Epiphany Sermons by Pastor Rank

Transfiguration Sunday February 5, 2006

In Nomine Iesu

Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Text: Matthew 17:1-9

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” 8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”


Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

In chapter 16 of St. Matthew and in the later part of chapter 17 our Lord Jesus Christ tells His disciples that He will suffer many things, be crucified, and rise again the third day. The first time Peter hears Jesus describe what must happen he actually tries to talk Jesus out of it. To which Jesus says, “get behind Me, Satan.” When Jesus says the same thing after our text today, the disciples do not try to dissuade Jesus, but they are sorrowful. In between these two descriptions of Jesus’ upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection we have the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus.

The Transfiguration is a great moment for Peter, James, and John, the disciples who were with Jesus on that mountain that day. They are allowed to see the face of Jesus shining like the sun. The clothes of Jesus shine white as pure light. The disciples catch a glimpse of the hidden divine nature of Jesus Christ. They see Him, for a moment, as He truly is when He allows His glory to shine forth. They see Him as the very One of whom the Father says: “This is My beloved Son.” And with words which no doubt troubled Peter, the God the Father said: “Hear Him.” In other words, “Listen to Jesus. “Do not try to turn Him away from the work of salvation to which He willingly goes. “Do not become obstacles to My plan for the redemption of all people.” The work of Jesus, the One who is full of glory and power, is to suffer and die.

The fact that Jesus is both true God and true man is taught in our text. To the eyes of the disciples Jesus, before and after His transfiguration, appears as a normal looking man. But the transfiguration, the change of the appearance of Jesus to the glorious shining figure, plus the voice of the Father identifying Jesus as His beloved Son, show that Jesus is more than a normal man. He is also God.

What is the reason for Jesus being both God and man? Our catechism summarizes the biblical teaching on the need for Jesus to be both God and man in this way:

It was necessary for our Savior to be true man in order to fulfill the law for us and suffer and die in our place….It was necessary for our Savior to be true God in order that His fulfilling the law for us and His suffering and dying in our place might be sufficient.

In other words, the very reason for the two natures in Christ, the Incarnation, the fact that Jesus is both true God from eternity and also true man born of the Virgin Mary, is in order to accomplish salvation, to pay for our sins, to justify us, forgive us.

However, there is the idea today that the main reason for Jesus to become true man was in order to show how welcoming and hospitable God is towards us. It is a shift away from the atonement, a shift away from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and a shift to a more therapeutic, feel-good Jesus. It is as if our real need was not for the forgiveness of our sins, but to become aware of how God wants to welcome us into His family. And while there is bit of truth to this, it comes at the price of moving the real work of Jesus off to the side, and putting in the center only one of the results of Jesus’ work. It also puts off to the side the need you and I have for the death of Jesus, His sacrifice for the death we deserved because of our sins. And this fits in with much of the thinking today which wants little to do with “Christ crucified,” and wants more only Christ the Enabler, the One who will help us be all we can be.

The Christ of the transfiguration is not that person. He knows what His work is. He laid it all out for His disciples: suffering, death, resurrection. We dare not get this wrong about Jesus. To do so is to risk losing that which we truly need: forgiveness.

Now, besides the transfiguration of Jesus, the disciples also see with Jesus two of great men of God from the Old Testament. First we have Moses. Moses is the greatest of all the heroes of faith in the Old Testament. But listen to what God said to Moses in Deuteronomy:

“I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. 19 And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.”

So, what do you think Peter, James, and John are thinking when God the Father tells them to listen to Jesus? It is not only the glory that surrounds them that causes them to fall on their faces and be afraid, it is also the fact that they now know this Jesus is exactly the “Prophet” foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy. The words of Jesus are the what the Father commands, Jesus speaks in the name of the Father.

And then we have Elijah. The prophet Malachi, whose writings certainly were known to the disciples, had foretold that Elijah would come before the great and awesome day of the Lord. And right after the transfiguration, just a few verses after our text, when the disciples are wondering about the meaning of Elijah, Jesus tells them that John the Baptist was the very “Elijah” foretold, the one who came right before the Messiah, the Christ, the promised One. So with Moses and Elijah both present at the transfiguration of Jesus there is the clear proclamation that Jesus is the One to whom all the Old Testament pointed. This is the One the disciples are to hear.

For us, too, the words of the Father are to be heard. God the Father sent His Son in order for us to hear Him, to trust Him, to rely on His words. The words of Jesus are life, for He is Himself Resurrection and Life. To ignore the word of Jesus is to ignore the message we need. We need forgiveness for we are a people of sin, of rebellion, of selfishness. We need the suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus because without Jesus taking our place we have only eternal death awaiting us, the “just desserts” of our sin against God and neighbor.

But thanks be to God that He has given His only-begotten Son to suffer and die and rise again for us. And like the disciples, our hope and joy is found by looking to Jesus only. For after all the events of the transfiguration, the glory, the fear, we are told: “When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” That’s what the Father wants. He wants us to see Jesus only. Jesus only is our salvation. He only is our Life. He only is our Resurrection, our joy and hope for all eternity.

God keep you safe in Jesus only as you trust in Him and the precious work of salvation which He has accomplished for your sake. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Epiphany Sermons by Pastor Rank

Epiphany 4 January 29, 2006

In Nomine Iesu

Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Text: Matthew 8:23-27

Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. 24 And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. 25 Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 26 But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”


Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

When Jesus is sleeping it is hard to trust Him. That’s what the disciples discovered when they were in a boat with Him on the Sea of Galilee. Walking with Jesus on the shore, on a nice sunny day, then trust in Jesus is easy. In fact, one could be quite bold at that time and say all sorts of great things about how much one trusts in Jesus. But trust, or faith, is made visible in times of trouble.

St. Matthew relates to us the trouble that caused the disciples to doubt Jesus. They were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when the storm came up. There was a great wind and waves big enough to cover the boat.

Now, the disciples are not unaware of the storms on the Sea of Galilee. Some have made their living on that water. For them to reach the conclusion that they are “perishing” means that things were very serious in that boat. They truly have good reason to think they’re about to die. People who live by the sea for many years know many families who have lost loved ones through storms. No doubt the disciples could tell stories about disasters that occurred in past years on the Sea of Galilee. So they know what they are talking about when they conclude that they are in very deep trouble.

At least, we can say that humanly speaking they know what’s going on. But what do they forget to add to the equation that gave the answer as death? They forget about Jesus. And that is just what happens so often. When trouble strikes us we forget about Jesus.

Actually, the disciples don’t really forget about Jesus being with them. What they forget is who He is, and what He can do. And that is just as bad as forgetting about Him. Jesus is nothing more than a good luck charm if we forget that He is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity.

To their credit the disciples do go to Jesus. However, they do not do so with confidence, but with panic and fear. They cry out for help to the sleeping Jesus in the boat. This is worth noting. The disciples are in great difficulty. But they still do go to Jesus.

What does Jesus do? How does He respond to the disciples when they cry out to Him, when they pray for His mercy and help? There is some chastising on the part of Jesus. “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” But He still listens to them and answers their prayer.

Jesus does not yell at the disciples or wait for them to get stronger in faith and trust before helping them. He does not put more demands on them in their time of distress. And that is a great comfort. Jesus provides the needed help despite the little faith of the disciples.

And what is that help? Jesus rebukes the winds and the sea. The result is that the wind and the sea become calm. They calm down because that is what their Maker desires.

We went over this story in catechism class last week. I asked the students if they had ever tried to “rebuke” the wind. This past Tuesday we had wind up to 50 mph. If you were driving in it, did you tell the wind to calm down, or go away for awhile. My guess is that even if you did try it, you failed. You failed because the wind does not acknowledge you as its Maker. We have no power over the wind or water. But Jesus does.

“Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” Consider these words from the first chapter of Genesis:

Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day. 9 Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so.

God is the One who created the waters, the very water over which Jesus has power. Consider also these words from Colossians in which St. Paul describes Jesus:

For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.

So who is it that the wind and sea obey? It is God Himself.

Imagine the disciples, or you and I if we were there, trying to figure this out. Here is this man, Jesus, sleeping in the boat. Sleeping just like you and I sleep. Our bodies get tired, we’re worn out physically from the day’s work. We rest. But this Jesus awakes, stands up, and tells the wind to be quiet. And the wind obeys.

God was there in the boat with the disciples. He was not there in just some spiritual, invisible way. He was there in flesh and blood. He listened to the disciples cry for salvation, and He provided it. He saved their lives by His Word, His powerful Word.

Think of the One to whom you are speaking when you pray these words: “And lead us not into temptation.” You are speaking to God, to the One who took on human flesh and blood, who became incarnate, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. You are speaking to the One who created all things. You are speaking to the One of whom St. John proclaims: the Word became flesh and dwelt among and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

And you are speaking to the One who listens always to our prayers, and who always desires to help, no matter how little our trust, our faith, may be. We don’t ask because we deserve help, we ask because we need help, and Jesus is the One who has promised to help in all trials and temptations and troubles.

In the catechism we confess:

“God certainly tempts no one to sin, but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world and our own flesh may not deceive us nor lead us into misbelief, despair and other shameful sin and vice; and though we be thus tempted, that we may still in the end overcome and retain the victory.”

The world wanted the disciples to fail that day on the Sea of Galilee. Certainly Satan did, too. Their own sinful flesh flinched at approach of certain death as wind and sea roared about them. But Jesus, even a sleeping Jesus, heard them. He had never left them. He had never forgotten them. He was there to help even when they didn’t think He would help or could help.

No matter what your trouble, no matter what your doubts may be, never be afraid to call out for help to Jesus. You might think He’s sleeping. You might think that you don’t deserve His help. But forget all that. Pray, trust in the One who hears you, the One whom even wind and sea obey, the One whom even death and hell could not overcome. That One is on your side against whatever may come your way in this life.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord ((Romans 8:38-39).

Jesus will never leave you alone in the boat. He is here, and He is your salvation. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

(To God alone be the glory!)

Epiphany Sermons by Pastor Rank

Epiphany 3 – The Conversion of St. Paul January 25, 2004

In Nomine Iesu

Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Text: Acts 9:1-22

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” 6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8 Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12 “And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.” 13 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 “And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16 “For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” 17 And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. 19 So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. 20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. 21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.


Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

Saul was there when Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was killed by a mob after he had boldly confessed his faith in his Savior Jesus Christ. We are told that Saul consented to the death of Stephen. And then we read in our text how Saul wanted to go all the way to Damascus and arrest any people who were of “the Way.” “The Way” was an early name for the Christians. They believed in Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Saul wanted permission to round up as many of these Christians as he could and put them in prison.

Why was Saul so opposed to the Christians, why did he approve of the death of Saint Stephen and seek to capture others? Saul was a Pharisee. He was a very learned man. He knew the Old Testament scriptures. He had studied them under one of the great Rabbis, Gamaliel. He would himself explain later on: “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women….”

The strictness of the fathers’ law was not only the Old Testament scriptures, however. No, it included all sorts of interpretations of the rabbis through the decades. Saul had been brought up learning and believing the very things Jesus had condemned when He quoted the prophet Isaiah and said, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Saul trusted in the works righteousness of the Pharisees. He believed that his strength and will were enough to please God. He would proudly point to all the things he had done and claim that certainly he had earned the right to eternal life because of his strict adherence to all the laws.

Since Saul was convinced of the rightness of his cause and of his precise understanding of the law of God he saw the rise of the Christians as a threat to how he understood and worshiped God. Saul believed that certainly God had not come in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, and that to believe such a thing was blasphemy, making a mockery of God. Therefore, for Saul, it was entirely warranted for these Christians to be imprisoned, and maybe even killed, like Stephen.

It was during Saul’s journey to Damascus that the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him. A bright light shone on him and a voice spoke from heaven. The others with Saul heard a voice, but could see nothing. Saul receives the word from Jesus instructing him to go to Damascus, and to wait for a further word that will instruct him about what to do next. Saul understands that the voice he hears is that of Jesus Christ. Saul acknowledges this Jesus as his Lord, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” For three days Saul is blinded, and he neither eats nor drinks, while he awaits the Lord’s word.

Meanwhile, the Lord speaks to Ananias, a Christian man living in Damascus. The Lord directs Ananias to go and find Saul of Tarsus. Ananias has heard about Saul, and is not eager to go to him since he knows that Saul has persecuted Christians and is seeking to do the same in Damascus. However, the Lord has great plans for Saul. “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

Ananias does as he is directed. He finds Saul, and gives him back his sight. After three days of darkness, without food or drink, Saul is brought to light. And the first thing he does is to be baptized, receiving the Holy Spirit. Saul then begins preaching and teaching about Jesus, proving that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah promised in the Old Testament scriptures.

Saul had gone through a complete reversal. He had been dedicated to all the laws of the rabbis regarding how to eat and drink, how to be ceremonially clean, who to associate with, who to avoid, and on and on and on. Saul had been precise in his following of these laws. He had been an expert in it all. But now not only will he preach and exhort concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins through faith alone in the true Savior, Saul will specifically be sent to the Gentiles, those who neither knew nor followed the ceremonial laws previously so beloved by Saul. The one who zealously guarded and protected the law, will now zealously preach the gospel as the only way to salvation.

Saul would be renamed Paul. He would go on missionary journeys throughout the Mediterranean world. He would start new churches, strengthen others through his many letters, the divinely inspired books we know with the names: Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and so on. Yet this great teacher and preacher of the Christian Church started by hating the Church, hating Christ, and wanting to destroy it. It was not false humility, but a true understanding of Saul’s (Paul’s) own sin that led him to admit: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

The point of Paul’s writing of those words is not so that we can compare our sins to his and consider him a worse sinner than we are. “Chief of sinners” is a title we can each give to ourselves, as we humbly and honestly examine our own lives, our own betrayals of God, our failure to live as the redeemed children of God, but instead to wallow in the mud and scum of sin, rebelling in blatant ways, or in less obvious ways, against God’s will for us.

Martin Luther, like Saul/Paul, understood the seriousness of sin, and the struggle that it brings to each and every Christian. Luther wrote: “For the flesh in which we daily live is of such a nature that it does not trust and believe God and is constantly aroused by evil desires and devices, so that we sin daily in word and deed, in acts of commission and omission. Thus our conscience becomes restless; it fears God’s wrath and displeasure, and so it loses the comfort and confidence of the Gospel. Therefore it is necessary constantly to turn to this petition [“forgive us our trespasses”] for the comfort that will restore our conscience.”

“This should serve God’s purpose to break our pride and keep us humble. He has reserved to himself this prerogative, that if anybody boasts of his goodness and despises others he should examine himself in the light of this petition. He will find that he is no better than others, that in the presence of God all men must humble themselves and be glad that they can attain forgiveness. Let no one think that he will ever in this life reach the point where he does not need this forgiveness. In short, unless God constantly forgives, we are lost.”

Luther had been instructed by St. Paul through his reading of Romans and Galatians especially. And Luther could only agree and confess along with Paul the depth of sin, and the great love of God that showed in the sacrifice of the Son of God, dying for us, so that we receive the forgiveness of sins, even though we are “the chief of sinners.”

Saul was converted though God’s Word, through the working of the Holy Spirit, through Holy Baptism. And by God’s grace alone Saul the persecutor of the church became St. Paul, the one who first began to bring the Gospel to the gentiles, a work that has continued all the way to us who live now in the communities around Scarville, Iowa.

By God’s love and mercy you and I hear the precious and saving word of life, the forgiveness of our sins. God help us not to turn away from Him, but to learn again and again of how much He forgives, how much He loves, how much He cares, not just for people in general, but for you, for each one of you. God grant you such confident faith, through Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior. Amen.

Epiphany Sermons by Pastor Rank

Epiphany 2 January 15, 2006

In Nomine Iesu

Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Text: John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” 6 Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. 9 When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. 10 And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” 11 This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.


Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

In Revelation 19 the marriage supper of the Lamb, of Jesus Christ, is the great feast of salvation, the wonderful gathering of God’s people with their Savior. In Ephesians 5 we read about the beautiful relationship between Christ and His bride, the holy Christian church, and how the marriage of man and woman ties in with that spiritual union. In Matthew 22 our Lord tells a parable during Holy Week that has at its center the invitation to a wedding. “Come, for all things are now ready,” is the gracious invitation to the kingdom of God.

To all of these we can add the text before us from John 2. It is not coincidence that the first miracle of Jesus occurs in the context of a wedding. Christ and His bride, the Church, are united through the love of Christ, a love that is all about sacrifice, even to death. And the Church receives this love, and willingly follows the Savior, trusting Him with her very life.

To break the union of Church and Christ is the goal of the enemies of God. This union is broken through teachings that point the church away from the sacrifice and love of Christ. This union is compromised when the church, the bride, falls away and seeks someone other than the bridegroom.

It is no accident that when the Old Testament prophets speak of the idolatry of Israel they use the term “adultery.” God’s chosen people had abandoned Him and had gone seeking others, other gods, other pleasures, other sources of life and contentment. In the Old Testament we find that Israel committed a grievous error through its abandonment of the true God. Israel’s search for someone or something to replace the true God resulted only in failure, in death and discontentment. Israel was not happy after its abandonment of God. The church also has no joy, no life, no hope without Christ.

But here in John 2 the couple to be married invited Jesus to the wedding. Nothing could be better than for Jesus to be there. For Jesus, God, is the one who first instituted, established, the estate of holy matrimony. In Genesis 2 we find that God creates Eve for Adam, and puts this man and this woman together. The man and woman are together to be one, and, as Jesus would teach later, let no man break apart that union.

But just as the enemies of God desired Israel to break away from God, and just as they desire also the splitting of the union of Christ and His bride the Church, so also these enemies of God do all they can do destroy marriage. They attempt to destroy in the individual marriages that exist. They also try to destroy it by attacking the institution itself.

In many places marriage is despised today. The feminists of 30 years ago actively attempted to destroy it. The advocates for the unions of gays and lesbians today try to do the same. God’s blessed institution of the union of one man and one woman is thought to be old-fashioned, too strict. Many want it to evolve into a more open arrangement in which almost any combination of two or more humans can be considered a marriage.

Yet, it doesn’t matter if Canada, if Sweden, if any other country, not even if Massachusetts or the whole of the United States, say that marriage is any union of any two people. It doesn’t matter because marriage is not defined by any state. No Christian church body has the right, either, to redefine what marriage is. Marriage was created by God. We have His word, Holy Scripture. That defines it clearly, completely. And for the faithful Christian Church, that settles the issue.

Still, many are intimidated by the number of those who agitate for reinventing marriage. What we can do is insure that where the institution of marriage is attacked that Christians will confess the truth, and work to protect it.

The attacks against marriage in the public realm, in politics and government is bad. But the battleground is more frightening the closer we get to home. For suddenly we are not dealing laws and legislatures, but we are dealing with everyday life in homes in our own communities. So even as we work to protect marriage at the state and national levels, we must also take care to protect marriage in our own homes, in our own families.

This starts with learning how God desires to protect husband and wife. Marriage is protected by the Sixth commandment: “You shall not commit adultery. What does this mean? We should fear and love God, so that we lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed, and that husband and wife each love and honor the other.”

It doesn’t take long for husband and wife to discover how easily they can irritate each other. Where there should be love, there is dislike, maybe even hatred. Where there should be honor there is mutual detesting of each other. Why is this? Because husband and wife are both sinful people, living together, in close quarters, with shared frustrations. We would hope that Christian husband and Christian wife would learn, or even enter marriage, knowing of the great and on-going need to forgive each other again and again. After all, they were both sinners in need of forgiveness before they were married. The words of the Lord’s Prayer are not new: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  But forgiveness seems far away in marriage as husband and wife maneuver to have the upper hand, instead of living in sacrificial and submissive love, husband to wife, and wife to husband.

So we find in marriage little love and little honor. We find a husband yelling at his wife as if the wife was a child. Is that honor? We find a wife despising her husband as she sees his weakness and gloats over it. Is that honor? Husbands do not like putting wives first, sacrificing for them, because husbands are selfish. Wives do not like submitting in love to their husbands because they are proud. Christ humbled Himself to the point of death for His church. That’s more than a clue for husbands. The Christian Church submits to the authority of the One who sacrifices Himself for her, and that is more than a clue for wives. Yet our sinful nature rebels at such calls for love.

The Christian home is the foundation of society. The Christian family, parents and children, is fundamental to the church. And it all starts with husband and wife. And that is why the enemies of God will always seek ways to bring strife, misery, hatred, into marriage. Satan hates harmony between husband and wife. The world works to subvert anything God says is good. And our own sinful flesh wants no part of sacrificing for someone else, or submitting to someone else. No wonder marriages get broken.

But in all this we must never forget the power of God for salvation, the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ. We start by understanding ourselves. We learn to see how we deserve no good thing from God, no forgiveness, nothing. But what do we find? We find love, we find forgiveness so deep, so all-encompassing, that our sins are gone, never to be found. All through the sacrifice of Jesus at the cross. His blood cleanses us, washes us of sin. Starting with that, we then move on to our spouse. This is not about ignoring sin, but of forgiving it – forgiving even when we don’t think our husband or wife deserves it; forgiving even when its not fair. And we can only do that, live that, as we keep growing ourselves in the forgiveness we receive from God each and every day: through our Baptism, through the absolving Word, through the Body and Blood of Christ in the Supper. The Holy Spirit comes to us through all these blessed means of grace and bandages our wounds, calming us with the patience and comfort of God. That is how we live with ourselves, and with our spouse. It starts and ends with Christ.

Christ was at that wedding at Cana so many years ago. He continues to be with husbands and wives even today. He knows what’s going on. He knows how marriage is attacked from both within and without. But He also made sure to take care of it, by dying, by rising, by being with us always, to the very end of the world. Let this be our strength, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Epiphany Sermons by Pastor Rank

Epiphany 1 – January 7, 2007

In Nomine Iesu

Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Text: Matthew 10:32-39

Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. 34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to “set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;” 36 and “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

These words today from our Lord, recorded in St. Matthew’s gospel, teach us the distinction between faith and love. Faith here means the confession of Jesus Christ as Savior, as Son of God, as all that He is shown to be in the Holy Scripture. Love means first of all love of God, and how that love of God may impact our love for others.

These words of our Lord are words that are hard for us to hear and to apply in our lives. They are hard because they seem to go against other words that tell us to love others. So what does this mean for you, and for your families?

We begin with the confession of Christ versus the denial of Christ. As we heard on New Year’s Eve last week, it matters whether or not we confess Christ. It is not an option. To confess Christ means we believe in Him alone, and we speak our faith. To deny Christ means that we do not speak Him, and that we are too ashamed or afraid or weak or unbelieving to say about Jesus: “My Lord and my God.”

If you do not confess Christ, then, Jesus says, “I will deny you before My Father in heaven.” For Jesus to deny you means that He will say to you what the bridegroom told the five foolish virgins in the parable: “Depart from Me, for I do not know you” [Matt. 25:12]. And the door to heaven is closed and locked. That’s what it means if Jesus Christ denies you before His Father. It is a terrible result, one which should alarm us, and cause us to wake up from a slumbering faith, with intentions to learn more about how to confess Christ and what that means for our daily lives.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, found out early what it would mean for her to be the mother of the Jesus Christ. When she brought Jesus to the Temple, a man named Simeon told her: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” [Luke 2:34-35]. Simeon foretold that Jesus would be denied, “spoken against.” And that Mary would feel the sword that Jesus speaks of here in Matthew 10. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

To confess Christ is something that has eternal blessings. It means that you and I are bound to Him who died and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins. It means that you and I are promised eternal life, an eternity of peace and joy, with all the wonders and joys and contentment of the mansions in heaven Jesus, the Son of God, has prepared for us.

But right now you and I are living in the “not yet” time of faith in Christ. What I mean by that is the full blessings of confessing Christ are not yet seen by us. We are forgiven, yet we still find sin within us. We have eternal life, but we know that physical death will come our way. We live by faith. We live in the “not yet” time when we trust God’s promises. We are like father Abraham who was promised a great nation with descendants more than the sand on the seashore, yet saw only his son Isaac. It was still “not yet” for Abraham. So it is with you and me.

In fact, we are in the time when confessing Jesus Christ as Savior will seem to cause more trouble than blessings. It will seem that it has brought war instead of peace. It will seem that Christ has forsaken us or forgotten us instead of confessing us as His brothers and sisters before His Father in heaven. All this will happen because the confession of Christ reveals hearts; it brings the sword instead of peace; and it may set us against the very ones closest to us, our families. This is what makes these words of Jesus hard.

Christ comes first in our lives. Faith in Christ is the most important thing for us, because we are saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. If we fail at this point, if we fail in faith, denying Christ, then it doesn’t matter if we are outwardly the most caring, considerate, compassionate, husband or wife, son or daughter. It won’t matter because without Christ, when our thoughts are revealed on the last day, we will see that it was all about us, it was an idolizing of ourselves. We had a god all along; it wasn’t Jesus, it was me, you. So it is essential for us to keep hearing God’s Word, receiving His holy Sacrament, being absolved, so that the power of the Holy Spirit working within us keeps us in the faith, keeps us confessing Christ first.

But this may have consequences for our lives within our families. There may come times when we have to choose between the truth of God’s Word and the actions of a family member. Some will tell us that love will mean tolerating, respecting, accepting, actions in our loved ones that go against the Word of God and that end up denying Christ. They will expect us, maybe even demand of us, the acceptance of their right to do as they choose, even when their choices are contrary to the clear Word of God. But what does the confession of Jesus Christ mean for us in such times? What does love really mean at that point?

What we need to learn to do is to keep first things first. First is Jesus Christ, faith in Him, confession of Him as our Savior from sin, death, and the devil. We accept the fact that the confession of the truth will bring consequences for us that may be more than uncomfortable; they may hurt, and leave us sorrowful. Our Lord Himself wept over the fate of Jerusalem because they would not believe in Him. “How often I would have gathered you like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not.” Jesus could not deny Himself. The people of Jerusalem would one day discover, to their horror, what it meant to deny Jesus, as their city was destroyed.

But even with that, we also learn to deal with others, especially others in our families, with the compassion and charity which our Lord has given us. We need the forgiveness which only God can give. And He gives it to us, generously. We then speak of the need for continued repentance, of the need for the admission of sin, not of tolerating it or accepting it. We speak in such ways not out of hatred, but out of a true love for the souls of the people involved. A doctor who must amputate the grossly infected foot of a patient, does not do so out of hatred, but out of a desire to do what is best to save that person’s life, even though there will be pain and suffering involved in that amputation. It means putting first things first.

This morning, let us look to our families with the prayer that our Lord would have mercy on us; that He would help us to confess our Savior with integrity, with courage, with a clear and steady mind, allowing nothing to move us from saving faith, faith which is a precious gift to us from God, our heavenly Father. May we also keep growing in our love for those around us, seeing what they, like us, truly need: lives of repentance and faith, trusting in the work of salvation done by Jesus, the Son of God. God grant us the strength to be faithful witnesses, the boldness to speak the truth, and the humility to do so knowing our own need for the grace of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.