The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Pastor Simek

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany at Hope, Jerseyville

2/3/19

“A Word of Authority”

Sermon Text: Luke 4:31-44

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

A good mentor is an invaluable thing. You can’t put a price on having someone take you under their wing, teach you the best of what they know, and continue to be there and support you as you follow in their footsteps, striving to be as good as they are. I feel like I have a number of great mentor pastors: one I look up to as a preacher, another as a teacher, several in terms of personal and pastoral care, and another I turn to in crisis. I learn and try to take the best from all of them and from the best of my seminary professors. They have all molded, shaped, and formed me into the pastor I am and continue to do so. Perhaps you have people like that in your life as well, people you look up to and try to imitate. Really, you almost have to. Very few people, if any, are great on their own without someone to mentor them or inspire and influence them. Without others, we likely would not amount to much.

For me, as a pastor, this is doubly so. What I do as a pastor, I do not do on my own. I do not preach by my own authority, I do not baptize or celebrate the Sacrament of my own accord, and I do not forgive sins by my own righteousness. I do these things as a called and ordained servant of the Word and by His authority, in the stead and by the command of Christ. And thanks be to God for that because if we really look at our power and authority as humans, we have very little.

We only have power and authority over those things which are below us: our children, (at least until they grow up,) our employees or trainees and those below us in the pecking order at work, dogs, cats, and animals (as God gives us dominion over them at creation), other inanimate objects (we can decide what we wear each day and maybe what or how much we eat), but that is about it.

We don’t really have power and authority over the earth, certainly not the weather, otherwise temperatures this week would have been drastically different. And we might have authority over certain people, but certainly not control, especially not over children. Really, we only have limited control over ourselves. We don’t chose when we do and do not get sick or have a fever or how high that fever gets.

We even have limited control and will-power over our actions and we find ourselves over-eating or eating things we shouldn’t because they taste good. And so we do things that we know we shouldn’t because we think they will make us happy. We really don’t want to sin. We don’t want to covet, but we still think it would be nice to have just a little more. We don’t want to lie or bend the truth, but maybe we bend the truth for self-preservation, so we don’t get in trouble. We don’t want to get angry with other people, but I can only tolerate so much, my patience only goes so far. I don’t want to yell at my mother and dishonor her, but how many times is she going to do that thing that I hate that really gets on my nerves.

And I immediately regret it. I get bloated when I over-eat. I give thanks for the things I have. I come clean and tell the truth. I apologize for yelling and getting angry, but I can’t help it. I do the very thing I hate because I have no control.

I have no control over myself and my sin, and I certainly have no control over death. We can’t decide who lives and who dies. We don’t get to choose when a person passes away or how it happens. That is out of our control. And we have no control over the devil. We can’t limit his power and the temptations he puts before us. We don’t get to tell him that he can only go this far and no farther. We cannot keep him from leading us into false belief and other great shame and vice. And we have no power and authority over hell and who is condemned and who is saved. We are not in control.

But Jesus is a different story. Jesus has no great mentor or teacher, but he comes preaching and teaching as one with authority. He doesn’t quote Moses or the Prophets, calling on their authority and the authority of the Torah. He is the authority. He is the Word. He is the Scriptures and all the Scriptures testify to Him. He doesn’t forgive in the stead or by the command of someone else, but He does it because of who He is.

He rebukes the fever of Simon’s mother-in-law and it immediately goes away. He is the one who lays hands on the sick and diseased and heals them. He is the one who rebukes the demons and commands them to leave and they obey. He even is the one who those very same demons confess to be “the Holy One of God,” and “the Son of God.”

He is the one who has power and authority over sin, death, hell, and the devil. He is the one who lets Himself be nailed to the cross to die. He is the one who descends into hell not out of obedience to hell, but in order to proclaim His victory and show that hell itself cannot hold Him. He is the one who rises from the dead, overcomes all the power of sin, death, hell, and the devil, and proclaims His victory on earth for forty days before ascending into heaven to sit on His throne of victory and power at the right hand of God.

And He is the one who comes to you today. He is the one whose word you hear that forgives you all of your sins. It is His body and His blood which is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins for you to eat and drink and be in communion with Him. He is the King of glory, the everlasting Son, who upholds earth and heaven, who is with you. He is the one who fights for you and with you throughout all your days and burdens, through every sickness, disease, and assault of the devil. He is the one who has claimed you as His own so that even though you have no power over your sin, death, and eternal fate, He commands them on your behalf. He wipes away your sin with His blood. He dies your death that it may not hurt you. He rises from the dead to give eternal life to you and all believers, and there is no one with greater power or authority to say otherwise. It is by Christ’s authority, all authority in heaven and on earth, and by His power, and by His work that you are saved. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Pastor Simek

 The Third Sunday after the Epiphany at Hope, Jerseyville

1/27/19

“The Word for All”

Sermon Text: Luke 4:16-30

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

We have the tale of two tapes in our readings today. In the Old Testament, Ezra brings forth the Book of the Law of Moses, the Torah and reads it to the assembly gathered in Jerusalem “from early morning until midday in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law… And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

On the other hand, Jesus reads a few verses from the book of Isaiah, retells a few Old Testament events and “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.

Two different groups of people hear the same Word of God and have two totally different reactions. The Israelites hear of God’s saving and preserving work throughout Genesis and the Exodus as He delivered His people out of slavery, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land and they lift up their hands and rejoice. The Jews hear that the year of the Lord’s favor is upon them, that Elijah saved the widow of Zarephath and her son and Elisha cleansed Naaman of his leprosy and they lift up their hands to seize Jesus and throw Him off a cliff. The same Word of God revealing His mercy and grace, the same truth of God, yet two totally, radically different responses.

And the same is true of people today. Some people will hear of God’s gift of marriage between husband and wife, the two become one flesh, joined together in a fruitful union that brings forth children, new life from the moment of conception and will lift up their hands and rejoice and give thanks to God for His good and wonderful gifts. Others will lift up their hands to tear down such a union as toxic and restrictive, rejecting God’s concept of life for their own, seeking to put children to death in their mother’s womb up until the point of birth as the new New York state law permits. And this notion of life is not just in the church versus outside the church, but there is even an “other-kind-of-Lutheran” pastor who has said that life does not begin at conception, but at breath.

And these differences don’t just exist in versus out of the church or between denominations of the church either, but even within the Lutheran church, even within our own church, here, and what is more, even within our own selves. We, too, are torn, from one week to another, from one hour to another. One Sunday morning we are eager and excited to jump out of bed and come to Bible class and worship. The next week we are not quite so excited and just can’t seem to drag ourselves out of bed.

In one moment we find ourselves dropping everything to help a stranger and, throwing caution to the wind, telling them about the love of God in Christ Jesus. The next moment, we can’t walk far enough around the person on the street corner, or we are rolling up our windows and locking the car door because we made eye-contact and they might ask me for help. We have the same sort of saint/sinner reactions within us causing us to rejoice and rebel at God’s Word at what seems like the very same time, a hand raised in praise and a fist raised in wrath.

It is almost a perfect picture of our Old Adam and our New Man struggling within us and the two, so radically different reactions and feelings that we have show us just how radically different and opposed these two are and how fierce the struggle is within us as our Old, sinful, Adam clings to us while we seek to be a New, saintly, Man in Christ. So people, even we, both despise God’s Word and fervently seek it. We both hate it and love it as it brings about in us both wrath and rejoicing.

It is because that Word of God which is read, proclaimed, and incarnate is what puts our Old Adam and our sinful self to death and gives life to our New Man in Christ. So we seek to flee from it, fearing that it will put us to death, fearing that it will tell us something we won’t like, fearing it will hurt us and call us a sinner. Yet we also seek and desire to hear it because we know that it is the very thing that gives us new life, eternal life.

That is what the Word of God does. It kills and makes alive. That is what happened to the Word, to Jesus. He endured the weight and burden and punishment of the Law. He showed us what it looks like to be put to death by the Law. He died to the Law on the cross and we want no part of that death, but it is that very death that gives us life. Apart from that death, there is no life. And so we must be crucified with Christ, put to death, killing our Old Adam, drowning him in Baptism and drowning him by daily contrition and repentance along with all sins and evil desires so that we might be raised with Christ.

So Christ is raised from the dead and we are raised from our baptismal waters and our New Man emerges and arises daily to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Death and resurrection, a stark, radical change. So of course it is going to be met with stark and radical opposition and rejoicing, but it doesn’t change the Word and it doesn’t change the need to hear it.

This Word, the death and resurrection of Jesus, is for you. It is delivered to you, carried out in you, changing you every time you hear it proclaimed, every time I stand before you as God’s called and ordained servant and tell you, in the stead and by  the command of God, “You’re sins are forgiven,” it is done. And every time you eat and drink this bread and wine that is Christ’s body and blood, you are made a partaker and participant in His death and resurrection, you are killed and brought to life, your sins are forgiven.

And this Word, this Jesus who is proclaimed and delivered, who kills and brings life, is not just for you and He is not just for those in the church, but He is for the widow in a far off land, even as far as Zarephath, and He is for the enemy commander, even a Syrian. In fact, these are the very people who need this Word most. The ones who are as likely to lift their hands against you in wrath as they are to rejoice are the ones who need this Word. They need Jesus. The poor need good news proclaimed to them. The captives need liberty. The blind need sight. Those oppressed need to be set free. Those who are still dead in their trespasses and sins need new life. They need to hear of the year of the Lord’s favor, of His grace, His mercy, and His peace.

They may not know it. They may reject it. They may be as likely to raise their hands against you or spit in your face for telling them about it, but they are in need as they struggle just as you are in need as you struggle and fight. But the Word brings peace. Jesus brings favor and liberty. Jesus sets you free from sin and death that you need not live according to your Old Adam, but according to your New Man to whom He has given life. You are free to live eternally in Christ in holiness and righteousness forever. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Pastor Simek

 The Second Sunday after the Epiphany at Hope, Jerseyville

1/20/19

“God, Our Bridegroom, Speaks”

Sermon Text: Isaiah 62:1-5

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

Some of you may know this about my wife and I and others may not, but we dated for six years before we got married. We were only sixteen when we started dating, and the first two years we were together, we went to different high schools. The next four years, we went to different colleges, about 600 miles apart. And actually, after getting married, we still lived apart for three months while Nicole finished her student teaching and I was beginning my seminary studies. We had what was essentially a long distance relationship for six and a half years before being able to live together as husband and wife. It is only by God’s grace that we made it because it was hard.

Some of the hardest relationships to maintain, foster, and grow are long distance relationships. If you have ever had a long-distance relationship, you likely understand this. And it doesn’t have to be a boyfriend/girlfriend sort of long-distance relationship that is made difficult by distance. If you had a good friend in high school or even a family member move away from home, maybe leaving to go to college or get a job, you know how difficult it is to have friendships with people you rarely, if ever, get to see. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

So what about our relationship with God? It doesn’t get any farther apart than heaven and earth. And Christ has ascended into heaven and all we see of Him is a piece of bread and a cup of wine which doesn’t look anything like a person. We do have prayer, but how often does that feel like we are just talking to ourselves? I mean, if Jesus dismisses His own mother when she comes to Him with a problem, isn’t He just as likely to tell us, “what does this have to do with me?” What sort of relationship can we have with someone who not only seems physically distant from us, but emotionally and intellectually distant, checked out, and uncaring? A relationship like that is no relationship at all.

But our Gospel reading for today shows us that is not the relationship we have with our God. We do not have a God who is distant, neither physically nor emotionally, but we have a God who is with us. That is the whole point of Christianity and Christ. The point, the goal, the ultimate work of God through Christ is to bring you together with Him and unite you and Him together for eternity. It’s not about control, behavior modification, or strengthening you for the trials of this life, but is about binding you to God through the Baptism of Jesus, His crucifixion and death, His resurrection, and your own Baptism, that when you die you shall be raised to live with God for all eternity.

The rest is secondary, we are strengthen and encouraged because God is with us. We behave better and desire to do the will of God and follow the commandments because He is our loving Father who has united Himself to us even at the cost of His own Son. And that’s all fine, well, and good, but that strengthening and being better doesn’t happen if God is not our God and Savior who unites Himself to us in Jesus. It doesn’t happen if God is not with us.

And so it is all about Baptism where you are joined to God, crucified with Christ and raised with Him, the two become one flesh. That is why the setting of our Gospel reading is so important. That is why John makes it a point to say that this is the first of His signs that Jesus did. His first sign pointed to and summarizes what His ministry was all about, what He is all about, what God and Christianity is all about. This is it: God and Man become one flesh.

And this reading really does have everything. The problem, the fall, the worst case scenario of running out of wine at a wedding, a union ruined. What does this have to do with God? He did not ruin the wedding. Jesus didn’t short-order the wine or eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. It’s not His job to fix it, yet He does. He fixes the problem with water, word, and wine, and with these things He takes the role of the Bridegroom, the provider, and the savior of His Bride, the Church.

That union begins with water. It begins with Baptism. It is that water, included in God’s command and combined with God’s word, “Fill… draw… take.” “Baptize.” There, Jesus becomes the Bridegroom. In Baptism, the two become one flesh. You are united with Christ in His death and resurrection and made a child of God. There is no distance between you. It is not that God is in heaven and you are on earth, but that God is with you, in water, in word, and in wine.

“Take and eat… Drink of it all of you… This is My Body… This is My Blood which is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” The body and life of the Bridegroom given for His Bride to be her Savior and Redeemer. The blood poured out for Her redemption. The cup of wine given as a pledge and token that He will remember us, not as an old friend or distant acquaintance but as a husband remembers his wife. The two become one flesh.

And like a doting husband on his honeymoon, he just can’t stop talking about his bride. “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet.” For your sake, the Bridegroom continues to speak and be with you. To say to you, “I love you. I forgive you. You are mine.” You are not forsaken or desolate, but you are the delight of the Lord. “And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Baptism of Our Lord

Pastor Simek

 The Baptism of Our Lord at Hope, Jerseyville

1/13/19

“Mine”

Sermon Text: Isaiah 43:1-7

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

Why are you here in church? What’s the point? What is the Bible and Christianity about? What are its goals? What is the point or goal of religion? Of course, depending upon who you ask these questions to you are going to get different answers. There are people out there who would tell you that religion is just a means of controlling people. We preach the Law to discourage “bad behavior,” and the Gospel to encourage “good behavior.” Some would even say that the emperors and rulers who forced Christianity or any religion on their people only did it in order to control them to be obedient to the power and interpretation of those who were in control, even changing the interpretation to fit their goals and increase their power. Obviously, these are people who do not think very highly of Christianity or religion in general.

However, there are people who are highly religious who may tell you that it’s not necessarily about controlling the people and the masses, but it is about changing behavior. Religion is used to get people to turn away from the bad and turn to the good that they would get into heaven and the way to know what is good and bad, and the way to do the good stuff and not the bad stuff is by following their religion. Each religion thinks they have the right set of rules and the right path for you to walk so that you end up in heaven. This is primarily the view of religions of the law. Do the right thing and you will be reward. Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons all share this in common, this sort of works righteousness, a good reward, heaven, for good deeds and a bad consequence, hell, for bad deeds so you better act right, change your life, and do the right thing or else.

Christianity is something different though, at least to a certain extent. There are still those Christians, perhaps some of us, who would say that Christianity, too, is supposed to change people’s behavior. We have the Law, too, just like those other religions, and Pastor certainly preaches the Law every week and tells me what I am and am not supposed to be doing, and Jesus us shows us the way, sets the example for us of what we are supposed to do. So Christianity tells us how we are supposed to live and gives us Jesus to help us live that way.

Or perhaps a variation of that, and I think one that is more common in America especially and probably among us also, isn’t really so much that it’s supposed to change your behavior, but to help you. When we are in need, when we are struggling, when we are passing through rough waters or raging rivers, walking through the fires and flames of this life, that religion is there to help get you through it. Jesus is there to strengthen you for the life before you. The Word and Sacraments are there to give you the energy and might to withstand the wind, waves, and flames that life throws at you.

So we come to church for another shot of the good stuff. Give me my dose of Jesus so that I can face the world for another week, or month, or year. Give me the power and strength to get through, and the encouragement to live right and do the right thing so that I can be more like Jesus so that I can get into heaven.

But all of these ideas of church, religion, and Christianity are wrong, although not entirely wrong. It is wrong to believe that what we do, what we preach, teach, and confess, is first and foremost for the purpose of making you a better or stronger person. If you listen closely when I preach the Law, I don’t usually do it in a prescriptive manner. I don’t give you a to-do list to make you a better or stronger person. I don’t give you 5 easy steps to strengthen your faith. When I preach the Law, it is not in a constructive manner to build you up, but a destructive one to tear you down, tear you apart, put you to death, and take all hope of eternal life from you. That is what the Law does. It buries you beneath its demands, drowns you in its rushing waters, condemns you to the fires of hell for all eternity.

And the point of religion, of Christianity, of Christ, is to raise you up and rescue you from those waters and flames. The point of the Baptism of our Lord is that He is drowned in your place. The point of the crucifixion of our Lord is that He would be crucified by the Law in your place. The point of His descent into hell is that He would endure those burning flames in your place. And the point of His resurrection, Him being raised up out of His baptismal waters, you being raised up out of your baptismal waters is not only to put Him in your place, but to put you in His place.

Romans tells us that “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.” Baptism kills us and raises us with Christ not to take you off the path you were on and set you on the right path and put you in the right direction, but to kill you as a child of sin and raise you a child of God. So that when you are raised up from your Baptism, you hear the same words that Jesus hears at His Baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

Thus says the Lord, he who created you… he who formed you… ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Not just any religion, but Christianity, Christ, makes you God’s own child. That is the point. That God would give peoples and nations, even His own beloved Son for you, “because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you… I am with you.” The point is to put you together with God forever. And by the Baptism of Our Lord, by the crucifixion of Christ, by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, by God washing you in the same holy waters of Baptism, you are crucified and raised with Christ and put together with God.

All the rest of it is a by-product, a result, a trickle-down effect, of you together with God. For if God is for us, who can be against us? If God is with us, what do we have to fear. If we are those who are precious, honored, and loved by God, what worry should we have? When the waters rise and the rivers rage, God says, “they shall not overwhelm you… I will be with you… When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… Fear not, for I am with you.

We ought to be able to face anything and everything life can throw at us, not because our religion gives us a special shot and boost, but because the Lord is with us and for the sake of Christ we are always before Him that we might pray and look to Him for all we need with all boldness and confidence as a dear child trusts their dear father.

And it is only natural then to want to do what will make this loving Father happy. A Father who dearly loves, honors, and holds precious His dear child, of course the child will want to do what the Father commands, not because the child must, but because they may, they are free, they are loved.

You are loved, you are precious in God’s eyes, you are honored for the sake of Christ. You are God’s child and He is with you always, even to the very end of the age and through all eternity. You are His. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Epiphany of Our Lord

Pastor Simek

 The Epiphany of Our Lord at Hope, Jerseyville

1/6/19

“Enlightening All”

Sermon Text: Isaiah 60:1-6

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

Light and darkness. That is the theme of Epiphany. The star, the light of Christ who is the Light of the world, the light that shines into the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it, the Creator who comes to His own, but they did not receive Him or know Him because darkness covered the earth and thick darkness the people and into this darkness has come the Light.

The world that Jesus came into was certainly a dark place, and the people were covered in that thick darkness. The people did not know God, the light. The wise men from the east at least recognized the light of Christ shining into the world “for (they) saw his star when it rose and (came) to worship him” the one who was born king of the Jews, yet they came to Jerusalem. They followed this star that was over Bethlehem, but when they got close they turned away from the light. They thought they knew where the light would be because they knew Jerusalem, a city fit for  a king, but they had never heard of Bethlehem. They were close, but they let their enlightenment shine brighter than the star and ended up in the wrong city. They turned from the light of God to men, to Herod.

And Herod, the one who was ruling over the Jews in Jerusalem was troubled by the news of the birth of this king. He lived less than six miles from where this star was shining, less than six miles from where all of creation was crying out and proclaiming to men from the other side of the world that the Savior was born and he couldn’t even see it. He had to gather the priests and scribes of the Jews to tell him that the star as shining from Bethlehem. Which means even these people of God, those who studied and knew the Scriptures were in such thick darkness that they could not see the truth of the birth of their Savior and Promised Messiah. The whole world and all its people were in darkness.

And the world and people today are returning to that darkness. The world today knows less and less of Jesus, the Christ, the Light of the world. The world today knows less and less of the truth. Even as all of creation cries out and proclaims the truth, people reject that truth, trading it for a lie, trading it for emotion, trading the objective for the subjective and plunging themselves further and further into darkness.

The world is confused and lost in their darkness and it is only a matter of time before the lies they have accepted as the truth are exposed. There can only be so many “right” answers to the question of “how many genders are there?” before the question of “why so many rises?” and someone demands an answer more than just “because feelings.” Because then how many of those gender combinations can have children? When does the life of that child begin?

The answers they give in their darkness are inconsistent and even sometimes contradictory. They contradict science and the cries and testimony of creation that God made them male and female and the life of that boy or girl begins at the moment of conception. But instead of embracing the truths and light of God, they embrace darkness and plunge themselves farther and farther into confusion and chaos.

And even we as children of God are not exempt from this darkness. We live in it. We live in a world of great darkness even if we know the truth, well, at least most of the time. Because sometimes we do struggle with the truth. We struggle with speaking the truth in love to a neighbor who does not know what this truth is. We struggle to follow this same truth. We ask ourselves what would Jesus do, and even though He has given us His clear truth and answer in His Word, still we struggle, and we still get the answer wrong. We follow our feelings and our emotions to guide our behavior. We follow our sinful heart and desires. We follow and accept the lies we tell ourselves because that is what we want to hear, rather than listening to the truth of God’s Word because we may not like the answer. We take the parts of church and God’s Word that we like and we take the parts of the darkness of the world that we like and want to hold on to both even when they conflict because it makes our lives easier and makes us feel better. And we try to blend them together to establish our own truth.

But light and darkness cannot exist together. They are opposed, separate, and different. Where there is light, there is no darkness and the Light of the world has come, the star shines in the sky, all of creation cries out and testifies to the truth of Christ. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” The truth is here.

This truth, this light, this Christ and Savior is here for all people. He is here to call people from the east and west. He is here to call people out of their darkness, out of their lies and into the light of His truth. People can only lie to themselves and wander in darkness for so long before their lies come crashing down and they trip and fall in the darkness and light finds them. They can only contradict themselves so many times before they have to admit that they are lying to themselves and are forced to face the truth.

And we as a church, as those with the true, inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God have the truth that they are both running away from, yet unknowingly running towards. We have answers for the questions they are asking and whether or not they like those answers, at some point, they will not be able to deny them. We, as a church, as Christians, as those who have the light and now shine the light of Christ into the world have every advantage because we can see where we and they are going. While they only have doubt, speculation, and uncertainty, we have answers, hope, security, and confidence in Christ our Lord.

We have confidence that Jesus was born, the Word became flesh, God was made man, His light and glory, full of grace and truth, was seen on earth. That He lived under the Law, according to the Law, not lost but with a purpose, with the purpose of fulfilling the Law for you, upholding the Law for you, walking in the way of truth that you might not get lost, but always know the way to the Father through Him.

And that way and that path to the Father is through the cross. It is a life of faithfulness, a life of repentance and faith not in yourself, but in Jesus. It is a path and a life that will not be without wrong turns, getting lost, and falling into sin and darkness, but also one that is full of forgiveness, full of the blood of Jesus shed on the cross covering all sin, full of the life of Jesus being given for the whole world, that they might believe in Him and have life in His name.

That is our advantage. That is our claim to fame. We have a truth, not subjective, in ourselves, liable to fall and fail, but in Jesus. And it is that truth, that fame, that advantage, that light that we have that sons and daughters will come to see from afar, from the east and the west, seeking answers, seeking light, seeking the truth that we alone have: the truth of Christ’s crucifixion for the forgiveness of sins, the truth of Christ’s resurrection for eternal life, the truth of Christ’s work and eternal reign as king for salvation, given and received by grace through faith to you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Epiphany that Jesus is God

The Epiphany that Jesus is God
“In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

-John 1:1, 14

The quote from above is from the Gospel reading for Christmas Day. During the Christmas season, the focus is on the birth of Jesus, that He “was made man” as the Nicene Creed puts it. In a sense, this emphasizes the humanity of Christ in much the same way Good Friday does. Humans are born and humans die. God is not born, nor does God die, but at Christmas and on Good Friday, He does. In Luther’s Small Catechism as he explains the second article of the Creed about the person of Jesus, he provides no more evidence than that Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary” to prove that Jesus is “true man.” While other evidence can be offered, the birth of Jesus is the definitive proof of the humanity of Jesus. While His conception was certainly miraculous, His birth was just like ours. Christmas proves that Jesus was made man.

Epiphany, however, shows us the other nature of Christ, that He is God. That is what the season of Epiphany is for, to give you the epiphany, the realization and revelation that this man, born of Mary in the kingdom of Herod when Quirinius was governor of Syria, is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity. Though Jesus was made man, Jesus was not made. Jesus was “begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” Three times the Nicene Creed uses the word “begotten,” which is the word to describe the relationship between any father and son, just as I have begotten two sons. He is specifically described as “not made.” Jesus is the fullness of God. He is every bit of God and every bit of Him is God. This is the epiphany of Epiphany.

So throughout the Epiphany season, we will see Jesus doing things that only God can do such as the stars announcing His birth to the world, the Father proclaiming His Sonship at His Baptism, turning water into wine, fulfilling prophecies of Scripture, casting out demons and healing other various diseases, preaching by His own authority, and being transfigured on a mountain before His disciples so that His appearance is altered and His clothing becomes dazzling white.

As so as we finish oohing and aahing over tiny, sweet, little baby Jesus, we are given the Epiphany of the fullness of His divinity and it is this Jesus, true man and true God, that we have going into Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, where He shows us once again that He is true man, dead on the cross, and true God, risen from the dead, for our salvation.

In the epiphany of Christ,

Pastor Simek

Jesus, God and Man

Pastor Simek

Christmas Day at Hope, Jerseyville

12/25/18

“Jesus, God and Man”

Sermon Text: John 1:1-14

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

About a month or so ago, there was an interesting statistic making its way around Facebook put out by “The State of Theology” who takes a theological survey of Christians every two year. This survey revealed that 78% of Evangelical Christians (which doesn’t include the LCMS, but nevertheless) agree that “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” This was up by 7% from the last time they took the survey just two years ago. 78% is nearly four out of five. That means that out of 75 people, about 15 believe that Jesus was not created, while 60 think He was created. Which leaves us with two questions. One, who is right: the huge majority who say Jesus was created, or the slim minority who believe Jesus was not created? And, two, what in the world does this have to do with Christmas?

Both of these questions are answered in our Gospel reading this morning, the reading for Christmas Day, which is only part of what this has to do with Christmas. John is very clear about whether or not Jesus was created. He begins his Gospel with “in the beginning…” the same way Genesis and the account of creation began, and says that then at the beginning of creation, the Word, Jesus, was there. At the beginning of creation, Christ was with God and was God. Jesus is God. And God is not made nor created. “He was in the beginning with God.

And if that isn’t enough, John goes another step further to say that, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” Everything that was made, was made through Christ and without Christ there is nothing that was made. So how could He be created if through Him all things were created? Did He create Himself? No. Jesus is not made nor created, but begotten.

This heresy actually has ancient roots and in the theological world is called Arianism, because this was the theology of Arius. His false teaching was denied and condemned in 325 A.D., about 1700 years ago at the Council of Nicea, where our Nicene Creed was first drafted. It was at this Church Council, where, as legend has it, Arius was punched in the face by the original St. Nicholas as he literally fought for the divinity of the Son of God, which is the second minor connection to Christmas. Nevertheless, it is clear, the Bible and the Church have been consistent in teaching that Jesus was not made nor created, but begotten of the Father. Jesus, the Word, is fully God, and is the fullness of God and His grace and truth.

But what this really has to do with Christmas is that that very same Jesus, the Word, who is fully God and is the fullness of God, “became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Son of God who was not created, who existed before creation and for all eternity outside of time and space gave Himself a beginning inside of time and space. God became man, became an infant, entered into and made Himself part of creation even though He was never created. God marked a moment in time and history, in space in Bethlehem to be born, that every year we might celebrate His birth, His becoming man, His bridging the gap between God and man by God coming to man.

Which is great. It is a true wonder and mystery that Jesus can be both completely and entirely God, uncreated and unmade, and also completely and entirely man, a part of that creation. It is more than a magical time of year, it is a time of year where we see one of the greatest works of God to come to us in a way that He had never been with His people before. It is worthy of a feast and celebration and the exchanging of gifts that God would come to man in such a way, but the fullness of this miracle and work, the really amazing thing about God visiting and dwelling with His people in this way is not just that He came to us, but that He did it in order to bring us to Him.

The Word becomes flesh and dwells with us that in our flesh we might dwell with God for all eternity. He became born of a woman, born of flesh and blood that we would be born of the will of God. That is the glory of God, that the infant, the God-child, that comes to us laying in the manger that we celebrate today, is the same God-man who hangs upon the cross to bring us to Him in heaven.

He dies upon on the cross to eliminate everything that separates you from God. He dies on the cross to forgive you of all of your sins and imperfections. He dies on the cross to return you to the image and likeness of God that was lost to sin. He dies on the cross to make you holy and righteous, like the Father and the Son are holy and righteous. He dies on the cross to bring you peace and unite you with God.

And He rises again from His grave, overcomes even death itself that tries to separate us from God and proves again, without a doubt, that Jesus is God; the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, not made, who for us men and for our salvation was made a man, was crucified, and rose again for you, to give you the right to become children of God by water, Word, and faith. And He rose to show you that He would raise you up on the Last Day, and you and all those justified by faith in Him would have eternal life with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who lives and reign to all eternity. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Fourth Sunday in Advent

The Fourth Sunday in Advent at Hope, Jerseyville

12/23/18 Pastor Simek

“Our Little Salvation”

Sermon Text: Micah 5:2-5a

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

What does a drop of water, a crumb from a loaf of bread, and a town about the size of Hardin have to do with one another? They are all pretty seemingly insignificant things. A single drop of water isn’t going to be enough to do much of anything with. Even if we were to give a corn stalk or a bean shoot a drop of water a day all summer, that probably wouldn’t be enough to keep it alive much less for it to grow or produce anything. A crumb of bread isn’t going to be enough food for anything other than maybe an ant, but even then a small crumb may not be worth the effort.

Now Hardin, it is the biggest town in Calhoun with a little under 1,000 people and the county seat so it has a few things, but when I searched the internet for things in Hardin I got mention of a couple restaurants and a bar and that’s about it. No disrespect to Hardin, but there just simply isn’t a lot there. It’s hardly mentionable, and the same is true for Bethlehem. It was a notable city, the city of David and all, but with a population about 1,000 at best guess it still wasn’t really a city of mention. In fact, even the prophesy of Micah that says that it is in Bethlehem where the Christ will be born, it also says that it is a city “who (is) too little to be among the clans of Judah,” which is to say that it doesn’t even really count and it’s too small to be numbered among the cities of Judah.

And I supposed you could include Mary in this list of nothing. She is a nearly nameless, a completely un-notable girl. Well, she was in the line of David, but so were a lot of people by now. And her betrothed husband was from the line of David, but again that’s nothing special. He was just a carpenter after all. Now John the Baptist, he was something. His father, Zechariah was a priest, on who had been chosen by lot, which is by chance or by God depending upon what you believe in, to offer a sacrifice in the temple. That would have been a notable and honorable job to do even if it was only once in a lifetime. And both the mother and father of John had a reputation. Luke says they were righteous before God, blameless, yet barren even in their old age and so when Elizabeth became pregnant, well that was a miracle. But a younger girl pregnant outside of marriage, well that’s nothing special. If anything it was more of an embarrassment.

And isn’t that often how we see the work, the will, and the ways of God? They are maybe just routine at best. Church is hardly a mentionable thing. It’s something we have to squeeze into this Christmas season. We make plans with family and friends to have parties and exchange gifts which is great, but then we have to figure out if there are any services we can make it to with our busy schedule. Well maybe we can make it to one service because we are just too busy to go to all of them.

Or perhaps church is less than unmentionable, but is an embarrassment. You know, with all the family in town who have their own churches, maybe they are Lutheran or maybe they are not. But their church isn’t like ours. We are still stuck in our ways and our pastor wears that silly white collar and those long white dresses, and man, you should have seen him last week, he wore pink! And nothing really cool happens during the service. It’s just the same old stuff. There are no special effects, no fog machines or strobe lights to really wow anyone. There’s no big screen with a booming sound system, you know the kind where you can feel the boom in your gut, though pastor does yell sometimes. Let’s go to the movies instead.

And I think the same thing can be said of the Sacraments. What’s the big deal with a little drop of water with some magic words? A crumb of bread? A little cardboard tasting cracker and half a sip of wine? That’s no meal. And we certainly wouldn’t want to tell people about how we practice these things. How do we tell our Baptist family that we baptize infants? Well I better not bring my non-denominational family to church because I really don’t want to have to explain closed communion to them. It would be easier just not to go or not to talk about it, let it be an unmentionable.

But from the unmentionable comes our salvation. From nothing comes everything. From nothing God spoke into the darkness and created light. From nothing God made all that was made just by speaking. God created everything that was made through His Word and without the Word was not anything that was made. And in just a day and two we will celebrate that Word becoming flesh.

Today, we celebrate that Word become flesh in the womb of Mary. We celebrate the notable child of Zechariah and Elizabeth in her womb, jumping in praise. Today, we celebrate the faith of John the Baptist while he was still in his mother’s womb because of who was in the womb of Mary. Today, we celebrate Mary, an unmentionable woman who is pregnant outside of marriage, a humble, small, insignificant servant of God who is now called blessed by every generation because God exalted her to be the mother of our Lord: Mary, the mother of God.

And today, we celebrate that little town of Bethlehem, so small and insignificant it wasn’t even numbered among the cities of Judah, but it brought forth the ruler of Israel, the King of kings and Lord of lords whose origins are from old, ancient, pre-creation days who is now the peace of all creation. Today, we celebrate His cross, His unmentionable, undesirable, folly and stumbling block to Jews and Gentiles alike. We celebrate that Jesus was crucified and suffered a shameful, intolerably painful death for the sins of the whole world. And we celebrate that He rose up again from that death to speak to the world that word it had been waiting to hear since the fall of Adam and Eve: “Peace.”

And today, in this un-notable, ordinary, routine Sunday morning, in a church that is probably not even a quarter full, with voices that are more likely to be off key than on it, with a pastor who is stubborn and stuck in his ways still wearing that goofy robe, although at least it’s with blue this time, but in these things we celebrate and receive that glorious work of God for our salvation. None of this maybe any more special than Mary or Bethlehem, but in this unimportant nothing, God delivers to you that Word made flesh in the womb of Mary, dead on the cross, and risen from the dead.

With just a drop of water, poured upon you in your Baptism, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God washes you in the blood of the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world and makes you part of the flock of our Good Shepherd. With a tasteless piece of bread and a swallow of wine, what could be a crumb and a drop, God feeds you with the body and blood of Christ, forgives you all your sins, gives to you eternal life, and grants you salvation. From nothing, God gives to you your Savior. From nothing, God gives you peace. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Third Sunday of Advent

Pastor Simek

 The Third Sunday in Advent at Hope, Jerseyville

12/13/18

“Rejoice and Exult”

Sermon Text: Zephaniah 3:14-20

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

Gaudete!Rejoice! Exult! “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by [Christ].” Blessed are you, dear brothers and sisters, for Christ, the Lord your God, the King of Israel is in your midst! The salvation of God which has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world is yours this very day! Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates, prepare to open for the King of glory waits, the Savior of the world is here, open wide and welcome Him in! Lift up your heads, ye mighty Christians, and look no farther for the one who was prophesied long ago is here. His body is here, His blood is here,His Word is here for you to make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth and to restore your fortunes before your eyes! So…

REJOICE IN THE LORD’S RESTORATION

 (I. The church and Christianity isn’t what it once was.)

(II. The Lord comes to restore His Church.)

I.

            We truly do have any and every reason for complete and utter rejoicing without restraint because of what God has done, continues to do, and promises for us in the future. Our future, the future of God’s Church, and what it can and will be should be one of the most exciting and joyful parts about being a Christian.

            Yet so often when we look at the present and future state of this church, we are not flooded with joy, excitement, and rejoicing, but doom, gloom, and despair.We remember the way the church used to be over thirty years ago that A-frame church with the pews packed full and needing to add more chairs in the aisles just to make sure everyone has a seat. Or maybe not thirty years ago, but even ten or so years ago, when we had closer to 115 people every Sunday rather than the 75 we have now. It seems as though the church has only and will only ever decline, and all we are doing now is kicking people out rather than bringing people in. And most of the people that we do have are nearer to the tomb than the womb, and we could be just one or two hard years away from having the attendance that we do have cut in half. This church just ain’t what it used to be.

            And the world ain’t what it used to be either. It used to be that the world stopped on Sunday. That people weren’t working and so busy, but that Sunday was the day for church. And even Wednesday nights were acknowledged as a sacred time by the world where nothing was scheduled so that kids and parents could go to midweek services or classes. Now, neither Wednesdays nor Sundays are sacred, but they are just like any other day of the week.

            And what’s worse than that, is where it used to be an acceptable, even a good thing to be a Christian, as though in order to live a moral life, and be a good person, a good employer, and a good employee, you had to be a Christian, now,we are mocked. Our morals and standards are condemned by the world as ancient and out-dated, even oppressive and hurtful turning us into the enemy.

            So in a world where we are the enemy, where no one is allowed to have a holy,Sabbath, day, but is only allowed to serve one master, and that is them, and as the church ages and seems to decline, how can we say that we are joyful and excited about the future of the Church? How do we rejoice in the Lord’s restoration and exult with happiness? How do we remain hopeful about a church when every influence and factor around us seems to point to continuing the downward spiral?

II.

            We rejoice not in the signs that the world gives to us, but in the ones that God gives to us. We exult not in the way the world treats us and looks at us, but in the way that God does. We do not fear and get anxious over the way things look like they are going and we do not trust in what the world and our sinful,pessimistic nature says is going to happen to us, but we fear, love and trust in God above all things.

            The book of Zephaniah records the Lord’s universal judgment and even the condemnation and downfall of Judah and Jerusalem, but it ends with the reading we have today. It ends with rejoicing and exultation. It ends with restoration.That is the final word for Zion, for the Lord’s Church: you have been and will be restored.

            So take heart, O sons and daughters of Zion. Rejoice and exult, O children of Jerusalem for the Lord your God, the King of Israel is in your midst. The Word is coming to become flesh and dwell among us. Christmas is coming and it is here and has already come. The Word is flesh for you today. Jesus is crucified and risen from the dead for you today. Today, you are forgiven.

            Your doubts, your fears, your pessimism, and believing that God cannot make this church great once more and restore it to what it once was are forgiven. Your time that you could not spare, your schedule that is filled with other commitments, and your calendar that is smothered by the demands of the world is wiped clean. You have been restored to a right standing with God and returned to His good graces. “The Lord has taken away the judgments against you… The Lord your God is in your midst.

            He is here. His body, His blood, and His Word are here. And that same Word, that same Promise, that same God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who has restored you will restore His Church. We have every reason to put our faith in the church as the place where God is, His Sacraments are administered, and His saving Word is preached. The gates of hell cannot prevail over these mighty works and wonders of God. God’s Church will be restored. She will be a place of renown and praise and her fortunes will be restored before your eyes. God’s Church does and will always live, no matter what the world says or looks like.

            Now,I cannot tell you if that restoration, renown, and praise will occur in this lifetime or the next, but I can assure you, because God assures us, that it will happen. His Word will remain forever. He will remain with us, in our midst to the very end of the age and it is in that fact and that sure and certain promise that we put our fear, love and trust. So, “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, OIsrael! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!”You have been restored and God’s Church will be raised up once again. Gaudete!In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Second Wednesday in Advent

Pastor Simek

 The Second Wednesday of Advent at Hope, Jerseyville

12/12/18

“My Neighbor and I”

Sermon Text: Deuteronomy 5:1-21 and the Fourth through Tenth Commandments

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

Honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery.You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

These remaining six commandments deal with our relationship with God in that these things are His will for us and anything that is against His will is sinful and disobedient, like a child disobeying their parent. However, these commandments also focus especially on our relationship with our neighbor.

And we are not just talking about your parents, your husband or wife, your children, and the rest of your family. Nor are we just talking about the people you like or the people who live next to you, but your neighbor is every person you come in contact with. Whether they are above you, below you, or beside you in the pecking order, God gives us a detailed description of what our relationships are supposed to be like.

Yet not one of our relationships are anything like what they ought to be. We have disobeyed our parents, been angry with our neighbor, unfaithful to our spouse, selfish with our possessions, deceitful with our words, and desirous with our thoughts. We have sinned against and broken at least one of these commandments with every person and neighbor we have ever had, and we have had them sin against us and break every one of these commandments against us. Whether in thought, word or deed, or by a sin of omission, leaving undone that which should be done, or commission, doing that which should not be done. We sin against our neighbor and as a result our relationships, much like these commandments, are broken.

So what can we and should we do about it? How should we respond when we sin against our neighbor or they sin against us? What is the answer to broken relationships and broken commandments? Is it an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth that they sin against us so we sin against them to get back at them and get even? No, the answer is the same answer that God has for us when we break the first three commandments and sin against Him, the answer is Christ and His cross.

When our relationships with our neighbor are broken, we respond in the same way as we do when our relationship with God was broken, through confession and absolution.Confess your sins that you have committed against your neighbor to them and seek their forgiveness as you seek God’s forgiveness. And when your neighbor has sinned against you, do not hold it against them or even wait for them to confess, but forgive them just as when you were still a sinner, God sent forth His only Son to die for you.

That forgiveness, that undeserved complete and utter absolution and wiping away of all sins and transgressions is what mends broken relationships. That is the example we have been given, that we ought to forgive our neighbor as God has forgiven us through Christ. That is how He has healed His relationship with you. God has forgiven you and continues to forgive you of all of your sins.

He has blotted out and wiped away all the wrong you have done against Him with the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. By His sacrifice for you, your relationships are healed. By His sacrifice for you shining through you as you forgive your neighbor no matter the wrong they have done to you, your relationships with them can be healed. And by His sacrifice for you, He forgives you for any and every wrong you have done to Him, and your relationship with Him is healed. You are at peace with God. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.