THE LORD IS WITH YOU

Bible stories

Genesis 39

2 The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.
Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”
8 But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.
11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.
13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. 20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.
But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

 

 

 

We heard Jesus say today, “Take up your cross and follow me.” This is not an encouragement for Christians to build a heavy, wooden object and carry it all the time or find a nice pendant to hang on a chain around our necks.  This is also not Jesus’ way of telling you that you have to participate with him in the work of salvation.  It is not possible to help Jesus save you from hell.  There is nothing for us to do in the eternal life equation.  We are saved by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus.  But that does not change what Jesus says to us today.  Following Jesus means you and I will have to carry something in life, and I think this Bible story helps us figure out what that is.

Joseph was a man who had already been through a lot.  The family he was born into was a little dysfunctional.  Joseph’s dad, Jacob, had 12 sons and one daughter…from the 4 different wives.  If you read through Genesis 30-38 you will see that this was not a good recipe for a family unit.  On top of that, Jacob was not always a good father.  He loved Joseph more than any of his children and everyone could see it, literally because Jacob made an ornate robe just for Joseph, almost as if to parade him around the house and the fields.  The brothers took notice and hated him for it.  The Bible says that they could not speak a kind word to him.

Things only got worse to the point where the brothers plotted ways to kill Joseph.  They didn’t go through with it, because they saw a caravan of merchants heading south. One of his brothers, Judah said,  “Why kill Joseph and cover it up?  Why not sell him, he is our brother after all, and make a little money on him?  We can still make it look like he is dead.”  So that’s what they did; they sold their brother and made everyone else believe he was dead.

That’s where we pick things up in Genesis 39.  Joseph is now a slave in Egypt, sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.  And then we read this little line, “The Lord was with Joseph…”  Doesn’t this detail seem out of place to you?  Most people tend to think that bad things happen when people turn toward evil.  There is some wiring in the human brain that see things as cause and effect, something bad happens because someone was doing something bad.  Even spiritually, we might think, “Well, Joseph had it coming because he was getting too full of himself, and God had to put him in his place.”  But that’s not the case here.  All of these things happen to Joseph while the Lord was with him, watching over him, protecting him, loving him.

It seemed to be taking a turn for the better.  Joseph was a slave, but he wasn’t brutalized.  He was put in charge of the house.  Joseph was responsible for everything Potiphar had.  But it all comes crashing down, again. Potiphar’s wife comes into the picture with an offer, “Come to bed with me.”  Joseph is an honorable man and refuses.  But the reason is not because he didn’t want to have sex with her – someone else, maybe, but just not her – or because she was another man’s wife or because he was afraid of what Potiphar would do.

No, listen to his reason.  “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”  Joseph sees this is a spiritual issue.  It is wrong because God says it is wrong.  God says certain things are sinful.  Plain and simple, we don’t get to decide what’s right and wrong.  Joseph does a good job of seeing this from a faith standpoint.   Believers listen to the Lord and follow him earnestly, faithfully, carefully.  Believers should not listen to the Lord and then grumble about following him.  Believers should not choose for themselves what to follow.  Believers should not get lazy about listening to the Lord when it seems old-fashioned or strict.  Believers should not grow careless and wander off.  That’s how believers end up falling away from Jesus.  It’s their own fault, not God’s.

Maybe the way Joseph reacts to this temptation will turn things around for him?  Maybe this is when the Lord will reward him?  But when he refuses, she doesn’t back down.  She continued to pressure him day after day.  Then, she actually got a hold of him, so Joseph had to leave his shirt behind and run out of there.  But that’s not the story that Potiphar gets.  No, he gets the version where Joseph is the immoral and abusive one.

Now, we could stop here to talk about sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace or at home, about the MeToo movement, about false allegations, about all this kind of stuff that comes up in our oversexualized society.  I don’t want to ignore this topic or lead anyone to think that this type of stuff is off limits. We have to talk about these kinds of things.  We have to listen to what God says. We have to be filled with love and compassion.  We have to be willing to listen and help whenever possible.

But for our purposes today, I want you just to consider Joseph’s reaction. He didn’t do anything wrong and is falsely accused, but when Potiphar gets a different story from his wife, what does Joseph do? It’s right there in verse…verse…verse… Actually, there is no reaction from Joseph recorded.  No press conference, no hiring of a lawyer, no plea for the other slaves, who all worked for Joseph, to speak up, nothing like that.  And I get it, he’s a slave, what can he do?  But still!  He just goes to prison.  For never complaining once about all these horrible circumstances, for being a good and honest slave, for being honorable in the face of temptation, for putting God first, Joseph’s suffering only gets worse.

And strangely enough what does verse 21 tell us?  “The Lord was with him…”  How come the all-powerful God didn’t step in?  If God is so loving and kind, why would Joseph have to endure all this?  When is enough, enough?  Aren’t those some of questions that a Bible story like this raises?  Aren’t those some of the questions you hear or ask from time to time?  I’ve been in the hospital, I’ve sat in my office, I’ve been at a cookout or a ballgame and talked to people who have these kinds of questions.

And the answer comes back to the cross Jesus is talking about.  A cross is not meant to be enjoyable.  It was a terrorizing instrument of death. The cross is pain.  The cross is persecution.  The cross is all the hardships you endure because you believe in Jesus.  Every Christian has a cross to carry.  It’s not an option.  Plain and simple, the cross has to be part of the life of Jesus’ followers.   This is not because God is unkind, but he knows there is something better for us than what this world has to offer.

The cross of suffering and persecution forces us to see that this world the way it really is. This is the place that is ravaged by sin.  This is the place where sin dooms people to eternal death in hell.  No fancy ornate robe like the one Jacob gave Joseph can cover my sin.  No job where I’m put in charge of everything can pay for my sins.  This is the place where suffering happens, not because God doesn’t care or doesn’t love you, but because sin is a destroyer.

Just think of what sin did to Jesus.  He suffered more than being sold into slavery.  He was sold for thirty pieces of silver into death.  He suffered more than imprisonment because of false accusations.  He was crucified.  That is the punishment for sin.  My sin and yours earn and deserve death.  But God stepped in for you.  Jesus paid the price so that we would not suffer what we deserve.  Jesus gave his life so that we could have life with him in heaven, where there is not suffering, no pain, no persecution.

Heaven is the home for God’s people, not this world. So, suffering the cross of persecution and hardship here forces us to keep our eyes where they need to be, on the one who saves us from suffering, on the spiritual and eternal blessings that are more profound, on the home that was purchased for us by the suffering and death of Jesus.  

If you aren’t willing to take up this cross, if you want everything in your life to be easy, if you want it my way or it’s the highway, if you want to avoid the questions, if you don’t want to deal with the pain, then how can you be a disciple of Jesus?  How can you bear the name of the one who died and rose to save you?  You are trying to save yourself from hardship and suffering, and only the Lord can do that.  You are trying to save yourself from what the Lord intends to be a spiritual and eternal benefit for you.  You are trying to save your life on earth, when the Lord wants you to be in heaven with him.  How could that possibly be what a child of God does? 

Do you know what the Lord accomplished through Joseph’s suffering?  He went to prison for more than two years, until the Pharaoh needed someone to interpret his dreams.  It just so happened there was a Hebrew slave in prison who had been given that gift from God.  God raised Joseph up from the suffering to be second in command of all Egypt.  God used Joseph to save the sons of Israel from a famine.  God used Joseph to be a beautiful example to his brothers of forgiveness and love.  God, then, went on to rescue Israel from Egypt and restore them in the Promised Land.  God kept his promise to deliver his people and save the world when he sent his own Son to take our suffering away for eternity.  That’s why this Bible story about Joseph keeps saying, “The Lord was with him…”  Despite the cross of suffering and hardships, Joseph was not alone.

When suffering is yours to endure, when persecution is the cross you must carry, the Lord is with you like he was with Joseph.  Followers of Jesus may lose things in this life, maybe it’s comfort, maybe friends or family, maybe a job, maybe health, or maybe even this life on earth is taken away, but Christ is with you.  And so your life is saved for eternity through his cross.  And that’s what matters.  That’s what we focus on.

I had the privilege keeping the focus on Jesus as I visited a couple of our members in the hospital this Friday.  I’ll conclude with the same words of God that I shared with them, words that give the encouragement we need as we carry our crosses.  From 2 Corinthians 4: 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Brothers and sisters, God bless you as you take up your cross and follow Jesus. Amen.

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LORD, OPEN OUR EYES

2 Kings 6

8 Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.”
9 The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” 10 So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places.
11 This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?”
12 “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.”
13 “Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” 14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.
15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

 

 

How could this happen? It was going to be a great day in Dothan. Sure, there was a little squabbling going on between Israel and Aram, but that was normal.  This wasn’t the age of political propaganda and twitter posts.  Kings and nations simply went out and fought for control.  When the weather warmed up you said goodbye to the warriors and the army men as they went out to protect their families and their nation.  It was normal, especially during this time of the kings of Israel.  God’s people had the God-given obligation to protect the Promised Land.

It was also normal for a prophet to serve God’s people.  During this time period, Joram was king and Elisha was God’s man as prophet.  Even though the kings were often disobedient to God and his prophets, God still kept his promise to love his people.  So, Elisha, by the power of God, was helping Joram, the king, with his battle plans against Aram.

The king of Aram was going a little crazy because it seemed like Israel was always one step ahead.  He thought that one of his staff members was leaking information.  When he heard that God’s man, Elisha, was helping Israel, he changed his target.  Rather than draw up the next plan of attack against the army of Israel, the king of Aram wanted one man, Elisha, and he wanted him dead.  When the king found out that Dothan was the place, “he sent horses and chariots and a strong force” under the cover of night.

The faithful servant of Elisha though it was going to be a great day in Dothan.  He was up and at ‘em early.  Maybe he liked an early morning walk to spend a few minutes with the Lord in prayer and clear his head. Maybe he was going to get the latest news and a cup of coffee.  Yes, it was just another day in Dothan.  But then he experienced one of those moments that no one wants to have.

I imagine if an A-list director was making a movie for this scene the music would be soft and ominous, the lighting would be low and hazy, and the camera angle would start zoomed in at the servant’s face.  Then, the music would start to be louder the camera angle would pan out to reveal the dangerous threat of the Aramean army surrounding the city.

The only thing the terrified servant can muster is, “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?”  What is the Aramean army around you?  What causes such paralyzing fear?  We could make a long list, a really long list, I’m sure, because we all have fears.  Some can be things that cause physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain, things that happen to you, your kids, your parents, or others you care about, and things that have happened or could happen.  So many things cause fear.  We could have a long series of Bible studies to dissect each kind of fear that grips us and how Jesus answers each and every one of those fears with his forgiveness, his protection, his love, and his certainty of heaven, which he paid for in full.

It goes beyond fear, doesn’t it?  It’s not just that terrifying things come up in life causing a similar response to the servant in Dothan, “What do we do now?”  When fear grips you, do you know what does not have a hold of your heart? Trust.  See, God has a whole lot of promises that cover all the fears that come up in life.  And when we choose to let the fear into our hearts, that means it is pushing trust and faith out. That servant was failing to trust God’s promises.

God says, “Trust me.  Above everything else, believe what I tell you.”  It’s actually the First Commandment.  And so letting fear crowd out the faith that God has given us is not just being afraid, it’s also being disobedient.

Just think about the things we’ve been hearing in this Easter worship series.  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection have made a lot of promises to us.  On Easter Sunday, we heard the promise that his life means we have victory over sin, death, and hell, a victory that God will not remove from his children.  Next, Jesus promised his peace will go with us as we are sent out to live for him. Then, Jesus gave us the proper kind of praise, not for ourselves, but for him because of his free gifts of life and salvation.  Just two weeks ago, we were reminded of the beautiful picture of Jesus as our Good Shepherd.  He never lets us go.  He never stops feeding us, protecting us, and directing us. And last week, Jesus promised that the kind of love he has and the kind of love that he puts into our hearts will give us the right attitude and actions towards each other forever.

That’s a lot of promises.  And Jesus keeps them all.  When for even one day, we aren’t paying attention like we should, we get a little too selfish going our own way, or we think Jesus could be doing a better job, we end being a lot like the servant of Elisha that morning in Dothan.  We fail to trust the Lord, we fail to trust his promises, we fail to obey him because of our spiritually weak eyes.

Too often we are looking at ourselves.  Too often we are looking around us at our earthly circumstances.  Too often we are looking at our life here as the first priority.  Anything that threatens to mess with my circumstances takes my attention, forcing my eyes to move from where they need to be… on Jesus and his promises.

It’s a little bit like Peter walking out on the water to meet Jesus.  When his eyes were on Jesus, he could not see the storm and the waves.  When the circumstances and surroundings started to take his eyes off of Jesus, he sank like a man who’s trying to walk on water.

Elisha’s servant felt sunk, but Elisha reacts as if nothing is the matter.  With a huge army surrounding Dothan with certain doom, Elisha says, “Don’t be afraid.”  In other words, the circumstances didn’t change where Elisha’s eyes were.  God’s promises to protect him and defend him were just as true with the Aramean army surrounding the city as they were the day before they got there.  God’s promises to love his people and save his people from every evil were just as true.  God’s promises to work all things for the good of believers were just as true.  God’s promises to be with us always to the very end of the age were just as true.  What Elisha’s physical eyes were seeing did not change God’s promises, not one bit.  And so, what Elisha’s eyes were seeing did not change his trust and obedience.

There is a way to walk through this life with those kind of eyes.  That’s what Elisha prayed for: “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.”  And what did the servant see?  He saw God’s army of fiery horses and chariots all around them. He saw that God’s promises are still true even when circumstances might look dismal.  He saw that God’s power is greater than anything in this world.  He saw that trusting the Lord and obeying him is never going to leave you alone and helpless.  He saw that obeying the Lord and having him as your number one priority is the best kind of eyesight there is.

Jesus has opened my eyes and yours so that we can see it, too. Jesus has opened our eyes to the facts that sins are forgiven, death is defeated, and hell is not an option for Jesus’ followers.  Jesus has opened our eyes to the power of God’s promises to save people not matter what is surrounding us on earth.  Jesus has opened our eyes to see the power of the Word and Sacraments to change disobedient sinners into God’s children.  Jesus has opened our eyes to see God’s law as a beautiful way to say thank you to God for his free gift of forgiveness and grace.  Jesus has opened our eyes to see obedience as a safe thing for us and not a burden.

When you see with these eyes, you are trusting Jesus, you are believing in his power, you are loving him above everything else.  You are being obedient.  See, it’s not a bad word, because God’s not trying to get something out of you or take advantage of you.  That’s not why he wants obedient children.  He wants obedient children because he wants to protect us from danger.  He wants obedient children because it makes us a light that helps others see things as clearly as we do.  He wants obedient children because we have a Father who loves us and wants what it is best for us.

This only possible because Jesus opened our eyes to a completely different kind of life when he rose from the dead.  It’s a life where our eyes don’t see any enemies.  We see the Lord in all his power saving us from any and every possible threat to our eternity in heaven.

God granted a special request to his prophet Elisha so that the servant would not be afraid, so that the servant would have trust, which is loving and obeying God.  And God grants that same request to you every time you open the pages of his book.  There you have his promises and his power.  There you have the path of life given to you through Christ.

We all been like the servant standing in Dothan saying, “Oh no, what shall we do?”  But God changed our sight through the precious blood of his Son, Jesus.  We are now happy to obey him, trust him, love him because he is the one whose power saves us.

Surveying the situation now, how are you liking your chances against any difficult decision, any evil, any enemy, any problem, any temptation to disobey?  Just like that servant in Dothan, our eyes are open. As the psalmist says, “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Amen.

 

THE PERFECT SERMON ABOUT LOVE

Eater 2019

1 Corinthians 13

1 If I speak in the tongues n of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, u but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

 

What sermon do you listen to about love?  See, you don’t have to be in a church to hear a sermon.  There are sermons all over the place every day, because a sermon is simply an address on a theological topic.  And love is most definitely a theological topic; it’s all over the place in the Bible.  It’s also discussed all over the place from all sorts of angles by all sorts of sources.  So what sermon do you listen to?

Do you like the sermons about love from RomComs (romantic comedies), Soap Operas, and other shows and movies? You know, there’s the little quirky one or the one who has some personal baggage and they find each other in odd circumstances where it just might work and you get to see it work out in such an endearing or passionate or convoluted way.

Do you like the sermons about love that you hear in songs? Love Is a Long, Long Road, Don’t Treat Me Like a Stranger, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, Something Good Coming, Our Love Was Built to Last, She’s Gonna Listen to Her Heart (Tom Petty tunes) I Can’t Help Falling in Love with you, You’re Still the One, More than Words, Nothing Compares to You, Piece of My Heart, Just Give Me a Reason, Kiss Me, Sex & Candy.  Whether you realize it or not, you are learning a bunch of ideas about love while you drive around or sit your desks.

Do you realize that you are hearing sermons about love from advertisements?  You need this product to be prettier, you need this to win her over, this gift will make her happy, that will be good for your family, and on an on about the things that make love more satisfying, stronger, better or easier.

Besides all these sources, kids are getting sermons about love as they watch their parents, as the walk the hallways at school, on their Snapchat and other social media.  As they get older, they also to get these sermons in the locker room, at work, on campus, at parties.

So many sermons about love saying love is about passion and keeping the flame alive.  Sermons teaching that love is about laughter and fun.  Sermons promoting love is all about what matters to you and gives you a special feeling.  Sermons describing love a deep personal connection that you can fall into or be struck with it at first sight.  Sermons saying that love and sex don’t need to be connected anymore.  Sex should be for whoever whenever, because it’s just a bodily need for some people.  And on and on…

There are so many sermons about love that really don’t get to the heart of the issue at all.  God doesn’t want you to learn about a love that only goes skin deep.  He wants you to know that love takes everything you are, body, mind, and soul.  He wants you to know that love cannot flame out because it’s not about passion and feelings.  He wants you to know that love does not set conditions; it has no fine print.  He wants you to know about love from the one who defines it (1 John 2).  He wants you to know about love that is not based on you – where you come from, what you do, how you look – but comes from him, based on who he is and what he does.  He wants you to know that his love for you is also his love for others.

And so, God inspired the Apostle Paul to write this sermon on love in 1 Corinthians 13.  This is the sermon we need.  This is the sermon that perfectly reveals God’s love for us and at the same time perfectly teaches us what his love will do through us for others.

Paul starts out with the first 3 verses describing great things like speaking in different languages or even speaking in spiritual, angelic tongues, having the give of prophecy, being able to move mountains with his faith in God’s power, having a generosity that is boundless, and being able to suffer through the most difficult hardships.  Any one of those things would be a great blessing from God, not just useful for me but also very helpful to others around me.  But having those abilities without love is just plain old annoying or worse.

Do you know the clash of cymbals?  My parents do.  I was in sixth grade when I bought a drum set, and not the electric kind that you plug in and can hear only if you have the headphones on.  I bought the real kind.  Boy, did I want to practice the drums, every day, in fact.  I would practice beats and fills.  I would play along with CDs and the radio.  And it was for the whole house and probably neighborhood to hear.  I cannot comprehend how my family put up with it.  It’s not like I had them in a padded room with a door.  They were in the basement family room to fill the whole house with their beautiful banging and clashing.  I guess they must have really loved me to endure that.

If you don’t fill your words and actions with the love that comes from God, then all those amazing blessings Paul mentions are about as good as a 6th grader trying to learn the drums in your home.  It’s just a whole lot of banging and clanging.  It’s annoying and irritating.

Why would God be so blunt?  Why would he say that really beneficial blessings like speaking in languages, prophecy, faith that can move mountains, cheerful generosity, and patient endurance are annoying and of no real purpose?  Because without God’s kind of love, these gifts don’t serve others the way God serves us. They are not being used for God’s glory and his purpose but are just self-promoting and self-gratifying.  And God’s love just doesn’t do that.  The goal of faith, hope and love is not to puff you up, earn you recognition and glory, make you feel better.  The goal of faith, hope, and love is to serve God and raise others up, give others encouragements, make others better.

See, love and selfishness do not go together.  Love never asks the question, “What can I get out of this?”  Love never says, “I need it now, ” or “It’s my way or the highway.”  Love is not interested in putting others down while you elevate yourself.  Love cannot be in the same realm as anything that would go against God’s Word.

Instead, here is the perfect sermon about love: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I know what you’re thinking, because it’s what I think when I read these words of God: “I am a failure.  I can’t do that.  Maybe I can do it for about 15 minutes or an hour, but all day every day for everyone I come into contact with, because God says love your neighbor.  I am a total loser.”  God says this is the sermon you need on love.  Not any of those movies or songs.  And I think, “If this is the kind of love that needs to be a part of my life as a child of God, then I’m in big trouble.”

Can you remember a time when you weren’t patient?  It was probably this morning or right now.  How about kind?  Again, it already happened today.  Envious, boastful, proud?  Check, check, and check.  Go on down the list and all I see is things that I fail to do for people, even those in my own home.

But remember this sermon is from God.  He wrote it, because he knows this kind of love very well.  It’s not that he sees it so regularly in our lives, but he knows it so well because this is the kind of love that he has for you. No conditions need to be met.  No levels have to be reached.  No works must be done.  No prayers must be said.  This is the love that is at the heart of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  This is the love that Jesus displayed as he lived and died for you.  This is the love that brought him back from the dead so that you and I would have an eternal home with him in heaven.  This is the love that he continues to shower on us every single day.

We claim to be too busy for a lot of things, and Jesus is patient.  We are unpleasant, and Jesus is kind.  We are arrogant, and Jesus is humble.  We are looking to raise ourselves up and lower others, Jesus is looking for ways to spiritually lift us up so that we can put others first.  We get angry and hold grudges, and Jesus peacefully forgives and forgets.  We find delight in our pet sins, and even though it stings, Jesus compassionately gives us the truth of law and gospel, sin and grace.  We don’t fight the good fight against the devil and all his evil as we should, so Jesus fought him for us and won.  He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Jesus never fails.

My brothers and sisters, here is the perfect sermon on love: Jesus. Period.

If you are wondering how in the world this kind of love can come out of you and show itself not just to those dear to you but to all, I want you to think of where Jesus is right now.  He’s not being selfish, doing something that only benefits him.  He’s not off somewhere else, neglecting us.  He’s not boiling over about all of our loveless hearts. He’s right here speaking through this word of God.  He’s right here a little later in his body and blood.  He’s right here and in each one of us through faith that he put there in baptism.

How could this kind of love ever show up in your life is maybe not the right question.  The question is where else could it be?  How could this love of God not be in your life?  See, Jesus put it right there in your heart.  Jesus keeps it there by the power of the Spirit working through his Word and Sacraments.  Jesus keeps his promise to never leave you nor forsake you.  Jesus keeps his promise to never fail.  He keeps his love for you and in you so that it will go to work through you.

Here is not a love that selfishly desires what I want but a love that selflessly serves what others need.  Here is not a love that ignores sin but a love that confesses it, forgives it, and leaves it.  Here is not a love that sets conditions but a love that gives joyously and eagerly to all.  Here is not a love that gives up but a love that can do nothing but hope and persevere.  This love you have been given by God and this love you give others from God.

I could go on and on and on, but God’s perfect sermon on love says it all so simply and in just 13 verses.   So maybe just one thing remains… the Amen.

GUARANTEED SAFETY

Eater 2019

Ezekiel 34

25 “ ‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. 26 I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. n I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. 27 The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. 28 They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. 29 I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. 30 Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.’ ”

 

 

What makes you safe?  Locks can work.  You lock your house up at night.  You lock your car.  You lock your computer and all sorts of online accounts with a password.  You lock up your bike at school.  You have a fireproof lockbox with important documents.  Locks can make people safe.

Knowledge and skill make people safe.  You learn from movies that you shouldn’t go down a dark alley in a big city at night.  You can go to personal defense classes and martial arts classes to learn how to defend yourself from attackers.  You can watch shows and study survival skills if you like to explore the great out of doors.  Summer is coming and you know that means to wear some sunblock to protect your skin from sunburn. Knowledge and skill can make you safe.

The right equipment can keep you safe.  Athletes need the right kind of pads and helmets to stay safe for the kind of sport they are playing.  Without the right equipment injuries can occur.

Weapons make people safe.  If you do happen to find yourself in a dark alley in a bad part of town at night, then a taser, pepper spray, nunchucks, or a gun might make you feel safer, as long as you know what you are doing with them.  People sometimes keep these types of things by their bed or in their car in case it would be needed.  Again, I would say it is very important that you know how to use these weapons, but they can make people safe.

There’s one more thing we haven’t mentioned, Mom.  When little kids come into church here and they haven’t been here much, they aren’t smiling and jumping and playing.  They’ve got that “what is this place and who are you” kind of look on their faces, and they are holding on to Mom’s leg or wanting her to hold them in her arms.  Parents make a kid feel safe.

Being safe is important.  On a Sunday in the Church Year that has the title of Good Shepherd and on a holiday that celebrates moms, safety is a pretty good topic.  All these different things try to help people to be safe, because there are a lot of things that work to prevent safety.

Turns out there are people who can break a lock or a password.  That doesn’t mean you should not use locks, but it does mean that locks are not 100% guaranteed to work at keeping people out.  Knowledge and skills can do a good job, but you can walk down the wrong alley and run into someone who has more skills and knowledge than you do. I once put on a whole bunch of sunblock before going to a waterpark, but I forgot to reapply in the afternoon and paid dearly for it.  I could go out camping with all the necessary items and skills and still die from a bear attack. I can put on a helmet and pads but if I skate on to the ice of an NHL playoff game or catch a pass in an NFL game, there’s not even a question in my mind that I’m going to end up in the hospital with life-threatening injuries.  Sometimes you forget the self-defense weapons, they malfunction in some way, or the weapon can be turned against you.  Finally, sometimes mom can’t stop her child from falling off a chair or getting to close to a hot stove.  She’s not omnipresent.  She’s not all-powerful.  She’s not perfect.  She’s not eternal.

So, here’s the issue. We want to be safe, but we cannot guarantee it for ourselves.  Maybe that’s because of what we are doing or not doing.  Maybe it’s because of what others are doing or not doing for us.  The result is that safety is not a given for me or for you.

That is the picture God paints through the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 34.  He was saying that his sheep, the Israelites, were not safe because they were stubborn wandering sheep and because they didn’t have good shepherds.  Both of those things are not good for safety.  And so, they had lots of danger.  There was danger from other nations.  There was danger to their crops.  There was danger from wild animals.  And they needed safety from all of that.

But there is a much bigger danger that we haven’t talked about yet that can affect a lot more than my house, my online accounts, my camping trips, my ability to compete, my feelings, and my health.  This danger can do a lot more damage than an army or a drought.  Do you know about the dangers that faces you?

It’s the danger of sin. It’s the danger of the devil.  It’s the danger of hell.  And far too often these things have been the wolf that carries us sheep off.  See, there’s a few problems that make me and all of us easy targets.  I’m too ignorant to realize the danger.  I’m too foolish to realize that I cannot handle the danger.  I’m too proud to perceive that the what could be dangerous to others could also be dangerous to me.  What happens is we think we can make ourselves pretty safe.  We think we’ve got it all covered.  In reality, we are sheep sitting there with no shepherd or the wrong shepherd, which is really no shepherd at all.

Here’s a really simple way to see if you have the wrong shepherds in your life: if it cannot make you safe from sin, hell, and Satan, then it’s not what you need.  Locks, knowledge, equipment, weapons, even Mom cannot prevent sin from destroying me.  They cannot stop the devil – that prowling lion and menacing wolf – from carrying me off.  They cannot hold up to the destruction of hell.

We are so good at thinking that we have it all figured out.  We are so good at proudly prancing around thinking that nothing can touch me.  We are so good at being so foolish.  I think I can provide the safety I need in life, but the fact that I cannot guarantee it, should probably tell me that I am in desperate need of a real shepherd.

That’s what God was telling the Israelites. They couldn’t protect themselves.  They could not rely on shepherds who were just looking out for themselves and cared nothing for the sheep.  The people back then and all of us right now need a shepherd who doesn’t have the ability just to protect me from nature but actually controls nature.  I need a shepherd who doesn’t provide some things that work for some people’s safety, but he knows me better than I know myself, he knows the tendencies I have and the problems that I wrestle with, he knows it all and he knows how best to handle me firmly but carefully and compassionately.  I need a shepherd who doesn’t just give me the right skills and tools for battle, but one who fights and defeats the enemy for me.  I need a shepherd who says this: “You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God.”

That’s not a shepherd who is just looking out for himself.  That’s not a shepherd who is looking to be famous.  That’s not a shepherd who is looking to get rich.  That’s a shepherd who cares, who protects, who loves me.  That’s a shepherd who cares, who protects, who loves you.  He says “my sheep… my pasture…”  He personally cares.  Look through the first reading again.  It’s not the second person “you” that is doing the action.  It’s not the third person singular “he” or the plural “they” who are working.  God steps in and says “I.”  For his people looking for safety God says “I will make peace…I will get rid of the wild beasts…I will bless…I will send showers… I will provide for them…I am with them…” This is how God takes care of you, personally with his own hands.

Jesus says in the Gospel, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them…”  Jesus does not take a general role in being a shepherd for his sheep.  Jesus does not say, “Try this or that; it works for most.”  Jesus says, “I know you.  You are my sheep in my pasture.  No one can come in and hurt you.  No one can take you away from me.”

And then Jesus does the only thing that guarantees our safety from sin, Satan, death, and hell.  He doesn’t give you a lock, some knowledge and skills, or some proper equipment.  He takes all of them away from us.  Sin lures us away into traps and leads us to places where we shouldn’t be.  So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, takes sins away from you.  He forgives them all.  Satan lurks behind every turn and lunges for us, constantly causing anxiety and fear.  So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, went to battle that old evil foe.  He took on the devil and crushed his head for us.  He has no bite any more.  Death and hell hang a dark, unavoidable cloud over us.  So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, faced death in our place.  He allowed our punishment to take him, so that it wouldn’t take us and then he came back.

Yes, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, rose from the dead for you.  He gives you resurrection.  He gives you eternal life even after death takes you from this world. That is the only thing that can guarantee safety for us, a place in our Shepherd’s eternal fold.

Can you hear that in this promise of God from Ezekiel?  Listen again, “They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’ ”

Brothers and sisters, this is the safety we have now and for eternity from Jesus our living Shepherd.  There is no other voice we need.  There is nothing that gives us the safety that Jesus does.  So, there is no reason to take a day or a week off from him.  There is no reason to search for a different kind of shepherd. There is no reason to rely on yourself for safety.

Moms, if you want to provide what is really best for your children, they don’t need all the best toys and clothes.  They don’t need the newest technology.  They don’t need someone who they can gossip with and all that.  They need a mom who shows them, who talks to them, and who takes them to the safety of the Good Shepherd, the one who rose from the dead so that all of our enemies would live in defeat for the rest of eternity while we enjoy the victory of heaven.  If you want to really enjoy your children and the gift that God has given you, then show them, talk to them, and take them to the safety of the Good Shepherd, because then you can enjoy them forever in the eternal pastures of heaven.

Safety can hardly be guaranteed in this life, even by a mother, but that is exactly what God gives you today.  Through the prophet Ezekiel he says, “You will live in safety.”  Life forever is yours because you have a Shepherd who rose from the dead.  It’s guaranteed.  Amen.

 

PRAISE FOREVER AND EVER

Eater 2019

Revelation 5:11-14
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

 

(This was a day of confirmation, as you will note throughout the sermon)

Not all of you here today know Jordan, but you should because she is the best.  Isn’t that right, Jordan? You’re so great at everything.  You did such a good job on Thursday night at Examination.  Even though you were nervous, you answered questions about the Bible and Jesus very well.  Even though a lot of people might consider what you said to be foolishness and nonsense, even though some people would make fun of you for studying the Bible and being here today, and even though God says being a Christian is not and never will be easy, you are here.  And that’s awesome.  And do you know what else is awesome? You’ve been here a lot at church.  You have been a part of the Children’s Christmas service a bunch of times, reciting, reading, and singing.  You’ve been at Sunday School, sometimes even when you were tired or under the weather, but you still came.  Jordan, you’ve made it this far, and we are all so happy for you.  We can’t wait for the service to be over so we can all get pictures with you and eat cupcakes and celebrate because, Jordan, you deserve it.  Is this getting awkward for you, yet?

These are the types of things we should be thinking and saying, if Confirmation is your graduation from the Bible.  These are the types of things we should be thinking and saying, if Confirmation is all about what you have done to get here.  Jordan, these are the types of things we should be thinking and saying, if you are just that amazing.  Then, the theme for today should really be Jordan’s life is our praise.

But that’s not the theme for worship today.  You and I and all of us are not here because this is all about Jordan.  This is not your graduation.  And quite frankly, Jordan, you don’t deserve all sorts of praise today.  Over the past three years of Catechism class, you didn’t get every answer right and you didn’t learn all of your memory passages perfectly.  Over the past three years of Catechism class, there was some daydreaming, there were sometimes when I caught you not paying attention because you were finishing up some French fries from Wendy’s, drinking some Dr. Pepper, or talking with your neighbor.  Over the past three years of Catechism class, you didn’t have 100% attendance.  You weren’t at every Sunday School class.  You missed church every once in a while.  You weren’t always excited and happy about being up front for the Children’s Christmas services.

But, Jordan, you are not alone in that.  If we brought up every person here today and put them in the front row and started talking about them, we could say a lot of nice things.  But, Jordan, you know what else we would have to say about each and every person here?  Just like you, they have not been perfect.  In fact, all of you have been a whole lot less than perfect.  Each and every one of you have failed to live up to God’s standard.  You have failed to love God fully and completely.  You have failed to use his name properly.  You have failed to read and study God’s Word and worship like he wants you to. You have failed to love others in the same way that you are willing to take care of yourself. You have failed to respect and honor your parents and all those in authority.  You have failed to keep hatred, lust, gossip, jealousy, out of your heart and mind.  You have failed to carry out the actions that are pleasing to God and refrain from those that are displeasing to him.

That means the theme today cannot be Bill’s life or Val’s life, our praise.  Not Scott, not Carol, not Linda, not Aaron, not Alice, not Courtney,  not Jerry, not Amy, not Jim, not Tim, not Lynn, not Gary, not Perry, not Sherry, not Terry, not Barry.  Not one of you can put your name in that spot on the front of the worship folder and think that praise should be yours.

I forgot another name.  The theme today is not Tom’s life, our praise.  Yes, the pastor is not above God’s law.  Yes, this pastor is not above anyone here, because I have failed too many times to count.  Every single thing that God points his finger at you about, he points his finger at me.  Therefore, this church is not about me.  This worship service, this sermon, is not about me.  If that were the case, we would be in deep trouble.  Because then this church, this worship service, this sermon would be about a sinful man, and I cannot save a single person, not even myself.

But Jordan, you know all about that, don’t you?  You know what’s wrong with you, and with me, and the whole world. God’s Word has taught you the law that shows your sins.  And God has taught you that you can’t change your position.  You can’t change your sins. God has taught you that you cannot by your own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ or come to his side.  God has taught you that there is no way that you can earn God’s love and buy your way into heaven.

So, there has to be someone else who does is perfectly for you.  There has to be someone who can rescues you and me and the world.  There has to be someone who can remove our sins from our record.  There has to be someone who loves us enough to take our punishment for sin, because that’s the only way that you and I can be saved.  There has to be someone who we can praise for giving us the indescribable gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  There has to be someone who receives louds songs of joy and gladness from people all over the world and even from the holy angels because of what he did.

Jordan, by God’s grace with the power of his Word, he has taught you that there is:  “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise… To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

You know, it’s often a sad thing when someone close to you dies.  One way people try to cope with loss is to talk about the good times, right? You remember and talk about all the fun and all the positives.  But you can’t do that forever and ever.  You talk about them for a few days before and after the funeral.  You have fond memories for a while but not forever and ever.  Because eventually your memories fade.

My first grandparent died when I was a senior in high school.  Grandpa Tessmer was a dairy farmer.  I still have some memories, but I can’t remember everything.  And it will only get less and less as time passes and I get older.  Then, I will die and so will all the other people who knew him.  And so in less than 100 years no one will remember Glenard Tessmer.  No more fun stories, no more praise, no more honor.  Nothing.  The same thing will happen to me and to you, Jordan.

But for people who make huge sacrifices, for people who win huge victories, for people who do things that are so amazing, they do get remembered in history books, in museums, in schools, online, and stuff like that.  But those people do not get to personally receive the praise and honor and glory.  They are dead.

This Lamb we are talking about is completely different.  This Lamb who was slain can actually still receive and thanks and praise and honor and glory, because even after he was killed for us, even after he died in our place, even after he took the punishment that we deserve, even after he sacrificed himself to save us, he did not stay dead.  No, the tomb could not hold Jesus.

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

The Lamb of God who died for your sins and mine and the sins of the whole world, he came back for us.  Jesus came back from the dead to save us not just from sins, but also to save us from death and hell.  He came back from the dead so that we could live with him forever.

And guess what we will be doing for the one who saved us from sin, death, and hell?  Guess what we will be doing for the one who destroyed the power of the devil for us?  Guess what we will be doing in the perfect paradise that was purchased for us by Jesus and freely given to us in the gospel?  Guess what we will be doing for the one who sits on the throne of heaven and loves us from all eternity?  Guess what we will be doing for the one who made us and everything in this world and then made us his very own children through baptism?  Guess what we will be doing?

That’s right!  We will be giving him all the praise and honor and glory.  We will be worshipping him for all the things he has done to save us.

But we don’t have to wait to do that, do we?  Jordan, that’s why you are here.  Because God has changed your life.  He has given you a place in his family.  He has promised to love you and take care of you and protect you and uphold you and guide you and bless you.  And so, we get to say thanks right now.  Sinners that we are, through faith in Jesus, we get to live as God’s children right now.  We get to worship him right now.  We get to give him praise right now.  We get to live for him right now.

Jordan, that isn’t going to stop after today, is it?  Jesus is still going to be worthy of our thanks and praise, because he conquered death for us and purchased heaven for us.  It isn’t going to stop when you get to high school, is it?  It isn’t going to stop when you go off to college somewhere, is it?  It isn’t going to stop when you get married, is it?  It isn’t going to stop when you have kids of your own, is it?  I know you think that’s crazy, but I was in your seat just 20 years ago.  Life goes by pretty quickly!  But it doesn’t matter what happens to us, because Jesus will always be the one who loves us, saves us from our sins, removes the sting of death, and brings us home to heaven.  Jesus is the one who does everything for us.

And so, today on your confirmation day, Jordan, it’s a good day to praise the Lord.  And it will be a good day tomorrow, and next Sunday, and a year from now, and 10 years from now, and 100 years from now, and forever and ever in heaven.

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

Amen.

 

 

PEACE BE WITH YOU

Eater 2019

John 20:19-31

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe x that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

 

The disciples are locked up together that first Easter evening, minus Thomas who was MIA.  We probably can’t even begin to grasp the circumstances they find themselves in while they just stand there in a stupor.  God’s Son, the Messiah, the Promised One, the King of heaven and earth, the Lord Almighty, their teacher and friend is dead, but maybe not anymore.  What about the women?  What about Peter’s story of seeing Jesus?  What about God’s kingdom?  What about all of Jesus’ followers? What about…?  There is so much distracting them.

I know what that’s like, don’t you? My youngest, Jet, spiked a fever and vomited all over me twice, and then later that evening pretended it never happened, returning back to his normal antics and smiley self. That was Easter Sunday in the later afternoon. The rest of this past week was kind of a blur, busy with visits and counseling.  I also had to prepare this service, the sermon, and the congregational meeting after church today.  As the worship coordinator for our Dakota-Montana district with our annual spring pastors’ conference in Rapid City this week, I have had to plan and put together a worship service, five devotions, and a report for all the pastors.  I also should be practicing guitar more for a couple of the songs we are singing.

Now, I’m not bringing up this stuff because the sermon is a good time to report these kinds of things.  I’m not at all complaining about any of these things. I bring them up because as a sinful human being sometimes the busier you are the more distracted you become.  All those kinds of things I described can easily start to take the focus off of where it should be: on the Savior, Jesus, who conquered sin, death, and hell on Easter.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been distracted from him in various ways, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are afraid and worried.  What is life supposed to be like without Jesus? What are the religious leaders planning for them, if they found a way to get rid of Jesus?  Why would the soldiers and guards treat them any different than Jesus?    They thought they had more time. There is so much fear and worry.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  You have no idea what the future holds.  You have no  idea what the doctor is going to say.  You have no idea what’s going to happen at work.  You have no idea what’s in store for you kids.  You have no idea what retirement will bring.  You have no idea how to get the finances figured out.  You have no idea about much at all.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been afraid and worried, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are burdened with guilt and shame.  The last memory most of them have is running away from Jesus, exactly what he had warned them about.  Peter remembers his demonstrative denials.  John remembers seeing him hang there, dying.  All they can think about is their sin and how it’s all inexcusable.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  I have gone running the wrong direction into sin before, even though God makes it quite clear not to. I have had my lackluster, lazy moments.  I have been greedy.  I have been selfish.  I have been unwilling to listen and help.  I have done all of the evil.  I have no excuses.  And I have heard Satan’s taunts, “God could never love a sinner like you.”

To his disciples and to all of us who have been burdened by our guilt and crushed by our shame, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are together in a locked room, but they have never been more alone, wayward, and lost.  Literally, Thomas is off on his own.  He can’t even be with his brothers.  Maybe he thinks he’s tough enough.  Maybe alone time is his coping mechanism.  Maybe he is giving up.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  “I don’t need the encouragement of others.  I don’t want to bother someone else with my problems.  I don’t think anyone should know what I’m doing. I don’t want to hear that what I’m doing might not be good for me spiritually. I don’t need them; they just drag me down all the time.  I don’t need worship or Bible study, I can read the Bible on my own, if I could remember where it is.”  The “I’s” just keep coming, and you are more alone than ever.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been lost and alone, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Thomas hears the most amazing news that you could ever give someone: CHRIST IS RISEN. HE IS RISEN, INDEED! But Thomas is not rejoicing until his conditions are met first.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  Have you ever made a list of demands that Jesus has to meet so that you will follow him, trust him, and worship him more?  You turn him into the snack machine where you punch in some good works here, some prayers there, some time for serving here, some offerings there, and you expect God to dispense everything according to each and every one of your conditions.  Somehow we fool ourselves in to thinking that we can make Jesus into whatever fits our mold.

To his disciple Thomas and to all of us who have selfishly made conditions and demands of God, Jesus comes back again and says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are distracted, “Why are you letting those distractions take control of your life?  Stop looking at so much of that other earthly stuff.  You better get with the program. Pay attention.”

There’s none of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are afraid and worried, “Why are you so scared?  What could possible cause you to hide?  Stop worrying so much about your life.  Don’t you know that I have got everything under control?  Stop trying to figure everything out and trust me.”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are guilty and ashamed, “What have you done?  How could you?  Don’t you know what I have said about that?  Or have you been too busy to care about what I say?  I think you should sit and think about what you’ve done.”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are alone and wandering, “Where have you been?  Do you really think you can achieve what you want on your own?  What, you go through a little strife and a little hurt, and you just take off?  Is that really what you think will help the situation?”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are attaching all sorts of clauses and conditions on God, “What is this, a contract negotiation?  You’ve got this long list of demands and if any of these things don’t go your way, you are going to walk to the next church or the next religion.  Is that how this works?  I am the one who has to change my will so that you can feel better about life?”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Do you know why Jesus showed up for his disciples that first Easter evening and again a week later to include Thomas?

CHRIST IS RISEN.  HE IS RISEN, INDEED!

It is his life, his death, his resurrection that conquers our sin, conquers death, and conquers hell.  It is his victory that won peace not for him, not for angels, but for us.  And so the Savior, who went to hell and back for us, wants us to have peace, not distraction and stress, not fear and worries, not guilt and shame, not selfish wandering, not unrealistic conditions for an easy life.  Jesus wants us to have peace, eternally with him in heaven.

A pep talk wouldn’t do that for us.  A chart of chores to organize everything for us wouldn’t make it work.  A long list of dos and don’ts could not accomplish peace.  Those things would only give us more unrest, more uncertainty, more fear, more guilt, more attempted bargains with God, more arrogance and pride or depression depending on how you look at yourself.  They would only lead us to eternal punishment in hell, not peace with God.   The only way for us to have eternal peace was for him to purchase it perfectly and completely and then provide it freely.  The only way for us to have peace, was for Jesus to just show up as the victorious, risen-from-the-dead Savior and give it.

And that’s exactly what he does.  For the cowering cowards looked in a room, he shows up and the first words out of his mouth are: “Peace be with you.”  For the condition-attaching doubter, he shows up and again the first words out of his mouth are: “Peace be with you.”

And there’s one more thing.  For people who need forgiveness, the removal of sin and guilt, the assurance  of God’s unconditional love and undeserved grace, the certainty that peace from God is ours based on what Jesus has done, Jesus shows up alive and these are the words from his mouth: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  Jesus takes these men and removes their distractions, their fears, their guilt, their loneliness, their list of demands.  He takes all that away with his victory over death.  And then, he replaces it with peace.  And because the peace of a risen Savior is not meant to help one or ten or eleven, but because it is for the entire world, Jesus gives them the power of the Spirit, the call to go, and the authority to forgive.

Jesus would not do this any of this – he wouldn’t give peace, he wouldn’t bestow the Spirit, he wouldn’t send them out, he wouldn’t give them authority to forgive – if the work he was sent to do were not already completely finished.  There would be no way that the disciples could proclaim forgiveness of sins, if Jesus had not accomplished it for us.

If I sent you out this afternoon to cure people of cancer, could you do it? No.  That’s nonsense.  But let’s say someone smarter than us had found a cure, had put that cure in a pill, had packaged it in bottles, and then gave one of those bottles to you.  Now, I say to you, “I want you to visit every cancer patient you know and every hospital in the area and I want you to cure people of cancer.”  Could you do it?  Of course you could!  And I think you’d probably do it earnestly and joyfully.  The fact that you were giving it out was proof that someone had accomplished the cure.

Jesus gave his disciples peace, because he accomplished it. Jesus gave the cure for sin to his disciples because he had accomplished it.  And Jesus gives us the very same things to us.  In doing so it proves that Jesus did it all, everything is accomplished for us.  Everything he gave the disciples; he gives to us. We have peace with God. We have forgiveness.  We have the Spirit.  We have God’s authority.

This is all proof where we stand with God.  He doesn’t let your distractions deter him.  He does not let your fears and worry stop him.  He does not allow your guilt and shame to change what he does for you.  He does not leave you alone and wandering.  He does not permit your conditions to prevent him from being your God and Savior.  Instead, the risen Savior gives you everything he has accomplished by his death and resurrection.

There’s one thing he wants you to know: Peace be with you.  Amen.

HIS LIFE, OUR VICTORY

Eater 2019

Selected portions of 1 Samuel 17

1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.
4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. (This is around 9 ½ feet.)
8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.
20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as his father, Jesse, had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.
26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”
33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.
50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.
51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.

 

No one wanted this fight.  It was unwinnable.

That was the feeling that permeated the Israelite camp there in Sokoh.  Who could honestly stand up to this Philistine champion standing over nine and a half feet tall?  His armor weighed in at 125 pounds, not a pack and his supplies, but just his coat of armor.  The iron tip of this giant’s spear was 15 pounds.  Imagine being pierced by that.  Well, all of those Israelite soldiers were imagining it, and they didn’t want any part of Goliath.

So they just sat there, listening to his relentless taunts that came every morning and every night for forty days.  “Choose a man and have him come down to me.  If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us…I defy the armies of Israel!  Give me a man and let’s fight each other.” Hope was nowhere to be found…

What are the Goliaths in your life?  What are those giant problems that stress you out and taunt you every day and night?  What are those things that remove the smile from your face and hope from your heart?  We all have them.  Is it your career that takes all your attention so you can barely enjoy anything else?  Is it a relationship – trying to stay patient with disobedient children, trying to listen to and encourage friends, trying to avoid a bully at all costs, trying to keep a struggling marriage going when it would be a lot easier to give up?  These kinds of relationships can take all your energy, so you have nothing left to give.  Is it an illness that won’t let up?  We know these kinds of things aren’t easy.  And the fact that you cannot avoid these types of things in this world only adds more pressure.

No one in the Israelite army wanted to face Goliath…until a young shepherd was sent by his father to check on his older brothers.  You can tell from his supply list that David wasn’t supposed to fight. He had some grain, ten loaves of bread, and some cheese.  But when David heard those taunts, he couldn’t help himself.  “Who does this Philistine think he is?  I don’t care if he’s 50 feet tall, he can’t talk about us and our God that way. Let no one lose heart…[I] will go and fight him!” 

Was this youthful tenacity or arrogance?  Was this inexperienced stupidity?  Maybe, but maybe not.  I mean, David did have some skill in combat, you could say.  This shepherd had taken on and taken out a lion and a bear to protect his sheep.  That’s pretty impressive.  But every once in a while you hear a story of someone doing that, like the runner in Colorado who killed a mountain line with his bare hands.

Sometimes doesn’t that same thought come into your mind?  “I can do this.  I’ve done it before when the circumstances didn’t look great.  I have done some pretty impressive things, too.  Maybe these Goliaths don’t have to be so giant and so scary.  Maybe I can figure out a solution and handle this problem myself.”

That was not the thought of David’s older brothers, who got pretty irritated that little bro was running his mouth in the camp.  The soldiers didn’t really care what he did as long as they didn’t have to go.  When Saul, the king/commander of the Israelite army, heard about David, he wasn’t that impressed either. “You are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

There’s a reason we call certain matchups in sports a David verses Goliath.  All the stats and all the logic make it quite clear that there’s only one outcome to expect.  But as we all know, sometimes a great team has a bad game and a marginal team has a great game to cause a huge upset.

But that’s in sports.  This was real. This was a trained, giant, killing machine, champion verses a shepherd.  This was one on one with life and death on the line.  And David was going to have to face him.  It wasn’t going to work to shout back to Goliath, “Well, oh yeah, we have a shepherd over here who has killed a lion and a bear with his own two hands.  How about that?”  That wasn’t going to do that job.  The rules were laid out.  One man represents the Philistines and one man represents the Israelites.  Winner takes all.

So, David went out to meet him, one on one with the fate of the whole nation resting on his shoulders. It wasn’t because he had that youthful arrogance or that inexperienced stupidity.  David went out to meet him not because of the combat skills that he picked up from protecting his sheep.  David went out to meet Goliath because…well, I’ll let him tell you, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head… All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

David went out to meet Goliath with a sling and a stone knowing full well that the battle is the Lord’s. David, the shepherd went out and defeated Goliath, the trained, giant, killing machine champion because the Lord doesn’t lose.  Goliath did have one thing right.  With David’s triumph the whole Israelite army, which had been a bunch of scared losers, got to enjoy it.  One man’s work meant victory for them all.

Our fiercest enemy was calling us out and taunting us, too.  Losing a career is irritating, losing a relationship that you once cherished is more than saddening, losing days being laid up with an illness is frustrating.  Those things are troubling.  And they happen because we live in a sinful world and we have sinful lives that are not and will never be perfect.  But you can deal with them as hard as they are. That’s why none of those things are the real Goliath in your life. What the army of Israel saw in Goliath was certain death.  Anybody who went out to meet him wasn’t going to last. And whether you know it, whether you want to admit it or not, we all have that Goliath ominously and oppressively starring us down.

Sin makes this a world where nothing lasts forever.  Sin makes us people who have been separated from God and have to face death.  Sin makes us live just like the army of Israel.  We are dismayed and terrified.  We hear death calling out to us with its defiant sneer: “Bring me anyone and I will show you what happens in this fight.”

David could fight Goliath for Israel, but he couldn’t fight death for all the world.  But do you remember what he said?  The battle is the Lord’s.  The Lord God loves you so much that he came here for you.  See David had this one descendant who came to earth, born of a woman, to fight for us.  He could take on this Goliath for us because he came from heaven to do this one thing.

But he couldn’t just call out his credentials to his opponent.  “Oh yeah, well I come from eternity.  I am the Alpha and the Omega.  I am the Light that shines in the darkness.  I am the one who made everything.  I am the all-powerful.”  He had to face off with his enemy, and when the enemy, when the trained, giant, killing machine champion is death, then in order to face this enemy head on Jesus had to die.

Death and hell are the punishments for sin and so Jesus faced off with death for you.  He suffered hell for you.  He put his perfect life on the line for a world full of sinners.  He paid the price for your sins and mine.  And so the laid Jesus in a tomb.  What else do you do with someone who is dead?

It seemed like death had won the inevitable victory.  But just like Goliath didn’t know who he was dealing with, death didn’t know what hit it.  The morning when the women went out to the tomb, they were a lot like the army of Israel.  They were dismayed and terrified.  Hope was nowhere to be found… But the women forgot what David had said all those years ago: “The battle is the Lord’s.”  They forgot what Jesus had said, that he “must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raise again.” The battle was over.  Jesus had done it.  And that’s what the angels said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The empty tomb showed them and us:

CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED!

One man went to battle for all of us and when the Lord is in the battle, he doesn’t lose.  It may have looked like a David verses Goliath matchup, but remember what the Lord did there in Sokoh?  With a little sling and a stone, the giant fell dead.  And the whole Israelite nation got to enjoy the victory over the Philistines. They were not dismayed or terrified anymore. His victory meant peace.  It meant joy.  It meant safety.

Jesus didn’t look like he had much.  He was rejected and taunted.  He was bloodied and brutalized.  He was crucified.  He died.  It didn’t seem like he had the right stuff for battle, not even a little bit.  But he faced all of that for you.  Sin, death, and hell didn’t stand a chance against God’s Son, our Savior.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED! And his life now means our victory.

What does that victory mean for you?  It means you still might have problems, you still might have sickness, you still might have some relationships that don’t work out.  But those things are not Goliath, and they don’t need to overcome you.  Death was the undefeated champion in this world because of sin, claiming victory after victory for generations.  But then Jesus came and changed all that.  His victory means our sins are paid for.  His victory means death has been defeated.  His victory means heaven is open.  His victory means you do not need to be dismayed or terrified anymore. His victory means peace with God.  It means joy.  It means safety in God’s arms forever.

That is what little Beckett was given this morning through baptism.  Baptism isn’t what we do for God, it’s what he does for us.  God makes a promise that the power of his Word connected to something simple like normal water gives people Jesus’ victory.  The Bible says, “Baptism…saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  See, that’s Jesus’ power.  That’s his victory.

My friends, there is new life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It’s a life where sin no longer convicts us;  it’s a life where Satan no longer controls us;  it’s a life where death no longer contains us.  His life is our victory. CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED! Alleluia. Amen.