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Epiphany 3–“Shocked” (Luke 4:16-30)

C-22 Epiphany 3 (Lu 4.14-21)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

In today’s world, we hear plenty of bad news. We hear of war and devastation. We hear about acts of violence and murders. We hear of how loved ones have died due to sickness and disease. Needless to say, our souls are wearied by the world and by our own sinful nature. Surely there must be somewhere we can go to hear good news! My friends, you have come to that place today.

We gather in God’s house to hear good news from Jesus. The word “gospel” comes from the Greek word which means “good news.” That is precisely why we are here today, to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. That is what Jesus says today. As He reads the words of Isaiah the prophet, Jesus says, “The Spirit of The Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” My friends, you are the poor. The good news that Jesus comes bringing is the declaration that you have been forgiven all of your sins on account of He and His actions. He declares that you have eternal life in Him because of His life, death, and resurrection. He declares that this is done for you. What good news this is that our Lord brings!

There were those who thought positive of Jesus and what He had said and done up to this point. Luke records, “And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.” Truly this was amazing that all the people were in favor of Jesus’ words that He had just quoted. These were words of good news, speaking of God’s pardon that lifted the people up. It is a message for the spiritually poor, the captives of sin, the spiritually blind and those oppressed by guilt and shame. This was just what the people needed to hear and they did not disagree with the Lord’s words. After Jesus finished reading and sat down on the platform to give His sermon or explanation, there was a hushed silence of expectancy. Then Jesus shocks the world with the good news that He is the Messiah!

Jesus shocks the people of Nazareth when He fulfills the Scriptures. Luke records only the beginning, which in itself is the core and sum of the whole sermon. His words were shocking: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This hometown boy returns to church as a guest, and He claims that Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah is now come true – in the person of Jesus. Jesus not only brings good news to the people, He is the Good News of God for every sinner! It’s just a shame that you and I don’t want to hear it.

Just as quickly as the people were enamored by Jesus, they turn against Him. Luke records, “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.” The people of Nazareth reject the good news that Jesus is the Messiah and with that, everything that comes along with it. The expected response might be for the all to throw up their hands and rejoice in the hometown hero. You can almost see them wringing their hands and licking their chops with greedy anticipation. “Here is the answer to all our problems! Can you believe that this is Joseph’s boy? We really hit the lottery with this one!” Instead, the initial reaction was split. They marveled at the way or manner He spoke of God’s love for them. But then doubt is quickly planted: “Is not this Joseph’s son?” You can almost hear them contradict themselves earlier. Surely Joseph’s son cannot be the Messiah. Eventually, doubt turns into rejection.

Isn’t that just like us? One minute we are in love with Jesus and what He comes bringing and then the next, we’re ready to throw Him out of town and off the cliff. This was the problem with the hometown crowd. This is why Jesus spoke such brutal, attention-getting Law. They were stubborn in their spiritual deafness and blindness. They heard the words of Christ, but they didn’t hear the Word of God. They didn’t listen. That is us to a tee. We hear God’s Word, but we do not listen to it. We hear God’s pronouncement of forgiveness upon us on account of Jesus Christ, but we do listen to the fact that the forgiveness is by Jesus alone. We want to find that forgiveness in anything but Jesus. But there is no forgiveness in anything or anyone but Jesus.

So what does the hometown boy do? Does He leave the people with their desires or something else? He dies. He dies for the people who want to kill Him. The people get what they wanted: Jesus dies. The people should be happy. Everything worked out the way they had wanted it. And you know what? Everything did work out the way it was supposed to. Jesus died. He died for creation. He died to fulfill the Father’s will. And He was successful. He died but did not stay dead. He rose victoriously to again fulfill the Father’s will.

Even after everything that Jesus has done for creation, what is today’s response to the shocking Good News of Jesus Christ? Some reject the Good News to their own damnation. They deny who Jesus is and what He has done. They deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the One who is promised of long ago to bring about salvation for creation. But then you have the other side of the coin as well. God the Holy Spirit creates faith in your heart through the Word of the Good News of Jesus Christ for you. By faith you see Jesus’ mission completed – from Bethlehem to Calvary, from resurrection to ascension for you. By faith you see that all of Scripture points to Jesus for you.

Jesus truly is the fulfillment of God’s promises. He is the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah. All this He gives to us through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith. God has promised all these things to us and today they are fulfilled in our hearing. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Epiphany, Sermons

 

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Epiphany 3–“Shocked” (Luke 4:16-30)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

In today’s world, we hear plenty of bad news. We hear of war and devastation. We hear about acts of violence and murders. We hear of how loved ones have died due to sickness and disease. Needless to say, our souls are wearied by the world and by our own sinful nature. Surely there must be somewhere we can go to hear good news! My friends, you have come to that place today.

We gather in God’s house to hear good news from Jesus. The word “gospel” comes from the Greek word which means “good news.” That is precisely why we are here today, to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. That is what Jesus says today. As He reads the words of Isaiah the prophet, Jesus says, “The Spirit of The Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” My friends, you are the poor. The good news that Jesus comes bringing is the declaration that you have been forgiven all of your sins on account of He and His actions. He declares that you have eternal life in Him because of His life, death, and resurrection. He declares that this is done for you. What good news this is that our Lord brings!

There were those who thought positive of Jesus and what He had said and done up to this point. Luke records, “And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.” Truly this was amazing that all the people were in favor of Jesus’ words that He had just quoted. These were words of good news, speaking of God’s pardon that lifted the people up. It is a message for the spiritually poor, the captives of sin, the spiritually blind and those oppressed by guilt and shame. This was just what the people needed to hear and they did not disagree with the Lord’s words. After Jesus finished reading and sat down on the platform to give His sermon or explanation, there was a hushed silence of expectancy. Then Jesus shocks the world with the good news that He is the Messiah!

Jesus shocks the people of Nazareth when He fulfills the Scriptures. Luke records only the beginning, which in itself is the core and sum of the whole sermon. His words were shocking: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This hometown boy returns to church as a guest, and He claims that Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah is now come true – in the person of Jesus. Jesus not only brings good news to the people, He is the Good News of God for every sinner! It’s just a shame that you and I don’t want to hear it.

Just as quickly as the people were enamored by Jesus, they turn against Him. Luke records, “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.” The people of Nazareth reject the good news that Jesus is the Messiah and with that, everything that comes along with it. The expected response might be for the all to throw up their hands and rejoice in the hometown hero. You can almost see them wringing their hands and licking their chops with greedy anticipation. “Here is the answer to all our problems! Can you believe that this is Joseph’s boy? We really hit the lottery with this one!” Instead, the initial reaction was split. They marveled at the way or manner He spoke of God’s love for them. But then doubt is quickly planted: “Is not this Joseph’s son?” You can almost hear them contradict themselves earlier. Surely Joseph’s son cannot be the Messiah. Eventually, doubt turns into rejection.

Isn’t that just like us? One minute we are in love with Jesus and what He comes bringing and then the next, we’re ready to throw Him out of town and off the cliff. This was the problem with the hometown crowd. This is why Jesus spoke such brutal, attention-getting Law. They were stubborn in their spiritual deafness and blindness. They heard the words of Christ, but they didn’t hear the Word of God. They didn’t listen. That is us to a tee. We hear God’s Word, but we do not listen to it. We hear God’s pronouncement of forgiveness upon us on account of Jesus Christ, but we do listen to the fact that the forgiveness is by Jesus alone. We want to find that forgiveness in anything but Jesus. But there is no forgiveness in anything or anyone but Jesus.

So what does the hometown boy do? Does He leave the people with their desires or something else? He dies. He dies for the people who want to kill Him. The people get what they wanted: Jesus dies. The people should be happy. Everything worked out the way they had wanted it. And you know what? Everything did work out the way it was supposed to. Jesus died. He died for creation. He died to fulfill the Father’s will. And He was successful. He died but did not stay dead. He rose victoriously to again fulfill the Father’s will.

Even after everything that Jesus has done for creation, what is today’s response to the shocking Good News of Jesus Christ? Some reject the Good News to their own damnation. They deny who Jesus is and what He has done. They deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the One who is promised of long ago to bring about salvation for creation. But then you have the other side of the coin as well. God the Holy Spirit creates faith in your heart through the Word of the Good News of Jesus Christ for you. By faith you see Jesus’ mission completed – from Bethlehem to Calvary, from resurrection to ascension for you. By faith you see that all of Scripture points to Jesus for you.

Jesus truly is the fulfillment of God’s promises. He is the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah. All this He gives to us through the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith. God has promised all these things to us and today they are fulfilled in our hearing. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Epiphany, Sermons

 

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Epiphany 2 – “Delight” (Isaiah 62:1-5)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Old Testament which was read earlier.

Think about people you have known who have come through great tragedies in life with the ability to maintain a spirit of hope. That ability or disposition is most certainly a gift from God. It is truly a gift when people are able to recover from grief and despair, when they are able to turn from the pain and suffering of a past event to discover healing in new community life and wellsprings of hope for the future.

As Isaiah writes this portion of his letter, God’s people had suffered great tragedy. But this speaks beyond the people of Isaiah’s day; this speaks of the Church, God’s believers. What wonderful good news this is for the Church, knowing that God has not forsaken His people! This inseparably associates Christ’s righteousness and salvation, granted to us in His means of grace through Holy Baptism, where we are made God’s children.

Look again at the words of Isaiah: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch.” In the Lord’s plan for a perfect world, there would never be a situation like this. God had created the heavens and the earth and all that inhabits them to be perfect. He created man and woman to be perfect. Creation was deemed to be “good” in God’s eyes, while man was deemed to be “very good.” As God saw things, this was perfection. Perfection did not last long and as a result, this world fell into sin. And with creation’s fall into sin, so did creation suffer. That suffering that creation experiences trickles down to the Church as well.

As much as we would like it, the Church is not immune to suffering. Even our Lord Himself is called the Suffering Servant. The Church suffers greatly for the sake of Christ and His teachings. The Church suffers for what is right according to God’s Word. The Church suffers as a result of who she is.

For the sake of creation, God sent His Son to earth with the single task of saving creation. God became fully man and lived the perfect life that we could not. That meant that Jesus never sinned. That meant that Jesus never failed to do the Father’s will. That meant that Jesus did what was required of you and me and of all creation so that we are forgiven of the damning guilt of our sin.

The picture that Isaiah paints is one of good times and bad. Leading up to our text for today, Israel had seen better days. But we know that God is faithful and just and because He promised to Adam and Eve a Savior, Israel held out hope for that Savior. Way back at the time of Abraham, He called them to be His own. He brought them out of Egypt. He compared Himself as their bridegroom and called His people Zion, called them His bride. He promised always to be faithful, to provide for them and to keep them safe. But they were not faithful to Him. Time and time again, they turned to other gods. Time and time again, they ran to idols that promised some sort of forbidden pleasure. The Lord pursued them, called them back, repeated His faithfulness and love to them again and again, but they would not have Him. They wanted another instead.

As we look back, we tend to shake our heads and say, “Israel, you should have known better. You should have done what God asked and there wouldn’t be any problems.” As I said earlier, Isaiah is not only describing Israel, but his description is that of the Church. God has called us to be His bride. God has promised to the Church to be faithful and to provide for her safety. But we as God’s people have not been faithful to Him. We have turned to other gods, running to idols and all that we think will give to us the same things that God Himself promises.

All of this sounds tragic for the Church, and it is. But as we know, God does not allow the Church to wallow in its sin forever. Listen again to the words of Isaiah: “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her….” God has a plan to redeem creation. He becomes flesh and takes their place. He takes their sins upon Himself, their guilt and their shame. He bears all their sins to the cross. At the cross, God the Father says to Christ, “I see that you bear the sin, the guilt and the shame. I see on You every last sin that I despise. And because I condemn sin and sinners, I condemn You.”

This is the Gospel, as Paul declares in 2 Corinthians 5, “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” What wonderful news this is for the Church as a whole and for each individual Christian! God did not leave us to our sinful nature but on account of Christ’s atoning salvation were we restored to full honor and glory. For you, the Lord does not keep silent. He will not be quiet as you waste away. Though you feel the bitterness of sin and shame, He declares that He has already borne your sin to the cross. Before God, your sin is gone. Before God, you are righteous for the sake of Jesus.

Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection have verified once and for all that we are perfectly right with God; holy and just as if we had never sinned. As the vow before the wedding altar states once and for all time a commitment we can always trust, God has taken the vow. We are the Bride of Christ, never forsaken, never desolate and lonely, but married to Him. We are the Lord’s delight.

For your sake, the Lord is not silent. He continues to declare His delight in you, His joy over you. That is why you hear His Word, even when you can’t stand yourself, because there the Lord proclaims His faithfulness, His redemption, His love for you. That is why you run to His Supper for forgiveness, because there is your Bridegroom, present to save. The time will come when sorrow and sighing will flee away—on the Last Day, at the marriage feast of the Lamb. Until then, the Lord is not silent. He will not be quiet. He says, “I delight in you, for I have redeemed you. I rejoice over you, because you are righteous and holy in My sight: because you are forgiven for all of your sins.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2013 in Epiphany, Sermons

 

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Epiphany of Our Lord–“Mysteries” (Ephesians 3:1-12)

C-19  Epiphany (Mt 2.1-12)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Who doesn’t love a good mystery? I remember when I was in middle school taking our state standardized tests, all I wanted to do was finish the tests so I could pull out another Hardy Boys Mystery from the library. I was so caught up in the middle of everything, wondering what was going to happen on the next page and how everything would play out. The mystery brought excitement and wonder, and being a young teenager, I never walked away disappointed.

But what about mysteries today? Do they still intrigue us? Do they captivate us in a way that only a mystery can? Do we even want to involve ourselves with mysteries? If you are St. Paul, then you are all about mystery, namely the mystery of God.

As Paul writes his letter to the Ephesian church, he speaks of many things. First, he makes mention that he is a prisoner. Not only was Paul an actual prisoner in jail, he was a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of [the] Gentiles.” Notice what Paul says there. He is a prisoner on their behalf. Paul wasn’t preaching and teaching for his own benefit; he was preaching and teaching for the benefit of his audience, in this case, the Ephesians. This was a church that was in full need of God’s grace and mercy and Paul sought to bring that saving grace and mercy to them, just as he was in full need of God’s saving grace and mercy.

In order to do so, he was given insight into the mystery of Christ. Just what does Paul mean here regarding the mystery of Christ? He is not speaking of something that is mysterious in the sense of being vague, murky, or hard to understand, but rather, something that needs to be explained. After it has been explained, it’s perfectly clear, but one would never have stumbled onto it without some outside help. Paul indicates that he received such help from God by revelation. Paul says rather clearly what the mystery is: “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.” It means that they are included in God’s saving grace and mercy!

What a wonderful thing for a person to hear, that they have been included in God’s saving grace and mercy. What relief that fact should bring to a person, knowing that God has forgiven you all of your sins on account of Jesus Christ. That is the message that Paul was bringing to the Ephesians and that is the message that Paul brings to you today.

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord; we celebrate His being revealed to the Gentiles, that they would become God’s children by grace. We also celebrate His being revealed to us, that we would become God’s children by grace.

According to Matthew’s Gospel, God chose to reveal Jesus to the wise men via a star to follow, leading them to the Child. For St. Paul, he was intent on making sure that the churches to whom he visited or wrote to knew of “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” St. Paul understood well that salvation in Christ means wealth beyond compare or comprehension. No one can put a dollar sign on the riches that come to us in the Gospel. The riches are also unsearchable in that no human mind could ever have contrived God’s gracious plan of salvation. No one and nothing in all of God’s creation could reveal to us the eternal treasure of unconditional forgiveness of sins. Only the Creator of all things could reveal this wealth to us.

It is Paul’s privilege and passion to make plain to everyone that the sins of the world are taken away in Christ. Unlike the sweepstakes offer which tells us we may have already won, he announces that we have already won through the Savior.

For the Church today, God reveals Jesus to us in His means of grace: His Word and His Sacraments. This is where He promised that He would be found. However, for many, that’s not where they want to find Jesus. They want to find Jesus on the lake, in prosperity preaching, the promise of being good and receiving God’s good grace. That is why the Word of God is so important.

We cannot live as the people of God unless He has been revealed, that is, preached to us. Without His Word and Sacraments, not only would our Lord remain unrevealed to us, but His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation also would not have been given to us. Without faith in Christ, we would forever be unable to comprehend this mystery. Even with faith in Him, we are still unable to comprehend the mystery of the Incarnation. We finite creatures cannot comprehend an infinite God becoming true Man, coming hidden in a finite form. We are unable to understand how a virgin can conceive and bear a Son. We cannot begin to fathom how one who was crucified and dead can come back to life.

There is more to Epiphany than a lovely story though of wise men, of a great Old Testament prophecy fulfilled and of an energetic appeal of Paul to the Ephesians. Epiphany is not just to be remembered in the past tense. Epiphany is a present now.

Epiphany is now, even as Christ is now. He continues to come to His Church, to feed her with His precious Word and His saving body and blood. He continues to come to save and forgive His people. He continues to bring people to the cross as their Savior from sin. This is the message that St. Paul came preaching and this is the same message that is preached to the Church today. This is what the Church needs to hear; this is what you need to hear.

Now that the mystery has fully been revealed, we see that the whole message of Scripture was always about Jesus. Everything of the Old Testament pointed to Christ. The New Testament is all about the saving work of Christ. Paul, as a called apostle of Jesus Christ, was tasked with bringing this message of salvation to both Jew and Gentile alike. The salvation that God had promised Adam and Eve of so long ago was not meant solely for them, nor was it meant solely for the Jew. God intended this salvation to be for all peoples, regardless of who they are. This salvation that God grants on account of Jesus has been credited to you.

While we may not know all the ins and outs of this mystery, one thing of this mystery is clear: on account of Jesus Christ and His saving work, we have the forgiveness of our sins, case closed. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2013 in Epiphany, Sermons

 

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Epiphany 6–“Willing and Able” (Mark 1:40-45)

B-23 Epiphany 6 (Mk 1.40-45)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

When one reads through the accounts of Jesus, they will find numerous instances where we see Jesus teaching, either to the crowds or to the disciples. They will find several instances where Jesus is at a meal with a person or group of persons, again, often teaching. They will find numerous accounts of Jesus performing some sort of miracle. With most of His miracles comes some sort of teaching by Jesus, often through the miraculous act. As we read today’s account of Jesus and the leper, the theme is no different. We see Jesus perform a miracle and we also see teaching of Jesus.

Mark begins by telling us that a leper came to Jesus. You have to wonder how this leper made it this close to Jesus. By being a leper, he was ceremonially unclean and therefore banished from the city or town’s population until he became clean again. The Levitical law demanded that whenever they came near people, they had to cry out, “Unclean, unclean!” Should they ever experience healing, they were required to show themselves to the priests to determine whether they were actually healed or not.

The man who approached Jesus did not cry out, “Unclean,” and we can understand why. In his great distress, he did not want anyone to stop him from coming to the one he had recognized as being able to do what no one else could do, namely, heal him. Falling on his knees before Jesus, expressing his faith that Jesus had divine power and authority to heal and also expressing his own dire need, he cried out, “If you will, you can make me clean.” He acknowledged Christ’s power to heal but did not demand this gift from Him. Instead, he cast himself entirely on Christ’s mercy.

This leper is the complete opposite of us when it comes to Jesus. He leaves it up to Jesus to heal him. For us, we demand of God to provide for us. We look to God and Jesus as our personal dispenser of everything, granting to us whatever we want, whenever we want it. That is not how God works. Yes, “He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life,” as Luther says. But why does He do this? Luther continues, “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” What did Luther not say? He didn’t say that God does this because you up and demanded it from Him. He didn’t say that God does this because you asked in a nice tone of voice. Luther says that God does this apart from you, out of His “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.” You don’t even enter into that equation. This is all about God.

For the leper going to Jesus, he doesn’t ask Jesus to cleanse him. He doesn’t demand that Jesus cleanse him. He doesn’t bank on his past and speak of all that he has done for God. He doesn’t make promises about the future, promising to devote his life to Jesus. He merely states that Jesus has the power and authority to do so and waited for the mercy of Christ to be shown.

Jesus has mercy on those who are outcast and considered unclean. Throughout the Scriptures, we see Jesus come to the aid of those rejected by others. Jesus feeds the multitudes the disciples would have sent away. Jesus sits with sinners and eats with them. Jesus takes little children into His arms and blesses them, though they are considered a bother. Jesus comes to the home of Zacchaeus the tax collector, one who is greatly despised because of who he is and what he does, and still chooses to dine with him.

Jesus is willing to defile Himself for the sake of those He came to save. Jesus looks with mercy on the man with leprosy and with indignation on those who are complacent and judgmental. Jesus reached out beyond the climate of the society and touched the man with leprosy, even though this would have made Jesus ceremonially unclean. Jesus was not concerned for His own well-being or what others would think of Him. He brought His Word and often times His healing to the people, regardless of the consequences. Mark tells us, “And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” The cleansing process was not gradual. The disease fled as the words left Jesus’ lips.

In the same way that Jesus touches and heals the man with leprosy, Jesus touches and heals you immediately. You have been shown the mercy of Christ. Jesus touches us on the cross of Calvary, where He takes our sin and every disease upon Himself, where He defiles Himself for us, and where He becomes the outcast of God for our sake. Jesus touches you and shows you His mercy when God called you to be His own child in the waters of Holy Baptism. You were shown that mercy when you hear that your sins have been forgiven you. You were shown that mercy when our Lord gives to you His very body and blood for you to eat and drink which gives to you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. You were shown that mercy when our Lord went to the cross in order to redeem you, “a lost and condemned person, purchased and won [you] from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.”

By birth we share a common moral uncleanness. We were helpless to avoid the sin that separated us from the saved people of God. Daily we rebel against our Maker. Our sins are as real as the shiny white spots on the leper’s skin. We must cry out to God and the world that we are unclean, as did the lepers of old. The gracious mystery of the Christ is that He did not come to condemn us. Instead, He touched us. And with His Word and His Sacraments, He healed us and brought us back into communion with the Father and God’s people.

In stark contrast to a society and culture that separates itself from those they judge to be “unclean,” Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, steps out of heaven and into the lives of those in need and who are shunned by others. Jesus looks on those He came to save with mercy and compassion. He reaches out beyond the social norms, even at His own risk. Jesus dirties Himself – He defiles Himself – and He touches you. He heals you. He takes away your sin and blemish, presenting you to His Father and declaring you “clean.” In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Epiphany 5–“Bound and Free” (1 Corinthians 9:16-27)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Freedom is such a wonderful gift of God that we have. We are free to choose what clothes we wear. We are free to eat what we want. We are free to have children or not have children. We are free to come and go whenever we want, within reason, of course. In short, we are a very free people with the ability to do what we want. What we must realize is that this freedom that we enjoy comes from God, our loving Father.

St. Paul emphasizes that he is free. He says, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” At first glance, it appears that Paul is very confused at what he is saying. He is free, yet he is a servant. The question needs to be asked: can you be free and still be bound?

That is what is at the heart of Paul’s message. He is indeed free. He is not free in the sense that we might think. Paul is free, not on account of his status as a Roman citizen. He is not free on account of his skin color. He is not free on account of anything of his own doing. Paul is free on account of what Jesus Christ has done for him. He is free because Jesus has granted him the freedom from sin and death by His life, death, and resurrection.

While Paul is free, he claims that he has made himself “a servant to all.” He has done this for one reason and one reason only: to preach the Gospel. He is under orders to go and preach the Gospel. God had told Ananias before he baptized Paul, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” Paul had no choice but to be an apostle, but it was something he did willingly and gladly because of what the prize was: Jesus Christ.

While Paul was free and a servant at the same time, he was not under obligation to any person except Christ. He did not need to impress anyone. He was not bound to serve anyone except Christ. He had no allegiance to anyone except Christ. He was free yet he was a slave to Christ. Everything that Paul did was for Christ and His kingdom and His Gospel. He was charged with taking the Gospel to people and that is exactly what He did. Paul and his colleagues saw themselves as the Corinthians’ slaves for Christ. Theirs was a ministry of service, and by this humble approach, Paul sought to win as many as possible for the Gospel.

It is for that reason that Paul became “all things to all people.” When Paul became a Christian, he became a free man in Christ, free from all the laws and regulations that bound God’s people in the Old Testament. However, that did not stop him from practicing those Old Testament laws and regulations. To win the Jews, he lived like the Jews under the law, even though he was no longer obligated to do so because of Christ. He kept the Sabbath laws and observed the festival days; he followed the Old Testament regulations regarding the eating of foods; he observed the rite of circumcision all in order to win the Jews to Christ and the Gospel.

For the Gentiles, those outside the law, Paul became as one outside of the law. The Gentiles did not follow any of the ceremonial laws like the Jews did. Instead, they followed the natural law or moral law. His concern for the Gentiles was to convey to them that they did not have to feel that they should become Jewish in order to become Christians. That was different than what some were teaching. There were those within the Church that taught that if you wanted to become Christian, you must become a Jew or accept all the Jewish practices. That meant you had to become circumcised. You had to abstain from the eating of certain foods. You had to observe certain Jewish festivals, all in the name of being a Christian. What was ignored was the fact that a person was free to be circumcised or not circumcised; a person was free to eat or not eat certain foods because they had been set free by Christ.

Both Jewish and Gentile Christians were under the law of Christ. Both had the mind of Christ and sought to live upright, God-pleasing lives. Both Jewish and Gentile Christians live in Christ; their will is in accord with Christ’s will. Both want to do the will of God as expressed in the Ten Commandments, but both had different ways in coming to Christ.

For Paul, becoming all things to all people was what was necessary to win them to Christ. He did this without ever compromising Christ. Paul’s example of love and service is there for all who want to win others for Christ. He showed that each and every person, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, was important to Christ. He showed that he would do whatever was necessary to bring to them the Gospel of Christ which they so desperately needed. Paul knew just exactly how much the people needed Christ because he experienced firsthand how much he needed Christ. When Christ appeared to Paul, it was a life-changing experience like no other. He realized what he was doing to Christ and His Church. He realized that he lay outside of the Church and outside of Christ and His forgiveness. When the scales fell from his eyes, Paul was literally a changed man. He saw the mercy and love of Christ firsthand and his charge as an apostle was to spread the Gospel to all people. He would do what is God’s will to reach another person for Christ. In Christ, Paul became so free that he could give up his freedom to help someone else know God’s love and forgiveness.

His message to the Corinthians was one they needed to hear, as it is a message that all Christians are to hear. There is a prize to be won. The prize is nothing short than the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross. This prize is not like any other prize in this world. The prizes of this world pass away for they are perishable. They are here today, but gone tomorrow. The prize that Christ gives to you is the unfading glory of heaven and eternal salvation. The prize that Christ gives is forgiveness. The prize that Christ gives is Himself, for you.

This wonderful prize that Christ has to offer to you is yours for the mere price of your sins. Jesus gives to you this forgiveness in exchange for your sins. Your sins, washed away in the waters of Holy Baptism, just as was done for Olivia earlier. Your sins, forgiven you when you feast at the Lord’s Table.

It is because of Christ that you have been set free: set free from all sin and bondage to Satan. It is because of Christ that you are bound to Him: bound to Him through His life, death, and resurrection. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Epiphany 4B–“True Authority” (Mark 1:21-28)

B-21 Epiphany 4 (Mk 1.21-28)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Why is it that I am the only one who preaches here on a regular basis? Why is that the congregation not take turns to preach? It all comes down to who has authority to preach and who doesn’t. As we look at our Gospel reading, we see Jesus entering the synagogue and begin teaching. But there is one problem with this picture: Jesus does not have the authority to teach in the synagogue because He is not one of the teachers of the Law. As far as authority goes, he has as much authority as the next Jewish male to begin teaching, which is none. As Mark records for us, “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” What Jesus’ specific message was on this particular Sabbath, Mark does not tell us; he does tell us about the impression His preaching made on the worshipers. They were amazed, for Jesus did not teach as the teachers of the Law. They always appealed to the interpretations of past rabbis and were particularly adept at breaking down God’s Word into any number of legalistic regulations. Jesus instead always proclaimed the Gospel of God. He quoted no experts but proclaimed the good news on His own authority.

What did that say about the teaching of the scribes? What was at the heart of their teaching if it wasn’t the Gospel? Imagine the scribes when they heard Jesus teaching. What a humbling experience that must have been, or rather, should have been. Remember what was at the heart of their teaching: adherence to the Law in order to bring about salvation. Again, without knowing what Jesus said or taught, you can only imagine that it was not, “If you keep this law and that law, then you will be saved.” Rather, I imagine that the message of Jesus was all about the forgiveness that comes through the gracious mercy of God.

It is solely the authority of God that brings about salvation. It is not the authority of man. It surely was not the authority of the scribes and their strict adherence of the Law, or at least strict adherence in their own eyes. They were the ones who were trained to know what the Scriptures said. However, merely knowing what the Scriptures say and teaching what they say are two different things. One has the authority of man attached to it and the other has the authority of God.

It is no wonder that Jesus taught as one who had authority because He WAS the authority. As the very Son of God, everything that the Scriptures spoke of concerning the Messiah were fulfilled in Him. Every prophecy, every mention of salvation was the result of Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah.

Not only had the people gathered realized that Jesus had authority, so did a particular man with an unclean spirit. He called Jesus out on the spot, telling everyone who He was: “I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” For Jesus, the cat was out of the bag. His identity had been revealed to everyone who was there, whether He wanted it known or not. Jesus was just beginning His ministry. He had just begun to call His disciples as we remember from last week’s Gospel reading. Even there we see Jesus exercising His authority when all He has to say is “Come, follow me” and Simon, Andrew, James, and John immediately leave their boats and what they were doing to follow Jesus.

The time had not come and it was not right that the true identity of Jesus be revealed, and so He commands the demon, “Be silent, and come out of him.” As Mark records for us, the demon obeyed and left the man. Why did the demon leave the man so quickly? Why didn’t he try to put up a fight and retain his hold on this man? The answer was because Jesus had the authority and the demon did not. Jesus has all authority as He says in Matthew, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The words which Jesus spoke were words that commanded authority. They commanded authority because they were not His own words, but they were the words of God. They were the words of promise; they were the words of forgiveness.

Those who were gathered recognized that there was something new to the teaching of Jesus. His teaching was not the same as that of the scribes and rabbis. They recognized that what He taught had authority behind it. It wasn’t made up of fluff, of things that didn’t matter. Those people had heard the Word of God and now here they were confronted with the Word of God made flesh for them. They were amazed at the authority of His words and His work. It was teaching that was focused on the Word of God, with the authority of God behind it. Why did it have the authority of God behind it? Because Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh.

This authority that Jesus Christ asserts over the demon, the authority that He uses to teach in the synagogue, the authority that He uses in performing miracles; in short, the authority that He asserts throughout His life and ministry is the authority as the very Son of God.

As Jesus speaks, we see His authority in action. As Jesus speaks, something happens. Jesus speaks to the blind and they receive sight. Jesus speaks and the lepers are cleansed. Jesus speaks and the lame walk. Jesus speaks and the thief on the cross enters paradise. Jesus speaks, “It is finished,” and your sins are forgiven. It is that blessed Word of God that has such great power and authority.

Even today, we see that authority of God’s Word at work as Gary/Jude came to the waters of Holy Baptism and was made a child of God. What was it that made this possible and earned him that forgiveness? As Luther says, “Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word, the water is plain water and no Baptism.” It is God’s Word that gives it authority.

God’s Word is the final authority. In our case, God’s Word does not cause evil spirits to come out of us. Instead, they are words with the authority to restore. Three words, “I forgive you,” from the mouth of God, dispel all gloom and sadness and bring on joy and gladness. It is joy and gladness in knowing that we have been bought by the blood of Jesus Christ, that all of our sins have been forgiven, and that we have been given life eternal with Jesus Christ. There lies true authority: authority of Jesus Christ to forgive and to make holy. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Epiphany 3–“Repent, Believe, & Follow” (Mark 1:14-20)

B-20 Epiphany 3 (Mk 1.14-20)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

The clock and calendar dictate much of our behavior. It’s time to eat; time for the news; time for school; time to go to work; time to start working on taxes. The new year has already lost its magic glow as our new year resolutions have already been broken. Time is the eternal taskmaster and everything must take place at the appointed time or else everything falls apart.

Jesus too follows time and follows it to the letter. Everything He does happens at exactly the right time, not a moment before or a moment after. What occurs in our text is no different. Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Did you catch the first command Jesus gives in Mark’s Gospel? First, He says the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. The time has come; not a moment too early and not a moment too late. Then comes Jesus’ command: repent. Repent is the first thing Jesus tells people to do. That word becomes the key word whenever He meets someone. It’s kind of a summary of what He taught, what He preached, what He wanted His miracles to bring about in people’s lives.

When Jesus uses the word repent, He is calling people to turn away from anything that leads away from Him and to turn instead toward Him. What difficult thing repentance is, to turn away from what is contrary to the Word of God. Just what exactly is contrary to the Word of God? In short, the world. What the world teaches and preaches often runs contrary to God’s Word. The world says it’s okay to do any number of things that the Word of God condemns. It’s is so difficult for us to abide by God’s Word when we are told by the world that what we’re doing is okay. But regardless of what the world says, God’s Word is the ultimate authority and Jesus says to repent. That’s not the only command Jesus issues. His second command is believe. Believe not just anything, but believe in Jesus. Trust Him. Turn toward Him. Hold on to Him.

Repent and believe is the heart of Jesus’ message when He speaks or does something. He says and does much more, but this is the gist, the summary, the heart of His ministry: repent and believe. Repent of sin. Believe, for He has come to remove it. And He will!

The time had been fulfilled with the coming of Jesus. Since Jesus arrived on the scene, the prophecies from the Old Testament were fulfilled in Him. All of history now hinges on what Jesus would do. And what exactly would Jesus do? He would come to live a perfect life for you because you live an imperfect life. He would come to die a sinner’s death even though He was sinless. He would rise again to eternal life in order to give you eternal life. This is what Jesus would come and do and this is what Jesus did for you. He did it, the action is already done. There is nothing to be done on your part because Christ has already done it. The only thing Jesus requires of you is to repent and believe.

Jesus calls for us to repent. He says to take responsibility for what you have done wrong. We call that confession, coming before Him with repentant hearts seeking His forgiveness. That is why we confess our sins each week, turning away from the sin in our lives and turning toward the forgiveness that Jesus gives. But we don’t just confess our sins on Sunday, as if we have only sinned that morning. We need to confess our sins daily for we sin daily. We need to turn away from our sinful lives and turn to Jesus and His forgiveness daily.

Jesus issues a third command in our text, one that He issues to Simon, Andrew, James and John: “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” There, Jesus calls them to become His disciples. That same command Jesus gave to them He gives to you as well. In your Baptism, He calls you and says, “Follow me.” We follow Jesus, not out of compulsion or a sense of righteousness on our part, but we follow Christ because of the mercy that He has shown us. We follow Christ; we become His disciples because of what Jesus has done for us. We follow Him to the cross where we see Him take our sin upon Himself, giving to us His righteousness. We follow Christ as He proclaims eternal victory over sin, death, and the devil on account of His life, death, and resurrection. We follow Christ to our heavenly Father, who sent His only begotten Son to restore His creation to what it was meant to be: holy and perfect.

This command of Jesus to follow Him is not a command that is to be taken lightly. To follow Jesus means first of all to subordinate everything to the Lord. Give yourself, your heart, mind, and soul to Jesus.

To follow the Lord also means that one will strive to simulate the Savior in all His ways, to be holy! St. Peter writes, “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ; that is, we should love and forgive unconditionally, just as St. Paul writes, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Finally, to follow Christ means to share the work of Christ. This point receives a mighty emphasis in Jesus’ statement, “I will make you become fishers of men.” The preaching of the Gospel was Jesus’ highest priority. His Gospel was more important than eating and drinking, than healing and miracles, than any personal comfort. The Gospel is this: Believe in Jesus, who suffered your hell in your place, and you will be saved. Jesus was determined to fulfill that Gospel and to proclaim that Gospel to sinners. His followers will share that commitment throughout their lives.

Today, our Lord calls to you. He calls you to “repent and believe in the gospel.” He calls you to repentance out of the love that God the Father has for you, His beloved creation. He calls you to repentance out of the love that He showed for you on the cross when He took upon Himself all of your sins. He calls you to believe with the faith granted to you in your Baptism through the work of the Holy Spirit. He calls you to believe in the promises that He has made to you and for you, promises such as, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also,” and “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Our Lord calls you to follow Him. As baptized believers, we follow Him from death to everlasting life. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Transfiguration of Our Lord – “Changing Lives” (Matt. 17:1-9)

A-26 Transfiguration (Mt 17.1-9)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? From the celebration of the Epiphany of our Lord to today, the Transfiguration of Our Lord, we have experienced something that we won’t experience again for another 27 years, or until 2038: we celebrate the entire season of Epiphany. That means we have heard some texts from Scripture that share more of what the Church was like at the time of Christ and shortly there-after: it was rough. It was ugly. It was not what we would think of the Church as being. During the time of Christ, there were groups who sought to put our Lord to death because He made what they thought to be heretical claims, such as being the Son of God and dying and rising from the dead three days later. For Paul, some 25 or so years later, we hear how the Church of Corinth was slowly tearing itself apart from the inside out, setting up faction against faction. Some of the other churches which Paul either visited or formed began to throw out the teachings of Christ and reverting to their previous ways, or accepting the worship of idols and the like as part of their worship. This was the Church, in all of its glory. Praise be to God that this was not a picture of the entire Christian Church, but it was a picture of what can happen when the Church moves away from Christ. But when the Church is firmly rooted in Christ, then it is life-changing.

Today in our Gospel reading, we experience an event that was life-changing. Our text begins: “After six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”

Jesus had just begun to show His disciples that God’s plan for Him as the Christ will take Him to Jerusalem to suffer and die and rise to eternal life. Instead of taking all of the disciples with Him, Jesus chose to take with Him Peter, James, and John. Sometimes referred to as the Three because they were present with Jesus on special occasions, such as this and again in the Garden of Gethsemane, these men were present when a life-changing event took place. They saw the transfigured Jesus, that is, the Jesus who shone with glory “like the sun.” His clothes became white as light. What occurred to Jesus’ appearance and form was as drastic a change as a caterpillar becoming a butterfly or a tadpole becoming a frog. Here, in this moment, Jesus was allowing some of the splendor of His divine nature to show through.

Indeed, Jesus had told His disciples repeatedly that He was God, and He had demonstrated that fact through the performance of miracles. Yet, here He is making a very visible statement about His divinity. There, Peter, James and John stood before Christ in all of His divine glory. If the Three had any doubts before of who Jesus was, this was all the convincing they needed. But it didn’t stop there. Before their eyes stood Moses and Elijah: Moses, the man of God through whom the Law was delivered on stone tablets. And with him was Elijah, representing the prophets who foretold of the coming Savior, and who endured the worst of times among God’s people. And finally, to top it off, they were overshadowed in a cloud and heard the voice of God. Jesus’ disciples were not dreaming. They actually saw two individuals who had died centuries before this time. How Peter, James, and John were able to correctly identify these two people as Moses and Elijah we are not told. But these disciples were experiencing a little glimpse of heaven. Their lives were changing right before their eyes.

Peter, experiencing this life-changing event wanted to build shelters there on the mountain because he didn’t want the experience to end. Maybe he had the idea that eventually Israel and even the whole world could come to this mountain top and worship the Lord.  Peter did not understand that there was an even greater mountain top experience waiting in the future.

But that wasn’t the only life being changed on the mountain. The life of Jesus was being changed as well.

Within about nine months, Jesus would enter into the depths of His humiliation by being arrested, mocked, tortured, cruelly executed on a cross, and buried in a tomb. Above all this, He had told his disciples that He would triumph by rising from the dead. His transfiguration certainly authenticated that claim. His life would forever be changed at His Transfiguration as He begins to set His eyes to Jerusalem, where lives would forever be changed, including yours and mine.

As Jesus sets His eyes to Jerusalem, lives are about to change. The disciples’ lives would be forever changed when their Friend, their Leader, would be led to the cross and die. The lives of the Pharisees and Sadducees would be changed because Public Enemy #1 was no longer interfering in their lives and their teachings and so they could go back to business as usual. Your life would be forever changed because of the sacrificial act of Jesus Christ on your behalf.

The Transfiguration on this mountain points God’s creation to another mountain-top experience: Calvary. There, we see the extent of the love of God for us: the sacrifice of His one and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. There, on the cross of Christ, your life was changed forever. At that moment, your sins became Christ’s sins and His righteousness became your righteousness. What should have damned us has been taken from us. That which is not deserved, that is, Christ’s holiness, was given to us.

Lives continue to be changed even today when we heed the words of God spoken to Peter, James, and John: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him. Why is it so important to listen to the words of Jesus? There are many other words that we could listen to that sound just as good. But we listen to the words of Jesus because of the promises which He gives to us. He gives to us great words of comfort when He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He gives to us the great promise following His resurrection: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Just as Jesus spoke to the Three, He speaks to us as well: “Rise, and have no fear.” There is no reason we should fear. We know that all of the promises made to us by God have been fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As we prepare for our journey to Calvary, we make ready for another mountain-top experience. On that mountain Jesus will express the inner most being of God in sweat and blood, pain and suffering, and, ultimately death and burial.  It is through that suffering and death on the cross that Jesus earned our salvation.  It is through that suffering and death on the cross that Jesus took away our sin and replaced it with His righteousness.  It is Jesus working through the cross who offers us forgiveness, life, and salvation.  It is Jesus who takes away the burden of our sin and makes it possible for us to stand in the presence of God.  It is the glory of Christ on the cross that gives the glory of eternal life to us, glory manifested at His Transfiguration and fully shown to us on the cross where He won for us the forgiveness of our sins. In Jesus name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2011 in Epiphany, Sermons, Transfiguration

 

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Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany

A-24 Epiphany 8 (Mt 6.24-34)

O Lord, mercifully hear our prayers and having set us free from the bonds of our sins deliver us from every evil; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Readings

Isaiah 49:8-16a
1 Corinthians 4:1-13
Matthew 6:24-34

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2011 in Church Year, Epiphany

 

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