OFFENSIVE JESUS… AND THAT’S A GOOD THING.

8.19.18 Worship Folder

Bread of Life

John 6

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

We have reached the end of this series that defines God’s divine diet.  Not surprisingly, it is a diet the begins and ends with the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  And what kind of diet is this?  Is it one that feeds my stomach, my ego, my abilities, my personality, my relationships, my success, my happiness?  Not so much because Jesus is so much more interested in feeding our spiritual hunger than our physical and worldly desires.   In this beautiful chapter of John 6 we see that so clearly as the Bread of Life shows us his generosity towards our soul, his power to provide everything we need for life with him, the eternal effects he gives, and the wisdom he uses to feed us.

Now, over the past 3 weeks I have not actually preached on this chapter of Scripture describing our divine diet, the Bread of Life.  That’s because I was saving it all for today.

So, as we get into these words from the end of John 6, basically what Jesus does in verses 51-58 is summarize the sermon up to this point.  Like the perfect preacher the Son of God is, he wants to hit the main points again.  He emphasizes two important things.  The first is that a half-hearted relationship with Jesus is not going to cut it.  If we are by nature spiritually starving and Jesus is the Bread of Life, then what good will it do us if we sort of pick at him a couple of crumbs at a time, or nibble at the edges, or take a sample bite to see how it tastes before we have anymore.  No, our faith is not just one among many other things that we try to juggle in our increasingly busy lives.  Jesus says our faith in him has to be the one thing that we can never skip out or skimp on.  If we are dead in sin and Jesus is the Bread of Life, then our attitude toward him will resemble the way a starving person would act if you would give them the first real food they have seen in weeks.  That’s the first point Jesus summarizes.

The second is related to it.  Jesus says that all by itself even the most intense faith and whole-hearted devotion will do you absolutely no good.  The only reason faith in Jesus does you any good is that Jesus is the Bread of Life.  He says he is the living bread from heaven.  That his food is for the life of the world. He says whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, whoever believes in me, has eternal life. If you are not interested in Jesus, the food for eternal life, then you have no life in you. It’s as if you are walking around in this world with no heartbeat and no hope.  In other words, even the most intense devotion to a certain denomination or religious teacher, even the biggest beliefs in traditions and customs you hold dear, is simply a diet of the cheap, imitation, artificially-engineered, junk that hurts you.  Only faith in Jesus is a diet of the all-natural, organic, grade A, divine feast that God gives for life in heaven.  Faith is not the same as faith in Jesus.  Only the faith that eats from the Bread of Life can give a person the kind of certainty and confidence that has no fear of death, because you will be raised to live with Jesus forever.

Amen.  That is where Jesus ends his sermon.  Normally, if you are trying to introduce a new food to someone, what do you do?  You give them a little taste, a small bite.  We are in that stage right now with Jet.  He gets a little bit of peas, beans, corn, taco, lasagna, whatever it is.  We may even try to mask it a little bit with another food we know he already likes.  Jesus takes the exact opposite approach.  Right at the end he takes a big heaping helping of everything he is trying to teach them and sets it all in front of them.

No wonder, then, that some of Jesus’ own followers come to him and ask, “This is a hard teaching, Who can accept it?” They are not saying that it is our work to accept Jesus as our own personal Bread of Life.  But they are saying, “Jesus, you were so popular after that miraculous feeding.  You had so many wanting to crown you as their king.  You are going to blow it.  You need to tone it down a little bit, because the things you are saying are kind of offensive to some; this is tough to swallow.”

Jesus responds by saying, “That’s kind of the point.”  Specifically, he says in verse 61, “Does this offend you? …The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life.”  In other words, Jesus is saying, “I know that my message is a lot to take in.  I know it might not look very appetizing.  The sinful flesh isn’t going to make a turnaround and find this food to be satisfying and filling.  The flesh is going to be offended by me, but that’s why it is up to the Spirit to make this food delicious rather than disgusting. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to create faith.  It is God’s work to make the Bread of Life feed the spiritually starving.”

I think it’s a good reminder that Jesus does not say, “I have the bread of life. I can give you the Bread of Life.”  It would be very different if Jesus would say, “All of my moral teachings and commands – the things I have told you about loving your neighbor, being humble, kind, and generous – these things are the bread of life.  If you do them, you will live.”  It would have been very different if Jesus would say, “My example is the bread of life.  As you have seen me live, now you do the same.  That’s how you have life with God.”

If Jesus was saying I have the bread of life, then it would not be so offensive.  Then we could pick and choose what we want to eat from him.  We could nibble a little to try it out.  We could take some of what he says and combine it with other popular philosophies and or religious teachings and say, “This is what I want for my diet.”  All of that would be more palatable.  It wouldn’t cause people to squirm, like little kids trying brussels sprouts for the first time.

But instead Jesus says half-hearted faith will do you no good.  Faith in anyone or anything else will leave you spiritually starving.  And to this day there is not much more revolting or disgusting to human logic, to our human flesh than what Jesus says here.

Jesus could have said, “I have the bread of life,” but then we would have a big problem.  If Jesus’ moral teachings or good example were the bread of life, we would be in big trouble.  In fact, the person who tries to get eternal life by following Jesus’ moral code of conduct gets to the exact same place as the person who tries to gain eternal life by following the moral codes of Buddha or Muhammed.  You get nowhere. God looks at our performance against any moral code and finds it pathetically lacking far short of his perfect expectations for us, not worthy of eternal life but eternal death.

That’s why Jesus came not to give the bread of life but to be the Bread of Life.  That’s why he says, “I am the Bread of Life – not my moral teachings, not my good example – just me. My flesh, my blood, my life is the replacement for yours, my perfect obedience for your disobedience, my commitment for you cowardice, my compassion for your callousness, my generosity for your greed, my humility for your pride, my death for you debt.”

Jesus is our only hope.  Our relationship with him has to go beyond half-hearted; it cannot be a mixture of Jesus plus other things.  Only the Holy Spirit can get you there.  Only the power of God working through this naturally offensive message can get you to enjoy the Bread of Life.

That’s why we see two different reactions to Jesus here.  What’s interesting about the opposite reactions is that both of them come from the group called Jesus’ disciples.  These are not his enemies, skeptics, or the curious.  No, these are his followers.  And it says in verse 66, “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”  They were offended by him.  They found his message to be unappetizing and decided to spit it out.

Jesus is not surprised by their reaction, because to the human nature, to the flesh, he is offensive. He is revolting to people who want to earn their rewards.  He is distasteful to people who want to follow their own desires selfishly serving their own bellies.  He is unpleasant to people who to enjoy their passions and have a little God time, too.

So Jesus looks to the Twelve and asks, “What about you? You do not want to leave too, do you?”  And this is where we hear the other reaction Jesus causes, one that can only be attributed to the power of his grace, the power of his Word working in the hearts of those who are spiritually starving, the power of the Spirit who works where and when it pleases God.  Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”  Pretty much, “Jesus, no one else is what you are.  No one else has what you have.  No one else can bring us to where you will bring us.”

Peter is the one with this faithful reply.  Really?  The guy who says what he thinks before thinking what to say?  The guy who so often puts his foot in his mouth?  The guy who will later flee from Jesus side out of fear and then deny even knowing Jesus?  How could Peter be the one to say these things?

Well, it’s because the Bread of Life is offensive.  See, Jesus is not just food for the good.  He’s not just food for the respectable.  He’s not just food for the popular and wealthy.  He’s not just food for the church-goers and the pious.  He is the Bread of Life that came down from heaven so that whoever feeds on him will no longer be offensive to God but live with him forever.

And that is offensive to people.  That God could love people who don’t seem very loveable, that Jesus would put me on the same level as the worst criminals and freely sacrifice himself for all, that Jesus would be willing to feed the poor and wealthy, the lowly and the mighty, the nobodies and the famous, the evil and the good, the cowards and the strong at the same table in heaven is so absolutely unsatisfying to my flesh, to my reasoning.

But it is also so amazingly true. Jesus never changes who he is, no matter who he is feeding.  He will always be the Bread of Life for you and me and for the whole world.  He will always provide what we need. It’s a huge helping of his grace found right here in his Word and sacrament, a huge helping of his forgiveness that covers and removes rotten, stinking sins, a huge helping of his love that fills you with an appetite for good things, a huge helping of his compassion that motivates you to live for him, a huge helping of his power that moves you to give his food to others.  These words might be offensive to our flesh.  They might be unappetizing to our human nature.  But they are the bread from heaven. They are the words of eternal life.

The divine diet from Jesus, the Bread of Life, is what we need and he is always willing to feed.  Speaking of that, next week we start a new worship series called Burning Questions.  As the summer goes the way of the birds and the school year routine resumes we are going to contemplate some questions that people brought to Jesus and people still have for Jesus.  Also, on Wednesday, August 29 we are going to have orientation for catechism class (6-8 grade) families to talk about how God’s Word is not just a Sunday morning, a Sunday school, a Wednesday night thing but an every day in the home thing.  Then, on September 9th we are going to kickoff another year of Sunday school and Adult Bible study with a big potluck and family devotion after worship.  That’s a lot of food, and I’m not talking about the potluck.

Jesus promises that whoever eats this bread will live forever.  I don’t think he had in mind that we would eat from him once or twice.  I think he has in mind to feed us offensively, to feed us so much that our selfishness, our half-heartedness would be removed forever, to feed us so much that would never be hungry again.  Amen.

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Quiet is better than noise

Pentecost B7.22.18 Pentecost 9B

 

Isaiah 32

16 The LORD’s justice will dwell in the desert,
his righteousness live in the fertile field.
17 The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.
18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest.
19 Though hail flattens the forest
and the city is leveled completely,
20 how blessed you will be,
sowing your seed by every stream,
and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.

 

A middle-relief pitcher has a relatively quiet existence.  His routine is mostly out of the limelight.  He sits kind of removed from the action out in the bullpen until called upon. Then, his job is to get the outs needed, slap a couple hands on the way to the dugout, and take in the rest of the game from the bench.  After the game, he really shouldn’t see too many reporters clamoring to hear how it went out there on the mound.  His job was to throw 15, 20, maybe 30 pitches and get a few outs.  Not the stuff of intrigue to the common fan.  He was necessary for the win, but not as stout as the pitcher who goes 7 strong innings, not as flashy as the quick-footed shortstop who makes amazing, diving stops and strong throws, not as frenzy-invoking as the big first baseman who hits the winning homer.  And so the relief pitcher gets to shower up and head home with little to no fanfare.  It’s a quiet job, and he’s ok with that.

That was not Josh Hader’s night on Tuesday at the All-Star Game.  He is a Brewers reliever who was selected to be there because he has been almost unhittable this season. Well, at this game he was uncharacteristically lousy, allowing 3 runs while only getting one out.  Still, that would not set off the kind of firestorm that surrounded Josh Hader after the game.

See, during the game some tweets from the teenage Hader came to light.  These social media posts were not good.  Not even a little bit.  Some where racist, using the n-word.  Some were homophobic.  Others were immoral and insensitive.  Even though social media posts are sent pretty silently, these cropped up again caused an uproar that shocked not just a Brewers fan like me but the whole sports world and beyond.  What should have been a quiet place in front of a middle-reliever’s locker on the losing side of the All-Star Game was filled with the clamor and questions of a media frenzy.

We’re getting pretty used to that kind of noise, aren’t we?  Politics this.  Politics that.  Sports this.  Sports that.  Tragedy here.  Tragedy there.  Don’t get me wrong, we should pay attention to the world that we live in.  We need to know about it in order to know how to help people who succumb to the deafening noise tune it out.  But if you aren’t careful and alert I think that the overload of noise starts to clog our ears, too.

That’s the problem in Israel during the time of the prophet Isaiah.  The ears of the Israelite people are overloaded with noise.  And the noise comes from two places.  First, it comes from negative outside influences.  Living in this world, you will pick up some of the chatter that originates from other sources, won’t you?   It makes total sense that the people of Israel would experience some of that outside noise from the nations around them.  Whether it was the pagan worship, the immorality, the laziness, the pride, the Israelites heard that noise coming from the surrounding nations loud and clear.

You’ve probably noticed, there are people surrounding you that resonate with similar sounds.  What else do you expect from people who have the natural, inborn me-first mentality?  What else do you expect from people who think we are descendants of animals, that we are the ones who make rules, that God doesn’t exist and if he does he certainly doesn’t seem to be on your side?  What else do you expect from people in this world of sin and death?  There’s a lot of noise out there.  And like a middle-relief pitcher who just wants to stay away from the clamor and questions, the noise is overwhelming at times.

The second place from which these reverberations come is a little more difficult to hear.  It’s not that the volume or frequency is too low to hear it.  The difficulty is in the realization of the source.  Israel was coming up with a crude and calloused cacophony that was ruining the quiet and peaceful dwelling place God intended their nation to be.  It was bad enough that the surrounding noise was drawing their attention, but the sounds of their own sinful hearts were drowning out God’s promised peace and security.

Brothers and sisters, we hear it, too.    I’m sure Josh Hader knew that there was bigotry, racism, immorality, and hatred in this world.  But then the source was revealed, or maybe reminded, that it was him.  You don’t have listen to the news or to your neighbors to hear the echo of evil.  It’s right there, coming from your own lips, your own heart.

Where there should be the quiet response of repentance, I come up with a flurry of excuses and explanations.  Where there should be peace in God’s promises, I have the havoc of my own pride and self-reliance.  Where there should be sweet sounds of worship and praise, I spew sour and scornful curses and condemnations.  Where there should be compassion and love, my mouth is filled with complaints and carelessness. That’s the noise we hear, that’s the noise we too often produce.

Well, God saw what was going on in Israel and he knew he had some silencing to do.  Kind of like a teacher in a loud classroom, you’ve got some options to bring the noise level down.  You can be really quiet and wait for all the kids to notice how quiet you are.  Speaking from experience, that one takes a while.  Or you can give a loud clap or bang of some kind to snap all those kids out of the thunderous ruckus they are creating.

That’s what God describes here in verse 19, “…hail flattens the forest and the city [Jerusalem] is leveled completely.  A forest can be a pretty noisy place, with birds calling, trees blowing, animals scurrying.  I’m glad I’ve never been in a forest that is being flattened in a hailstorm, but I imagine it’s not a serene scene. It is after the storm, that’s when the quiet comes.

This was God’s way of describing how Israel was going to be silenced.  God used the hailstorm of the Assyrian army to chop down Israel.  He leveled the city of Jerusalem completely to get his people’s attention.  Israel was deaf to God’s warning calls so he carried through with his justice to bring about the peace that they needed.

You notice where you are in this scene, right?  You notice all the noise that surrounds you is not good for you, right?  You notice that all the noise that is coming out of you and adding to the deafening roar, right?  You notice that your ears are clogged up by the nonsense and missing out on the peacefulness and quiet rest, right?

Yes, friends, we are in the group that cannot quiet the noise and get back to the peace and rest of righteousness. God has some silencing to do in these ears, and he doesn’t do it with a hailstorm of Assyrians.  He doesn’t do it with the sounds of smashing our community or our homes or this church.

The sound of destruction was a whip cracking and ripping in the Praetorium of Pilate’s palace, the groans of an unfairly punished man carrying his own cross, a hammer pounding nails, the cries of agony from someone hanging on a cross. Instead of at us, God aims his thunderous blows at his own Son, Jesus.  And through him all the rage God has, all the outburst of his wrath against sin is taken away from us.  It was his justice that demanded payment for sin.  It was his righteousness that he wanted us to have that meant Jesus would have to be cut down, Jesus would have to be leveled completely.

And do you know what?  A great roar or revelry went up in hell when Jesus was silenced by death.  The devil thought that his evil racket would have deafening results in this world and for eternity.  But three days later, he started to hear a different sound.  It was not the sound of evil destruction but the sound of triumph and victory.  It grew louder and louder.  It echoed in the halls of hell for the devil, his evil angels, and all unbelievers to hear.  CHRIST IS RISEN.  HE IS RISEN INDEED.  That was not a sweet sound to them but scorn and defeat.  And the devil has to deal with that for the rest of eternity.

To you and I it is the sweet sound of salvation.  Through Christ we are saved from all that would clog our ears and drown out God’s promises.  Here’s how God puts it through his prophet: “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.  My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.”

Do you hear that?  …no noise… no destruction…no wrath…no punishment…no enemies… Do you hear it?  The angels sang about it on Christmas.  Jesus said it to the disciples on the day he rose from the dead.  That’s called peace with God.  Through Christ, we have peace with God.  We have rest from all of our enemies.  We have the tranquility of triumph.  We have the confidence that God’s kingdom is our home.  We have quiet rest and security for eternity.

Through Christ, we also have the quiet life of rest from sin as we live here on this earth.  “How blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.”  Do you hear that? …no fear…no excuses… no complaints…no self-reliance… We can have this kind of quiet life even in a world that is filled with noise, even with a sinful heart that cries out against us.  It is all silenced by a God who loves us and took all the sounds of sin away from us.  We get to live with his blessings, with the quiet trust that knows everything will be taken care of for us.  We get to live with freedom from all the negative noise.  We get to live with the words of worship on our lips.  This is the life as a Christian in the world.  God’s blessings of peace and security will not fail us.

Do you notice how God describes that his righteousness is as a fertile field?  Yeah, right there in verse 16.  He says that his righteousness produces fruit.  Sounds like growth to me.  That’s a great reminder as we conclude our summer growth series today.  God doesn’t put you in this world to add to the noise.  He puts you in the world to produce more peace and quietness.  He puts you in this world to promote the security of his righteousness and the undisturbed place of eternal rest.

But if you have been in Josh Hader’s position before, where you just hear a bunch of noise, where it’s all your fault and you can’t turn it off, then I am so glad I get to tell you God’s promises of peace and rest.  All the sins that blare in your ears have been silenced.  And in their place, Jesus has put his righteousness.  That’s the peace, the security, the confidence you have in Christ Jesus.  That’s the peace, the security and confidence that is yours to share.  That’s the peace and quietness that is always and eternally better than the noise.  Amen.

5 LESSONS ABOUT OUR MISSION

7.15.18 Pentecost 8B

 

Pentecost B

Mark 6:6b-13

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

 

 

Well, our Summer Growth series is almost done.  What have you learned?  What has made an impact on you?  What has helped you grow? It’s good to do a spiritual inventory every once in a while to honestly analyze what areas are strong and what areas need some help.  A key there is to be honest.  There might be some things that you need a little more work than others

For example, you might not struggle with the fact that worship is absolutely essential.  You might realize that what happens here is the same thing a hospital does for someone with cancer.  This is God, the master of body and soul, cutting out what is bad with his law and healing what is sick with the gospel.  This is necessary for the health of your spirit, and so you make church attendance a priority that nothing can top.  Good, that’s a strong spot for your faith.  It’s not something to be boastful about; it’s something to thank God for.

But maybe when it comes to worry and fear, you wither and wilt. You just can’t help pondering over the problems at work or deliberating the difficulties of some relationships.  You are afraid of the future for your kids, you are afraid of rejection, you are afraid of death, and the fears continue to pile up.  It’s like what Jesus said to his disciples when he calmed the storm, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  Jesus was not questioning if they believed in him as the Messiah, the Son of God to save them from sin.  Jesus was telling them that some of their fears were clouding out God’s promise to protect them from danger.  So, that’s an area that needs some growth.  Repent for the lack of faith.  See Christ’s loving forgiveness.  And then study up on some of those powerful promises in Scripture, because that is what the Holy Spirit will use as miracle grow for your faith.

We all have areas where we need God’s Word to keep us strong and healthy and then we also have areas where we need God’s Word to strengthen our weaknesses and grow our faith.  I think today’s Gospel brings up an area where we can all use some growth.  It’s the great privilege and purpose that God has bestowed on his people.  It’s the reason why a congregation was started here back in the early summer of 1960 as an offshoot of Redeemer in Mandan. It’s the specific effort of all God’s people to reach others with this life-saving gospel message of forgiveness through Christ.  It’s our mission.  This area that needs some strengthening is called evangelism.

Today, Jesus gives us 5 lessons about our mission that can help us grow in this important work we do together.

Calling the Twelve to him, he… gave them authority over impure spirits.”

Lesson 1 – Jesus calls us and gives us his authority

It is a very little detail, but I think it’s a powerful one.  Notice how this mission work started for the disciples.  It wasn’t 12 friends who had this bright idea that they should go out preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus.  It wasn’t these highly educated religious scholars who wanted to impart their vast wisdom on people.  It wasn’t specifically trained men with titles like pastor, staff minister or teacher. This is a group of people who were called together by Jesus.

That’s all you need to do this mission work.  You need Jesus’ call.  The Son of God in the flesh calls them together for their first mission trip.  It isn’t a big one – they just went to neighboring towns and villages – but it is important work, work that needed special authority.

Jesus not only calls them but then gives them his authority.  That’s what it takes to fend of the devil and all his evil.  It doesn’t take all the best skills and personality traits.  It doesn’t take all the coolest programs and events.  Mission work needs Jesus’ authority over the devil.

You have both of these things.  Did you know that?  You have been called by the Son of God, the Word made flesh, to be his child, to be salt and light in this decaying dark world, to go and make disciples.  Every single Christian is called in this general way to be a part of Christ’s mission.  And you carry with you the authority that does not originate from the wisest philosophies this world has to offer.  It’s not from a diploma that hangs in your office from the best education money can buy.  It comes from the one who came not from this world but from heaven.  His mission was to rescue us from sin, death, and the devil.  It was God’s promise that he would crush the devil’s head and that is exactly what Jesus did.  That’s the kind of authority we have in our mission of spreading Jesus to those around us and the whole world.

While every Christian has this call from Christ to carry out his mission in their lives, there are some who have specific calls to specific places to serve Christ and his people.  Paul mentions these types of ministries in the second reading for today.  God’s people need leaders, overseers, or shepherds to help serve and organize their mission efforts.  Right now, there is a great need for them.  We have around 100 churches that don’t have a full-time pastor.  We have even more schools that have to try and piece a unit of teachers together to make sure we can teach the gospel to all the students in our WELS elementary schools and high schools.  Might it be a good time to focus on what is truly important in our nation?  Might it be a good time for you to talk about this with your children and grandchildren?  Might it be a good time to make the sacrifices now, so that God will continue to have instruments to preach and teach his gospel?

Even though we are not worthy of such a calling, Christ desires to use his people to carry out his mission.  Through the church, he calls some to specific places to carry out specific work as pastors and teachers.  Through his Word, he calls all of us and gives us his authority to carry the gospel around with us in our day to day lives.

“Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two…”

Lesson 2 – We don’t need to do it alone.

Jesus never said that you are an island when it comes to mission work.  In fact, so many times throughout Scripture the exact opposite is the case.  Elijah thought he was alone and God said there were seven thousand still on his side.  David felt alone when Saul was trying to kill him, but he still had Jonathan.  Paul went on missionary trips with Barnabas and Luke, and later Silas and Timothy.  Jesus himself gathered these 12 men to be with him.  He also reminds us, “Wherever two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.”

Sure, you can go by yourself to invite someone to church or our Bible Basics class.  We could emphasize a mission plan for each one to reach one, but I think Jesus is on to something.  There is strength in numbers.  There is encouragement when you are not alone.  This is not a reason to use the excuse that “someone else will do it” but it is a reminder that Jesus does not call you to a life and mission of solitude.  If you have a spouse or a sibling, you can be a missionary team that tries to seek opportunities to speak about what Jesus has done for you.  If you have a family or group of friends here at church, you can pray for each other, encourage each other, and hold each other accountable in the mission work we do together.  If you haven’t found anyone to partner up with yet, let me know and I will try to help you find a team.  That way, when you make some mistakes or neglect some opportunities, you can also repent and forgive each other.  This is the beauty of our mission.  Christ never leaves you alone, but he gives you family or friends, a church family, a synod, and the whole Christian Church on earth to keep you going.

“Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.  Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.  Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.”

Lesson 3 – God’s people generously support mission work.

We might think that it’s totally different now as a group of Christians tries to carry out the mission Jesus has given us, but it’s really not.  The disciples didn’t take anything except what they were wearing, their staff, and sandals.  God was going to take care of them through the generosity of his people.  Part of what we do to accomplish Christ’s mission is pool our resources together to do the same thing.  We share.  We give.  And we do it generously, willing to give money, food, housing, and whatever else it takes to support Christ’s mission work.  I and my family are extremely grateful for what you do to generously support and care for us.

But my little family is not the only one who benefits.  We generously support Christ’s mission so that we have this place where we gather and invite others to gather with us to hear the Word of the Lord.  We generously support Christ’s mission so that there will be pastors to preach in places like this and teachers to teach in our schools and that there will be pastors and teachers to go to places and people that we cannot across the world. We generously support Christ’s mission so that our church body can train those who want to preach and teach God’s Word at places like Luther Preparatory School, Martin Luther College, and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

This generous support, whether it is your time, your abilities, or your money, is not costing you something. If you are looking at it that way, then look again. Your generous support of Christ’s mission is an investment in your eternity and the eternity of your children, spouse, family, friends, neighbors, and community.  It is seeking Christ first, and he says all the other stuff will be taken care of, as well.   That’s an investment with an eternal impact.

“And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

Lesson 4 – We are not responsible for the results. We simply respond the way Jesus tells us.

I don’t know about you, but I need this reminder a lot, because I can put all sorts of pressure on myself to say the right thing at the right time to the right person.  I can put all sorts of pressure on myself to preach better, teach better, reach out better.  I can put all sorts of pressure on myself that the results of my mission work are up to me.

It’s just not true.  Jesus flat out told the disciples that some might not welcome your invitations or your caring attempt to turn a conversation to spiritual and eternal matters.  Jesus doesn’t say you have to beat yourself up about that.  Jesus doesn’t say that you have to change your approach.  Jesus doesn’t say that you have to go back home with your tail between your legs.  If you are being diligent and faithful with the mission Christ has given you, then you have nothing to do but respond the way Jesus tells us.

Shaking the dust of their feet didn’t mean that disciples now had to hold a grudge against the people who rejected their message.  Shaking the dust of their feet didn’t mean the disciples had to openly drag their name through the mud.  It just meant that Jesus is serious about his Word.  If people don’t want it, then Jesus wants us to give a loving warning that those who don’t want or don’t care much about the gospel of Jesus are outside of his kingdom.  They don’t get to enjoy the eternity that Jesus has won.  They will spend eternity with all the impure spirits of the devil.  They will be the losers in hell forever.

You and I could never be responsible for someone believing or rejecting Jesus.  It is the power of Holy Spirit working through the gospel that calls people to repentance and faith.  It is the stubborn and unrelenting heart of evil that rejects the message of Jesus and his power to save.  It is not the one doing the mission work.

Although, we could certainly be responsible for someone never hearing the gospel of Jesus, never seeing his mission in action, never knowing his peace.  While we can never be responsible for the results of our mission work, we are always responsible for how we respond when Christ sends his people out with work to do.

That leads to the last lesson about our mission.

They went out and preached…

Lesson 5 – Get out there and try it.

There is no awkward dillydallying from the disciples.  There is not one excuse.  There isn’t a timidity that keeps them from doing this work.  There is nothing that stops them.  Why?  Do you ever wonder why?  Why do they just give us the impression that they were Christ’s robots when it comes to doing his mission work?  Every time he sends them out they just go.  Is it because they had the perfect pitch?  Is it because they had the respect and honor from everyone they met?  Is it because they had all the skills?  Not at all.  They had the call from Jesus and his authority.  They had others with whom to go. They had the support of God’s people.  They knew that they were not responsible for the results.  And so they went.

I hope you notice today that everything they had is exactly the same thing that you and I have.  You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  And so there’s only one thing left to do: Get out there and try it.

God grant it.  Amen.

WHEN I AM WEAK…

 

7.8.18 Pentecost 7BPentecost B

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”

This is a pretty familiar portion of the Declaration of Independence that our nation’s founding fathers signed on July 4th, 1776.  It’s still something that we value very much today.

First, we want to live.  And it’s not just life that we want.  We won’t settle for little huts, walking down to the river for water, wearing the same cloths every day, and eating the same food all the time.  We want life, a life of endless opportunities.  We want a life where our day to day necessities are what the rest of the world would call lavish luxuries.

Second, we want freedom.  We have so much freedom I’m not sure our brains could even process what it would be like to be in complete servitude, to be put under someone else unwillingly.  We have freedom to be able to pick our own jobs, our own houses, our own friends, our own religions and so much more.  We want all these freedoms because it makes us feel like we are in control.

Third, we want to be happy, or at least the ability to pursue what will make us happy.  And that happiness will be different for everyone.  But this country is all about making myself happy.  If something, like meat for example, makes me happy, then I should be able to get meat and eat it.  And if somehow you don’t like meat, then you should be able to go places where you don’t have to eat meat.  America provides what makes people happy.

These things make America what it is.  You can say what you want about politics or whatever else is potentially irritating to you, but America is pretty good at giving life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

What if I told you that all those delightful things that so many, many people in America call rights were no longer beneficial for you?  What if I said that a nice cushy life wasn’t in the cards, that you would not have freedom to make your own choices, and that you could no longer pursue so vigorously the things that make you happy?  What if I told you that you would live where none of those things would be easily accessible?  In fact, what if none of those things would be available at all?  What if the only thing you could expect were the things mentioned here in 2 Corinthians 12: weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties?

Would you boast about that kind of life?  Would you be happy?

I think not!  Because this is America.  This is where we want life, liberty, and the pursuit of my own personal happiness.  If anything gets in the way of that, it’s unacceptable.  That’s when we start looking for targets.  Because the reason I don’t have the life I want, the freedom from all the garbage, and the constant happiness that must be mine could not possibly be my doing.  It could not be something in me.  The weakness has to be outside.  If anything is wrong, it’s because of something or someone else.

Maybe it has to be the government.  It has to be those detached, delusional villains who don’t care about us.  They just want their power, to rest on their laurels.  They’ll do whatever it takes to keep their position.  They are taking the liberties and the happiness that we want.

Or maybe the weakness is coming from those around me.  Some friends never do anything for you except for accepting your invitations and goodwill.  Some family members are willing to take all your encouragement, all your motivation, all your compassion, and all of your assistance but are never willing to reciprocate back to you.  It’s almost like they are sucking the life and the pursuit of happiness right out of you.

Or maybe the weakness is caused by my enemies.  They are secretly or not so secretly trying to secure my downfall.  They want me to deal with stress.  They want me to put up with insults.  They love to cause hardships and difficulties.

Do you know what it’s called when you think the weakness is with everyone else, that you are the strong one, when everyone can reach the level to which you have risen?  Conceit.  It’s that exalted life that we love so much in America.  It’s putting all the weaknesses on someone else and taking all the strength and the praise for yourself.

The Apostle Paul was an amazing man.  He had personally seen Jesus risen from the dead.  That changed him into the missionary we know.  He had personally learned the gospel from Jesus himself.  He had personally carried that gospel message to people all over the Mediterranean world.  He had personally found the courage to make it through all sorts of challenges to continue God’s mission work.  If anyone could be praised as the prime example of a Christian, it was Paul.  If anyone could find the strength and resolve to be the best witness for Christ, it was Paul.  If anyone could brag about his stories and his life, it was Paul.

God didn’t want Paul to be conceited, so God himself allowed a messenger of Satan to afflict and torment Paul.  The weakness was not from someone or something else.  It was a thorn in the flesh, an illness, a disease, a disadvantage that Paul could not get rid of.  He had to deal with the fact that he had a weakness.

He tells us that on three separate occasions he pleaded with the Lord to remove this weakness.  That’s a great thing to do.  If there are problems and burdens that you are facing, take it to the Lord in prayer.  If Jesus himself felt it important and necessary to take breaks often and spend time in prayer with his Father, then it’s good for you, too.  It is a way to leave everything with the only one who can take away problems and give you the strength to face each situation with his peace and joy.

It’s just that the Lord might not give you the answer that you want him to.  He knows what is going to be good for your faith and for your eternity.  He knows that light and momentary hardships cannot compare to the eternal glory that far outweighs any pain we experience on earth.  He knows that sometimes you need to be weak.

This is what our gracious Father says to Paul about his weakness.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Sometimes we need to be weak so we can see that someone else is stronger.  Sometimes we need to have weaknesses so that we stop trying to pursue our own sinful kind of life, liberty, and happiness and simply enjoy the love and forgiveness of God.  In fact, it’s not just sometimes that we need that.  We need God’s grace and his power all the time.

See that’s where delight really happens.  It happens when I know someone else is looking out for me and that I don’t have to look out for myself.  It happens when I stop trying to pin the weaknesses on others and start relying on God’s strength.  It happens when I see all the weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties as blessings that keep me close to a God who loves me and gave himself up for me.  Only when I am brought down so low, can I look up and see someone so high and powerful.

And that’s what Jesus came to do.  He sank so low, so that he could bring you and me up so high, as high as the heavens are above the earth.  He was put into the weakest positions: born in a barn, tempted relentlessly, publicly discredited, arrested unfairly, accused untruthfully, killed innocently.  He faced the worst so that you and I could have the best.  When he was exalted, it shows us where we will be when we are with him forever.

These weakness that we have now are such a blessing, are such a delight for us for a couple reasons.  One, they will never be the kind of difficulties that we deserve.  We deserve death and hell, but God in his grace will not give any of that punishment to those who believe in Jesus.  Two, “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

People often pray when there is a disaster, a health scare, a financial crash, a family emergency.  They see the trouble and they look to God for help.  That’s a good thing.  It’s a good thing for our relationship with God.  It’s a good thing for our faith.  When life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not going too well, then God’s grace and power is needed.

So because he loves us so much, God allows the weaknesses to pop up in your life so that your eyes and prayers are directed where they need to be.  It’s not just a few days of the year that we need this reminder.  It is every day and all day.  We have total and complete dependence on Jesus every single second of the day.  If you need an ouchie, an illness or a disease to recognize that, then thank God he was there to give it to you and to get you through it.  If you need a rude neighbor, a needy friend, a brazen child to get you on your knees is prayer, then thank God he was there to give them to you and to get you through it.  If you need a completely chaotic political situation to see that no country can provide what God’s eternal home can, then thank God he was there to give it to you and to get you through it.

Peace is found in God’s grace and his power, and that’s why the Apostle Paul could say, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  If the power of Christ rests on you, your doing pretty good.  Because that power forgives sin, destroys death, protects against Satan, and opens the door to your heavenly home.

My brothers and sisters, be thankful for the country we have.  But even more, be thankful for the weaknesses you have.  Be thankful that you have God’s all-sufficient grace and his almighty power.  Be thankful that when you are weak, he is strong.  Amen.

DON’T BE AFRAID

7.1.18 Pentecost 6B

Pentecost B

Mark 5:21-24, 35-43

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him…. 

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

 

 

At first, the theme for worship today probably seems like a no-brainer: Life is better than death.  Obviously! For growth to happen, you need life.  Dead things don’t grow.  Sure, I’ll give you that dead plants and dead little bugs become part of the soil, and the soil is where little dried up seeds from those dead plants or withered up, nasty-looking fruit come to life.  But it’s not the dead thing that grows, is it?  No, you need a plant to be living to grow.

When it comes to people, it’s the same.  Death isn’t good for growth.  A person needs to have their brainwaves waving and the heart beating somewhere in the 40-80 beats per minute range.

I think Jairus would agree with that.  He is the synagogue ruler in town, up north probably in Capernaum on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee.  There were two places for worship life for the Jews in Palestine.  There was the granddaddy of them all in Jerusalem, the Temple.  That’s where you would go for the major festivals like Passover.  But to make that journey every week was impractical.  That would be like driving to Fargo or Milwaukee every Sunday for worship.  So, the second place for worship was the synagogue.  That was the local church that was run by the people in the area.  Jairus is like the church president, the one who looks after the place and gets people to help out.  They didn’t have rabbis who were called to serve in one specific synagogue.  It was up to Jairus to schedule the preachers and teachers for the worship.  It’s safe to assume that Jairus was a respectable and responsible leading member of the community.

Given the choice, Jairus wants his 12 year-old daughter living rather than dead.  That’s why we see this synagogue ruler throw himself at Jesus’ feet.  Not a normal sight for such a man, but death causes people to do things they might not do otherwise.

And Jesus is the right man for this death-defying job. Jesus isn’t like any other man.  Earlier on this pretty intense day on the other side of the lake, Jesus had healed a demon-possessed man.  Jesus had traveled around the area healing every kind of illness and disease, even leprosy and a paralytic.  Large crowds were following Jesus because of his power.  But his message was even more eye-opening.  He didn’t just teach the law, telling people this is how you live to please God.  No, Jesus gave the people the good news, that even though you will never earn or deserve heaven it’s yours by God’s grace through the forgiveness of sins that Jesus gives.  He pointed to God’s promise of salvation that saves lawbreakers from God’s wrath.

Jairus needed Jesus, because life is better than death.  Jesus could make his sick girl well. Sometimes the tests get a little harder than that.  The horrible news comes from home, “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” You know, if my house burns down, that’s why we have insurance.  If my financial guy calls up to inform me that my investments have tanked, I can work through it.  If my pickup gets a ding or dent, I’ll get it fixed or drive around with it from now on.  No big deal.  But if you call me and say my daughter is dead, it’s a crushing blow.  The death of a child is never easy to handle.

I think we wouldn’t be surprised at all if Jairus would start asking God some questions.  I don’t think we would think it’s out of place at all if his anguish turned to anger.  I’ve seen that happen.  “Jesus, you are the Son of God.  You say God takes care of us.  Frankly, if this is the way God treats his people, then I’m done with you.”

But Jairus says nothing.  Because he was listening at synagogue.  He listened when God says you were sinful from birth, from the time your mother conceived you. Jairus not only listened in church but he also saw firsthand what kind of mischief a 12 year-old can do. And he heard God and believed God when he says the soul who sins is the one who will die.  Jairus knows his daughter was not innocent.  It would be foolish and against the Bible to plead his case before Jesus that his daughter was a good girl who deserved better.  Jairus knows that if he opened his mouth in anger against God or even questioned God’s timing that he would be unseating God and placing himself on the Creator’s throne.

But where his voice is silenced in the face of death, he hears something odd from Jesus, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”  Coming from one of those crooked tax collectors or annoying neighbors, those words wouldn’t mean much.  But coming from Jesus, those words mean everything.  Jesus is the eternal, saving Word, who became flesh to destroy the power of the devil.  Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away your sins and mine.  Jesus did not come to create a better political landscape.  He did not come to stabilize industries or the financial outlook.  He did not come to give us a life that grows here on earth.  Jesus came to give life that grows for eternity.  To do that he was going to have to show Jairus and all of us that death cannot tell Jesus what it wants.  Death can only listen to the one who has the power of life.

Not even skipping a beat, as if nothing was wrong, Jesus gathers Peter, James, and John and goes to the house. When they there, it’s like a zoo. And we might say for good reason, a 12 year-old girl has just died.  “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”  The onlookers laugh, even though a girl is dead. They laugh at Jesus!

Why?  Maybe it’s because far too often this world sees death as more powerful and more permanent than life.  That’s why people want to hold on to this life with every bit of strength they have.  We do it, too.  We treat this life like it is the greatest and best.  We tend to fill ourselves up with so much stuff from this life.  We tend to be afraid of death because it’s definite and final.   We all agree with the idea that life is much, MUCH better than death, because we think about it as people who are tied to this earth and this life.  So when death comes it is a crushing blow.

But when The Life takes on death, there’s a different outcome.  With all the power and authority of the creator, Jesus speaks like he is rousing a child in the morning, Talitha koum, (“Little girl, get up!”)  But this girl doesn’t react like most of your kids probably do.  Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around.  By taking this girl by the hand and through his words spoken Jesus overcame the grip of death.

Jesus shows us that he has the power to make death temporary.  That’s what he has done for us. Jesus went to death for you and was forsaken by his own Father. He gave up his spirit so that the guilt which afflicts and the sin that kills would no longer. He went to the grave and back again, he died and took up his life again, so that death would not be something you have to fear. Death now leads to life through faith in Jesus Christ.

He’s the one who now takes you by the hand.  When death is haunting you, Jesus shows you the scars on his hands and says, “Don’t be afraid.”  When death is trying to prove that it is more powerful and more permanent than life, Jesus takes you by the hand and he says, “Death is but a sleep.” And this is what he does as you live out your days, he has you by the hand fighting back darkness and silencing fear. And when you breathe your last and the last day comes, there he is with your hand in his and he’ll say, “My child, I say to you, get up!” And you will rise body and soul because death is but a sleep.

Henry Francis Lyte was an English clergyman. Throughout his life and in his professional career he suffered from various respiratory ailments. In fact, after seeking a particular appointment he was denied due to asthma and bronchitis. By the end of his life, in the 1840s, he was forced to spend much of his time in the warmer climates of France and Italy. In his last dying days he set a poem he had once written to music, maybe you recognize these words, we will be singing them later today:

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;

Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.

Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?

I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

 

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.

Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

How could he be so fearless as death stood at his doorstep? Because he knew what Jesus did for Jairus’ daughter would be true of him as well. He knew that life was better than death.  Jesus had him by the hand and was saying, “Don’t be afraid. Through faith in me, death is ended.” Jesus had him by the hand and was saying, “Death is just a sleep.” And he knew one day Jesus would say to him, “Get up.”

This doesn’t mean that at the next Christian funeral you attend you should walk in and say, “What are you all crying for, don’t you know about what Jesus did for Jairus’ little girl?” We mourn when death comes, we mourn when that chair is empty or that laugh is silenced. We certainly miss those who die. But we also mourn differently. We don’t mourn like those who think that death is permanent. We mourn knowing that those who die in Christ are being led by his hand. We mourn knowing that just as the little girl’s mom and dad rejoiced at her coming back to life, we too will have an eternity of joy when Jesus says, “Get up!”  We mourn knowing that his life is better, more powerful, more permanent than our death.

Brothers and sisters, that fact is what causes growth in these last days.  It’s not running from death.  It’s Jesus.  It’s looking at who holds your hand, that’s the one who is our life, our eternal life.  It’s clinging to him.  It’s living in him, for him, with him.  Don’t be afraid; just believe.  Death is just a sleep.  His life is yours.  Amen.

BRACE YOURSELF

6.24.18 Pentecost 5B

Pentecost B

JOB 38:1-11

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels j shouted for joy?

8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?

 

 

“There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”  Who said it?  And about whom was it said?   This was God speaking about Job.  Now, there is only way it is possible for God to speak this way about a human being, and he tells us what it is.

“…everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)

“And without faith it is impossible to please God…” (Hebrews 11:6)

Job was a man who trusted God.  The faith that was planted in him continued to guide and direct his life.  He believed God’s Word and that God would provide the promised Savior from sin.  That’s what faith does to a person.

Job was not just a man of great faith but also a man of great wealth and earthly blessings. He had 10 children, 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, and many servants.  In other words, he was the richest of the rich for that time. There are plenty of “Christian” preachers that will use this type of Scripture to say that if you are faithful you will be blessed and prosperous.  If you have great faith in God, then you will have great blessings from him.  If you are God’s child, then you should get everything that makes you happy. However, that just doesn’t seem to fit with the main purpose for God’s Word.  God’s wants people to be saved.  On every page of his Word the point is to point people to Christ, the forgiveness of sins, the victory over the devil that he accomplished for us, and the home we have in heaven.

That’s probably why God allowed all this stuff to happen to Job.  In one day all of the earthly blessings were gone, poof! If you would lose everything, what would your reaction be?  Anger? Misery? Bitterness? Shock? Depression? Do you remember what Job said?  He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

The next day it was his health.  Boils festered on his skin to the point where he sought relief by scraping himself with broken potsherds.  You would expect most people to become more than a little upset in these circumstances.  It might not even surprise you if some would curse God, but Job said, “shall we accept good from God, but not trouble?”

This is when three of Job’s friends come into the picture. They didn’t exactly help the situation.  In times of terrible grief, you might want friends to grieve with you and comfort you.  You might need them to point you again and again to Jesus and his promise of salvation and peace and hope.  Nevertheless, when you read through chapters 3-37, you will find that Job’s friends weren’t the positive people that Job needed in his time of trial.  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar did not point him to peace and hope through God’s promises of salvation.  They tried to give him reasons for his devastating loses.  Their idea was to say that Job was a good man who didn’t deserve such disaster.  He must have done something wrong to upset God.  In order for Job to fix his problems, they encouraged him to ask God for answers.

Job’s friends were useless. With no help from them, Job began to question God.  He didn’t lose faith or curse God, but he did get a little bit of that childish “why me” attitude.  He thought that somehow, he deserved answers to all his questions.  When Christians get that kind of attitude, it’s not going to help you.

What if God’s gives the honest answers?   What if the Creator of heaven and earth speaks to the sinful created ones?  What if the Lord of lords and King of kings comes to the lowly servants with his almighty, booming voice?  What if the one who fills all things decides to zero in on one puny, tiny little man who happens to think he has a bone to pick?  What happens then?  Well, then it’s time to brace yourself!!

In chapter 38 the Lord actually did this to Job.   He didn’t use a church or a cathedral for his message. No Old Testament prophet or priest was needed.  No, the Lord’s pulpit was a raging storm.  Ask the disciples in that boat during that torrential turbulence on the Sea of Galilee what it’s like.  Fear might be an understatement!

It is not just the storm from which God speaks that causes uncomfortable feelings, but it is the questions God asks: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” Show of hands: who wants to answer the question that God just asked?  No one!  Really!  Job didn’t answer, and neither would I.  That’s because you and I know the answer to that question. “I am.  I am the one who brings darkness to your light, Lord.  I don’t possess all knowledge like you.  I don’t know the perfect game plan for my life like you do.  It’s my fault when I don’t trust your power and plans.  I’m the one who is too often filled with fear and not faith in all your promises.”

The questions didn’t stop there. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?

With each question, Job and all of us, get smaller as God gets bigger.  Do you want to know about this world and how it’s made?  The Lord describes all the details of creation as the expert builder.  He marked off the dimensions of the globe and the universe.  It was his work, not Job’s, not ours.

Next, our God is the only one who knows at exactly what time the angels were made.  At some point during creation, God made his messengers and heralds and they were singing his praise and shouting for joy all the way.

Then, the topic changes to water.  You know, we can’t do much to contain bodies of water.  We put up the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.  We dug a few canals.  We try to hold flooded rivers under control.  We try, but there isn’t much we can do with water.  God talks about water like it’s a little baby.

God describing his power should not make us afraid, but these verses paralyze Job and us because that’s what sin does.  It makes the perfect, holy, all-powerful God terrifying.  It is sin that makes God’s control unsettling.  It is sin that makes faith so hard and fear so easy.

Job was blameless and upright.  He shunned evil.  But he still had sin, and you can see what sin does.  Sin fights with faith.  Sin wants me to be the master.  Sin wants me to have control.  Sin wants me to have all the answers so that I won’t need that faith nonsense.  Sin makes me tell God what I want and what I don’t want.  Sin leads me down the road of fear to utter destruction.

I hope you notice that the problem is not the Lord, the problem is you and me.  When Job was demanding answers, God says, “brace yourself like a man.”  God turns it around the way it should be and tells Job, “I will question you, and you shall answer me.”

 In all the verses from the first lesson, did you hear one peep from Job?  Nope.  The Lord asks Job two full chapters of questions and in chapter 40:4 Job finally says something,   “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.”  That was a smart thing to say.  Job didn’t have an answer, and neither do you.  Sinners can only brace themselves when God asks questions.

Thankfully and only by God’s grace, we aren’t left in our uncomfortable quandary.  God does not want us to be filled with fear but faith.  So, are you ready for this?  Brace yourself!

God did not just ask the questions. Instead God does something that no one can even understand.  He came up with something to Job, to you, to me, and to the whole world lost in fear.  God says in his Word, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

God is done asking questions. He knows no matter who it is, Job or present-day people like you and me, we can’t give an answer.  So God prepared an answer for us.  The one who can answer all the questions that God gave to Job and that God gives to us is… Jesus Christ, the Savior.  The Bible says,  “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

You can’t answer God, but God answers for you anyways.  Jesus stands up on our side.  He says, “I was there when the foundations of the world were laid.” Jesus tells his Father for us, “I was holding the measuring line when you stretched it out.  I was there when the footings were set.  I was there when the seas burst forth.  I was there, Father.  And if that’s not enough, I was there when the soldiers carried out Pilates orders.  I was there when the nails were pounded into the cross. I was the one who said ‘It is finished.’  I am the one who conquered sin.  I was there when this world began and I was the one who saved this world from certain destruction.  I am He.” Because of Jesus, you have the answers you need.  Don’t be afraid any longer.  Find the strength and relief that God has given you through Jesus.

God takes care of everything else.  Faith in him will always be better than fear. Job experienced that. God had allowed it all to be taken away.  Job wanted answers, but God gave him the only answer he needed.  God gave Job a living Redeemer.  He is the answer to all of God’s questions.  And above all that, in the last chapter of Job, God doubles everything – the camels, the donkeys, the servants – all of it.  Job deserved none of the blessings, but God is rich in grace and rich in love.  He did not provide those things to show us that faith equals an earthly return.  He is a kind and gracious God who will provide all your needs.  Simply trust his power and promises to do that.

The same answers that God gave Job are for you.  God gives you the inconceivable.  He gives you his Son as your Lord and Savior.  He gives you his showers of grace while you live here.  And he gives you an eternal home.  So, brace yourself, because in Jesus, God gives you more than you can ask for.  Amen.

FIRST OF MANY

6.10.18 Pentecost 3B

Pentecost B

Genesis 3:8-15

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring a and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.

 

 

I find the beginning chapters of the Bible absolutely astounding. Here’s why.  As much as the smartest scientists and philosophers and astrophysicists tell us they know absolutely, completely, for sure that the world is most likely, probably something like 4.5 billion years old maybe, they were not present for the beginning of time and so they have no clue what they are talking about.  There is a lot of intrigue about the origins of this universe and world and a lot of uncertainty if you listen to those “smart” people.

The answer, however, is neatly packaged by the only one who was there before it all began. In the first chapters of Genesis, God tells us that everything came into being from God who made it all out of nothing simply by his almighty Word.  We are not descendants of dumb luck or absurd chances that some cells decided to be little swimmy things in water and then decided to be bigger swimmy things, then little slithery things, then walking things, then hairy and bigger walking things, then less hairy walking and talking things.  How can that possibly be the most sensible belief about the beginning?  If that is the answer then we wonder why there is a problem in our world with bullying, porn, violence, abuse, immorality, arrogance. That kind of thinking about our beginning gives life no value.  It gives us no purpose and no reason to exist.

When a lot of people see Genesis and the Bible as a bunch of nonsense, fairytales and fantasies, anything but facts, I find these first couple of chapters so very enlightening, comforting, and true.  And I think we can help people see it this way.  If Adam and Eve are the very first human beings, then we would expect to find characteristics and qualities that you and I also have.  As we hear about the devil successfully tempting the first human beings into sin – where he tells lies as if they were truth, where they don’t value God the way they should, where they don’t value each other the way they should – we would expect that to be a way that is still effective on humans today.  After they fall into sin we would expect them to handle it in a way that you and I still do today.  And as God approaches them after their sin, we would expect him to deal with them in a way that he still deals with us today.  These first chapters do not tell us things that are peculiar, mythical, or specific to a certain time or place but they tell us something universal.  These first chapters explain so much about you and me.  Like I said, I find that absolutely astounding.

The beginning of Genesis is not a story that you and I have to try and figure out.  It is not like any other book or story because this book, it has us all figured out.  Reading through these first couple chapters, we find out who we are and what makes us tick.  We find out why we treat each other poorly.  We find out why we cope with sin the way we do.  We find out how God intervenes and rescues us from all of those things the way he does.  As we look at this section of the Bible we see all of the firsts – the first days, the first people, the first temptation, the first sin, the first human reaction to sin, the first divine reaction to sin –  but this is just the first of many times that these things happen all the way up to today.

When we pick it up in Genesis 3:8 Adam and Eve have just done what God told them not to do.  The devil tempted them to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and they did.  So, now what?  What is the solution to this problem that Adam and Eve have brought into the world?

Adam and Eve have their own ideas.  They take cover.  They take cover behind fig leaves that they sewed together, because they needed to cover this new concept of shame.  God comes on his normal stroll in the garden, and Adam and Eve take cover in the trees of the garden.  They now need to cover up this new thing called guilt.  And finally, when God confronts them they take cover with excuses, blaming, and even blaspheming against God.

Notice the changes in Adam and Eve that happen because of sin.  In an instant their relationship with God was different.  God was so good to them. They were in perfect union with him.  Now God’s footsteps sound like police sirens, from which they desperately want to hide.

In an instant another relationship was different.  Up to this point the devil had been the one pointing the accusing finger at God, even blaspheming him.  He said, “You can’t trust God. Look, he’s holding out on you with this tree.”  Now, not only had Adam and Eve listened to the devil, but they became fluent in his language.  Adam points the accusing finger at God and says, “The woman you put here with me —she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”  Because of the first sin, Adam and Eve ran from God and were now speaking the same language as their enemy, the devil.  In other words, that first sin made them afraid of their Father and friends with their foe.

Like I said this was the first time that happened, and the first of many times since.  Adam and Eve’s behavior here reveals something that is true for you and me.  As human beings we have a deep-seeded desire for two very important things: to be known and to be loved.  For most of us we would like to go through life with someone, someone to share things with us and to know us.  And we want those people to love, accept, and approve of us.

But when sin comes into the picture, we can’t really have both.   If someone really knows everything about you, then some might not want to love you anymore.  So, we’ve got these two things and, given the choice, you probably would want to be loved, which means you might give up being completely known.  Just like Adam and Eve, we take cover.  We hide.

That’s pretty easy to do, isn’t it?  We hide from people at work, at school, in the neighborhood, at church, with friends, and even in extended families.  We hide stuff and put only the best version of ourselves out there.  Is there a more terrifying thought than if all of our acquaintances, our casual connections, would suddenly know everything that only our close friends know?  What if suddenly all of our close friends knew everything that your family knows?  What if your family knew everything that only you know?  And what if everyone knew everything?

That is true for one person; he knows it all.  When we are confronted with that truth, then we can become very good at speaking the language of our enemy.   We point the finger at God and blame him.  “God, your plan for my life, the way you want me to live, your guidance for the so-called good life about how I should think, speak and act, well it just is not right.  It’s not exciting.  It’s not fun.  It’s not fair.”  It’s like the irrational hope of a someone caught red-handed in sin, thinking that hiding behind the lies and finger-pointing will somehow help them escape their guilt.

That’s what happened for the first time here in Genesis 3 to Adam and Eve, but it was just the first of many.  This is what sin does to us.  It makes us afraid of our Father and friends with our foe.

There they were, Adam, Eve, and the devil newly allied with each other against God.   The three of them should have been placed like bottles on fence posts.  Boom, boom, boom.  1,2,3.  Blown to bits.  But God stepped up in a different way.  God says, “I’m going to rearrange things here. I’m going to bring Adam and Eve back to my side.”  He looks right at the devil and says this: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

This is a big verse in the Old Testament.  This is God’s declaration of war against the devil, and it’s the first indication of how God is going to win that war.  One of Eve’s own descendants, one born of a woman, would crush the devil even though it would come at a great cost to himself.  This verse is the first promise of our Savior, Jesus.

You might look at those words and say, “I don’t know if I see that!”  Why would God be so cryptic and vague?  Why didn’t he just come out with it: “Jesus Christ will die on the cross to forgive your sins?”  This promise was exactly what Adam and Eve needed in that moment, nothing more and nothing less.  God basically gave them an empty bowl of a promise that, over time, would be filled with more and more and more details.

When God said that one of Eve’s descendants, one born of a woman, would crush the head of the devil, it happened.  The fulfillment of that promise was a male born of a woman, just a woman with no human father, so that he was both true man and true God.  When God promised that he would crush the head of the devil, and the devil would strike his heal, it happened.  Jesus defeated the devil not with brute force but hidden behind weakness and suffering when he died on the cross.

God went on to describe what life would be like for Adam and Eve in a sinful world, how everything that had been perfectly good would now be bad, how their work would be frustrating and hard, how childbearing would be painful, how their marriage and relationships would now have strife.  That would be too tough to hear, if it had not been for the promise that God had spoken.

And this promise worked for Adam and Eve.  A little while later Adam and Eve had a child, and sure enough it was a boy.  Adam and Eve looked at their son and thought, “Here is the one. This is the answer to God’s promise, the Savior.”  They were a little soon.  Jesus would not come for a couple thousand years, but it shows that God’s promise worked.  Two people who had been afraid of their Father had been given faith in their Father instead.

In contrast, think about what God’s promise did to the foe, the devil.  God says to the devil, “One of Eve’s descendants is going to crush your head.”  Can you image the thoughts that filled the devils head after that promise was made?  “Who!?! When!?! Where!?!?”  But God didn’t give those details.  I can only image the devil wanting to be present for every birth after that, waiting to see if it was a boy and wondering, “Is he the one?”  How that promise taunted and tormented the devil from that point forward.

Look what our good and gracious Father is doing.  He finds people who are afraid of their Father and friends with the foe, and he gives them faith in their Father while putting all the fear on the foe. In the garden was the first time God did this, but again it’s just the first of many times after that.

You and I are so good at being the person who irrationally hopes that they can hide behind lies and finger-pointing and escape our guilt.  Part of the reason we do it is because we often forget that there’s a better solution.

God steps in with his promise to us.  He says “I am not charging you with any sin.  I declare you innocent of all guilt because I have already charged it to my Son.  The punishment you should pay, I have already given to him.  Not only are you fully forgiven and free, but, because that sin is paid for, no one can ever bring it against you again.  No one can every charge you with it because the penalty has already been paid.”

God has spoken that word to you, and every time we see a little bit of water connected to that powerful Word of God he speaks it again.  “You don’t need to be afraid of your Father anymore.  I have given you faith.  I have made you a part of the family forever.  The foe is the fearful one.”

For all who have this faith in Jesus we have undeniable and unending comfort and peace.  And that means we have no reason to hide behind excuses, lies, and finger-pointing.  God has provided the real solution to sin’s problem.

In fact, with God’s word of promise we find out that we have those two things that we desire deep down, the desire to be known and the desire to be loved.  With our Father in heaven we have someone who knows us, better than anyone, better than we even know ourselves.  And yet he still accepts us, approves of us, and loves us more than we could ever imagine.

All of this is ours from our Father through his Son, our brother.  That’s why family is most definitely and always will be better than the foe.  To God be the glory.  Amen.