Called to be instruments of God's peace.

Sermon Notes

Sermon Notes – January 2, 2022

The Holy Gospel of St. Luke 2: 41-52The Reverend William Nelson Loefke“The Coming Day: A Star and Two Boys” Please permit me as I return to December 2, 2021.  It’s worth going backward for a moment or two. Who shows up at church on December 26?  It’s Sunday so somebody has to be there.  Likely a pastor (but this is a great Sunday to give the rest of the staff off for family time).  Likely a musician (maybe a hand massage certificate might be appropriate).  Maybe an usher or two, but surely not the whole council and a large number of our congregation  The Praise Team will be on a break  There are a few folks who will show up for everything.  Some out of a holy sense of obligation (you know, the third commandment crowd).  Then there are those who just can’t get enough (the ones who will still be there when it’s time to shut off the lights and head for home).  Ponder and praise with whoever does show up on this second Sunday of Christmas.         

Who shows up at church on December 26th?  Samuel does, wearing a new ephod, an annual gift from his mother ever since he was delivered into the priesthood.  The ephod was a linen garment, like an apron, a “veil” worn by those who served God in the temple.  Samuel served well, and God used him to crown Israel’s first kings.  Maybe Samuel’s ephod can help us ponder the gifts we have received from parents who have encouraged our faith and our serving.         

Who else shows up at church on December 26th?  Jesus does, which is always to be expected.  Except Jesus isn’t the “tender and mild” infant we just sang about hours ago on Christmas Eve.  He has already reached the age of twelve, the beginning age of accountability (think of bar mitzvah or confirmation).  But just how accountable is Jesus?  Mary and Joseph, ever faithful to the commandment to annually observe Passover in Jerusalem (Exod. 12: 1-27 and Deut. 16: 1-8), make the pilgrimage from Nazareth with a host of others, including young Jesus.  But Jesus misses the bus home and it takes his parents a whole day to notice, and then a few more days to actually find him, which might prompt us to ponder their accountability every bit as much as we ponder Jesus’ accountability.         

But ponder this instead.  By sharing this story from Jesus’ childhood, Luke proclaims Jesus’ ultimate accountability that is fully revealed when “after three days” he is finally discovered in the temple and says in front of both parents and priests, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (v. 49).                  “My Father’s house”-let that sink in for a moment.  Here is a twelve-year-old boy, hanging out in the temple with the elite-religious teachers of the day, calling the Holy One of Israel “Abba.”  Was Jesus further disrespecting his earthly parents?     

Was Jesus disrespecting the teachers by claiming for himself an intimate relationship with God that superseded their own?  Are we to think of Jesus as a rebellious boy theologian with a heretical theology that pushed his parents aside, while trying to antagonize religious leaders?  Not at all.  Instead, in this wonderfully nuanced and relatable story, we are invited to deeply ponder the beautiful mystery of the incarnation, as Jesus, the earthly son of Mary and Joseph, continues to live into the divine reality that he is also the Son of God.         

Yes, this one and only story of Jesus’ childhood includes the dynamics of earthly and churchly family relationships.  But ultimately it is about the heavenly relationship we are all invited into through Jesus.  After all, through Jesus we too are daughters and sons of God!  Accountability to that good news, above all else, is always worth celebrating, both for those who do show up in church on December 26th and for those who don’t!  And I say…God Bless Us Everyone!

Sermon Notes – January 9, 2022

The Holy Gospel of St. Luke 15; 15-17, 21-22 The Reverend William Nelson Loefke“Jesus Does and Will Settle the Matter”           

The Greek word baptizo means to bathe or immerse.  First-century immersion rituals were typically self-administered, such that one would immerse their entire body for symbolic purification (Jewish) or initiation (Roman).  The cleansing quality of water was already known; however, these rites made it clear that the main purpose was not physical washing but external signification.  Although some attempts have been made to associate the baptism of John with earlier immersion tradition, it is more likely that any connection that exists is at the level of basic signification rather than direct borrowing.  In other words, in the first-century context it was understood that the act of immersion could signal something greater.         Luke is quite clear about what John’s baptism signifies.  John was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (3: 3).  The Common English Bible translates, “John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.”  This clear association of baptism with repentance has created theological difficulties in reconciling Jesus’ baptism with the belief that he was sinless.  This may be why Luke mentions Jesus’ baptism almost in passing (3: 21).  However, understanding the act of baptism primarily as one of repentance or turning may be less problematic.  While Jesus’ life was always on God’s path, all four gospels, nonetheless paint his experience as a turning point in that path leading to Jesus’ public ministry.         

To that end, for all the ways we talk about baptism across the Lutheran church and beyond, one thing is almost universally affirmed: baptism is done with witnesses.  This is a shift from self-immersion to the act of being baptized in an environment with other believers.  That is to say, baptism is not simply a private purification (whether of physical uncleanliness or moral sinfulness), but rather an act of turning to a different way of living and being in the world-one in which we, like Jesus, seek to build up God’s realm rather than our own desires, which can be at the root of our human sinfulness.  In the spirit of Epiphany, baptism is a revelation of the work of God in our world and in our lives.  This is as true for us today as it was for Jesus and all who were baptized in the early church.