Preaching to the saints of the Lutheran Church at Christ-Elkhart and Faith-Hugoton in Kansas since February 8, 2015. All sermons prior to that date were preached either at Trinity Lutheran Church-Layton or First Lutheran Church-Tooele, Utah.
A Sermon for the Festival of St. Mary Magdalene and the
Baptism of Alexa Marie Hering
TEXT: On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
. . . she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?"
She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, "Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away."
Jesus said to her, "Mary!"
She turned and said to Him, "Rabboni!" (which is to say, Teacher).
Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'"
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her. John 20:1, 14-18 nkj
As if I need to tell you, today is one of the most joyous days of my life. To welcome my first grandchild, little Alexa into the Kingdom of God is the stuff of dreams and a miraculous work of God for which I am not worthy, and I am sure any pastor would say the same.
It is also illustrative of the Christian life. In the midst of one of the most tumultuous weeks of my life, this great blessing is unfurled.
I will not take our precious time here to list the happenings of the week, for I am certain each of you have also had such weeks of blessings and disappointments, joys and griefs, joinings and separations, life and death.
Baptism, and the life of faith, is not a guarantee of a trouble free life But Baptism IS the promise of a forever life with God. A forever that starts even as the precious Word of Christ begins to make your ear drums quiver and the water first splashes upon your brow to drown the sinner and wash you clean.
So why all the misery?
Among other reasons:
Sin does not go away without a fight.
Sinners do everything they can to avoid the fight
No sin does not go away without a fight.
As we sing in "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,"
"The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight; On earth is not his equal."
Thanks be to God, the risen Christ ascended and seated at the right hand of His Father in heaven is more than his equal. And He stoops down from heaven in Baptism to win that fight for little Alexa today, joining her to the body of His one and only Son, and to you -in the holy Christian and Apostolic Church, the bride of Christ - those who already participate in Christ's victorious fight over sin, death, and the evil one himself.
Yet sadly, sinners do everything they can to avoid the fight.
As Paul, the Apostle of our Lord tells us of this fight with sin from his own perspective, saints though we are through Baptism into Christ Jesus, we are still in this world sinners:
". . . carnal, [that is earthly flesh and blood born of Adam, that first sinner] sold under sin.
[So with Paul we wonder] ". . . what I am doing, I do not understand. . . . what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. . . . what I am doing, I do not understand. . . . . what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. . . . I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. . . . the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
"I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
"O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
"And with Paul, hearing the Good news of salvation, we rejoice and thank God__ through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Romans 7:14-25 nkj
Nowhere is this conflict between will and performance -- this struggle of the inward, baptized man's delight in the Lord against the sinful man's desire for pleasure to hide from the conflict - more evident and profound than in our relationship with God in our worship life.
Like Mary Magdalene, we do not recognize Him where He is to be found without Him speaking and revealing Himself to us.
Yet, in a sense, we have the opposite problem of Mary Magdalene. We have been given the body of the Lord, yet we do not hold on to it, to Him, where He is to be found, in favor of where we would like to find Him. We would rather seek him by our own striving and prove our own worthiness, presenting our great love for Him as something special that is best evidenced in our emotional outpourings wherever and whenever we decide to offer them.
But God tells us to seek Him where He may be found, that is, in the places He has promised to be, And that means Church, where He brings heaven to earth to forgive sins in the preaching of His Word and the distribution of His Sacraments - what we call His means of grace, the packages He uses to take what Christ purchased on the cross 2000 years ago and deliver it to sinners of every generation in every corner of the world.
Mary wanted to hold on to Jesus right there on earth. But that would have prevented Him from ascending to heaven, where He was to go in order to bring Mary there with Him - where He has gone, and has brought you there to live with Him in heaven as well, as the Paul the Apostle of our Lord tells us:
"Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? herefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection," Romans 6:3-5 NKJ
"But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus," Ephesians 2:4-6 NKJ
So, because Christ is indeed seated at the right of the Father, you cannot really hold on to Him either, at least not as you would like. You cannot have Him in anything of your choosing or in the things of your making, but only in the things He has commanded and given for you to find Him. Those are His means of Grace, Word & Sacraments. In and through those things He holds on to you.
Have you seen the Lord?
Not in the same way as Mary Magdalene and the disciples.
But here, in Baptism - at the font, and as your Baptism continues to pour out over you in the Divine Service and the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever it is heard, whether by the preaching of His pastors and teachers or by the grateful praise and thanksgiving of His baptized children in their daily lives. For every baptized child of God is a mean by which others may say with Mary Magdalene and with us, I have seen the Lord.
And here in the Lord's Supper, in the bread placed, and the wine poured, upon your tongue, you have seen the Lord, He gives Himself to you, and you know where He is to be found and grasped - that is faith.
What is even more important is that He knows you. And, ascended to His Father and your Father, and to His God and your God.' - that is what faith grasps onto. A God who is here with you in the flesh, even as He is enthroned in heaven, where He forgives you all of your sins, defeating the evil one and even your own sinful self, and gives you life in His kingdom forever -
. . . in the name of the Father, and of + the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Insofar as this sermon is a true proclamation of the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, it belongs to Him and His Church. Therefore its use is free to all who deem it worthy and beneficial.
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