessly pursue wealth and fame.

The recent Pixar Film, “Coco”, has a refreshing message about success.  Without giving away too much of the plot, the film’s big message is that there are things more important than being famous and successful.  The film is based around a 12 year old boy named Miguel participating in the myths associated with the Day of the Dead in Mexico, but the overall message is one that resonates.  There are many things more precious than your dreams.

This world tells you to love yourself above everything and to hate Christ who teaches humble love and service to others.  There is great temptation in this world to sin.  Temptation that calls to you like an irresistible Siren song, “Come on…what are you waiting for…it’s no big deal…everyone is doing it except you…you deserve to be happy…you deserve to follow your dreams…you deserve to do whatever you want to do…if it feels good, how could it be wrong?”  And sin lights a little fire under you to try to separate you from Jesus.  The devil wants to gently trick you and tempt you into sinful situations so he can turn up the heat and boil you apart from Jesus before you know what is happening.  He wants to pull you into ongoing sin and so separate you from Jesus.  The devil wants to slowly turn up the heat so you don’t notice sin increasingly taking charge of your life.  The temperature increases and increases and one day you find you are boiling away from Jesus, you are just steam floating away in the air.  The devil wants to normalize sin in your life so that you live in sin.  The devil, the world and your own sinful nature want to convince you that living in sin is the natural way to live.  And being, by nature sinful and unclean it is true.  So we try to convince ourselves that sin is okay.  I like to sin, Jesus likes to forgive sins.  It is a perfect situation.

What does St. Paul tells us?  Romans 6:1-2 (ESV) 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?[4]

Don’t be deceived by the devil.  Don’t let him turn up the heat on you.  Do not continue to live in sin and let the devil separate you from Jesus.  Renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.  Repent of your sins.  Turn away from sin and turn back to Jesus.  Confess your sins and receive the living water of forgiveness.  Remain one with Christ.

The devil has another trick.  He doesn’t so much get you to sin as he just gets you to separate yourself from Jesus; just stay away from worshiping the king.  Stay away from hearing the words of forgiveness.  Stay away from the preaching of the Law and the Gospel.  Stay away from receiving the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion.  The devil has clever little lies.  Did God really say that you have to go to church?   You don’t need to go to church.  You will be just fine.  Being in a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.  You don’t need church.  You can do it on your own.

And it doesn’t happen fast, but over time you just evaporate away from Jesus like a glass of salt water left on a windowsill.  After a while the water is gone and all that is left is the salt.  You evaporate away and all that is left is Jesus; waiting for you to return.

You need Jesus.  More than that; you are one with Jesus.  Living in this world you need to consistently hear the Good News of forgiveness again and again.  You need to hear the preaching of Law and Gospel.  You need to receive the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.  You are one with Christ living in a world that is anti Christ.  You need to be reminded of who you are.  You need to remember your identity.  You are a Christian.  You have been baptized into Christ.  You have put on Christ.  You are one with God in Christ.  Amen.

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

What are they doing here?

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Epiphany 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
January 7, 2018
Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

What are they doing here?

You go to sports bar in Columbus on game day and everyone is wearing their scarlet and gray and the gathered patrons are all pulling together for the home team when in walks a group wearing blue and maize.  “What are they doing here?”

You go to an elementary school band concert and you see a group of teenagers dressed like they are going to a rock show come in and sit in the front row looking like they are ready to start a mosh pit.  “What are they doing here?”

Sometimes people just look out of place.

You come into church on Sunday morning and you get settled into your pew and some folks enter in and walk past you toward a front pew.  Who would evoke the response from you, “What are they doing here?”

Maybe a group of teenage boys and girls with tattoos and gauged ears and bare midriffs and sagging pants?  Maybe a group of steelworkers getting off the night shift all grimy and tired? Maybe a group of folks sporting rainbow t-shirts and wrist bands?  Maybe a group of foreign students? Maybe a group of Orthodox Jews with their yarmulkes and fringes on their shirts.   Maybe a group of strung out drug addicts who look like they have been sleeping on the street for a month?  Maybe… who else?  Who might elicit the question, “What are they doing here?”

This is the kind of question the wise men likely encounter as they roll into Jerusalem asking about the one born King of the Jews.  The ESV translates their title magos as “wise men”, but that may give them more credence then they deserve. Perhaps it is better to leave it at Magi.  In the book of Daniel this word in the Greek Old Testament is translated as magician; one of those who could not interpret the kings dreams.  In Acts 13 the word magos is also translated as magician.  But here in Matthew we get it as “wise men” which may cause us to miss an important question.  “What are they doing here?”

These eastern Magi; magicians, soothsayers, fortune tellers, astrologers; what are they doing here?  What are they doing in Jerusalem looking for a baby born King of the Jews?  They are not Jews.  They are not descendants of Abraham and Sarah.  They do not bear the mark of the covenant.  “What are they doing here?”

They don’t belong here.  And yet, the Magi are the ones who follow the star and come seeking the newborn king.  The Magi are the ones who go to Bethlehem.  The Magi are the ones looking for the Messiah.

The ones who belong; the scribes, the Pharisees, the priests, none of them go the Bethlehem.  The ones who belong do not go.  The Jewish religious leaders do not go.  The supposedly Jewish King does not go.  The Magi go.  And these unlikely ones bring kingly gifts and they worship the newborn king.  The ones who have no business being there are the ones with the greatest understanding.  They may not fully understand all that the baby Jesus is destined for in His life, but they understand He is King of the Jews and He is worthy of worship and given gifts fit for a king.

These eastern Magi; magicians, soothsayers, fortune tellers, astrologers; what are they doing here?  What are they doing in Jerusalem looking for a baby born King of the Jews?  They are not Jews.  They are not descendants of Abraham and Sarah.  They do not bear the mark of the covenant.  “What are they doing here?”

Who are the Magi?  We really don’t know much.  Magicians; soothsayers from the East.  Perhaps they are of the same group of Magi that interacted with Daniel in Babylon 500 some years earlier.  Perhaps Daniel familiarized the Magi’s predecessors with knowledge of the true God YHWH and the promise of a coming Messiah.  Daniel may have shared with them from Isaiah 60:1-3 (ESV) 1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 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. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.[1]  That is only a guess.  We really don’t know much about the Magi except that they are most unexpected.  What are they doing here?  And yet these unexpected ones worship Jesus when the expected ones ignore him, at best, and, at worst, try to kill him.

We can ask the same question of the shepherds who come seeking the baby the night of His birth.  “What are they doing here?”  These rough, callous, men working nights watching sheep.  These are not the ones you would expect to come seeking the baby Savior; Christ the Lord, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.  Thek shepherds and the Magi come and folks ask, “What are they doing here?”  But the ones you expect are nowhere to be seen.

We need to be on guard against becoming so comfortable about belonging that we no longer seek to worship the King.  We need to also beware of ever thinking about anyone else, “What are you doing here?”  How arrogant of us to think that we deserve to belong while others do not.  Your belonging in the Body of Christ is not about your goodness but about Christ’s good gifts.

We need to always keep fresh in our minds that we are the unexpected ones coming to worship Jesus.  It is quite unexpected that you are here; Gentiles from Europe, Asia and Africa.  The Gentiles were not God’s chosen people, but then, in Christ, everything changed.  Paul writes in Ephesians, (Eph. 3:6 ESV) “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

The mystery of Christ is revealed to people shouldn’t who shouldn’t even be here.  It is revealed to unlikely people.  We are unlikely people.  My ancestry traces back to Germany, Norway and England.  How unlikely are these people?  Germanic tribes, Vikings, Celtic Tribes, and yet all these countries became Christian nations.  You come from unlikely people and you are unlikely people.  We are unlikely people to be followers of Jesus.  We are as unlikely as the Magi and yet here we are to worship the king and offer gifts to the King.

The Magi come and bring gifts for the King and worship Him.  We are called to do the same; to come to Jesus as King in worship.  We worship Jesus as our merciful Lord and Master.  Jesus is King we are His subjects.  We pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

There is a danger that people come to Jesus and want to change Jesus, but that is not how it works.  The Magi do not try to change Jesus.  They worship Jesus as He is.  You do not get to change Jesus.  You do not get to mold Jesus to fit your understandings.  You do not get to adjust Jesus’ teachings to fit your desires.  You do not get to erase parts of the Bible that don’t fit your ideas.  If you mold and shape Jesus to fit your understandings and desires then you are taking authority over Jesus.  You are declaring yourself to be king and Jesus to be your subject.  Then you are praying, “My Kingdom come, my will be done.”

You do not change Jesus; rather you are transformed by Jesus.  You come to Jesus as a sinner and are cleansed in the waters of baptism and called out of your sin; you are called into humble obedience, you are called into love and service.  Like the Magi, you come to Jesus on His terms and in His ways, which are not the ways of the world.  Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world.

The Magi do not come to a palace to worship a king on a throne.  They come to a house to worship an infant on His mother’s lap.  We do not come to the throne room of heaven to worship Jesus.  We come to this house to receive Jesus in, with and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  We come to worship Jesus as He is; the Lord and Savior.  The Lord and Master.  The creator and redeemer.  God incarnate.  Jesus is the master; you are the servant.  And Jesus shows us how to serve as He is the Servant Savior.

You are molded and shaped and transformed by Jesus and you learn from Jesus to be servants to one another.  This is not a place for glory and pride as the world knows glory and pride.  This is a place of forgiveness, love and service.  Jesus is our king but Jesus is not a King of earthly glory and honor.  Jesus’ glory is in His suffering and death.  Jesus’ throne is the cross of Calvary.  The Magi come to Jerusalem asking, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?”  At Calvary Jesus is recognized as King.  The sign Pilate orders hung above His head on the cross announces Jesus’ title that the Magi first use, “King of the Jews”.  INRI, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

The Church is a collection of unlikely sinners gathered together to receive forgiveness in unlikely places; in water, in the Word of God, and in the bread and wine.  It is an unlikely gathering of unlikely people all gathered to worship and bring gifts to the King.

The Church welcomes all the other unlikely people for whom Jesus died.  When you look around on Sunday morning and see all the other folks look at yourself and say, “What am I doing here?”  I don’t deserve to be here, but I am here by the grace of God who led me to faith through the Holy Spirit.  What am I doing here?  I am here to worship the King.

Amen

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

God visits His Temple

simeon_7376cChristmas 1 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 31, 2017
Luke 22:22-40

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

The Law of Moses is fairly clear.  Concerning the first born, it states:  The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.” (Exodus 13:1–2, ESV)

When God freed the Children of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, He sent the angel of death to slaughter the first born of every man and animal in the land of Egypt.  The angel of death only spared those households that had the sign of the blood of the lamb painted on their doorposts.  From that moment on, God claimed the firstborn of every man and animal.  As Mary’s firstborn, Jesus had to keep this law.  The law required Mary and Joseph to bring Jesus to the temple and consecrate Him to the Lord.

The law also spoke about mothers who had just given birth.  Concerning these mothers, it states:  The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed.” (Leviticus 12:1–4, ESV)
“And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.” (Leviticus 12:6–8, ESV)

According to the law, mothers who had just given birth were basically unclean for forty days after giving birth to boys and eighty days after giving birth to girls.  At the end of that time they had to present themselves for purification.  This was a blessing in disguise.  You see, anyone who was unclean was forbidden from participating in the normal routine of the community.  For a woman, this included the normal household duties.  The indirect result was that she was forced to rest up for forty days, or eighty days in the case of a baby girl, before she could rejoin the community and resume her normal duties.

Remember who this little child is.  This little child is the Word made flesh.  He is God incarnate.  This temple is His temple.

So, we have a reason for Joseph to take Jesus to the temple, and another reason to take Mary to the temple and so Joseph does them together.  He goes to the temple to perform the presentation of the firstborn and the purification of the mother on the same day.  So it is that today’s Gospel informs us that Joseph brought Mary and Jesus to the temple in order to perform these rituals.

Now, let’s just stop right here and consider how weird this is.  Remember who this little child is.  This little child is the Word made flesh.  He is God incarnate.  This temple is His temple.  The sacrifices in this temple are made to Him.  Now, He is going to work through Joseph to place Himself under the law and keep it Himself.  In a way, the consecration of Jesus will be to Himself.

In addition to that, the temple itself is the place where God dwells with His people.  That means that the baby that Mary and Joseph carry into the stone temple is, in fact, the living temple of flesh and blood … Immanuel, God with Us.  So Mary and Joseph are bringing the living, breathing temple into the stone temple.  There are all kinds of amazing things happening as the infant Jesus enters His holy temple.

Then there are these two Old Testament saints waiting for Jesus … Simeon and Anna.  The Holy Spirit had given Simeon a special promise.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:26 ESV) Anna was also ready for she did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” (Luke 2:37, ESV)

People often wonder about the faithful who live at the time of Jesus.  The Old Testament Christians are saved by faith in the Christ who will come sometime in their future.  The New Testament Christians are saved by faith in the Christ who has already come in their past.  But what about the faithful people who lived between the time Jesus was born and the time He ascended.  What are they to believe?

Simeon and Anna provide one answer to that question.  The Holy Spirit guided Simeon into the temple at the exact right time so that he was waiting for Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought Him into the temple.  Anna was always in the temple, so that she was also ready when the Lord came.  These two remind us that God never abandons His people, but always preserves them in His salvation.

The reaction of Simeon to the presence of the Christ-child is marvelous.  Parents do not ordinarily allow strangers to take their babies from them.  Perhaps there was something special in Simeon’s face when he approached Mary and Joseph, or it may be that Mary and Joseph already knew Simeon from some other time.  At any rate, Jesus ended up in Simeon’s embrace.

Apparently Simeon knew exactly who he enfolded in his embrace.  As he looked down into the face of this infant, he prayed, not to the heavens, but to the baby in his arms, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29–32, ESV) Simeon’s faith was in the baby who laid in his arms.

I imagine that Simeon was reluctant to give the infant back to Mary and Joseph, but as he did, he had a word for them as well.  Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34–35, ESV) Even in this account from Jesus’ infancy, we already see God preparing Mary for the road ahead.  The Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of Simeon to begin preparing Mary for that day when she would look upon this son as He hung on a cross and paid for the sins of the world.  When the Virgin saw that her innocent Son had been condemned, it cut through her heart, especially his crucifixion.  And she was not the only one who had to see and experience the malice of the world.  The entire Christian Church at all times must have a broken heart as she observes the price God paid to redeem us from sin.

Anna also believed, for although we do not have her exact words, Luke provides a description of her activity as she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38, ESV) She proclaimed this infant as the redeemer.

The events of today’s Gospel finally come to a close as Luke once again reminds us that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had done everything according to the law.  So we see that even as an infant when, from a human point of view, Jesus was absolutely helpless, God still worked through Joseph and Mary so that Jesus kept the law perfectly.  In this way, we see that Jesus was already our substitute under the law even though He was only a tiny baby.

When we combine this obedience with the piercing of the heart that Simeon spoke of, we see that the Gospel already teaches that Jesus will fulfill the law of God perfectly until His innocent sacrifice on the cross where He will totally redeem the entire world from sin.  So we see that even as an infant, the Lord was already on the path that led to the cross.

The church today joins Simeon and Anna as we too celebrate the coming of the Lord to His people.  We often join in Simeon’s song as we also have seen and even tasted the Lord’s salvation as He comes to us in His body and blood.  Just as the Holy Spirit worked in Simeon to bring him into the temple to see the Lord’s Salvation, so also the Lord has given us His sacrament so that we may also see the Lord’s salvation as we eat His body and drink His blood.  So it is that the Lord will always dwell with His people and give them His gifts.  Amen

 

Donkey dung, the smell of Christmas

donkeys_15384bcChristmas Eve 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 24, 2017
Various Lessons

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

What is it for you?  What is the classic smell of Christmas for you?  What is that one aroma that brings you back to Christmases long ago?  There is a powerful link between the sense of smell and memory.  Smells can evoke powerful remembrances and emotions; both good memories and bad.

Scents are powerful; a certain perfume, the locker room after a game, burning leaves, a baby’s breath.

It is probably very weird but I like the smell of diesel exhaust, because for me it reminds me of overseas trips when I was younger to work on construction sites.  The smell invokes for me a sense of adventure and excitement.  There are also smells that remind me of sad times; the smell of hospital disinfectant and latex gloves.  I once performed CPR on a young man when I was a lifeguard in high school.  He was a smoker and every once in a while the smell of someone’s breath will bring me right back to that pool deck 33 years ago.

Smell is powerful and we are very sensitive to smells.  There are a lot of smells we want to cover up.  At Wal-Mart there is about half an aisle dedicate to air fresheners, not to mention all the shelves of body deodorants and also sorts of scented products to try to make you smell like fresh sheets hanging on the clothesline.  It would be unthinkable to actually smell like what we really smell like, so we strive to cover up the scent of real life.  We have air fresheners for cars, shoes, kitchens, lockers, and of course the bathroom.  We have fans, fresheners and Febreze so we can pretend nobody actually uses the bathroom.  We do a lot to mask and cover up the smells of real life because smells are powerful.

What smell brings back for you good Christmas memories?

What is the classic, quintessential smell of Christmas for you?  A pine tree?  Baking cookies?  Spiced wine?  Gingerbread?  A ham in the oven?  A fire in the fireplace?  Peppermint?  Cinnamon?

What is your smell of Christmas?

What was the smell of that first Christmas 2,000 some years ago in Bethlehem?  We’re not sure if Jesus was born in a stable or in a house, but we are sure that he was laid in a manger; an animal feed trough.  So there is the smell of hay.  There is the smell of animals.  There is probably the smell of smoke from a fire for cooking and heat.  There is the smell of real, unfiltered humanity emanating from the people gathered there who did not bathe or wash their clothes nearly as frequently as we do.  And since there is a manger where animals eat we can be pretty sure it is also where animals poop.  So there is the smell of manure from whatever animals ate there.  Sheep, goats, cows, donkeys.  What is the smell of that first Christmas?  The scent of donkey dung.  Donkey dung; the smell of Christmas.

Jesus is born into the unmasked reality of human life.  Jesus is born into the genuine smells of real life.  No fans, no air fresheners, no Febreze.  Jesus gets the full on stench of reality.

What is the smell of that first Christmas?  The scent of donkey dung.  Donkey dung; the smell of Christmas.

What does that smell like for you?  What is the fragrance of real life?

I am amazed by the scented candle industry.  I figured you just need to have scented candles like vanilla and cinnamon.  But I was naïve.  You can buy scented candles with an incredible variety of scents.

You can buy a scented candle that smells like the Haunted Mansion at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.  You can buy a candle that smells like wine.  You can buy a scented candle that smells like a place.  A Brazil candle or Australia or France or Denver, San Francisco, New York.  There is even a scented candle for Ohio in which scents of fresh, fragrant carnations, honeysuckle and orange zest are balanced with powdery musk and an herbaceous blend.  I guess the Buckeye Tree doesn’t give off a recognizable scent.

What would be the smell of a scented candle of real life?  Scents of sleep deprivation, fresh, fragrant anger, lust and greed, balanced with fear, and a guilt, shame, failure blend.

What is the smell of grief and sadness?  What is the scent of loneliness?  What is the aroma of feeling lost?

What is the odor of a fractured family and broken promises?  These are smells we would rather cover up and keep to ourselves and we do our best to cover up the stench of our lives.  We use the freshener of self-righteousness and the Febreze of pretending to be good.  But there is no covering up our true scent to Jesus.  Jesus sees you for who you really are.  Jesus can smell the true you.

These are the smells that Jesus is born into.  Jesus comes into the world to the smell of donkey dung and human sin.  That little baby boy doesn’t live a sanitized life in which all the bad things and foul odors are covered up.  Jesus’ nostrils are filled with the unfiltered stink of humanity.

Jesus comes as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world.  He who is without sin becomes sin.  Jesus is baptized into the stench of sin and He takes it into Himself to remove it from the world.  The pure and holy Jesus takes the rottenness of your sin into Himself and carries it to the cross.

The smoke from the temple sacrifices made by the children of Israel are a pleasing aroma to God.  In the same way the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is a pleasing aroma to God as the sin of the world is atoned for; as your sin is paid for.  What was broken by the first Adam has been restored by the second Adam.  God and man are reconciled.

Jesus has given you the cleansing bath of baptism to wash off the stink of sin.  Jesus offers His gift of forgiveness to all people and continues to distribute His free gift of forgiveness.  Jesus continues to freshen you throughout your life with His word of forgiveness and His body and blood in Holy Communion.

The quintessential smells of Christmas such as pine and gingerbread trigger in us fond memories of Christmases past but I fear that too often as the years go by our memories become sanitized and idealized and when compared to the reality of Christmas present it can never live up to our idealized past with all the wonderful smells.  But remember the true smell of Christmas, the smell of donkey dung, the smell of reality, the smell of our sin and trouble and failure, and know that Christmas cannot disappoint when we know the true gift that comes wrapped in hay in a manger near the dung pile.  The gift of a real savior who takes on real human flesh in order to save real people from real sins by offering Himself as the real fragrant sacrifice for real stinky sins.

Christmas this year is as good as any other year because the joy is not found under the tree; joy is found in the manger of Bethlehem.  The true gift of Christmas is your Savior Jesus.  Joy to the World.  The Lord is come.  Let earth receive her king.  Amen.

Lessons from the Blessed Virgin Mary

pinecone_16521cAdvent 4 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 24, 2017
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

Here we are on the cusp of Christmas Day.  We have gotten all the way through the four candles on the Advent wreath and the 24 days on the Advent calendar.  We are nearly to Christmas.  The wait is almost over.  But… we are not quite there; not until this evening.  So before we get to Christmas, let’s back up.  Let’s back things up nine months to March 25.  The day the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Savior Jesus.

Now the dates are interesting and a source of much discussion and debate.  I had always heard that the reason Christmas is on December 25 is that was the date of a pagan sun festival and the Christians were trying to make Christianity more compatible to the pagans in Europe.  The problem is that there is no early evidence of this being the reason and only a passing note 1200 years later that might suggest it.  But it is a popular idea online and in the media because many want to discredit Christianity by tying it to pagan roots.

There is evidence against this theory in that there are records of December 25 being set as Christmas as early as 200 AD; well before Constantine converted and legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire.  This was a time of persecution and Christians would certainly not be adapting pagan practices.

Now, there is another possibility that doesn’t get as much press that seems to make more sense and have more evidence.[1]

It was thought in the early church that prophets died either on the day they were born or the day they were conceived.  The date of Jesus’ crucifixion was calculated to have occurred on what we now know as March the 25th, in spring, at Passover.  This was set as the day of Christ’s conception and became the day to observe the Festival of the Annunciation; the day when the Angel Gabriel announced Jesus’ conception to Mary. Nine months later we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25.

So we back up nine months and that brings us to our Gospel reading today.  Luke 1:26-27 (ESV) 26 In the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.[2]

As Lutherans we are reformed Roman Catholics.  In the Reformation Luther did not invent something new, but went back to an older form of the Catholic Church before many errors were introduced.  So we have a lot in common with Roman Catholics.  And since we look and sound a lot like Roman Catholics, sometimes Lutherans have a tendency to do things, or not do things in order to not look “too Catholic” to emphasize that we are not Roman Catholics.  Sometimes Lutherans have issues with making the sign of the cross because it feels “too Catholic”, or chanting, or processing with the crucifix, or private confession, or having communion each Sunday.  These are thought to look “too Catholic”.

Lutherans are often guilty of ignoring Mary and not talking about Mary enough.  Mary is, after all, the Mother of God.  She had God the Son in her womb and gave birth to God in Flesh and named Him Jesus, Jeshua, which means YHWH Saves; the Lord Saves.

Something else that can strike us as “too Catholic” is talking about the Virgin Mary.  The Roman Catholic Church has elevated Mary beyond what is Biblical.  They teach the perpetual virginity of Mary.  They teach that Mary was conceived without sin in the Immaculate Conception declared to be church dogma in 1854.  Also, that Mary ascended in heaven in her body in the Assumption of Mary declared to be church dogma in 1950.  There has also been a movement afoot in Rome for centuries to declare Mary to be Co-Redemptrix.

But while the Roman Catholic Church has gone too far in the veneration of Mary, Lutherans are often guilty of ignoring Mary and not talking about Mary enough.  Mary is, after all, the Mother of God.  She had God the Son in her womb and gave birth to God in Flesh and named Him Jesus, Jeshua, which means YHWH Saves; the Lord Saves.  Mary nursed Immanuel, God with us, at her breast.  Mary is blessed by God.  Mary is indeed the Blessed Virgin Mary and it is quite okay to call her that.

When Mary visits her pregnant, elderly relative, Elizabeth declares to Mary, Luke 1:42-45 (ESV) 42   …“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” [3]

Mary says of herself in the Magnificat, Luke 1:48-49 (ESV) 48 … For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me….[4]

Mary gets it.  Mary understands.  Mary knows she is blessed not because of who she is or what she has done, but because of what God has done for her.  Mary trusts God.  After Gabriel has told her what will happen she trustingly declares, Luke 1:38 (ESV) 38 … “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” … [5]

As far as we know, Mary was a normal, young lady from the small, Galilean hill town of Nazareth, and yet we can learn great things from the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Mary is blessed because of what of God has done for her.

In this life we are far too often concerned about who is better than whom.  Who is the best at school or at sports?  Who is the most popular?  Who makes the most money?  Who is the strongest, fastest, thinnest, best looking?  Who has the most attractive mate?  Who has then nicest car; nicest house; newest cell phone?  One of my children once stacked up the presents under the tree to see who had the most.  Far too often we want to compare ourselves with others to see how we measure up.

So learn a lesson from the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Your status, your value, your dignity do not come from anything that you have done; it comes from what God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has done for you.

Your identity comes from being baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Your value comes from being made holy and perfect through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for you.  Your dignity comes from being forgiven and knowing you will rise from the dead on the last day to live eternally with the Lord.  You are blessed because Jesus died for you and you have faith in God through the Holy Spirit.

The Blessed Virgin Mary’s statement, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” should also be your declaration and mine.  When you are faced with difficulties in life; when you are tempted to take a sinful shortcut; when you are tempted to give in to the ways of the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature declare this in opposition, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Mary receives this incredible message from Gabriel.  Luke 1:30-33 (ESV)  30 …“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”[6]

It is interesting that we don’t hear anything about the angel other than his name.  No description of how he arrives, what he looks like; nothing.  The focus is completely on the message he brings.

The Blessed Virgin Mary hears the message and inquires.  “Luke 1:34 (ESV) 34 … “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”[7]  Mary does not think she has to take charge of this.  She doesn’t start thinking of how she can make it happen like Abraham and Sarah with Hagar.  She simply asks, “How will this be?”

The angel Gabriel brings God’s word to Mary, changes her identity, and the Blessed Virgin Mary accepts the role she is given by God despite the shame this will bring on herself and Joseph and their families.

The Lord has spoken to you through the words of the pastor and changed your identity; “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  You have been set apart by God to do His will in the world; to love and serve your neighbor despite any shame it might bring you.  Declare with the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Amen

[1][1] https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/how-december-25-became-christmas/

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[6]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[7]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

Stay at your post. Pray for the light.

dawn_5330cnAdvent 3, 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 17, 2017
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

It is 19 year old Marine private Harlan Pierce’s turn for night guard duty.  While his brothers in arms are asleep in the makeshift barracks Harlan stands awake leaning against the cold sandbags that surrounded the forward operating base.  It is a dark, moonless night and Harlan feels very much alone in that hostile area with enemy combatants out there; hidden in the darkness.

He stares out into the murky darkness but cannot see much of anything.  There is a light wind and every rustle, every sound, resonates in Harlan’s ears and reverberates throughout his body as he grips his M4 Carbine and looks through the scope trying to pick up any intruders in the perimeter.  There is a sound of crunching brush close by and Harlan’s swings the M4 over and is ready to fire when he sees a little rabbit scurry off in the brush.  The darkness has made him jumpy and nervous; every sound, every shadow makes his hair stand on end.  He knows there are men out there in the darkness who want to kill him, but he doesn’t know where or when.  Harlan desperately longs for the sun to come up over the eastern hills so he can see again and he won’t be alone.  Harlan is a good marine.  Harlan stays at his post and prays for the light.

Psalm 130:6 (ESV) 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.[1]

For those living in Israel at the time of the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus it is a dark world.  The Romans have had control for decades and Herod the Great has been on the throne since 37 BC and the older he gets, the more violent and crazy and unpredictable he becomes.  He is supposed to be the King of the Jews, but he is just a puppet for the Romans.

The temple leaders; the scribes and the Pharisees, are supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the people, but instead they are just pawns for Herod.  They set up systems to support the Roman occupiers, keep the people in line, and pad their own pockets.  They care nothing for worshiping the true God, but instead serve Caesar.  When word comes that the Messiah was born in Bethlehem none of the temple leaders go to seek the new king.

It is a time of darkness, hopeless darkness, crushing darkness, suffocating darkness.

Psalm 130:6 (ESV) 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.[2]

It is a gloomy world today with darkness pushing in on you from all around.  There is darkness in your own soul as you sin in thought, word and deed.  There is darkness in your soul passed down to you from your first parents; Adam and Eve, and no matter how calm and good you can seem on the outside, inside you are a bubbling cauldron of evil thoughts and desires.  Who among you would want people to see your inner thoughts through a window to your soul?  The darkness of your soul is deep.

The darkness of the world pushes in on you.  There is evil and violence and disease and disaster all pushing in constantly.  There is terrorism and war and threats of war.  There is a constant push to encourage depravity and perversion.  There is physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse.  There is bullying and harassment.  The darkness of the world can be suffocating.

The devil, the world and your own sinful nature want to make the darkness seem so attractive that you invite the darkness into your life; you welcome the darkness into your soul; you pursue the darkness, and let the darkness envelope you and suffocate any light in you.  Resist the darkness.  Stay at your post.

The Prince of Darkness continues to pursue you and drag you back into the deep darkness of his lies and accusations.  Those are his tools to bring you into the darkness; lies and accusations.  The devil lies to you to get you to sin, “It’s no big deal.  No one will find out. Who is it hurting?  Everyone is doing it.  You deserve it.”  After the Devil gets you to sin he then switches to accusations.  “What have you done?  You are a dirty, rotten sinner.  Your sin is so great!  God cannot love you.  Jesus can never forgive you.”

And there is just enough truth in the Prince of Darkness’s accusations that they ring true.  It is true, I am a sinner.  The Devil knows your weaknesses and preys on them.  And the darkness closes in on you.

The devil, the world and your own sinful nature all want you to walk away from your post and embrace the darkness.  The devil, the world and your own sinful nature want to make the darkness seem so attractive that you invite the darkness into your life; you welcome the darkness into your soul; you pursue the darkness, and let the darkness envelope you and suffocate any light in you.  Resist the darkness.  Stay at your post.  Pray for the light.

Psalm 130:6 (ESV) 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.[3]

It is a time of darkness, deep darkness, hopeless darkness, crushing darkness, suffocating darkness.  You are on guard against the darkness.  The darkness can make you as nervous and jumpy as a marine on guard duty in hostile territory.  You stare into the darkness and the unknown and you wait; you wait for the light.  The darkness makes you desperately long for the sun to come up over the eastern hills so you can see again and you won’t be alone.  The darkness is powerful, but you don’t leave your post and go into the darkness.  You stand your ground and you pray for the light.

Matthew 4:16 (ESV) 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” [4]

John 1:1-5 (ESV) 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.[5]

Jesus is the Word. Jesus is the light.  In Jesus the light has dawned and spreads.  Jesus is the light and brings joy to the world.  Jesus brings light; Jesus brings joy.  This third Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of joy because we know what has happened and what is going to happen.

The King shall come when morning dawns
And light triumphant breaks,
When beauty gilds the eastern hills
And life to joy awakes.

“From heav’n above to earth I come
To bear good news to ev’ry home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come.

Let earth receive her king!

You live in an Advent world waiting for Jesus to return, but you live in a Christmas world that knows Jesus has already come.  The Light of Christ has come into the darkness.  You live in the light with fellow followers of the light.  You live in the joy of Christ’s salvation.  You live in the light and joy of Christ and you are not alone.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV) 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.[6]

The light of Christ has dawned.  You can see the truth even as the darkness tries to push in on you.  You are not alone.  When the devil accuses you of being a sinner now you have something to say.  You can tell the devil, “It is true.  I am a sinner.  But Jesus paid for my sin.  I am a baptized child of God living in the light and joy of Christ.”

John the Baptist is sent as a witness to the light.  John points people to Jesus, the light of the world.  John is not the light.  John bears witness to the light.  Still today we have witnesses who point people in the darkness to the light and joy of Jesus.  The light has dawned in the darkness.  Jesus is come to save you from your sins.

Psalm 130:6 (ESV) 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.[7]

You live now in the light of Christ even amidst the darkness of this world.  You resist the darkness.  You point others toward the true light in Jesus.  You stay at your post and pray for the light and wait for the light to dawn again when Jesus returns in glory on the last day to drive out the darkness forever.

Amen.

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[6]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[7]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

Like a child on a leash, stay connected to Jesus in the wilderness.

path_15946bc

Advent 2 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 10, 2017
Isaiah 40:1-11, 2 Peter 3:8-14, Mark 1:1-8

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

Have you ever been at a mall or an amusement park and seen a child that is on a leash.  You know like a cute harness that looks like a monkey hugging the child’s upper body with the parent holding the other end.  It’s cute, but the whole concept of children on leashes can seem a bit strange.  However, I fully understand why parents do it.  The parents love their children and they don’t want their child to run away and get lost.  I understand.  I was one of those children in the days before cute monkey leashes.

I have heard stories from my mom and dad that once I learned to walk they would tie me to a tree in the back yard in Indiana to make sure I didn’t run off into the cornfield behind the house.  Once the corn is over your head it is easy to get lost in acres of corn and so my mom tied me to a tree on a tether so I couldn’t wander away.  I know this is shocking, but apparently I was not much for listening to or obeying my parents; I just did whatever I wanted to do at the moment and so my parents were afraid I’d wander off into the corn and get lost.

The same thing happened when we went camping in the woods.  My parents would tie me to a tree with a length of rope to make sure I didn’t run off into the forest.  I was kind of a rotten, impulsive kid and wasn’t big on listening or obeying.  I was all about me, me, me, and doing what I wanted to do and my parents were afraid I’d get lost.

I am older now and so far Jeannette lets me roam free when we go camping and the back yard is fenced and we live in a subdivision so not as much worry about as far as me running off into the corn.

I do like to wander in the woods.  When I go hiking alone I make sure that I stay on the marked paths so I know where I am.  I get worried about becoming lost in the woods alone so I try to stay on the trails.  With a group I am more adventurous in going off the beaten path and wandering around in the woods.  /Although in the state parks around here there isn’t too much concern about getting lost with roads and lakes and creeks bordering the woods and worst come to worst my phone can show me where I am and how to get back to civilization.

My parents used to worry about me getting lost; now I worry about me getting lost because being lost is a terrible feeling.  It is pretty easy today to avoid getting lost, but in the days before the Global Positioning System and cell tower triangulation getting lost was remarkably easy.

Getting lost is scary.  Whether you are walking in the woods or in a city or driving around in the country it is distressing and disorienting to realize that you don’t know where you are and you don’t know how to get to where you are trying to go.

A youth called me once to tell me she was trying to get to my house but she was lost and had no idea where she was.  She sounded distressed so I asked her to look around and tell me what she could see.  She told me, “trees.”  I had to dig a little deeper to help her out.  Being lost is frightening; panic can set in.  You are going along just fine and then you realize that nothing looks familiar.  Nothing looks like it should.  It is scary to get lost.  It would be really scary to get lost in the wilderness.  The wilderness is dangerous.

There is a whole genre of realty television based on crazy people who live in the wilderness.  I look at those shows and think.  “Not for me.  I am too afraid of getting lost.”

The wilderness is dangerous and frightening and you think I would never want to live there and yet, you do indeed live in the wilderness.  It is not the wilderness of Alaska or Montana, but it is very much a wilderness and probably more dangerous.

            You are in the dangerous wilderness and too often you don’t listen or obey; you can be, at times, rotten and impulsive.  You can think it is all about me, me, me, me.  You are in danger of wandering off the path and getting lost…forever.

You live in the wilderness of the internet with its endless possibilities.  It is where you can instantly get all kinds of cute cat videos or lookup cookie recipes or get history questions answered or access Christian devotions and online Bibles, but it is also where you can access all kinds of depravity and perversion and hatred and evil and falsehood just as fast.  It is easy to stray off the path on the internet and end up lost in the wilderness.

You live in the wilderness of greed and covetousness where you are repeatedly told about the importance of money and possessions.  Nearly every advertisement is trying to get you to be discontent with what you have and always wanting more, more, more, more.  The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil and you live in the wilderness of money loving.

You live in the wilderness of false gods and false teaching where people can just make stuff up and start a church. L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, once said, “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.”  And he did and people still practice it.  There are so many false gods and false teachers; so many wolves in sheep’s clothing.  There are so many dead end religious paths in the wilderness; it is easy to get lost.

You live in the wilderness of substandard sexual ethics.  Is it any wonder that so many actors and politicians and others are getting exposed for illicit and abusive relationships?  People have almost completely rejected any concept that intimacy belongs only within the bonds of the marriage union of a man and a woman and, instead, have adopted an ethic of anything goes.  Powerful men use their power for evil to take advantage of others and cause great harm.  Not so powerful people try to do the same thing.  In the wilderness you are told over and over that anything goes and it leaves a brutal trail full of hurting and damaged people.

You are in the dangerous wilderness and too often you don’t listen or obey; you can be, at times, rotten and impulsive.  You can think it is all about me, me, me, me.  You are in danger of wandering off the path and getting lost…forever.

You live in the wilderness and the wilderness is a place of danger, testing and temptation.  You can get lost and the wilderness can turn you into a beast of prey or a beast of burden.  Being lost in the wilderness is scary and disorienting; you can find yourself where nothing looks familiar.  In the frightening and confusing wilderness a voice cries out, “Prepare a highway!  A highway in the wilderness!  Someone is coming for you!”  Someone is coming to lead you out of the wilderness.

2,000 years ago John the Baptist was that voice crying in the wilderness.  John’s message is still needed today.  “Repent for the rule of God is at hand.”  Jesus is coming!  Prepare!  Prepare the way.

Jesus is the way.  Jesus is the straight path out of the wilderness.  Jesus is the way to the Promised Land.  Jesus goes into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by the devil and Jesus overcomes the devil.  Jesus overcomes the wilderness in His death and resurrection.  Jesus comes into the wilderness of this world to rescue you.  Jesus prepares the way for you.  Jesus is the way through the wilderness.  Jesus is the straight and level highway to the Promised Land.

During this Advent season and throughout the year be prepared for Jesus’ return.  Stay connected to Jesus during your journey through the wilderness.  Stay connected to Jesus so you cannot wander off the highway and get lost.  Like an impulsive child on a leash stays connected to her parent, stay connected to Jesus by remembering your baptism, hearing His words of forgiveness, and receiving the body and blood of Jesus into your own body.  Stay connected to the Church so you don’t wander away and get lost.

Don’t get lost in this wilderness.  Stay on the path.  Stay connected to Jesus. You know the way.  Jesus is the way.  Amen.

Set the alarm, buckle your seat belt, lock the doors. Jesus is coming back.

door_6978cnpAdvent 1 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
Dec. 3, 2017
Isaiah 64:1-9, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

There is a burglar and fire alarm system here at church.  In the sixteen years that I have been here there has not been one time, thank God, when the alarm system was set off by someone breaking into the building or by a fire.  We’ve had false alarms.  We’ve had it set off by a raccoon chewing threw a wire, we have had it set off by a lightning storm, we have had it set off for no apparent reason.  For a while we had a gremlin in the system and it would set the alarm off even while we were in the building and the alarm wasn’t set.  The alarm system is a source of lots of aggravation and issues and not once, in my memory, a real burglar or fire.  But you know, I still make sure I set the alarm every time I am last to leave.  Because…you never know.

We set alarms, buckle seatbelts, lock doors, all to try to be prepared for the unexpected and yet so many people remain completely unprepared for the greatest unexpected event of all.

I buckle my seatbelt every time I am in the car.  So far in life I’ve never once needed it, but I buckle it every time because…I never know when I might get in an accident.

I check the deadbolt locks on my doors at home each night before I go to bed to make sure the house is secure against any possible break in.  No one has ever tried to break in that I know of, but I still bolt the doors because…you never know when someone may try.

I take precautions at home, on the road, here at church because you never know when something might happen and I want to be ready.

We set alarms, buckle seatbelts, lock doors, all to try to be prepared for the unexpected and yet so many people remain completely unprepared for the greatest unexpected event of all.

Jesus is coming back.

Jesus is coming back and we don’t know when.

We have entered the season of Advent; the four Sundays before Christmas when we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ first arrival as God in flesh; His humble arrival as that little Jewish baby boy born in Bethlehem.  It is a time of anticipation of the celebration of Jesus’ birth; the celebration of God taking on human flesh to save you from your sin.

In Advent we also look forward to Jesus’ second arrival when He returns on the last day; judgment day.  When He returns again it will not be as a humble baby but rather He will return in power and great glory.  On that awesome day everyone, everywhere will know that Jesus has returned.  For those clothed in Christ’s righteousness the second coming will be a wonderful day of restoration and new life.  Jesus will return to destroy evil and sin and sickness and death and mourning forever.  Jesus will return and there will be no more divisions; no more hatred, no more warfare.  Jesus will return to raise the dead from the grave and everyone will be caught up in the air for the judgement.  Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.  Those in Christ will be judged based on Jesus perfection given to them and those who have rejected Christ will be judged based on their own actions.  Those in Christ will receive eternal life with the Lord forever in the heavenly city; those outside of Christ will receive eternal torment in the lake of fire.

Jesus is coming back and you need to be prepared.  Jesus is coming.  Be prepared.  Stay prepared.  Now if Jesus left yesterday and said be prepared for my return it would be easier; but it has been a long time.  How long can you stay ready?  Jesus ascended into heaven almost 2,000 years ago.

A rich man leaves on a trip and leaves his servants in charge of his mansion and estate.  He tells them that he doesn’t know how long he will be gone but they should be ready for Him to return at any time.  They should keep doing their normal jobs.  Days go by, then weeks, then months, then years.  At first the servants are very attentive to their duties and keep on doing what they are supposed to be doing anticipating the boss’s return at any moment.  For days and weeks they keep doing their duty, but then as weeks drag into months and months into years the servants get sloppy and lazy.  They stop working to keep things in good shape and start to drink the owner’s good wine and whiskey and swim in his pool and sleep in his bed. They begin to let the mansion and estate sink into disrepair.  The longer the owner is gone the worse it gets.  The servants figure that it has been a long time, so the owner must not be coming back.  It is hard to remain prepared for a long time.  It is hard to wait.

Jesus is coming back.  Be prepared.  Stay awake.

It is easy to be lulled into a sense that since it has been a long time, Jesus is never coming back so why bother doing what you are supposed to be doing?  It is very easy to just get lazy and sleepy and let things slide and adjust to living as if Jesus is never coming back.  But Jesus is coming and you don’t know when.  It could be today.  It might not be for another 2,000 years.

So set the alarm, buckle your seatbelt, lock the doors and be prepared.

Set the alarm.  Set the alarm to go off when someone tries to teach lies and say that it is the Word of God.  Set the alarm to go off when someone teaches that the Bible is about living your best life now or dreaming big dreams or achieving great things.  We love to hear messages about being successful and happy and fulfilled, but that is not the message of the Bible.  It is too easy to listen to false teachers and be led astray; too easy to believe that there are many ways to the Father.  Set the alarm.  Cling to the true Word of God in the Bible.  Know the true word.  Read the Bible.  Study the Bible.  Hear the word.  In this world full of counterfeit religions there is only one true faith.  Know the truth of the Bible so well that you can easily spot a counterfeit.  Lots of people like to quote the Bible but that doesn’t mean they are teaching the truth.  Set the alarm.

Have your seatbelt on keeping you in your place each Sunday gathered together with other believers looking forward to Jesus’ return.  It is too easy to let other things become just as important, or more important, than coming to church each Sunday to hear God’s Word taught and receive the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus is coming back!  Be prepared.  Stay prepared.  What can be more important than that?  Well…maybe a sporting event…maybe a youth athletic league…maybe staying out late the night before…maybe just sleeping late…maybe getting a jump on the yard work…maybe just not feeling it.  The danger is that a week or two missing from church can quickly lead to a month or two, and to a year or two, and you give up your place in the family of faith waiting for Jesus to return and you just fall spiritually asleep and you are no longer prepared for Jesus’ return.  Keep your seatbelt on.

Lock the doors.  You are the light of the world and yet you live in a world of great darkness.  Lock the doors to keep the darkness from pushing into your life from all around you.  The pornography, the sexual immorality, the hatred, the lies, the anger, the coveting, the abuse of alcohol, the abuse of drugs, the violence, the love of money, the self-centeredness, the neglect of others.  Lock the doors.  The darkness of the world wants to flood into your life and take it over and extinguish your light.  The darkness wants to take the place of the true God and become your idol; the darkness wants to be the thing that you fear, love and trust above anything else.  So lock the doors against the darkness.

Stay prepared.  Jesus is coming back, and no one knows when.  The next time someone claims to know when Jesus is coming back know this.  They are lying.  They don’t know.  You don’t know.  I don’t know.  No one knows.  The angels don’t know.  God the Son does not know.  Only God the Father knows.

Jesus is coming back and He has left you to do what you are supposed to be doing until He returns.  So keep on doing what you have been given to do and stay prepared for the greatest arrival of all time.  Stay prepared for Jesus to return and make all things right in the world.  Bring the light of Christ to those around you in your gentle love and care for those you encounter.

You have Jesus who is the light of the world; the light that overcomes the darkness.  Live in the light waiting for Jesus to return doing what you have been given to do.

Set the alarm.  Buckle your seatbelt.  Lock the doors.  Stay awake.  Stay prepared.  Jesus is coming back for you.  Amen.

Sheep work is never futile.

PrintLast Sunday of the Church Year 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
November 26, 2017
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Matthew 25:31-46

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

The alarm clock buzzes and you hit snooze…twice.  You finally wake up and drag yourself out of bed to start another day; another day of doing the same stuff once again.  Every day a lot like the last.  Sometimes it can seem so futile, like you are just going through the motions.  What is the point?

You catch the bus and ride to school and get to your classroom and sit at your desk and listen to the teacher and write down the homework and come home and do the homework and go to practice and then repeat; the next day and the next.  Sometimes it can seem so futile, like you are just going through the motions.  What is the point?

You are out the door in the morning before the sun comes up and fight the traffic for 45 minutes to get to work and push through the day’s assignments and drive home late in the dark just to get to sleep and be able to do it all again the next morning.  Every time it looks like you are catching up on the paperwork the boss comes and dumps another big pile on your desk.  It feels like the only reward for working hard is getting more work.  It can all seem so futile, like you are just going through the motions.  What is the point?

You get up early to make sure the kids are awake and dressed and fed and out the door on time.  You quick bake a batch of cookies for the school bake sale that the kids forgot to tell you about until that morning and quick get in a couple of loads of laundry before heading off to your part time job to work a few hours and still be home before the kids.  The more you do, the faster you go, it seems like you just get further behind.  It can all seem so futile, like you are just going through the motions.  What is the point?

You face another day of being married to that same old person.  The excitement of the early years has long ago faded and it feels like everyone else has exciting and fulfilling relationships while you are stuck in the boredom of the same old same old; just doing the same things with the same person.  It can all seem so futile, like you are just going through the motions.  What is the point?

You volunteer and keep busy running here and there and everywhere to help out your kids and grandkids and the church and grandkid’s schools and the community.  But as much effort as you put into all of these activities nothing seems to change.  It can all seem so futile, like you are just going through the motions.  What is the point?

All of your hard work; all of the things you do for everyone else all day long, it can feel like just an exercise in futility.  Why bother?  What is the point?

Why bother?  The answer is in Jesus’ parable for us today.  The story of the sheep and the goats.

Now, this is a hard parable.  It is a difficult text; because it is so clear.  If this was the only teaching we ever got from Jesus it would appear that Christianity is a religion of works; that you earn your salvation by doing good things for others.  Sheep do acts of kindness and receive praise from Jesus on judgment day and go to their heavenly reward.  Goats don’t… and get hell.  It is a tough parable.

But this is not the only teaching of Jesus that we get.  We get a complete teaching from Jesus in which we learn that salvation is not earned by us.  We don’t buy our way into eternal life with our works.  And as we look more carefully at this text we can see that even here the truth about salvation is evident.  Jesus speaks to the sheep.  Matthew 25:34 (ESV)  34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.[1]

The sheep are sheep because God has made them sheep.  They are chosen, predestined, elect.  They are not sheep because they decided to be sheep.  They are not sheep because they did acts of kindness.  They are not sheep because they worked hard to become sheep.  They are sheep for one reason; because God has done it.  God makes them sheep.  God makes them righteous.  God makes them sheep and then these sheep live like His sheep.  They go out into God’s creation; out into their ordinary lives and they take care of those around them.  Sheep live their ordinary lives in extraordinary ways.  They care for the sick; they feed the hungry; they visit the imprisoned.  They clothe the naked.  They do sheep things.  Sheep act like sheep.

The goats?  The goats choose what God never planned.  They choose to ignore the call of God and ignore the cry of their fellow creatures.  They reject grace and they choose death and so in return God gives them what they choose.  Matthew 25:41 (ESV) 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.[2]  Hell was never intended for people, but so many choose to share the fate of Satan and his demons.

The Lord is your shepherd, you are His sheep.  So you live like one of the Lord’s sheep.  You go out into God’s world and you do what you have been given to do.  You meet the needs of fellow creatures who cry for help.  That’s what sheep do.  And when sheep do what God has given them to do, futility is gone.  Futility is wiped out completely.

But not you.  You are a sheep.  You have come to the font just like little Bradley this morning and you have been marked as one of the sheep in the Lord’s flock.  God has made you His own in the waters of baptism.  God has given you His name.  The Lord is your shepherd, you are His sheep.  So you live like one of the Lord’s sheep.  You go out into God’s world and you do what you have been given to do.  You meet the needs of fellow creatures who cry for help.  That’s what sheep do.  And when sheep do what God has given them to do, futility is gone.  Futility is wiped out completely.  That is the point of the parable.

This is not an exhortation to be a sheep and not a goat.  Sheep have no choice.  God does the choosing.  You are a sheep because God chose you.  You are the Lord’s sheep and what sheep do as sheep is never wasted and never lost.  There is no futility.  This means your daily work is transformed.  Whatever you do for the sake of those around you is never pointless and futile.  Whatever you do in fulfillment of your God-given vocation of serving and preparing for service is not wasted.  Whatever you do as a child, parent, husband, wife, student, worker, employer, citizen; in whatever vocation you have, your service to others is never futile.

Your motivation to work hard and do what you have been given to do is not about what makes you famous.  It is not about making more money or getting ahead.. It is not about awards and good grades.  It’s not about what makes you happy.  It’s not about what makes you feel good.  None of this determines the validity of what you do.  The only thing that counts is that do what you have been given to do in service to others.

All your work and effort is redeemed by God.  So pay attention in school and do your homework, keep on keeping on in your daily commute and work and completing endless task after task, keep serving your children and your spouse and your grandkids and your community and do it all with commitment and passion because this is holy work.

You do what you have been given to do with energy and zeal because what you do is holy work.

You change your baby’s diaper for the fifth time and wipe their milky spit up off your shoulder again and you do it with awe and wonder and gratitude at the sheer holiness of the work you are doing.  Caring for your baby is holy work.

You tie the first grader’s shoes and give him a smile and patient, kind words to encourage this student who never seems like he can get things together.  You do it with patience and care and love because this is holy work.

You don’t need work that is more meaningful.  You don’t need more excitement and fulfillment in your relationships.  You don’t need more prestige and power.  You do holy work in whatever it is the Lord has given you to do.

You do holy work when you do what you have been given to do and care for those around you.  You are doing incredible holy work just the way God intended it to be done and that is work that is always worthwhile.

That is the way it is with sheep.  You are a sheep.  You are the elect of the Good Shepherd, chosen by God, washed with forgiveness at the font.  You are righteous before God.  You see the needs of those around you and you give them what they need from you.  You treat others with kindness even when you don’t receive kindness in return.  You see needs and meet needs.  You fulfill your vocations.

You are a sheep and sheep are righteous twice.  Righteous before God in your election.  Righteous before creation in your vocation. You are a sheep.  You live without fear.  You live without futility.  You know your labor is never in vain.  No deed is insignificant.  God saves you and your labor.

You are a sheep, and that changes everything, everything about you and everything about what you do, forever.

Amen.

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

God’s Stress Relief.

crane_14408acThanksgiving Eve
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
November 22, 2017
Deuteronomy 8:1-10, Philippians 4:6-20, Luke 17:11-19

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

A young mother holds her infant girl in her arms and looks into that sweet baby’s eyes.  The mother thinks about all the future holds for her little girl.  A future of great promise and a future of heartache and trouble.  Will my baby be happy; will she be loved and cared for by others as she grows and matures, or will she be picked on and bullied?  Will she be able to navigate adolescence and early adulthood wisely, or will she get caught up in the traps of drinking, drugs and promiscuity?  Will she find a fulfilling vocation which she will love going to work and be able to pour her heart and soul into her labor, or will she be trapped in a job where she will dread going to work in the morning.  Will my baby find a good husband who loves her and builds her up, or will she find someone who belittles and abuses her?  The mother holds her sweet little baby in her arms but in her heart she holds great anxiety and worry.

There is a lot to worry about in this life; money, health, family, politics, crime, safety.  It seems that every night on the evening news there is a report about something else that is going to hurt you or kill you.  People who have very little worry about not having enough.  People who have lots worry about maintaining and protecting all their stuff.  We have lots of worry in this life; lots of anxiety.  Holidays bring their own stress.  How many of you have your bodies sitting here tonight, but your minds are working out the game plan for how to get everything on the table on time tomorrow and feeling the stress of too much to do and not enough time to do it?

Into our lives of stress and worry and anxiety we get these words from St. Paul.  Philippians 4:6 (ESV)  6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. [1]

Do not be anxious about anything.  Easy to say…hard to do.  But what does Paul give as the antidote for worry?  It is not some type of breathing exercise.  It is not to imagine your happy place.  It is not physical exercise.  It is not medication.  It is not counseling.  What is Paul’s remedy for anxiety?

Take it to the Lord in prayer.  Prayer and supplication.  Supplication is another word for prayer; to make humble and earnest petitions.  To bring your needs to someone who has the power to grant a request.

But what does Paul give as the antidote for worry?  It is not some type of breathing exercise.  It is not to imagine your happy place.  It is not physical exercise.  It is not medication.  It is not counseling.  What is Paul’s remedy for anxiety?

Philippians 4:7 (ESV) 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[1]

In the Large Catechism Martin Luther writes about prayer, “We have now heard what we must do and believe, in what things the best and happiest life consists.  Now follows the third part, how we ought to pray.  For we are in a situation where no person can perfectly keep the Ten Commandments, even though he has begun to believe.  The devil with all his power, together with the world and our own flesh, resists our efforts.  Therefore, nothing is more necessary than that we should continually turn towards God’s ear, call upon Him, and pray to Him.  We must pray that He would give, preserve, and increase faith in us and the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments.  We pray that He would remove everything that is in our way and that opposes us in these matters.”[2]

Pray.  Pray; it is what you do.  Because you are a baptized child of God covered by the blood of the Lord Jesus, you have a direct line to the creator of the universe.  You have a hotline to God.  You can bring your requests and concerns to the Lord of the Universe.  So pray.

It is nice to know someone in local government because if you need something to be discussed or accomplished at least you have someone who will listen to your requests and desires.  You have that very thing with God.  In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  Take your requests and desires to God with thanksgiving for all that the Lord has done for you already.  Give thanks for all that Lord has given you physically and spiritually.

In this nation we are blessed with great abundance; we have so much to be thankful for with modern technology and conveniences.  Clean hot and cold running water coming out of pipes in the wall.  Indoor plumbing.  Electric lights.  Heat and air conditioning.  A great abundance of food.  Good dentists and doctors and medicine.  Good government.  We have so much to be thankful for in our families.  We have much to be thankful for as a congregation here as the Lord has blessed us for 121 years.

So bring everything to the Lord in prayer with thanksgiving.  Live with an attitude of gratitude.  Live life in prayer and supplication to the Lord.  Daily give your worries and concerns to the Lord.  Commend yourself, your loved ones and all people into the Lord’s care.  Pray continually.  And the Lord will give you peace.  And not just a fleeting peace, but the peace of God; the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.  A peace you cannot understand; an out of this world peace.  A peace that is incomprehensible.  This is the peace that the Lord offers to you.

In this world full of stress and anxiety it is a difficult, ongoing struggle to take everything to the Lord in prayer.  This spiritual discipline is not easy and it takes a lot of practice and you will experience many fits and starts.  You will never master it completely this side of paradise, but it is a spiritual discipline that will bring you peace.  “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Focus on the Godly things of life as Paul writes:  Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV) 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.[3]

Keep your focus on the Lord Jesus and all He has done for you.  Keep your hope in the promises the Lord made to you.  Trust in the Lord Jesus and in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.

Amen.

 

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2] Concordia, The Lutheran Confessions, 2006, pg. 408

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001