THE PERFECT SERMON ABOUT LOVE

Eater 2019

1 Corinthians 13

1 If I speak in the tongues n of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, u but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

 

What sermon do you listen to about love?  See, you don’t have to be in a church to hear a sermon.  There are sermons all over the place every day, because a sermon is simply an address on a theological topic.  And love is most definitely a theological topic; it’s all over the place in the Bible.  It’s also discussed all over the place from all sorts of angles by all sorts of sources.  So what sermon do you listen to?

Do you like the sermons about love from RomComs (romantic comedies), Soap Operas, and other shows and movies? You know, there’s the little quirky one or the one who has some personal baggage and they find each other in odd circumstances where it just might work and you get to see it work out in such an endearing or passionate or convoluted way.

Do you like the sermons about love that you hear in songs? Love Is a Long, Long Road, Don’t Treat Me Like a Stranger, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, Something Good Coming, Our Love Was Built to Last, She’s Gonna Listen to Her Heart (Tom Petty tunes) I Can’t Help Falling in Love with you, You’re Still the One, More than Words, Nothing Compares to You, Piece of My Heart, Just Give Me a Reason, Kiss Me, Sex & Candy.  Whether you realize it or not, you are learning a bunch of ideas about love while you drive around or sit your desks.

Do you realize that you are hearing sermons about love from advertisements?  You need this product to be prettier, you need this to win her over, this gift will make her happy, that will be good for your family, and on an on about the things that make love more satisfying, stronger, better or easier.

Besides all these sources, kids are getting sermons about love as they watch their parents, as the walk the hallways at school, on their Snapchat and other social media.  As they get older, they also to get these sermons in the locker room, at work, on campus, at parties.

So many sermons about love saying love is about passion and keeping the flame alive.  Sermons teaching that love is about laughter and fun.  Sermons promoting love is all about what matters to you and gives you a special feeling.  Sermons describing love a deep personal connection that you can fall into or be struck with it at first sight.  Sermons saying that love and sex don’t need to be connected anymore.  Sex should be for whoever whenever, because it’s just a bodily need for some people.  And on and on…

There are so many sermons about love that really don’t get to the heart of the issue at all.  God doesn’t want you to learn about a love that only goes skin deep.  He wants you to know that love takes everything you are, body, mind, and soul.  He wants you to know that love cannot flame out because it’s not about passion and feelings.  He wants you to know that love does not set conditions; it has no fine print.  He wants you to know about love from the one who defines it (1 John 2).  He wants you to know about love that is not based on you – where you come from, what you do, how you look – but comes from him, based on who he is and what he does.  He wants you to know that his love for you is also his love for others.

And so, God inspired the Apostle Paul to write this sermon on love in 1 Corinthians 13.  This is the sermon we need.  This is the sermon that perfectly reveals God’s love for us and at the same time perfectly teaches us what his love will do through us for others.

Paul starts out with the first 3 verses describing great things like speaking in different languages or even speaking in spiritual, angelic tongues, having the give of prophecy, being able to move mountains with his faith in God’s power, having a generosity that is boundless, and being able to suffer through the most difficult hardships.  Any one of those things would be a great blessing from God, not just useful for me but also very helpful to others around me.  But having those abilities without love is just plain old annoying or worse.

Do you know the clash of cymbals?  My parents do.  I was in sixth grade when I bought a drum set, and not the electric kind that you plug in and can hear only if you have the headphones on.  I bought the real kind.  Boy, did I want to practice the drums, every day, in fact.  I would practice beats and fills.  I would play along with CDs and the radio.  And it was for the whole house and probably neighborhood to hear.  I cannot comprehend how my family put up with it.  It’s not like I had them in a padded room with a door.  They were in the basement family room to fill the whole house with their beautiful banging and clashing.  I guess they must have really loved me to endure that.

If you don’t fill your words and actions with the love that comes from God, then all those amazing blessings Paul mentions are about as good as a 6th grader trying to learn the drums in your home.  It’s just a whole lot of banging and clanging.  It’s annoying and irritating.

Why would God be so blunt?  Why would he say that really beneficial blessings like speaking in languages, prophecy, faith that can move mountains, cheerful generosity, and patient endurance are annoying and of no real purpose?  Because without God’s kind of love, these gifts don’t serve others the way God serves us. They are not being used for God’s glory and his purpose but are just self-promoting and self-gratifying.  And God’s love just doesn’t do that.  The goal of faith, hope and love is not to puff you up, earn you recognition and glory, make you feel better.  The goal of faith, hope, and love is to serve God and raise others up, give others encouragements, make others better.

See, love and selfishness do not go together.  Love never asks the question, “What can I get out of this?”  Love never says, “I need it now, ” or “It’s my way or the highway.”  Love is not interested in putting others down while you elevate yourself.  Love cannot be in the same realm as anything that would go against God’s Word.

Instead, here is the perfect sermon about love: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I know what you’re thinking, because it’s what I think when I read these words of God: “I am a failure.  I can’t do that.  Maybe I can do it for about 15 minutes or an hour, but all day every day for everyone I come into contact with, because God says love your neighbor.  I am a total loser.”  God says this is the sermon you need on love.  Not any of those movies or songs.  And I think, “If this is the kind of love that needs to be a part of my life as a child of God, then I’m in big trouble.”

Can you remember a time when you weren’t patient?  It was probably this morning or right now.  How about kind?  Again, it already happened today.  Envious, boastful, proud?  Check, check, and check.  Go on down the list and all I see is things that I fail to do for people, even those in my own home.

But remember this sermon is from God.  He wrote it, because he knows this kind of love very well.  It’s not that he sees it so regularly in our lives, but he knows it so well because this is the kind of love that he has for you. No conditions need to be met.  No levels have to be reached.  No works must be done.  No prayers must be said.  This is the love that is at the heart of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  This is the love that Jesus displayed as he lived and died for you.  This is the love that brought him back from the dead so that you and I would have an eternal home with him in heaven.  This is the love that he continues to shower on us every single day.

We claim to be too busy for a lot of things, and Jesus is patient.  We are unpleasant, and Jesus is kind.  We are arrogant, and Jesus is humble.  We are looking to raise ourselves up and lower others, Jesus is looking for ways to spiritually lift us up so that we can put others first.  We get angry and hold grudges, and Jesus peacefully forgives and forgets.  We find delight in our pet sins, and even though it stings, Jesus compassionately gives us the truth of law and gospel, sin and grace.  We don’t fight the good fight against the devil and all his evil as we should, so Jesus fought him for us and won.  He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Jesus never fails.

My brothers and sisters, here is the perfect sermon on love: Jesus. Period.

If you are wondering how in the world this kind of love can come out of you and show itself not just to those dear to you but to all, I want you to think of where Jesus is right now.  He’s not being selfish, doing something that only benefits him.  He’s not off somewhere else, neglecting us.  He’s not boiling over about all of our loveless hearts. He’s right here speaking through this word of God.  He’s right here a little later in his body and blood.  He’s right here and in each one of us through faith that he put there in baptism.

How could this kind of love ever show up in your life is maybe not the right question.  The question is where else could it be?  How could this love of God not be in your life?  See, Jesus put it right there in your heart.  Jesus keeps it there by the power of the Spirit working through his Word and Sacraments.  Jesus keeps his promise to never leave you nor forsake you.  Jesus keeps his promise to never fail.  He keeps his love for you and in you so that it will go to work through you.

Here is not a love that selfishly desires what I want but a love that selflessly serves what others need.  Here is not a love that ignores sin but a love that confesses it, forgives it, and leaves it.  Here is not a love that sets conditions but a love that gives joyously and eagerly to all.  Here is not a love that gives up but a love that can do nothing but hope and persevere.  This love you have been given by God and this love you give others from God.

I could go on and on and on, but God’s perfect sermon on love says it all so simply and in just 13 verses.   So maybe just one thing remains… the Amen.

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MERCY IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE

makings of ministry

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

 

I remember very vividly 4 or 5 years ago an older man coming up to me in the church basement, saying, “Pastor, that devotion you wrote for the newsletter is crazy.  That has to be impossible!”

If you thought last week’s message was shocking, what are you thinking now as we take a look at how Jesus continued this sermon in Luke 6?

If you remember, last week Jesus said that everything in your life is at peace and going well, that you are blessed when you are poor, hungry, sad, and persecuted.  His purpose for saying that was to show us that the proper priorities for life are not earthly possessions and worldly desires but a spiritual relationship with Jesus, a heart of faith, and the eternal home of heaven.  I don’t need to rehash the whole thing, you can go online and check out the video on our website/ Facebook.

This week, however, Jesus takes it up a notch, don’t you think?  Maybe you are thinking that the older gentleman I spoke to before church that day was right, what Jesus says here is impossible.  I mean, there are plenty of places in the Bible where God says something that causes people to scratch their heads.  If God has put faith into your hearts that doesn’t mean all the questions just disappear, does it?  If you trust and rely on Jesus then there is still room to grow in his Word.  And today, that’s what we need to do, because what Jesus says seems to be impossible.

Let’s just summarize it:  Love your enemies.  Love the way Jesus uses it is not even close to love the way our world uses it.  Our world says ‘love’ when it talks about pets, food, sports teams, and famous people.  That’s not love to Jesus.  Because love is not selfish.  Love is not a fuzzy feeling.  Love is not lust. Love is not following someone on Instagram or Facebook.  Love is not wanting more of something for yourself.  Love is making a sacrifice.  Love is caring enough to forgo something that would benefit you so that someone else can benefit.  Love is serving selflessly the needs of others.  Love is compassion.  And the only way we could ever know love is because God is love.

And when Jesus says ‘enemies,’ he’s not talking about the people who aren’t friends, like relatives you don’t know very well, neighbors you haven’t met, coworkers that you don’t really talk to except the casual “hello.”  Jesus is talking about the relatives who bad mouth you to the whole family and try to turn them against you.  Jesus is talking about the neighbors who are actively and maliciously trying to make your time in the neighborhood worse.  Jesus is talking about the bullies at school.  He’s talking about the coworkers who want you gone for good.  Jesus is talking about the people you know who are out to get you.  He says, “You need to love them, sacrifice what’s good for you for their sake, do good things for them, pray for them, and let it go if they hurt you or steal from you.”

As Jesus says later, it is really easy to love people who love you.  Even sinners, the real lowlifes, the castoffs of society, the ones who are looked down on, even they know how to love and care about the ones who are loving and caring towards them.  Jesus says, “What credit is that to you” three times.  You aren’t impressing him or unbelievers when you only care about the people who show they care for you first.  Jesus wants all who are listening to him to understand that the goal is to show love, do good, and be generous to people who do not deserve it.

Let’s just be clear here.  Jesus doesn’t say that evil is good.  He doesn’t say that we just have to suck it up when terrible things happen.  Jesus is not saying that if you are being abused, raped, or your life is in danger that you should do nothing. But he is saying that it is not your job to get even, ever.  It is not your responsibility to retaliate or avenge any wrongs that you have to endure.  If that seems weak and humble and lowly, good.  Those are defining characteristics that Jesus wants you to have.  Just last week, if you remember the Apostle Paul reminded us that when we are weak, then we are strong because we are relying on God’s grace and Christ’s power to work in us and through us.

Jesus goes on later in verse 37 to warn against being judgmental.  This is not at all talking about sin.  So, you better know the difference.  Sin is what God says is wrong.  Look at his commandments; disobeying them is sin. Period.  But living with the hypocritical attitude that puts all your personal preferences, opinions, and ideas on par with God’s moral code cannot be condoned.   That’s what Pharisees did, and Jesus bluntly says here, you cannot judge people that way.  Your default setting must be compassion, forgiveness, and love.  If you aren’t willing to live that way every day, then why should God treat you any different.  He should judge you, condemn you, and destroy you.

And finally, in verse 38 Jesus says to be generous.  Think of measuring out wheat here.  Jesus is saying use a good honest scale, press it down a couple times and shake it together so that you aren’t skimping at all, and even let it run over a little bit.  Having a generous heart will not only be good for others, because as Jesus says, “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  In essence, if you are generous, then others and God will be generous to you.

This all sounds fine and good, until you realize that Jesus is not saying this is what you should expect from others.  He is not saying that you should wait for other people to treat you this way.  Then, and only then, you can go ahead and treat them well.  No, that’s not the golden rule.  Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  “Treat others the way I want them to treat me?  I think that is putting the wrong person first.  I just don’t think others are going to treat me the way I want them to, so I’ll just change that a little bit so that I make sure I am not being neglected.”  But that’s not the way Jesus wants it.  God never puts himself first, so do you really think it’s excusable to put yourself first?

What that man said to me years ago in a church basement kind of sounds right on the money.  Jesus is describing and teaching a way of life that seems impossible for us.  And if it seems downright wrong to you, then how could you ever be a child of God?  Because God’s children want to be like their perfect Father.  They want to listen to their Lord and Savior.  They serve willingly because the Spirit lives in their hearts.

Brothers and sisters, it is impossible for us to find our way into God’s family by following what Jesus says here.  But what is impossible for us is not only possible for God, but it is exactly what he does for you.  Right there in the middle of verse 35 Jesus says it so well, “the Most High…is kind to the ungrateful and wicked… your heavenly Father is merciful.” Mercy is another one of those beautiful Bible words that explores a concept so foreign to us that only God can show us what it is.

Think of a gunman who shoots up a school full of kids, think of the sexual predator, think of the worst bully, think of your fiercest enemies.  You kind of want to see them suffer.  They have ruined so many lives, they need to know what it is like.

That’s not the way God sees it.  He sees someone who is ungrateful and wicked but who needs kindness and love.  He sees someone who deserves punishment for all the wrongs they have done, but he doesn’t do it.  He sees a sinner who needs a Savior.  God sees everything that happens, and he has the love to forgo any punishment.  He does not thirst for blood.  The psalmist tells us, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” [1] That’s mercy.  It sounds utterly impossible for us, but not for God.   Instead of giving us the very well-deserved punishment for sin, which is called hell, his grace sent Jesus.

And what exactly did Jesus do. Well, it’s not like we were on his side.  Sin makes us hostile enemies of God.  By nature we are born on the wrong side of that relationship.  Jesus did come here to find all the people who were on God’s side so that he could save the ones who earned it.  No, Jesus came to a world full of enemies.  And he came here to love us, not wanting his own personal gain but caring and sacrificing himself for us.  He came here not to judge us and condemn us, but to forgive us.  He didn’t come to see how much he could get out of us, but he came here to give us everything he had.  He didn’t love the loveable, because the loveable do not exist.  Instead, he loved us so much, that he died to make us loveable to God and heirs of his kingdom.  God’s mercy didn’t punish us.  His grace sent Jesus to take the punishment for us.  God’s mercy doesn’t send us to hell.  His grace gives us the gifts of forgiveness, life, salvation through Jesus, and the faith to hold on to him. God’s mercy and grace is the only way we have eternal life with God in heaven.

God’s mercy and grace is also the only way we can have his kind of life here on earth.  What Jesus says today sounds impossible.  “Love your enemies…Do to others as you would have them do to you.” But it’s not impossible for him.  That is exactly what he did for us.  And when he put the Spirit in your heart, when he took up residence in your life, don’t you think he gave you the abilities to carry out this God-pleasing life?  Don’t you think that faith in Jesus makes you different now?  Don’t you think that God’s love has worn off on you a little bit so that you can look at others in a new way?

Of course it has.  Love, good, prayer, humility, forgiveness, generosity… where else do you think this world should find those attributes than the children of the God who shows us exactly what those things are?  And that is exactly what makes our ministry here so powerful.  We have the God of unmatched mercy.  We have the God of generous grace.  We have the Savior of selfless service.  So, that is what our lives and our ministry will look like.

That man said I was crazy and it must be impossible.  It’s not at all a surprising statement.  Do you know what I told him?  I said, “It sure is impossible for us, but not for Jesus. And guess where he is right now?”  Do you know that answer to that?  Through faith, Jesus is right here (heart) and here (in the Word) and here (among us).  So, that means with God’s unmatched mercy in us, we can love our enemies. God grant it.  Amen.

 

[1] Psalm 103:10

NO LIMITS TO CHRIST’S LOVE

makings of ministry

John 2

1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Woman, x why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

 

This past week I was at a home missionary conference in Atlanta.  Atlanta is massive.  The metro area has over 6 million people, the ninth largest in the States.  We have 8 churches in that area, including a new mission right in the middle of the city.  8 churches for over 6 million.  It’s a good location for a conference about the mission work we have and the work missionaries do here at home in America.  And so a conference like this one was the kind of place where it is easy to see God at work for his church.  These are often so uplifting and joyous and motivating.  It’s a reminder of what God still does and accomplishes through his Word.  He saves people, unexpected, undeserving people – you and me.  When I attend those kinds of things, I pray that it will help not just me but all of us here in our service to the Lord and Bismarck.  Our Lord can do it.

And then, we arrive in a place where the mission work doesn’t seem so great.  It’s little Cana for a wedding.  Jesus is an invited guest.  In is a small, rural community Jesus has to know the family somehow, and a close-knit group having a happy celebration would customarily go on for several days or more.  Music, dancing, speeches, food, wine.  We’re told Jesus’ mother is there and that she notices a problem.  She brings it to her son’s attention because she knows whose Son he really is and what he is capable of doing.  It might seem like a little thing in a little community, but Jesus will prove that it’s not.

Jesus responds directly but respectfully.  The Son of God is here for one thing, so everything he does has to fit into that purpose and that timing.  His time to do what only he is capable of doing “has not yet come.”  That’s a good reminder that we don’t get to tell God what to do and when to do it.  Even if you are his earthly mother or a dear blood-bought brother or sister, we do not tell the Lord his business.  We make requests, we send prayers and petitions, but we do not selfishly demand or instruct our Savior.  We wait for him, and his answers will always come at the best time.

The time always comes when God answers, and his time arrived here in Cana, as well.  Jesus tells the servants to fill these six massive jars that can fit 20 to 30 gallons in each one.  Water goes in, the usual purpose for the jars.  But wine is what the master tastes.  I found this description of what happened: “Water heard the voice of its creator and blushed.”  Whatever kind it was, it was the best wine because that’s how God answers – with the best…always.

But I have to wonder why?  Don’t you?  A family runs out of wine at their wedding celebration?  That’s not life-threatening.  That’s not even life-altering.  That’s not calamity.  That’s not catastrophe.  That certainly doesn’t put anyone’s eternity at risk.  But even this simple item, this very small detail is one our Lord is capable and mindful to handle.

There are probably plenty of things, positive or negative, that we consider far too mundane to bring to the Lord’s attention: a scrape, a full bowl of cereal, a letter from a friend, a small schedule change, a trip down the street, a lost toy, a brief weather change, etc.  Or how about this?  Do you sometimes worry about money?  House payments, bills, credit card balances?  Do you fear you’re losing a close friend, who is drifting away from you?  Do you fret about your kids and what kind of world they are going to have in 50 years?  Is your day chalk full of endless tasks and responsibilities that you kind of start the day with a pessimistic outlook right off the bat?  All of these are relatively small and daily things that we deal with.  It can be easy to think, “I shouldn’t bother the Lord with these types of things.  He’s got depressed people, diseased people, dying people, abused people, persecuted people – all sorts of big-ticket items to handle.  My little thing is something I should probably take care of.”

Brothers and sisters, Jesus turned water into wine on the last days of a wedding in little old Cana.  He cares for your every need, right down to the daily bread that he taught you to pray for.  The small things like scrapes, a schedule change, something lost, a brief change in weather, the money issues, the drifting friendship, the changing and chaotic political situation – Jesus turned water into wine.  He can handle the little things.  The big things like diseases, he can cure them, or he can give the strength and humility to cope faithfully.  The loss of a loved one is when his Word can prove to be a mighty fortress even as waves of grief come attacking. Calamity and catastrophe can serve his goal of redirecting people’s attention.  He can also speed recovery and return any people and any place to stability and normalcy.  His love stretches that far, over every single aspect of your life.  You and I have limitations, his love does not.  And we haven’t even spoken of the greatest thing.

While I was at this conference, I worshiped with maybe 50-70 brothers and sisters from all over our church body. We heard the law and gospel inspired and written by God.  We ate and drank the bread and wine, which is, as Jesus instructs his true body and blood for our forgiveness and nourishment.  I heard other pastors talking about meeting atheists in their communities who, over time through the power of God working through the Word, were completely changed into believers.  People who hated God and refused to acknowledge that he even exists are now musicians, elders, leaders, and inviters for God and his church.  I heard about pastors meeting all sorts of people out at community events, in shops, at neighborhood parties, at kid’s sporting events, or during community service project, and those relationships sometimes lead to people taking a BIC (Bible basics) class and membership in the eternal family of God.  I heard about not just pastors but members of these home missions who jump right in and help set up for worship in rented spaces, who bring invitations to work and parties, who develop friendships with the idea that they want to live forever with friends and neighbors in heaven.  The only way that is possible is to introduce them to Jesus.

“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” This is something so massive and limitless that it’s hard to put into words.  God’s love is not just able to turn water to wine.  Jesus’ love is not just good for serving at weddings.  See, this miracle is great and there are many more, but miracles aren’t the big thing. John goes on to describe the big thing at the end of his book in John 20: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.” God’s love can turn dirty, stinky, gross hearts like yours and mine into cleansed and purified hearts that believe in Jesus.  Jesus’ love serves us the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son, given to spare us from the punishment and pain of hell so that we can live with him forever in heaven. His Word and the sacraments have that kind of power.  His love has that kind of desire.  There are no limits to what God has accomplished for us.

His grace will not run out like the wine at the wedding.  I hope you noticed just how much Jesus provided.  If things were wrapping up in a couple days maybe 10 more cases of wine would do the trick.  That’s 120 bottles, each at 750 mL.  Quick math and that would be about 24 gallons.  That would be one of those stone jars.  Jesus did 6 times that amount of the best wine the master had tasted.  Brothers and sisters, your Savior knows how to provide for your earthly life.  He knows how to provide your eternal life.  He knows how to do these things abundantly, without limits.

This good news strengthen, builds, and encourages people.  This kind of love is going to work in hearts just like it did on the disciples.  They kept following, kept learning from, kept believing in, and kept serving the Lord.  And that’s the prayer for us, as well.  That must be why someone recommended the second reading for today.  This is God inspiring the apostle Paul’s prayer for believers in Ephesus and believers here.  It’s worth another look, from Ephesians 3 (7 and 8 in the worship folder):

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Jesus’ power is not just in this place where we hear his mighty Word.  It’s wherever he is.  It’s in Cana and Atlanta.  It’s in Sterling, Menoken, Mandan and Bismarck.  Jesus’ love is not just in this place where he feeds us with his body and blood.  He puts his love in your heart through faith.  His love shines through you, so it’s wherever you go to and serve others in his name, for his glory.  His love is where you work, where you study, where you relax, and where you play.  His love is where you eat and where you rest.  His love is at work in every situation you deal with.

There is also a great reminder here in what Jesus did and didn’t do.  He did change water into wine, but he didn’t fill the jars with water or take the water to the master. He told the servants to do that. Jesus’ love changes us from bystanders to servants who draw from his immeasurable grace and mercy, and then give it to others.

But that’s not the limit either.  His love is active way beyond just you and me. It extends wherever sinners are finding forgiveness in him, wherever the troubled are given peace in him. It reaches those who otherwise have no reason to hope, no possibility of contentment. His love is wherever the gospel is proclaimed. Yes, in keeping with his unlimited and immeasurable power, the love of Jesus is “so wide and long and high and deep,” in this life it’s impossible to fully know it. It even reaches countless souls you and I will never meet until we sit down with him and all his beloved at the bountiful heavenly wedding banquet.

Brothers and sisters, today in little old Cana we see one of the things that makes Jesus’ ministry so powerful.  It is his unlimited love.  But that’s not just in Cana, is it?  Through faith in him, his love is right here and right there.  And when you have his unlimited love in your heart, he involves you.  You already have what he gives you – and it’s a limitless supply – now start serving.  Amen.

GET COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE

 

Walls torn down

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

 

Love makes you do some undesirable things.  I thought of an example that fits for parents: change diapers.  You love your baby. You know they need to be clean.  And even though it’s stinky and sometimes you get hit by some not-so-friendly fire, you do it.  But every parent will admit that it gets old.  Sometimes you and your spouse do a rock-paper-scissors best of three to see who has to do the change.  Sometimes you wish the oldest was old enough to do it.  The great thing about changing diapers is that eventually you don’t have to do it anymore; the baby grows up.  Love makes you do some undesirable or uncomfortable things for a while.

But all things, does love make you do all things?  Is that really possible?  I mean, last week we began this evangelism training series by taking a good look at the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan.  Remember that when the love of Christ is in your heart you are built to show love to people just as Christ has shown love to you.  You will help someone when they are in need.  You will give money to those who have been affected by a disaster of some kind.  You will put yourself in a position where you have to sacrifice something for someone else’s benefit.  You will change diapers.  You will.  There’s no question about that.

When the topic is evangelism there is a similar attitude.  Christ has given you his good news.  It’s not just a little piece of your life along with all these other details and descriptions that are more important.  The gospel is the number one biggest and best thing that you have, because in the gospel you have the good news that you are saved by Jesus free and full.  God loves you so much that he decided to make heaven your eternal home because of what Jesus has done for you.  God has made this your good news.

But he has also made this universally good for everyone and God wants all people to be saved, so God wants your good news to be their good news.  You do have people in your family, your group of friends, your neighborhood, your work – there are people who you know who don’t have or don’t care much about this good news.  You can talk about Jesus, religion, faith, church with them.  You can work up the courage to bring it up with a spouse, relative, friend or neighbor.  You can invite them to worship, to take a Bible Basics course together, to meet up with me for a chat sometime.  You can.  And since this good news of the gospel is so good, you have probably tried doing this before.

But the Good Samaritan story is one that Jesus makes up to teach us who we should love and what love does.  From that story we learn that every single person who is not me is my neighbor.  With Christ’s love in my heart, I will be willing to help them.  And with Christ’s love in my heart I will be willing to help them quite a bit.  But the story is only about one specific occasion.  You and I could probably do that kind of Good Samaritan thing one time.  You and I can go out of our way to help someone who needs it once.  We could pay for someone’s meal or groceries once.  We could spring into action if a neighbor kid gets hurt and no one else is around.  We could do a fundraiser for someone in need.  We could give some confused person directions.  We could put some gas in someone’s car.  All sorts of stuff that we could do because we are loved by Jesus and his love is now present in our hearts.

But what if it’s more than once?  What if it becomes a pattern?  When it comes to loving others, what if we have to do it a lot?  When it comes to evangelism, speaking the good news of Jesus, what if we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable?  This section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians helps us with that.

The Apostle Paul had worked hard among the people of Corinth.  He wanted them to have what he had.  So much, in fact, that he did not even take any kind of payment from them when he first stopped in Corinth on his second missionary trip.  He put himself in that position because serving people was his main goal.  He was also willing to mingle with both Jews and Gentiles because the gospel is for all every single person was worth it.  That wasn’t the normal way to do things back then.

Now, we might look at that and think Paul’s nuts.  Actually, there were plenty of people in Corinth who were trying to convince the members of the congregation that Paul was not only nuts for doing that but also not a true apostle. They were saying something like this: “Paul must not be a real preacher called by God because every preacher should get some kind of payment for his work.  And a real preacher would certainly not be seen with the kind of people we saw Paul with when he was here the last time.”

But Paul answers that by saying, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone…”  Paul says it doesn’t matter who it is, if there are people who could be served in his ministry, then he would do it.  He willingly put himself on the line for their sake.  Paul wanted, in so many various ways, to find common ground with everyone so that he could serve them with what was most important   .

It’s not just a one-time thing like the story of the Good Samaritan.  Paul made it his practice to be in situations that other people might not be comfortable in.  “To the Jews I became like a Jew… to those under the law I became like one under the law…to those not having the law I became like one not having the law…to the weak I became weak…”  Paul was willing to make real changes in how he approached different people, but he never changed who he was.  Paul was a Christian.  That was first and foremost no matter who he met or who he was serving.  He was bought with the blood of Christ and had this same gospel message for others.

So that meant he could be like a Jew for those who were from the Jewish heritage.  Paul was also from that heritage, from the tribe of Benjamin.  He could be like those who still followed all the Old Testament ceremonial laws about eating only kosher food, wearing certain kinds of clothes, observing special festivals.  Even though Christ set us free from all those ceremonials laws by fulfilling them for us perfectly, Paul could set aside that kind of freedom for the Jews and for those who like following those ceremonials laws.  He didn’t do it one time, but he was willing to get comfortable, doing it a lot.

He could also be like Gentiles who didn’t know or care about any of those Old Testament ceremonial laws that were meant for the Jews.  Christ sets us free from those laws that God commanded for Israel in the Old Testament.  Paul knew that he could serve those Gentiles just as well as long as it did not violate God’s moral law, the Ten Commandments.  Paul does make that concession, that we are in the law of Chris to love God with every fiber of our being and love our neighbor as ourselves.  But if there was no sin involved in reaching out to Gentiles Paul was willing to do anything for them.

He could even be seen serving those who were “weak,” They had a weak conscience. They were easily offended by anyone who would dare do something they would not do.  Paul was willing to give up so much of what was perfectly fine for him to do, so that he could find common ground with those who are touchy about everything.

Now, what would make Paul willing to be so uncomfortable, like he always had to change his outlook and his preferences for others, like he was every person’s slave, even though Christ had set him free?  Maybe before we answer that I should ask you the same question.

What would make you willing to get uncomfortable not just once, but to get comfortable with being uncomfortable?  Maybe if someone paid you enough?  Like an actor, they have to play some parts that are undesirable, but the payoff makes it all worth it.  Is that what it would be for you?  Or maybe someone really close and special to you?  You could perhaps change some of your preferences and then flip-flop back whenever it was for their benefit, as long as it was not sin, of course.

But Paul says he didn’t accept payment in Corinth.  And when he arrived there he didn’t know any of the people.  So what made him “become all thing to all people”?  That answer is simple for him and just as simple for us.  “so that by all possible means I might save some.”

Paul’s not interested in his own comfort level.  Paul’s not interested in the finances.  Paul’s not interested in his own popularity.  Paul’s not interested in any of that.  What he is interested in is saving people from hell.  But Paul isn’t the one who could do that.  So Paul had to talk about the one who did.  That’s giving the good news of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Think about what Jesus did.  He was not a Jew or Gentile. Jesus is the eternal God; there is no nationality for God.  He was not someone under the law or someone not having the law.  Jesus is the one who invented the law.  He was not weak or strong.  Jesus is omnipotent, that means all-powerful.  And yet Jesus decided to get comfortable in what many would say is uncomfortable.  He came down from heaven to do it all.  He became the servant of all.  He was humble and selfless.  And then he was beaten and killed.  He came to be the good news that sinners don’t have to die and go to hell.  Jesus came to wash sins away and give a new life, free from law, free from guilt, free from the traps of the devil.  He came to be the good news that heaven awaits all who believe in Jesus.

That’s why Paul did what he did.  He was willing to get uncomfortable because the gospel is just that good of news.  Don’t you think that it might happen that there are people who need this good news and they don’t have your lifestyle?  Don’t you think there might happen to be some who have a different nationality than you? Don’t you think it might happen that some look at Jesus in a different way than you?  Don’t you think there might be some who are under the load of the law and some who aren’t?  Don’t you think there might be some who are weak?   Of course!  Do you know what they need?  The Gospel of Jesus.

It just so happens that Jesus has made this good news your very own.  And so he makes it easy for you to see the situation how it really is.  It’s not about how desirable or comfortable a situation is.  It’s not about your feelings or thoughts.  It’s not about you at all.  It’s about him.  Jesus has made you to be the kind of person that wants to serve him by serving others.  Jesus has given you his gospel.  You have a God who forgives you, saves you, gives you a new life, holds you in the palm of his hand, protects you, guides you.  There is nothing better, more comfortable than that.

When it comes to evangelism, we don’t have to be nervous, uneasy, or uncomfortable.  It’s not about me.  It’s about Jesus.  We can be all things to all people because the gospel is just that good.  Amen.

LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED

Walls torn down

Luke 10:25-37

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

A wrecking ball can do some pretty impressive work.  Where a building once stood, it can make a pile of rubble in a matter of minutes.  It’s destructive.  It’s violent.  It’s powerful.  When a wrecking ball wreaks its havoc on a condemned building or a fire-ravaged property that you remember, it can definitely be sad.  Just imagine if we would see a wrecking ball take down this house.  Imagine what those remaining in the land of Israel felt when they saw the wrecking ball of the Babylonian Army take down God’s holy Temple…devastation, loss, anger.

But if something else is built in its place, well that could be something good.  The condemned building or fire-ravaged property gives way to a new home, a new business, a new store – that is beneficial.  If it would ever happen that this church building would be demolished, that could give way to a new house of God for us to use faithfully for our growing congregation and community for the next 50, 60, 100 years.  The Temple was rebuilt – although not as grand as Solomon’s masterpiece – and the group of people that returned from captivity were once again able to worship God in their homeland, in God’s city, Jerusalem, in God’s holy house.  In that way, a wrecking ball is necessary because it removes something that isn’t helpful and builds something that is.

I think we can look at the gospel of Jesus Christ like that.  The gospel will break and destroy.  It will be a violent shattering of what was once there, a powerful display of what God can do.  That’s the idea you get when you read what God inspired Paul to write in Romans 1: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”  The gospel is good news that is powerful to tear down a life of selfishness, sin, and unbelief.  The gospel is good news that is powerful to build up a new life of faith in Jesus, hope for eternity, and service to God and our neighbors.  The gospel is good news that is the only power that can get a rotten sinner like you and a rotten sinner like me to heaven.  That is the most powerful thing that there is.

That’s why our new worship series is going to talk about how to use the gospel.  If it is good news, if it is powerful enough to tear down a life of sin and unbelief and build up a new life of faith and service, if it is for us and everyone else, then we should probably use it.

But, you know, not everyone agrees that the gospel is powerful or that this good news of Jesus is the only way to heaven.  From the smartest sociologists and psychologists to the simple bloggers and social media users, from the most religious to those who can’t stand religion, people have a lot of different ideas about what is necessary to get to heaven.

This expert in the law had it figured out.  He wasn’t asking this question like the rich, young ruler from last week.  He was asking to test Jesus and really to discredit him.  See, he had his own answer and considering Luke calls him an expert in the law, you can probably guess what his answer is.  He said the arrow points up.  I have to follow laws to get into heaven.  I have to make my way up.

So when Jesus was patient and gracious with this man, pointing him back into the Bible for the answer, the expert in the law was ready to give him the best summary of the law that there is. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  He gave Jesus the same summary that the Bible gives: Love God, that’s the first table of the law, and love your neighbor, that’s the second table.

It’s easy to give that answer, but when Jesus says, “Do this and you will live,” that’s a little difficult.  If the arrow points up, then I have to love God with everything I am all the time.  If the arrow points up, then I have to love my neighbor, not like, not tolerate, not accept, not avoid, but love my neighbor in the same way that I take care of myself.

If the arrow points up and I have to love perfectly to get into heaven, then I have a problem. Because it doesn’t take me long to look my whole life, even just the last week, to see that I have loved things and people more than my God and I have cared for myself a lot more than the people around me.  I have fallen short of having the love I need to get into heaven, and so have you.

All the laws that this guy was an expert in, all those places where you open you Bible and say, “Oh no! I am not doing that.  I don’t like that.  I can’t do that,” – all these laws God gave us for one reason: to know that we are sinful and that there is no way I can get myself into heaven. Period.  There would have to be someone else, because if I have to follow the laws perfectly and love perfectly then it’s never going to be the eternal outcome I’m looking for.

Brothers and sisters, that’s why God sent us the Redeemer, the one who makes the payment and buys back that condemned property to make something new with it.  God didn’t just forget about the law.  He didn’t just say, “You don’t need to worry about all those commandments I was so serious about before.”  No, Jesus came to fulfill every law for me.  He came to live the way I cannot.  He came to love the way I won’t.  He came to complete everything for me in my place so that I can live with Jesus forever.  This is the good news.

The expert in the law doesn’t want to let Jesus off so easy, and at the same time he doesn’t want to look silly in front of everyone there – I mean, an expert in the law should be able to come up with a harder question than one that has such an easy answer.  So, he says, “Well, the real questions is:  And who is my neighbor?”

To answer Jesus tells a very clear and striking story.  This 17-mile stretch between Jerusalem and Jericho had rocky crevices and ravines out in the desert that provided a great place for robbers to sneak up on defenseless travelers.  And even though the threat of danger was high, it was very familiar and well-traveled because that is the way Jews traveled to avoid going through Samaria.   Samaria and Samaritans were off limits.  They were scum.  Jews didn’t want to associate with them.  That was the worst thing you could call someone in Israel back then.  Jesus picks the perfect setting for this expert and for all of us to consider who my neighbor is and what loving them means.

As the story goes a Jewish man traveling on that road is attacked.  The bandits beat him, strip him, and leave him for dead.  It’s an ugly situation that gets even uglier.  A priest, thank God, a priest, a servant and preacher in the house of the Lord happens to be traveling down that road soon afterward, but he passes by on the other side of the road.  Who cares what the reason is!  You can see his self-centeredness and lack of love.  Another Jew, a Levite – that would be another guy who was coming from work in the Temple, serving the Lord – comes down the road with the exact same kind of self-centeredness and lack of love.

Then, Jesus uses the s-word, Samaritan.  He says a Samaritan comes down the road, and every Jew listening to this story gets a bad taste in their mouths.  The Samaritan, who has no reason to love this Jew and care for him, sees him and has pity on him.  He bandages his wounds.  He puts him on his own donkey.  He takes him to a hotel and cares for him over night.  The next morning, he leaves enough money for this man to stay for almost two months.

The answer to the question “who is my neighbor?”  is so obvious.  But there is another thing that is so obvious about this story.  This is what it is like for us.  This is what it is like to have the gospel, the good news of the Redeemer who saw us broken and left for dead and came to save us.  He took us out of harm’s way.  He healed us and made us new.  He paid for us fully and completely so that there would be nothing left for us to do.   This is what it is like for us who have the good news of Jesus and live with the grace and mercy of God.

In this life that we have from God, as people who have been purchased and cleansed and made new by Christ, as people who have his love not because of what we do but because of what he has done, and as people who know what the amazing power of the gospel does, we are not motivated by guilt or obligation.

Guilt an obligation can only do so much.  Think about the Samaritan.  If he felt obligated to do something, what would it be?  Report the crime.  We think the priest and Levite are monsters for not helping, but obligation would not motivate you to help.  You’d call in the crime.  Maybe you would stop the car and wait for some other help to arrive.  But obligation and guilt would not make you pick this guy up, let him bleed all over your car, take him to the hospital, stay with him over night, and then pay his hospital bill.  Obligation doesn’t have that kind of power.

God’s grace that is poured out into our hearts through the gospel, the powerful good news of Jesus, does.  The good news frees us from obligation and guilt.  The good news fills us with the same kind of love that God has for us.

We don’t follow God’s laws, come to church, give offerings, take care of our family, show kindness to others, speak the good news of Jesus to our friends and neighbors because if we don’t God won’t love us.  That is the arrow pointing up.  That is the sense of obligation to earn God’s love.  Instead, because Jesus fulfilled the law for me, because Jesus forgives all my sins, because he promises heaven for me and all believers, because he has put this good news into my heart, because he has changed my life forever, I want to do what God says.  This changed life I have now oozes with thankfulness where I love God and love my neighbors.

When you see someone who is wrecked and broken by the desires of this world, when you see someone who is beat up and left helpless by the lies of people that teach that the arrow has to go up to get into heaven, when you see someone who is unconscious to the danger they are in and you do nothing you’ve got a problem with self-centeredness and lack of love.  That is not the way God built you with his grace and mercy. His gospel message, the good news of Jesus, is the power that not only puts faith in your heart but also removes self-centeredness and the lack of love from your life.

There are people around you – family member, friends, acquaintances, neighbors – who need this good news.  They don’t need an arrow pointing up.  They don’t need more obligations. They don’t need more rules.  They don’t need to figure out how to make it in this world.  They need to know how to make it out of this world to the heaven God has paid for.  They need to know about the one who came to set them free from the pressing load of guilt.  They need to hear that the arrow points down from God who loved the whole world that he was willing to offer up his Son.  They need to hear about Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, his forgiveness and salvation.

My friends, to help them you don’t need all sorts of skills.  You don’t need confidence from all sorts of personal successes.  You don’t need to have all sorts verses memorized.  You don’t need a job at a church.  Look what that did for the priest and Levite.  What you need is love.  You need selfless, Good Samaritan kind of love that cares for people no matter what.  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 and lives with his gospel message.  When you have love like that, good news is easy to share.  God grant it.  Amen.

Doing Away with the Distractions

3.18.18 Lent 5B

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John 12:20-33

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

 
I didn’t look where I was going and it cost me.   I was in a parking lot a few weeks ago.  I didn’t see any cars in the area, and so I got into my car thinking that there was nothing behind me to worry about as I backed out.  I got in, turned the car on, put her in reverse, and tapped the gas.  About less than one second later I experienced the kind of thing you don’t want to experience as you are backing up: a sudden thud.  I had backed into a light pole.  I didn’t look where I was going.  I was not paying attention as well as I should have.  And I can’t blame anyone but myself.

This kind of thing happens a lot in our country.  America leads the way in distracted driving.  So often, these days the culprit is the cellphone.  Some estimates say around 70% of drivers admit to looking at their phone at one time or another while behind the wheel.  Now, that’s just the distraction from the cellphone, and we know that there are other disruptions.  They can come in the form of kids in the car, food, the radio, vehicle controls, an outside event like a vehicle pulled over, drowsiness, or simply just being lost in thoughts.

So many things can get in the way and cause a driver to lose focus on what they are driving for in the first place.  Normally, there is a destination.  Sure, teens might get in the car to “joy ride” after they get their license, parents might drive around to get a baby to sleep (I’m glad I’ve never had to do that), some might drive to clear their head, but for the most part there is a place, a destination, where a driver wants to arrive… and safely.  Getting there means minimizing and avoiding the distractions.

Life is similar, isn’t it?  There can be a lot of things to look at, pulling your attention away from the final destination Jesus provides.  There are things you can look at that make you happy: your spouse, your children, your snow piles melting, a perfectly seasoned 12oz. medium rare steak, all the projects on your list with a little check mark next to them, and on and on and on.  There are things you can look at that make you sad: a lot of things on your list that still need a check mark, that steak falling on the floor, an April blizzard, your kids screaming and fighting, and on and on and on.  There are things you can look at that you don’t have yet: graduation, your dream job, or retirement, depending on where you are at in life, a clean checkup after surgery or treatment or avoiding the doctor’s office all together, money and financial stability, a relationship that takes the next level, a family, and on and on.  If we wanted to, we could make a list for the next 3 hours for each one of us of all the different things that you like seeing, things that you don’t like seeing, things that you hope you will see soon or someday down the road, things you pray that you never have to see. The world lays all these distractions out there in front of us, luring us to look.

That’s what commercials are for.  “You need this kind of detergent, this kind of insurance, this kind of school, this kind of beverage, this kind of realtor, this kind of bank, this kind of this, that, and everything.”  And do you know what?  Often times these commercials work.  I do kind of want pizza after watching a commercial show me how delicious it is and how there is such an incredible deal going on right now.  Am I the only one?

There is so much to look at, so much that you need in life.  If you don’t watch much TV, this world can still find a way to make you look at so much stuff.  There are adds and articles online, in your social media feeds, in your mailbox, in the newspaper, billboards all around town as you drive around.  So much, so, so much.  And that’s just the advertisements.

There are friends and family telling you what you need to be looking for.  There are bosses and coworkers telling you what they like to look at.  There are famous people telling you what they like to look at.  There are news stories showing you good and bad options.  We look for so many things to bring happiness, relief, contentment, success, fulfillment, comfort, peace.  We have so many different things to look at.

Do you get the point?  It’s all a bunch of distracted driving.  And do you know where distracted driving gets you?  My insurance wrote a claim check for over 3500 dollars to replace the bumper, the tail light, the rear quarter panel, and the tailgate.  I will be taking my pickup in to get fixed.   All in all, that’s not too bad, but the results of not looking where you are going are often worse than one car backing into a light pole.  The latest numbers I could find for a year were from 2015, and they say that 391,000 people were injured from drivers distracted by their cellphone, not to mention the other distracting factors.  That’s pretty serious.

Distractions in life cause a much worse outcome.  Jesus says today, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it…”  Jesus is saying that there are a ton of distractions from the final destination of heaven.  Some of the things we might call good.  A spouse and family are good things.  Fulfilling work and financial stability are not things you need to be ashamed of.  Charity work and helping those in need are things that we can do to help a work lost in darkness.  There are so so many good things that we have.  But so so so many of these good things can distract us from what is most important.  Jesus says that if you love all these great things in life, if you put everything you have into making your life in this world, then you’re distracted.  Your distractions are leading to a serious loss.  We’re not talking about an increased deductible.  We’re not talking about a hospitalization.  Jesus is talking about being shut out of heaven.  Are all these distractions, as great and as fulfilling and as important as they seem, worth it?

So, how can you get rid of the distractions?  My insurance company, Geico, has these tips: Limit the cellphone use to emergencies; pull over if you are drowsy; limit the activity in the vehicle; don’t eat while driving; no multitasking behind the wheel.  In other words, this so amazingly insightful list says not to allow the distractions.  That means you are going to have to work at it.  There is no other option for you, nothing that the car companies, insurance companies, or anyone else can give you to fight off the distractions. You are going to have to make the change yourself.

At first glance it might seem like Jesus might be saying something similar.  “Anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  Here Jesus is not saying you have to hate your wife and kids, your job and all other blessings.  That would be contrary to so much that God says.  It’s just that Jesus has to be first.  And comparing Jesus to anything else, well, cannot compare.  All of these good things and blessings have their proper place behind Jesus, where they cannot be distractions.

If we just had this verse, then it would be like the list from Geico on how to avoid distractions.  It would be your constant work to avoid the distractions.  You would have to make the choices to turn to away from all the worldly loves and distractions and to Jesus.  And you would never be at peace.  You’d always be working hard to avoid distractions, wondering if it was enough.

But this is not the only verse we have.  Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”   Do you notice how Jesus does away with the distractions for us, and in a very unique way.  He is lifted up from the earth.

Brothers and sisters, it is at the cross where Jesus was lifted high above all the distractions this world can hold out to you.  He takes our attention, because none of those worldly loves can do what Jesus did at the cross.  There, he took the torment of hell.  There, he took the justice our sins deserve.  There, he removed sin from us.  There, he proclaimed the job of our redemption finished.  There, he provided the salvation from a life of chasing after all these temporary fixes and frills.

This is so much better than God offering us some tips to avoid distractions or ideas about which ones are better than others. In that case, forgiveness and heaven would be up to us.  Instead, God gives us something better to look at, something that this world cannot duplicate.  He gives us his love on full display, love that was willing to sentence his Son as the one guilty of living a distracted life so that we would go free.

It’s this kind of love that was willing to draw all people in.  Jesus made this sacrifice for all without regard for nationality, ethnic affiliation, social status, or gender.  He wasn’t just a Jewish savior.  There were Greeks at the festival, too.  Jesus doesn’t differentiate where you are from.  He doesn’t discriminate if you are struggling to find who you are.  He was lifted up so that we can see who he is and what he has done for us.  All the distractions fade when you see your Savior lifted up on the cross to take your place under the curse of sin, drawing you in to his forgiveness and peace.

Those Greeks had it right: “we would like to see Jesus.”  Do you know where you can find him?  He was lifted up on the cross, and then they took his lifeless body down and put it in a tomb.  But you won’t find him there, will you?  No, he conquered that place of loss.  He rose and ascended back to his throne in heaven.  That’s where we will see him face to face for eternity.  Until then, you have the living and active Jesus among you in his Word.  “There I am with you,” Jesus says to those who gather in his name.  You will find him living and breathing into you in the Word.  You find him in these passages of hope and joy and peace, giving more than anything you can find in this world.  You will find him when his word is connected to water in Baptism.  There he washes you, purifies you, and makes you his own child by faith.  You will find him when his word is connected to bread and wine.  There you see the body and blood he gave when he was lifted up.  There he strengthens you with forgiveness and renewal.  He nourishes the faith he planted.  He fortifies the bonds you have with God and one another.  In Word and Sacrament, Jesus does away with distractions, because he shows us how much he loves us.  He shows us the final destination that he purchased for us. Yes, we would like to see Jesus, because he is our only way home.  Amen.

 

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS PROTECT AND PROMOTE GOD’S WAY

3.4.18 Lent 3B

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Exodus 20

And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

 

 

“A guardrail would be nice.”  That’s the thought that went through my head.  I was 18 years-old in the country of Peru.  While I was a senior at Luther Prep I applied and was selected for this mission trip where we visited the different churches throughout Peru. There were 6 of us.  We led the songs in worship, read passages that we had learned in Spanish, and did our best to encourage them in Spanish during fellowship meals.  It was uplifting for us to see what the gospel does in very different and often very remote places.  And you could tell that they were just as excited to meet a bunch of Lutheran high schoolers from the US, who shared the same faith.  Like I said, some of the places were remote and I’ve got plenty of memories from that whole experience.   But one thing fits very well with the section of God’s Word in front of us today.

On these mission trips for the Prep students they make sure to set some time aside for fun trips.  Our group had a very breath-taking trip to Machu Picchu.  It is the ancient and iconic Incan city built high in the Peruvian Andes mountains.  To get up to this mountain top town, you need to take a bus up a steep switch-backed road.  I had been on mountain roads before, but not like this.  There were about 40-50 people in a bus on this narrow and dirt road where guardrails were not to be found.  That was fine I guess, but did I mention there are multiple buses on this very narrow dirt road zigzagging up a mountain.  When I started to get a little freaked out was when our bus was backing up because another bus was coming down the road.  I was sitting in the back of the bus that overhangs the back wheels, the part that was hanging out over the switchback.  That’s when I thought a guardrail would be nice.

Guardrails are good things.  Their job is to protect you from the possibility of going off the road down a mountain side or into a river.  That’s good.  The guardrail also promotes the right way to go.  It says, “Stay away from that.  Here is the right way.  Keep your eyes on the road.”  And it doesn’t matter if you think the guardrail could be closer to the edge of the cliff or it should be in tighter to the road, it has already been placed and our job is not to move it.  Our job is to abide by it.

That’s where Exodus 20 comes in.  These are God’s Commandments for all people.  God records them for us here, in Deuteronomy 5, and many are repeated for us by Jesus and other New Testament writers.  This is how God wants people to live.  He wants to stay on his course.  His commandments are like guardrails to keep this world safe from harm and danger.  They also serve Christians as a guide to promote the right way, the way God wants his people to go staying away from a sinful world.

A lot of people have their own ideas on how to be good moral people.  Diet Coke commercials are telling us to “just do you.”  If it makes you happy, then do that.  And people kind of like that idea.  It means they set up their own guardrails to protect them from what they have decided is bad.  Sometimes it changes with culture, and sometimes it doesn’t.  That’s up for you to decide.  You get to be your own moral judge.

God disagrees.   “I am the LORD your God… You shall have no other gods before me.”  This is the first of God’s Commandments.  There are no other gods.  When it comes to priorities everything else must come after our relationship to God.  If that does not happen, then you have yourself an idol.

An idol can be anything that you love and can’t imagine your life without it.  But I’ll tell you why none of them are worth the high priority we often give them.  Your spouse, your kids, your parents, your friends, your job, your boat, your camper, your hobbies, your sports, your favorite singers, movies, shows – none of these things can save you from sin or death or hell.  So, God has set up the guardrail to protect you from loving those things too much.  He promotes the good course for us to fear, love, and trust in him above all things, because he does save us from sin, death and hell.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”  There are plenty of titles God uses about himself in the Bible, and all of them need to be used properly.  Anything else is going to hurt you.  It is not allowed to use God’s name to show how excited or frustrated or serious you are.  Using God’s name to wish evil on someone or something doesn’t help you more than them.  Putting any stock in things like a horoscope or a physic would also fall into this category of misusing God’s name, because you have decided his name is not good enough or powerful enough for whatever you have going on.  God set up this guardrail to protect us from dragging his name and reputation through mud.  He promotes the good course for us to use his name regularly for prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” The Sabbath was a day of rest.  That’s what the Hebrew word means.  Jesus says, “I will give you rest.”  The problem is that we often look for rest in other places.  People get nice beds, comfy couches, massagers and spas, or they look for relief in bottles or hobbies.  We surround ourselves with all these conveniences, but they cannot remove weariness, much less deal with the burdens we carry physically, psychologically, or spiritually.  So God sets up a guardrail to protect us from all the different things this world presents to give rest.  There is only one thing that give our souls rest, God’s Word.  God promotes the good course for us to love and use his Word and to love and use his house.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”  This commandment specifically deals with the authorities God has set up in the home, but there are also plenty of places where God describes the authorities he has established at work, in government, and in the church.

I guess the simple question to ask yourself is, how well do you handle having others in a position over you?  I don’t know if it’s always as good as we should.  God says, “in humility value others above yourselves.”  If you don’t like hearing that, if you struggle with authorities, if all this political stuff gets you riled up, then that is exactly why God put up this guardrail.  It protects the authorities he has established to serve us.  If we are forced to do something God forbids, then we must obey God rather than people.  But if it’s just something that doesn’t always jive with my ideas, then we need this guardrail in place to protect the authorities that care for us.  God promotes this good course for us to honor, serve, and obey our parents and those in authority, because we need them for good order in the home, at work, in society, and in the church.

“You shall not murder.”  If you have been a believer for a long time or a short time or if you are completely confused by the Bible and God and faith, this commandment still makes sense.  All human lives matter to God.  Taking a life is not up to you and never will be.  That means murder, abortion, suicide – it’s all wrong.  If God has given you a life in this world he created, then only he should decide when it is over. But this commandment also covers the way we think about human life and not just what we do with it.  If you think your life would be easier and more enjoyable without that bully in your grade, or that jerk in your office, or anyone else – it doesn’t even matter if you know them or not, maybe it’s just a really terrible person on the news – then that is just like murder, except that you did it with you mind and heart and not a gun.  So God puts up the guardrail to protect his gift of life.  God promotes the good course for us to help others with our words and actions.

“You shall not commit adultery.” In the Bible God is so very very clear about marriage and sex.  Marriage is a lifelong union of one man and one woman based on the consent and commitment of love. This is the part where tons of people would want me to add stuff or take out other stuff. Because marriage should be for everyone. Sex is a basic right that you should be able to enjoy with anyone at any time.  And if you can’t have that, then just look up some porn.  Children are so great that if you want them then go ahead.  If your marriage isn’t what you thought it would be then you can get out of it and try again.  Better yet don’t get married at all; it’s just a sheet of paper.  And the cycle continues.  I can’t say those things, because God doesn’t.  He puts up this guardrail to protect us from the devil’s easy traps of immorality and lust.  He promotes the good course and right way to use his gifts of sex and marriage so that we are pure and decent.

“You shall not steal.” It helps when we remember to whom everything belongs.  God is the owner; we are merely managers and caretakers of everything he gives us.  He gives these things to us through the work we do, through gifts we receive, through returns on investments.  God can and does provide everything we need for body and life.  When we forget that he is the giver, when we forget that we are caretakers, when we forget that life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions, that’s when we collide with this guardrail, where God protects our possessions and the possessions of others.  God doesn’t want us to be selfish, dishonest, or tightwads.  He also doesn’t want us to be wasteful and careless.  God promotes the good course where we use our own possessions properly and look to help others with theirs.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Do you ever wonder why God has a commandment to protect the name and reputation of people?  It’s because sin makes it so easy for us to destroy others.  Maybe you won’t use a gun.  Maybe you won’t take their property or possessions.  Maybe you won’t usurp them if they are in a position of authority.  But just a couple juicy tidbits can do the deed all the same.  That’s why God is so serious about his name and the names of others.  We need God to protect us from gossiping and lying.  So God promotes the good course where our mouths are not used for spreading anything but his praise and proclaiming his gospel.  We will defend others and take their words and actions in the kindest possible way.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  I’m thinking coveting is not a word you throw around every day.  Basically, God is saying that if he has not blessed you with something that you want or something that other people have, then you don’t need to worry about it.  The possessions you have and the possession others have shouldn’t consume you anyways.  The Bible says that kind of materialistic heart has pierced people with many griefs and even robbed some of faith.  So God puts up the guardrail to protect us from being to earthly.  God promotes the good course where we are content and thankful for what we have and keep our attention where it needs to be, on our Savior, Jesus.

Maybe you have noticed something as we walked through God’s Ten Commandments.  Maybe you realized for the millionth or for the first time that you have broken them all.  The law is like a mirror that exposes every glaring weakness.  And when I say weakness, I don’t mean that you can make up for them with all your strengths.  I mean you and I have broken God’s law to pieces and the punishment for that is not enjoyable.  The punishment is death and hell. Period.

And that’s why it’s good to see Jesus the way he is in the Gospel for today.  He takes God’s law seriously, because in order to be our Savior from sin, he had to be perfect.  Every thought, every attitude, every action, every word had to be pure and selfless and helpful.  He had to be complete zealous for the God and his name and his Word.

His perfection is all that matters.  Jesus’ road to redemption was perfect so that my pitiful excuse of a godly life and the punishment I deserve is removed. On the cross God exchanged my sin for Jesus’ holiness.  On the cross Jesus wiped my slate clean and replaced it with his perfection.  That’s the only way I can avoid the punishment for sin. Jesus had to take it for me.  And he did.

God still has the guardrails set up for us.  This is a life and world where sin still veers us off course. The perfection we have through Christ will be fully recognized in heaven.  For now, we need the guardrails to keep us on course.  By God’s grace these commandments are not just a mirror to expose all our offenses against God and others.   They are also guardrails to protect us from going off his road and to promote the right way for a child of God.  So let’s stay on course.  God grant it.  Amen.

 

 

(There is so much to talk about in each one of these commandments.  That’s why we take more than 10 lessons to cover them in Catechism class and 3 lessons in Bible Basics.  This was just a brief snapshot to see what God is protecting and promoting.  If you want to get the fuller picture, come to the Bible Basics on Monday night or go back in dig around in your Small Catechism, which organizes so much of what God says in the Bible into nice sections for each commandment.)