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.

 

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JESUS CHANGES THE HEADLINES

I give Up

SERIES: I GIVE UP… a false sense of safety

SERMON: Luke 13

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”

 

Blood was a very normal sight for the Jewish worshipers.  Bulls, calves, goats, sheep, even some birds were regularly and daily slaughtered for offerings at the altar.  It would not make the headlines at all that blood was being shed at the Temple.  And it would not be the most shocking headline to see that the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, had found some more lawbreakers who needed to be executed.  The government kept a firm hand on the people and would not tolerate disorder.

But this time it was different.  This was the type of thing that would make your mouth drop open in shock and your head shake in disgust if you were a Jew. The headline was “Blood mixed at the altar.”  Some people from Galilee were executed while they were at the Temple courtyard making sacrifices, so their blood was mixed with the blood of their sacrifices.  It’s the kind of headline that got everyone talking.

And that’s not the only one that Jesus brings to our attention today.  Another tragedy that rocked the area was to hear that 18 lives were lost because of a terrible accident south of the Temple at the pool of Siloam.  That headline read: “18 innocent bystanders crushed in tower collapse.”

It doesn’t take a lot to imagine those kinds of headlines.  We see these types of tragedies and killings every day.  We probably have a similar reaction, too.  Why do bad things happen?  Why all the crime?  Why the accidents?  Why the diseases and hospital stays? Why the chaos as if this world has no idea what is good and what is bad, what is up and what is down?

Do you want the answer to these types of questions?  I know you do.  It’s actually a really simple one: Sin. Now, I’ve said that before, and I’d like to have a more concrete answer that you can use when you are seeing the headlines.  I’d like to clear up all the uncertainties, but God gives us only this one simple answer: sin has ruined this world.  Its grip squeezes everyone and everything: people, politics, weather, crime.  Sin is like radiation that permeates all things and brings destruction and devastation.  I can’t get rid of it.  You can’t get rid of it.  Sin will linger like a dark cloud over the earth until the voice of God says, “ENOUGH!  This is the end.  It’s time bring our people home forever.”

So, if sin is the only answer for the terrible headlines, both way back then and now, then we have to give up a false sense of safety, because not everything is ok for us.  Sin is part of my life and yours and that makes us guilty.  You and I cannot deny that, and it won’t work anyways. When I see the headlines, however, I don’t want to be lumped into the same category as the killers, rapists, and thieves. I’m guessing you don’t either.  I don’t even want to be in the category with people who are too selfish or have any other kind of undesirable trait.

And so I try to rationalize.  We all do it.  We say things like, “I would never do anything that bad. I’m glad I’m not like that.”  When we think that way, we are making levels of sin.  We put really bad people – like those who get a death sentence as Jesus brought up– way down here.  We put the pretty bad screw-ups next.  We put the foolish and selfish next up.  Then, maybe we make a category for ourselves.  We know we’ve made some mistakes, we know that we don’t always have the right attitude, and there are some pet sins that are hard to give up, but we like to think we’re not that bad.  Finally, we might even be honest enough to make a category of really good people above us.

We are the ones who naturally rationalize like this because we are human.  We rationalize because we have to find some way to cope with the guilt of sin.  We have to find a way to be safe before God.  And so we try to rationalize sin and minimize it.  When we look in the mirror we want to see someone good staring back at us. We think if we can do that well enough then we can find our way into God’s good graces.  If we can be better than others and work hard enough, then we can be right in God’s sight.

Jesus knows that we do this.  He sensed it when he was talking to these people.  So, he asked a couple questions that get to the heart of the issue. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  …Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?”  We would naturally and logically answer, “Well, yeah!  Bad people get what they deserve.”  Jesus answers these two questions much differently than we would. “Do you think some are worse sinners or more guilty than you? I tell you, no! These levels of sin that we make to look good in front of God don’t work at all.  Turns out God doesn’t have any levels for sin.  You either have it or you don’t.  Period.

Brothers and sisters, in us Jesus sees sin. You and I can try to come up with a way to cope with our guilt, you and I can try to get rid of it, hide it, or explain it away.  We can try to make ourselves safe, but you and I cannot change the truth.  We don’t carry out God’s demands. We don’t have ability to be right in God’s sight. So then, we are not the kind of people that God accepts into heaven.  Sinful people are the ones who go to hell.

However, Jesus says the headlines don’t have to be doom and gloom for us.  He says, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  So there’s our solution!  If we repent, we can avoid the whole mess. But what if I have forgotten to repent since this morning?  There are a lot of sins that I do every day, not to mention my sinful nature makes my whole life unacceptable to God.  I would almost have to walk around every second of the day saying sorry to God. And what if my repentance is not sincere enough?  Would it still count?  And what about unbelievers, how can they repent if they don’t know God?  Why would they say sorry to Jesus if they don’t believe in him as their only Savior?  Do you see how what kind of trouble we are in? If repentance is something we have to do to avoid hell or if heaven is based on how well I repent, then I’m still going to perish.

This is the point of the sermon that is like looking at headlines.  Our mouths hang open a little bit in shock. We want to stop listening, shaking our heads in utter disbelief.  We don’t know how our situation could be this bad.  But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to tell this little parable of a vineyard owner, who wanted his fig tree to be fruitful.  That makes total sense.  If you plant a fruit tree in your yard, I’m guessing you want to pick some fruit in the future.  Well, the owner didn’t find any fruit for THREE WHOLE YEARS!  He calls that tree a waste.  The owner wants it cut down.

Ok, so that doesn’t change anything, does it?  That news is still bad for us.  God is the owner and if he doesn’t see fruits of faith in your life, then he wants to cut you down.  But here’s where Jesus starts to change the headlines for us.  The gardener steps in at this bleak moment and says, “Leave it alone for one more year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.”

Jesus sees the situation very clearly.  He sees the sins in our life.  He sees how we try to rationalize them with different levels. He sees how we think maybe there’s some way I can help God fix it.  But he knows there’s nothing we can do. He knows that we can’t fix our situation by trying harder, praying more, or being sincerer in repentance. He knows we are lacking the righteousness God is looking for.  Jesus knows we deserve to be cut down and burned up forever.

And that makes him go to work to change our life.  He doesn’t want your story to end this way.  So, Jesus himself starts to work on you. He’s the only who can do this because he is the only won who is right in God’s sight.  He’s the only one who can do the job perfectly. So he picks up the shovel with his nail-pierced hands and starts digging. He digs out the excuses.  He digs out the sin.  He digs out the guilt. He digs out the rationalizing.  Making different levels for sin is not going to change anything for you.  Looking in yourself for righteousness because you aren’t that bad is not going to make you fruitful. Jesus digs all that bad soil away. That’s when he hits the roots, the stark reality is that you are not bearing fruit for God and you are dying in sin.  That leaves us feeling kind of exposed and raw, weak and helpless. That makes us realize we need some serious, life-changing help. That leads us to confess that we are not safe and we need serious, saving help.  That’s when Jesus starts shoveling on the nutrients and the fertilizer. He fills up the gaping holes around the roots where sin used to be with his forgiveness.  He loads on his love in place of the guilt.  He packs on his promises in exchange for the excuses. He replaces our rationalizing with his perfect righteousness. Then, he keeps watering with his Word and waits.

Did you notice how long the work takes? It’s not one time.  It’s not a couple days a week for a while.  It’s every day for a whole year.  If you want fruitful results tomorrow, don’t be disappointed if there isn’t any fruit yet.   Jesus is doing the work underground at your roots first.  Jesus is feeding you and strengthening you.  He’s getting you strong and healthy. And that might take some time.  But don’t give up.  Jesus isn’t. He’s not ever going to give up on you.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is working on you.  He is working on you with his law and gospel.  He is working on you with repentance and faith. This means he changes our bad headlines.  He changes the focus from our own miserable mistakes and failing fixes.  He changes our attention, so that we see him and everything he has done and still does for us.

Do you think that it will work when Jesus does all these things to you?  Jesus doesn’t finish the story.  He doesn’t tell us what happens.  But if God planted the tree and if Jesus works on that tree to get rid of the bad and nurture and feed it with his goodness, then what do you think the headline will be?  “Sinner is saved.”  “Guilty is innocent.” “Fruit instead of fire.”  That’s you.  That’s me.  That’s our headline through the work of Jesus Christ.  To him be thanks and praise forever. Amen.

TURNING YOUR CONVERSATIONS

Walls torn down

Acts 17:16-33

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ r As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council.

 

 

A place where a ton of ideas about God and religion swirl around every day.  A place where idols are all over the place.  A place where some people spend a lot of time browsing through the latest ideas and popular trends.  A place where disputes among the “smart” people rage regularly.  A place where ones preaching about Jesus can get many differing reactions.  A place where people want to know what things mean.  Do you know what place I’m talking about?  Isn’t it obvious? The place is Athens back in the day of the Apostle Paul.

But doesn’t it also sound like it could be another place at another time?  Doesn’t it sound like this could be right near your home, your work, your school.  Absolutely!  This plays out on Facebook and Twitter every day.  It happens at your family get togethers, the grocery store, the weekend games, the mall, and so many others. This kind of thing is what you and I deal with every day here in 2018.

But this world will make it easy and even demand you to ignore it.  I was on the phone this week for over an hour trying to get an issue with my Microsoft Office 365 fixed.  The man on the other line was from India, literally he was talking with me at 11pm from the country of India, in some city I cannot pronounce that has over 12 million people.  His name was Srinivasan (and yes, it took me an embarrassing amount of attempt to get that right).  There was plenty of down time during our conversation because he was on the remote access to my computer uninstalling things and reinstalling others to make sure my Office 365 worked properly.  So, I was nosy and asked him a lot of personal questions, sports, food, schooling, relationship status – all the basics.    But when I got to religion Srinivasan politely answered my question but then told me that religion and politics are not allowed for these calls.

And that has a way of trickling down into our day to day lives, doesn’t it?  If you want to keep your friends, family, coworkers and everybody else happy, then these two highly-debated topics should come up seldom and when they do come up, try to be quick, discrete and considerate.  However, to be safe you should still avoid them at all costs.

If you avoid the topic of religion in your conversations with people that you care about and know well, you can probably guess what will happen in your conversations with people who you don’t know very well or at all.  You won’t be thinking of God’s Word, faith, or church much in those conversations either.  So, if you have regularly avoided the topics of religion, spiritual life, Jesus, and the Bible both with the people you know and those you don’t know in the past, what do you expect will happen now and in the future?  Are you able to just switch it on?

I don’t know if that makes a lot of sense.  Think of a kid who played soccer in middle school but then gives it up besides watching it here and there until he’s 33 and his kids want to learn.  He might be able to show some simple things like where to kick the ball on your foot and how to pass, but he won’t have much skill or experience.  I found this out first hand when we had our Bible soccer camp this past summer.  Sure I can kick a ball, but it might not go where I want it to all the time.  And I didn’t have any kind of footwork or dribbling or receiving skills.  I could play with the kids, but with soccer players my own age I wouldn’t be able to do much at all.

If that’s the way you are going to treat evangelism and sharing the good news of Jesus with others, then don’t expect to be all that comfortable talking about Jesus, about what he has done for you or about what the Bible says on key issues.  If your faith in Jesus is simply a Sunday thing, then what about the rest of the week?  How can you carry out God’s Great Commission for believers to go and make disciples, if you aren’t thinking and talking about Jesus and what he has done regularly?

I’ve done it.  I’ve skipped the chance to talk about my Savior.  I think it’s safe to assume that we all have.  Whether it was nerves, worry, doubt, fear, lack of skill, lack of knowledge, lack of love, it doesn’t matter.  It was wrong.

But I have a feeling that God might give you another chance. That coworker that complains too much might just be at it again on Monday.  That classmate who looks sad and alone will still be at school.  Your waitress if you go out this week might be new in town and trying to figure it all out.  You might run into a cousin who’s got some difficulties and stress building up.  The neighbor who is a little annoying might come by.  Someone who comes for our Trunk-or-Treat event might have some questions.  The chatty dad at swim lessons might pick the seat next to you.  You get the point. There are and will continue to be people around you who are just like the people at the Areopagus or the lady at the well.

It’s not like you have to come out and tell every single person that you run across in a day that Jesus is their Savior from sin and hell.  You could, God bless you, you could.  But I think it’s good to remember who you are when you are out and about with people.  You are a Paul. You are an Ezekiel.  You are a person who, at one point in life whether it was for a couple of days or decades, was against God.  Sin and unbelief are a real part of your past.  You were on the natural born path to hell, but God stepped in to remove your sin through faith in Jesus.  Jesus changed your heart with the power of the gospel in Word and Sacrament.  You were baptized, brought to faith, connected to Jesus and his eternal gift of life.  You were adopted by God into his family.  The Holy Spirit took up residence in your heart.  You were purchased by Jesus.  Faith took root and gave you a new home in heaven and a new outlook in this life.

When God did this for you with the power of the gospel, the faith he planted was not a 1/7 kind of faith.  What I mean is, faith was not planted in your heart so that you could think about it, talk about it, treasure it, confess it, share it only on Sundays.  It was planted there for 7 out of 7 days.  The God-given gift of faith is in your heart to be there for your entire life.

And that faith that God gave you is not the selfish type.  It’s not timid and lazy.  It’s not nervous and weak.  The same power of the gospel that changed your heart is at work to make you look and talk to others the way God looks and talks to you.

So how do you navigate in an environment where there are a ton of ideas about God and religion swirling around?  How can you boldly speak up about Jesus where idols are all over the place?  How can you bring up spiritual matters when they seem to get many differing reactions?

Look what Paul does. (quote a couple things from 22-31)

Paul is a Christian who walks through a city with Christian eyes, seeing that there are obviously some things that aren’t quite in line with God.  And yet, he doesn’t bash their superstitions and idolatry but uses them as a launching pad into evangelism.  He doesn’t say, “Well, you have your beliefs and I have mine.”  No, he uses their popular religious views, the words from their own poets, and the cultural philosophies to point to the truth of God.

Paul saw how people were creating their own ideas of God, distorting and distilling the Lord of heaven and earth down to the size their brains could handle. Instead of walking away from it, Paul uses a very logical progression.  It’s almost like he is saying, “If God is bigger than us and hard to figure out, then why would it work for us to turn God into something smaller than us that we can make?  That doesn’t make sense.  But what does make sense is that the God of everything wants people to believe in him.  And he even rose from the dead to prove how powerful, and how much he cares about you.”  Paul uses simple law that points out idolatry as sin.  Paul uses simple gospel that points to Jesus power over death for us.  He goes from what is common to us to describe what is unique about God.

And he doesn’t worry about the results.  Sure, some sneered at him, but others were interested.  And Paul didn’t let that stop him, because the power of God’s good news works.  We can’t control where and when – that’s up to God – but we can control our use of it.

Brothers and sisters, you can do the very same thing with the Christian eyes, heart, and life that God has given you.  You can see things from the spiritual, eternal perspective. You can use the love God has placed in your heart that is willing to help others.  You can use the Word God has given you in the Bible regularly.  You can speak to others using simple every day examples to turn conversations to what matters most.

So when the weather comes up, you can talk about the creator of the world and all its weather.  When negative news comes up again, you can bring up the one who gets rid of the negativity of sin and death.  When someone is going through a rough patch, you can identify with that, right? And then talk about the one who brings peace and joy.  When a storm rages and destroys some part of the country, you can talk about the only shelter you have from the storms.  When your sports team isn’t doing that great, you can talk about the victory Jesus has won.  And on and on.  Jesus is right there in any conversation because he is right there in your heart.

It doesn’t take a genius to do this.  Paul was no philosopher.  He had the gospel and he had God’s promise.  That’s what you have, too.  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.

LIFE WITHOUT IGNORANCE

4.15.18 Easter 3B

 

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John 10:11-18

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

 

They say, “Ignorance is bliss,” but I’m not so sure.  Is it really bliss to not know what turn to take when you are in a new place?  (running in Miles City, MT) Is it really bliss to not understand what is causing your sickness or pain?  Is it bliss to not have all the information that was covered in the last unit before the test?  Is it really bliss to not know what is causing problems between you and your spouse or your children?  Is it really bliss to misunderstand the real problem in your life?  Is it really bliss to not recognize that the biggest, most soul-crushing, most peace-removing, most fear-creating, most life-draining problem has already been completely taken care of for you?  Is ignorance bliss?

Turns out that it’s not.  And so, we try to convince ourselves that we are not ignorant.  We try to make sure that we have it all figured out.  If some questions arise, then we make sure we have good places to find the answers that we want.

This is exactly the way the Pharisees operated during Jesus’ day.  They were the religious gurus.  They knew all the laws and had all the answers.  So, when they heard that a man who was born blind was healed on the Sabbath, they had some questions.  And when they heard that it was Jesus, they were more than upset.  “Healing? On the Sabbath?  What is this world coming to?  This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath…We know this man is a sinner.”  No ignorance there.  They knew it all, supposedly.

But later when Jesus finds the man he healed, he says, “…I have come into this world so that the blind will see and the those who see will become blind.”  His point is that those who are ignorant of Jesus will be brought into the know, and those who think they have it all figured out, in reality, have no spiritual insight at all.

Some Pharisees hear what Jesus says and thought it was absolutely ludicrous.  They retort,  “What? Are we blind too?”  They didn’t see it, couldn’t see it.  They were ignorant of Jesus, thinking that they had all the answers.

This is the context that leads Jesus to start talking about sheep and shepherds.  Sheep have the reputation of being stubborn, ignorant animals, and that can lead them into dangerous situations.  That’s why they need a shepherd.  They need one who knows them, knows their wayward tendencies, knows their foolishness, and knows how to care for them.

It’s great that sheep like us have a good shepherd.  Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

I absolutely love to hear how much Jesus loves us and cares for us.  How about you?  This section of Scripture is so comforting that way.  But this next line is one that makes you stop and think: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me –  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…”  There is no ignorance with Jesus.  He knows us.  He knows EV – ERY – THING about us.  He knows …all of it.  You cannot hide it.  He also knows his love for you and how he saved you from your ignorant, dangerous sin.  He stepped in for you.

But then there’s this line “my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…”  Sheep do have the reputation of being dumb and ignorant to their surroundings and any kind of danger.  But when it comes to the shepherd – there is no ignorance – they know their shepherd.  You can look up YouTube videos of it.  Strangers call the sheep and they don’t even look up from grazing, but when the shepherd calls…they look up, they bleat, and they start running toward the shepherd. The shepherd did the work to get that close familiarity.  He brought them into his flock or he reared them and made them accustomed to his voice.

So, I guess it makes me wonder, how’s that going for you?  Do you know your shepherd?  Can you tell when it’s him or someone else?  Can you answer questions people have about Jesus?  about the Bible?  about faith and spiritual life?  Can you talk about Jesus and the Bible with the same familiarity that you talk about your family, your work, and other passions you have?

Or is it possible that sometimes we say, “Ignorance is bliss?”  Have you done that before?  Have you made excuses for not knowing your Good Shepherd the way you should? Sometimes we come up with some doosies.  Maybe you have tried some of these:

“I did that already.  Isn’t that what catechism class is for?  I studied a lot back then, but that was my graduation from studying passages and reading God’s Word so much.”   Does that work for your job?  “Oh, well I studied that type of stuff in depth when I was 13.  I don’t need to study the new developments in technology, laws, code, systems.  I’ve got it all from when I was 13.”  Yeah right!  The same is true for Catechism class. It is just the beginning.  The problem is laziness, apathy, ignorance, prioritizing or just plain old stubbornness.

The Good Shepherd responds, “Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

“I get it.  I should study what Jesus says so that I can hear his voice better, but there are a lot of voices.  It’s hard to make sense of them all.”  That’s not really a good reason to neglect the place where your Savior’s voice is heard. If anything, that is a huge reason to get into his Word even more, to hear what he says and not what others say about him.

The Good Shepherd calls, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  He says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,  now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” 

“But I’m so busy with kids, work, and all the stuff that goes on.  I’m so drained. I try to make it to worship, but that’s the best I can do.” During the business of life is exactly when we need the Shepherd.  He’s got the right perspective for us.  He’s got the right goals for us.  He’s got the nourishment that sustains us.

The Good Shepherd says, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

“Pastor, I just don’t think it’s my job to know all this Bible stuff so much.  Isn’t that your job?  I’ll call you if I need anything.”  I hope you realize that God did not write the Bible just for pastors.  He gives his law and gospel to everyone.

The Good Shepherd reminds, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

These kinds of excuses prove that we are sheep who are lacking – whether we want to admit it or not.  Too often, we live as ignorant sheep, and it is not bliss at all.  It’s dangerous.  It’s destructive.  It’s leading right to the open jaws of the wolf, who wants nothing more than to munch on lamb chops for eternity.

Jesus is not ignorant of all this.  He knows the situation, that sheep wander, that sheep are helpless, that sheep without a shepherd will die.  So, the Good Shepherd put himself in danger.  He paid the price for our ignorance.  He laid down his life, so that we would never know that kind of pain.  He gave himself up so that we would be unfamiliar with sin’s real punishment.  You and I will never know what hell is like because we have a shepherd like Jesus.  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

But if that’s all he did, we would be left alone to our selfishness and pride.  Our sin would fracture the flock.  We would be constantly harassed by the victorious wolf, who felled the Good Shepherd and foiled his plan.  We would still be lost in eternal ignorance.

But we don’t just have a Good Shepherd who took our death.  This is the continuing celebration of Easter.  We have a Good Shepherd who gives us his life, his victory over death.  “I lay down my life—only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.”  The wolf thought he could creep in among ignorant sheep with no shepherd, but he was wrong.

CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN, INDEED! The Good Shepherd lives.  And because he does our hopelessness, our excuses, our ignorance – all of that is rolled away.  Instead, God reveals everything he does for us.  The Good Shepherd washed us clean and brought us into God’s flock.  His refreshing spring of Baptism is an ongoing reminder of who we are.  He gives us the comfortable pastures of his Word where there are no enemies who can come in and snatch us.  He nourishes and strengthens us with the green pastures of his Supper.

“I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”  Easter is the end of our ignorance.  Jesus knows us and we know him by the means he has given us, his Word and Sacraments. Easter is also the end of selfish ignorance, thinking that you are all alone with your Good Shepherd.  No, there are more sheep in this flock. “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

Sometimes you might not know it, but there are wandering sheep who are watching you and listening to you.  They see how you are well fed and cared for.  They see how you have peace and joy.  They see how protected and safe you are in the face of enemies and even death.  These frightened, lonely sheep might just ask you about your shepherd.  They might want to know him, too.  Brothers and sisters, your ignorance is rolled away. Don’t ever think that you don’t have what it takes to talk about your shepherd.  Don’t ever think you don’t know enough.  Don’t ever think your words won’t work.  Your Shepherd knows you and he will guide you.  Don’t be surprised that he can use you to reach more sheep.

They say ignorance is bliss, but I don’t think so.  Jesus knows you and he says that you know him.  That means ignorance is rolled away and in it’s place you have life in the Good Shepherd’s flock forever.  Amen.

A BIGGER PERSPECTIVE

10.22.17 Week 4

STILL

Genesis 15:1-6

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield, 
your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

 

Last Sunday was a great day.  God’s grace was on display as we talked about this key concept of Grace Alone.  God makes a bold promise to us that salvation, righteousness, and heaven are not based on who we are or what we do but on who he is and what he does for us.  God’s grace was on display when I poured a little simple water and spoke God’s powerful Word on my son.  God’s grace was present along with the body and blood of our Lord in the miraculous meal we call the Lord’s Supper.  Mandy’s parents were here (there’s a pretty amazing story on how that almost didn’t happen).  My parents were here.  After church and Bible study was the 12 o’ clock football game, Packers vs. Vikings.  The Packers were heavily favored to win and take a pretty good lead in the North division.  Then, the game took a turn when Aaron Rodgers broke a collar bone.  It was just that one player in one game, but in that moment, it felt like a dark cloud descended on the Packers’ whole season.  For Packers fans it’s a devastating loss.

But what if we aren’t talking about Aaron Rodgers, the Packers, or football?  What if it’s life that seems to be overcast by bad moments, bad decisions, bad losses?  Does that happen to you?  Do you ever get blindsided by something that seems to bring a dark cloud over everything?  Do you ever lose sight of what God has done, what he is doing, and what he will do for you?

When we see Abram today, he should have been enjoying this amazing moment in his life.  He had just completed a covert mission that Hollywood would make a movie about.  War had come to the Jordan River valley.  King Kedorlaomer and his allies swooped in on the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and sacked their towns.  They took everything: the goods, the animals, and the people.  Among the plunder was Abram’s nephew Lot and his family.  They were carried off as the plunder of war.

One escaped and reported back to Abram the Hebrew.  And he leaped into action with 318 trained men from just his household.  To have that many in his compound tells you that Abram was a powerful and wealthy man in the region.  He gets together his men and 3 of his allies and heads off in pursuit.  He chased down this victorious army and in the middle of the night God gave him an amazing victory.  Abram recovered everything.  He brought everyone back safe and sound.  And when he was offered a hefty reward, he turned it down because it was all in the Lord’s hands.

That’s when you cue the triumphant music, fade out to show all the rejoicing, and roll the credits, right?  That’s what “after this…” refers to.  Abram had been following God.  He enjoyed so many great blessings from the Lord along the way.  Abram should be at one of those high points in life when you just bask in the glow, like when your son is baptized.

But that’s just it!  Abram is grateful for the victory, but there is no son to share it with.  Abram is worried and anxious and afraid that the Lord has run out of time.  He was old.  His wife was old.  The Lord had made a promise that Abram would carry on the line of the Savior.  Abram had the promise from God that he would have a son, but even after this great victory Abram is caught in a moment where the dark cloud was hanging over him.

One night the Lord appears to Abram and here is what he says: “Don’t be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.”  It’s a little bit of a pep talk, kind of like the one that all Packer fans need when you see Aaron Rodgers posting pics from a hospital bed after surgery on his broken collar bone.

But kind of like Packer fans who are looking at the probability of the backup leading the offense the rest of the season, this is how Abram responds: “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?  You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

There are plenty of times when we bring our requests to God.  It’s called prayer and it is a powerful blessing in the life of a Christian.  You never have to be afraid to say anything to God. He wants us to pray and he promises to listen.  You can speak to God as much as you want, but don’t make the mistake of speaking for God.  That’s not faith.

But that’s what Abram did.  He said, “Lord, you are not going to give me a son.  You’ve given me power, wealth, influence, protection, victory. Thank you, Lord, but you have not given me a son.  I will make a servant my heir.”  Abram is now speaking for God.  He’s narrowed in on one thing, one way, one path that God has to follow.  Abram points out his plan as if that is the only one God can use.

Do you think Abram is the only one who has tried talking for God?  Or is it possible, probable even, that there have been a few times or more when we have presented God with the plan for my life.  I’d like this job and this income.  I’d like this many kids and this kind of house.  I’d like me and my family to be this healthy.  I’d like my love life to look like this and my social life to look like that. When a few of the things on the list are missing, what happens?  When there is a cloud hanging over you, is there only one way you see that will get you to brighter days?  These are times when somehow, someway we think we can talk for God.

At best, this way of speaking for God is ignorance coming from our puny brains that have such little perspective in this universe.  At worst, it is arrogance coming from our puffed-up self-righteousness.  Either way it’s not faith.  Faith doesn’t bring my plans for my life to the eternal, the all-powerful, the all-knowing, the perpetually-present Creator of all things.  Faith doesn’t make me bigger than God, it enjoys being so so so much smaller.

Here’s the point, some of God’s promises require a bigger perspective. It’s like the floor at the Bismarck airport.  If you stand in one spot, you see some meandering pieces of blue tiles among the tan and brown leading nowhere.  You may also notice some names here and there.  Up close it isn’t much. But if you go up the stairs to get a bigger perspective, you see that it’s the Missouri River and the whole floor is laid out almost like a map of central North Dakota.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord has made some huge promises to you.  This powerful Creator, this unchanging Redeemer, this grace-pouring Spirit has said, “I will be with you always.”  He has assured you that he is your shield and fortress.  He has dedicated himself to work everything in life for your good.  He promises things like joy, peace, hope and eternity.  These are not little promises.  We can’t measure some of these promises over a few days or months.  To see the beauty, we need to step back for a bigger perspective.  We need to see just how big and beautiful God’s promises are.

That’s faith.  It’s not clinging to our plans.  It’s not focusing on little snapshots of my life.  It’s trusting that God is much bigger than you are.  It’s believing that he has a plan much better than mine.  It’s resting still on what Jesus has done.

That’s why God said, “Abram, get out of that tent.  I’ve got a promise that is bigger than you can understand in there.  Come outside with me to the stillness of the night sky.  Abram, you are worried about me giving you one son.  You are talking for me about this one little detail.  Abram, look up at the stars.  You are worried about one son.  You can’t even begin to count them all.  Abram, this is what I’m going to do for you.  This is how big my promises are.”

I know some of you are here today in the same situation as Packer fans, with a cloud hanging over you just wondering how it’s going to turn out.  I know some of you are worried about where your life is going.  I know some of you are wondering about health problems for you or a loved one.  I know some of you are worried about your kids, how they’re doing at daycare or school and how you’re doing as a parent.  Some of you are praying and praying wondering if God is hearing you.  And when God’s promises seem to contradict your plans or the cloudy circumstances surrounding you right now, it’s easy to stop speaking to God and start speaking for God.  But that’s not faith.

That’s why God takes us out of our natural and narrow view.  He works on us like he did for Abram when he took him out to the vast sky full of stars.  He works on us, taking us out into the vastness of his holy Word.  He works to give us the bigger perspective.

Do you know what you are going to see?  Your Father says, “You are going to see that before this world began I knew you by name.  Before I set the stars in the sky, I made the plan and the promise to make you mine.  You will see what happened 2,000 years ago when I gave you the Savior to take all your sins away.  I gave you my Son to free you from the gates of hell.  Get the bigger perspective and see that years ago I did the work to wash you and cleanse you.  I connected you.  I brought you into my family.  Take a step back and see my plan for your future.  I have plans to give you a life that stretches beyond the decades you have left on this earth.  I have plans to cure your cancer.  I have plans to stop your pain.  I have plans to fix your loneliness.  I have plans to give you peace and joy forever in my home for eternity.”

When you have a God who promises that, then you see things differently.  You get a bigger perspective.  When you have a God who does that kind of work on your behalf and in your life, it changes you.  It’s called faith for a reason.  Because it is not based in your plans, on what you know, or on what you do.  Faith is based on God’s plan, on what God knows, and on what God does.

Abram believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness.  God changed Abram’s perspective and gave him a bigger view of his promises.  When you have a God who steps into your life with his promises, then you have a bigger perspective, too.  With that trust solely worked by God and grounded solely in him, look what God does.  He puts his righteousness on you.  You look like Christ to him through faith alone.

That’s a word that once caused so much anxiety 500 years ago.  Luther hated righteousness, because it was something you had to work for.  The church told you that to be right with God you had to make yourself right. But God took him out from that canopy the church had erected. God took him out into the vastness of his Word.  God worked through the Word to show Luther a man like Abram, who did not get righteousness by following his plan or even doing God’s work but by trusting God had the plan and God does the work.  God took Luther out into the Word, and there he saw that righteousness is a gift given though faith in Christ. And faith is not what you do.  Faith is not talking for God.  Faith is God taking you out to get his perspective on your life.  Out there God shows you something different than your work or your plans.  Out there he shows you everything he has done for you.  He shows you his promises.  He shows you the Savior providing the full price for forgiveness.  He shows you the Spirit working through Word and Sacrament.  He shows you the new life that is yours forever as his child, a new life that loves to leave things in God’s hands trusting that he has it all worked out for me.

That kind of perspective is bigger than anything we could come up with.  It’s from the God who loves you and rescued you.  It’s from the God who has done the work to make you his through faith alone.  Amen.

 

ROCK SOLID

9.10.17 Pentecost 14A

Matthew 16:13-18

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, e and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

The days are getting a little bit shorter.  The mornings are getting a little brisk. Do you know what that means?  It’s football season.  Players, coaches, and fans are getting pumped for that one big game a week.

But you know, it’s not just one day a week for those players and coaches.  Before the offense can gain one yard in a game or the defense can break up one pass, they have to take a step back.  Coaches have to review last season and prep for a new one.  Players rigorously condition themselves for the upcoming season.  Teams have to pick up players and let others go.  There’s training camp practices and the meaningless preseason games.  Then, after all that, they finally get to the good stuff, games that count, games that we love to watch.  And each week before they play on Sundays, they take a step back to get ready for the game.

Jesus did that with his disciples and he does it with us, too.  In our September series, we see Jesus in the third and final year of his ministry, and he is taking a step back with his disciples because the time is coming soon when he will be gone.  He retreats, in a way, from those who want him to be an earthly power and provider and from those who vigorously oppose him to focus his attention on the disciples so that when his departure happens they will be ready to move forward.

And on this little retreat, Jesus has a question that will help the disciples and us to move forward.  He asks, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  And it really shouldn’t surprise us, the kind of answers that were swirling around in that day.  John the Baptist back from the dead, Elijah back from heaven, Jeremiah back from the dead, or a prophet.  All those answers say that Jesus was powerful, helpful, sent for the Lord’s work, and so on.  The same kind answers still float around today.  Who is Jesus?  He’s a great teacher of how to live in a divisive world.  He is the epitome of unifying love.  He is a powerful man who shows us how to live for God.

These answers have transformed over the years and they always will because this world is fluid. That means things fluctuate and change.  We love the Celebrity Apprentice Trump and hate the President Trump.  We need God and prayers during devastating hurricanes and fires, but we can totally ignore him during times of success and happiness. These waves are all over the place and always will be.

However, Jesus pushes through all of those fluid answers and asks the disciples point blank, “What about you? Who do you say I am?” Peter speaks up for the group, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

In a fluid world of do whatever makes you happy and be your own truth, Jesus would have said, “Those are all good answers.  Everyone gets a gold star,” but he didn’t.  Because Jesus isn’t wishy washy.  He does not fluctuate and change.  Instead, he picks one answer and he highlights something that’s still important for us today.  He does not highlight Peter as this supreme spiritual and theological thinker.  He highlights where this answer came from.

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.  And I tell you that you are Peter…” Jesus is saying, “Peter, you did not come up with this answer by yourself, and no one else told you.  This did not come from flesh and blood.”  Notice that one of those actually is a liquid and the other isn’t really solid but pretty flexible and squishy.  The only way Peter could come up with this answer to Jesus’ question is because it came from the Father in heaven.  That made his answer not only right but also rock solid.  And so Jesus said Simon, the flesh and blood son of Jonah, was now Peter, the rock, in whom God the Father had planted this rock solid faith.

In this line of questioning, Jesus is showing us the difference between what is liquid in our lives and what is rock solid. Anything that comes from flesh and blood, anything that comes from within us, and anything that comes from the world around us is going to be liquid.  It will fluctuate and change.  That doesn’t always mean that it’s evil, but it does mean that it’s probably not something on which to build your life.

For example, the things that were important to you as a 7 year old probably seemed useless as a 17 year-old. And those things that you cared about so much as a high schooler didn’t matter much to you as a 27 year-old.  When I was seven, I was thinking a boombox with two tape decks was the jam.  I could record songs off the radio onto blank tapes. I watched Nickelodeon cartoons and wore sweatpants to school, where the conversations were generally about sports and if you saw anyone eating their boogers in class. By 17, iPod was the new jam.  I didn’t have one, but I was jealous of those who did.  You could put your CDs into the computer and then magically all of your music files could be stored on this little device, all your music on one device!  It was amazing.  At 17, we talked about sports and boogers but also girls and dates. Nickelodeon gave way to MTV and ESPN.  I played the drums in a band, wore wide leg jeans, some corduroy and khakis, and had a couple jobs.  By 27, I was married, a pastor, and getting ready for my first kid to be born.  In just 2 decades everything changed.  It was liquid.  I’m sure glad I didn’t build my life on boomboxes and Nickelodeon or iPods and wide leg jeans.

Brothers and sisters, isn’t it possible that 10 years from now we might look back on things that seemed so important and so solid in our lives and realize they were all too fluid and fluctuating.  Anything that comes from flesh and blood is going to be that way.  That doesn’t mean it’s evil, but it is going to change.

In contrast, if anything is going to be rock solid, if anything is going to be absolute and objective, it must come not from inside of any of us but from outside of all of us.  Right at the top of the list is Jesus’ identity.  Jesus is the Son of the living God.  He is the Messiah, the anointed Savior that God sent to pay for the sins of all people and save us from hell.  That wasn’t just what Peter felt about things.  That wasn’t just his opinion.  That wasn’t subject to change.  That wasn’t just a “what does Jesus mean to you” kind of thing.  It’s the rock solid truth for all time.

In fact, you could make the argument that this truth is even more solid for us, here and now, than it was for Peter, because we have something that he had not yet seen during this retreat with Jesus.  The truth about Jesus’ identity is as rock solid as that big giant rock that was rolled away from Jesus’ tomb revealing it to be empty on Easter.  Jesus wants us to see the important difference between what is solid and what is liquid.

But what makes one better than the other?  Our culture would make it so easy for me to make liquid sound great.  Liquid is flexible. Liquid is adaptable.  Liquid is relaxed.  Liquid is go with the flow. Liquid is like totally easy-going man.  It would also be easy for me to make solid sound bad.  Solid is set.  Solid is rigid.  Solid is hard to handle. Solid is an old standby (emphasis on old).

What makes solid better and something that we need in our lives?  Jesus goes on to tell us. “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” All of us have liquid in our lives, and that’s not bad, but it is essential not only to have something solid in life but to be built on something that cannot fluctuate and change.  We need something that hurricanes and fires cannot devastate or demolish. We need something that death cannot conquer.  Right at the top of the list is the truth that God put in Peter’s heart and on his lips, the truth that boldly confesses Jesus as the Son of God and the only one who saves the world from sin, the truth that cannot be stopped, not even by death and hell.

Liquid is in our lives because we live in a world where things change.  We all have goals and dreams.  We all have hobbies and interests and passions.  There is nothing wrong with that.  And then, we take those liquid things that are nice to have and we turn them into things that we have to have.  Do you ever notice that?  We turn them from things that we could sacrifice to things that we will sacrifice for.  We turn them from things we could easily live without into things we build our lives upon.  Again, it doesn’t make any of those things evil.  The problem is that they are liquid.

Think about all of the damage that liquid can do to us.  I’m not talking about hurricanes or floods but the fluid ways of our world.  They carry us – slowly so that we won’t notice at first and steadily so that we won’t see how far we have gone – a way from God floundering in the storms that crash toward us, crush us down, and destroy us.

So, isn’t it great to hear that God has provided the rock solid foundation for us to avoid the watery ways of this world?  Isn’t it stabilizing that by his death and resurrection Christ has made himself the chief cornerstone for your life?  Isn’t it powerful and inspirational that this truth can bring more people to the solid ground that your life is built upon?  And isn’t it astounding that this rock solid faith can conquer that gates of death and hell?

This is what the Father in heaven has given you, brothers and sisters.  You have this rock solid faith that stands up to the tumultuous waves of the devil, this world, and your own sinful flesh.   You have this rock solid defense that God uses in every situation to keep you safe.  But everyone knows that you need more than defense to win games.  That’s why Jesus is also your offense.  Not even death and hell can stop your faith in Jesus from taking you to heaven and giving others his sure foundation along the way.

Today is the kickoff.  I’m not talking about football.  It’s our kickoff for our various opportunities to grow in God’s Word and to grow in the faith that so boldly professes his name.  Each one of them is really nothing more than a chance to further build our lives on the rock solid foundation of Jesus Christ.  As you look over the bibles studies, the question is really not, “Will I attend?”  It’s not so much, “Do I find these topics interesting or useful?  Will I have time in my busy schedule?”  The question that we will continually ask about every aspect of our life is, “Am I standing, am I building on something solid or something liquid?  Am I standing on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ?”   That ground is rock solid and always will be.  If you want to take any step forward in life, make sure you are standing on Christ the solid rock.  Amen.