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.