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Saving It

Because Instagram deleted it.  Simple truth.

The Obituary

Romans 6:1-12   Death, AND Life, in Holy Baptism

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  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.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self I was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

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An obituary.  Black print on white newspaper.  Cut and dried.  Matter of fact – date of birth, date of death, spouse, children, parents, brothers, sisters, the vocation of the deceased – a frank summary of a life lived – yet the notice of death.  A finality.  Death.

We who still breathe and have life in this world, have never done very well at all with death.  We know it comes, sometimes in a rush, or painfully slow, as it was for Mike.  But death will come to us all.  There is an old, but true saying –

“None of us is getting outta here alive!”

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But we read the words of our text again.  Are we missing something?

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.

Huh?  Is St. Paul saying “this” (gesture to casket or urn), and an obituary are not final?  Mike had cancer – Mike died.  The doctor signed the death certificate.  We have all the proof . . . and yet . . . the Apostle Paul is either talking crazy talk, or – we ARE missing something!  Listen again:

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.

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I know for a fact that 64 years ago, Mike was baptized into Jesus Christ, as was I, and many here.  I stress what St. Paul stressed – “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death.”  But, but, but, Pastor, you mean it is God doing something in Baptism, and not us?  Yeppers – I AM saying exactly that, because St. Paul said so, as did Our Lord, Who was anointed – baptized into His death – by John the Baptist at the Jordan as his Ministry began – “Let it be so, that ALL righteousness may be fulfilled!”

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Jesus was baptized into His miserable death on the Cross, not for His sin, but ours.  Because, you see, sin is very real, and as Scripture tells us, the end of sin is death.  Inevitable – like a death certificate signed by the doctor, and the obituary.  We are sinners, and denying sin is simple foolishness – our attendance here is proof of that sin is real, death is real.  Mike is dead, as dead as was Jesus on Good Friday at the Cross.

Sin did that!

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I shared the above with a friend, who took offense at it.  We don’t like hearing about sin.  We spend all our lives thinking we are above any “real” sin, and then – well – we still die.  There is a reality to death that we must acknowledge to ourselves, however uncomfortable or offended we might become hearing it said to us.  The same St. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 1:20-25:

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach[b] to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Despite whatever the disease – sin causes both the disease and death.  Sin poisoned everything, and denying it will not change reality.

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So here we sit with Mike’s remains.  As I told Ma this morning – “God weeps with you.  He hates sin and death”  And cancer?  Don’t get me started on that one!  But you see, all of the above is Law – pointing out sin.  It needs to be done, or I should take off this collar and never preach again.  But I’ll let you in on a secret.  It’s not really a secret to those of faith, but . . . this ain’t Mike.  We are stuck in what Psalm 23 calls the “valley of tears” – of sin and death and the devil’s maneuvers.  Mike is walking in Heavenly splendor.  You see, so far I have only preached on half the verse of our text – admittedly the “not very kind or loving” half, but as did St. Paul, so do I.  It was to set the context.  Hear our text again:

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.

Catch it now?  Mike has been there with Jesus – his Holy Baptism took him into death with Jesus – for a specific reason!

Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, {that} we too might walk in newness of life.

There it is.  The fulfillment of the promise God made to Mike on that day long ago when he was buried into death with Jesus in Baptism.  Now, Mike has risen.  These remains aren’t Mike – these are just death’s shell.  So as we weep over the obituary, yet there is joy to be had.

Mike is alive!  Let me say it again – Mike is alive.  And so, we can take to heart the words of the Angel at the tomb of Jesus:

“Why seek ye the living among the dead?  He is not here.  He has risen.”

Indeed.

Amen.

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(Michael Nice is my step-brother, and the fourth of my family to die in the last 30 months, after my brother Marty, my own dear Bride – Lorraine; and my brother Ken’s dear wife, Elaine.)

What’s a God Gotta Do?

Mark 6:1-13

1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief.

And he went about among the villages teaching.

7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

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Rodney Dangerfield, the comedian, was the master of one-liners – he could get just about anyone to laughing – but what I loved about him most, was his “schtick” – “I tell ya, I don’t get no respect.” I am not going to pretend I know how to break down his comedic genius – some folks just have it down, with a unique delivery style to emphasize the “schtick.” Rodney had the one-liners down pat! But every now and then, even Rodney fell flat. Yet – he had a one-liner for that, too.

“Boy, this is a tough crowd, I tell ya! I can’t get no respect!”

Jesus would understand.

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In our Gospel lesson today, St. Mark seems to have a bit of a talent for one-liners. His is, after all, the “short and sweet Gospel” – so to speak. St. Mark focuses hard on the actions of Jesus – he let the other evangelists handle the appropriate deep theology. He related the whole scene of Jesus in his home town, preaching and working his miracles, and the folks there seemed like they were “back to the future” time-transplants from our day and age – “Hey – he grew up here – we know his family – what’s this, Him thinking he is God or sumpin’?” And they took offense at him. Not merely offense like some protesting snowflake as we have today trying to get in the news – the Greek word means “scandal”same as in the “scandal of the Cross” St. Paul addressed. They were scandalized by what Jesus had done. They could not see the forest for the trees. That one of their own dared preach and heal as if he were the Messiah or something? Huge threat to their own snow-flakiness. Miracles still imprinted on their eyeballs, and they refused to see. Jesus hit them with His own bit of wisdom: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And right then, St. Mark made his own point about the whole scene:

“And he marveled because of their unbelief.”

Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, the long-hoped for Messiah of Israel, “marveled’ – was Himself astounded, astonished, amazed, wondering at their unbelief –

“What’s a God gotta do!!?”

This is one of those “Divine quirks” about Jesus that I so love – He is God in the flesh, yet rank unbelief astonishes Him anyway. Given His Two Natures, the God in Him was not astonished – he had come to specifically address such unbelief. But the Son of Man – the “human” in Jesus, was as real as us pinching ourselves. He let it show. Jesus, if you read the Scripture closely, always acted as fully human as He did as God. It is Him letting us see many things all at once – our very closeness to our Creator, who gave us all we have and are – including our emotions and expressions, and that in becoming Incarnate – taking on our flesh – he was exactly like us, except without sin.

I think of his first miracle – the Wedding at Cana. That was a big shindig – that wedding! And they went right through the carefully planned supply of wine for the feast. His Mom, the Blessed Virgin Mary, comes out, and this short conversation occurs:

When the wine ran out, the Mother of Jesus said to Him “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her – “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants – “Do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:3-5)

I confess – I grin widely ever time I read those verses. Now – I know Mary knew who her Son WAS in His totality, but . . . she was also His mother. Mom-Babe rules. And so, Mom “changed” her Son’s schedule. His time had come, and she let Him know by telling the servants to do whatever He says. Just like “Mom.” But a perfect insight to how much Jesus was “one of us” in the flesh. The 4th Commandment on full display. Needless to say, the wine was exquisite. And you get bonus points if you connect that one with the Holy Eucharist.

My point with my meanderings thus far? Our God is not some distant, stand-offish, “above us” God. He joined with us in Life – He came into our midst and became as we are, that we might start beginning to be as He is. He was what we are – and yes, astonished about those he grew up with rejecting the very miracles He had done, as He was obedient to his Mother. I try never to diminish Jesus, but he was “A regular Dude – Real people” – as we might put it. He came to show us what His Father created us to be – real human beings living and eating and sleeping and all the things we normally do – but how to do it without sin, as he went about His Work – culmination on the Cross, and sealed at the Empty Tomb, of forgiving all mankind, and opening the Gates of Heaven as wide as were the gates of hell slammed and chained shut. The nano-second after He cried “It is finished!” from the Cross, He shattered those gates of hell, the veil between God and Man was rent – not merely its “representation” in the Temple at the Holy of Holies, but in reality in Heaven. Chesterton caught it as well as anyone I have read:

“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.

The mirth of Jesus. The definition of the word “mirth” is – amusement, especially as expressed in laughter. Merriment, high spirits, cheerfulness, hilarity, glee, laughter, the uncontrolled joy of being with His creation.

But even the esteemed Chesterton overlooked two small verses from the quill of St. Paul in Hebrews 12:2-3:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith Who, for the JOY set before Him, endured the Cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the Right Hand of the Throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that YOU will not grow weary and lose heart.

Catch that? All that Jesus did was from HIS Divine sense of mirth – of joy, of great humor, and all the adjectives of Scripture.

Was Jesus really astonished that day as we read in our Gospel? Yes, as much as He was obedient to His mother at the wedding in Cana, and to His Father at Calvary. And yet, why?  For you and me.

That’s what Our God DID!

Amen.

Nothing to Add

President Calvin Coolidge CRUSHES Progressivism in July 4, 1926, Independence Day Address: ‘If All Men are Created Equal, That is Final; If…’

His whole text from July 4, 1926:

“About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction cannot lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.”