GUARANTEED SAFETY

Eater 2019

Ezekiel 34

25 “ ‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. 26 I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. n I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. 27 The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. 28 They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. 29 I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. 30 Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.’ ”

 

 

What makes you safe?  Locks can work.  You lock your house up at night.  You lock your car.  You lock your computer and all sorts of online accounts with a password.  You lock up your bike at school.  You have a fireproof lockbox with important documents.  Locks can make people safe.

Knowledge and skill make people safe.  You learn from movies that you shouldn’t go down a dark alley in a big city at night.  You can go to personal defense classes and martial arts classes to learn how to defend yourself from attackers.  You can watch shows and study survival skills if you like to explore the great out of doors.  Summer is coming and you know that means to wear some sunblock to protect your skin from sunburn. Knowledge and skill can make you safe.

The right equipment can keep you safe.  Athletes need the right kind of pads and helmets to stay safe for the kind of sport they are playing.  Without the right equipment injuries can occur.

Weapons make people safe.  If you do happen to find yourself in a dark alley in a bad part of town at night, then a taser, pepper spray, nunchucks, or a gun might make you feel safer, as long as you know what you are doing with them.  People sometimes keep these types of things by their bed or in their car in case it would be needed.  Again, I would say it is very important that you know how to use these weapons, but they can make people safe.

There’s one more thing we haven’t mentioned, Mom.  When little kids come into church here and they haven’t been here much, they aren’t smiling and jumping and playing.  They’ve got that “what is this place and who are you” kind of look on their faces, and they are holding on to Mom’s leg or wanting her to hold them in her arms.  Parents make a kid feel safe.

Being safe is important.  On a Sunday in the Church Year that has the title of Good Shepherd and on a holiday that celebrates moms, safety is a pretty good topic.  All these different things try to help people to be safe, because there are a lot of things that work to prevent safety.

Turns out there are people who can break a lock or a password.  That doesn’t mean you should not use locks, but it does mean that locks are not 100% guaranteed to work at keeping people out.  Knowledge and skills can do a good job, but you can walk down the wrong alley and run into someone who has more skills and knowledge than you do. I once put on a whole bunch of sunblock before going to a waterpark, but I forgot to reapply in the afternoon and paid dearly for it.  I could go out camping with all the necessary items and skills and still die from a bear attack. I can put on a helmet and pads but if I skate on to the ice of an NHL playoff game or catch a pass in an NFL game, there’s not even a question in my mind that I’m going to end up in the hospital with life-threatening injuries.  Sometimes you forget the self-defense weapons, they malfunction in some way, or the weapon can be turned against you.  Finally, sometimes mom can’t stop her child from falling off a chair or getting to close to a hot stove.  She’s not omnipresent.  She’s not all-powerful.  She’s not perfect.  She’s not eternal.

So, here’s the issue. We want to be safe, but we cannot guarantee it for ourselves.  Maybe that’s because of what we are doing or not doing.  Maybe it’s because of what others are doing or not doing for us.  The result is that safety is not a given for me or for you.

That is the picture God paints through the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 34.  He was saying that his sheep, the Israelites, were not safe because they were stubborn wandering sheep and because they didn’t have good shepherds.  Both of those things are not good for safety.  And so, they had lots of danger.  There was danger from other nations.  There was danger to their crops.  There was danger from wild animals.  And they needed safety from all of that.

But there is a much bigger danger that we haven’t talked about yet that can affect a lot more than my house, my online accounts, my camping trips, my ability to compete, my feelings, and my health.  This danger can do a lot more damage than an army or a drought.  Do you know about the dangers that faces you?

It’s the danger of sin. It’s the danger of the devil.  It’s the danger of hell.  And far too often these things have been the wolf that carries us sheep off.  See, there’s a few problems that make me and all of us easy targets.  I’m too ignorant to realize the danger.  I’m too foolish to realize that I cannot handle the danger.  I’m too proud to perceive that the what could be dangerous to others could also be dangerous to me.  What happens is we think we can make ourselves pretty safe.  We think we’ve got it all covered.  In reality, we are sheep sitting there with no shepherd or the wrong shepherd, which is really no shepherd at all.

Here’s a really simple way to see if you have the wrong shepherds in your life: if it cannot make you safe from sin, hell, and Satan, then it’s not what you need.  Locks, knowledge, equipment, weapons, even Mom cannot prevent sin from destroying me.  They cannot stop the devil – that prowling lion and menacing wolf – from carrying me off.  They cannot hold up to the destruction of hell.

We are so good at thinking that we have it all figured out.  We are so good at proudly prancing around thinking that nothing can touch me.  We are so good at being so foolish.  I think I can provide the safety I need in life, but the fact that I cannot guarantee it, should probably tell me that I am in desperate need of a real shepherd.

That’s what God was telling the Israelites. They couldn’t protect themselves.  They could not rely on shepherds who were just looking out for themselves and cared nothing for the sheep.  The people back then and all of us right now need a shepherd who doesn’t have the ability just to protect me from nature but actually controls nature.  I need a shepherd who doesn’t provide some things that work for some people’s safety, but he knows me better than I know myself, he knows the tendencies I have and the problems that I wrestle with, he knows it all and he knows how best to handle me firmly but carefully and compassionately.  I need a shepherd who doesn’t just give me the right skills and tools for battle, but one who fights and defeats the enemy for me.  I need a shepherd who says this: “You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God.”

That’s not a shepherd who is just looking out for himself.  That’s not a shepherd who is looking to be famous.  That’s not a shepherd who is looking to get rich.  That’s a shepherd who cares, who protects, who loves me.  That’s a shepherd who cares, who protects, who loves you.  He says “my sheep… my pasture…”  He personally cares.  Look through the first reading again.  It’s not the second person “you” that is doing the action.  It’s not the third person singular “he” or the plural “they” who are working.  God steps in and says “I.”  For his people looking for safety God says “I will make peace…I will get rid of the wild beasts…I will bless…I will send showers… I will provide for them…I am with them…” This is how God takes care of you, personally with his own hands.

Jesus says in the Gospel, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them…”  Jesus does not take a general role in being a shepherd for his sheep.  Jesus does not say, “Try this or that; it works for most.”  Jesus says, “I know you.  You are my sheep in my pasture.  No one can come in and hurt you.  No one can take you away from me.”

And then Jesus does the only thing that guarantees our safety from sin, Satan, death, and hell.  He doesn’t give you a lock, some knowledge and skills, or some proper equipment.  He takes all of them away from us.  Sin lures us away into traps and leads us to places where we shouldn’t be.  So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, takes sins away from you.  He forgives them all.  Satan lurks behind every turn and lunges for us, constantly causing anxiety and fear.  So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, went to battle that old evil foe.  He took on the devil and crushed his head for us.  He has no bite any more.  Death and hell hang a dark, unavoidable cloud over us.  So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, faced death in our place.  He allowed our punishment to take him, so that it wouldn’t take us and then he came back.

Yes, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, rose from the dead for you.  He gives you resurrection.  He gives you eternal life even after death takes you from this world. That is the only thing that can guarantee safety for us, a place in our Shepherd’s eternal fold.

Can you hear that in this promise of God from Ezekiel?  Listen again, “They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’ ”

Brothers and sisters, this is the safety we have now and for eternity from Jesus our living Shepherd.  There is no other voice we need.  There is nothing that gives us the safety that Jesus does.  So, there is no reason to take a day or a week off from him.  There is no reason to search for a different kind of shepherd. There is no reason to rely on yourself for safety.

Moms, if you want to provide what is really best for your children, they don’t need all the best toys and clothes.  They don’t need the newest technology.  They don’t need someone who they can gossip with and all that.  They need a mom who shows them, who talks to them, and who takes them to the safety of the Good Shepherd, the one who rose from the dead so that all of our enemies would live in defeat for the rest of eternity while we enjoy the victory of heaven.  If you want to really enjoy your children and the gift that God has given you, then show them, talk to them, and take them to the safety of the Good Shepherd, because then you can enjoy them forever in the eternal pastures of heaven.

Safety can hardly be guaranteed in this life, even by a mother, but that is exactly what God gives you today.  Through the prophet Ezekiel he says, “You will live in safety.”  Life forever is yours because you have a Shepherd who rose from the dead.  It’s guaranteed.  Amen.

 

ENDURANCE COMES FROM THE RIGHT MEMORY

taking-care-of-our-church

2 Timothy 2:8-13

8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
11 Here is a trustworthy saying:

If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
12 if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.

August 23, 1992 – it’s name was Andrew.  August 29, 2005 – it was Katrina. October 22, 2012 – Sandy. And now October 7, 2016 – it’s Matthew.  Hurricanes are hard to handle.  Can you even imagine the devestation?  It’s challenging to picture it.  It’s hard to think about what it would be like to evacuate your home not knowing if it will be there when you get back.  It’s hard to watch those interviews with people who are sifting through huge piles of debris and rubble, that used to be their home.  It’s hard to see the stunned faces of people who litterally don’t know what to do.  These kinds of images burn themselves into our memories.  When another one comes along –and it will – the images and thoughts all come flooding back into our memories. That’s what it’s like this week.  We remember the Andrews, Katrinas and Sandys.  We pray for the people in Haiti, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.  We pray for those who have lost their homes and for the families of those who lost their lives. We pray and we’ll always remember.

It’s not just the hurricanes; we remember days where it wasn’t the groaning of nature that brought disaster but it was the depraved mind of man.  December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor.  November 22, 1963 – Assassination of JFK. April 19, 1995 – Oklahoma City bombing. April 20, 1999 – Columbine. September 11, 2001 – 9/11 Terrorist attacks.

And there’s more memories, aren’t there?  The personal ones like the only D you’ve ever had on a report card.  That time when the wind was knocked out of you or you ran full speed into a tree.  That time you pulled a three inch screw out of your leg after you were tackled on the pavement in what should have been two-hand touch.  Ok, maybe some of those are just me.  How about the time your friend or family member had a severe diagnosis from the doctor.  Was there a time when you had to go through the couch cushions and all the nooks and cranies to try and make the payments? Do remember your first heartbreak?  How about the a death of a close loved one?

Your memories are full of this kind of thing.  These memories can come from anywhere at any time.  And they take up so much room in our heads and hearts. How can anyone cope with it all?  How can anyone have hope when literal and figurative hurricanes are ripping apart lives, when this groaning world brings destruction, when people cause unmentionable crimes?

You know, Paul encourages us today to endure, but with a head full of all those bad memories how is that possible?  Bad memories don’t really help with enduring through the struggles and hardships.  In fact, they make it harder.  Bad memories cause anxiousness and fear.  Don’t bad memories make you want to avoid those kinds of things?  And that doesn’t help with enduring.  The opposite happens.

But good memories are no better.  Can a birthday, an anniversary, or family reunion really help you endure? The birth of your children? A great trip? A pay raise? A championship for your favorite team?  Can these kinds of good memories really give you the courage and strength to put up with the problems and pain that come up? I don’t know if that’s how it works.  NDSU wins a 6th championship in a row and that’s somehow going to take care of the destroyed homes and lives from hurricanes, tornados, or terrorism?  A great relaxing and luxurious vacation to Hawaii is supposed to take the sting out of all these mass shootings?  Those twenty pounds you lost a year ago can make family feuding go away?  Sure, good memories fill us up with joy and thankfulness now, but one dangerous thing can happen from all these good memories you have.  You want more!  And when life becomes a pursuit of more great moments, that kind of temporal life can never satisfy.  You can’t endure.

The problem when the focus is on us, our good or our bad memories, is that a sinner is taking center stage.  My memories, even the good ones, are not of a perfect life and neither are yours.  We are tainted by a past filled with accidents, mistakes, and poor choices.  We have disowned the Lord too many times to count. We cannot remember even one perfect day.  And if you can’t remember one, does it make any sense at all that there will be perfect days ahead of us?  Imperfect people cannot create a perfect future. That kind of realization isn’t helping anyone.  It makes real endurance through all of the difficulties a phantom we will never find.

We need a different kind of memory.  We need the kind of memory that drives away doubts and despair and gives joy and hope.  We need the kind of memory that puts vim and vigor into our hearts and steps.  We need the kind of memory that will help us face the challenges of each day head on with determination.  We need the kind of memory that causes contentment no matter what the circumstances.  You’re probably interested in that kind of memory.

So was Paul.  He’s writing these words to Timothy while “suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.”  And yet Paul is peaceful.  He’s content.  He’s enduring everything.  One might ask, “How, Paul, how do you do it?  How do you act as if everything is fine when you are locked up for simply preaching and teaching?  Paul, give me the secret so that I can face my haunting memories.  Paul, give me the hope for a bright and lasting future.”

And do you know what he says?  “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel…”  Of all the things that you could remember, of all the things that you might remember, of all the memories that fill you brain, of all the things that try to crowd your memory so that you forget what really matters, none of them can compare to Jesus Christ.  You have got to remember Jesus Christ. The bad memories you have won’t help you get rid of your sin.  The good memories you have won’t pay the debt we owe to God.  Remember Jesus.

He’s the one who has a perfect past and a perfect future. His past encapsulates God’s promise to save you and me.  Every single word that God gave in the Old Testament is funneled into one man, the King of kings, the Promised One who would save his people from the oppression of sin, the Messiah who would rescue us from all our enemies and give us a kingdom with him.  And his future is endless because he is the one who rose from the dead.  He conquered death and hell for us.  He assures us that there is life forever in heaven.  He has a place ready for you because he is the living enduring Savior from this world of sinful memories.  He has replaced our pursuits of good memories and our tireless efforts to make up for the bad with his perfect life now given to us through faith. You and I don’t need to hang on to anything we have done, because we have the memory of Jesus Christ.

This is the good news that lives and dwells in our hearts by the power of the Spirit.  It is my gospel.  It’s not just the message that Jesus has.  It’s not just the good news that apostles and evangelists have.  It’s not just the testimony of those who have gone before us.  It’s not only for the preachers and teachers who serve in our churches and schools. This gospel is mine.  And it is yours.  God has personally delivered it to you and unwrapped it in all of it’s goodness.  It is your message to hold now and til the day God calls you to be with him.  Nothing can change this gospel for you.  It is your sole source of salvation, because your gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ.  It is the memory that he has taken away your sins and raised you to a new life of faith in him.

If you want to endure in this life, if you want to make it through any and every situation, you have what you need in the memory of Jesus Christ.  You can look back on a life of a sheep who loved to wander, and you don’t have to worry about what God will do.  You don’t have worry about what happens to wayward sheep, because Jesus has forgiven your sins.  He has found you when you were lost and brought you into his fold.  You can look at the future with bold confidence, not fixated on temporal pleasures and goals because you know those mean nothing in comparison to the home Christ has won for you.  You can look at your life right now, and it doesn’t have to be a mess of trying to avoid more bad memories with synical fingers that are always pointing to other people as the problem in the world.  Rather, you can enjoy the gifts and talents God gives you.  You can live in joyful thanksgiving for all that the Lord has done.  You can remember Jesus.  Endurance can only come from remembering him.

Paul knew a thing or two about enduring hardship. Having been harassed like he was on the top 10 most wanted for much of his ministry, he kept going with endurance that can only come from Christ.  So he passes that on to Timothy and to you and me these words that must have been old lyrics to a hymn.  (There’s a reason why we sing so many songs about Jesus in church and have our kids memorize them.)  Paul tells us it’s a trustworthy saying, it’s a faithful word for our lives as we remember Jesus. If we died with him,  we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.  Keep singing that song.  Keep that in your heart and mind. Never let it go.  And see, that’s how to take care of a church.  Remember Jesus.  That’s our gospel.  That’s our endurance.   Amen.