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.

 

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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.)

FEELING LIKE FOREIGNERS NOW, BUT NOT FOREVER

Week 9 – 8.6.17

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1 Peter 2:11-25

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

 

You are a foreigner and exile.  You look different.  Talk different. Think different.  Act different.  Sure, you celebrate the 4th of July and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before every kind of ballgame, but you are living as an alien in this land.  Do you know how I know that?  Here’s what God says: you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

See, brothers and sisters, when Jesus called us to faith, he gave us a new life that encompasses all of life, not just certain days or select portions of days.  You aren’t just a child of God on Sunday morning or at home, but he made you his child all of the time.  That’s what we want to review todays and we listen to what Peter has to say about Christian life in society.

In order to talk about our life in society, we first need to address the way we view humanity as a whole. To do that, we need only go to the well-known passage, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son…” Jesus lived a holy life for all. Jesus shed his lifeblood for all. He did not die for some more than for others. The umbrella of his redeeming work did not leave some out in the rain.

Jesus gave his life for all humans because God made mankind in his image, perfect and in holy harmony with God.  He intended that to continue for eternity. So when mankind ruined that harmony, God sent his Son to restore that harmony for all humans. If Jesus gave his life for all, that means that God has imposed the same value on all people, regardless of color, ethnicity, language, ability, age, or any other qualifier. That value, that price tag is this: worth the expenditure of the precious blood of his own Son.

You have never encountered anyone – I don’t care how much they rub you the wrong way or how curmudgeonly they conduct themselves – you have never encountered anyone worth less than you. You have never encountered anyone for whom Jesus did not shed his blood, anyone whom God does not love with an all-surpassing love.

So if God loves everyone, what should be our attitude toward everyone? We should love them too. The most basic command when considering God’s will for our life in society is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving them does not mean we have to feel good about them; it means that we regard them as people for whom Christ died and that we always seek to do what is best for them, regardless of how we feel about them. Help and befriend them in their bodily needs. Help them improve and protect their property and means of income. Defend them, speak well of them, and take their words and actions in the kindest possible way. Set a good example for them in the way you act and speak. Honor, serve, and obey them if they are in authority over you.

Also remember that your goal in doing all these things isn’t just to make the world a better place, or even just to make Christ happy. Peter told us what our goal is: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Your goal is to win souls for heaven. People can and do argue with doctrine and slander organized religion, but it is extremely difficult to argue with love. It is extremely difficult for someone to say to you, “Your religion is worthless,” when you consistently treat them in a fundamentally different way than most, treating them in a way that reflects the value and worth God has given them as souls for whom Christ shed his blood. Little else so attracts people, especially skeptics, to the Christian Church and the gospel of Christ like Christian love does. That’s why God made you a foreigner, living with this selflessness and loving servant heart

Secondly, in order to talk about our life in society, we need to realize what holds sway in society, what makes it go, so to speak. Here we need to talk about the doctrine of the two kingdoms of God. First, there is the  kingdom of the word.  That’s the kingdom that cares primarily for souls, the kingdom of the Church.  And there’s the kingdom of the sword.  That’s the kingdom that cares primarily for bodies, the kingdom of the State. In the Church, the gospel holds sway, but in the State or civil government, the law holds sway, because society is also made up of unbelievers and people who care nothing for God. Thus, if there is to be any good accomplished in society, society needs to be forced and compelled to do it by reward on the one hand and threat of punishment on the other.

The godless employee does his job well not because he cares about others, but because he gets money if he does it well, and fired if he doesn’t. The godless politician supports beneficial legislation because the voters are watching. Rape, robbery, and murder are restrained because people don’t want to get fined, imprisoned, or the death penalty. Some have been swayed from divorce because of the legal and financial ramifications.

Here we should note, before going on, that this is precisely why your Christian love in society has such a huge impact. In a world where most are doing the right thing because they have to, it is a breath of fresh air to encounter Christians doing the right thing because they want to. In a world where mechanics are fixing your car because they want to feed their family and not get sued, it is a breath of fresh air to encounter a Christian who fixes cars because he is genuinely concerned about your possessions and your transportation ability. In a world where employers give their employees fair pay and benefits because it’s mandated by law, it is a breath of fresh air to encounter a Christian employer who gives his employees fair pay and benefits, perhaps even more than what is mandated, because he is generous and genuinely cares about their lives and their families outside of work.

Nevertheless, civil government with its law-based system is a valid institution of God. Here’s our God-given attitude toward civil government: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  It’s makes us look like foreigners to be willing subjects of the government no matter who is ruling, but it’s a good thing.

One application of this, that I need to remember just as much as anyone else, is the way we speak about our president and other elected officials. We often equate conservatism with Christianity. While there are certainly elements of conservatism that are Christian, the two need to be distinguished. Conservatism is a political ideology; Christianity is a religion. Fox News is conservative, but when they disrespectfully rail against our elected officials, that is not Christian. If we have a problem with our elected officials, there are better, godly ways to address those problems than simply railing against them over a cup of coffee. We can call them. We can write to them. And ultimately, we can go to the voting booth or run for office ourselves.

While we’re on the topic of voting, let me say a brief word about that.  We just heard that God has established every government. Ours happens to be a government by the people. To vote, then, is to uphold the government that God has established in our country. So voting is a good thing, but remember that every vote is always going to be a choice for sinful human beings.  Elected leaders can never change the real problem that plagues this world.  They will do their best to keep peace and prosperity, to help our nation on earth. So do your research and use your conscience.

When you are researching the candidates, it is good to look for those who will, as much as possible, uphold God’s moral standards. We heard last week that marriage should be honored by all. We heard in the First Lesson that righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. Our first concern should not be, “How will this candidate’s ideology affect my wallet?” Our first concern should be, “How will this candidate’s ideology uphold the standards of God’s law and benefit the country at large?”

After doing all of this, pray that God would bless your vote and the outcome for his purposes. And then remember that Jesus still reigns on the throne of heaven, no matter who gets elected.  His kingdom operates with the power of his Word and that shall be our chief endeavor.   That makes us look like foreigners and that’s a good thing, a godly thing, a heavenly thing.

We should also say something about serving in the military here. Since we do uphold the civil government and its rule by law, that means that we also uphold its God-given right to have an army, to wage war, and to execute criminals. Peter said the authorities punish those who do wrong, and when the soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do, he did not say, “Leave the army.” Not all killing is hateful murder. If God has given authority to kill within a legitimate government and you are working for that government in the armed forces, then you may kill within your sphere of responsibility to the glory of God.  War is a part of a sinful world, not God’s design, so governments will have to make those tough decisions and God has given them the job of making those decisions.  As Christians, we honor those decisions. We need to give our Christian soldiers the benefit of the doubt. Even if we ourselves do not think a war is just, we have the benefit of looking in from the outside. Once a soldier is enrolled in the armed forces, he does not have that benefit to the same extent. Once he is enrolled, it is his job to trust his superiors and follow their orders, because if he does not, he is putting the lives of his fellow soldiers at risk.

The last thing we need to say about God’s other kingdom, the civil government, is what Peter says in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than men.” If the government explicitly mandates something that is contrary to God’s will as clearly expressed in his Word, then we not only may, but also should disobey it. That doesn’t mean we riot and rebel. It means we simply disobey. If we know it will mean consequences, we have two choices – humbly accept the consequences or move to a different country.

In closing, thank God that we not only live in the kingdom of the law, like all people do, but that we also live in the kingdom of the gospel. Thank God that he has given us the motivation through Christ to want to do what others must be forced to do. Thank God that we have the good news of life eternal beyond this earthly life of sweat, tears, and death. Thank God that he has placed us in a kingdom of the law that, up to the present, has protected our right to promote the kingdom of the gospel and preach the full and free forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. Thank God that he has equipped us not just with the ability to make our society better, but also to save the souls within that society by telling them of our ultimate king, Jesus, who gave his life for you and for me and for the whole world.

A Christian life in this society makes you look like a foreigner now, but not forever.

To God be the Glory.   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.

THIRSTY?

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John 4

4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

 

A battleground for water, does that sound familiar?  In North Dakota? Absolutely.  Today, that is exactly what God sets before us at this next stop in our Fields of Battle series.

Jesus is at a well in Samaria.  He’s tired and thirsty from traveling. Going north from Judea to Sychar is around 30 miles.  That’s not a one-day hike, and this is desert we’re talking about.  One thing you need in the desert while you’re on a journey is… water!  It makes sense that a very human and tired Jesus would stop at a well for a drink and some rest during lunch hour.

But not at this well. This well, Jacob’s well, is in the middle of Samaria.    Jews tried to avoid Samaria like the plague.  Jews do not associate with Samaritans, we’re told.  To say it plainly, Jews were racist against Samaritans.  They were half breeds, part Jew but part foreigner.  And this was unacceptable to Israelites, the pure descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They hated Samaria so much that they went around it while traveling north to Galilee.  So a man like Jesus, being from the clan of Judah, a descendant of King David, really wasn’t seen in Samaria all that often.  So this really isn’t the kind of place where Jews would be normally found.   

But that’s not what makes this a field of battle; it’s not the Jew vs. Samaritan fight.  The Savior of the world isn’t a racist. And it’s not a field of battle because Jesus runs into a woman who had such an “interesting” (immoral) past, someone who has different lifestyle choices than Jesus and different religious practices than Jesus.   No, this isn’t a field of battle for those things.  Jesus had to go through Samaria.  This is a field of battle because she’s a thirsty woman struggling unsuccessfully to quench her desire for peace.

Jesus is the one who asks for a drink, but it’s the woman who is really thirsty.  She thought her first husband was her soulmate. Maybe it wasn’t really love but passion and romance, or maybe he got abusive, maybe it was a mix and match of mistakes by both, maybe she was unfaithful.  Who knows the reason?  We know the outcome; it didn’t last.  She had that divorce on her record, and God hates divorce.  It ruins families and the fabric of society.  It draws dividing lines and makes more battles.

She thought the second man was better.  He wasn’t going to be like the first one, but maybe she rushed it.  The third one, maybe she took her time to find the kind of man her family would approve of.  It didn’t matter.  Who knows what it was for each failure?  But 5 marriages went down the drain.  And each time it made her realize just how thirsty for peace and fulfillment she was, and how it was always out of her grasp.  Sex, romance, companionship, family, those things can’t quench the heart that is thirsting for peace.

So she gave up on marriage and just started shacking up with another man.  If she couldn’t make a commitment work, then she would just do whatever she needed to get what she wanted.  But you know what? This woman was still thirsty. That’s why he had to be there in Samaria, where Jews just didn’t go.  He had this field of battle by a well, a battle of thirst, a battle of what the law does to us and what the promise does for us.

Do you know what that’s like?  Do you know what happens in the battle of the law vs. the promise?  Do you know what it’s like to make poor choices because you are thirsty for peace, thirsty for love, thirsty to fit in, thirsty for success, or thirsty for fulfillment?  Have you ever compromised on what God says because you were more interested in your own desires?  Like this woman, she had given up on marriage but she still wanted a man in her life.  Her own desires were more important than anything else.  Being thirsty can make a person do desperate things like that.

Now you haven’t gone through 5 marriages, but we sometimes make the same desperate compromises. What kinds of compromises are they?  “As long as I don’t live together with my boyfriend or girlfriend, we can do pretty much whatever we want, and no one will know.”  “I might have a foul mouth, but at least I don’t struggle with drinking or drugs.” Sometimes it gets a bit more desperate. “I’ll try anything to cover up my mistakes.  If I have to lie, I will.  If I have to drag others down, I will.  If I have to carry a heavy load of guilt, I have enough strength.”  Whatever it is, we try to find ways to quench our thirst.

But the law doesn’t allow that, does it?  The law never makes anyone – from a train wreck of a woman who had given up on marriage to people like us – the law never brings peace, fulfillment, or contentment.  The law makes our thirsty souls desperately aware of just how bad our condition is.  The law says you are just as immoral as this woman even if you haven’t sifted through men like her just by the kinds of thoughts you might have.  The law says your foul mouth makes you foul to God.  The law says you can’t hide mistakes with lies, cover ups, or ignorance.  The law says you are thirsty and the search for water is never-ending and never-satisfying.

Jesus wanted the woman to acknowledge this.  Do you see how Jesus whittles away to get to it?  First, he asks for a drink.  When she is confused that a Jewish man would ask a Samaritan woman, Jesus says, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  He is trying to get her to see her thirsty situation.  But she doesn’t see it.  She only sees her own thoughts and desires.  Jesus says this physical water isn’t what you need.  You need living water.  She still doesn’t get it.  She thinks not having to make the trip to the well will help her.

So Jesus takes it a step farther. “Go, call your husband and come back.”  She responds trying to cover up her failures, but she doesn’t realize the stranger talking to her knows everything.  This is why he’s at the well.  As her Savior, he loves this woman and wants her to see just how thirsty she is.  And so he says something that hurts.  He lets her taste the truth.  Sometimes when you love someone, you have to hurt them to help them.  It’s like a spanking.  Or it’s like taking a teenager’s cell phone away.  You love your child so you do something that will hurt them now, knowing it helps in the long run.

But she is still trying to find answers to her questions.  All she cares about is herself.  And the law doesn’t help people who only care about themselves.  It continues to make them thirsty for more.  Now, the question isn’t about water or a well.  Now, that she thinks she is talking to a powerful prophet, she wants to ask about the right rules of worship.  “We like this mountain in Samaria where, back in the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they built altars here for worship, but Jews keep saying the only place to truly worship is in the Temple.”

That’s like the person who says, “I can worship on my own.”  Or the one who says, “I like to worship God by enjoying his creation.”  Or some who say, “The only thing the church cares about is money.”  Or there’s people who say, “I like God, the Bible, and all that, but I know it’s not that popular at school or at work.  I’ll just be a Sunday Christian and God will understand.” Anyone who talks this way is trying to quench their own desires.  They are fixated on themselves and their own rules.

And that doesn’t work.  Do you know what happens to people who try to make compromises on what God says?  Do you know what happens when we try to fit in with the world?  Do you know what happens when we try to quench our thirst in our own ways?  The law crushes us.

That’s where this woman is at.  When Jesus says, worship is not about the building or the place but worship is about truth and it is done in spirit (the truth of God in his Word and the spiritual faith in God’s promises), that’s where she finally reaches that critical point.  “Someone is coming.  He’s the Messiah.  He’s the one who has answers.  He’s the one who will quench my thirst.”

That’s why Jesus was at the well that day, for a battle of the law vs. the promise.  The law leaves people thirsty and dying.  The law exposes us to the point where we have nothing to hide and nowhere to go.  The only thing we can do is throw our hands up in anguish, saying, “Someone has to figure this out!  I’m lost.  I’m thirsty. I’m dying. Someone needs to save me from this.”

Jesus says, “I, the one speaking to you – I am he.”  He says he’s the one for the job to fix our thirsting soul’s problem, because he has living water.  It’s not the kind of water that quenches earthly thirsts – like people who are looking for peace on earth, success in their career, contentment in their family, fulfillment in their marriage.  He does give those blessings, but those blessings flow from the living water not the other way around.

The law makes us thirsty like this woman, and Jesus has a promise that quenches our spirit.  Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.  Jesus decided that he would do everything to make this water ours.  He would come here, he would make the full payment, and then he would distribute it without bias and favoritism but with love and compassion for all, even people like this woman, who live a thirsty life.  That is for whom Jesus came, the thirsty.

His promise is that his water will satisfy and sustain us not just for a lifetime but for eternity.  And he can make that promise, because his life didn’t end here on earth in a tomb.  He is the living one forever.  And so this water that he gives last just as long, for eternity.  Faith in Jesus will refresh our thirsty souls forever.

Jesus’ promise gives us this eternal faith.  And do you know where our faith is watered?  It’s not on a specific ancient mountain.  It’s not in a tabernacle, temple, or cathedral.  It’s here.  Here God has his truth for us.  Here we are in the presence of God.  That’s how we are starting each service during lent, with those words, “we have come into God’s presence.”  It’s not because of this building, it’s because God has his truth for us in his word.  With this truth, our faith is watered and will never be thirsty.  Our spirit will be with the Lord now and forever.

Jesus is here right now with us just like he was at the well.  He is quenching our thirsty souls with his living water.  Do you know what happens after Jesus tells the woman who he is?  The guy who wrote this down for us under inspiration from the Spirit happened to be there.  John was one of the disciples who had gone into Sychar to get food.  Well, he came back with the other disciples to eat with Jesus.  They saw this woman, and this is what John writes down, “leaving her water jar, the woman went back to town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.  Could this be the Messiah?’”

Jesus’ promise got to work in her right away.  His living water quenched her thirsty soul.  And the thing is when a thirsty person gets a drink, it changes things.  They aren’t thirsty anymore.  In fact, it can make such an impact that they tell other thirsty people where to get water.  If you have ever been thirsty on a hike, people will tell you where the water is.  That’s what this woman did.  And it didn’t take her time to get a degree or go through a seminar.  It was natural.  “My thirsty soul isn’t thirsty anymore, I can tell this to other people so they won’t be thirsty like I was.”

Brothers and sisters, if you are weary and worn down by life.  If your soul is thirsting for water, Jesus has a promise for you.  He has the living water that gets rid of your thirst forever.  You might know someone who needs some of his water.  Don’t be afraid to pass it on.  It’s a lifesaver.  Just ask that woman at the field of battle by the well.  Amen.

 

Is Christianity Broken?

sermon-on-the-mount

Matthew 5:38-48

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Love is in the air.  You felt it this past Tuesday, right?  That’s the day we’re all supposed to acknowledge people we love with gifts, cards, and flowers, and the people who love you do the same.  Now, it’s not a good idea to keep this kind of thing hidden until February 14.  That’s not what love does.  When you love someone you find ways to show them that fact every day.  Love isn’t butterflies in your stomach, that’s nerves.  Love isn’t that feeling of walking on the clouds, that’s infatuation or fixation.   Love is giving your time to make a meal and clean up so that your wife doesn’t have to.  Love is taking him out to get a grill or a new hunting accessory.  It’s giving your wife some time away from the kids.  It’s letting your husband go to the game or on the fishing trip.  It’s cleaning up your room before your parents ask.  It’s being honest and helpful. It’s letting your little brother have the last scoop of ice cream.  It’s all that kind of stuff that you do for someone you care about, not really looking for something in return.  That’s what love does.

And this kind of love is not only key for a marriage and in a family, but also for Christians and a congregation.  God has so much to say about love in the Bible and most of the time it is not in the context of a marriage.  Most of the time, he is telling us how we can care about our brothers and sisters in the faith.

But today, Jesus takes it even a step farther than that. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  He says love is also for people that don’t love you back.  He says love is for your enemies. This isn’t the kind of person that annoys you at work. This is the kind of person who lies about you, trying to ruin your career.  Jesus isn’t talking about the quiet outsider but the loudmouth protester who’s trying to wreak havoc. This isn’t the talkative kid who sits behind you at school. This is the bully who keeps verbally and physically putting the hurt on you.

What do you want to do to people like that?  The natuarl human reaction is…to get even, or worse! Just look at kids.  When a brother steals his sister’s toy, she gets mad and takes it back with a little shove.  Then, the brother trips her.  Then, world war III breaks out.  To keep that natural reaction in check, God gave civil laws to his people in the days of Moses so that people wouldn’t go crazy with retaliation.  The civil government would levy just and appropriate punishments.  If someone’s eye got hurt by another person it wasn’t the death penalty.

Jesus recalls that rule. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  Jesus is not saying that you can’t defend yourself from an attack to your home or family.  He’s not saying that you must be a scrawny passivist with no gumpiton.  Jesus is saying that for his people there is something much more important than your idea of personal justice.

Listen to his next example. “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” The tunic was the shirt, the garment right next to your body and the cloak was the outer garment. Of the two, the cloak was more expensive and more important. In the Old Testament, God made a special point to say that if you were borrowing a cloak you had to return it by sunset so that the owner could have it for sleeping.  Jesus is saying here that if someone is suing you for “the shirt of your back,” then give them your more expensive and most important garments, too.

Is Jesus saying this is what your enemies deserve?  Not at all! Really Jesus is saying there is something more important than your personal rights and feelings.  Jesus wants our primary concern directed to others, not just the people who care about you but also those who are mean to you or who are trying to take advantage of you.

Jesus loves being really clear for us, so here’s another example: “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Maybe your dad used that experession, “Go the extra mile.”  Mine did. This is where we get that from.  Here’s the background to that phrase.  In Jesus’ day, Palestine was under Roman rule. There were Roman soldiers there to keep the peace, which the Jews weren’t thrilled about.  Romans soldiers were permited by law to compel civilians to carry their baggage for one mile.  How do you think Jews felt about such a rule?  They hated it.  And you would, too.

Let’s just say we live in a country that is under the rule of another nation.  You’re driving down the expressway and a soldier of that foreign nation can stop you, put his bags in your trunk and tell you a new direction.  And you have to do it!  How would you feel about such a rule?  You’d hate it.  And you wouldn’t be so fond of the soldiers either. Even if it was legal, it doesn’t seem fair.

Jesus says, “Don’t just do what is expected, but go beyond what is asked of you. And do this for people who you don’t care for.” Why is this something that Jesus wants us to do?  Well, he says there is something more important than your idea of fairness.

What’s more important than your personal justice, what’s more important that your personal rights and feelings, what’s more important that your personal idea of fairness?  Jesus tells you.  It’s love.  Jesus says his people will sacrifice our own personal feelings, attitudes, and even our personal possessions in the name of love, because love is more important.  Demonstrating Christ-like love to another person is more important, even if that person is your worst enemy.

Is that how you live?  Is that what you teach your children, not just with your words but also with your example?  Is that what Christianity is known for?  Are we known for how much we love people?  Are we known for how much we will sacrifice for others who might even hate us?

Reading this section from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount made me ask a few times this week: is Christianity broken?  Because for a lot of people,  the answer is “Yes.” Christianity is not the answer but a problem.  You may know people personally that think Christianity is not doing anyone any good.  Churches are filled with hypocrites who learn about love and peace and serving others, but refuse to practice it.  Churches that preach Christ don’t follow his example.  Christianity just gives people a superiority complex and a license to do whatever they want, because God’s always going to forgive.

Is that the message you are sending? Are you failing to give up your own desires, opinions and preferences for the sake of others?  Are you too interested in your comfort zone and the way you like things to show love to people who need it?  Are we willing to love people with the kind of love Jesus is teaching us?

You know, this is a section of Scripture that can be down right offensive to us.  “Lord, I’m trying.  I come to worship.  I give offerings.  I help out for different church things.  I wear a smile on my face.  I try to be as positive as possible.  But ‘Love my enemies.’  I just can’t.  They have hurt me too much.  I don’t want to have anything to do with them.  It’s not going to work.  They’ll never change.”  If you have ever had those thoughts, then do you know what you are doing?  You are saying, “Thanks, Jesus, but no thanks.  I love what the Bible says, but not this part of it.”  And do you know what God says to people who treat his Word like that? “If anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city…”  If you can’t be perfect, if you can’t love your enemies like Jesus teaches here, then you don’t get to live with a perfect God in his perfect home.

Who can?  Who can do this?  Who in this world can love people, even enemies all the time?  Who can prove that Christianity is not broken?  I have to admit today, I can’t.  You can’t.  Not one person in the world can have this kind of love perfectly.  Not one person can hold up themselves or their church and say, “I’m not broken.  I’ve got it right.”

But listen to this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”   Did you hear that?  God causes the sun to rise on good and evil people.  He sends rain for his believers and unbelievers.  God says the only person who can have this perfect love for enemies is him.

So God decided to come here for people who were not on his side.  God came down to live in a place filled with evil people.  And he showed them love.  When he was rejected by so many, he did not give up.  When plans were made to get rid of him, he did not stay away.  When he was arrested, he didn’t argue.  When he was on trial he spoke the truth in love. When he was mocked, spit on, and beaten, he turned the other cheek.  When he was crucified, he prayed for them.  When our sins caused all of this to happen, Christ willingly and lovingly decided to take it all for us so that we would never face the punishment we deserve.

Christ did this for us while we were sinful and evil opponents to God.  He died for us.  The Spirit washed our sins in the blood of Christ with the water of Baptism when we were still hostile to God.  God loved you, even when you were not lovable so that you would be a child of the Father in heaven.

Is Christianity broken?  Not a chance with Christ at the center.  When Christianity starts to be about me and my feelings and my preferences, it’s doomed.  But when Christianity is about the love of Christ, when it’s about showing others the sacrifice that Christ made, when it’s about the home Christ has won for sinners, then nothing can stop it.

Brothers and sisters, you have a God who loved you and made you his very own when you weren’t on his side.  Now that he has brought you in and made you his child, what does that do to you?  It makes you live every day for him.  It makes his love show up in your life.

A really nasty coworker, protestors with different political viewpoints, bullies at school, and every other enemy there may be has a God who loves them, has a Savior who died for them, and has a Christian just like you who cares for them.  That is what God’s love has done to you.  He has made you like his Son.  He has filled you with his love that is not partial or restricted, but it’s for all.  It’s that kind of love that puts others first because Christ put us first.  Last week was about showing love to those you care about and the people who love you.  Now, Jesus gives us a different focus with our love, to those who don’t care so much for you.  And you can do it because God’s love fills you and then it works through you.

God grant it.  Amen.