The preaching of God’s Word, administering of God’s Sacraments, and serving others in Jesus’ name are marks of the church and the foundation of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.  We are a congregation of traditional values that seeks to reach out into the world so others might know the love of our risen savior, Jesus the Christ.  “We believe the church to be the hospital for sinners”...Luther. “We also believe that evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread”...Luther.  If you are looking for a church home or just visiting, you are welcomed!   God bless you.  

Pastor Suehr

Sermon by Rev. Dr. Clifton Suehr

January 6th, 2019

Text Box: Come and Worship...Go and Serve

EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH

OF THE HOLY TRINITY

502 Main Street, Irwin, PA  15642    724-863-7350

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             A few years back the number one joke in Great Britain was about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  It seems that Holmes and Watson were on a camping trip.  In the middle of the night, Sherlock wakes Watson and asks the good doctor, “Watson, look up and tell me what you observe.”  Still half asleep, Watson says, “I see the moon, the stars, the planets, and the constellations.”  Sherlock asks, “What is your deduction.”   Dr. Watson replies, “From the multitude of stars and planets, there must be some great architect of the universe.   We on the earth are but mere grains of sands on the beach of the universe.  There could be countless planets like earth, which may or may not have intelligent life.  One could deduce that there is some grand creator, who we could call God, who has created all of this with order and beauty.”   Sherlock Holmes turns to Dr. Watson and says, “Watson, you idiot, someone has stolen our tent!”

             As we hear Matthew’s story of the magi visiting the infant Jesus, what is it that we deduce from the story?  Do we get caught up in stargazing and wonder if there ever was such an event in the sky?   Do we concern ourselves with whether or not astrology has validity in the life of Christians?  Although these and other similar questions may be of some interest, dwelling on them might miss Matthew’s point about Jesus the messiah. 

             To digress for a moment for the purpose of putting things into context, Matthew begins his gospel with our Lord’s genealogy on Joseph’s side.  This is the forerunner of Ancestry.com!   Joseph is in the lineage of King David, from whom the messiah was to come.   As an heir of David’s throne, it would be important for the messiah to be born to a male of David’s lineage.  Kings beget kings in the ancient world.  This point is of great importance because of the incredible scandal that involves Mary.  

The mother of our Lord was a virgin who became with child from the Holy Spirit.  Only God and Mary know how this occurred.  What makes this “who” situation so remarkable is that the writer of the gospel reveals the scandal of Jesus’ conception.  Matthew was not trying to editorialize for the sake of making things pristine.  He was recounting the truth of the miraculous birth.  A rabbi commented on one of those history channel segments that the disciples had to truly believe in who Jesus was to record this apparent scandal.  He concluded that this would not have been an intentional addition by the disciples.  The scandal of the virgin birth was part and parcel of the belief of the early church.   I too believe that the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus was for real. 

This brings us to the second scandal in Matthew that is our lesson for today.  The Persian astronomers, who we know as the wise men or three kings, are repugnant to a Jewish audience.  These gentiles who followed the pagan practice of astrology came to give homage to the infant king of the Jews.   Herein lays the great scandal of Matthew:  Jesus Christ did not come just for the Jews, but for the entire world to receive his gracious love.  Even the stars in the sky testified to the coming of the savior of the world.  Unfortunately, this wonderful birth was not well received by Jesus’ own people.   Herod wants to kill the newly born messiah.  As we know about Thirty-three years later, the Scribes and the Pharisees will succeed where Herod failed.  The baby king would become the suffering servant of God for the sake of the world.

Sometimes we Christians neglect this great gift that is ours in Christ Jesus.   We know Jesus is Lord.  We know he has conquered sin and death and evil for our sakes.  He is risen.  But, do we keep up our holy responsibilities as the children of God.  Do we keep our promises to the Lord?  In a humorous but true short story called the “Little Red Wagon” the point is well taken.   It’s the day after Christmas at a church in San Francisco. The pastor of the church was looking over the cradle when he noticed that the baby Jesus was missing from among the figures.  Immediately he turned and went outside and saw a
little boy with a red wagon.  In the wagon was the missing figure of the little infant, Jesus.  So he walked up to the boy and said, "Well, where did you get Him, my fine friend?"
The little boy replied, "I got him from the church." "Why did you take him?" asked the pastor.   The boy said, "Well, about a week before Christmas I prayed to the little Lord Jesus and I told him if he would bring me a red wagon for Christmas I would give him a ride around the block in it.”

When we were baptized and confirmed in the church, we promised many things to the Lord.  Most importantly we promised to live a Christ-like life.  Have we, like the little boy with the red wagon, made good on the promises we made?   Another way to look at things would be to consider if Sherlock Holmes examined our lives, what would he deduce?  Would he come to the conclusion that we are followers of Jesus?  Would he conclude that we are the ones who have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to live as little Christs to the world? 

Jesus came to this world of sin and death to give it forgiveness and life.  We are the chosen messengers of these good tidings of great joy.  Everyday we can remember our baptisms and begin anew in the spirit of Jesus Christ.   Everyday we can let the light of Christ show in our lives.  What is past is past and forgiven.  What we are able to do is start anew-in God’s gracious love.  Everyday we can imitate the gentile astrologers, the magi, and give the Lord our best because that is what the Lord first did for us.  Jesus Christ is the light of the world.  Amen

 

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Sermon by Rev. Dr. Clifton Suehr

Some other Time

 

Our gospel lesson for this morning deals with the baptism of Jesus.  It may be a good time for us to affirm the meaning of our own baptisms and how our baptisms relate to the mission theme we are emphasizing this Epiphany season. 

             William P. Barker tells about a machinist with the Ford motor company in Detroit who had, over a period of years, "borrowed" various tools and parts from the company that he had not bothered to return.  I understand this type of borrowing happens in many towns.  Although Henry Ford did not condone this practice of borrowing, it was more or less accepted by management.  Nothing was done to stop this stealing.  This machinist, however, experienced a Christian conversion.  He was baptized and became a very devout believer.  He took his baptism to heart.

             The next morning, he arrived at work loaded down with tools and all the parts he had taken from the company during the years.  He explained his situation to his foreman and asked to be forgiven. The foreman was so astonished and taken back that he cabled Mr. Ford himself who at the time was visiting a European plant.  The foreman explained the entire event in detail and asked what should he do?  Immediately, Mr. Ford cabled back, "Dam up the Detroit River and baptize the entire city!" 

             In my first parish, there was man in a similar situation with Westinghouse.  After one of my sermons that touched on our baptismal response to “Thou Shall Not Steal,” he came and visited with me in private.  He said he had taken hundreds of tools from the company and now felt compelled to return them.  The problem was that by taking in at least a pick-up truck load of tools, it would get him fired.  He had a family to feed.  I asked him how did he get them out of the shop?  He replied one at a time so it wouldn’t be noticed.  While praying for guidance, I suggested he take them back the same way he took them out – one at a time.  He left with a plan.  Almost a year later, he asked if we could visit again.  With the widest grin, he said all the tools were back and he felt like a freed man.  We could only hope that every Christian would take her or his baptism that seriously.

             God takes baptism seriously.  That's one reason why our Lord, who was sinless and pure, subjected himself to baptism.  In doing so, Jesus models obedience for us.  It was simply God's will that he should be baptized.  By doing the will of the Father, Christ shows us the way in which we are to go.  We too are to be doing the will of God. 

             Luke's particular understanding of Jesus' baptism goes beyond an act of simple obedience for the sake of being good.  Luke is concerned with Jesus as Messiah of Israel the Savior of the world.  At the baptism, our Lord identifies himself with all of humanity and, simultaneously, the Father identifies Jesus as the beloved.  Both are identifications are crucial for the gospel writer.

             First, there is the importance of Jesus being given an identity by the Father.  Jesus as the beloved shows that in a special and unique way, he is the only begotten Son of God.  Luke takes great labors through out his gospel to tell us this was no ordinary person.  From the beginning at Christ's conception, we are told that, “Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.”   This was a unique and divine intervention into humanity.   Furthermore, her cousin, Elizabeth's unborn child, who we later know as John the Baptist, leaped in her womb upon hearing Mary's voice.  At Jesus' birth, angels sang and pointed shepherds to the Christ child.  When our Lord was dedicated at the temple, Simeon sang his song of praise to God and Anna the prophetess told all that this child would bring about the redemption of Israel.  Even as a boy, Jesus understood that the temple was his Father's house. 

             At the time of his baptism, the Father made clear the relationship he had with Jesus.  As the beloved, Jesus was identified as the messiah, the Christ of God, and the Savior of the World.  In a way, the approving voice of the Almighty made the baptism like a coronation of a king. 

             Our Lord was and is more than just a great guy or a moral teacher.   I believe C. S. Lewis, the great English writer and convert to Christianity from agnosticism, said it wonderfully when he wrote that the one thing we must not say about Jesus is, "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God... A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic - on the level of a man who says he is poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else madman or something worse."  

             It is as the Son of God, the beloved, that Jesus came and identified himself with all of humanity.  This is the second point identitiy. The King of Kings and Lord of all came from heaven to be one of us, so that we might have life.  Jesus was one of us who identified with all the people.  He came for all of fallen humanity, not just a select group.  Saint Paul throughout the book of Romans makes this same point by writing that while we were sinners, Christ came and died and rose again on our behalf.  No one is too good or too bad to be forgiven of his or her sins.  God freely offers his love, grace and forgiveness to all who will receive it.  All, you and me included, are welcome to be part of the new life in Christ.

             Jesus the Christ came personally for you and me to invite us to share eternity with him.  He continues to do this for most of us in our baptisms.  At that point in our lives, God says to us that you are one of my beloved.  We receive that message of love through Water and God's Word.  Our response is to be a life of discipleship and commitment to the Lord who loves us.  Our mission, as the baptized, is to share that love by Word and Deed to a world in need of that Good News.  In Christ we are all accepted.  Because of Christ we are to share that acceptance with all people.  Those who are baptized in the name of Jesus are the children of God.  We are children of the King.

             When I was serving First Lutheran in Leechburg, I was visiting a homebound member who asked me the standard question, "Pastor, how do you like Leechburg?"  My reply was, "I have met many good people in Leechburg."  She responded, "The problem is, pastor, they have to let the goodness out." 

             We could say the same thing about the church throughout the world.  We need to let the goodness out.  This is true in all phases of our life in Christ.  Jesus knows this about us.  He was one of us.  He can identify with our every need.  We know that he is the Lord.  The Father identified him as the beloved at the baptism and in the resurrection assured us of this to the ultimate degree.  Furthermore, we know that Jesus dwells within us through the Holy Spirit to empower us to let that goodness out.  We are the baptized.  Almighty God has identified us as his children.  Let's take our baptisms seriously and do Christ's mission by letting that goodness out.     

             Amen