St. John, Apostle and Evangelist 2015

Bible Text: John 21:20-25 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

The awesome gift of Christmas is God in the flesh. But after Jesus grew up, died for our sins and rose from the dead, He ascended to the right hand of God the Father and is hidden from our sight. The world doesn’t let us forget. “You can’t see Jesus. You didn’t see Him rise from the dead. None of it’s true. It’s all made-up foolishness.” But we have a very real and solid connection to Jesus so that we know He is real and though we cannot see Him, that He is with us: the Word of God. The Gospel, the Good News which was proclaimed by eyewitnesses. That’s why we celebrate St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist today. (This is not John the Baptist, this is John, James’ brother, the fisherman who was one of the Twelve.) In fact, the church, in sticking St. John’s festival day just a couple of days after Christmas, is giving us this reminder of what it is that connects us to Christmas and Christ’s gifts to us today. Eyewitnesses! In this particular case, John the Apostle and Evangelist. He’s an Apostle because He was one of the original Twelve that Jesus Himself called to witness His life and death and resurrection and to go and preach it to all nations. He is called an Evangelist because He is one of the four Gospel writers. John Himself reminds us that He is an eyewitness in His epistle. He saw the eternal life manifested, in the flesh. He saw Jesus! And He declares Him to us. This is important. Without St. John and the rest of the Apostles and Evangelists, Christmas would just be a nice story that pops up once a year and causes us to bake cookies and buy presents for people. But because of John, the facts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are really witnessed. They are real and John tells us so. Why should we believe Him?

Let me ask you something. How many of you believe in your parents? Well, of course you do. You know them. Some of you are sitting with them right now. How about your grandparents? Were they real? Sure. You probably know or knew them. Great grandparents? Maybe you didn’t know them personally but you may have heard stories from your grandparents or parents. How about great-great-grandparents? Great-great-great-grandparents? Obviously they were real or you wouldn’t be here! But of course others knew them. Maybe they wrote letters or there are pictures. Now let’s go back a little farther. Do you believe in Abraham Lincoln? George Washington? King Henry VIII? Julius Caesar? King Tut? Sure. Because we have writings and other evidence that they were real. That they existed. So when it comes to Jesus, same thing. Eyewitnesses. This is the testimony of John. He was there when Jesus turned water into wine. He was there when Jesus did lots of other signs. John was there at the cross when Jesus breathed His last. And John was one of the first few disciples who got a look at the empty tomb and who saw Jesus the evening He rose from the dead. John is a guy you could ask: Did Jesus really die and come back to life? Sure did. John saw it. Now if it were just John, we might be skeptical, but there were lots of disciples who saw Jesus and heard Him and saw Him alive after Easter. And this is the eywitness testimony they delivered, which is good news for you: Jesus Christ actually lived and died and rose again. He is the eternal life that is manifested among us because His death and resurrection defeat your sin and death.

So we’ve got Jesus for real, doing His saving stuff. And we’ve got John, the eyewitness. But he saw it, not us. That’s where what he wrote comes in. As an Evangelist, this eyewitness wrote down what he saw and heard. So now it’s preserved for the generations that come after Him. It’s there for the church ever since John to hear and believe. He says that in the Gospel and in his epistles and he tells what he saw in Revelation, too. And when Jesus says “What is it to you that he remains until I come,” He’s hinting that John will be the Apostle who is around until the New Testament is written. You see, when people were writing Gospels and Epistles, you could always check in with John and say, “Did that really happen? Did Jesus say that? Did He do that?” And John could tell you yes or no. Then, when all the New Testament was written, John could die. So while John may not be around, his witness and testimony still are…in the Bible! This is why the Bible is a reliable book, even though lots of people laugh at it and think it’s made up. The fact is, there are more copies of the Bible than any other ancient book. Thousands of copies. And they all say the same thing: Jesus died and rose. This is what we mean when we confess the “one, holy, Christian, and apostolic” church. It means that your pastor preaches what John the Apostle did: that Jesus died for you and rose again. It’s this same Jesus who baptizes you and feeds you with His body and blood and forgives you all your sins. So Christmas is real. Jesus was really born. He lived, died, and rose again. For you. And that is given to you by the testimony of John which is written down in the Holy Scriptures and preached to you today in Christ’s church. So you can be certain, because of St. John, of all that Jesus did and accomplished as your Savior. John the Apostle and Evangelist is part of the connection between Christmas and you now. So Happy festival of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist and Merry Christmas! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Day 2015

Bible Text: John 1:1-18 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “That’s him…in the flesh!” or “Are you really so and so?” “In the flesh!” It means that it’s really that person. They’re not far away. They’re not someone else. They are THAT person and they are RIGHT THERE in front of you and where you are. St. John teaches us that we can say the same thing about God when Jesus comes. Jesus? God? In the flesh! It’s really Him. It’s really God. Now, I suppose we can imagine lots of things about God and we usually do. We can sort of imagine a great big Guy up in the sky, that we can’t see but who paints rainbows and sunsets. He can hear everyone’s prayers at once, and He’s all powerful and all that. We have that sort of abstract acknowledgement that God is everywhere and sees everything (though that never seems to stop us from doing stuff for the naughty list!) But it’s maybe a lot harder to wrap our heads around the idea that God is in a manger. That He’s wearing a diaper. That He needs to be fed and rocked and changed. That’s…that stuff…is so…NOT like God. Or at least not like our ideas of God. But this is the mystery of the Incarnation. This is the wonder of Christmas: The Son of God has come…in the flesh. He was conceived in the womb of Mary and at Christmas, like we sing, He first revealed His sacred face. And then probably did cry because babies cry. He needed to eat. Needed to be changed. Needed to be held and rocked and burped. How’s that for some God stuff? Baby Jesus, is that really you, God? In the flesh!

And His whole life will be doing fleshly, peopley, human things. Like walking around. Eating. Sleeping. Oh, sure, He often reminded His disciples that He was God in the flesh by turning water into wine or walking on water or feeding 5,000 or healing the sick or raising the dead. There was even that one time He went up on the mountain and went all supernova shiny! But all of that is just to remind folks: Jesus, are you really God? In the flesh! But the really super big deal about His being in the flesh is what happened to Him for your salvation. Your flesh is born infected with sin. Your flesh is born already dying. So He came in the flesh to have happen to Him what happens to us to save us. He came to suffer. Mocked. Spit upon. Beaten. Scourged. Pierced. Bleeding. Finally, death. Death. Cold, dead body. Blood poured out. Breath stopped. Head bowed. Body laid in a grave death. He’s not just one of us until we start dying off and He can say, “Well, I’m God so I don’t have to do THAT!” No, he stuck with us the whole way. Even to His own death. So that we can say about that Jesus on the cross: Is that really you, God? His answer? In the flesh! And with that, with His being in the flesh, because of His incarnation, we can say such wild and crazy things as “God died for us.” For me. For you. For the whole world. For every mortal fleshly human, the Son of God dies. To make sin and death His own and take their power over you away. And when He rose? Still in the flesh. Still a body. Remember Thomas? Jesus’ hands and sides. His flesh still had holes. Because the goal isn’t to escape the flesh but raise it from the dead free from sin and alive forever.

And while we still picture God in some abstract way, because Jesus has ascended and we don’t see Him with our eyes, He’s still all about the flesh. His flesh. Your flesh. Take your baptism for example. That’s a real, fleshly thing. Water which splashes on your body. Words that your ears hear. Nothing abstract or imaginary there! In the flesh of your pastor you hear the words of Jesus too. Words calling to repentance. Words absolving and forgiving. And then, the Supper. Bread and wine. Jesus, is that you? In the flesh! His flesh and blood for you to eat and drink. Everything about Jesus’ gifts is fleshly, earthly, watery, bread and wine, body and blood. That’s why when we worship God it’s never off on our own just sort of thinking about God or pretending we believe. It’s about actually being in the church, with our bodies. Our ears open, our mouths singing God’s Words and receiving Christ’s body and blood. It’s life lived in the company of our brothers and sisters in Christ, who with their frail bodies, and sins, and faults, and foibles, have been made pure and holy just like you by the flesh of Jesus. Christmas is the vivid reminder that God is not just “out there” somewhere or “up there.” It’s a reminder that God is not some mysterious force or abstract divine whatever somewhere. It’s a reminder that God is about more than just having the whole world in His hands. It’s about God having hands. And feet. And flesh. That gets pierced. That bleeds. That dies. For you. For the whole world. Christmas is this holy and beautiful reminder that you can look at Jesus and say, “God, is that really you?” And He answers, “In the flesh!” Right here. For you. As your Savior. “For the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Merry Christmas in the Name of Jesus! Amen.

The Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Eve 2015

Bible Text: Luke 2:1-20 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

It’s not that there was no place in the “inn” or “guest room.” It’s that there was no place FOR THEM. For Mary and Joseph. What would Joseph’s relatives say? What would the other girls in the family learn from Mary who was showing up in Bethelehm about to give birth to a baby that was not Joseph’s? We always seem to assume that Bethlehem was so full because of the census that all the motels were booked. But Joseph was from around there. They should have had a place. If nothing else, the people of Bible times were supposedly known for their hospitality! But not this time. It’s not too hard to imagine that Mary and Joseph couldn’t find a place because they didn’t fit the good Jewish mold. The baby wasn’t Joseph’s. Word had no doubt spread. That’s how things go, of course. Everybody always knows. We can imagine a world that doesn’t care about a couple trying to find a place so the girl can have her baby. But we can also imagine them not having a place because people would be looking down at them, afraid to violate their religious sensibilities and morals. Even Joseph was minded to put Mary away quietly, if not have her stoned for adultery. But God was doing something else. Something greater. Something for them and for you.

There was no place for them, so it was a manger for baby Jesus. The great irony is this: His place is a manger to give you a place with God. Jesus is born, poor, an outcast, in a food trough, to put you at the right hand of God with Him. When Adam and Eve tossed God’s Word aside, the curse of sin threw them out of the Garden. They lost their place. But Jesus was born to put them back where they belong. To put YOU back where you belong: with the Lord. His whole life, Jesus’ place would be the place of the lowest, the outcast, the scorned. The manger in a stable. The cross between two thieves. The tomb borrowed from someone else. “The Son of Man has no place to lay His head,” Jesus once said. There’s never a place for Jesus. And He endures that to save you. To make sure you are put back in your place with God and never kicked out. To give you a room and mansion in the Lord’s house. In fact, where we would so quickly judge someone else’s sins, Jesus came to assure you a place with the Lord not on the basis of what you’ve done or not done, not kept out because of anything you’ve done. Rather, by the forgiveness Christ brings, your place is set.

How about you? Who would you keep out of the kingdom of God if it were up to you? To whom would you say, “Sorry, no place for you here.” Maybe we do that because we are selfish or don’t want to share with others. Maybe we do it because we are judging them to be unworthy based on our own standards. It doesn’t matter. Repent! Christmas repentance! Let’s all just confess together that when the Son of God shows up, we would give Him no place just like we so easily give no place to others around us. Maybe it’s a place at your table. In your home. Maybe it’s a place in our church. Maybe it’s a place in our larger circle of friends or family. Who do you see coming and, looking down at them for whatever they’ve done, shut the blinds and put up the “No Vacancy” sign? But they have a place. You have a place. That place was given to you at this place. In particular THAT place, the font. And in THIS place, the Good News is heard: A Savior is born. A Savior who is Christ the Lord. Doesn’t matter if there’s not a single room available and for whatever reason. He’s born anyway. Born to go to cross and resurrection for you. Here’s His rightful place now, the right hand of the Father, and on this altar, the flesh and blood that are His, given for you to eat and drink. Flesh and blood that promise you a place. A place with Him. And with them. Those also for whom He gave His life and rose again. It’s not that there was no place for Mary and Joseph. It’s that there was no place FOR THEM. Shepherds aren’t really high up on the socially accepted ladder either. But it’s Christmas. The birth of our Lord. The birth of the Savior. For shepherds. For sinners. For you and me. And now we, who give no place, have a place. Your place is with Him. Forever. Merry Christmas, in the name of Jesus. Amen.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent 2015

Bible Text: John 1:19-28 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Strange dude baptizing in the wilderness. “Hey! Are you the…” “No! I am NOT the Christ.” “Well are you Elijah?” “No.” “Ah, so you’re the Prophet with a capital ‘P’?” “Wrong again.” “Well, look, all the big wigs sent us out here to check you out. So what do you have to say for yourself?” “I’m a just a voice. A voice that declares the Lord is coming and to make ready his way. That’s it. Just a voice.” “Well then who do you think you are, baptizing and preaching?” “Because the One who comes after me is before me and I’m not even worthy to untie his sandals.” And that’s why John is baptizing. And preaching. Because the Lord sent him out there to prepare the way. When the President of the United States travels, the Secret Service heads out first to check everything out and make everything ready. When there’s a parade in town, the police and city have to go along the route and put up the barriers and get everything ready. So it is with Jesus. Before He arrives, a preacher comes to get everyone’s attention and point them to the coming Savior. And in this ministry of John, we see how the Lord sets up the ministry from then on out. The preacher is sent to prepare you for Christ’s arrival. Advent prepares you for Christmas.

John prepared people for Jesus showing up by reminding them of the prophecy of Isaiah: A voice crying in the wilderness. John pointed Jesus out when He appeared: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John preached a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Sinners got down into the water and had their sins washed away. It was a clear message about what this Savior was coming to do. And then, like when its morning and the garage lights go out, so John fades away when Jesus comes. And Jesus goes about doing His Savior stuff. Healing. Raising the dead. Suffering. Dying on the cross. Being laid in the tomb. Rising from the dead. This is what John’s dad told him he would do: Prepare the way of the Lord and give knoweldge of salvation to people by the forgiveness of their sins. John says, “I’m just a voice. Here’s what I’m crying out: prepare the way of the Lord! Sinners, have your sins washed away. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! There He is! Repent and believe in Him!” And so that’s all John does: He points to Jesus and then he’s done. And it’s Jesus’ time to do His work of redeeming the world.

So it is today. The Lord still does things the same way. He sends preachers to make ready His way. He sends preachers to prep the people for Jesus showing up. Preachers to baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Preachers to absolve sinners in the stead of Jesus. Preachers to proclaim the Lamb of God is on His way. Preachers to prepare the Lord’s Way at His altar, speaking Jesus’ words by which He comes to us in His body and blood. Who am I? I’m not Jesus. I’m not Elijah or the Prophet either. I’m just a voice. A voice through which the Lord says, “Repent of your sins. Turn from your wickedness. Stop doing the things that prove you pay no attention to God and don’t love your neighbor. And hear and believe that Jesus has put away your sins.” Hear the voice say, “You are washed. You are forgiven. You are taught. You are fed. You are the Lord’s. You have a heavenly Father. You have a Savior in Jesus. You have the comfort of the Spirit. You have the hope of eternal life.” You see, your preacher is also sent by the Lord to prepare you for His final coming. He’s going to be here. He’s going to show up. On the clouds of heaven in all His glory with the holy angels. And how shall you meet Him? You’ll be ready. John points to Him. Your preacher points to Him. All eyes on Jesus who is born in the flesh, nailed to the cross, risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, here at the font, there on the altar, and soon visible in the sky to save us once and for all. The Lord sends a voice. The voice proclaims Jesus. And now you’re ready. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Third Sunday of Advent 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 11:2-11 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Maybe it’s because I keep getting older. Or maybe because I am getting more cynical. Or maybe it’s just because I get tired of looking out at the world and seeing everything it throws back at the church. For example, some atheists are putting up billboards for Christmas that say, “Go ahead and skip church.” You just look at the world and it despises religion so much that you wonder what good religion actually does. Do you really need it? And while the world seems to get along OK without Jesus, at least so it thinks, I look at my own life. And if you’re like me, you might wonder how it is that you bear the name Christian but can’t seem to become a better person. Maybe you struggle with some sin or habit or disagreement with someone. Maybe you can’t forgive. Maybe you feel trapped by your situation in life. And it just makes you finally ask the question John asks. “Jesus, are you the One who is coming or do we look for another?” Seriously. Jesus. Is He really the Guy? Or isn’t he? Is He the One who can save us or not? Is He even doing anything? John preached about Jesus like He was going to show up to kick butt and take names! Axe laid at the root of the tree and the chaff getting thrown into the fire and all that! But when Jesus finally shows up, what happens to John? Thrown in jail for preaching God’s Word. It’ll get worse. He’ll die a stupid death. Beheaded because Herodias hates him and Herod is a loud mouthed wimp. Where’s all the axe and fire stuff now, Jesus? Maybe you ask that too. When the cancer hits. When your struggle with sin intensifies. When the world looks at you and rolls its eyes because you claim to be a believer in this Jesus. So how about it, Jesus? Are you really it? Or do we look for somebody else?

And how does Jesus answer? Go, tell John what you see and hear. The blind can see, the deaf can hear, the lame can walk, the dead are raised and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. It’s all the stuff the prophets promised the Messiah would do. Jesus is telling John, “You know what’s in the prophets. The Scriptures. The Bible. Is that what I’m doing? Then there’s your answer.” Yes, this Jesus IS the Coming One. How about you and me. I guess there’s the answer: What do you see and hear? Well, we hear from the eyewitnesses who wrote the New Testament all those things Jesus did: healing and raising the dead and all that. But we hear even more. Stuff even John didn’t live to see. Jesus being betrayed, handed over, mocked and beaten, scourged and crucified. We heard what Jesus did: hung on the cross, bleeding and then dying. We heard what happened. Laid in the tomb. We heard even more: Raised from the dead. Alive. Seen by lots and lots of disciples. Seen alive! And there’s still more. What else do you see? People are baptized. The water and Word are put upon them. Sinners are absolved of their sins in the name of Jesus. People hear the Good News preached to them: Jesus died and rose FOR YOU. God’s people eat and drink Christ’s Body and Blood. What do we see? The sick are comforted. Those who struggle with their sins are encouraged in Christ by His Word. Martyrs give their lives around the world with Jesus’ name on heir lips. It’s happening. All over. Jesus Christ is at work all around the world, and right here in His church. He is right here and at work in His Word delivering the comfort that Isaiah prophesied, giving out the mysteries of which Paul and all preachers are stewards. Giving reassurance to John and me and to you and to all His people that, yes, He is the One. The One who comes to save you.

Now, this is not how it goes down: The disciples of John don’t come back and say, “Here’s all the stuff Jesus is doing and also He’s on His way to bust you out of prison!” No, John dies a stupid death at the hands of those who couldn’t care less about God and His Word and promises. Yet John died knowing that Jesus was for Him. He pointed to Jesus the Lamb of God. Jesus was for John. And Jesus is for you. I don’t know how long you’ll live. I don’t know when and how you’ll die. I don’t know when and how I’ll die. It might be a long time. It might be something quick and stupid. It might be from disease or old age or at the hands of the enemies of Christ. None of that changes what Christ has done. And if He has raised the dead, and He Himself been raised, then believe it: He can and will raise you too! So like I said, maybe you’re like me. Maybe you sometimes wonder with John whether Jesus is the real deal. Repent of taking offense at Jesus! His death and resurrection declare that He is indeed the real deals. The fact that He continues to wash, preach to, and feed Christians also proves that He is. The devil, the world, and our sinful natures try to get us to doubt these gifts and what Jesus is doing. But His Word is stronger. His death and resurrection are stronger. Your baptism is stronger. His flesh and blood are stronger. And now you, who are least in the kingdom of God, are even greater than John, for you know the whole story: Jesus crucified and raised. The holy church preserved through all the ages until Jesus comes again. And when he does, then you and I and John and all His saints will have all the words of Jesus and the prophets that say, “Told you so. It’s just as He said. His Word is certain.” In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Second Sunday of Advent 2015

Bible Text: Luke 21:25-36 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Shootings. Terrorists. More shootings. Terrorist shootings. Somebody’s trying to get nuclear bombs. And we’re just trying to make sure we have enough to do Christmas shopping for the kids. We smile to pretend the world is not going to hell in a handbasket. But let’s face it, there’s enough out there on the news and enough right in our own lives to wear us down and drag us down. And that’s exactly what Jesus warns us about today. He’s coming again! But until He shows up, this is what the world is going to be like. But, He says, when we see all this, we don’t retreat and hide. We don’t curl up in the fetal position and hope we can stay safe. No, we stand up! He lift up our heads! Because our redemption is drawing near! We get eager and excited for the coming of Jesus becuase He’s going to make everything right. He will come on the clouds of heaven in His glory. Wait for it… He’s coming… He’s adventing… There He is! At the font. On the altar. In His Word. If we get too wrapped up in the stuff of this life, we’ll miss Him! So He tells us to watch! Be prepared. And don’t act like it’s the end of the world! Act like it’s the return of your Savior to give you eternal life!

Our Advent repentance is that we forget who Jesus is and how He’s handled everything. He came in the flesh to be the One to save you. He came precisely in the flesh so that His flesh could be pierced for you, nailed to the cross for you, laid in the tomb for you. So He would rise for you. So many people out there want to use the Bible to scare everyone. Look at all this horrible stuff! Fire! Brimstone! Doom! Gloom! Judgment! And for you too if you don’t straighten up! But St. Paul says that the Scriptures were written for our comfort. How could they not be? They’re about Jesus! And Jesus is all about being our Redeemer. He’s all about coming to save us. Yeah, there are lots of bad things out there in the world. People do awful things to each other. Awful things happen to people, even Christians. Awful things happen around you. Awful things happen to you. But they are only truly awful if Jesus stayed away but He didn’t. He came to this world. Manger. Donkey. Cross. Empty Tomb. Font. Pulpit. Altar. There He is! And if He is there for you, doing what He does, then there is nothing out there that can do to you anything that can outdo what Jesus has done! ISIS getting a hold of nuke? Doesn’t put Jesus back in the grave. Some natural disaster destroys your home? Doesn’t invalidate your baptism. Someone you love gets cancer? It doesn’t cancel their absolution. Some bad thing happens to you? It doesn’t make the Body and Blood of Jesus anything else. Do you get it? Jesus tells you that the signs of the end are not signs to get all worried about but to direct you to eagerly await His appearing! After all, He has given you His Word which can never pass away!

And here’s the thing: Jesus came in the flesh at Christmas. Jesus will come again with glory on the clouds of heaven. In between that, there is all kinds of bad stuff going on all around. But Jesus is still coming to you. Still with you. Still dwells in you through your baptism. Still there in the person of your pastor to absolve and comfort you. Still there in His Body and Blood given and shed for you. The world goes crazy, what do you do? Make the sign of the holy cross and remember your baptism. Everything in your life is crumbling into a disastrous mess, what do you do? You confess your sins and hear the Good News that they are forgiven completely. You grow weak and tired in the world that is passing away, what do you do? You feast at the Supper of the Lamb who gives you strength for the journey. His promise is that His Word will never pass away which means you cannot either because His Word has been put upon you and in you by His gifts. They say that too much bad news can be depressing, cause anxiety and grief. But we know that sin and death are defeated by Jesus. So all these things, the more we hear them, simply cause us to stand tall and lift up our heads. Then we are confessing and telling the world, “It doesn’t matter. Jesus has taken care of it. He’s on His way back and when He comes on the Last Day, our redemption will arrive and we’ll have everlasting life.” Take that, world! Because Jesus has taken care of you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The First Sunday of Advent 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 21:1-9 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest! “Hosanna” means “save us now!” So Jesus rides into Jerusalem to do that. To save you. To repent you. To faith you. It always seems strange to think that our wait for Christmas begins with Jesus going to die, but then again, that’s really what Christmas is all about: Jesus showing up in the flesh, to die for you. So no surprise that Christmas doesn’t come without Jesus’ cross. Jesus rides into Jerusalem to show that He is the king. He’ll wear a crown of thorns. His throne will be the cross. The world is gearing up to party. We’re coming off the feasting and shopping and it’s just full bore until we can tear into the presents under the tree in a few weeks. Advent, on the other hand, slows us down. Hit the brakes. We don’t celebrate just to celebrate. We celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas but we celebrate it because He was born to die on Calvary for our sins. So Jesus coming into Jerusalem on the First Sunday in Advent sets us up for the whole year: where are we looking? What are we hearing? Where is our attention? On Jesus Christ, who came to save sinners. He is the righteous branch whose name is “The Lord our Righteousness.” So says Jeremiah and that tells us everything we need to know about this King riding to suffering and death.

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! We need to know that Jesus is the king and that He’s the King who saves us. When King David was on his deathbed, one of his sons tried to become the next king. But David had decreed that Solomon should be king. So they put Solomon on David’s donkey and rode him into Jerusalem so everyone would know who the real king is. So Advent orients us by reminding us who the real King is. Jesus. Not you. Not me. This is our problem. We like to be kings of our own little kingdoms, thinking this life and world are all about us. We are in charge. No one is the boss of me. I do what I want. Believe what I want. Think how I want. Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem in Advent to save us from that. If He doesn’t bring us repentance and faith, we’ll never receive Him when He comes in the flesh. Advent is the time of preparation when we stop to consider: He is riding into Jerusalem because of me. Because of my sins. Because I want to be God instead of Him. Because I don’t want to love my neighbor. Because I don’t really want to love God and give Him any time or attention either. Just think of it: we’re living in a holiday season in which you feel guilty for not getting just the right gift and pretty awesome when your party or presents or anything else turns out great and everyone loves it. We have too much excess; or we feel really good for helping others this time of year. Doesn’t matter. See how we did that? We made the holidays all about us. That’s our problem. Repent! Change! Flee your false god of “you.” That’s why Jesus is riding into Jerusalem. To save you from that. To be your real King and your true God and your Savior. To wear the thorns for you. To suffer the mockery for you. To go to the cross for you. To breathe His last for you. To rise on Easter for you.

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! That all sounds great and it would surely keep our attention if we were there spreading our cloaks and palm branches. But we’re not there. It’s easy to forget. But Jesus is here. We still sing those words. Right before Jesus shows up on the altar. Save us now! Ok, He does. Body. Blood. Given and shed. Forgiveness of all your sins. Advent wouldn’t really do us any good if it were only about Jesus showing up back then or sometime in the future. Advent means “coming.” And the Lord comes to us right here, right now. Font. Altar. Pulpit. Word. Water. Body. Blood. There He is! Your King. Righteous and having salvation. Why does Jesus show up riding on the donkey? To save you. Why does Jesus show up in water and the Word or with the bread and wine? To save you. Why will Jesus show up again on the Last Day? To save you. Get it? Do you see the light and comfort of Advent? Jesus is coming to save you. Rescue you. He already did. He still does. He will again. So Happy Advent. It’s the season the Lord rescues you…from you! It’s the season that gets us ready by teaching us to cast aside our idols and believe in Jesus. To remember our Baptism and to receive Jesus coming to us in His body and blood. Hosanna! Save us now! And that’s exactly what He does. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Last Sunday in the Church Year 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 25:1-13 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

So, let’s get something straight. The bridegroom showing up is NOT a bad thing! Everybody makes the End of the World and the Last Day some scary, horrible day. But it’s not. Think about it. Jesus is the BRIDEGROOM! When He arrives, the party starts. It’s like that moment at the wedding reception when you’ve been waiting for what seems like hours while the couple is out getting pictures all over town. But when they are announced then you know the food will be ready and the party will begin. So Jesus doesn’t tell us, “Watch and be ready!” for any other reason than this: He doesn’t want you to miss out. The party is ready. He’s died for you on Calvary. He rose for you on Easter. He ascended to the right hand of the Father. Now all that remains is for Him to show up and then we’ll get this party started. Because life in the resurrection is a celebration that goes on forever. In the resurrection, we celebrate a Savior who has triumphed over death. We’re alive! In the resurrection, we celebrate a Savior whose blood set us free from our sins. Sin is gone! In the resurrection, we celebrate a Savior who has destroyed the power of the devil and hell. Every tear is wiped away! In the resurrection, we celebrate the Bridegroom’s wedding to us, His holy bride, His spotless church. So never think of this day as a bad day, or a scary day, or a day of terror. It’s the start of the party! The feast begins! The Lord shows up. The virgins wake up and they go in to the celebration. Yeah, good times.

So what Jesus doesn’t want is for us to be foolish and leave the oil behind so our lamps can’t be lit and we have to be running around when He comes. So what’s up with these foolish virgins? Here it is nice and simple: the oil is Jesus and His gifts. Jesus’ blood and death and resurrection. Faith which trusts in Him. Baptism. Body and Blood. The forgiveness delivered by those gifts and His Word and absolution too. So to have no oil means to have no Jesus. To have left Him and His gifts behind when you die instead of dying in those gifts. All the virgins fell asleep. It’s not that they can’t keep awake. It’s that, when Christ comes and they wake up, the foolish ones are unprepared. They’ve not remained in the faith. They’ve ignored and despised the gifts of Jesus and so they are left without any oil. Why would you do that? Jesus has already given you the oil. His water, Word, body and blood. That’s what powers your lamp so you recognize Him when He comes again. But where is that oil supplied? Where the gifts are. In the church. So again, making it simple: If you despise His gifts, if you skip out on church, if you don’t receive His gifts, then your vessels will be empty and you’ll be scrambling on the Last Day. If you don’t think you need Jesus now, you won’t have Him on the Last Day and we saw what happens: the door is shut and they’re left out.

But that’s why Jesus tells this parable and that’s why I’m preaching on it right now. So you’re not unprepared. So you watch! And how do you watch? You just live in Jesus’ gifts. He’s done all the prep work. You just receive and enjoy His blessings. You’ve got the wedding invitation. That’s the preaching of the Gospel. You’ve got the wedding garment. That’s your baptism. Drake’s baptism! You’ve sampled the feast. That’s the Lord’s Supper. Now the only thing left is for the Bridegroom to actually show up and kick off the party. And having these gifts means you’re not ignorant or foolish like the people St. Paul describes, living for themselves, and being unaware that Jesus is coming back. But even he reminds us that Jesus is not coming back to pound us into dust but to save us. So that gives us something to do until now, namely, encourage one another. That’s your job Seth and Paige, for Drake (and Jayden)- to remind them of the oil they have been given, the gifts of Jesus, the salvation He’s bestowed on them. And your friends and loved ones who suffer, who are sick, who struggle, who have troubles…your brothers and sisters in Christ–look around! Encourage each other with this Good News: Christ is coming back! He died. He rose. Everything is going to work out just fine. He’s got this. We may have to wait for a little while, but then He’ll be back. New heavens. New earth. And then that celebration will start and never stop. So, wake up! The night is flying! It’s almost over! The Bridegroom is almost here! Trim your lamps and out we go to meet Him. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 24:15-28 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

When Moses came down from the mountain, he saw the golden calf with which the Israelites had replaced God. When Jesus shows up, what will you have set up in His place? What is your idol? What false god do you look to to bring your comfort and happiness instead of Jesus? When your conscience is troubled, what fake idol do you look at to get it to stop bothering you? Is it your money? Is it your health? Is it some other person? Is it some thing or object? Is it some habit or behavior? Is it you? What is it? What is your “golden calf” that you would dance around and be happy with but be sad if it were taken away from you? Understand something. Whatever you set up in the place of God is an idol. And idols are abominations. God wiped out nations because of their false gods. He destroyed whole peoples because they turned from Him to worship metal or wood or stone, or, mostly, themselves. When the Lord shows up like the lightning on the clouds of heaven, what will He catch you worshiping? What abomination of desolation is at the center of your life?

Well, you know what the real abomination of desolation is? You know what the real heap of sinfulness is? You know what the absolute center of God’s anger and hatred and wrath lands on and lays waste? Jesus. Calvary. The cross. Your idols have nothing on the filthiness of Jesus on Calvary. Your false gods have nothing on the horrible cross upon which Jesus was made sin for you. That’s because when He hung there, he wasn’t just carrying your false gods and idols. He was carrying everyone’s. There’s irony for you. The Son of God. True God. True man. Damned by the father as if He is the world’s worst idolater, false-god worshiper. The filthiest, sinfulest, falsest sinner and idol-worshiper there is. Because on the cross He is every sinner. He is your sin. The true God in the flesh becomes your idols to be melted down by the wrath of God. And He does it to save you. To save you from your idols which can’t save you. To rescue you from the very things you have put your trust in that will ultimately let you down. To deliver you from being melted in the fires of hell. He did all that. He suffered all that. He endured all that. He was judged for all that. For you. So that He might be made dead, dead and laid in the grave and then kick down the doors of death and hell and rise on Easter. Now THERE is a God who can do something. And the something He does is save you from your idols.

Now beware of people sticking Jesus’ name on their idols. They’ll tell you that Jesus is here or there or coming on this day or that day. Remember the world was going to end in September…? Just like the Israelites said the golden calf was “Yahweh, the Lord,” so people are attaching Jesus’ name to their false theology and teaching all the time. In fact, the biggest idol they stick His name on is you. Jesus loves you, so YOU just have to… Jesus wants YOU to do… Jesus is all about making YOU do something…or do better…or be better… Pay close attention because what they’re really doing is teaching YOU how to take Jesus’ place. The real Jesus doesn’t do that. HE takes YOUR place. HE saves you. HE is your God. That’s why we don’t look for Him where the loonies are telling us. We look for Him where He Himself has promised to be. Font: the water and the Word. Absolution: His Word spoken by your preacher. Sermon: the Good News of His death and resurrection proclaimed to you. Supper: Jesus Himself gives you His body and blood. In those gifts you know exactly where Jesus is and exactly what He’s doing: saving you from your sins! All your idols? Your false gods? Worthless. They can’t help you. And it would be great if we could just quit them. But we can’t so instead we are rescued. Saved. Jesus pulls you away from your false idols, even and most especially yourself as He drowns you with His death at the font and raises you to new life. As He shoves aside the “you” gods and replaces them with His flesh and blood that will do what no other god can do: forgive you and raise you from the dead! So there you go. Jesus has told you. You can’t be led astray by worthess idols now. As Moses pleaded for Israel, so Jesus pleads for you, rescues you from your golden calves and will bring you safely to the resurrection promised land He has prepared for you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

All Saints Day 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 5:1-12 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Blessed are you! Blessed are you because Jesus Christ has come in the flesh to save you from your sins and bring you back to God. Blessed are you because He gave His life into death as the holy Lamb of God sacrificed in your place on the cross of Calvary. Blessed are you because that Jesus who was dead is alive again the third day, triumphing over death. Blessed are you because He has washed you at the font and made you holy, made you a saint. Blessed are you because He continues to absolve you of your sins and feed you with His holy flesh and blood to keep you holy in His sight. Blessed are you that in Jesus Christ, you are clothed with that white robe that has been washed in His blood and you are numbered in His church with all the saints of Old Testament Israel and all the peoples and nations that stand before the throne of the Lamb. You are His saints. You are a part of all of that. Now we might have lots of earthly blessings for which we can be thankful: money or a job or a house or food and clothing or families or good health. But all that stuff is just a drop in the bucket compared to the EVERYTHING you have been blessed with in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness of sins. Salvation from hell. Eternal life. Blessed are you because…Jesus!

But we forget. We forget we are blessed. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn,” etc. All those “blesseds.” That’s you, His holy people. Those words describe you. You are poor in spirit but rich in grace. You hunger and thirst for rightouesness. You are peacemakers and the people who know how to have mercy on others. But you forget. Your Old Adam mucks it all up. He goes along with the devil and the world to make us think every little irritating inconvenience in life is somehow proof God is against us or that we did something to upset Him. That we’re being paid back. Maybe the car broke down and needs an expensive repair. Maybe the cancer is back. Maybe your kids are sick for the umpteenth time and you have no more time to take off work. Maybe you spilled your coffee on your new pants. Maybe your spouse died. Maybe there was some tragedy in your family. Whatever it is, listen up! Every single one of those things that happens, the Lord uses them to teach you to trust in Him. The devil and your Old Adam, however, try to use these things to make you forget you are a saint. And it’s not that your sainthood is stained when you throw a fit and get all upset about it. Rather, what the devil is after is getting you to stop trusting that in Jesus you already have way more than anything you can think of. That in Christ you are a saint. That for Jesus’ sake, nothing can truly harm you. You’re saints! You have every good gift in Christ! But your forget. And when you forget, you aren’t peacemakers and mercy-havers and you don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness. No, instead, you grumble and complain and worry and think that whatever your problem is is the end of the world. And that’s where Jesus rescues you by stating simply: No, you are blessed. Blessed because you are all these things that He says: poor in spirit, meek, persecuted, etc. You are saints. Holy ones. HIS holy ones.

This is why we have All Saints Day. We see the reality of the Lord’s people, the saints who have rested from their labors. There they are around the throne of the Lamb. Dressed in white. No more tears. Not from baby shampoo, but because all sin and evil has been put far behind them. Paradise. The gates of pearl. The golden Jerusalem. When we hear the glimpse of that vision, of our brothers and sisters in Christ who rest from their labors, we learn that the Lord keeps His promises. He really DOES keep His people in the faith unto life everlasting. He really WILL raise all of us from the dead on the Last Day. The difference between us and them is not that we aren’t both dressed in the white robes of Christ. It’s that our Old Adams still cling to us, trying to make us forget everything but ourselves. The cloud of witnesses, the saints and angels, the throne of the Lamb–all of these draw our eyes and ears and hearts and minds away from our pouting selves to remember what it is to be a saint. They are there in their white robes. YOU wear a white robe. You might not see it with your eyes, but it’s been put upon you in holy baptism. They sing praises to the Lamb. So do we, every time the church is gathered and the songs of our liturgies and hymns are upon our lips. We may look around and see just each other, but faith sees one another clothed with Christ. Those saints stand around the throne of the Lamb. You are gathered around that Lamb, too. Again, you may not see with your eyes, but there He is under the bread and wine, His flesh and blood given you to raise you from the dead on the Last Day. St. John reminds us in our Epistle: yeah, we don’t know what we will be like…yet. But we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is. For this life, that’s really all we need to know about that. That Day is coming, the day when Christ will return and raise us from the dead and the Old Adam stays buried and the tears are wiped away. Until then, don’t forget. Don’t forget who you are. You are His. You are saints. You are holy. You are blessed. You are all that in Jesus Christ. Happy All Saints Day. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.