January 16, 2022 Sermon

Ephesians 3:14-21

 

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Some of you might know a Grandmother, or an aunt, who just delights in giving things. If they have you for a meal, the food seems never ending. It seems that their greatest fear in life is running out of something. We used to say in our family, they make enough to feed the Russian army. And they aren’t happy unless they can send a week’s worth of food home with you when you leave. Every time you visit them, they try to give you things, knickknacks, dishes, they just aren’t happy unless they can give you something to take with you when you leave.

God is like that. He delights in being able to give us good things. But unlike a grandmother or an aunt, he never runs out of good things to give us. Because he is the almighty and all loving God he is able, and often does, give us more than we ask of him, more than we could even imagine.

We heard John tell us about Jesus’ first miracle. He, his mother and his disciples had been invited to a wedding in Cana in Galilee. It would seem that the family of the bride or groom, or both we either family, or close friends. Unlike our wedding celebrations today, the celebrations back then could last for days, even a whole week. Before the celebration was over, the wine ran out. After Mary alerts Jesus to the embarrassing situation their host was facing, Jesus provides wine in a miraculous way. But did you catch that Jesus provided more than anyone could have asked or imagined?

The jars that Jesus asked to be filled with water held 20-30 gallons each, and there were six of them. They filled them to the brim. Jesus turned 120 to 180 gallons of water into wine. That was a lot of wine! And the master of the banquet points out that Jesus didn’t make ripple. The wine Jesus made was good wine, the kind you would serve your guests first. Jesus delighted in giving this bride and groom and their families more than even Mary could have asked or imagined he would.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, and for all believers, all saints, of all time is that they and we would realize this about God. He delights in giving us more than we ask, more than we can even imagine.

You know this from experience. You pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God would give you daily bread. But how does he answer that prayer! He has given you a lot more than daily bread. He has given you steak and cake, a lot more than just bread. He has given you refrigerators and freezers and pantries full of food. You have plenty of food for weeks, a lot more than you could possibly eat in one day. God delights in giving you more than you ask.

But the focus of what Paul is talking about here is not food, or clothing, or anything material. His focus is on spiritual things like faith and love.

It’s easy for us, sinful humans that we are, to wonder if God really does love us. As we look around at all the terrible things we see happening in the world, we wonder about God and his love. When something bad happens to us directly we are quick to wonder if God really loves us. We are quick to think, “If God really does love me, why is this happening to me?” Paul may have struggled with that question himself as he was writing to the Ephesians from prison. After all, he had been put in prison simply because he was doing what God had told him to do. How is that loving?

Yet, from prison, Paul prays, I pray that you would be able to comprehend, along with all the saints, how wide and long and high and deep his love is. He has no doubt that God still loves him, even while he is suffering because he is serving God. He highlights a problem we have when we doubt God’s love for us. The problem is that we are focused on just a tiny spot in the whole picture of God’s love for us. We want to say to God, “unless you do this one thing for me you must not love me.” But God’s love is not focused on just one thing in our lives. His love for us reaches all the way back to eternity, and it reaches all the way forward to the end of our earthly lives and beyond. His love encompasses all of history. It takes into consideration not just our life, but the lives of all people, and especially of all the saints, or all believers of all time. Paul’s prayer is that, even though we can’t fully comprehend how great his love is as long as we are in our sinful human state, because the love of Christ surpasses knowledge– his prayer is that we would comprehend it more and more as we continue to grow in our faith and knowledge of God.

How do we grow in our faith and knowledge of God so that we can more fully comprehend how great his love is for us? Paul prays that God would strengthen us with power through his Spirit. The Spirit that he prays would strengthen us works through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. So, we grow in our faith and knowledge and comprehend God’s love for us more and more as we read and study the Bible at home, as we hear the word and receive the sacrament together with our fellow believers in worship. We grow in our faith and knowledge and comprehend God’s love for us more and more as we hear over and over again, ( and we need to hear it over and over again because our sinful nature finds all kinds of reasons to doubt), that there is no greater love that anyone can show than to give up their lives for others. And that’s exactly what Jesus did. He gave up his perfect life in heaven to come down to earth and give up his physical life for us. And he did it while we were sinners, even though we don’t deserve it, even though we didn’t love him, and still often doubt his love for us. We comprehend the greatness of God’s love for us more and more as we are reminded again and again of what he has done to save us.

As great as God’s love is for us, if it’s just a feeling, if it’s only words, if it’s not connected to power and action, it doesn’t do us much good. That’s why Paul reminds us that not only does his love for us surpass knowledge, but his power does too. He reminds us that God can certainly do whatever we ask of him. Nothing is impossible for God. But, Paul says, our minds are so limited that we can’t even imagine the things that God is able to do for us.

Think of some of the things he has done – He spoke light into existence, even before he created the sun, moon and stars. He created all that exists out of nothing, and he did it in six days. He could have done it in six seconds if he wanted to. He divided the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites. He knocked down the walls of Jericho. He caused the sun to stand still for Joshua. He protected the three men in the furnace and so that not a hair was singed, and they didn’t even smell like smoke. He raised Jesus from the dead. He enabled the apostles to speak in languages they had never studied. And each day, as people hear the gospel of Jesus and are baptized, he causes the light of faith to shine in their formerly dark hearts and gives them a second birth, a spiritual birth. That’s both his greatest, and often most overlooked miracle of all.

Both God’s love for us and his power surpass our knowledge. We can’t fully grasp how much he loves us, nor can we even imagine all he can do for us. Since that’s the case, ask away. There isn’t anything you ask of him that he can’t do. There isn’t anything good that you ask of him that he doesn’t want to give you. So, our sinful nature says, “ok, how about lots of money? How about healing from sickness, a long life, world peace?”

Remember what John says, this is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. Did you catch it? According to his will, remembering that not only are his love and power infinite, but so is his wisdom and knowledge. His thoughts are always higher than our thoughts. He sees the whole picture and knows how granting our request will affect our life and our faith. So, in love, he will not do anything that he knows would be bad for us, especially that would be bad for our faith. The will of God is always best.

Even more than a generous grandmother or aunt, God delights in giving us good things, giving us more than we ask and certainly more than we deserve. He proved the extent of his love for us by sending his one and only son to this earth to save us. As we consider the heavens and the complexity of our bodies, we marvel at his great wisdom and power. We realize that we can’t even imagine all that he is able to do for us. As a result, we join Paul in saying, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.

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2022-1-16 Worship Folder

2022-1-16 Morning Prayer

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January 9, 2022 Sermon

Luke 3:15ff

 

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Transformers – more than meets the eye. Looks can be deceiving. Things are not always what they seem. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. These are just a few of the phrases that came to my mind as I thought about our theme for today. What the eye sees differs from what God decrees.

How does that apply to John the Baptizer? Well, John attracted a lot of eyes. To the naked eye he looked like what people thought the prophet Elijah must have looked like. The Bible says that Jerusalem, all of Judea, and all the region around the Jordan were going out to him. Many were convinced that he was a prophet from God, which he was. This was especially exciting for God’s people because there had been a famine of the word of God. In other words, God had not sent a prophet to his people for hundreds of years. No one living at the time had seen or heard one.

John was a big deal. But how big of a deal was he? Luke tells us that they were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Christ. They were expecting, hoping, praying that God would fulfill his promise and send the Messiah. To many, John looked like he might just be the one.

But what the eye sees differs from what God decrees. What had God decreed about John?

His father Zechariah prophesied about him, you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, because you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of God’s tender mercies, by which the Rising Sun from on high will visit us, to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Jesus and the Gospel writers call him the voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” the one foretold by Isaiah the prophet.

John was a part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Messiah, but he was not the Messiah. And he humbly understood and accepted the role God had given him. He very clearly told the crowds who were wondering if he might be the Christ, I am not the Christ. He did all he could to divert the eyes of the people who were looking for the Messiah away from himself. He said, “I baptize you with water. But someone mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. If you think I’m great, wait until you see the real Prophet, the Messiah. He is so much greater than I am that I’m not worthy to perform the lowliest task of a servant for him. He may have reminded them that the Messiah was to be a prophet like Moses, one who did amazing miracles, but he, John, didn’t do any miracles. And John’s humble acceptance of his role continued when Jesus started to become more popular than he was and he responded by saying, he must become greater, I must become less.

To the human eye, John and his successful work of calling people to repentance and baptizing probably thousands looked so great that some thought he was the coming Messiah. But the decree of God was that he only prepare the way for the Messiah.

John really built up the one coming after him in the eyes of those who heard him. He would be infinitely greater than John. He would baptize people with the Holy Spirit and fire. He existed before John was born, in fact, from all eternity. He would clean out his threshing floor. He will gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. A clear reference to being the judge of all on the Last day, gathering believers to himself like wheat, but sending the unbelievers off like chaff to the unending fires of hell.

How would you picture someone who is described in that way? Maybe 6’ 6”, solid muscle, with a voice like James Earl Jones, and a strange glow of power surrounding him?

You can imagine the consternation of most when John pointed to Jesus and said, “there he is. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There’s the one I’ve been telling you about. The Messiah.”

What? That 30-year-old carpenter from Nazareth? He doesn’t look like someone who can baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He doesn’t look like a miracle worker who will one day judge the world. From Nazareth! Nathaniel said it, Nazareth, can anything good come from there? Just as Isaiah had foretold, He had no attractiveness and no majesty. When we saw him, nothing about his appearance made us desire him. He was despised and rejected by men… Like someone whom people cannot bear to look at, he was despised, and we thought nothing of him.

What did the eyes see when they looked at Jesus? A very ordinary man, a carpenter from Nazareth who had no power or wealth, no army, and very few followers. But what did God decree?

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. While he was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with you.

God decreed that this 30-year-old carpenter from Nazareth was more than meets the eye. He is in fact Immanuel, God’s Son from all eternity. He is not just a man, but the perfect man, one with whom the father could be well pleased, one who had lived hi whole life without sin. And he made it clear that he was the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one, by having the Holy Spirit descend on him, designating him, as anointing did in the Old Testament, as our Prophet, Priest and King and ordaining him for his public ministry. Soon he would begin preaching and teaching, performing amazing miracles, even raising the dead. After a few years he would look even less like the Messiah as he would be crowned with thorns and nailed to a cross. But again, God would decree that he is the Son whom he loves, with whom he is well pleased, by raising him from the dead on Easter.

None of this should surprise us. Our first reading for today shows us that even the great Prophet Samuel had to learn that what the eye sees often differs from what God decrees. Of all of Jesse’s sons, David looked like the least likely to be the one who would replace Saul as king. But God decreed that he was the one and Samuel anointed him.

It shouldn’t surprise us then that God still works this way. What does the eye see in baptism? Plain old ordinary water, and often a helpless, crying child. But what does God decree? He decrees, you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Indeed, as many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. He decrees, do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him by this baptism into his death, so that just as he was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too would also walk in a new life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection. He decrees, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call.” He decrees, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the body but the guarantee of a good conscience before God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Wow! The eye sees simple water. But the ear hears the powerful word of God attached to the water, which makes baptism the washing of rebirth and the renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs in keeping with the hope of eternal life.

  What the eye sees differs from what God decrees. The one who looked to the eye to be a lowly carpenter from Nazareth is decreed by God to be his beloved Son, our Savior, Immanuel, God with us. What looks like plain old water, when combined with God’s powerful word and promise, is decreed to be a means of grace, a washing of rebirth and renewal through which the Holy Spirit works to bring us to saving faith in Jesus. What we see in the mirror every day is a chief of sinners, but God decrees us a saint, robed in the righteousness of Jesus, washed not just by the water of Baptism, but through it, washed in the blood of Jesus his Son that has cleansed us from all our sins.

May we learn from Jesus’ baptism to always trust what God decrees more than what our eyes see. Only then will we get to see him as he really is, our glorious Lord and Savior.

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