PEACE BE WITH YOU

Eater 2019

John 20:19-31

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe x that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

 

The disciples are locked up together that first Easter evening, minus Thomas who was MIA.  We probably can’t even begin to grasp the circumstances they find themselves in while they just stand there in a stupor.  God’s Son, the Messiah, the Promised One, the King of heaven and earth, the Lord Almighty, their teacher and friend is dead, but maybe not anymore.  What about the women?  What about Peter’s story of seeing Jesus?  What about God’s kingdom?  What about all of Jesus’ followers? What about…?  There is so much distracting them.

I know what that’s like, don’t you? My youngest, Jet, spiked a fever and vomited all over me twice, and then later that evening pretended it never happened, returning back to his normal antics and smiley self. That was Easter Sunday in the later afternoon. The rest of this past week was kind of a blur, busy with visits and counseling.  I also had to prepare this service, the sermon, and the congregational meeting after church today.  As the worship coordinator for our Dakota-Montana district with our annual spring pastors’ conference in Rapid City this week, I have had to plan and put together a worship service, five devotions, and a report for all the pastors.  I also should be practicing guitar more for a couple of the songs we are singing.

Now, I’m not bringing up this stuff because the sermon is a good time to report these kinds of things.  I’m not at all complaining about any of these things. I bring them up because as a sinful human being sometimes the busier you are the more distracted you become.  All those kinds of things I described can easily start to take the focus off of where it should be: on the Savior, Jesus, who conquered sin, death, and hell on Easter.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been distracted from him in various ways, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are afraid and worried.  What is life supposed to be like without Jesus? What are the religious leaders planning for them, if they found a way to get rid of Jesus?  Why would the soldiers and guards treat them any different than Jesus?    They thought they had more time. There is so much fear and worry.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  You have no idea what the future holds.  You have no  idea what the doctor is going to say.  You have no idea what’s going to happen at work.  You have no idea what’s in store for you kids.  You have no idea what retirement will bring.  You have no idea how to get the finances figured out.  You have no idea about much at all.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been afraid and worried, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are burdened with guilt and shame.  The last memory most of them have is running away from Jesus, exactly what he had warned them about.  Peter remembers his demonstrative denials.  John remembers seeing him hang there, dying.  All they can think about is their sin and how it’s all inexcusable.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  I have gone running the wrong direction into sin before, even though God makes it quite clear not to. I have had my lackluster, lazy moments.  I have been greedy.  I have been selfish.  I have been unwilling to listen and help.  I have done all of the evil.  I have no excuses.  And I have heard Satan’s taunts, “God could never love a sinner like you.”

To his disciples and to all of us who have been burdened by our guilt and crushed by our shame, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

The disciples are together in a locked room, but they have never been more alone, wayward, and lost.  Literally, Thomas is off on his own.  He can’t even be with his brothers.  Maybe he thinks he’s tough enough.  Maybe alone time is his coping mechanism.  Maybe he is giving up.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  “I don’t need the encouragement of others.  I don’t want to bother someone else with my problems.  I don’t think anyone should know what I’m doing. I don’t want to hear that what I’m doing might not be good for me spiritually. I don’t need them; they just drag me down all the time.  I don’t need worship or Bible study, I can read the Bible on my own, if I could remember where it is.”  The “I’s” just keep coming, and you are more alone than ever.

To his disciples and to all of us who have been lost and alone, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Thomas hears the most amazing news that you could ever give someone: CHRIST IS RISEN. HE IS RISEN, INDEED! But Thomas is not rejoicing until his conditions are met first.

I know what that’s like, don’t you?  Have you ever made a list of demands that Jesus has to meet so that you will follow him, trust him, and worship him more?  You turn him into the snack machine where you punch in some good works here, some prayers there, some time for serving here, some offerings there, and you expect God to dispense everything according to each and every one of your conditions.  Somehow we fool ourselves in to thinking that we can make Jesus into whatever fits our mold.

To his disciple Thomas and to all of us who have selfishly made conditions and demands of God, Jesus comes back again and says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are distracted, “Why are you letting those distractions take control of your life?  Stop looking at so much of that other earthly stuff.  You better get with the program. Pay attention.”

There’s none of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are afraid and worried, “Why are you so scared?  What could possible cause you to hide?  Stop worrying so much about your life.  Don’t you know that I have got everything under control?  Stop trying to figure everything out and trust me.”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are guilty and ashamed, “What have you done?  How could you?  Don’t you know what I have said about that?  Or have you been too busy to care about what I say?  I think you should sit and think about what you’ve done.”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are alone and wandering, “Where have you been?  Do you really think you can achieve what you want on your own?  What, you go through a little strife and a little hurt, and you just take off?  Is that really what you think will help the situation?”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

It’s intriguing that Jesus doesn’t say to those of us who are attaching all sorts of clauses and conditions on God, “What is this, a contract negotiation?  You’ve got this long list of demands and if any of these things don’t go your way, you are going to walk to the next church or the next religion.  Is that how this works?  I am the one who has to change my will so that you can feel better about life?”

None of that.  Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Do you know why Jesus showed up for his disciples that first Easter evening and again a week later to include Thomas?

CHRIST IS RISEN.  HE IS RISEN, INDEED!

It is his life, his death, his resurrection that conquers our sin, conquers death, and conquers hell.  It is his victory that won peace not for him, not for angels, but for us.  And so the Savior, who went to hell and back for us, wants us to have peace, not distraction and stress, not fear and worries, not guilt and shame, not selfish wandering, not unrealistic conditions for an easy life.  Jesus wants us to have peace, eternally with him in heaven.

A pep talk wouldn’t do that for us.  A chart of chores to organize everything for us wouldn’t make it work.  A long list of dos and don’ts could not accomplish peace.  Those things would only give us more unrest, more uncertainty, more fear, more guilt, more attempted bargains with God, more arrogance and pride or depression depending on how you look at yourself.  They would only lead us to eternal punishment in hell, not peace with God.   The only way for us to have eternal peace was for him to purchase it perfectly and completely and then provide it freely.  The only way for us to have peace, was for Jesus to just show up as the victorious, risen-from-the-dead Savior and give it.

And that’s exactly what he does.  For the cowering cowards looked in a room, he shows up and the first words out of his mouth are: “Peace be with you.”  For the condition-attaching doubter, he shows up and again the first words out of his mouth are: “Peace be with you.”

And there’s one more thing.  For people who need forgiveness, the removal of sin and guilt, the assurance  of God’s unconditional love and undeserved grace, the certainty that peace from God is ours based on what Jesus has done, Jesus shows up alive and these are the words from his mouth: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  Jesus takes these men and removes their distractions, their fears, their guilt, their loneliness, their list of demands.  He takes all that away with his victory over death.  And then, he replaces it with peace.  And because the peace of a risen Savior is not meant to help one or ten or eleven, but because it is for the entire world, Jesus gives them the power of the Spirit, the call to go, and the authority to forgive.

Jesus would not do this any of this – he wouldn’t give peace, he wouldn’t bestow the Spirit, he wouldn’t send them out, he wouldn’t give them authority to forgive – if the work he was sent to do were not already completely finished.  There would be no way that the disciples could proclaim forgiveness of sins, if Jesus had not accomplished it for us.

If I sent you out this afternoon to cure people of cancer, could you do it? No.  That’s nonsense.  But let’s say someone smarter than us had found a cure, had put that cure in a pill, had packaged it in bottles, and then gave one of those bottles to you.  Now, I say to you, “I want you to visit every cancer patient you know and every hospital in the area and I want you to cure people of cancer.”  Could you do it?  Of course you could!  And I think you’d probably do it earnestly and joyfully.  The fact that you were giving it out was proof that someone had accomplished the cure.

Jesus gave his disciples peace, because he accomplished it. Jesus gave the cure for sin to his disciples because he had accomplished it.  And Jesus gives us the very same things to us.  In doing so it proves that Jesus did it all, everything is accomplished for us.  Everything he gave the disciples; he gives to us. We have peace with God. We have forgiveness.  We have the Spirit.  We have God’s authority.

This is all proof where we stand with God.  He doesn’t let your distractions deter him.  He does not let your fears and worry stop him.  He does not allow your guilt and shame to change what he does for you.  He does not leave you alone and wandering.  He does not permit your conditions to prevent him from being your God and Savior.  Instead, the risen Savior gives you everything he has accomplished by his death and resurrection.

There’s one thing he wants you to know: Peace be with you.  Amen.

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PEACE REQUIRES PREPARATION

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Malachi 3

1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.

 

My dad used to say, “Prior planning prevents poor performance.”  When things are planned out, when preparation is made, then the nerves go down a bit and the execution is at a good level.  Just think of a kid who is taking a biology semester exam.   That’s kind of one of those times when you need to be prepared.  You need to make sure you have your biology notes, because the history ones won’t help you much.  And you need to give those notes a little more than a glance.  You need to get in their and work at it, maybe even for a few nights if you want to be to prevent a poor performance.

I remember being in this exact situation at Martin Luther College my sophomore year.  Science classes weren’t really a forte of mine in school.  So in order to avoid squelch the nerves, in order to avoid a poor performance, I studied multiple nights.  I wasn’t totally calm going in or coming out of that final exam but studying sure helped.  I can’t remember what my grade was, but I remember being at peace with it.

Malachi is describing for us something that has a little more weight than a biology final.  In Malachi 3, he’s talking about the coming of Christ.  He asks, “Who can endure the day of his coming?”  The reason he asks is because the people of Judah have become pretty indifferent.  This is the time after they returned from exile.  There had been a positive spiritual resurgence when those, who were captive in Babylon, were allowed to go back home to Judah.  They rebuilt the temple, rebuilt the city, rebuilt the walls, and that also rebuilt their foundation on God’s promises. But the pattern that existed for the Jewish people in the Old Testament cropped up again to the point where the people were questioning the Lord.  Think of that!  The people got lazy about worship and faith and they figured one of the reasons was God’s fault.

Maybe you notice the same kind of thing going on now.  People are waiting for the Lord in their own ways, not his, if they are paying attention to him at all.  Even among us, from time to time, we question God’s power and love.  If we are his children, then why do we have to face struggle and pain?  Why can’t we have what we want all the time?

That is ultimately what the people of Judah are asking for.  That’s the implication when Malachi says, “The Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.”  We get caught up looking for God to be what we want him to be.  We want the comfort and the easy life.  It’s this kind of selfishness that often looks at Jesus to be a soda machine, giving me what I want when I want it, instead of looking at Jesus as the Savior from sin and death that I need.

Jesus’ work was not to give Judah what they wanted or to dispense to us every last wish and desire we have.  He is the messenger of the covenant, a covenant that God made to forgive sins and bring deliverance to people who do not deserve it.  His job was to save us.  I like the picture that God paints through the prophet Malachi.  Jesus is described as a refiner or launderer.  Those two metaphors are a lot more useful to us than a soda machine, dispensing what we want.

Jesus is the refiner, purifying us by his death. He has burned off every impurity from our record.  It cost us nothing; Jesus did it all to bring us as pure and righteous children to his Father.  But that doesn’t mean our lives are going to be easy.  Jesus is the purifier and refiner of our lives.  That means he is going to use some heat to melt off what is not of value to our faith.

The same thing is true with the metaphor of the launderer.  Jesus has washed us clean.  He has removed every stain with his blood to present us as holy and spotless to God.  But that doesn’t mean we are off the hook, that we can live in any way that makes us happy.  We are the dirty laundry that Jesus scrubs and cleans.  He uses his Word as powerful soap and applies it to our lives so that stains will not seep into our lives.  A dirty, filthy faith is, again, of far less value than a cleansed faith.

This is not a pain-free process as Jesus works on the faith that he purchased for us.  The law drives us to our knees in sorrow and the inability to cleanse ourselves. Self-righteousness is burnt up by the law’s perfect standard.  Pride is washed away in the law’s holy demands.  As Jesus works on us he will also pinpoint things we love but hinder our relationship with him, and he will work to remove those things from us.  Jesus can even use the hardships of living in a broken world to work for our good.  Weakness forces us to rely on his strength.  Sorrow forces us to the eternal comfort only Jesus provides.  We have the kind of Savior who allows and even brings the painful fires needed to purge our faith of impurities so that we can avoid the far greater, far more painful, eternal fire of hell.  God loves us enough to prepare us the right way for the Last Day, so that we can be at peace.

Think of it this way: is a parent helping their child by neglecting discipline?  A parent might be able to convince themselves that discipline is cruel and that they love their children too much to put them through any kind of pain or discomfort.  But in avoiding that little bit of pain, parents like that open their children up to much greater pain.  They will grow up to think there are not punishments, that “I get to do whatever I want,” that “the world revolves around me.”  God loves us too much to leave us spoiled and unprepared for Jesus’ return.

However, God does not save us from destruction just to keep us from the destruction.  He saves us and purifies us to be who he created us to be.  He keeps us safe and prepares us properly for Christ’s coming so that we can glorify him with each other and help others prepare as well.

Notice who is brought up in this section; it’s the Levites.  When the Promised Land was divided up for the 12 tribes of Israel, the Levites didn’t get a section of land.  They were the ones who served at the temple; that was their place among God’s people.  They were the priests and leaders of worship.  So God specifically includes them to show us that there are not levels for those who need purification.  You don’t have the pastors and religious scholars up here.  You don’t have church councilmen and board members here.  You don’t have Sunday School teachers and choir members here.  You don’t have ushers and other weekly attenders here.  You don’t have those who can’t seem to make worship the priority every week here.  You don’t have the delinquent list members here.  And you don’t have the rest of the pagans and unbelievers here.  No.  Everybody has the same need to be cleansed and purified by Jesus.

And when Jesus cleans you up and purifies you from all the things that have no value to your spiritual life, then it doesn’t matter who you are, you get to serve the Lord with thankfulness and joy.  To think that there are only certain types of believers that can serve God in the church or help out with ministry is not only ludicrous, it’s a destructive lie that comes from our sinful flesh, from the world around us, and from the devil, himself.

If Christ died for you, if he came back from the dead to give you eternal life, if he washed you in baptism and strengthens you with his Word and sacrament, if he cleans you and purifies you so that you can serve him even better, then I sure hope you notice what you are going to do.  You are going to serve the Lord in all sorts of ways.

One of those ways that God mentions through the prophet Malachi is offerings.  Without people who believe in the Lord, where would the support for ministry be?  But God has brought us into his family, where we live in thanksgiving.  We live with joy for the home we have in heaven.  We see things better.  Jesus continues his work as the refiner and launderer so that we will continue to serve him with thankfulness.  We do it now to a degree, but imagine what it will be like when we can give the Lord our best in the perfect glory of heaven.

Peace comes from the kind of preparation that Malachi is talking about.  People about 400 years after Malachi needed peace, and that’s when God sent them John the Baptist.  Even thought his message was somewhat striking, it was exactly the kind of preparation the people needed.  Mountains of pride and self-righteousness needed to be leveled.  Valleys of despair and self-loathing needed to be filled in.  Blockades that people had erected to the clear gospel had to be removed.

The same things are true today.  Maybe we don’t have a guy like John the Baptist wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts as our guest preacher during Advent, but in a pastor, God gives people a servant to help with preparations.  But just like it wasn’t about John back then, it still isn’t about the pastor today.  God’s message has always been about the messenger of the covenant, that second messenger who not only proclaims peace but then goes out and accomplishes peace for us, Jesus Christ our Savior.

For now, with such joy and excitement, we are in a time similar to getting ready for a Christmas party.  You know it will be fun and joyous, and you are looking forward to it eagerly, but before that party comes there are hours and hours of planning and preparations.  Sometimes we think that this life is the main event for us.  But it’s not.  The party comes later.  Now is the time for the hard work that prepares us for the party.  We have peace and comfort now because Jesus did the hard work for us when he came the first time and purchased it for us with his holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death.  We are on God’s side and he will never declare war on us.  We have peace to live as children of God.  We have peace as Jesus refines us and washes us to make us even better at our service of thankfulness to him.  We are at peace because God is doing so much to prepare us for Jesus to come back and take all his people to heaven.  So, in peace we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, and take us home.”  Amen.

Quiet is better than noise

Pentecost B7.22.18 Pentecost 9B

 

Isaiah 32

16 The LORD’s justice will dwell in the desert,
his righteousness live in the fertile field.
17 The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.
18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest.
19 Though hail flattens the forest
and the city is leveled completely,
20 how blessed you will be,
sowing your seed by every stream,
and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.

 

A middle-relief pitcher has a relatively quiet existence.  His routine is mostly out of the limelight.  He sits kind of removed from the action out in the bullpen until called upon. Then, his job is to get the outs needed, slap a couple hands on the way to the dugout, and take in the rest of the game from the bench.  After the game, he really shouldn’t see too many reporters clamoring to hear how it went out there on the mound.  His job was to throw 15, 20, maybe 30 pitches and get a few outs.  Not the stuff of intrigue to the common fan.  He was necessary for the win, but not as stout as the pitcher who goes 7 strong innings, not as flashy as the quick-footed shortstop who makes amazing, diving stops and strong throws, not as frenzy-invoking as the big first baseman who hits the winning homer.  And so the relief pitcher gets to shower up and head home with little to no fanfare.  It’s a quiet job, and he’s ok with that.

That was not Josh Hader’s night on Tuesday at the All-Star Game.  He is a Brewers reliever who was selected to be there because he has been almost unhittable this season. Well, at this game he was uncharacteristically lousy, allowing 3 runs while only getting one out.  Still, that would not set off the kind of firestorm that surrounded Josh Hader after the game.

See, during the game some tweets from the teenage Hader came to light.  These social media posts were not good.  Not even a little bit.  Some where racist, using the n-word.  Some were homophobic.  Others were immoral and insensitive.  Even though social media posts are sent pretty silently, these cropped up again caused an uproar that shocked not just a Brewers fan like me but the whole sports world and beyond.  What should have been a quiet place in front of a middle-reliever’s locker on the losing side of the All-Star Game was filled with the clamor and questions of a media frenzy.

We’re getting pretty used to that kind of noise, aren’t we?  Politics this.  Politics that.  Sports this.  Sports that.  Tragedy here.  Tragedy there.  Don’t get me wrong, we should pay attention to the world that we live in.  We need to know about it in order to know how to help people who succumb to the deafening noise tune it out.  But if you aren’t careful and alert I think that the overload of noise starts to clog our ears, too.

That’s the problem in Israel during the time of the prophet Isaiah.  The ears of the Israelite people are overloaded with noise.  And the noise comes from two places.  First, it comes from negative outside influences.  Living in this world, you will pick up some of the chatter that originates from other sources, won’t you?   It makes total sense that the people of Israel would experience some of that outside noise from the nations around them.  Whether it was the pagan worship, the immorality, the laziness, the pride, the Israelites heard that noise coming from the surrounding nations loud and clear.

You’ve probably noticed, there are people surrounding you that resonate with similar sounds.  What else do you expect from people who have the natural, inborn me-first mentality?  What else do you expect from people who think we are descendants of animals, that we are the ones who make rules, that God doesn’t exist and if he does he certainly doesn’t seem to be on your side?  What else do you expect from people in this world of sin and death?  There’s a lot of noise out there.  And like a middle-relief pitcher who just wants to stay away from the clamor and questions, the noise is overwhelming at times.

The second place from which these reverberations come is a little more difficult to hear.  It’s not that the volume or frequency is too low to hear it.  The difficulty is in the realization of the source.  Israel was coming up with a crude and calloused cacophony that was ruining the quiet and peaceful dwelling place God intended their nation to be.  It was bad enough that the surrounding noise was drawing their attention, but the sounds of their own sinful hearts were drowning out God’s promised peace and security.

Brothers and sisters, we hear it, too.    I’m sure Josh Hader knew that there was bigotry, racism, immorality, and hatred in this world.  But then the source was revealed, or maybe reminded, that it was him.  You don’t have listen to the news or to your neighbors to hear the echo of evil.  It’s right there, coming from your own lips, your own heart.

Where there should be the quiet response of repentance, I come up with a flurry of excuses and explanations.  Where there should be peace in God’s promises, I have the havoc of my own pride and self-reliance.  Where there should be sweet sounds of worship and praise, I spew sour and scornful curses and condemnations.  Where there should be compassion and love, my mouth is filled with complaints and carelessness. That’s the noise we hear, that’s the noise we too often produce.

Well, God saw what was going on in Israel and he knew he had some silencing to do.  Kind of like a teacher in a loud classroom, you’ve got some options to bring the noise level down.  You can be really quiet and wait for all the kids to notice how quiet you are.  Speaking from experience, that one takes a while.  Or you can give a loud clap or bang of some kind to snap all those kids out of the thunderous ruckus they are creating.

That’s what God describes here in verse 19, “…hail flattens the forest and the city [Jerusalem] is leveled completely.  A forest can be a pretty noisy place, with birds calling, trees blowing, animals scurrying.  I’m glad I’ve never been in a forest that is being flattened in a hailstorm, but I imagine it’s not a serene scene. It is after the storm, that’s when the quiet comes.

This was God’s way of describing how Israel was going to be silenced.  God used the hailstorm of the Assyrian army to chop down Israel.  He leveled the city of Jerusalem completely to get his people’s attention.  Israel was deaf to God’s warning calls so he carried through with his justice to bring about the peace that they needed.

You notice where you are in this scene, right?  You notice all the noise that surrounds you is not good for you, right?  You notice that all the noise that is coming out of you and adding to the deafening roar, right?  You notice that your ears are clogged up by the nonsense and missing out on the peacefulness and quiet rest, right?

Yes, friends, we are in the group that cannot quiet the noise and get back to the peace and rest of righteousness. God has some silencing to do in these ears, and he doesn’t do it with a hailstorm of Assyrians.  He doesn’t do it with the sounds of smashing our community or our homes or this church.

The sound of destruction was a whip cracking and ripping in the Praetorium of Pilate’s palace, the groans of an unfairly punished man carrying his own cross, a hammer pounding nails, the cries of agony from someone hanging on a cross. Instead of at us, God aims his thunderous blows at his own Son, Jesus.  And through him all the rage God has, all the outburst of his wrath against sin is taken away from us.  It was his justice that demanded payment for sin.  It was his righteousness that he wanted us to have that meant Jesus would have to be cut down, Jesus would have to be leveled completely.

And do you know what?  A great roar or revelry went up in hell when Jesus was silenced by death.  The devil thought that his evil racket would have deafening results in this world and for eternity.  But three days later, he started to hear a different sound.  It was not the sound of evil destruction but the sound of triumph and victory.  It grew louder and louder.  It echoed in the halls of hell for the devil, his evil angels, and all unbelievers to hear.  CHRIST IS RISEN.  HE IS RISEN INDEED.  That was not a sweet sound to them but scorn and defeat.  And the devil has to deal with that for the rest of eternity.

To you and I it is the sweet sound of salvation.  Through Christ we are saved from all that would clog our ears and drown out God’s promises.  Here’s how God puts it through his prophet: “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.  My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.”

Do you hear that?  …no noise… no destruction…no wrath…no punishment…no enemies… Do you hear it?  The angels sang about it on Christmas.  Jesus said it to the disciples on the day he rose from the dead.  That’s called peace with God.  Through Christ, we have peace with God.  We have rest from all of our enemies.  We have the tranquility of triumph.  We have the confidence that God’s kingdom is our home.  We have quiet rest and security for eternity.

Through Christ, we also have the quiet life of rest from sin as we live here on this earth.  “How blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.”  Do you hear that? …no fear…no excuses… no complaints…no self-reliance… We can have this kind of quiet life even in a world that is filled with noise, even with a sinful heart that cries out against us.  It is all silenced by a God who loves us and took all the sounds of sin away from us.  We get to live with his blessings, with the quiet trust that knows everything will be taken care of for us.  We get to live with freedom from all the negative noise.  We get to live with the words of worship on our lips.  This is the life as a Christian in the world.  God’s blessings of peace and security will not fail us.

Do you notice how God describes that his righteousness is as a fertile field?  Yeah, right there in verse 16.  He says that his righteousness produces fruit.  Sounds like growth to me.  That’s a great reminder as we conclude our summer growth series today.  God doesn’t put you in this world to add to the noise.  He puts you in the world to produce more peace and quietness.  He puts you in this world to promote the security of his righteousness and the undisturbed place of eternal rest.

But if you have been in Josh Hader’s position before, where you just hear a bunch of noise, where it’s all your fault and you can’t turn it off, then I am so glad I get to tell you God’s promises of peace and rest.  All the sins that blare in your ears have been silenced.  And in their place, Jesus has put his righteousness.  That’s the peace, the security, the confidence you have in Christ Jesus.  That’s the peace, the security and confidence that is yours to share.  That’s the peace and quietness that is always and eternally better than the noise.  Amen.

IS CHRISTIANITY FACTS OR GUIDELINES?

4.8.18 Easter 2B

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John 20:19-31

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 
We have a really important question to consider today.  It’s an important question about Christianity and people who call themselves Christian.  It’s an important question for churches that want to teach Christianity and make more disciples of the Christian faith.  It’s an important question that comes up today because I imagine it is probably running through the minds of eleven men that we hear about in the Gospel from John 20.  It’s an important question that has been thoroughly thought about for centuries since those men locked themselves up with different answers.

Here’s the question: Is Christianity the proclamation of the facts of Jesus Christ, or is it a set of God’s guidelines and principles for you to follow?  Ok, ok, ok it’s a little bit of a trick question because obviously it’s both.  However, one is the foundation and the other builds off the foundation.  One is the first and foremost and the other is secondary.

So, which is it?  Because there is a difference, a huge difference, a difference that affects you for eternity.  One is going to leave you with doubts and fears and the other is going to give you great certainty, confidence and boldness now and forever.  If you don’t really see the difference, then you need to get back into the Bible to study and learn what Christianity is all about. Is it the proclamation of the facts of Jesus Christ?  Or is it a set of guidelines and principles for your life?  If you need help answering that than this section of Scripture is a really good one for you.

Can you see how the answer to this question would greatly affect those men behind the locked doors on that first Easter?  They were a wreck.  They didn’t know what to do.  They were together, but they felt more alone then ever before.  They thought that Jesus was going to give them a good life.  He was God’s Messiah.  He was the deliverer.  In their hearts and minds that meant life would be good following Jesus.  They would be delivered from the bad things.  They would be delivered from illness and disease because Jesus could remove those kinds of things from people.  They saw it first hand. They would be delivered from the annoying power of the Roman government because Jesus would restore the nation of Israel to its former glory under great King David.  They would be delivered from the falsehood of the Pharisees, chief priests, and teachers of the law because Jesus would not only restore Israel as a nation but also as true believers and worshippers of the Triune God.  All the people would not just go through the motions anymore.  They would all gather to the Lord Jesus because he was the Messiah, the deliverer. God’s people would be on top again.

But those hopes and dreams came crashing down hard when Jesus was betrayed by one of the disciples, deserted by all of the other disciples, denied any relationship at all by one of the closest disciples, Peter, falsely accused and sentenced by the Jewish religious leaders, handed over to Pilate, beaten and flogged, sentenced to death by crucifixion, forced to carry his cross until he couldn’t, nailed to it, put on public display to be harassed and shamed while his life ebbed away, and then finally gave up his last breath and died.  The disciples were crushed to the core.

It should not have been so crushing, because Jesus had told them this is what would happen.  This was his mission.  This was the way God had planned to deliver the world from sin and death.  Jesus took the punishment for us.  But the disciples couldn’t see it.  Their own ideas, their own set of principles and beliefs had blinded them to what was going on.  They were following Jesus thinking that he was going to be the one to give them a better life.  They were going to love people like he did.  They were going to serve people like he did.  They were going to spread goodness and kindness like he did.  But without him, how was any of that possible.  Without Jesus, how could they have the good moral life they wanted?  How could they follow his guidelines and principles if he wasn’t there to give them?  None of it made sense to them.  The doubt was unbearable.

A lot of people have been in that position before.  Maybe they haven’t locked themselves in a room overcome by their doubts and terrified of their enemies, but people have experienced this kind of crushing doubt before.  People have been absolutely grief-stricken at news reports like another school shooting, a terrible accident, a devastating natural disaster and thought to themselves, “if God is so loving, then how could he allow these bad things to happen.”  People have been in tough situations and questioned God’s power and protection and presence, saying “can God actually do what he promises.” People have been weighed down by their own guilt and shame, wondering “could God ever love someone like me.”

These kinds of doubts and fears flood the lives of so many, just like what was happening behind those locked doors.  And it happens because of the way people answer that important question: Is Christianity the proclamation of the facts of Jesus Christ, or is it a set of God’s guidelines and principles for me to follow?   To a lot of people the answer is that Christianity is more about a way of life, principles to live by, and good moral advice.  To a lot of people the main character of Christianity is the person following it.

To them it makes sense.  If I want a relationship with God, then I have to follow his ways, I have to live by his principles and guidelines, I have to be his kind of person.  A lot of Christian preachers (people who call themselves Christian preachers, anyways) make Christianity all about what I am supposed to do, what I am supposed to think, and what I am supposed to say.  They turn the main goal of Christianity into producing a club of do-gooders earning respect, love, and rewards from God.

It is totally true that Christianity is about living a godly life.  It’s true that Christianity will change the goals you have and the way you go about reaching those goals.  But when Christianity is first and foremost about God’s guidelines and principles that you have to follow, that’s when the doubts trickle and then flood people to hopelessness and despair just like the disciples.  Because it’s all about me.  Faith is resting on my love, trust, obedience, worship, and service to God.  And when Christianity depends on a person like me, I know the kind of person I am.  I know the weaknesses and failures.  I know where I have made a mess of God’s way of life.

The disciples were in a lot of doubt because they thought they knew Jesus and what he was supposed to do.  They thought their faith was about following him and his way of life.  They thought they were heading to a better life here on earth.  When he died, all of those things were gone and they only had their doubts.

This is not just a problem for the disciples, for Thomas, and for other Christians.  You have doubts, too.  Would you have been any different behind those locked doors?  Do you react any differently to troubling news reports, difficult personal problems, or your own load of guilt?  Can you and I really say that we are immune to doubts.  It’s part of our sinful life.

It has to do the way you and I answer that question.  Too often we make Christianity about me.  We make the foundation of faith my way of life and my morals.  We do exactly what the disciples were doing.  “I thought it would be this way…  I believe this to be true… I think that God… I hope… I feel..”

For the disciples to get rid of the doubts, faith couldn’t be about them.  It couldn’t be about their beliefs and their guidelines.  That question needed a different answer: Is Christianity the proclamation of the facts of Jesus Christ, or is it a set of God’s guidelines and principles for you to follow?

And do you know who was there to give them a different answer?  Christ himself.  He showed up behind the locked doors to get rid of their doubts, to shift the focus from their thoughts, their beliefs, their dedication to the guidelines and principles, to make Christianity about the facts of Jesus Christ.

Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”  And then he says it again.  In order to get rid of the doubts, Christianity can’t be about my way of life.  It has to be about Jesus.  It has to be the facts of his life, his death, his forgiveness, his salvation, his resurrection, his power over death.  It has to be the truth of his peace.

This kind of peace is not that everything in life will go smoothly.  The disciples’ lives actually got more difficult after the resurrection than before it.  But they were more content and courageous after Jesus’ resurrection than before it.  Because they had the facts of Jesus life, death, and resurrection.  They had the answer to their toughest fears.  They had eternal peace from Jesus.  They had peace with God not based on their way of life but based on the facts of Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, you have the same facts of Jesus Christ.  They haven’t changed.  CHRIST IS RISEN!  HE IS RISEN INDEED!  And that means you have his peace, too.  Everything in life might not go smoothly.  Problems might arise.  Disasters will rage on this earth.  But the doubts are gone, because Jesus came back from the tomb.  The doubts are gone because our faith is founded on Jesus, the one who forgives sin, conquered death, and brings us eternal life through the gospel.

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not see and yet believed.”  Do you know why you believe?  It’s not because of your way of life.  It’s because of your Savior Jesus.  It’s because of the facts that he died to forgive you, rose to remove the doubts, and rules you with his power and love.

That’s the main message of the Bible.  John tells us, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that be believing you may have life in his name.  Christianity is all about the undeniable, unchangeable facts of Jesus the Messiah, the Savior, God’s Son.  When you have him, doubts and fears are removed and rolled away just like that stone that covered his tomb.  Then, there is only one thing to say, “My Lord and my God!”  Amen.

ROLLED AWAY

4.1.18 Easter Sunday

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Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

 

We all ask the question.  “Who will roll the stone away…?”  Ok, for you and me it’s not literally a huge rock that is covering up the entrance to a friend’s tomb, but I’m guessing you have asked this type of question before:  “How do I roll this insurmountable obstacle out of  my way?  How do I deal with this really tough relationship?  How do I pay all the bills?  How do I help a sick or dying loved one? How do I fix what’s wrong in my life?  How can I do it?  And if I can’t, then who will?” We all ask those kinds of questions, right?

The women don’t really have an answer to the question.  It just hangs there on this dismal morning like fog.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

They had followed Jesus, because he gave them what no other teacher could.  That’s because Jesus didn’t tell them that following laws was their way into heaven.  He didn’t say you had to be better than others to get in good with God.  He spoke good news of forgiveness from God.  He promised peace that the world could never give.  He had compassion that no one could match.  And he was serious about the work he had to do, the work his Father gave him, the work of saving you from your sins.  These women had been with the crowds that hailed his name with hosannas just one week earlier.  They had watched, dumbfounded, as the crowds turned on him, as Pilate unwilling sentenced him to death, as he carried his cross until he couldn’t anymore, as the nails were pounded into his hands and feet, as people sneered and jeered the dying God-man, as he gave up his last breath, and as his lifeless body was quickly wrapped in linen, placed in a tomb, a shut in by that big stone.  The women saw it all.

Now, early on this Sunday morning, all they could do was properly prepare the dead body of their friend, their teacher, their Lord according to their Jewish customs.  The work was grim and devastating. Their arms were full of sweet smelling spices and their hearts full of sour sadness.  And they didn’t know what to do about that stone.

We try to come up with answers for the things that are blocking us, don’t we?  We don’t just let the fog hang over us.  “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” people say. And maybe that works for a while.  Maybe you can kick a few little pebbles out of your way: a little stressful scheduling problem,  a family member who is being difficult, a class and teacher that is just unreasonably tough.  People find their way past those things in life.  Maybe you can learn how to deal with the bigger rocks, too: a large debt, losing a job, a relentless bully, a divorce.  You muster up the courage and strength and you find a way to keep going.

People think that’s the way to answer the questions.  They think they can fix it, but there will be more pebbles.  The rocks will keep coming, and they will pop up more and more often.  And then the time will come when we all have to deal with that large boulder of death, no one has come up with a way to roll that stone away.

When they went out to the tomb, they were looking for disappointment.  They were looking for help moving the stone that covered up a dead Jesus. But when they go to the tomb, something wasn’t right.  The guards that Pilate had posted were gone.  That large stone had been rolled away. Inside the tomb was an angel dressed in white who said to them, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  “Ladies, I know what you are looking for.  You thought you needed help rolling the stone away.  You thought you were coming here to see a dead man.  You are looking for the wrong thing.”

That reminds me of a man named Alexander Flemming. He was Scottish physician and microbiologist. In September, 1928, he stumbled upon something by complete accident.  He was trying to figure out how to kill bacteria infections.  He had failed time and time again.  One of those times when he failed, he was so frustrated he just left the old petri dishes with the bacteria infections in the corner and went away for the weekend.  When he returned he got down to cleaning up his mess.  That’s when he noticed how nasty these petri dishes were, some were covered in mold.  But that’s when everything changed.  Some of the mold had covered up the bacteria and actually killed it.  Alexander Flemming went to his office looking for dirty petri dishes and instead found what is now called penicillin.  A famous quote from Alexander Flemming is this: “One sometimes finds what one is not looking for.”

The women were looking for a large stone in the way and a dead Savior inside the tomb. They were looking for the Jesus who was crucified.  They were looking for the wrong thing.  But sometimes “one finds what one is not looking for.”  The angels said that dead Jesus, who you are looking for, he is not here.  Suddenly those ladies found out what we know: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.  They had come looking for help with a large stone, but it was rolled away.  They had come looking for Jesus, “who was crucified,” but he was risen.

Do you ever look for a Jesus that matches your expectations?  We get this idea sometimes that Jesus should line up with what I want.  He should help me the way I want him to and when I want him to.  Have you done that to Jesus?

Maybe you’ve turned him into an ATM Jesus.   You go punch in a certain code of prayers, throw in a couple religious works to get his attention, maybe show up for Easter worship, and then he dispenses the goods you’re looking for. Or have you treated him as the Vacuum Cleaner Jesus?  You keep this kind of Jesus in the back closet and once a week you bring him out or, if necessary when there is a big mess on your hands, you’ll bring him out more often when you really need to clean things up.  Or have you treated him like a Reasonably-Good-Friend Jesus? You are comfortable hanging out with him, but you don’t want him stopping over every day after supper.  There needs to be some space. This reasonably-good-friend Jesus would be the type that you can let the voicemail take the call now and again because you have other things going on or other people to see.

Have you done that with Jesus?  I have.  I’m sure you have, too.  Like those women, sometimes we go looking for the wrong thing and the wrong Jesus.  We think we can dictate what kinds of things we want in our life and what kind of Jesus will work for us.

And that would be fine for a dead Jesus.  A dead Jesus doesn’t care if the women are worrying about the large stone and the spices.  A dead Jesus doesn’t care if you try to figure out how to remove all the pebbles and rocks from your life in your own way.  A dead Jesus doesn’t care if we turn him into an ATM, a Vacuum Cleaner, or a Reasonably-Good-Friend kind of Jesus.  A dead Jesus might not care, and quite frankly, can’t do anything about it if we did that to him.

But Jesus is not dead.  Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

They should have known.  Jesus had told them what kind of Savior he was here to be. This was all part of the plan to save you and me from sin.  Sin is all those pebbles and rocks in our life that get in the way of our relationship with God.  They make us stumble.  They make us look for what we think will be a better, and easier way.  They make us falter and fall.  They make us give up.  We want it to get better.  We want less pebbles and rocks in our way, but it’s like working in the fields, there will always be more rocks.

What we need is more than wants and wishes.  What we need is more than broken promises and useless attempts.  We need a solution.  “Who will roll the stone away?” the women asked.  God will and he has in Jesus Christ.

God sent Jesus to be the solution for my sin.  God put Jesus on the cross to remove all the pebbles and rocks that get in the way.  Jesus took the pebbles and rocks of the whole world, so that we wouldn’t be tripped up and broken anymore.  He took our place in the tomb so that he could roll that large stone away, too.  He rose from death to provide us a life with God forever.  Nothing can change what Jesus has done, no one can change the facts that God forgives you, that Jesus conquered death for you, and that heaven is yours forever.  The stones of sin, death, and hell are rolled away to reveal life with God that never ends.

“One sometimes finds what one is not looking for.” Flemming said.  The women would have agreed.  They came to the tomb looking for help to roll away the stone, but it was already rolled away.  They came looking for a dead Jesus, but he was alive.  They came looking for failure and found victory.

We are told that the women were “trembling and bewildered…and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”  Seeing the kind of power that can actually keep a promise that seems to good to be true, seeing the king of power that can actually roll away the insurmountable stone of death is shocking.  It was traumatic and amazing all at the same time.

But you don’t have to leave here today like those women.  Do you know how the story continues? Spoiler alert: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!  The living Jesus appeared to the women.  The living Jesus appeared to the disciples.  The living Jesus went back home to heaven and he continues to live as the champion over death.  The stone can never be put back over his grave. He continues to rule all things by his grace and for you benefit, so that your life doesn’t have to be afraid of death.  The stone is rolled away, and with it all of death’s power is gone, all the guilt of sin is removed, all the fright of hell has been destroyed by our living Lord and Savior, Jesus.

This is the comfort and this peace the women were not looking for when they went out to the tomb.  They were looking for that large stone.  They were looking for a dead Jesus.  Brothers and sisters, we don’t have a dead Jesus.  No, all the pebbles and rocks and larges stones of sin, death, and hell have been rolled away by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s the victory celebration we hold every week here in worship and every day in our lives.

WHOSE FIGHT IS IT?

10.1.17 Week 1

STILL

Exodus 14:1-31

Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. 3 Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ 4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” So the Israelites did this.
5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” 6 So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. 7 He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. 8 The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. 9 The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
15 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”
19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.”
26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

 

A quiet, calm lake can be a soothing sight, but this lake was not calming anyone’s heart. The people of Israel had joyously left Egypt behind.  After 400 lost and restless years of slavery, God had provided the way out for his people.  His love for them had not been forgotten.  His unequaled power did not fail them.  The ten plagues were disastrous for Egypt, but while wreaking total havoc for them, the plagues gave the Israelites new hope. Where peace was nowhere to be found, their hearts were put at ease.  They were going back home to the Promised Land of their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… until they reached that lake.

Under God’s instruction, the prophet and leader of the people, Moses, had directed this massive nation of people to an area that was impassible, so they thought, on dry land.  It was at this time that the Egyptians came back into the picture.  Pharaoh and his Egyptian army were hardened with rage against God and his people, and this frenzied foe was now coming to either get them back or annihilate them if they disagreed.  It was a paralyzing situation: the lake on one side and the army on the other.  You can hear them hopelessly crying out against the Lord and his prophet, “Lord, why?”  “Moses, what have you done to us?”

Their struggle to find peace had led the people of Israel to question God, even to levy accusations against him, as if fighting God can help in such grim circumstances.  Isn’t it shocking what people will do when they are afraid and looking for a way out?  People think they can fight against God to achieve the peace they want, but instead they go further into the restless storm.

There was a man who struggled with this same thing.  He cried out to the Lord with the same hopeless taunts as the Israelites.  “Lord, why are you doing this to me?”  He fought for peace.  He even left his course of study to be a lawyer, thinking that a more religious path of service would calm him.  Off to the monastery he went only to find that the church was not helping people find peace.  Instead, this man named Martin Luther found God to be an ominous judge who demanded more and more and more from his people.

It was like he was right there with the people of Israel.  The waves of fear and guilt crashing him on the one side and something like an army of Egyptians was the church crushing him with fierce demands on the other.  No help was found.  God became the accused.

And this was the situation for not just this one man, but for all the people.  The corruption of the church at the time was teaching people to earn God’s attention and forgiveness with more and more good.  It was never enough.  You always had to do more for God, for others, for the church.  God was never satisfied with you.  He was never willing to give peace until you made the effort.  You had to fight for it.

How well does that work?  I don’t think it is that farfetched for us to relate to these struggles.  We do this to ourselves all the time.  Like the Israelites, we levy accusations against God as if we know better.  An illness strikes at the wrong time. “God, why are you doing this to me?  You know I don’t need this right now.”  A relationship with a family member goes sour.  “Lord, what did I do to deserve this?  Why can’t you make them understand things from my point of view?”  A problem arises at work or for your kids at school.  “Lord, you say that all things work for the good of your people.  How in the world is this good for me?” You watch another terrible news report.  “God, you say you are in control, but how can this help our country right now?”  It’s like we are right there with the Israelites crying out against the Lord, fighting him.

And you have learned the results of this kind of fighting, haven’t you?  In the midst of fighting there is no peace.  When God is your opponent, there is no positive outcome.  Do you know why?  He doesn’t lose.  A holy God doesn’t get things wrong and he doesn’t make mistakes.  Sinful people do. We do.  And so how in the world could we ever think that fighting against God is going to work for us?  It’s utter nonsense.  There is no peace for people who think God is the enemy.

That’s why people often go down the road Martin Luther took.  If fighting against God is not going to achieve the peace they want, then try fighting alongside God.  That is ultimately what Luther was learning in the monastery: God is with you when you are doing good things for him and for others.  That is the basics, not of the Bible, but the basics of works-righteousness.  And we can get caught in this trap, too.  If an illness strikes at a bad time, I can pray more and that makes God happier with me and then he heals me.  If a relationship with a family member goes sour, I can put on my humility (people call that being the bigger person for some reason) for a while and ask for forgiveness.  That will get God’s attention and I can trust that he will take care of it.  If a problem arises at work or for your kids at school,  you can practice patience and perseverance just like God wants you to.  That will get you out of the problem and bring the peace you are looking for.  If you watch another terrible news report, you can send money to help the devastated victims.  God says that if you sow generously, you will reap generously, right?

We convince ourselves that we have helped God achieve the calm, peaceful stillness that we crave.  We convince ourselves that the Lord plus my prayers, plus my humility, plus my service, plus my offerings is what gives me hope and joy in life.  It’s like thinking that God needed help from the Israelites to fend off the Egyptians, as if God needed their game plan for crossing a lake on dry land.  This, too, is utter nonsense. This kind of thinking leads to the despair that Luther lived with.  How can a sinful person help a holy God?  You can try.  There are plenty of religions and churches that have told their followers to do exactly that, and many still do, but the result is not peace.  The result is never-ending desperation to help the God who doesn’t need one single thing from us.

So, what happened to the Israelites?  They found peace…on the other side of the lake while the entire Egyptian army drowned at the bottom of it.  Their fight was not against God.  God is not the enemy.  And God proved once again that he didn’t need any help.  He took care of them the way our loving God takes care of us.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.  It was his fight and his alone. Our Lord didn’t lose.

What happened for Martin Luther?  He found peace…outside of the never-ending cycle of works-righteousness.  God was not his enemy either.  And God did not need any good works to love Martin Luther.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.  God simply opened the truth to him that we are saved not by what we do but by what he has done and him alone.

So, what has happened for you?  You aren’t up against a lake and the Egyptian army.  You aren’t up against any false teachings in our church.  However, the enemy is the same, still prowling around. Behind that army and behind any false teaching is the serpent who is cunning and crafty and has been ever since he first tempted a man and his wife in the Garden of Eden.  Behind our accusations against God and behind our feeble and frantic attempts to help God do his work is the enemy that has plagued us since day one.

And still…still there is peace for you.  Our Lord does not fight against you.  He does not fight alongside of you, as if he needs your help with the enemy.  Brothers and sisters, The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

 

That is exactly what happened on Calvary’s cross.  You and I could do nothing against our enemy, the devil.  So, the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, went to battle for you.  He crushed the serpent’s head with his perfect sacrifice.  He removed our sins with his perfect forgiveness.  He closed the doors of death with his glorious resurrection.  Heaven is yours because the Lord Jesus Christ fought for you and it was Christ alone.

This doesn’t mean the battles are going away.  The Israelites had many many many more run ins.  They faltered and failed all over the desert and in the Promised Land.  The disciples had Jesus there, God’s Son in the flesh, and they still struggled.  Luther’s anxiety over sin never went away.  We have the same fight every day.  But whose fight it is?  Who is going to fight for you every second of the day?  Who has given you the dry ground that leads to the other side where there is no enemy, only peace and joy. Who has set your heart at rest and still will for eternity?  It’s Christ and Christ alone. Amen.

GOD’S HOUSE HAS NO WALLS

9.17.17 Pentecost 13A

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Ephesians 2:13-22

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

 

One of the things I notice when I drive around Bismarck is the amount of walls that are going up.  There’s the First International Bank over on the corner of Divide and State.  There’s Simle and Wachter Middle Schools.  There’s the Capital Ice Complex. There’s the Governor’s House. That doesn’t even include all the new houses in the north part of town, the east part of town, the south part of town.  I was doing some research to get ready for this sermon and found out that in the month of August alone there were 43 pages of building permits given out by the city.  With about 4 per page that’s 172.  So I looked for all of 2017.  There have been a total of 309 pages of building permits issued.  With about 4 per page, that is a grand total of over 1,200 permits given so far this year to build up something in Bismarck.  One of those permits were for the parsonage basement, because we had to put up a few walls down there, too.  That’s a lot of walls, physical walls made of steel, wood, brick, cement or whatever.

Now, what about the other walls that are going up in Bismarck, the kinds that aren’t made of steel, wood, brick, cement or whatever?  What I’m wondering is how many walls have gone up because of a grudge or guilt, prejudice or pride, racism or rage, slander or selfishness?  What about the kinds of walls that people build to keep others out of their lives because of something they said or did?  The walls the people put up to stay clear of a certain group because of their differences, what about those?  Well, they have gone up and they still do, not just in Bismarck but also all over the globe.

This is not a new concept.  The Apostle Paul was living during the first century in the Roman Empire.  There were different groups of people in Ephesus and all over the place.  They had different personalities, different politics, and different passions.  They had different backgrounds, different beliefs, different everything.  The walls were up, including the wall separating the Jewish people from the Gentile people.

See, God had given the Jewish people a specific role.  It wasn’t because of their special skills or their holy lives.  He chose them because from Abraham’s descendants God would give this entire world, all people, the Savior.  With that purpose in mind, God had given the Jewish people a specific set of laws to keep every aspect of their life different from the rest of the world, also known as the Gentiles.  The Jews had a different diet and dress code, they had a different calendar and holidays, they had a different worship style and worship space.

Now, all these differences did not make them a better nation in God’s eyes.  The wall was up between them because God intended these differences to be a magnet for Gentiles to bring them closer to the only God and his promise of eternal life through faith in him.

However, the Jews turned the differences into a source of pride.  They loved the wall between them.  The differences of the Jews did not draw Gentiles in but repulsed them even farther away.  And so this wall that Paul talks about between Jew and Gentiles is not the differences between them but rather the hatred and hostility that resulted from the Jewish pride and selfishness.

These kind of walls keep going up today not because of differences but because of what we do with the differences.  Unlike a common idea held in our culture, people are not born with a natural inclination to be good.  We are born to think of ourselves first.  That trait is called selfishness or pride and it is never going to help you with God or with others, because it makes me look inward to try and find the good that God requires.  And if I can’t find the good, no the perfection, that God requires in me, then I start to look for it elsewhere.  And because I am born sinful and selfish, I don’t naturally look for help from others, I look for comparisons to others.  If there are differences with other people, then I will make sure that those differences make me look better in my eyes and to the world.  If the differences make me feel better about myself and make me look good in this world, then they have to shine me in a good light to God, right?  Wrong!  Now anything different from me is not just different.  No, I’ve turned one into the better option and the other into a worse option.  And because I am born with this deep-seeded selfish pride, I make mine better and someone else’s difference worse.  The wall goes up and it isn’t attracting anyone to Jesus, it’s driving them farther and farther away.

For example, the comparisons can be age related.  “What’s the deal with millennials?  They are entitled.  They are lazy and thinned-skinned.  The just care about how many likes they get on facebook; that’s being social to them instead of looking someone in the eye.”  Or maybe the comparisons are political. “Can you believe that they voted for so and so?  How can they have that view about education, foreign policy, immigration, or morality?”  Maybe the comparison is economic.  “You don’t want to live in that area.  The people are lazy and looking for trouble.  Why can’t they get a job?  Or that neighborhood is so uppity and they don’t realize that not everyone was born with a sliver spoon in their mouth.”  The comparisons can crop up in so many ways, and when they do the real tragedy is not what comes out but the pride inside that builds an unbreakable wall.  The real heartbreak is thinking that our identity, purpose, value and appearance before God comes from what I can produce and how it’s better than what someone else can.

Taking a good honest look at how each one of us has put up these kinds of walls gives us a little idea on how these walls are going to come down.  Spoiler alert: I can’t bring them down and neither can you.  And that is exactly what Paul was saying to these two different groups in Ephesus, to Christian churches all over the Roman world, and to us. God’s strategy for tearing down the walls between people is not to make us try harder to see past the differences or to meet somewhere in the middle. God’s plan is bigger.

When a hurricane tears apart a state, when someone is stranded and sobbing on a roof, or when someone doesn’t have the capability to clean up the mess, do you think the differences matter?  Do you think that age, race, political leanings or financial means are the first things that come to mind when you have lost everything?  Does republican and democrat, black or white, rich or poor, old or young mean anything when tragedy hits?  No, then it becomes quite clear what we have in common.  The solution that Paul brings out so beautifully for us is something much much bigger than any of the differences that separate people.  God’s solution is to give all people something in common.

In order to bring down the walls that we build up, Paul does not try to eliminate the differences.  Instead, he points us to a different wall, one that is much bigger and that we all have in common.  He points out the wall that exists between a holy God and sinful people.  Every time we pick up a brick and add it to the wall between someone else, we might think we our adding value or making ourselves look better than someone else to God. But the reality is it’s just another brick in the wall between me and someone much bigger.  When our pride and selfishness builds a wall, it is the almighty God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – on the other side.

Now listen to what Paul says: But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ…[he] has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.   Christ came not to show us how to take down the walls, not to eliminate differences, but to take down the wall of sin the separated sinners from God.  He took the wall of hostility down by paying for all our sins with his blood and death.  He restored us.  And now there is nothing between us and God.

Well maybe one thing, PEACE.  Paul says, “…through the cross… he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”  In Christ, we have no wall separating us from God.  We have direct access to him and eternal peace with him.

Now, brothers and sisters, the things that define us, that give us our identity, the show us our purpose are not our differences but what we have in common.  We were all born sinful on the other side of that wall.  God had the same love for all of us.  Jesus came and died for all sin.  We all have the same forgiveness that he won.  The doors to heaven are open for all from every nation.  And all of us who have faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior possess in full the things the we try to pursue on our own.  Why in the world do we need to pursue them by being different from or comparing ourselves to someone else?

Our loving Savior does not bring down the walls by eliminating the differences between us.  Instead, he surpasses the differences by making the most important things about us, not our differences but what we have in common.  We have been bought together by Christ’s death and brought together by the his gospel.  So, not only do we have this peace with God, but Paul says this: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household…”   Some might look like foreigners from a distant land where we have no clue what life is like.  Some might be strange to us, but Christ purchased a place where we, differences and all, are fellow citizens of the same land.  Not only are we living in the same land but God’s grace in Jesus brought us all into the same family, members of God’s household.

“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”  Do you notice something about God’s house?  It’s not like all the permits that are given in Bismarck.  No, in God’s house, there are no walls.  Amen.