Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sermon for 09 January 2011, First Sunday after the Epiphany

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.

Matthew 3:13-17

To Fulfill All Righteousness
First Sunday after the Epiphany, 09 January 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

When we last left John the Baptizer, He was just finishing up his sermon about the One who would come after him, Jesus: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Jesus the Righteous Judge with the winnowing fork to clear His threshing floor. Jesus the Beloved Son. Both are accurate portrayals of the Lord Jesus. Jesus has grown up in a hurry. Last week He was a small child, needing his guardian, Joseph, to protect Him in Egypt. Now He is grown, thirty years old. The time has fully come for Him to begin His ministry.
Jesus is the righteous One, the Messiah promised of old. He would be what Adam, Eve, and all their descendants could not be—righteous, holy, and sinless. So it is surprising what happens in this text. Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.
Why does one take a bath, shower, or wash hands? To clean what is dirty. Why does one come to be baptized today? To be cleansed of one’s sins. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus had no need to repent or be forgiven. He hadn’t sinned! Why did Jesus want to be baptized?
John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented.
John knew that he himself must decrease and that Jesus must increase. He realized that Jesus was the Messiah, the One to come, the Righteous Judge at the end of time.  John knew of his own sins. He needed forgiveness. And Jesus comes for baptism, just like every other sinner that came to the Jordan? Right. Jesus came for baptism just like any other sinner. That’s the point.
To fulfill all righteousness, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, but conceived nonetheless. In Mary’s womb nine months. Born. Jesus was born of a woman like all humans are born, but also unlike all other humans, born of a virgin. He grew up. His very life was threatened. He grew up and was obedient to His parents, even as a teenager. He learned a trade, working with wood and possibly stone. And now, at thirty, He begins His ministry by identifying Himself alongside sinners as one of them. Why? To fulfill all righteousness. In order be in solidarity with sinners, Jesus had to go all the way. No half-measures—full throttle humanity. And then the Spirit would lead Him to the wilderness for forty days and nights of temptation at the hands of the devil himself.
Jesus was willing to suffer in order to fulfill all righteousness. The Righteous One took upon Himself the sins of the whole world, even your unrighteousness, in order to make you righteous.

Sometimes, as Christians, we are called to suffer for righteousness’ sake. Are you willing to suffer for the truth, for your faith, for your family, and for your Lord? George was willing, but it wasn’t easy.
George Galatis was an engineer at Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Waterford, Connecticut, when he discovered something was wrong. Spent fuel-rod pools threatened to release radioactivity throughout the plant. The pools were not designed to serve as nuclear dumps. Federal guidelines required the Millstone plant to move only one-third of the rods into the pools, but Galatis found all of the hot fuel had been dumped into them. On other occasions, alarms would sound as the fuel was unloaded just 65 hours after a shutdown, far sooner than the mandated period of 250 hours. Supervisors winked at the routine violations, knowing they were saving millions in shortcuts.
Fearing the violations could threaten thousands of lives, Galatis told his colleague George Betancourt they should contact the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Betancourt agreed but was concerned for his colleague's future. "You do that," he said, "and you're dog meat."
When Galatis urged plant managers to stop the hazardous practices, they refused. Since many of his supervisors were churchgoers, he was baffled.
"This was not splitting hairs," Galatis says. "These were not technical issues. These were moral issues." Galatis warned his supervisors what could happen: eventual shutdown, decommissioning of the plants, and criminal investigations.
But after two years, nothing had changed--except the workplace atmosphere in which Galatis found himself. When he sat down in the cafeteria, coworkers left. When he entered a meeting, the room fell silent. Coworkers spread rumors that he was an alcoholic, and his performance evaluation suffered.
Galatis began an intense search for God's guidance. He awoke at 4 A.M. to pray and read Scripture. During lunch breaks, he drove to a secluded place to pray and search the Bible. [George needed the strength and guidance of the Word. There he found that sometimes we are persecuted for doing the right thing. Righteousness isn’t easy. Sometimes Suffering for righteousness’ sake meant death of one kind or another.] (It was during one of these prayer times that Galatis believed God whispered to him, "Will you die for me?")
Though he feared for his safety, Galatis realized there were many ways of dying: his livelihood, his reputation, and his family were at stake. Previous whistle-blowers' families had brooked intense emotional strain. Northeast Utilities, owner of the nuclear plants, would likely hire one of the nation's top law firms to fight him. How many men in their mid-40s can lose high-paying jobs and start a second career?
After months of prayer and study, he concluded that no matter how much he was badgered, God would not allow him to be devastated. He decided to contact the NRC. They offered him no refuge.
When Galatis further petitioned the NRC to suspend Millstone's license, his cause became public and the pressure on him increased. Coworkers confronted him in the hallways and in his office. Some called him a fool; others said he was a troublemaker. He was subtly intimidated and harassed for months, and coworkers often told him, "Shut up and keep your job."
After four years of battling Millstone and co-worker pressure, Galatis finally obtained a severance agreement and left. The NRC never suspended Millstone's license, but three reactors were shut down for repairs at a cost of over $1 billion. A criminal investigation was launched. Millstone reactor 1 will never reopen. The Millstone 2 and 3 plants did not reopen until years later.
[Shortly after,] Galatis is [then] 47 [was attending seminary], with hopes of becoming a pastor.
Citation: Adam Bowles, "A Cry in the Nuclear Wilderness," Christianity Today, Vol. 44, no. 11 (10-2-00), p. 66

Jesus’ righteousness is much more than an example to follow. Jesus’ righteousness makes you righteous. He calls you to abandon sin and life in righteousness. Come out of darkness and live in His marvelous light!

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all present at Jesus’ Baptism. The voice from heaven declared the Father’s love for and pleasure in His Son. The Spirit desecended like a dove, coming to rest on Jesus. And there is Jesus, the Righteous One standing in the place of sinners.
Jesus did that throughout His ministry. Jesus went to where sinners were to preach release, teach about the reign of God, heal, forgive, and expel demons. And then He went to where sinners were one more time. Jesus, declared innocent numerous times, was sent to the punishment and death of a sinner. He was crucified between two criminals, declared a criminal Himself. And this brings about the great exchange. Jesus takes your sin and gives you His righteousness.
And what often happens, even among Christians? One might say, “You know, I’ll give you all of these sins, Jesus, but there’s this one I need to hold on to.” Or, “That sounds too good to be true! Jesus couldn’t have been that big of a Savior.” Or, “We’ll, I’m just so busy right now. And I love these Wyoming summers. Sunday morning just doesn’t work for me. There’ll be time. My kids can’t even walk yet.”
Excuses abound. But what do we know about sin? Sin damns. Jesus doesn’t just want part of your sins, part of your life, and what meager things you offer Him out of obligation! He wants all of you. He wants all of your sins so they can be put away. He does sound too good to be true, but it’s not everyday that the only Righteous One the world has ever known, would give you His righteousness. It’s not every day that God would die for you. You don’t know that there will be time later to believe or abandon your favorite sin. Jesus calls you to righteousness and holiness now. We only sin further by waiting.
Jesus will return as the Righteous Judge at the end of time. Repentant, humble, forgiven Christians need not fear the Day of Judgment. People who don’t think they need to repent have a lot to be uncertain about. One sin is enough to damn you. Don’t hold on to unrighteousness. Using summers or your favorite “season” as an excuse to stay away from the Lord’s house combines the sin against the first commandment, having another god—whatever it is that is more important than Church and receiving the Lord’s gifts—with the additional sin of sloth—simple, old-fashioned laziness. Is there any wonder that laziness was considered one of the seven deadly sins back in the Middle Ages? It can easily lead to spiritual death. Unrighteousness leads to eternal death.

Brian Burrell tells of an armed robber named Dennis Lee Curtis who was arrested in 1992 in Rapid City, South Dakota. Curtis apparently had scruples about his thievery. In his wallet the police found a sheet of paper on which was written the following code:
1.     I will not kill anyone unless I have to.
2.     I will take cash and food stamps—no checks.
3.     I will rob only at night.
4.     I will not wear a mask.
5.     I will not rob mini-marts or 7-Eleven stores.
6.     If I get chased by cops on foot, I will get away. If chased by vehicle, I will not put the lives of innocent civilians on the line.
7.     I will rob only seven months out of the year.
8.     I will enjoy robbing from the rich to give to the poor.
This thief had a sense of morality, but it was flawed. When he stood before the court, he was not judged by the standards he had set for himself but by the higher law of the state.
Likewise when we stand before God, we will not be judged by the code of morality we have written for ourselves but by God's perfect law.
Citation: Craig Brian Larson, Choice Contemporary Stories and Illustrations (Baker, 1998), p. 181; Brian Burrell, Words We Live By (S&S Trade, 1997)

            By God’s perfect law, by His Ten Commandments, there is no one righteous, no, not even one. Except Jesus. Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness. And that includes you, too. Repent and be forgiven. In His forgiven children, God has manifested the gift of righteousness from His Son. In Christ, God can say He is well-pleased with you. He loved you enough to send His only-begotten Son. You have been baptized. You are absolved. You are fed with the Word of righteousness so that righteousness may dwell within you. Live in your Heavenly Father’s love and favor. Live in Jesus. To fulfill all righteousness. Amen.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.