2021:Sundays after Epiphany

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United with Christ (based on Romans 6:5)

  • Let Us Pray: Heavenly Father,Jesus was revealed to us in an Epiphany.  Send Your Sprit to remind us we already have Your Spirit in us as an assurance of our receiving eternal life through and with Your Son.  And now that we have the gift of being planted in with Jesus, we need to bring this gift to others!  Empower us to strengthen the hands of those weak in the faith and to pursue bringing Your peace to all people.  We pray this through Your Son Jesus, who reigns with the You, Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Background: Today, we are celebrating the annual festival of Epiphany.  The actual date of Epiphany is January 6th, the 12th day of Christmas.  We chose in the church year to celebrate the Sunday after Epiphany.  To have an epiphany is to come to an understanding about something.  There is some sort of concept or truth that dawns on you.  When you apply the word “epiphany” to a sacred setting, you get the traditional understanding of what the sacred feast date of January 6th is all about. Throughout the NT era of the church, there have been three different events of the life of Jesus associated with Epiphany:
    • At Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ was identified by God the Father as His beloved Son.  In fact, all three persons of the Trinity were present as we read in the Gospel of Mark a few moments ago.  (Mark 1:9-11) This event is what the eastern Christians consider the event of Epiphany.
    • The three kings or wise men of the orient, who are assumed to be Gentiles, came to see the king born in Bethlehem. (Mat 2:1-11) This event is what the western Christians consider the event of Epiphany.
    • There is evidence early church fathers considered Jesus’ first miracle performed at the wedding at Cana to be an epiphany or revealing of Jesus.  To the Apostle John, 11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and revealed His glory; and His disciples believed in Him[1].
    • Which is correct? All reveal Jesus as God in the flesh, so all are “epiphany”  All three of these events were part of an early church liturgical response which went like this: "Today the Church is joined to her celestial spouse, because in Jordan Christ doth wash her sins; the Magi hasten with gifts to the royal marriage-feast, and the guests exult in the water turned to wine.[2]"
  • Analysis: That mini history lesson I just went through helps us to understand the festival of Epiphany, but what does that mean for us? Our Epistle reading from Rom 6:1-11 provided insight on why it is important to know of Jesus and what He has done.  However, let’s set the table so to speak for Rom Ch#6, by looking back to selected verses in Rom 5:12-19.  Let me summarize the ending verses of Rom Ch#5 - One man (Adam) passed sin onto us all; one man (Jesus) brought justification to us all.  The work of Jesus was to lead a perfect, sinless life as a man.  Yes, it took the powers of God to do that, but He is God in man.  Someone from the human race had to lead that perfect life and then shed their blood, innocent of sin, as the one sacrifice to atone for all sins committed by mankind ever since Adam. Had no one from the human race ever stepped up, we would be stuck in the despair of our sins and no hope for a better eternal life.
    • The Apostle Paul revealed Jesus as the one person to provide the atonement for all of us.  Great news from Rom Ch#5!  So we turn the page and the first words of Rom Ch#6 are these – What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? Far from it! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 
    • The Greek word rendered as “united” into English by the NASB is σύμφυτος.  It means to be grown along with.  I have this noted in the sermon outline printed on the back of your bulletin.  σύμφυτος figuratively means to be closely united. However, I like the concept of those who are baptized into Christ through the water in conjunction with the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, are planted together with Jesus.  What happens when two things are planted together into the same hole? They grow together.  I’ve seen this happen when people purposely plant different colors of lantana in the same space.  The result is a gorgeous mixture of color that appears to be coming from one plant.
    • My lantana scenario however is not a perfect example of us being planted into Jesus.  Per the Greek of Rom 6:5, we are literally planted together with Jesus through baptism!  We don’t just look like one plant of many colors – we are a plant of perfection through Jesus.
    • A lot of people are deceived into thinking if they know Jesus, that is sufficient to get them into heaven.  Just to know Jesus is no epiphany.  Just remember, there are stories throughout the Gospels about demons knowing Jesus.  How did those demons react when they saw Him?  Were they happy to be driven out of demon-oppressed people on which Jesus had compassion?  Our sinful self was crucified with Jesus on the cross so that we are no longer slaves to sin; we are freed from the penalty of sin. (Rom 6:6-7)  Trusting in that freedom is the second half of Epiphany – knowing what Jesus has done for you.  Jesus was revealed by His own Father as the Son of God.  That isn’t mere identifying with just a name.  The Father was also pleased with Jesus.  Jesus came to win for us redemption from a certain fate with entry into hell if He had not paid the price for our freedom. A true epiphany is to know Jesus and what He has done for you.  This is why we keep talking about the Holy Spirit coming into our soul at baptism, because the Holy Spirit makes known to us who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Otherwise, we wouldn’t know Him, and certainly not trust in Him.
    • Another aspect of Epiphany is to understand we have the same immortality as our Lord who redeemed us. This is, because death has no power over Jesus, we are planted with Jesus, and death has no power over us. (Rev 20:6)  Believers who are baptized into Jesus will live with Jesus eternally.  This is no different than if you pull up a conjoined plant out of the ground, both plants will come out together.  They are linked.  What happens to one, happens to the other.
  • Application: What should our reaction be to this good news? Be planted firmly in Christ. Remember always you are a child of God. When you have doubts, and none of us are exempt from doubts, trust in your baptism into Jesus.  It’s hard to have faith and trust in something you cannot see.  God knows this.  That’s part of the reason why He makes such a big deal out of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.   These sacraments each have a physical means you can see, smell, taste, touch.  Trust in the promises associated with these sacraments.
    • Along with personally being planted in Christ, we need to help others also be planted in Christ.  Sometimes, that is tough to do, particularly when we are meeting up with our own challenges.  Let me read for you a portion of Heb 12:11-13 - 11 For the moment, all discipline seems not to be pleasant, but painful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. 12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is impaired may not be dislocated, but rather be healed[3].  God is saying to us through the writer to the Hebrews that we will endure disciplining while we are in this Age.  God does this to strengthen our faith.  Think of it as our portion of the conjoined plant with Jesus being made stronger to His glory.  As we are made stronger, we are more equipped to strengthen others.  We need to be there with those whom the Lord has sent us to witness of His grace, mercy, and peace.  Sharing scripture with someone who needs to hear the Gospel is an excellent way to strengthen hands which are weak.
    • Here’s a simple way of bringing the Gospel to someone: ask them what you can pray on their behalf.  Immediately after this sermon, we have our time in prayer as a congregation focused on laying before God our thoughts, doubts, fears, and anguish for others in need.  Catch me before a service or better yet, email to me the names of people whom you want lifted up to the Lord by the saints worshipping Him here at Christus Rex. Provide as much or little detail as the person wishes to disclose.  I will make sure to give to you the printed prayers spoken at this altar for you to give to that person to show them they were lifted up before the Lord.  The Christ-centered love you show for that person is the best Gospel message you could possibly give them.  Your faith is also in action when in prayer.  You are showing true love for that person by having more than just two or three gathered before the Lord, where He promised to be in their midst and hear those prayers.  The God who created the heavens and the earth is listening to the prayers of the saints devoted to that person!  I’m not sure what could go wrong in this scenario…
    • In the latter half of Heb 12:15, the writer uses a similar Greek word for plant that we have in our text for today - let no root of bitterness plant and crowd in which will defile those around you. What I read from this is we need to keep control of our own emotions and sinful passions.  In true repentance from the sins we have committed, we need to put away evil actions that would cause our ministry of strengthening other plants in the Lord to suffer.  We do not want to be the reason a person never comes to church or doesn’t want to hear from a hypocritical Christian ever again.  Whatever we do ultimately reflects back on He in whom we are planted.
    • If I may belabor the plant analogy once more, Luke used similar wording in the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:6.  Recall in the Parable of the Sower, some seed landed in rocky soil.  The seed planted, but eventually withered away because it had no moisture.  Two verses later, we read of seed which fell into good soil.  The seed in good soil planted and yielded a crop a hundred times as much.  Jesus later interpreted His parable and said the seed in the rocky soil was like Christians who received the Word, but because the Word did not get a firm root into the soul, the rocky soil people believe for a while, but in times of temptation, rocky soil people fall away. God is saying in Hebrews, not only do we need to be the firm plant in good soil, we need to be helping out these rocky soil people who are struggling with the temptation of doubting God’s word. For instance, they are struggling with Covid and don’t see a way out.  They look at the number of cases rising, the lack of ICU beds throughout southern AZ, and they panic.   They’re not firmly planted.  Don’t let them panic themselves out of eternity with Christ when you have the true Gospel in your soul to bring nourishment to the rocky soil people.
  • Conclusion: With you planted with Christ and growing along with him, your soul is safe.  We said it last week, and this is a good time to remind: God gave His Holy Spirit as a deposit into your soul guaranteeing what is to come. (Eph 1:13-14)
    • The benefit of being planted with Christ is eternal life with Him.  We unfortunately can screw this up.  However, so long as we are daily examining ourselves for the sinfulness that really does dwell in us, and we seek the Lord’s forgiveness from that sinfulness and our sins confessed to Him, God is gracious and just.  He will forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. He then asks you to go and sin no more. Ask Him for help with any sin that is too tough to turn away from.  He will hear your prayers, because you are a part of Him and He is a part of you.  All in Christ are planted in Him.
    • Another benefit is the blessing of God’s people to others.  (Heb 12:12-14) God created us to be with others.  He created us with specific talents and passions to use those talents. We can worship Him daily by using those talents and passions to His glory.  In the context of Epiphany, we can reveal to others our faith in word and in actions.  We can display confidence in the Lord to keep His promises to His people.  We can trust in God’s word when He said nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!  Nothing!
    • It’s worth a reminder you came to the true faith because of the work of someone else.  You didn’t come to faith all on your own.  Someone brought you to Christ.  It’s now time to give that same gift to someone else.  In the process of sharing the God-given gift you have in being planted with Christ, your own portion of the conjoined plant will get stronger. It doesn’t need to be strong for salvation.  Jesus’s side of the plant took care of that for you.  Your side of the plant needs to be stronger to strengthen others.  I can assure you it will be a treat to someday meet all the people you worked to strengthen in this Age.  They will be there because of Christ.  They will be there because you faithfully acted to strengthen them in Christ.  The plant will have done its job.  It is in heaven where you want to store up treasures such as fellow humans redeemed and planted in Christ!


[1] John 2:11 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+2&version=NASB

[2] Antiphon to the Benedictus, Knight, Kevin, New Advent, 2009, CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Epiphany 

[3] Heb 12:11-13 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=heb+12&version=NASB

Jesus Calling (based on 1Samuel 3:10

  • Introduction: There is an idiomatic expression: drain the swamp. This was an expression made famous by President Donald Trump since 2016, but he was not the first to use the phrase. It has been around since the 1800’s[1], and was originally stated with the intention of draining a swamp in order to cut down on the mosquito population.  Mosquitos like to breed in wet areas where they lay thousands of eggs. Drain the swamp where mosquitos breed, and these annoying pests go away.
    • When someone goes into the “swamp”, a lot of unpleasant things happen.  The creatures who live in the swamp like it swampy.  They, and the conditions themselves, will resist being drained. You as a swamp drainer are invading the turf of the swamp dwellers.
    • A related saying is when you are up to your neck in alligators (or even lower), it’s hard to remember the initial objective was to drain the swamp[2].  Someone goes into the swamp, and when troubles swirl around, the focus is taken off from the goal of draining the swamp, and onto the immediate challenges of swamp draining.
    • We are going to spend time today looking into the calling by God of Samuel, Jesus’ disciples, and us in Christ, and see if God’s purposes in His calling are getting frustrated by the problems of today.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, just like the prophets of old, and Jesus’ disciples, we too are called to our vocation.  You have a purpose in mind for all people.  You have sent Your Son, our Lord Jesus, to accomplish all divine purposes.  We trust that Your word will accomplish its purposes. Please provide us, through Your Spirit, the resources necessary to accomplish Your purposes regardless of earthly and spiritual powers which work to keep the swamp of evil and death around us. We pray this through Your Son Jesus, who reigns with the You, Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Background: Our theme for today’s message is the calling by our Lord to serve Him in some capacity.  We have an example from the OT with the calling of the prophet Samuel. He was the last of the judges appointed by God to rule over Israel from the time after Moses and Joshua, until the anointing of the first two kings over united Israel, those kings being Saul and David.  We read a few moments ago from 1Sa 3:1-10, where a preincarnate Jesus was in the tabernacle of the Lord, calling Samuel by name.  Samuel thought it was Eli the priest calling, and so each time Samuel heard his name, he ran to Eli to see what he wanted.  After three times of this, Eli realized the Lord was calling the boy.  9And [Eli] said, “[Go] lie down young boy, and if it is He calls you, and you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, because Your servant listens.’” And Samuel went and bedded down in his place.  10And [the] Lord came and stood accordingly, and called [Samuel] as once and once, and said, “Samuel”.  Samuel says [in response] that Your servant listens[3].
    • Nathanael like Samuel was called by Jesus. Nathanael became the fifth disciple as we read from our Gospel reading. (John 1:43-51) We only read of the disciple Nathanael in the Gospel of John.  However, the other Gospel writers refer to him as Bartholomew.  He was paired up with Philip. This makes sense since they must have known each other for Philip to initially approach Nathanael about having met the Messiah the Israelites were waiting centuries for Him to come.
  • Analysis: Each of these men were called directly by Jesus. We know nothing from the scriptures about Nathanael other than his calling.  However, we have quite a bit about the life of Samuel.
    • We don’t know how much time passed from the time of Samuel’s calling by Jesus to the time of Eli’s death and Samuel succeeding Eli as prophet of, and to, a united Israel.  Later in 1Sa ch#3 we read - 19 Now Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and He let none of his words fail. 20 And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord.  I recall reading somewhere that Samuel was probably around eight years old.  When I read from 1Sa 3:19 that Samuel “grew”, I take that to mean he became an adult.  Because of Jewish Law regarding when a boy becomes a man, I’m thinking Samuel grew at least to his Bar-mitzvah, which would have been age thirteen. Anyway, we turn the page on Samuel’s calling and growing up, and what is Samuel’s first test in his calling?  He witnessed Israel fall to the Philistines, and couldn’t do a thing about it.  It was a hard fall as well from what we read from 1Sa 4:10-11 - 10 So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent; and the defeat was very great, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 Moreover, the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.  I can tell you from firsthand business experience in my life, it is no fun to take the reins of leadership and immediately suffer huge defeats.  No doubt Samuel was is despair along with the rest of the Israelites, even though in his calling, Jesus revealed to Samuel what was going to happen to Eli and his offspring.
    • Samuel was serving God and God’s people as the last judge of Israel.  One of the things God called Samuel to do was anointed Saul of the tribe of Benjamin to be Israel’s first king. (1Sa 10:1, 12:12) The Israelites were whining and crying about not having a king.  Apparently, Samuel was regarded like chopped liver in the eyes of the people. Everyone else had a king over them; why can’t the Israelites?  All they had was some kid called by God to serve as a judge.  What kind of a leader into battle would he be?  They wanted someone fierce who would be bold and lead from strength.  God told Samuel to warn the people about getting what they asked for. (1Sa 8:19-22)  It didn’t matter; the Israelites didn’t see it that God was really their King and God sent someone to them to lead them in trusting in Him and not in any mortal being with finite abilities.  It had to negatively affect Samuel that he couldn’t convince the Israelites to just trust in God for deliverance from all enemies and perils.  I wonder if there were people in the mob who actually thought about the counsel given by God’s prophet, and maybe turn from their sinful desire?  We don’t know if they spoke up.  We do know the mob eventually got their wish.
    • Samuel did what God instructed him to do and anointed Saul as king over Israel.  You would think Saul would be forever grateful.  That all changed when God sent Samuel to rebuke Saul for not following God’s orders to completely wipe out the Amalekites – men, women, children including infants, and their livestock. (1Sa 15:3)  Saul didn’t completely carry out the orders as instructed, and so someone familiar with God’s word had to rebuke Saul for not following the Lord. You can imagine with Saul being king for a while and gotten used to everyone following his orders, he probably wasn’t too pleased with Samuel calling him out for not doing as told.  Usually, in those days, if a king didn’t like you, you suddenly became about 6” shorter. So, for following God’s word and speaking what the Lord told him to say, Samuel was now fearing for his life.  God then told Samuel to anoint the next king of Israel after Saul – while Saul was still on the throne.  I’m sure had Saul gotten wind of the plan, he would have understood Samuel’s plan to anoint someone to take a sitting king’s place and had been fine with it. 😊  Needless to say, Samuel was afraid of Saul killing him on the mission to anoint David, son of Jesse.  (1Sa 16:2)
    • There are things we know right now we should be doing.  The Lord speaks to His people even today.  Do we do the things we know we are supposed to do, or do we chicken out in a lack of trust in the Lord?  Samuel was called to do a job and anoint one of the sons of Jesse to be the next king. (1Sa 16:1)  Samuel brought his concerns to the Lord and the Lord, being gracious and understanding, provided a means for Samuel to carry out God’s original purpose.
    • Samuel was equipped to complete the work to which he was called to do.  Not only did Samuel have the potential opposition by the king of Israel to complete his calling, but also the people of Bethlehem were scared of Samuel coming to their little town.  They had no idea why the prophet called by God to serve over Israel was suddenly coming to town without advanced notice.  (1Sa 16:4) That would be like Billy Graham in his prime, suddenly coming to Rio Rico unannounced.  What’s up with that?  God had provided Samuel with cover so to speak so that the denizens of Bethlehem didn’t get all panicky and get in the way of God’s purpose to anoint David. (1Sa 16:13)
  • Application: We’ve spent a lot of time going over Samuel’s calling by God to accomplish the will of God.  We only have church tradition to rely on for what went on in Nathanael’s life, so I decided to not cover that.  Are these two examples from our readings on today part of a select few of whom God called throughout time?  Yes, but they are not the only people called by Go for a purpose.  The reality is we too are called by God to accomplish His purposes.  One of the chief expressions of Lutheran doctrine is found in the Augsburg Confession. This was a document written in 1530 that expressed the doctrines of the church in 28 Articles.  These articles are based on the scriptures which are the ultimate authority in the church.  Let me read to you a portion of Article 27 from the Augsburg Confession, because it expresses a belief in our church body, based upon the scriptures, that everyone is called by God to accomplish His purposes:
    • “Many examples are recorded of people leaving wife and child – even civil office – and putting themselves into a monastery. This, they said, is fleeing from the world and seeking a life that is more pleasing to God than the other life. They were unable to realize that one should serve God by observing the commandments He has given and not through the commandments contrived by human beings[4].”  What the Augsburg Confession was addressing is it is accomplishing God’s purposes for you to live the life you are leading.  We shouldn’t be working to cloister ourselves into little communes where everyone is the same and away from the rest of the world.  How does God’s grace, mercy, and peace get demonstrated through us in society if we are penned up in one place and not mingling in with all of the others whom God created?
    • For some, the elections of 2020 were a disaster for their team.  However, the elections of 2016 were perceived as just as disastrous for the opposite team. Each team asked of itself, how could our candidate for president lose when the polls all showed victory in sight?! There is nothing new under the sun, and these elections, depending upon your political persuasion did not leave much of a different feeling than the Israelites after their loss to the Philistines. The high priest of Israel died after hearing the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the enemies, the loss was so traumatic.  What would be the fate of Israel now that they would be subject to the Philistines and not their own chosen leaders?  Rather than repent for not following God’s purposes to which they were called as a nation, they decided to ask God for a king.  Do you realize what a slap in the face to the Lord that request was?  God was and still is their King!  But they didn’t see it.  They wanted their own king.  I see quite a parallel between the 11th century BC Israelites and the 21st century Americans.  It’s not a pretty sight.
  • Conclusion: I started this message with the expression “draining the swamp”.  Any idea what would be the swamp I had in mind to introduce the message for today? The swamp is in each of us.  The sinfulness that exists within us is a breeding ground for all kinds of biting annoyances. And the major problem is that swamp (our sinful self) doesn’t want to be drained.
    • The disciples called by Jesus were given a job. One of the tasks of that overall job or vocation was made clear in Mark 16:15-16 - 15 And [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 The one who has believed and has been baptized will be saved; but the one who has not believed will be condemned. Jesus gave an overview of the tools He would give to the disciples in order to preach the gospel to all creation.  Jesus pointed out some additional tools the disciples would need in order to accomplish the purposes to which they were sent in John 20:22-23 - 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”  These tools are used by pastors who are called by Jesus to go into the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
    • We have a job to do in our calling.  For sure, we want to advance the kingdom of our Lord.  That is part of loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. I expect we will have some things to work on together here at Christus Rex in 2021.  But another part of loving the Lord with everything we got is turning from our sinful ways.  Our sinfulness gets in the way of us having a good relationship with the Lord.  This is why Jesus came to this Age in the first place – to cleanse us of our sins so that we are reconciled with God the Father. The reconciliation would not happen any other way.  Our sinful ways nonetheless can once again mess up the relationship with the Father if we do not repent.  Col 3:5-9 is a list of some of the things to turn from.  I won’t read the entire list, but in the context of today’s message, v5 is a good start – Therefore, treat the parts of your earthly body as dead to sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. Idolatry is what got the Israelites of the time of Samuel to turn from God being their King to asking for a lesser capable king with all kinds of sinful, evil desires and shortcomings just like you & me.  Wouldn’t it be better to just trust in the Lord and lean not on our own understanding?
    • We can’t afford to go out into the world and attempt to get Jesus’ calling accomplished without having the resources He gave us to complete the job.  The forgiveness of sins is one of the tools you have before you to take away guilt for all the things you did you shouldn’t have done, and for the things you should have done that you never did.  Don’t let your sin or guilt hinder you from completing your calling in the vocation where you serve the Lord.  We serve a gracious and loving God.  He respects it when people come to Him in all sincerity and ask how to get the job done. Samuel did that.  He respectfully and expectantly came to the Lord seeking a means to anoint the next king of Israel per God’s command.  Samuel had a proper fear of God’s wrath if he didn’t follow through with what was commanded.  That fear showed itself in respect for the Lord.  Additionally, Samuel came before the Lord with the expectation that the Lord would answer and would provide the means to get the job done. We are not left as orphans in this world.  If it appears you are up to your neck with alligators, bring it before the Lord in full sincerity, praying His will be done.  And then, say, “speak Lord, for Your servant listens.”  What else would He do except provide the means to get His will done?


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drain_the_swamp


[3]  1Sa 3:9-10 from an original translation of LXX read from https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb/1sa/3/1/t_conc_239009

[4] Kolb, Robert, Wengert, Timothy, The Book of Concord, Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, MN, 2000, p.90