Today’s collect is a perfect outline of the Gospel. “O Lord, we beseech You, mercifully hear our prayers, and having set us free from the bonds of sin, defend us from all evil.” This is precisely what Jesus does for the blind man of Jericho and what He does for you.
We tend to think of the Parable of the Sower as a commentary on evangelism. As congregations spread the Word of God, the majority of our work will not result in a harvest. A remarkable 75% of the effort appears to be wasted as faith is either never created at all, or quickly meets its demise. Only 25% of the Word yields a harvest. While this does give some insight into why every congregation isn’t bursting at the seams and planting new churches every year, it’s not the main reason why Jesus tells the Parable. Three verses after the Parable Jesus tells us why He told it. He said, “Take care, then, how you hear.” That’s a sobering sentence. “Take care, then, how you hear.” The Parable of the Sower isn’t about analyzing everyone else and how they responded to the Word. The Parable of the Sower is about me taking a look at my own life to realize that I have not been careful in how I heard and received the Word.
God has promised to give everyone what is appropriate, what they need to sustain this body and life. Christ Himself reminded us God takes care of the birds, the flowers, the grasses, and everything else. If He knows the plight of something as seemingly insignificant as grass, which grows wherever and however it wants, how much more will He take care of us?
This Sunday was also the kickoff for Epiphany's 25th Anniversary celebrations.
'Tis good, Lord, to be here! We sing what St. Peter spoke, a confession that it’s good to be in the presence of Jesus, to get a glimpse of heaven. It’s good to see an end to the sin and misery and junk that is a part of life in this world. But what about when we have to leave that glimpse? What about when we, like Peter, James, and John have to go back to the plain? Today we have Jesus’ promise that He goes with us to the plain, through the valley of the shadow of death. Today we hear His promise that what we glimpsed for a fleeting moment will be ours eternally.
We all know the feeling of drowning. Maybe not actual drowning in water, but at least metaphorical drowning. You know what it feels like when you can’t keep your head above water, when there seems to be no reprieve from the waves of life crashing over the side of your little boat. The situation in which the disciples found themselves in today’s Gospel is entirely relatable. First comes the panic, then the expectation of help which does not arrive, followed by a call to the Lord for help. What’s the most troubling in our hour of need isn’t the trouble itself. We know how to overcome disaster, and often fare better afterwards than we had before. What’s the most troubling is that realization that we aren’t in control of our own lives, that, despite the façade of self-reliance, we are completely reliant on God for every good gift which we enjoy. Though life’s troubles bring a rebuke for not trusting the One whom even the winds and sea obey, we are reminded of the promise that our God has all things under His control.
Today Our Lord teaches us about the importance of faith and prayer and the connection between the two. The two always go together. Just like Frank Sinatra taught us with “Love and Marriage”—you can’t have one without the other. Both the leper and the centurion present us with the image of faith and prayer. Both believe. Both confes that God alone can answer prayer. Through them we see that it’s faith that motivates us to pray, to reache out to the One it knows can and does answer all prayers. And it’s faith that accepts the answer, regardless of what it is. So, we see that it is very important to pray for the one thing we truly need, that is, faith to accept the answer God gives us when we pray. And when we pray for the thing that we need the most, the thing that guarantees our entrance into heaven because it receives all that Christ has done for us, God always answers that with a yes.
As Jesus begins His public ministry, He begins it by teaching us to rely on Him for all things, and above all, to remember that the things of this life are secondary to the greatest thing He has come to give, which is our salvation.
Baptism is a good thing. Paul Gerhardt, a 17th century Lutheran Pastor wrote a Baptismal hymn, “All Christians Who Have Been Baptized.” In its fifth stanza he writes: “O Christian, firmly hold this gift and give God thanks forever! It gives the power to uplift in all that you endeavor. When nothing else revives your soul, your Baptism stands and makes you whole and then in death completes you.” When life is miserable, we as Christians get to say what we’ll sing during the Distribution: “I am Baptized into Christ!” Sin, disturb my soul no longer! Satan, hear this proclamation! Death, you cannot end my gladness! I am Baptized into Christ. As we look at the Baptism of Our Lord, we understand a little more why Baptism is so central to our faith and our Christian life.
Actions speak louder than words.” This is a phrase and a concept we all know. Another person can speak a promise to you, but his action of keeping that promise says much more than the mere promise. A spouse can say, “I love you,” but unless those words are backed up by actions of love and commitment, then the words ring hollow. “Actions speak louder than words.” Even without the expression, we all know how true it is.
Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” This is part of Elizabeth’s conversation with Mary just a few months before Christmas, as Mary visits her relative ahead of the birth of John the Baptist. What Elizabeth is saying is that God always keeps His promises. He has never let His people down. What He says, He does. He may not fulfill His promises immediately, but when the time is right, He does.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.