SPEAKING GOOD NEWS

Walls torn down

Luke 24:13-33

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.

 

 

Did you get good news on Tuesday night (midterm Elections)?  That depends, doesn’t it?  Now, we don’t need to get into politics to prove this point.  It could be anything.  It could be sports.  It could be work.  It could be family. It could be this past Friday, opening day for deer gun season.  Did you get good news?  It all depends on what you want, doesn’t it?  That’s the way good news works.  If the outcome or information is what you want or like, then it’s good.  If not, then it’s not good.

But what if that’s not the way it has to be?  What if some news was good no matter who was receiving it?  What if some information was always good because of the one who has provided it?  My brothers and sisters, that is what we have from God in the gospel.  We have the news that is always good no matter who is listening or how they react.  The gospel of Jesus is always good news.

This good news is so good that it is specifically designed by God to be not just something that makes me good, but also something that makes me want to give good news to others.  This is called evangelism, and in our worship series, Walls Torn Down, we are reviewing this beautiful doctrine of the Bible to grow in how we Use the Power of Good News, which tears down the walls of sin, death, and hell.

That all began a few weeks ago in October.  If you remember a few weeks back, we started by hearing from God that to be involved in evangelism you don’t need to have all sorts of skills or a certain personality.  You don’t need to be on the church payroll.  We heard the story Jesus told of a Good Samaritan, and there Jesus teaches us that love is all you need, the selfless, Good Samaritan love that cares for people no matter who they are.  And it just so happens that the kind of love we need is exactly what Jesus did for us and is exactly what Jesus put into our hearts through faith.  The second week we heard God’s Word from the God’s missionary to the Gentiles, Paul.  He told us that when you are a Christian you are going to find ways to be all things to all people.  In other words, we will get comfortable being uncomfortable.  The third week we heard from Paul again about how to turn conversations from common everyday things that everybody knows to the uncommon and unique grace and power of our God and Savior.  Remember how we saw him do that in Athens in the Areopagus?  He used their city and their objects of worship, one of which said “to an unknown god.”  He used their philosophers and poets.  He used those things that the people of Athens knew well to point them to the God of heaven and earth and his salvation through Jesus, who died and rose for us.

That leads us to these two men walking on the road to Emmaus.  It’s later on the day Jesus rose, Easter.  They are both followers of Jesus, so for them to be talking with each other about everything that had happened is not all the remarkable.  That would be like you discussing a sermon, a bible class, an outreach event with another member here or maybe encouraging and comforting someone close to you with an illness or a problem they are facing.  Those are the kinds of things that you would be comfortable talking about with a brother or sister in faith.

But what if the audience is different?  Would you be as comfortable talking about everything Jesus has done for us, about the power of God, or about the teachings of the Bible?  Maybe we have to admit that when it comes to God’s good news, we don’t speak up because we think it depends on the audience.  It’s similar to the way we look at elections or sports.  We treat the gospel like it is only good news for those who we see here at church, those who are on our side.

When we do that, we are setting limits on the gospel that God has not set.  We see the two men on the road to Emmaus do the same thing. When this stranger, who is really Jesus, asks them what they are discussing, they give a somber recap of what happened.  Here’s the summary: “He [Jesus] was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;1 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.  In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

This should be a joyous, exciting explanation of how Jesus conquered sin and death for all people, but instead it’s downcast and doleful, because they had set limits on God’s promises.  Did you catch that in their response?  See, here is what they thought God’s promised good news was: “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”  These two thought the good news was the revival of the Jewish nation, God’s people, Abraham’s descendants.  They thought God’s promise was the Israelites being delivered from the oppression of the Roman government and restored to ruling the world’s political scene.

Sure, that would be good news for Israelites, what about everyone else?  What about the Romans?  What about Samaritans?  What about Gentiles who would grow up in Europe, Africa, or America.  What about us?  We wouldn’t have any good news from God.

Sadly, sometimes we put up those limits on God’s good news just like these two men walking on the road to Emmaus.  The wonderful promises of God, his gospel of salvation for all, the Savior of the entire world is only good news for some.  In essence, that is saying God’s gospel message, his good news is not as good as God thinks it is.  Somehow we convince ourselves that the power of the gospel is not that powerful.  How foolish you and I are to think that the good news of God would ever be so small and insignificant.

But we do, we do talk and act like it is unimpressive, and maybe that’s because we don’t think the bad news is all that bad, either.  I think that happens to us like it was happening to the two men on the road.  They thought the good news was that Jesus was going to redeem Israel and get rid of the Roman rule.  So that means the bad news that was causing their sorrow was that Israel would still be stuck under the hated, oppressive government.

Brothers and sisters, that is not the bad news.  How foolish you and I are to think the bad news could ever be political, economic, financial, educational.  How foolish!  The bad news is not that your team didn’t win.  The bad news is not that you missed a big buck.  The bad news is not that your loved one has cancer, that your family is in shambles, that you lost your job.  That’s not even close too bad enough.

The bad news is sin.  Sin is something God cannot wink at or ignore.   Sin is something we cannot change the definition of.  Sin is so bad that it separates people from God.  Anyone who has ever done any one little thing wrong, even if it was just a thought to do wrong, has completely smashed God’s law to pieces.  Anyone who has smashed God’s law to pieces cannot have a life with God.  Sin is real, and it puts your name on the list of those who are going to the burning lake of sulfur where the worms that eat you do not die, and the fire is not quenched.  We’re talking eternal torture and punishment.  We’re talking the worst imaginable pain and suffering physically, emotionally, psychologically and it lasts forever.  The bad news is that anyone, who is not perfect as God requires you to be, is going to hell.  And this bad news cannot be changed by anyone.  You cannot undo what you have done wrong.  You cannot make up for these sins.  There is simply no other option but to suffer the pain of hell. Period.

That’s bad, isn’t it?  That’s so bad that it’s hard to put into words how bad sin and hell are.  It’s so bad, in fact, that the only fix that would ever work is an act of God.  He’s the only one powerful enough.  He’s the only one loving enough.  He’s the only one who could do anything about it. The only possible way to get rid of the devastating and eternal destruction sin causes to each person is that God would take that suffering and pain away from us and put it on someone else.  Someone else who is powerful enough and loving enough to see sinners in this absolutely perilous condition and step in for us, that’s what it would take to get rid of our bad news.

What would you call it if someone actually did that?  What would you call it if someone saw the entire world full of sinners and decided to step in for us?  What would you call it if someone would suffer the pain and torture our sins have earned?  What would you call it if someone would endure the physical, emotional, psychological hell that is coming for every sinner?  What would you call it if someone would die so innocently so that the guilty ones could benefit?  What would you call it if someone would take our pain and punishment and then give us the perfection God requires of us?  What would you call it if someone who died under the crushing weight of our sins actually came back from the dead?  What would you call it if someone conquered all, we’re talking every single one of our eternal enemies for us?  What would you call it if you didn’t have to be afraid of death, the devil, or hell anymore?  What would you call it if someone would provide all of this free of charge for all sinners, without conditions and without basing it on anything you did or didn’t do?  What would you call it if someone didn’t put limits on the people who can have and enjoy this gift?  What would you call that?  How about THE GOOD NEWS!!!

Yes, good news is exactly what that is.  Good news is exactly what Jesus has produced, accomplished, and provided for us.  It’s so good, in fact, that God gave it a special name called the gospel.  And God gave the gospel special power to work on hearts whenever and wherever it pleases him to change lives on earth and for eternity.

And do you notice what the gospel, what God’s good news, does to those who believe it?  Those two on the road to Emmaus heard the good news from Jesus, they saw their Savior alive, and with hearts burning from the power of the gospel, they immediately wanted to share it.  Luke writes in verse 33: They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem…

If you want to know how in the world you could ever tell someone the gospel of Jesus, I think you are looking at it all wrong.  This good news is so good, how could you not?  Amen.

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WHEN I AM WEAK…

 

7.8.18 Pentecost 7BPentecost B

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REPENTANCE IS A COMPLETE TURNAROUND

2.18.18 Lent 1B

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Mark 1 :12-15

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

I was watching a skiing race the other night.  It amazes me how anyone in their right mind would want to careen down a mountain at 80 miles per hour on two little skis without any padding.  As I watched, I saw a couple skiers take pretty bad falls down the mountain into those few layers of fencing they have set up on either side of the course to catch out-of-control competitors from going into the trees.  A few skiers later I saw something that I hadn’t seen before: one skier was pushing his way back up the mountain.  Now, why in the world would a skier in the Olympics turn around in the middle of his moment on the world’s stage?  He missed a gate.  A downhiller has to weave in and out of those designated markers to successfully complete the course and register a time.  If you don’t, if you miss just one, you are disqualified, and you won’t show up in the final results.  This guy missed a gate.  So, he stopped himself, turned around, and went back up the course a bit to do it the right way.

Have you ever missed a gate before?  I’m not talking about skiing in the Olympics.  I think it’s pretty safe to assume we don’t have any Olympians here this morning, right?  I’m talking about life.  You know the way God has laid out for you – he’s got a guideline for his people, “your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” – and you missed a gate.  On purpose or on accident doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you went off the course.  Do you know what you need at those times?  A turnaround.

The people living in Palestine during Jesus’ day needed a turnaround, badly.  The Jewish religion was trying to show people what they had to do for happiness and contentment, how they had to deal with their guilt and sin, and how they had to appease God by making their own turnaround. That Jewish religious road, however, was leading to a disqualification (hell), because the search was focused on themselves, on what they had to do.

If you could follow through on your end, then God would follow through on his end.  That was the deal. First, you show how well you can represent the name of Abraham and Israel and David, and then God would bless you, hopefully in similar ways to Abraham and Israel.  First, you follow the works and rituals to demonstrate your worthiness to God, and then you will be rewarded.

This is not a foreign system in the 21st century.  The road the Jews were paving was way narrower, more black and white, but the religious systems today still have the same focus: me first.  If I am acceptable in my culture and society, if I am dedicated to being what I think kind is, if I am tolerant and open-minded with people, if I am trying hard to be a better person, if I have a religion and I’m dedicated without being to closed off and biased, then all of those things should put me on the right path.  I am showing myself worthy to whatever god I follow.  I have earned the respect of others.  I am deserving of blessings.  I should get whatever reward I’m looking for.

This is a road that is so easy to pave for ourselves, too.  Me first sounds so logical.  If you are nice, then nice things should happen to you.  This 21st century religious open-mindedness sounds so loving and kind.  My acceptance and kindness, and it will make this world better.  It sounds like this road of togetherness and peace would lead in the right direction.

But that is the irony.  A road that puts the focus on me first and what I do won’t help me with God.  Because my road is always going to shoot off the course God has laid out.  My way has never, does never, and will never line up with his way, because my road is sinful, and his road is perfect. My road leads to disqualification and his road leads to redemption.

So the question becomes, how can a sinner be on God’s perfect road that leads to perfect glory in heaven?  Jesus shows us how.  It’s a turnaround from religious rituals and observances.  It’s a turnaround from what our cultural definitions of religion, faith, love, and God.  It’s a turnaround from personal passions and pleasures.  It’s a turnaround from putting the focus on me and what I do.   It’s a turnaround from anything that is distracts us from the kingdom of God.

Jesus says, “Repent and believe the good news!”  Jesus says, “You’re going the wrong way if you follow after all of that stuff that seems to make so much sense.  You’re going the wrong way if you think you can make yourself more acceptable to God than others because of what you do or who you are related to.”  That’s what those people in Palestine needed to hear, and we do to.  Jesus says, “You’re going the wrong way if you follow those who water down the Bible into something we can all agree with.  You’re going the wrong way if you want to make this world your home.”  He says, “Turn around.  Don’t continue going the way that is contrary to God’s.  Repent.”

Isn’t it nice to know there is someone loving enough, someone interested in your life enough, someone who is willing to give you the tough talk you need? That is good news for us.  It is good news that someone is willing to shout, “Turn around!”

When a racer goes off course, misses a gate in a ski race, or misses a flag like I once did in a cross-country race in high school, it’s really important to have someone who is willing and able to point that out.  I would have been disqualified for missing one right hand turn, but someone was there to call me out and got me back on track so that I could finish the race the right way.

Do you see how necessary that is?  When we talk about repentance, turning around from sin, we need to remember this is not my work to make God happy with me.  A sinner can’t make themselves turn from a sinful road, can we?  We need someone perfect to turn us around.  That’s Jesus.

He went in the desert to face off against Satan so that he could overcome our temptations.  He could see that sinful road, but he said no.  That way wouldn’t lead to our redemption.  Sure, Jesus would have had food for his belly, he would have had power in this world, he would have proved the power of angels, but none of that was what Jesus came to do.  He said no to Satan, because Jesus came to follow the perfect road.  That was the only way to give us redemption.

That’s the good news he was preaching in Galilee.  Jesus was here to defeat Satan.  He was here to say no to the sinful road.  He was here to provide the turnaround that sinners needed.  By his perfect life a new road is ours.  Jesus was proclaiming the gospel of free and full forgiveness given to sinners by the perfect love of a perfect God and Savior, not earned by sinners.  That’s not possible.  That is like a bunch of cheaters trying to compete for who will be less disqualified than the other cheaters. It’s nonsense.

Jesus has good news for us, a shabby bunch of people who couldn’t stay on course if our life depended on it.  His good news is that he never once strayed from the perfect road.  He fought the devil off.  His perfect life is for us.  There’s more.  He is also that person who is willing and perfectly able to shout out, “Turn around” when he sees us going off course.

Brothers and sisters, do we ever need that!  We need the voice of Jesus calling out after us to turn around.  Maybe it’s a parent.  Maybe it’s a pastor.  Maybe it’s a friend.  We need the voice of the Savior who fought against sin perfectly and gave us the perfect road to heaven.  We need to know when we have strayed from God’s way.  When people are willing to show you, rejoice that people look out for you as Jesus would want them to.  Rejoice that your God has a different road for you.

And then, repent, turn around from the sin that leads to disqualification.  Turn around from the sins that might be popular or easy.  Turn around from the things that you thought were maybe ok but on second or third glance might be questionable.  Turn around from the sins that don’t just offend parents and the family of God, but they offend God.  Jesus did not come to live here, he did not earn the perfect life that was necessary for us, he did not give up his perfect life with such a gruesome sacrifice on the cross, he did not conquer death for us, he did not make us his children through the power of his Word and baptism, he did not send the Spirit into our hearts so that we would throw it all away.  He did all of that to save us from hell.

That’s the good news that leads us, guides us, motivates us, and gets us to turn around.  Repentance is not me first.  Repentance is God’s Word at work.  It’s listening to your Father’s loving voice. It’s sorrow to God for the slipups and selfishness.  It’s sorrow to God for accidents and ignorance, for bad purposes and choices.  It’s sorrow to God for all of the messes and mistakes.  It’s turning around from all of that.

And when you hear the voice of Jesus, calling out to repent, do you know what you see when you turn around?  You don’t see a long list of all the things you need to do to get back into God’s good grace.  You don’t see all these angry faces.  You sure better not.  God says, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  You see loving face of Jesus.  You see the object of your faith that made you turn around in the first place.  You see all that he has done for you.  You see the road that he traveled so that he could shut the doors of hell and open the gates of heaven for you.  You see and hear good news from the Savior who knows you and loves you.

Jesus’ road to win our redemption was hard.  We are going to look at during this worship series.  Today, we see how the turnaround happened.  It wasn’t me first.  It is Jesus first.  It is his love walking the road to redemption for us.  It is his grace suffering the punishment of sins for us.  It is his gospel changing sinners into God’s children through faith in Jesus.  It is his voice calling out after us when we stray.  It his good news of forgiveness and life getting us back on track.  It is his never-ending work through the Word and sacraments keeping us going.

You don’t need to be ashamed when you hear the word “repent” or when you hear the voice of the Savior coming from someone who cares calling out to “turn around.”  Be thankful that God cares that much.  Be sorrowful that you got of his path.  And be faithful as he guides you.  God grant it.  Amen.

 

SIN & GRACE

Week 2 – 6.18.17

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PART 1: SIN

 

It has been called a constant companion in life.  It’s with you when you are awake and sleeping.  It’s with you when you are feeling well and when you aren’t.  It’s with you when you are doing good things and when you aren’t.  It’s with you at work, at home, out and about, on vacation, when you are alone and when you are with a bunch of people.  It’s with you all the time.  You and I just cannot get rid of sin.  And just in case we need a little reminder of what sin is, Paul bluntly points out a couple things for us today.

First, I don’t get to decide what sin is.  God created the world perfectly.  God put the conscience in each person’s heart.  And God made the laws that people need to follow, so he gets to tell me what sin is.

Number two, we must realize that sin is not just a discussion about actions, things that people can see or talk about.  In other words, sin is not only something that describes doing things that God forbids or not doing things that God commands.  Sin is also a condition.  It is in us.  It is a part of us.  We were born with it.  And that kind of original sin makes us impure every moment of life.  Every breath is from a person that cannot be perfect.

Third, this sinful condition I have, it shows up in my life… a lot.  If it is a condition, then the condition will have symptoms.  Paul mentions quite a number of those symptoms of sin that pop up all over the place in our lives.  Idolatry is one that he mentions.  That is the sin where we put something else in the place only God can have.  It can be money.  It can be fame.  It can be a career.  It can be friends.  It can be family.  It can be a house.  It can be possessions.  It can be hobbies.  It can be abilities.  It can be sex, food, alcohol, drugs, technology, and any number of other things.  Anything that we make more important than our God and the relationship we have with him is an idol.  And you probably can recall a time when that has happened in your life.

Maybe you have one good hour on a Sunday morning, where your attention is fully placed on God.  Well, in order to be the type of person that has never broken the First Commandment, you would have to do that constantly from the moment you were conceived to the moment you die.  It’s impossible for a sinner.  People with the sinful condition cannot properly give God full, undivided attention as the first and most important priority in life.

That’s just one example with one commandment.  Through Paul’s letter to the Romans, God shows us many more.  Sin shows up everywhere.  We have old sins and new sins.  We have accidental sins and purposeful sins.  We have sins that take a long time and sins that pop up randomly.  We have sins inside and on the outside.

And what is really sad about all of this is that we know better.  Paul writes, Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”  God tells us what sin is, not only the bad actions and attitudes, but also the condition that makes my entire life unacceptable.  God tells us what sin deserves; that’s death.  But we continue to do it anyways.  Sure, sometimes it’s an accident, but sometimes it’s not.  And we even find ways to approve of others who sin.

Let’s go back to that Sunday example.  If you skip that hour of the week where God gathers his people to feed their faith, and you let your kids or parents or friends skip too, then you are approving of their sin.  Do you see how tangled this web of evil is for us?

This was Martin Luther’s struggle as a monk, priest, and professor.  Sin was constantly showing its ugliness in his life.  God demanded better, but he was unable to do better.  How could he ever have the righteousness of God with this kind of rap sheet?  And how could you?

He tried, boy did he try.  He wanted so much to earn God’s righteousness.  That was his daily mission.  But every day he failed.  You can try, too.  You can try as hard as you want to earn a right standing with God, but every day you fail.  Sin is a constant companion and it is not friendly.  There’s really only one thing we can say (like the hymn we just sang concludes): “O God, be merciful to me.”

 

PART 2: GRACE

 

With God, there is no try.  With God, there is do.  We can’t try to earn his righteousness.  We can’t try to remove our sins or cover them from his sight.  He sees all of them better than we do.  There is no trying to fix the problems sin causes.  There is no trying to cure the imperfect condition in which we were born and will die.  Sin is the terrible and deadly companion with us our entire lives.

But there is another constant companion that defeats the evil of sin.  There is another constant companion that is far greater and more powerful.  God’s grace.  And with God’s grace there is no trying.  God doesn’t try to fix your problems.  God doesn’t try to cure sin’s disease.  God doesn’t try to save people.  He just does it.

That’s grace.  It’s not earned by beating your body into submission.  It’s not deserved by being better than others.  It’s not won by special works of service.  Grace is this: when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  God’s grace gets to work saving sinners and ungodly people from their deadly companion of sin in life.  God’s grace gets to work by doing all of the necessary work for us.  God’s grace gets to work by doing the one thing that opens heaven to people like us.

Sin has to be dealt with.  It has to be paid for.  If sin brought death into the world, then God’s grace would bring life.  There was no other way.  He would have to make the payment.  At just the right time, God did exactly that.  Jesus came.  He was born with the same obligation to follow the law perfectly…and he did.  God’s Son did what we could not.  He fought off the companionship of sin.  And that perfect life, he gave up as the sacrifice for us.  Jesus carried all the sins of the world to the cross and took the punishment we deserve.  All the ungodly ugliness was unacceptable to God, so he got rid of it with the death of his Son.  All of it is gone.  In sin’s place God has given the gift of grace.  We have forgiveness and life through Christ Jesus.

If you think that is not enough, if you think you have too many sins, then listen to this: “where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”   When God takes care of something, he does it completely.  His grace is perfect at getting rid of sin.

And his grace is always with you.  Nothing changes the facts of Jesus life, death, and resurrection.  Through Christ and his sacrifice, nothing removes God’s grace from you.  He will always be the God who is there for you as your loving Father.  He will always be the God who is there for you with forgiveness.  He will always be the God who is there for you with peace that can only come through the gospel of Jesus.

That is what changed things for Luther.  God did not give righteousness based on us, but he gave it based on his love.  As Paul so beautifully puts it: God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  God just decided that he would love us in a way that we could never have by our own.  Luther was filled up with God’s righteousness because it was a free gift.  He realized God was not an angry judge trying to punish him because of sin, but that he was a God of love who had saved him by grace alone.  God worked through the simple truth of the gospel to free him from the guilt that wants to be our only and our constant companion.

Sin tried hard to ruin Luther, and it tries just as hard to ruin us.  God did not try hard to save us.  He just did it.  Free of charge because he loved us and wanted us to be with him in heaven.  It’s grace and it’s amazing.

Child of God, sin tries to weigh you down, but your gracious Lord has removed the burden forever.  Where guilt tries to sap all your strength, your gracious Lord fills you up with forgiveness.  Where natural human knowledge says you have to work for things in life, your loving Lord uses divine grace that can never fail at keeping you as his very own.

This legacy is the good news that is still heard in our Lutheran churches today.  Do you know how that’s possible?  It’s not because a man named Martin Luther was so amazing.  It’s not because Germans are great at everything.  It’s because of grace.  And as a child of God, that is your constant companion.  Amen.

 

 

THE TRIUNE GOD BLESSES US

Week 1 – 6.11.17

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2 Corinthians 13:11-14

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

 

There is this idea that goes around in our subjective world that I get to decide what I like about God and you get to decide what you like about him.  And if those two things are different, that’s OK.  We don’t have to get so dogmatic about it.  We can just get along with our differing ideas of God as long as we both believe in whatever it is we believe.  What’s important is that we all agree that no one is absolutely right and no one is absolutely wrong.  After all, God just wants us to believe.

People say lots of things like that.  And do you know what?  They are wrong, completely wrong.  All those different views that come from people in this very subjective, self-oriented world, can’t work together.  Differing views don’t work to describe the divine God.  It’s impossible for the perfect God to put up with partial truths and platitudes.  You either have the real God or you don’t.

And so today is a good day for God to remind us who he is.  The reason this festival of the church takes place at this time of year is that we are in a new season, the Pentecost season.  It’s the portion of the Church Year where God’s people grow in the teachings of Christ through his words.  To shift the focus, we are starting our new series, Lutheran Legacy.  Just what exactly does it mean to be a Lutheran?  We are starting today with God, the one true God.

That’s a good place to start, but it is also most confusing because he tells us that he is triune, three persons in one God.  The Father is God.  The Son is God.  The Holy Spirit is God. But there are not three Gods; there is just one God.  I’m not good at math, so this is perfect for me: 1+1+1=1.  It’s bad math, but perfect theology.  This is the God Lutherans confess, because this is the only God there is.

This is confusing, and I like it that way.  What kind of God would he be if I could easily grasp him?  I don’t want a God to be like me.  My son? Sure, in some ways, I want him to be a chip off the old block.  My God?  I need him to be bigger and better than me.  And I don’t need him to be just bigger and better than me.  I need him to be bigger and better than every person, ever.  And so, I’m glad my God reveals himself as three persons in one God, Triune.  I don’t understand it.  I can’t.  But here’s some good news: you don’t have to understand it to believe it.

You probably are familiar with this without even realizing it.  The internet…do you understand how it works?  I remember a time when there was no such thing as internet or Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Siri, no smartphones.  I have no clue how the internet came about or how it works.  But I believe it.  I use the internet every day.  I don’t understand how it works, but I trust it and use it.  Just one other example.  I saw a clip this past week from America’s Got Talent of a woman who plays guitar and sings even though she is deaf.  I have no clue how that works, but I believe it.

That’s the same thing as the Holy Trinity.  You may be surrounded by a holy, eternal Triune God that you cannot grasp or understand, and that’s ok.  We can believe in things that are too profound and complicated for us to grasp.  We do it all the time.  This Triune God, the God of the Bible, told us exactly what he is like.  He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The problem is not with him and how great and mind-blowing he is.  The problem is me.

I was struck by that fact as I read this closing encouragement from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians.  Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. 

Do you know why Paul wrote these encouragements?  It seems obvious that this is exactly how Christians would live, but we don’t.  I was struck by the fact that I don’t always rejoice in all circumstances.  This week was pretty busy.  I had the privilege to preach the gospel of God’s peace and comfort for the funeral of Maurine Striegel on Friday.  I had the privilege of seeing what water can do when it is connected to the life-giving Word of God in Baptism as I baptized Hadley on Saturday.  Those are reasons to rejoice.  But I was not rejoicing about needing to get my whole basement ready for the painting that we are doing this weekend.  I was not rejoicing about trying to keep my garden alive because we haven’t had rain in too long.  I was not rejoicing that I had office work and other preparations that kept me from enjoying the warmer days outside with my kids.

Paul says, “Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.”  Those things should be easy for children of God, but they aren’t.  We strive for self-restoration instead of working with others.  We gossip about one another, ignore one another, or covet what others have instead of encouraging one another.  You each have your own way of thinking about life, relationships, priorities, and our ministries, so being of one mind with another person, even another Christian, can be a tall task.

And finally, Paul says, “live in peace.”  This is a common principle in Scripture, because peace is so hard for us to keep.  How do you live in peace when there is chaos almost constantly?  It comes from all angles.  There’s another terrorist attack.  There’s another political upheaval.  There’s another comment from a coworker.  There’s another bully at school.  Live at peace with people?  Yeah, right!!  How’s that possible in this day and age.

Do you notice who has the problem?  If I can’t grasp the Triune God it’s not his fault, it’s mine.  I’m the one who isn’t smart enough.  I’m the one who isn’t peaceful enough.  I’m the one who isn’t selfless enough, loving enough, strong enough, positive enough… I’m the one who isn’t perfect enough.

And so this Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – this holy, eternal God that is far too great for me to understand, he decided he would bless me.  He decided he wouldn’t curse me.  He decided he wouldn’t demand more works of service to make up for what’s wrong in my life. He wouldn’t punish me for my ineptitude.  He would bless me.  That’s how the God who defies the human mind deals with me.  He doesn’t use conventional wisdom because he is far too great for that.  He uses divine grace, divine love, and divine fellowship.

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  Paul concludes his letter with this familiar blessing, and it couldn’t be more powerful for us.  It shows us the way the Holy Trinity deals with sinners.

First, it’s the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace is the only word for it.  We didn’t work for it.  We didn’t luck into it.  We weren’t born into it.  We didn’t earn it.  We are weak, selfish, sinful, dirty and dying.  We are so sinful and opposed to God by nature.  Like a beached whale, we swim ourselves into places that kill us.  But God’s grace can’t stand to see us in harm’s way.  Grace gets to work to help people who don’t deserve it.  In fact, grace is so good that Jesus took on our weaknesses, our selfishness, our sins, our dirty and dying lives.  He put it all on his shoulders and died for it because he knew we would die separated from God for eternity if he didn’t.

That’s a blessing!

Second, we have the love of God (the Father).  Generally speaking, other religions have a god that loves people who first show love to him.  That’s a very human trait.  Our Father in heaven is the opposite of that.  He loves first.  Without prompting, he makes a world and people to fill it.  When those people blew it and ruined it with sin, he put a plan into action that would cost him so that he could restore our broken relationship with him.  He carried it out to perfection, by his grace, and gives it to us free of charge.  When we are not even able to make comprehensible sentences, his love takes something like water and drowns our sinful nature in baptism.  As we grow he feeds us with his life-giving Word and with the forgiveness of Christ’s body and blood.  He loves us like only a perfect Father could. He gives us everything he has, everything he is, and everything that Christ has provided for our salvation.  He even promises that nothing can change his loving mind.  He will always want you.  He will always be willing to have you.  Nothing can separate you from your Father’s love that is in Christ Jesus.

That’s a blessing!

Third, we have the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Sin and Satan have done a number on this world and in our hearts, always trying to destroy the unity that our Triune God has established with his redeemed people.  Peace is hard to come by.  And so the Holy Spirit blows with the power of Pentecost (remember that from last week?).  He breaks down walls, not with a humanistic universalism and not with a message of: “we can just get along with our differing ideas of God as long as we both believe in whatever it is we believe.  What’s important is that we all agree that no one is absolutely right and no one is absolutely wrong.”  He breaks down walls with the law and gospel, with the power of Scripture, with a message that could never originate in the hearts and minds of man, but only in the heart of the Triune God.  There is unity and fellowship by the power of the Spirit.  It is built on the Word of God and nothing more.

That is a blessing!

This three-fold blessing is what changes life for us.  It makes us live in a new way.  We live with the name of the Triune God on us.  We live with the things Paul encourages: peace, single-mindedness, encouragement, restoration.  We live in the glory of the God we can’t understand but firmly believe.

That’s being Lutheran.  That’s the legacy we hold to.  Over the next couple months we are going to study this legacy, and do you know what you are going to find?  We don’t have our own interpretation of the Bible.  We don’t have our own rules.  We don’t have Luther’s interpretation.  We don’t have Luther’s rules.  We have the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And that is with you all.  Amen.

WHAT IS LIFE LIKE IN THE EASTER VICTORY PARADE?

5.21.17 Easter 6A

Easter Season A

1 John 3:11-18

11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

 

The victory parade of Jesus defeating death still continues.  Whatever happened to you this week or last, whatever health trouble, work trouble, relationship trouble, financial trouble, or emotional trouble you have been dealing with does not diminish the truth of the gospel, that good news that says Jesus saves you.  No matter what has been ailing you spiritually, physically, or emotionally, you have a God who loves you to the point where he would let himself be arrested, tortured, and murdered so that you would not have to face the punishment for your sins.  And this God conquered death so that you get to talk about heaven as your very real, very certain, very perfect, very eternal home.  That is God’s love for you.

Let that sink in… God loves me to death, literally to hell, and then back again.  You know, that really works for me. I like that a lot.  Nothing can separate God’s love from me.  With my sin, I put unnecessary and unhelpful distance between God and myself.  I might ignore him at times.  I do things I shouldn’t, but God will still love me and want me to live with him forever.  He will still work through his Word to call me, to shatter my stony heart, to waken me from slumber, to turn my darkness to light.  He will still be the God who died for me and rose again.

Do you know what that’s called?  When someone does not base their love for me on my performance but loves me simply because they want to, that’s called grace.  And with God’s grace there’s no fine print.  There’s no obligations.  There is nothing that can change that kind of love called grace, because it’s not about me and who I am and what I do, it’s about God and who he is and what he does.

Like I said, that works for me.  God has a personal knowledge of me.  He has a personal way of dealing with me.  I’m not just a name on a long list.  I’m not just a number.  As Luther put it, “God has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts.  Sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.”   That’s a good thing for me to cherish when I feel weary and burdened.  That’s a good thing for me to hold onto when I feel alone.

But sometimes I’m selfish and I take it too far.  You do, too. I like that God knows me and loves me, but I can put too much attention on me.  I like that God is on my side, and in this self-obsessed, ego-infatuated, me-myself-and-I world, I put the focus on this relationship between God and me, failing to enjoy the fact that God has this kind of relationship with others, too.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”  That’s a key word at the end.  Yes, I have a personal relationship with my Savior.  He brought me to faith and I now stand with him and will live with him forever.  But it’s not just me and him.  That pronoun is a first person pronoun, but’s it’s plural.  It’s “us!” That means Jesus loves more than me.

For the selfish heart that stubbornly says, “My faith is between me and God,” the fact is faith in Jesus connects us into a family.  Did you catch that in this letter John wrote.   John says “brothers and sisters” and “dear children.”  God’s grace called us by the gospel of Jesus Christ into his family.  That means there are others.  And these others are not foreign or strange.  They are family.  They were bought with the same blood of Christ.  They were baptized into the name of the same Triune God.  They were called, enlightened, and sanctified by the same Spirit.  They are built on the same solid foundation of God’s truth.  These fellow believers enjoy the same message of law and gospel.  They have the same eternal home waiting for them.  That lasts a lot longer than the family relationships we have on earth.

How does this family operate?  Is it a smile and a nod once in a while at church?  Is that how family works?  Is it nice words?  Some small talk with coffee and doughnuts?  A congratulations at a baptism?  A birthday greeting on facebook?  That just doesn’t sound like the way a family works, does it?

John says, “we should love one another.”  What exactly is the definition of love John is using?  Is it attraction, like a teenager trying to get a date for prom?  Is it a positive feelings for someone, like waving to your neighbors across the street?  Is it familiarity from spending a lot of time together, like a son mimicking his father?  Is that what love is?  That is not even close to the way God is using it here.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”  That’s how God loves people.  He shows his love in actions.  He shows love by doing such amazing things for people who do not deserve it.  He sacrifices himself.  That is love.  That is the love that exists in the family of God, as John continues, And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 

Love is being willing to lay aside your preferences, your opinions, your goals, your time, your energy, even your whole being for someone else.  Love is not just saying they matter more, but showing it.  And this section is not addressed to spouses – although it certainly applies – it is addressed to those within the family of God.

But families don’t always get along, do they?  They don’t always have this kind of love.  In fact, in a family it can get downright nasty.  Did you hear that example of Cain and Abel?  Cain didn’t have the right attitude toward God or toward his brother.  Maybe he thought he could keep it hidden from Abel.  But God saw it all clearly.

God still sees it clearly.  He sees when it’s not just a busy schedule that separates his people, but careless selfishness.  He sees when it’s just the lips moving and the heart is ice cold.  What is happening to God’s family, when brothers and sisters cannot love one another with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control?  We are just like Cain.  We are self-obsessed.  We are ignorant and arrogant.  We are killing love.

Do you know what that is called when you kill love with hatred, with jealousy, with slander, with gossip… It’s called murder.  And if there is one thing this world loves, it’s hate.  Hatred toward people who lean politically.  Hatred toward people of different creeds.  Hatred toward different races and ethnicities.  It’s killing us.  It’s killing our world and it works its way among even God’s people.

And so into our world of hate, the love of God pierced the darkness.  It began with a promise to Cain’s parents, that hatred would not cut God off from his people, but God would put the hatred between his people and Satan (enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers).  The love of God shined brightly the night Jesus entered our world.  Angels sang of peace between God and men.  The love of God walked the earth, willing to show kindness and goodness to all, even the enemies who hated him.  The love of God allowed those enemies to kill Jesus, so that we would know what God’s love does for us.  But the love of God did not end in death.  Jesus passed from death to life.  He would not let hate ruin his kingdom.  With love, his death brought forgiveness and peace.  He would not let his people be ruled by evil and sin.  With love, Jesus destroyed sin, death, and hell.

I have a new life in Christ and so do you.  We have this life where there is peace with God and each other, a life where Christ lives in us through faith, a life where hatred does not control us, a life where I look for ways to show the love of God to my brothers and sisters the way God showed his love to me.

There is a world of people just like Cain, who cannot understand this sort of thing.  It’s foreign, nonsense. They don’t know Christ or care about him so how can they have his love in their hearts?  Instead, they serve themselves.  They hate any opposing view that does not fit their own.

Brothers and sisters, that is not us.  We are not ruled by what we hate.  We are ruled by the love of God.  We are so saturated with it, that we cannot possibly keep it in.  God’s love will never just be a me and God thing.  It will always be a God and us thing.  It will always be giving up what I want because God gave himself up for me.  I will put the needs of others first.

This love that flows from God through us will be visible.  It will be visible in this family of believers here.  It will be visible like good fruit is visible on a tree.  People will see your joy that exists not because everything in life is going smoothly, but because sins are forgiven and life in heaven is yours.  People will see your kindness, that isn’t looking for a reward but desires to help others in need.  People will see your faithfulness, that even though we live in fickle times, the risen Lord keeps us steadfast.  These brothers and sisters will see it and rejoice that God’s love can do such things.

That’s gospel ministry.  That’s the life we have in this victory parade.  Love is what defines us, God’s undying love that called us out of the darkness of hate and brought us into the light of life.  As Christ has love you, now you love one another. God grant it.  Amen.

WHO IS LIKE GOD?

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Micah 7

18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. 20 You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.

 

 

He was scared of God.  Night and day, he lived in fear of a God who knew every thought, heard every word, and saw every action.  God’s demands were oppressive and cruel to him.  He was hopelessly lost in a cycle of trying to earn God’s love, but his love always seemed out of reach.  That’s the way Martin Luther lived the first half of his life.  He saw God as an angry and holy Judge.

It’s not surprising that Luther had this understanding.  It was readily accepted in his day because that is how the church was portraying God.  Yes, he was the God who loved the world and sent Jesus to save it.  Yes, he was the God who died for the sins of the world.  Yes, he rose from the dead to give eternal life to all believers.  But, in order to be a believer in Jesus, you had to work for it.  You had to show God how much you loved him with your good works, and then he would respond with his love and mercy.  With that kind of view, people thought God was always looking for good works and not really doing much for his people.

A lot of people still have that kind of viewpoint today.  They think of God this way for a couple reasons.  Number 1, if people don’t read the Bible, they won’t know who God is and what he is like. Instead, they will listen to others talk about him or they’ll watch shows and movies about him to see what he is like.  Because that is how so many people are hearing about God, they don’t have the right view.  And the second reason people think about God like a judge who is always watching is that it makes human sense.  It makes sense to us that people are watching us and that when we do good they reward us and when we mess up they do not reward us.  We see this kind of thing happening all around us.  If you get good grades, then your teacher likes you and your parents give you more privileges or games (or whatever kids are asking for nowadays).  If you do your job well, then your boss likes you, your coworkers can depend on you, you might get a raise, and if you are really good, you might get that promotion.  If you are kind, honest, humble and giving, then you won’t go to jail.  Instead, your neighbors will like you, do nice things for you, and you will be a respected member of the community.  This is how people naturally think.  It’s what we see every day.  And so why wouldn’t people think about God this way?

Micah poses this question for us today: Who is a God like you?  If someone answers that question by thinking in human terms, then they are making God way too much like all of us.  And when people think God is like us, when people think he decides things based on what we do, then do you know where that leads?  Sinful people are left in despair trying to earn a relationship with a holy God.  It turns into high school dating where there is no certainty, just a frenzy of worried people who try to grab attention and get what they want, sometimes by any means necessary.

A relationship with God does not exist when you look at God like that, because you cannot earn God’s love.  We don’t have enough perfection to earn it.  In fact, we have a big fat ZERO in the perfection column.  And because of that, we don’t deserve anything from God.  There is no reward for trying hard, for sheer determination, or for not getting caught.  Are you starting to realize why Martin Luther was so afraid?  He knew and believed that Jesus had died for his sins and risen from the grave for his eternal life, but he wasn’t able to make God happy enough with him to get those blessings.  All he could do was continue to try to work for them.  A sinful person was trying to live without sin in order to get forgiveness of sins.  How’s that going to work?

But, your identity as a Lutheran is not based on human reasoning, viewpoints or terms.    That’s what freed Luther from his fear of a holy, judge-God.  As we studied last week, you and I stand on the solid foundation of God’s Holy Scriptures. We have a God who reveals himself in the Bible.  And so when Micah poses the question today – who is a God like you? – the answer is so clear.  There is no other God, because no god that originates in human minds could be one:

who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance.  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.

Who does that?  Who is like that?  Who gives and gives and gives?  When you think about it, this makes no sense whatsoever. God pardons sin.  Why would he do that?  What’s in it for him?  Why would God just take all your sins and all your guilt off your shoulders? Why would he carry them away from you, removing them from your past and future? There’s no good human logic here, unless it’s because he loves you so much that he doesn’t want to see your eternity ruined.  Unless he has so much compassion that he cannot bear to see you struggle or see you lost and alone.  That and only that is the reason.

Micah says we have a God who forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance.  Let’s unpack that a little bit.  The Hebrew word used for “forgive” is a word that means to pass over.  Think of the Passover in Egypt.  Those doors that were painted with the blood of a lamb were passed over by God.  He was killing every first born from every house that night but he passed over the ones that were marked with blood.  God marked you with the blood of Jesus so that he passes over you instead of giving you death.

But what about that remnant?  What’s that all about?  That’s another good history lesson.  During Micah’s ministry as a prophet the people of Israel, God’s chosen nation, his inheritance, were exiled by the Assyrian army because God had to discipline his rebellious, unrepentant people.  He was trying to wake them up from spiritual slumber.  Micah prophesied that it would happen and it did.  Well, out of the 12 tribes, 10 were now gone, but there was still hope for the southern 2.  They could learn the lesson.  They could wake up.  And Micah gave them the warning to turn away from sinful rebellion, to get rid of the false gods who were really nothing at all.  He warned them that there would be another exile if they did not listen to God.  Well, you know what happened, don’t you?  The southern part of Judah tried for a while, but they kind of reverted back to bad behavior.  God sent more warnings from more prophets, but it didn’t help them.  And so the Babylonians exiled Judah.  But that’s where this section comes in.  God’s undeserved love and compassion are so great that he says he forgives the remnant.  Micah says, “You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us…” God is telling his people, “I know how much you messed up.  I know how much this discipline hurts you.  I know how bad this must be for you, but I still love you.  I will always love you.  I will watch over you in exile.  I will protect you.  I will bring you back to the Promised Land to start over. I will keep my promises.  I will pass over your wickedness and rebellion because that is how much I love you.”

Brothers and sisters, you are a part of that remnant.  No matter what has happened in your life.  No matter how much guilt you carry, God carries away your sins and passes over you with the punishment.  Instead, Jesus takes the full wrath of God in our place.  Jesus is handed all of our sins.  Jesus carries them all to Calvary.  Jesus is not passed over but given the death penalty in our place.  Jesus suffers what we should suffer.

This next part is where Kix come into the mix.  Do you know that cereal, “kid tested, mother approved?”  I loved those as a kid.  Well, we have lots of those at our house.  Lute loves them.  Issy loves them.  And sometimes with an 21-month old and a 3 ½ year-old, they don’t always successfully get all the Kix into their mouth.  So when I wake up and it’s still dark or when I come home for lunch or dinner, sometimes these delightful puffs end up under my foot.  Do you know what happens to a Kix when it is under my foot?  It is crushed to powder!  It becomes nothing.  It is unusable.  It must be swept up and thrown out.  Here’s how Micah describes what God does to our sins, “You will tread our sins underfoot.”  God makes our sins like those Kix in my kitchen.  He crushes them.  He makes them unusable.  Doesn’t that bring a smile to your face?  God loves you so he crushes sin out of your life.  He treats our sins like the dirt.  He tramples on them.  He sweeps them up.

And then he, “hurls all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”  God not only makes our sins unusable, but he also makes them nonvisible.  See, he doesn’t just take them away from us.  He puts them out of sight where we can’t find them again.  When God says he forgives you, he means it.  He means that his people do not need to get up with pet sins anymore.  “But I like that one, and it’s harmless, and I repent of it a bunch.”  God says, “Those sins are no good for you.  So I am getting rid of them.  You don’t need them to be happy.  You don’t need them to be secure.  You need me.  You need my love.  You need my peace.”

Micah finishes by saying, “you will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.”  God keeps his promises.  It’s not an optional thing that depends on how good you are.  It’s not a logical thing that we have to understand.  God keeps his promises.  When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would make their descendants a great nation, he kept his promise.  When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would take care of them and protect them, he kept his promise.  When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would bless the whole world with one of their descendants, God kept his promise and sent Jesus.   Jesus kept his promise to forgive us and save us.

I don’t care what happens this upcoming Tuesday,  I don’t care about a 108 year-old wait for a championship that just ended this past week, I don’t care about anything like that, it cannot compare to joy and comfort that God’s love gives.  We have an eternity with God because he loves us and forgives us.

Brothers and sisters, does any of this sound like something we could think up?  Does it sound like something we could do?  No.  That’s why Luther treasured this so much, because it changed his view of God.  No longer was God angry all the time.  No longer was God a Judge looking to punish.  When Luther read passages like these, the Spirit brought peace and joy because he had a God who loved him.  He had a Savior who forgave him completely 100% without any added works.

That’s what gives us our identity still to this day.  That we have a God and Savior who loves us with no conditions or fine print.  He loves us even though we do not deserve it and have not earned any of these spiritual and eternal rewards.  God gives us this gift not because it’s a birthday, graduation, or anniversary and not because you did something great but simply because he really wants you to know what he is like and how much he cares.  Do you know what this is?  It’s called grace.

Micah and Martin Luther loved it, and so do we, because it gives us the answer to this question: Who is like God?  The easy answer is NO ONE, NOTHING, not now, not ever.  Because our God gives us… grace.

Amen.