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BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz

Jan 22, 2017  SERMON ARCHIVE

Sunday Sermon - Pastor Lavrenz Stained Glass - Communion

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, AMEN

The text for our meditation today is the Gospel Lesson for this 3rd Sunday After Epiphany, Matthew 4:12-25. There we read these words:

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned." From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

We begin in the name of Jesus, AMEN.

This is the season of Epiphany, a word that literally means, "To shine upon." Epiphany, the season of the church year, in between the celebration of His birth at Christmas and preparation for His death in Lent, is about how Jesus makes Himself known to His people through grace and salvation. And here is your hope, dear friends in Christ: the Lord will makes Himself known by visiting such far-ranging places as Zebulun, Naphtali, Mason City and wherever else you may be.

The text before us was first spoken by the prophet Isaiah about the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. There they were, up at the northern tip of Israel; and for centuries that had been a blessed place to be. Although they were a long way from the temple in Jerusalem, they had some of the most beautiful, fertile land in the nation.

But by the time Isaiah spoke, this was not a good place to be. Again and again, foreign kings had invaded Israel from the north, making Zebulun and Naphtali their first victims. In the past, too, the kingdom of Israel had split, and so these northerners were cut off from the temple, the place of God's presence.

By in Isaiah's time, the end was near. The Assyrian empire was growing, expanding- and the northern kingdom was a sitting duck. It was only a matter of time until the bloodthirsty Assyrians came to Israel, and a look at the map showed how they would gain entry. Naphtali and Zebulun were living in the shadow of death, because the Assyrians were not known for mercy toward others.

And so it happened that the northern kingdom fell, and the ten tribes-including the people of Zebulun and Naphtali-were taken into captivity, never to be heard from again. In the course of history, boundaries would shift and others would populate the area. By the time of Jesus, it was the northern area of Galilee; and because of its diverse population, it was well-described as "Galilee of the Gentiles."

The once-fertile land was now mostly desert, and the people had again suffered at the hands of foreign armies. The shadow of death always seemed to darken Zebulun and Naphtali. But then again, death seeks always to overshadow us all.

But it is here that the Light shines in our Gospel lesson today. When John the Baptist was imprisoned, Jesus withdrew to Galilee, to Caesarea and the area of Naphtali. He continued to preach John's sermon-the sermon that He had given John to preach: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

In other words, listen, you inhabitants of the land, for you are not forgotten. Although you have been the highway for bloodthirsty kings and the horsemen of apocalypse, a different King now stands among you. Light is shining in the darkness. The Lord has come to chase away the shadow of death. Repent-turn from those sins that would destroy you. The time is now, because the King is present-not to enslave and kill, but to set free and give life.

The Lord of life was with them, for He always finds His people wherever they are to be found. Now, as He began His saving work, see how He went about it.

First, He established His credentials-He proved He was the Savior predicted by the Old Testament. Isaiah said He would heal, so He healed all sorts of diseases. Isaiah said He would do so for Zebulun and Naphatali, so there He was.

Stained Glass Baptism Window

Secondly, beyond the miracles to verify who He was, look at how this King would spread His kingdom. He preached. He went from place to place and spoke. He taught in the synagogues, walking from town to town.

Then, He made plans to expand His efforts: in the Gospel lesson, He called four men to be His disciples, and He would boost that number to twelve. He would teach and train them for a while, and then He would send them out to do the same thing: speak His Word to other people. Those disciples would perform a few miracles on His authority, though the signs and wonders would die down after a while.

But even when the signs and wonders were gone, His followers would still be speaking His Word. People would hear about Him, and they would share the news with one another. By the faith given in the Word, they would seek out Jesus where He could be found, where He was at hand. That's how the King went about spreading His kingdom of light and life in the New Testament.

Now, you may well be thinking, "Of course that's how He did it." That was the first century, A.D. It was not a high-tech society-there were no radio or cell towers or cable or satellite dishes. There was no social media, no email. The quickest that news could travel was the speed of the fastest horse.

Dear friends, I would point out that this King is greater than the times in which He walked the earth: He is, after all, the Creator of all things. And although He become flesh and fully human, He remained fully God.

If He chose, He could thunder the message of Gospel from the heavens, so that everyone would hear at once. If He chose, He could write it in the sky, or place the message immediately on every heart. If He chose, He could have everyone know the news from the moment of conception.

But He didn't. Instead, He chose the seemingly impractical way of walking from town to town, speaking in the synagogues to those who would hear. Yes, from a human standpoint, it seems like He could have made better use of His talents and time. Yet, in His infinite and gracious wisdom, this is how the Savior went about bringing light where there was only the shadow of death.

Rejoice, Zebulun and Naphtali, for your King walks among you-so humble and merciful that you may miss Him if you're not listening.

But be assured, Galilee of the Gentiles-His presence among you guaranteed that you were not forgotten. Though you had often been the highway for death and destruction, the King of Life walked among you now.

A few years from now, the Roman emperor Titus would bring more Roman armies, and Zebulun and Naphtali would suffer once again; but before then Jesus would win salvation for the world by His death on the cross.

Ironic, isn't it? For proclaiming that all who believe will have life in His name, mankind would put the Lord of life to death. But although His methods may seem inefficient, His death would atone for the sins of the world, and He would make sure that He did not miss a single person who will believe. He would make sure His Word was heard: and that same Word that created the heavens and the earth would create grace and eternal life in you.

Now, we can talk about the dangers of living in Zebulun and Naphtali all we want; truth is, though, that no matter how dangerous it seemed back there, back then, they experienced the same mortality rate that we do in the civilized United States of America and indeed all the world.

No matter how much you want to sanitize and shield it, the truth is that you also dwell in the shadow of death. Tsunamis. Dirty bombs. Terrorist attacks. Genocide. Stroke, heart attack, cancer, diabetes. The car that runs the red light at high speed.

Along with all those threats that society recoils against, there are also plenty of ways that man has sought to befriend death and reject life. How long has it been since passage of Roe v. Wade, which determined that the shadow of death could reach into the womb as a matter of convenience.

We live on the cusp of the possible, perhaps probable, making a morning-after pill available over the counter to increase the carnage. Such contempt for the helpless unborn will only lead on to contempt for the helpless outside of the womb. Mankind continues to glorify immorality, though it leads to disease and death itself. It's trendier to defend trees or whales than humanity today. The list goes on and on

Stained Glass Confirmation Window

And these deal only with physical death. Do not forget our Lord's warning: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Mt. 10:28).

These many participations of man in death are simply symptoms of the greater problem: those who reject the Lord's grace are already dead in their trespasses and sins. They are the living dead, and it is only inevitable that those who reject God will seek to justify death as a helper, a solace, a friend.

In such a world, it is easy to become discouraged. It is even easier when it gets personal. The evening news can often be enough to depress, when the shadow of death darkens the lives of people halfway around the world. But sooner or later, that death casts its silhouette into your life, too.

The onslaught of disease, the loss of a friend or the death of a loved one, each reminds you that your greatest enemy patiently stalks you, too. It’s easy to be discouraged, to despair. That's why, even as society does its best to ignore death or make it sound like a kind companion, it is full of desperate, despairing people.

Do not despair, for the Word of the Lord remains: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned. Death may seem ever-present, but the Lord is far more so: He has defeated this enemy and risen again, and He makes sure that His light shines upon those who sit in darkness.

No, do not despair, little flock. In this world where death reigns because of sin, the Lord faithfully visits His people, be they in Mason City or Fallujah or a lone believer in Sweden. The Lord brings with Him forgiveness and victory over death.

This victory is missed by many, because again the Lord comes quietly, mercifully. He spread this grace and victory around Zebulun, Naphtali and Galilee by walking from town to town, preaching His Word; and this is how His evangelism still happens today.

As people talked of Jesus and Christians told His Word to others back then, so they do today. And while the Lord can accomplish His will without you, He delights to use you as His instruments in the spread of His salvation.

People hear the Word and come to Church to hear more, to be catechized-instructed-in the ways of the Lord. Believers gather to hear the Absolution, to be baptized, to receive the Lord's body and blood.

It may look ordinary, but know this: the Lord's work will look ordinary. After all, He created this world and set it up to run normally according to His will: therefore, because the Lord's will is the normal way of doing things it will look normal. Rather than have bread fall from heaven each day, he ordains that seeds sprout and grow into grain that is harvested, ground and baked; but as He uses farmers and bakers to supply bread, it is no less the Lord's plan.

Likewise, He delights to give forgiveness in His Word and His Sacraments, and they appear quite normal because that's how the Lord normally saves. This is no less a miracle than if the Lord started zapping individuals with salvation via lightning bolts from heaven.

The Lord continues to visit His people, wherever they are, with life and salvation- because He shed His blood and gave His life to win that gift. And the upshot of the cross is this, dear friends: while the shadow of death will stalk you yet in this life, death is nothing more than a shadow for the people of God.

Whether it be the Christians slaughtered in a Sudanese genocide or the personal agony of a loved one in ICU, the Lord declares, "Death, I am the death of you! Grave, I am your destruction! You can kill my Christians, but I will raise them back to life, forever!"

That is the message of Epiphany, and that is the purpose of evangelism. In this dying world, where death is feared, touted as friend or used for convenience, the Lord of life makes Himself known. Christ is Risen.

Luther Rose

 

Christ Is Risen
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