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.

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GOD MADE IT SO WE BELIEVE, TEACH, AND CONFESS IT

Week 6- 7.16.17

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Hebrews 11:3

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

 

The very first words of Scripture are, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The first two chapters of Scripture detail how God did that. So why is this sermon on creation and preservation number 6 in our Lutheran Legacy series, when it is on page number 1 in the Bible?

The answer is here in Hebrews 11:3.  “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command…” By “faith” the writer means saving faith, faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Without knowledge of Christ and trust in him alone, the account of creation makes no sense.

That means we first need to know who God is before we can understand what he made.  We covered that in the first week, the festival of the Holy Trinity.  Before we understand how this world got here we also need to know what our standing is before God, how does he see us.  That’s where those 4 key concepts of the Bible that we covered in the 2 and third weeks come in.   God tells us about our sin and he shows his undeserved and unearned love toward fallen mankind.  His grace gave us the greatest gift we could ever have, a Savior, Christ the Lord.  His grace is so completely responsible for turning us from unbelief that it also creates faith in us to believe and understand who God is and what he does.  The faith he plants in us through the Word and sacraments will produce the fruit that God expects of his children.

Does all of this sound familiar?  It’s what we have covered so far.  It’s the legacy that we carry on as Lutherans. It’s this faith alone that we confess before all the world, faith that is built on grace alone found in Scripture alone. This is the faith that God gives us so that we can believe, teach, and confess how God created and preserves the world.

So, here we are now at week 6, Creation.  Genesis 1 and 2 tell us that God created the universe out of nothing in six normal days, by the power of his Word. On Day 1, he began his creation with light. He simply spoke and it came into existence. God divided the day into a period of darkness and a period of light. On Day 2 he separated the water into waters above and waters below, with the sky or heavens in between. On Day 3 he organized the waters below the sky into seas and had dry ground appear. He also had the land produce seed-bearing plants and vegetation, according to their kinds. On Day 4 he created the sun, moon, stars, and all the heavenly bodies to serve as signs, to regulate the time into seasons, and to give light on the earth at various times. On Day 5 he created the sea creatures and winged creatures, according to their kinds, and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. On Day 6 he created the land creatures, according to their kinds, and then he crowned his creation with mankind. He formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, so that he became a living being. After Adam had named all the animals, God caused him to fall into a deep sleep and he took a rib from Adam and used it to build Eve from the dust of the ground. He also commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. And on Day 7 God rested from all the work of creating, with which he was now finished. It was all very good, perfect.

Of course that perfect creation has changed tremendously since God made it. The devil, a fallen angel, tempted Adam and Eve to sin. They used their free will to follow his temptation.  With that sin changed the world into a place of selfishness, corruption and death. Every human conceived by a human father and mother since the fall into sin is conceived and born sinful. Yes, we enjoy the blessings and beauties that remain in God’s creation, but it’s not the perfection of Eden.  Instead, this world continues to suffer the decay sin causes.

And as the stench of sin grows, the sweet fragrance of God’s Word is covered up and his creation forgets about him.  This even happens among us.  Where God planted faith to make us beautiful and holy in his sight, the devil uses the Old Adam to rear sin’s ugly face. Many get caught up in the apathetic mantra, “who cares.”  Some say the Bible serves as a good resource of life lessons and self-help tips, but they also turn to the trending “wisdom” found in posts and blogs. Others defiantly deny God’s work and his word as a bunch of fairy tales.

And the biggest argument against God’s account of creation coming from science is evolution.  Everything happened to work out over billions of years.  The sun, the stars, the planets, they just formed out of a massive expansion of energy called, “The Big Bang.”  Gradually since then, life grew from simple forms to the more complex until it reached its highest form, mankind.

The “scientific theory” of evolution is a closer to faith-based thinking than scientific reasoning.  Because where did the rapidly expanding matter come from?  Why has another Big Bang not happened?  If everything has been gradually evolving over billions of years, then we should not be able to classify all life into different kinds. It should just be one long continuum ranging from less complex life to more complex life, with every possible combination and variation in between. At the very least, there should be tons of evidence for these in-between life forms. But there is not.

Ultimately, though, we can’t prove creation either.  So how do we know and follow what God says about creation?  Why do we care about it?  It’s a faith issue.  The Bible says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”  We believe it because God says it, because God made it happen.  It’s the same for everything in the Bible.  We believe that God had a plan to save us from the corruption of sin, from the decay of this world, from the destruction of death.  We believe that Jesus left heaven to carry out that plan.  We believe that God’s Son paid the full price for our corruption.  We believe that God’s Son proved this by conquering death on the third day.  We believe that God’s Son ascended back to heave to rule all things for the benefit of his people and to prepare a place for us.  And we believe that if God loved us like this, even when we don’t deserve it, that he is more trustworthy than any mortal scientist or modern philosopher who claims to have the answer.

If Bill Nye would die for my sins and rise from the dead, then I would believe in him and his theories of how this world got here.  But he has not and he cannot.  Only Jesus Christ could and did.  Jesus Christ does not teach me the theory of evolution or allow it be an option for my understanding.  Instead, he takes me to his Word and the account of creation, inspired by the Spirit.  So that is what you and I believe, teach, and confess.

What is important to remember in all this, is that the Lord God who created this world in 6 regular days and then rested on the seventh, did not rest from that point on.  He still sustains the processes that he himself put into action at creation.  If he withdrew his hand at any time, the universe would fall apart. We heard Paul say he gives all people life and breath and everything else. The Psalms say he sends the rain, makes grass grow for the cattle and plants for man to cultivate, bringing forth food from the earth (104:14). We might be tempted to attribute those things to nature and it’s order, but who created the natural order? Who regulates the seasons? The Creator does.

Jesus says, You are children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil (unbelievers) and the good, (believers) and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  Our heavenly Father feeds and waters the whole world, whether the unbelievers acknowledge it or not.  One quarter of the world’s population confesses to being Christian. That means our one true God feeds ¾ of the population even when they do not worship him or give glory to objects of their own creation. See how gracious our LORD God is, how he still preserves us?

This week in the devotions that I posted to our facebook page from Your Time of Grace dealt with worry.  They were great reminders taken from Matthew 6 where Jesus reminds us we don’t have to worry about anything.  We have a heavenly Father who knows all things and knows how to provide exactly what you need so that your physical and spiritual life will be taken care of.  Elsewhere in Scripture, God tells us he even has an army of angels that he sends to carry out his will.  You have nothing to fear.

What is our response to all of this? David wrote in Psalm 8, When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings (angels)  and crowned him with glory and honor.  Our response is awe and wonder that the LORD God of all creation sent his Son to save us from our sin and death, to make us children of God. Our response is to thank and praise, serve and obey him!  Our response is to carry on in life knowing that nothing is really ours, but everything is the Lord’s to be used for his glory and purpose. Our response is to trust our creator God, not worry. Our response is to remain calm day by day even during a drought.  We can trust our loving God’s care and protection. Our Lutheran Legacy is to believe, teach, and confess these simple words, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

God grant it.  Amen.

THE RIGHT ORDER

Week 3 – 6.25.17

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Ephesians 2:4-10

4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

 

The order is important.  I’ve been hit by that reminder quite a bit during this whole parsonage basement remodel project.  You don’t hang drywall until you frame the walls, the plumber runs all his pipes and lines, and the electrician wires all the boxes, lights, and switches.  If you don’t get that right, you’re going to have to punch a bunch of holes and then put a bunch of patches in your new drywall.  You don’t put the flooring in before you paint, shoot on the trim and hang the door frames.  If you mess that order up, you’ll probably drip paint all over your trim, doors, and new floors.  The order is important.

There are four key concepts in the Bible: Sin, Grace, Faith, and Works.  That order is important.  Last week, God showed us the first two from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans.  We are sinful.  That is not only seen by God in our thoughts, words, and actions but it is also our condition in which we were both conceived and born.  That sinfulness must be dealt with, it must be paid for.  God says, “The wages of sin is death.”  So, someone has to die, blood must be shed, to pay for sin.  But imperfect people like us cannot make the payment.

God’s answer is his free gift of grace.  Purely because he loves us and does not want us to be punished in hell, he demonstrates his love with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Our justification – that not guilty verdict that we don’t earn or deserve – is fully and completely applied to our lives by God’s grace alone.  You don’t have to change God’s mind about you, he already loves the world and wants you to be with him in heaven.  His grace is not normal, and that’s good for us.

Today, we are talking about the other two key concepts: Faith and Works.  That order is important.  It was one of the huge reasons why an insignificant German priest and professor by the name of Dr. Martin Luther decided to stand up to popes, councils, and governors.  If you mess up that order you have lost the truth of God, you’ve lost his forgiveness, and you’ve lost heaven.

But that is exactly what the church was doing in Luther’s day; they were messing up the order.  Priests, councils, and popes were convincing people that works come before grace and faith.  Can you imagine the burden people carried as they thought every sin flared God’s righteous anger and only good works could appease him?  But the problem was that people have a sinful nature that taints us.  People were endlessly trying to work for God’s righteousness, but sin kept adding up, too.  The guilt was insurmountable, and the church kept preaching that God demanded more works.

But then, there was a great idea to deal with the guilt.  Instead of pointing to the grace of God, his unconditional love toward fallen sinful mankind, they introduced indulgences.  It was a way to literally pay money for God’s forgiveness.  Do you think you can pay God off?  No, like the Bible says, sins is only paid for by death.  These indulgences really only did one thing, enlarged the pope’s bankroll enough so that the St. Peter’s Basilica project, the second largest in the world, could begin.

When you mess up the order, bad things happen.  The church messing up that order for its people was a lot worse than a few holes in new drywall or paint on new floors.  It was life.  It was God’s holy Word. It was eternity.

Luther didn’t come up with a new order of these four key concepts.  He just read what God had clearly recorded centuries earlier.  And here is what God says: But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions… For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

That order – Sin, Grace, Faith, Works – is vitally important.  When you mess it up you lose the truth of Scripture and heaven itself.  That’s why it’s good to be familiar with the Word of God your whole life.  It’s good to be student of Scripture.  It’s good to refreshed and rebuilt weekly in worship and daily in devotions.  Our faith needs it, because what good is faith if it has the wrong object to trust? Then, the order is messed up.  Faith is turned into something I have to do to get God’s grace.  And that just doesn’t work.

When faith is placed in earthly things, it’s not getting you to heaven.  Your faith is useless.  Have you heard or have you said something like, “Don’t worry about me, I pray every day”? Do you notice where your faith is?  It is in your prayers.  But you know that the ability or regularity of prayer doesn’t save someone. When someone thinks, “I am a good Christian.  I go to church every week and give cheerful offerings,” they have the same issue.  Their faith is placed in their ability to follow the Lord.  It is great to lead a life of service, but it is not going to save you from hell.  Heaven is not awarded to those who convince themselves they are such good servants of God.  Faith doesn’t save people when it was placed in themselves and their own abilities to obey God.  That is really no faith at all.  Plenty of people do that, people who even call themselves Christian, but they are changing faith into a good work that earns God’s love.  That is messing up the order: Sin, Grace, Works, Faith.

However, when faith is attached to Jesus, then heaven is open to you; you have the saving promises of God forever. It’s the object of faith that matters most.  Let me illustrate. In the wintertime, if you go ice fishing, and you are about to walk out on the ice, what keeps you up?  Is it your faith in the strength of the ice? You could say, “I believe this ice will hold me. I have faith I will not crash through.” Does your faith keep up? Not at all! It is the thickness of the ice that holds you up. Your faith has nothing to do with it. Likewise, a person can have the strongest faith in their prayers or their humble service to God, but they will fall with a great and eternal crash.  Faith attached to anything but Jesus will get you nowhere.  Faith that clings to Jesus’s forgiveness and promises, that faith gives you the robes of righteousness forever.

And by God’s grace, faith in Jesus is a gift that he has given to you.  With simple water and God’s powerful word, the Holy Spirit planted saving faith in your heart.  And whenever God’s Word is used, faith is cultivated and nurtured.  Whenever the Lord’s body and blood is administered according to God’s Word it feeds faith.  And so we, sinners, by God’s undeserved grace, we trust in Jesus.  We rely on Jesus.  We hold to Jesus.

That’s the right order: Sin, Grace, Faith…and then works flow from faith.  We are saved by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, found in Scripture alone, but that faith is never alone.  When you have faith in Jesus, you will produce the works of God.  Listen again to what Paul says, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Why does an apple tree produce apples?  Is it because the apple tree will feel guilty if it doesn’t?  Is it trying to make up for past mistakes?  Does it want all the other trees to notice it?  Is it because the apple tree will get into trouble if it doesn’t?  NO!  Apples trees produce apples because that’s what apple trees do.  God made it that way.  It’s natural in his creation.

Same things for God’s children. When you are connected to Jesus, when your faith is attached to him, then you will be a fruit-producer.  And there are so many kinds of fruit for you to produce.

God tells us in his Word, to fear, love and trust in him above all things. We praise, thank, serve and obey him. One way to do that for God is to do it for those around you, too. God wants us to love and serve others, to put them first, to be a Good Samaritan, to turn the other cheek, to love even our enemies. God wants you not to hate but forgive as Christ has fully forgiven you.  God wants you to let your Christian light shine so that others may see your faith, see your Christ loving actions, see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. The words on our lips are used for truth and love, not cursing, lies and hate.

Think about what Paul is saying to you here. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  God gives us the opportunities to show our God given faith, to show our Christ-motivated kindness, to share our gospel life.

When we fail, Jesus picks us up, washes us clean, and sends us out with his love and forgiveness. Do you see all what God has done for you? Even your faith is a gift. We cannot boast about anything spiritually. The sacrifice of Jesus has fully and freely redeemed you, motivates you to love and serve our God, and makes your good works productive for others. We live God-pleasing lives not to earn God’s grace, but because we already have his grace and faith as a gift. That is why Jesus says in our gospel lesson, So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.

That’s the legacy of Lutherans.  We keep things in the right order, God’s order: Sinners who God loves not because of what we do, but because of what he does.  His love gives us Jesus, the Savior from sin, death, and hell.  His love gives us faith to hold on to him in all things.  His love gives us productive work to do as his people.  To God alone be glory.  Amen.

 

THE IMPOSSIBLE IS POSSIBLE…THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS.

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Luke 18:18-27

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

 

What happens if 100% isn’t good enough?  Let’s say you have the chance to be a quarterback for just one play in the NFL.  You could try your very best, 100%, for just one play.  Now, what if a 325-pound lineman broke through and was heading, full steam, for you?  You would probably break a bone or get knocked out cold.  100% of your very best effort in the NFL would not be good enough.

Kids in elementary school can study until their math book is memorized backwards and forwards, but if that math test was college level calculus, how do you think that will go?  At work, your computer system develops a glitch and an order that was supposed to be done by the end of November now is expected by the client in two days.  No matter how much extra help you call in, an order that was supposed to take a month won’t be done in two days.   Teachers and parents, you can do everything in their power to lovingly and carefully correct poor attitudes, but kids will still misbehave.  Your 100% isn’t always enough.

Jesus brings up a pretty good example of that for us today.  You can try as hard as you want, you can explore every option, you can use all the force and energy you have, you can think up every trick, but you will never get a camel through the eye of a needle.  When my best, most efficient, most careful, most loving effort doesn’t get me where I want to be, what then?

That is kind of what the rich man was dealing with when he walked up to Jesus.  He was giving a good life 100% of his effort. He had a good reputation.  The Bible says he was a wealthy ruler of some kind, likely in the local synagogue.  But to be sure, he wanted to know if there was anything else that he was missing.  You see, he was making sure that his 100% was good enough for heaven.

Jesus is perfect at getting to the heart and core of the rich ruler’s request.  First, Jesus says that anyone who wants to have heaven must obey the commandments perfectly.  He lists a few: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, and honor your father and mother.  This pleased the rich man, because he readily admitted that he was a good, law-abiding citizen since his childhood.  This man gave no one any reason to second-guess his decisions or his lifestyle.

Each one of us here today would like to say we fit into the sandals of the rich young ruler quite well, right?  We like to think we have a pretty good reputation. Maybe you run down the list in your head. ‘My character is not questionable.  I have not killed anyone.  I have not been openly perverse.  I have not lied about my life. I have not stolen someone’s belongings.  I was always the perfect child for my parents, but I have learned and recognize them as God’s representatives.”

However, Jesus has one more thing to add.  God makes the rules and sets the standard by which the rules must be followed.  So what Jesus adds next for the rich ruler is what all of us need to hear.  You still lack one thing.  Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me. 

The life of someone who wants to live in the kingdom of God forever, is not only about being good, showing kindness and care to others, and being respectful to all authorities, but it is also about how you live and for whom.  Your motivation must be pure and your attitude needs to be selfless.  So too, your life must be for others – others in your family, others at work, others who you don’t know, others who are even cruel to you, and, most importantly of all, your life needs to be dedicated to the Lord, all the time.

That is where the ruler’s good life, his 100% effort, wasn’t quite up to snuff.  This is also where my 100% isn’t good enough and neither is yours.  I don’t have the pure motivations and selfless attitude all the time.  My sinful nature is just like yours – it has made me unclean in God’s eyes.  Those thoughts aren’t always decent and caring, are they? The words coming out of your mouth don’t always give God glory, do they?  In one way or another God’s laws have been broken, if not in the grossest, public ways then privately in thoughts or intentions.  I may not struggle with the same sins as one of you and you may not struggle with the same faults as a family member or friend, but God’s law still convicts us, that even one time is enough to shatter God’s commandments to pieces.  This is what Jesus tells the rich young ruler inside of each one of us.  The life of a Christian is all or nothing.  Jesus gets to the heart of the issue and says our 100% effort isn’t good enough.

What Jesus says is pretty uncomfortable isn’t it?  He told a rich man that he couldn’t be rich anymore if he wanted to be in heaven.  Today, those same uncomfortable words apply to us.  If there is anything in the way of a fully dedicated, 100% Christian life, then you need to get rid of it.  If you are trusting that your income and savings will give you a better life, then you need to give it all away.  If you really enjoy using your HDTV, iPad, cell phone, if the TV schedule, texting with friends, checking facebook is preventing you from following Jesus all the time, then you need to get rid of them.  If traditions are becoming so important that you’ve lost sight of why you follow them and what Jesus says about them, then you need to throw them away.  If your garages are filled with boats and snow mobiles and 4-wheelers and other fun toys that you enjoy so much, to the point where on a sunny Sunday morning you would rather be on your boat or snow mobile, then you need to sell them.  When hunting takes over for these fall months to the point where parents and kids are regularly neglecting the Savior and their relationship with his Word, then Jesus says you can’t go hunting anymore.

Are you starting to see the problem?  Our best efforts aren’t even close to good enough?  Jesus says if anything is more important than him, get rid of it.  Jesus says if anyone is more important than him, that relationship must change.  Jesus says you must follow him with everything you have.  God says he must have 100%.  That means all your motivations, all your attitudes, all your interests, all your hobbies, all your character, all your love, all your respect, all the time.  In other words, Jesus is telling us today that he must have your entire life if you want to be in heaven forever.

For those standing around Jesus back then and for us right now, the question becomes, “Well then, who can be saved?”  As people heard Jesus talking to this rich man, they were really starting to wonder if it was possible for anyone to go to heaven.  Today, you and I might be taking a step back wondering, “Who can be saved?”

I have to be honest with you, this is an impossible task for us.  Every one of us needs to see just how similar to this ruler we really are.  Today, realize that even your best effort isn’t good enough.  You and I cannot earn a place in heaven and we can’t try to make up for our mistakes so God will take it easy on us. Every day you must hear Jesus say, “It is impossible for you…

…but not for me.”  Jesus started the whole conversation with the rich man by saying that God alone is good.  Only God could follow the commandments with 100% of the effort, 100% of the attitude, 100% of the motivation, and 100% of the time.  Only God could walk this earth always caring about others more than himself.  Only God could do the good things necessary for heaven.  Only God is good, Jesus says.

With people like us heaven is an impossible dream never to come true.  But God took human flesh, gave us his 100% in every way, paid the price for all our mistakes and errors, and opened heaven for us.  You do not need to walk away sad, because Jesus has saved you.  You do not need to walk away sad, because our good God has restored the broken relationship and brought you into his family through Christ Jesus.  You do not need to be nervous, because God did the impossible.

Today, that’s what we need to hear.  Living as a follower of Jesus is not a life like that rich ruler, where you’re not quite sure about your salvation because you are nervous if your 100% is good enough.  That’s why Jesus didn’t leave it up to us. Jesus accomplished eternal life fully for us. When he died, he said, “It is finished.  My work to save you is 100% complete.” And then he proved that the impossible was possible when he rose from the dead on Easter.

But how does that certainty become ours?  Do we have to sell everything and give to the poor?  Do we have to say prayers 5 times a day?  Do we need specific qualities or talents?  Well… NO!  If that were the case then heaven would be impossible for us.  See, we don’t have what it takes to believe all of this.  We are like the rich ruler; we just can’t make it all work out.  It is not possible for us to make the right choices or do the right things in order to believe in Jesus.  We weren’t able to turn on our own spiritual light bulbs. We aren’t able to crawl out of the deep pit of sin and death.

So God did the impossible.  Not only did Christ die to pay for our sins, not only did Christ go into the pit of death and destroy it when he rose, but he also gives us his robe of righteousness with the sacrament of Baptism.  God uses baptism to plant faith in your heart.  Heaven is not possible without this gift of God, so God made it possible for you with something so simple. He uses plain water connected to his all-powerful Word to change your identity.  We were born just like that rich ruler, but in baptism the Holy Spirit put saving faith in our hearts.  It’s this gift that holds on to Jesus and his forgiveness.  It’s this gift that makes our eternity in heaven secure.  It’s the gift that changes our life.

If you are a child of God, that means you live by faith alone.  You don’t need the riches to be God’s child.  You don’t need everything your heart desires to believe in Jesus.  In fact, sometimes those things need to be taken away so that our faith is not distracted or destroyed.  We live by faith alone, because faith in Jesus is all we need for eternal life.

That’s what makes faith in Jesus such a treasure, a treasure we will never give up.  God gave this eternal treasure to us by grace alone found in Scripture alone.  That’s our identity.  And it always will be, because Jesus made the impossible possible.  Amen.

THIS IS HOW IT WORKS

 

taking-care-of-our-church

2 Timothy 1:3-14

3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

 

Faith in Jesus makes a person do and say some strange things.  Faith made Noah build a boat in preparation for a world-wide flood.  Faith made Abraham leave his home.  Faith made Jacob wrestle with God.  Faith made Joseph say “no” to a woman who was throwing herself at him because she was not his wife.  Faith made Moses lead a stubborn and rebellious nation through the desert for 40 years.  Faith made Gideon go up against the Midianite army with just 300 men. Faith moved people to give such treasures and talents to build the temple, as David told us in the First Reading from 1 Chronicles.  Faith made Daniel pray to God when he knew it meant he’d be thrown to the lions.  Faith made Ezra and Nehemiah continue with their work of rebuilding Jerusalem.  Faith made Joseph take a pregnant virgin home to be his wife.  Faith made fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and others give up everything to follow Jesus.  Faith made servants do their duty willingly and cheerfully as if they were working for the Lord.  Faith made believers take beatings and imprisonments.  Faith made people peaceful as they faced the lions.  Faith in Jesus as the only Savior from sin makes a person do and say some things that are not normal.

What does it make you do?  Now, in this section from chapter 1 of Paul’s second letter to Timothy, you aren’t going to hear this long list of all the things Christians do because God has planted faith in your heart.  There are other sections of Scripture that help us, that train us, that teach us in our life of thankfulness and service.  So today God is not trying to convince you that you have to do something extreme, something great in order to have real, genuine faith.  But it is still a good question to consider: what does faith in Jesus do?  What does it sound like?

For starters, let’s just consider some general examples.  One is John.  He’s your typical guy, who works at the office, likes sports, loves his wife and kids, and has a few hobbies like golfing, hunting, and grilling.  He comes to church a couple times a month.  He strolls in about one minute before the bells.  When he comes his family has to sit in the back left corner.  He sings softly, if at all, because he doesn’t want anyone to hear him.  He listens to the readings and prayers and sermons attentively most of the time.  And then, when worship is over, he’s trying to hustle his family out the door.  Maybe he’ll have a quick chat with a buddy, but that’s it.  He isn’t rude or angry to anyone; he just wants to get home and on with his day.  During the week, he’ll talk about the news or sports with coworkers and friends.  He’ll hang out with his family and read a devotion after supper.  But he pretty much just does his thing.  He doesn’t want to cause waves.  He doesn’t want argue about politics or religion.  John is a normal guy that likes things simple.

Next, you have Mary.  She is the bubbly, chatty one.  She comes to church early so that she can catch up with everyone and greet any new people. (Maybe that means get the latest gossip or talk about her current accomplishments.) She sings alto in the choir because she thinks she has a great voice.  When she brings something for the potlucks, she is always sharing where she found the recipe.  She likes to get involved with projects so that they are done well.  People at work think she’s nice, but maybe a little full of herself.  Her family loves her; she cooks well and has great organization, but they get a little annoyed that things always have to be perfect.  Mary is outgoing and fun, but she struggles with pride in herself and her abilities.

Then, there’s Lacy.  She’s not as outspoken.  She’s gentle and kind. She is the type that bakes cookies for everything.  For the kids at school: cookies.  For fellowship snacks: cookies.  For new neighbors down the road: cookies.  For the big game over at the in-laws house: cookies.  For the office: cookies.   She just wants to help.  She’ll look over the newsletter for the birthdays and anniversaries so that she can send a card or say something to them next time she sees them. She likes the personal touch but she doesn’t get very personal with many people. Lacy is peaceful and loving but also shy and soft.

Now, each one of these people has faith in Jesus.  They believe that Jesus is God’s Son and the Savior from sin and death. We praise and thank God for the Johns and Marys and Lacys.  We praise God because only he could save a John or a Mary or a Lacy.  We praise God like the Apostle Paul writes, because he has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Only a God with all-knowledge and power could give us this kind of comforting promise that he has loved us from before time began.  Only a Savior who appeared in our world and took our punishment for sin could rescue us from death and hell.  Only a Savior who defeats the devil, the world, and our sinful nature can remove our darkness and bring eternal life to light.  Only a God full of love for the unlovable could make these kinds of people his very own through the power of his Word. Only a God that comes down to us in the sacraments could raise us to live a new life.  All the praise and all the thanks goes to our eternal God.

But I think we would all agree that there is room for growth for the Johns and Marys and Lacys.  That’s why Paul reminds Timothy and all believers to “fan into flame the gift of God.”  The life of faith is all about continual growth! There is something each one can work on.  John can be a little more helpful and thoughtful.  He can own the mission of the church more, meaning he can get involved and serve for others.  Mary can be a little less self-centered.  She can serve others with the kind of self-sacrificing humility and compassion that our Savior gave us rather than trying get the praise for herself.  Lacy can be a little less timid.  She doesn’t have to shy away from people because she’s worried what they might think of her.  She can be bold and powerful with God’s Word.

But that is not really something you can do for yourself.  Paul didn’t want Timothy to despair as he tried to work on some of these things.  He doesn’t want anyone of us to think that our life of faith is “all on me.”  He doesn’t want us to focus on our own mistakes and misgivings.  For a plant to grow it has to get sunlight and water.  Someone else has to do something for that plant to be healthy and productive.  The same is true for us.  God reminds us through the Apostle Paul today, “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you (that’s faith) – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”   You and I need the Holy Spirit.  We need the resources that he uses to feed faith.  We need a constant dose of the Means of Grace.  We need regular reminders from God as he speaks through his Word.  We need the forgiveness and strength offered in Jesus’ body and blood.  That is where growth happens.  It doesn’t happen because, “I know about God and stuff.”  That’s like a plant saying, “I will grow because I know about the sun and water and stuff.”  Growth happens when the Spirit does his work.  And when the Spirit is doing his work, that’s when Johns and Marys and Lacys grow. As Paul tells us, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 

I don’t know about you but to know that God is doing all of this for us takes the pressure off of me.  Our worship series has been all about taking care of our church; it’s reassuring to know that we are in God’s hands.  He is working on us.  He is giving us all that we need to guard the good deposit of faith.  His Spirit gives us the power and love and self-disciple.  And he keeps giving it to us so that we can keep it up.

But there’s one more thing that helps you take care of God’s church.  This is the second letter from Paul.  Timothy had been at this ministry thing for a while.  And the Lord was blessing his efforts.  But that doesn’t mean he was done growing.  And what do you need to grow?  God needs to feed you.  And God will often use someone else to do that.  For Timothy it was Paul writing these inspired words of God.  But Paul needed help, too. Paul had also been working tirelessly and all of that effort got him into prison, again.  It’s this beautiful blending of comradery that describes what faith does.

Do you remember in the beginning, all those examples of extreme things, strange things to some, that faith makes us do?  Well, here is something pretty simple that helps the Johns and the Marys and the Lacys of the church so much.  It’s you.  Timothy needed Paul and Paul needed Timothy. I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.  Paul’s sitting there in prison and he’s encouraging Timothy.  Paul says he’s praying for him.  He directs him to the power of the Spirit working through the gospel of Jesus.  But Paul was also encouraged as he sits in prison by memories of Timothy’s faith-filled family and his own faithfulness.  And he wants Timothy to visit so he can have more joy and comfort.

Brothers and sisters, this is how it works.  God uses believers to help believers.  Maybe you noticed how much that helped David.  Maybe you see how much that helps when Jesus describes repentance and forgiveness between believers.  Maybe you heard the joy in Paul’s words about Timothy and his family.   And that’s what you can be for a Jon and a Mary and a Lacy.  You can be a source of encouragement and comfort.  Your faith can help them and theirs can help you.  When faith does that, when faith in Jesus is supportive like that, then good things happen.

God grant it.  Amen.

A PROMISE TO BELIEVE IN

Following Jesus series

HEBREWS 11:1-3, 8-16

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
“Jump!  I’ll catch you.  I promise.”  I can make that promise to my kids,  Issy and Lute, and they believe me because I can keep that promise.  They can jump off a couch, table, counter, or bed and I will catch them.  But if I make that promise 10 years, or even 5 years from now, I’m not so sure.  And full disclosure, I have dropped them before, but little kids are tough.

Four years ago we heard this: “London is my last Olympics. I promise.  This is my last ever gold medal,” said Michael Phelps, the world’s greatest swimmer ever. Well, then he hit a rough patch in 2014.  He was arrested for a second DUI.  He checked into rehab. He reconnected with his estranged father.  He met a woman.  He got back into the pool.  And now, in Rio, the guy who promised he was retired is swimming for Olympic gold again.  And let’s not get started on the most recent inductee to Pro Football’s Hall of Fame, Brett Favre. Somehow he ended up playing for the Jets and some other team.

Promises are easy to make, but some are harder to keep than others. I can promise my children to catch them, and with almost perfect regularity I can keep that promise.  And so, my kids still trust me now, but in the future, I’m not so sure.  An athlete can promise that they are retiring, but then sometimes they realize that the skill and the competitive drive hasn’t dried up yet.  And because we have seen this saga play out so often, it makes it harder to believe retiring athletes.

But what about a bigger promise?  This Following Jesus series has been teaching and reminding us what Jesus encourages and empowers his followers to do.  And so on this final Sunday, it’s time to talk about promises, like the promises we should make and keep.  “I promise to be a follower of Jesus.  And as I follow him I promise to support the ministry, I promise to love my neighbors as I love myself, I promise to listen to God first and foremost, I promise to pray boldly and persistently, I promise to have the proper priorities in life always looking forward to the eternal paradise and not trying to make this world paradise.”  These are promises that we have been talking about and these are the promises that followers of Jesus make.

And d’you know what? These are promises every follower of Jesus breaks. There are the Sundays where sleep, sports, or social activities are more important.  Broken promise.  There are wallets and check books that stay at home because “it’s been a tough month.” Broken promise. There are days when the Bible stays closed.  Sometimes days become weeks and weeks become months.  Broken promise.  There are days we are not humble, not loving, and not selfless.  Broken promise. Broken promise. Broken promise.  There are days when I am afraid and worried.  Broken promise. There are days when we trust the Lord a whole lot less than we need to.  Broken promise.

Does this happen because you get older and when you get older you can’t always keep a promise to your growing children?  Does this happen because we didn’t realize what we were promising at the time?  Do we break these promises because we weren’t sincere enough at the time we made them?  Do we break these promises because God isn’t holding up his end of the deal?  Nope!  It happens because of who we are.  We aren’t perfect.  We are the type who can’t always protect our children.  We get too old or weak or the kids grow and get bigger and smarter.  We are the type who don’t always know the right time and the wrong time.  We are the ones who try the best we can, but our best is not good enough.  Sometimes we might not have the right skills, sometimes we might accidentally make a mistake,  or sometimes we might just lie to try and cover up our own inadequacies.   But no matter what it is one thing is certain:  we leave a boat-load of broken promises in our wake. It’s who we are.  We aren’t perfect.  We want to be there for our families and friends.  We want to be trustworthy and honorable.  But we can’t make that happen.  Instead, we get ourselves into all kinds of trouble, trouble that is not just going to irritate those we care about around us, but trouble that is also unacceptable to God.

So then, how can people like us ever keep our promise to follow Jesus? I think Hebrews 11 helps us figure that out.  Hebrews is a book written to Jewish people, or Hebrews.  They knew about the Old Testament.  They knew about all God’s civil, ceremonial, and moral laws.  They knew all about the history of Israel and everything God did for them.  But they also were Christians, who believed in Jesus.  They were trusting in Jesus even though there was hatred against Christians going on in the world.  But the strong temptation was to avoid all the persecutions against Christians by reverting back into old Jewish habits.  They were being pulled back to their laws and traditions rather than the gospel of Jesus. The temptation was to break their promises.  So God put the spotlight on some powerful examples in Hebrews 11 from the Old Testament, from Jewish history, to help these Jewish Christians persevere. Abraham was the top notch example that we hear about.  Well, and his wife, Sarah, and their son,  Isaac, and his son, Jacob.  These were the who’s who of Jewish history.  And they never gave up on the Lord.

You know, that the book of Hebrews was also written for us, too.  We might not be Jewish, but we are experiencing what it is like to live in a world that is more and more open about being anti-Bible, anti-Christian, and anti-church.  So, these examples can really help us to understand how we can keep following Jesus.

How could those Old Testament patriarchs do it? How could they continue to follow the Lord even when it was tough?  What made them so good?  How could they have such great faith that never wilted?  How could Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob continue to follow the Lord like they did? Was it because they had some special gift that we do not?  Was it because they didn’t have as many distractions as we do?  Was it because God was speaking directly to them in visions, dreams and through angels?  No, none of that!

Here’s a clue: they considered him faithful who had made the promise.  God is the one that made a promise…first.  And that’s what matters most. God knew what was wrong with Abraham and Sarah and their son and grandsons.  God knew that people could not be trusted to follow him perfectly.  We can try as hard as we can but we break promises.  So what does God do?  He doesn’t make us promise to be good and follow as best we can.  He doesn’t make us blaze our own path.  Instead, he makes a promise to us. God promises that he doesn’t hold our broken promises against us.  He loves us too much to do that. God promises that he is not going to send us to hell.  God promises, “I will take care of you.  I will watch over you.  I will bring you to my city, where I am the architecht and the builder.”  I love that description.  For anyone doing a building project, this is a great find, that the designer, the blue-print drawer, and the builder, the constrctor, the finisher is the same guy.  God says, “I promise that I will take care of it all for you.”

And that’s a promise that God keeps.  He patiently continued the line of the Savior from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from David and Solomon, and all the way through Israel’s tumultuous, promise-breaking history until the time had fully come.  Then, God kept the promise to come here so that our Savior would sit and stand and walk in your place and mine. God’s promise made sure that every one of our sins would be covered by the blood of Jesus.  God’s promise was proved true when the Savior came out of the tomb on Easter alive.  And God’s promise found you through his Word, at the baptismal font, and at the altar.

You see, what matters is the one who is making the promise.  If it’s me, Michael Phelps, Brett Favre, a president, or anyone else then it doesn’t have the same effect.  But when it’s God, then you know he can keep it.  Because everything he has ever said is true.  God keeps his promises.  He gave Abraham a place to call his own.  He gave Abraham and Sarah a son even though they were too old.  He made them into a huge nation.  And most importantly, he gave Abraham a home not made of tents, but designed and built on the promises of God with a permanent foundation.  That was a huge deal for men who lived in tents.  You see, the tent is not permanent.  The tent is not home.  The tent means you don’t have a country of your own.  But Abraham lived his life with the promises of God.  And so he lived his life trusting that his home was still coming.  He lived longing for that home and trusting that God would keep his promise to make heaven his own country, his permanent home.

We can trust God, just like Abraham and Sarah.  We can trust God just like Isaac and Jacob.  Not because they were so good at keeping their promises, but because God was so perfect at keeping his promises.  Yes, even to people like us, who break our promises.  He kept all those promises in the Old Testament and that led to a manger, a cross, and an empty tomb.  You see, with God there are no broken promises.

The good thing about trusting a God like that, is you never have to worry.  Faith in a God like is not uncertain.  Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  Sure, you might not see Jesus right now.  Sure you might not know what heaven looks like.  Sure, life can be hard and there are so many uncertainties. But when God makes you a promise it’s sure and certain.

And the interesting thing is this faith makes us strangers in this world kind of like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.  Do you ever notice that?  Do you ever notice how odd you are? As we follow Jesus, we give our time and our energy and our money to thank someone who is not here.  Because God never breaks his promises, because our faith in Jesus will certainly lead us to heaven, we can spend time genuinely caring for other people not wondering if it’s worth it or not.  It is worth it because God promises that it’s worth it to love others. That’s the way he loves us. And that looks weird to people in this world sometimes.  And you look odd when you spend time reading a book.  Everyone else is consumed with technology and screens, but you read a book because God gave it to you and because his words and his promises are not just inspiring lives, his Word is life for us, spiritual and eternal life.  And you are strange because you spend time talking to someone who you’ve never seen, who doesn’t live here on earth.  And you’ll look like a foreigner when you aren’t consumed by a relentless pursuit of more stuff, because you know this is just a tent.  The home that has a permanent foundation, the paradise city is coming.  You’ll be the stranger.  You’ll be the odd one.  People might make fun of you.  They might question your faith.  Some might even be ashamed to know you.

But there’s one person who won’t be.  For followers of Jesus, who have faith in him and who live in his promises, God is not ashamed to be called your God, for he has prepared a city for you.  How’s that for a promise?  God says he is not ashamed of you.  You might wonder why in the world you do some of the things you do.  You might question yourselves.  You might feel shame.  But God never will.  He takes your shame away.  He forgives you.  He is proud to be the God who loves you and saves you.  And he promises that there is a place for you with him.  It’s a place that he designed and built to last for eternity.  It’s a place that Jesus paid for with his life, death, and resurrection.  It’s a place that is yours through faith.  God says, “I promise.”

Amen.