Friday, December 3, 2021

John the Baptist

 


God’s grace, peace and mercy be with you. My sermon title is Voice, Message and Meaning. My focus is our Gospel (Luke 3:1-6). Let us pray. Heavenly Father, the psalmist wrote, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” Now that our feet are within your gates, we rejoice to hear your Word. As we listen, may your Spirit enlighten our minds and move our hearts to love deeply as Jesus loved. This we pray to you, Most Holy Trinity. Amen.

If you search for voice on the internet, you will first discover an app and a TV show. My search also listed a recorder, translator and a changer. The last one allows your voice to sound like a robot or a girl, like you’re in a cave or at a busy airport.

Webster offers two meanings for voice – a noun and a verb. The noun defines voice as a sound produced by vertebrates by means of lungs or larynx. The verb means to express in words, as in to voice a complaint. The origin of voice is the Latin word vox. In Latin voice is a word, sentence or language. The term vox populi means voice of the people or the opinion of the majority.

Some voices we know immediately. We recognize the voices of our parents, siblings and loved ones. Many of us grew up listening to the voices of Bob Prince, Myron Cope, Bill and Patti Burns. We can identify the voices of James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman or Queen Elizabeth when we hear it.

The word voice appears in the Bible over 650 times. The phrase voice of God appears seven times in the Old Testament. In Exodus, we read, “As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.”[1] In Deuteronomy, Moses asked, “Has a people ever heard the voice of God speaking out of the fire, as you have and lived?”[2] And the Psalmist reminds us that, “Nations rage! Kingdoms fall! But at the voice of God the earth itself melts.”[3]

Two thousand years ago, in the land of Jerusalem, the voices that seemed to matter more than that of God were those of Caesar, Pontius Pilate, King Herod, Philip the Tetrarch and Caiaphas the High Priest. Yet, a solitary voice heralding the coming of One above all powers and principalities resided not in the halls of political or religious power but in the wilder­ness of the desert … and the people flocked to hear that lone voice! Hence, our Advent journey takes us from Voice to Message, my second point.

In today’s reading, Luke included many pastoral preoccupations and literary themes important to Christians of the 1st century’s 9th decade. While chapter three introduced readers to John the Baptist, he is not Luke’s main concern. Luke’s focus is Jesus’ divine mission in relation to John’s message – the word he proclaimed. “Word” was a significant term for the proclamation of the Gospel’s events,[4] and Luke showed that the Word came to John politically, religiously, chronologically and geographically.[5]

In verse 2, we read, “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.[6] “The word of God came to John” is the main clause of the sentence. The word of God that came to John, he proclaimed to the people who followed him into the wilderness. Geographically, the desert wilderness, far from the political and religious centers of power, recalled Israel’s formation as God’s covenant people and their return to God. As a place and a theme, the desert wilderness was an appropriate setting for repentance.

The wilderness served John well in his call as one of the old-style prophets, but the content of his preaching placed him in the new.[7] For Luke, “to preach,” meant to proclaim or declare that a new era of salvation was present and active through John the Baptist or Jesus or the disciples.[8] John’s preaching extended beyond Pharisees and Sadducees to all people seeking to escape God’s wrath like snakes scurrying before a fire.

In addition to his fiery preaching, John’s baptism was a ministry of preparing the way of the Lord, making hearts ready for the one soon to come “who is mightier than I.”[9] A baptism of repentance was an abandonment of the old way of life and a conversion that included faith that the era of salvation was dawning.[10]

His ministry was a continuation of salvation history, the tradition of how God dealt with His covenant people.[11] By recalling Isaiah and Elijah, Luke showed that God’s embrace of all nations was not a new theme but one embedded in the tradition all along.[12] As the Gospel made its way in the world, it interacted within the world’s political and religious arenas. From its expansion from Jerusalem to Rome, the Gospel encountered not only the poor, lame and blind, but also high priests, imperial guards, governors and the emperor himself. In this sense, Luke’s universality is geographical, social, political and economic.[13]

People responded to John’s call to repent and prepare the way for the Christ. Unfortunately, some responded by appealing to a physical relationship to Abraham. John retorted that this was an ineffectual effort to escape God’s wrath. Every tree that did not bear good fruit, that is, the fruit of repentance, would be cut down and thrown into the fire. A true son of Abraham bore the fruit of repentance. Human origins were of no consequence. What mattered was that one respond to the life that God brought forth through the Holy Spirit.

John offered practical advice to members of three groups – crowds, tax collectors and soldiers – who asked him, “What should we do?” The advice in each case is a central Lukan concern: nothing so hinders relationship to God, dehumanizes human beings and ruins life in community as attachment to wealth and possessions. To accept and live in the hospitality of God always means detachment to things.[14]

John’s answers addressed the injustices and inequities of that society. His words echoed Luke’s convictions about the social implications of the gospel.[15] The Church built these social and economic concerns into its common life. We read in the second and fourth chapters of Acts how all who believed lived together and held all things in common. John answered their question. People who had food and clothing shared with people who had none. Taxes were not to be calculated according to the greed of the people in power. The military were to cease victimizing occupied peasants with threats and intimidation.

John’s baptism turned people to the Lord and set them in motion on the way of the Lord, a journey by grace and a way of new life, so that when holiness arrived in the person of Jesus Christ, they would be prepared to meet him.

Repentance expressed itself in daily life. Each instruction from John dealt with people’s attachments to things in this world. Repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins is Good News. Our Gospel reminds us that not only is repentance an appropriate spirit during Advent but also that the way to Christ leads through the wilderness where John is preaching. That leads me to my final point, Meaning.

As Lutherans, we are all familiar with the question asked so frequently in Luther’s Small Catechism: What does this mean? Unfortunately, some Christians never delve beyond the 16th century and familiarize themselves with the Church Fathers and the Ancient Church. If you are familiar with the history of the Ancient Church, you likely know about Eusebius of Caesarea. As the 4th century bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, he wrote a ten-volume history of the Church, works of apology and exegetical studies explaining the Scriptures. In writing how John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, Eusebius wrote this:

It was in the wilderness that God’s saving presence was proclaimed by John the Baptist, and there that God’s salvation was seen. The words of this prophecy were fulfilled when Christ and his glory were made manifest to all: after his baptism the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove rested on him, and the Father’s voice was heard, bearing witness to the Son: This is my beloved Son, listen to him.

The prophecy meant that God was to come to a deserted place, inaccessible from the beginning. None of the pagans had any knowledge of God, since his holy servants and prophets were kept from approaching them. The voice commands that a way be prepared for the Word of God: the rough and trackless ground is to be made level, so that our God may find a highway when he comes. Prepare the way of the Lord: the way is the preaching of the Gospel, the new message of consolation, ready to bring to all mankind the knowledge of God’s saving power.[16]

Folks, I read this to you because of its importance 1600 years after Eusebius wrote it. Today, more than ever, people need the new message of consolation. Mankind needs to know God’s saving power. We need to listen to the voice of God over all others.

Multitudes believe that their voices matter. Some even believe that their voices matter even more than God’s. Many people listen to elected politicians and appointed bureaucrats. Millions follow the tweets of actors and athletes. Audiences listen attentively to talk show hosts and podcasters. You can say I'm old fashioned, say I'm over the hill, but I don’t listen to those voices. I hear them and their messages, but they do not influence my life the way the voice of John the Baptist did. They don’t guide my life like the words of Jesus, the Word of God.

God’s voice has the power to silence all the other voices in our lives. The devil may accuse us. Our own flesh may croon words of self-indulgence and self-pity. Even the world may offer us an unremitting barrage of “wisdom” and woe and invitations to the next best thing. But God’s voice can still them all … if only we would listen to it.

What is God’s voice saying to you today? Do you listen for it? Do you pay attention to it and treasure it? Do you recognize God’s voice every time you hear it? Do you heed the voice of Jesus drawing you closer? Are His promises real to you? Is His power believ­able?

My friends, I encourage you to turn to God’s voice. Absorb His words of love and encouragement and hope. Through this season of Advent, follow God’s gentle leading. God’s still, small voice has the power to silence all others! Each day, pray these words: Father, I want to hear your voice today. Open my ears, so that I can hear you; open my heart, so that I can embrace you. When you do may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

 



[1] Exodus 19:19.

[2] Deuteronomy 4:43.

[3] Psalm 46:6.

[4] Arthur A. Just, Jr., Luke 1:1 – 9:50. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House (1996), 148.

5 Eugene LaVerdiere, Luke. Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, Inc. (1986), 47.

 

[6] Luke 3:2.

 

[7] Just, 148.

[8]  Just, 149. See Luke 3:3.

[9] Fred B. Craddock, Luke. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press (2009), 47. Luke 3:16.

[10] Just, 149.

[11] Craddock, 47.

[12] Craddock, 48.

[13] Craddock, 47.

[14] Brendan Byrne, The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press (2000), 40.

[15] Craddock, 48.

[16] From a commentary on Isaiah by Eusebius of Caesarea, bishop.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Advent Waiting

 


Do you like to wait? If you don’t, you’re in good company. Most people do not like to wait, but we all wait for the bus, the end of class, for the doctor, in line, in traffic and for events to begin. Most of the time, waiting is boring, but sometimes it’s exciting.

It’s exciting to wait for a party or big game to begin. It’s exciting to wait for a new puppy or kitten to arrive or for a baby brother or sister to come home from the hospital.

Advent is an exciting time to wait. We wait for Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But we all know that Jesus was born, lived, died on the Cross and rose from the grave. We all know that Jesus will come again – and that’s what we’re waiting for – His return!

So, how will you wait for Jesus? Well, maybe your family has an Advent wreathe at home. Each day before dinner, you can light a candle and listen to mom or dad read the Bible and pray before you eat. Maybe your family has an Advent calendar with a different Bible passage and small gift each day.

Those are some ideas on how to wait for Christmas. How do we wait for Jesus to return in glory?

Martin Luther taught people that every day they should remember their as they begin to pray. We make the Sign of the Cross and say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” We then say the Apostles Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. He also included this prayer that we can say each morning.

I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Say that every morning as you wait for Jesus to come at Christmas and in His glory.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Advent 1

 


God’s grace, peace and mercy be with you. My sermon title is Wait, Word, Work. My focus is our Gospel (Luke 19:28-40). Let us pray. Heavenly Father, the psalmist wrote, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” Now that our feet are within your gates, we rejoice to hear your Word. As we listen, may your Spirit enlighten our minds and move our hearts to love deeply as Jesus loved. This we pray to you, Most Holy Trinity. Amen.

A friend recently concluded that most charitable donations arrive after Thanksgiving because charities get busier asking for money. The last month of the year is the busiest for charities and businesses. In fact, this is the time of the year for everyone. After Thanksgiving, we get busy preparing for Christmas. Before you get too busy, I ask you to take time to enjoy Advent. In order to enjoy Advent, heed three words of advice – Wait, Word and Work.

Wait. Advent marks the beginning of the church year. The word ‘advent’ is from two Latin words: ad, meaning "to" and venire meaning “come.” Advent focuses on Christ's coming to us in the flesh; however, His coming manifests itself among us in three ways – past, present and future.

In the past, Christ came to us in the flesh, an infant who grew to a man. In the present, he comes to us in Word and Sacrament. In the future, he will come again in glory.

On the first two Sundays of Advent, we focus on Christ’s Second Coming. On the third and fourth Sundays, we focus on Jesus’ birth. Advent ends when we gather for evening service on December 24. Only then does the Christmas season begin.

Christ’s coming evokes urgent excitement for the believer. We wait on tiptoe of expectation. We sense His presence is near. We sense His presence is here. Each day brings us closer to the reason for our waiting, the reason for our being.

This will help you understand what I mean about waiting. In January 2014, our daughter-in-law gave birth to our first granddaughter, Emma Jade. Cindy and I were so excited that on the day we left to see her, we could not sleep, and left two hours ahead of schedule. Good news stimulates excitement.

As a Christian, are you excited as you wait for the liturgical celebration of Christ’s coming and the final celebration of His return? Are you excited about His presence here and now as He comforts and challenges you in Sacrament and Word? God comforts and challenges you in Sacrament and Word. Hence, we move from Wait to Word, my second point.

In today’s Word, we see God’s plan of salvation moving quickly toward completion. Remember, we focus on Christ’s Second Coming on the first two Sundays of Advent. Jesus prepared for his last Passover by exercising control over the events that were about to occur. He told his disciples what to do and what to expect when people questioned their actions. Then the events unfolded exactly as Jesus predicted.

All the Evangelists chronicled Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The differences of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem according to Luke are not accidental, but purposeful. Through details often overlooked, Luke reinforced certain aspects of our salvation as Jesus’ actions fulfilled prophecy.

Luke opened his Jerusalem narrative by focusing attention on a colt, which had never been ridden. Luke’s description contains two main verbs (“you will find” and “bring”), two references to the colt, and two participles (“tied up” and “loosing”).

Luke closed his Jerusalem narrative by focusing on the tomb “in which no one had yet been laid.” Both the colt that had never been ridden and the tomb where no one had been laid were set apart for the purposes of a holy person.

As priest, prophet and king, Jesus must receive all privileges reserved for such a person, for as the Son of God, He, not the Temple, is now the center for God’s holy presence. Therefore, he must enter the city as a king, for, as we read in Malachi: “The Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.”

While only lambs and unyoked cows were slaughtered for sacrifice and carried the ark, the point Luke made in a series of acts – find a colt, loose it, bring it to Jesus – reminded hearers of Jesus’ ministry of release. Jesus released those bound by sin.

Read Jesus’ actions in chapter 19 in light of chapter 4 where He applied Isaiah’s words to himself: “to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Jesus set free the oppressed or, as another version translates the phrase, forgave those shattered by sin. However we word the phrase, the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a colt that no one had ridden; a colt that represented the rider’s royalty and humility.

Jesus’ ride fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” As the colt represented Christ’s royalty and humility, Jesus embraced and embodied the tension between king and humble servant when he was crowned king on the cross, the focus of his humiliation and shame, and our salvation.

While the cross shows Jesus’ humiliation and shame, it also shows us salvation. As I gaze upon Christ crucified, I recall my salvation and destiny. As Luke wrote his Gospel for Theophilus, friend of God, that he might have certainty concerning the things he was taught, he also wrote it for us – that we might have certainty concerning our faith. We may not understand why things happen to us or why people reject us, but as we gaze on Christ crucified and meditate upon certain moments of his life – his journey into Jerusalem where he is cheered and jeered, praised and persecuted – we realize that Luke wrote his Gospel not simply to tell a story about Jesus Christ, but to encourage disheartened disciples. For as Christ was cheered and jeered, praised and persecuted, tried by men and tied to a cross, so were his followers – friends of God.

Luke recorded that as Jesus overlooked the city from the summit of the Mount of Olives and came into view of the Temple, an entourage of disciples – not simply a throng or crowd of people – rejoiced and praised God with a loud voice for all his mighty works. That the disciples focused not on what Jesus taught, but his works showed that they were slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke. Among those disciples was Cleopas, whom we meet on the Road to Emmaus. Like Cleopas, who saw Jesus as a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, the other disciples who rejoiced and praised God on the Jerusalem Road said the right things but did not yet believe the right things.

They grasped that Jesus was king, but did not understand the humility implied in his actions. Like Cleopas, they did not understand the prophets or the Psalms. They did not understand Zechariah who wrote, “Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; humble and mounted on a colt.” Or the Psalmist’s words, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Jesus understood exactly what it meant for him to approach the Temple on a colt amidst acclamation. In chapter 13, after some Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod sought to kill him, Jesus lamented Jerusalem saying, “I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Jesus knew as he entered Jerusalem that he must be rejected before he received his honor, for in the Old Testament and in the Kingdom of God, suffering precedes glory.

The reception of the Gospel is divided. Some received and accepted Christ and others rejected him. This divided reception comforted Jesus’ disciples as they later experienced a divided reception. … With that divided reception of the Gospel, we move from the Word to Work, my final W.

One of my pleasures in ministry has been visiting the elderly and infirmed in homes, hospitals or institutions. I close my visits by reminding these friends of God that the Lord has not released them of their most important ministry – the ministry of prayer.

The Christian life is prayer and action, worship of God and love of neighbor. In Matthew, Jesus repeatedly said, “Learn the meaning of this phrase, ‘It is mercy, I desire, not sacrifice.’” … I learn and live mercy through meditation, a life of prayer. A Christian without an active daily prayer life is like a candy cane without stripes.

Petitionary prayer is important, but there are other forms of prayer – thanksgiving, repentance, adoration and praise. Bible phrases tell us that praying to God can include “call upon,” “intercede with,” “meditate on,” “consult,” “cry out to,” “draw near to,” “rejoice in” and “seek the face of.”

For me an active prayer life includes these forms as well as meditation and contemplation; however, the mere mention of meditation and contemplation unnerves some Christians. Some pastors rail against meditation and contemplation, while others promote them. I suggest one never engage in any prayer or practice that leads away from Christ.

For me meditating on Scripture is simply having a conversation with God. Since God is wise and merciful, I sit silently and wait for God to speak. Meditation is that simple. I wait for God to speak a word.

In his Simple Way to Pray, after prescribing an organized method of meditating, Martin Luther wrote, “If in the midst of such thoughts the Holy Spirit begins to preach in your heart with rich, enlightening thoughts, honor him by letting go of this written scheme; be still and listen to him. Remember what he says. Note it well and you will behold wondrous things in the law of God.”

In Meditation on Christ’s Passion, Luther wrote, “We say without hesitation that he who contemplates God’s sufferings for a day, an hour, yes, only a quarter of an hour, does better than to fast a whole year, pray a psalm daily, [or] hear a hundred masses. This meditation changes man’s being and, almost like baptism, gives him a new birth.”

Meditation, almost like baptism, gives us new birth. In short, Luther encouraged meditation as a way to deepen our understanding and appreciation of God’s Word. Meditation relates well to our Gospel in that worship at the Temple was replaced by worship through the new place of God’s dwelling, the Christ.

As Christians, we are not promised exemption from suffering, trial or even death for the sake of the gospel. We live in the in-between time of Christ’s coming in the flesh and his glorious coming, but we do not know when he will return. The Christian, like a waiting doorkeeper, is never off duty. We must live mercifully and pray actively.

I close by asking you to check your calendar. Between now and Christmas, how many parties will you attend? How many school functions and Christmas pageants? When will you find time to mail cards and wrap gifts? Will you be so busy that you sneak away from the office early?

My point is that in the busyness of the season, we are easily distracted. We lose the sense of wonder and contemplation, unable to read the signs of the times because of our distractedness. Spiritual laziness often manifests itself as busyness in the form of distractedness. Distractedness is a way of not paying attention to oneself or the needs of others or the voice of God because we are so busy doing nothing important – shopping for bargains and checking our smartphones, catching up on small talk and on social media, attending parties and festivities.

If you do not know how to stay awake – how to pray – use Portals of Prayer. Each day there is a Scripture passage and a meditation. As we begin Advent, I ask you to do one thing – pray daily – so that when the Day of the Lord comes, He may find you waiting, working and in the Word. And as you pray, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Thanksgiving 2021

 


THANKSGIVING

This week, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. There are many things for which each of us is grateful to God. In churches that offer a Thanksgiving service, the Gospel story of Ten Lepers is read (Luke 7:11-19). Jesus healed all ten, but only one leper returned to thank Jesus and praise God. He was grateful.

Gratefulness shows thanksgiving in my heart. Gratefulness is related to grace – which means the release of loveliness. The scene of the leper returning to Jesus to show his thanks is lovely.

If we are not thankful, we are ungrateful, and that leads to lack of love and kindness towards God and others. If we do not see and appreciate God’s mercy and help shown to us through others, we will be ungrateful and unkind towards people.

How often have we been ungrateful to our parents, pastors, teachers and neighbors? Do we express gratitude to God for his abundant help and mercy towards us? Are we kind, loving and merciful towards our neighbors when they need help? Are we like the lone leper or the other nine?

That said, let me close in prayer. Lord Jesus, may I never fail to recognize your loving kindness and mercy. Fill my heart with love and thanksgiving. Free me from ungratefulness and anger. Help me to count my blessings with a grateful heart and to give thanks in all circumstances. Amen.

Jude!

 


God’s grace, peace and mercy be with you. My sermon title is Hey, Jude: Person, Letter, Passage. My focus is our second reading. Let us pray. Heavenly Father, the psalmist wrote, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”  Now that our feet are within your gates, we rejoice to hear your Word. As we listen, may your Spirit enlighten our minds and move our hearts to love deeply as Jesus loved. This we pray to you, Most Holy Trinity. Amen.

When people hear the name Jude, they may think of Jude Law, the actor who portrays Watson in Robert Downey’s Sherlock Holmes movies. Others think of the Memphis hospital founded by Danny Thomas. Most hear a Beatles’ song in their heads and start humming the melody.

“Hey Jude” is a song written by Paul McCartney of the Beatles. It was released in August 1968, and was more than seven minutes long. At the time it was the longest single to top the British charts, and spent nine weeks at number one in the United States, the longest for any Beatles single and the longest run at the top of the US charts. The single sold eight million copies. But did you know that the title prompted some to consider McCartney an anti-Semite? That John Lennon thought it was an affirmation of his relationship with Yoko Ono? Or that the ballad evolved from “Hey Jules”, a song McCartney wrote to comfort John Lennon's son, Julian, during his parents' divorce?

I am not here to preach about Beatles’ songs, but rather to address The Letter of Jude in three parts – the person, the letter and the passage. First, the person.

There is some confusion regarding the true identity of Jude. He is not an outstanding figure like Peter, Paul, Timothy or Titus. Rather, he is an obscure apostle. Jude is not Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus. Yet, both Jude and Judas are Greek variants of Judah, a name common among Jews at the time. Aside from Judas Iscariot, the New Testament mentions Jude or Judas six times in four different contexts: Jude, the son of James, one of the Twelve Apostles[1]; Judas, not Judas Iscariot, but apparently an apostle mentioned in John’s Gospel[2]; the brother of Jesus identified by those who questioned the Lord’s authority[3]; and, finally, the writer of the Epistle of Jude, who identifies himself as “the brother of James.”[4]

Scholars are divided on whether Jude the apostle was also Jude the brother of Jesus, the traditional author of the Epistle. Generally, Catholics believe the two Judes are the same person, while Protestants generally do not. Of course, there is more regarding Jude’s lore and legend, but suffice it to say that Jude was a real person, and the Epistle – the Word of God – is attributed to him. And so, we move from Person to Letter.

Unlike many of Paul’s letters, because this letter lacks hard evidence of the author’s identity, we can only surmise the author. Jude calls himself the brother of James, who is one of the brothers of the Lord[5], and a leader in the early church. Although, as I already stated, there is an apostle of the same name[6], this Jude refers himself outside that group. One hypothesis is that after his brother, James, was executed in 62 A.D., Jude followed his example and warned Jewish Christians against new threats to their faith.

We know from the letter’s style that the author was a man trained as a scribe who wrote with considerable sophistication. As a Jewish Christian with blood ties to James and Jesus, he saw himself as an orthodox guardian of tradition. He also assumed that his readers were familiar with all his cited sources, canonical and noncanonical alike.

As the greeting of the letter indicates, his original readers were Jewish Christians who personally knew James. We find similarities in Paul’s greeting to the Romans and the Letter of James, where both identify themselves as servants of Christ.[7] Additionally, the greeting offers us a glimpse into Jewish Christianity, not Greek Christianity of Philippi, Corinth or Thessalonica.

Following the greeting, Jude reminded his readers that their salvation was at stake because ungodly outsiders crept into the Church and perverted the grace of God into sensuality, denying their only Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.[8] In other words, syncretism – perverting Law and Gospel by blending it with other teachings – was occurring, and that was as much of a danger in the early Church as it was when Walther and Pieper were the first Synod Presidents, and as it is today.

Most likely, those who “crept in unnoticed” were travelling missionaries. Think of it this way: If someone came to this church and knew the routine, he could present himself for communion as a church member. From there, he could finagle his way into a teaching position, and then present distorted views of the Law and Gospel. As a former Roman Catholic priest, the reason it was so difficult for me to join the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod as an ordained pastor is that the men charged with admitting candidates to ministry purposely made it so. They want to ensure that they are admitting someone who will be faithful to the teachings. Otherwise, you see from Jude the mess that occurs when you do not create a system that admits and rejects. As one Scripture scholar wrote, those who crept in denied the Lord Jesus (v. 4) by refusing to live under his rule. Although the opponents did not see themselves as rejecting Christianity, Jude describes their way of life as denying the order established by the Lord.[9]

From this point in the letter, against these opponents of Christ, Jude presents the evidence of his case, and then prosecutes and condemns these false teachers, while warning Christians so that they do not follow them.

In verses 17-19, we read: “You must remember … the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.’ It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.”

This quote is from the Book of Enoch, which is outside the canon, and although all Jude’s readers may not have been familiar with it, they were familiar with the apostles. Jude was making the point that scoffers ignore all the law. Proverbs 9:7-8 reads, “Correct a scoffer and you attract contempt, rebuke a wicked man and you attract dishonor. Do not rebuke the scoffer, he will hate you. Rebuke the wise man and he will love you.” Scoffers create divisions, and these particular scoffers were not Christians, as they claimed, but rather greedy, worldly, spirit-less, divisive persons. They were not interested in building the body of Christ, the Kingdom of God. They were not interested in discipleship, servant leadership, unanimity, cooperation or reaching across the proverbial aisle. They were interested in their own muddled version of Law and Gospel, and not a clear distilled Biblical teaching. They were divisive scoffers.

In essence, Jude said, “They are divisive scoffers, and you are true believers.” And that brings me to our third point, Passage. Take a moment to find verses 20-25 in your program or pew Bible.

Note how Jude contrasted the behavior of the scoffers to that of true believers. By encouraging Christians to build up the community, he offered the model for community life – the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. By promoting holiness, Jude sought to combat the scoffers’ false teaching. And finally, he encouraged Christians to practice mercy rather than hate. He closed his letter by reminding them that only God’s grace can keep us from stumbling. For that alone, he offered all glory, majesty and praise to our Lord, Savior, Master and Redeemer, Jesus Christ the Son of God. In short, each individual member of the community is to be Christ for one another.

So, there you have it – Jude the Person, the Letter and the Passage. For some, this thumbnail sketch could suffice, but my curious mind does not allow me to rest here. There is more to cover, but time does not allow me to discuss in detail Jude’s personality or educational background – how he wrote with such sophistication and employed words and phrases found nowhere else in the Bible. I cannot delve into the sociological milieu of his time – the understanding of a community 2000 years ago in a world thousands of miles from here where Greeks and Jews intersected. I cannot distinguish Jewish and Greek Christians quite so easily as sugar and salt. There is, however, something that I cannot overlook and that is a question: How is Jude applicable to life today?

The late Bible scholar, Raymond Brown wrote, “Today most would not appreciate or find germane [Jude’s] argumentation from Israelite tradition about the angels who sinned with women, [or] Michael’s battle over the body of Moses … We owe Jude reverence as a book of Sacred Scripture, but its applicability to ordinary life remains a formidable difficulty.”[10] So, how is Jude applicable to life today?

I asked a number of people, “What are the most urgent issues facing congregations today?” I received a number of responses including lack of time for prayer, worship and Bible study, materialism, divisiveness, human sexuality, devaluing God’s word, rejecting Biblical truths, conforming to the current culture, liberal colleges that turn high school graduates into atheists, and parents who place more importance on their children’s weekend sports activities than God’s Church. One gentleman wrote, “Realizing that eternal life can only be obtained by believing in Jesus Christ.” A friend offered his gut response: people looking for ways to live the Gospel and stay faithful to Jesus each and every day.

When I stopped looking for responses, I heard this exchange between a radio host and an author who wrote about living the Beatitudes daily. The author spoke of how he met a young man who had converted to the faith. The author asked this young man what he had converted from. Without skipping a beat and with a huge smile on his face, he responded, “Unhappiness. …. I left a lot of unhappiness and found something greater.” Surprised because he thought the young man was going to name a particular denomination or belief, he instead went to the heart of the matter. Knowing the young man, the author said that his sufferings and heartaches could have led him to choose anger, resentment and self-pity. But in spite of all these darker possibilities, which so many people choose in our world today, this person chose to convert to happiness. He saw the choice between light and dark, life and death, happiness and misery, and he chose – without question – to be happy. In our lives, we have to make our own choice. Will it be an unending and frustrating search for the pleasures and highs of life? Or will we break free from the malaise of incomplete joys and passing pleasures?[11]

If Jude has anything to offer congregations today, it reminds us that remaining steadfast to our faith is the key to happiness. Presented with the Law that convicts me of my sin and keeps me from sinning more grievously, and the Gospel, which frees me from my sin because of the Person of Jesus Christ – who suffered, died on the Cross and rose from the dead – and His teaching of repentance, forgiveness, loving-kindness, mercy, charity, generosity, thanksgiving and prayer, I am a blessed, happy person. Law and Gospel, Word and Sacrament, love of God and service to neighbor is all I really need to be happy or to convert from unhappiness, anger, resentment, self-pity and the unending, frustrating search for life’s pleasures – and God has provided all of that for me.

Friends, as you go about your life today, present someone with the choice to embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Present someone with the choice to be happy, for when you do, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.



[1] Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13.

[2] John 14:22.

[3] Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3.

[4] Jude 1:1.

[5] Matthew 13:55.

[6] Lk 6:16; Acts 1:13; Jn 14:22.

[7] See Romans 1:1 and James 1:1.

[8] Jude 3-4.

[9] Pheme Perkins, First and Second Peter, James, Jude, Louisville: John Knox Press, 1995. p. 148.

[10] Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, New York: Doubleday, 1997. pp. 759-760.

[11] Jeffrey Kirby, Kingdom of Happiness: Living the Beatitudes in Everyday Life, Charlotte, NC: St. Benedict Press, 2017.