FROM GOSPEL MISSION TO GLORIOUS VISION

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Revelation 7:9-17

9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

 

 

Last week was a great reminder of the power God has.  God can use the foolish things of this world.  God can use the weak things of this world.  God can use the lowly things of this world.  He can use humans to accomplish the most death-defying feat.   What I mean by that is God can use the mouths and the works of sinful humans beings to get the gospel message out into the world to save people from death and hell.

Remember how he did that with a simple German theology professor?  That kind of person should not be such a big deal, and yet some authors and historians rank Martin Luther in the top 10 (some as high as 3) of the most influential people in the entire world.  But it’s not like there was something so special about a law student turned monk.  There was nothing that significant about his upbringing or devotion to religion that would make the rest of the world take note.  There was nothing amazing about how he became a professor of little Wittenberg University and then a Doctor of Theology.  There have been tons of professors and doctorates through the centuries that have had very little impact on the world.  There wasn’t much about this man, Martin Luther, that made him special.

The single thing that made Martin Luther so influential in world history is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  See the gospel made him ask questions of the deceptive church leaders, write little pamphlets and papers about the problems he noticed, stand up to the authorities, live as an outlaw, translate the Bible into German, use the new technology of the printing press, advocate for the peasants and children, write hymns and catechisms, and leave a legacy that the world simply cannot ignore. The gospel did it all.  The gospel has that kind of power.

Do you know why the gospel can have such an impact?  Do you know why the gospel can turn lowly good-for-nothings, fishermen, tax collectors, farmers, monks, professors into names that are known throughout the world?  It’s because the gospel saves people.

That’s not a cheap advertisement.  Without the gospel the only reality in the world is death and hell.  Without the gospel every single person is doomed to be destroyed by the devil and his evil for eternity.  Without the gospel the only thing you would know is sin.  Without the gospel everyone is dark, lost, and alone forever.  Without the gospel this world is all you have – this world with its polarizing politics, its destruction and devastation, its rape and murder, its greed and lust, its selfishness and pride, its racism and hatred, the list goes on.  That’s all you have.  Sure, there are some sunny days and happy times, but it would all be for nothing.  You live.  You die.  It means nothing.  Your existence really has no value to anyone.  You are pointless.  That’s life without the gospel.  There is no reason for anything and there is no love for anything, except yourself.

Think of it.  You might say, “I could still have my spouse, my kids, my parents, my friends.”  Without the gospel those relationships would only mean something because of what they do for you.  You would enjoy having parents who didn’t leave you at the hospital.  That’s nice for you.  You would enjoy having siblings because then you’re not bored at home with mom and dad, then you can have someone to play pranks on and blame when stuff gets broken, you would have people who could help you as a kid.  It’s good for you.  You would have friends who can do things for you like help on homework, be the other kids on your team, all that kind of stuff.  And that is nice for you to have.  You would maybe have your own spouse of maybe just a live in, because who wants that kind of commitment anymore.  You could have a person satisfy your desires and appetite for a while hopefully.  They could help you with a lot of things around the house and for life.  They could even help you with kids.  And you would want kids to increase your happiness and give you someone to have control over and mold.  Oh!  It’s so sad to look at life without the gospel of Jesus.  So often that is exactly what we are guilty of because we are only looking at ourselves.  Our vision is so narrow and it’s so utterly pointless.

But in the gospel, you have life.  You have meaning.  You have a purpose.  You have a family.  You have a home.  You have it forever.  Because in the gospel you have a God who is not an overlord who rules you like measly subjects or a company owner who wants you to work for him. The second reading says you have a God who wants to love you like children.  He wants to be your Father.

God did everything to make that real for you.  The gospel says that he planned a way to make sinners into his children.  Jesus came to take your sins from you.  You didn’t give them up, he took them from you and removed them from your life when he died in your place. Jesus exchanged his perfection for our sinfulness, his righteousness for our guilt.  He took the punishment that we deserve and gives us a life that is worth more than anything this world could give.  He came back from the dead so that this life you have as a child of God would not just be for years on earth, but for eons upon eons for eternity in heaven.  That is how much God loves you.  That is how much the gospel accomplishes for you.

It turns you from sinners into saints.  Yes, that is what you are.  Like I said at the introduction to this festival day, a saint is not someone who lived a special life or made a specific sacrifice or something that we should remember.  A saint is not someone who went to heaven with the job that they would someone stand in for God every once in a while.   Why would you want a dead person to help you, when you can have the Lord of heaven, the Creator of all things, the Rock of our salvation, the Spirit who set you apart and called you by name help you and care for you?  Can a dead person even do anything after they are dead?  No, not at all.  But God lives.  Jesus lives.  And because he does when God looks at his children he does not see the sin.  He sees the holiness of his Son.  He sees his perfect, pure child.  He sees a saint.

When he looks at all of us together he sees the communion of saints.  Yeah, when we say those words in the creeds we aren’t just talking about believers who have died already.  We’re proclaiming that we believe God can turn us sinners into his holy people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and faith in him alone.

That is the gospel.  And we want the gospel to do that for more people.  We want more and more people to know that life is not what I make of it.  Life is what Jesus has made it for me.  That gospel mission is what changed the world after Jesus ascended into heaven.  Christianity spread all over the world.  That gospel mission is what changed the world again when the pure light of the gospel was hidden by an oppressive church.  The voice of the midair angel has never stopped, and it won’t now.  That’s God’s promise.

And you would think that life for people with this gospel mission, for people who believe in Jesus, for the saints of God, you would think that life would be easier for us.  That’s just not a promise God has ever made, that your life on earth is going to be the best.  The Gospel reading is where Jesus says the opposite.  Your life on earth won’t be the best, but it will be blessed when you are poor in spirit, when you mourn, when you are meek, when you are merciful, when you are pure, and when you are persecuted for your faith in him.  All of those things are a part of life now, to point the saints of God to the home that really matters.

To so many this doesn’t seem worth it.  To so many fixing the brokenness of this life and trying to get my life on earth better is all that matters.  Is that you?  Do you yearn for better days on earth?  Then your vision is too narrow.  The devil is setting you up for failure, for eternal failure.  See, in the gospel, God promises something much better than earthly fixes and pleasures.  The gospel mission gives a vision like the one John sees.

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To people who have been changed by the gospel, to saints who are looking for something better than this world, God gives us a glorious vision of what victory really looks like.  There is a time and a place God has set for all his saints to enjoy this glory, peace, joy, and victory.  We don’t know when our names are going to be called, but when they are we will be taken out of this world.

I just love hearing the verse where God says the ones in white, his saints, are all those who have come out of the great tribulation.  That’s as good as this world gets for believers.  It’s a tribulation.  It’s a place where too often we complain about our homes or hungers, about the weather, about work, about failed relationships.  It’s a place where we cry and weep.  It’s a place that is broken and dark with sin.

But we have the gospel of Jesus.  We have the blood of the Lamb who makes us clean in God’s eyes.  We have the new eyes of saints who look at this world, not as home but as the journey there.  And along the way, God gives us the good news of Jesus so that can help others from every nation, tribe, people and language with their broken lives as well.

And here’s his promise for you: the gospel that we have as his saints now on earth will always lead to this glorious vision of heaven and saints who are with the Lord forever.  Amen.

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LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED

Walls torn down

Luke 10:25-37

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHEN I AM WEAK…

 

7.8.18 Pentecost 7BPentecost B

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”

This is a pretty familiar portion of the Declaration of Independence that our nation’s founding fathers signed on July 4th, 1776.  It’s still something that we value very much today.

First, we want to live.  And it’s not just life that we want.  We won’t settle for little huts, walking down to the river for water, wearing the same cloths every day, and eating the same food all the time.  We want life, a life of endless opportunities.  We want a life where our day to day necessities are what the rest of the world would call lavish luxuries.

Second, we want freedom.  We have so much freedom I’m not sure our brains could even process what it would be like to be in complete servitude, to be put under someone else unwillingly.  We have freedom to be able to pick our own jobs, our own houses, our own friends, our own religions and so much more.  We want all these freedoms because it makes us feel like we are in control.

Third, we want to be happy, or at least the ability to pursue what will make us happy.  And that happiness will be different for everyone.  But this country is all about making myself happy.  If something, like meat for example, makes me happy, then I should be able to get meat and eat it.  And if somehow you don’t like meat, then you should be able to go places where you don’t have to eat meat.  America provides what makes people happy.

These things make America what it is.  You can say what you want about politics or whatever else is potentially irritating to you, but America is pretty good at giving life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

What if I told you that all those delightful things that so many, many people in America call rights were no longer beneficial for you?  What if I said that a nice cushy life wasn’t in the cards, that you would not have freedom to make your own choices, and that you could no longer pursue so vigorously the things that make you happy?  What if I told you that you would live where none of those things would be easily accessible?  In fact, what if none of those things would be available at all?  What if the only thing you could expect were the things mentioned here in 2 Corinthians 12: weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties?

Would you boast about that kind of life?  Would you be happy?

I think not!  Because this is America.  This is where we want life, liberty, and the pursuit of my own personal happiness.  If anything gets in the way of that, it’s unacceptable.  That’s when we start looking for targets.  Because the reason I don’t have the life I want, the freedom from all the garbage, and the constant happiness that must be mine could not possibly be my doing.  It could not be something in me.  The weakness has to be outside.  If anything is wrong, it’s because of something or someone else.

Maybe it has to be the government.  It has to be those detached, delusional villains who don’t care about us.  They just want their power, to rest on their laurels.  They’ll do whatever it takes to keep their position.  They are taking the liberties and the happiness that we want.

Or maybe the weakness is coming from those around me.  Some friends never do anything for you except for accepting your invitations and goodwill.  Some family members are willing to take all your encouragement, all your motivation, all your compassion, and all of your assistance but are never willing to reciprocate back to you.  It’s almost like they are sucking the life and the pursuit of happiness right out of you.

Or maybe the weakness is caused by my enemies.  They are secretly or not so secretly trying to secure my downfall.  They want me to deal with stress.  They want me to put up with insults.  They love to cause hardships and difficulties.

Do you know what it’s called when you think the weakness is with everyone else, that you are the strong one, when everyone can reach the level to which you have risen?  Conceit.  It’s that exalted life that we love so much in America.  It’s putting all the weaknesses on someone else and taking all the strength and the praise for yourself.

The Apostle Paul was an amazing man.  He had personally seen Jesus risen from the dead.  That changed him into the missionary we know.  He had personally learned the gospel from Jesus himself.  He had personally carried that gospel message to people all over the Mediterranean world.  He had personally found the courage to make it through all sorts of challenges to continue God’s mission work.  If anyone could be praised as the prime example of a Christian, it was Paul.  If anyone could find the strength and resolve to be the best witness for Christ, it was Paul.  If anyone could brag about his stories and his life, it was Paul.

God didn’t want Paul to be conceited, so God himself allowed a messenger of Satan to afflict and torment Paul.  The weakness was not from someone or something else.  It was a thorn in the flesh, an illness, a disease, a disadvantage that Paul could not get rid of.  He had to deal with the fact that he had a weakness.

He tells us that on three separate occasions he pleaded with the Lord to remove this weakness.  That’s a great thing to do.  If there are problems and burdens that you are facing, take it to the Lord in prayer.  If Jesus himself felt it important and necessary to take breaks often and spend time in prayer with his Father, then it’s good for you, too.  It is a way to leave everything with the only one who can take away problems and give you the strength to face each situation with his peace and joy.

It’s just that the Lord might not give you the answer that you want him to.  He knows what is going to be good for your faith and for your eternity.  He knows that light and momentary hardships cannot compare to the eternal glory that far outweighs any pain we experience on earth.  He knows that sometimes you need to be weak.

This is what our gracious Father says to Paul about his weakness.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Sometimes we need to be weak so we can see that someone else is stronger.  Sometimes we need to have weaknesses so that we stop trying to pursue our own sinful kind of life, liberty, and happiness and simply enjoy the love and forgiveness of God.  In fact, it’s not just sometimes that we need that.  We need God’s grace and his power all the time.

See that’s where delight really happens.  It happens when I know someone else is looking out for me and that I don’t have to look out for myself.  It happens when I stop trying to pin the weaknesses on others and start relying on God’s strength.  It happens when I see all the weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties as blessings that keep me close to a God who loves me and gave himself up for me.  Only when I am brought down so low, can I look up and see someone so high and powerful.

And that’s what Jesus came to do.  He sank so low, so that he could bring you and me up so high, as high as the heavens are above the earth.  He was put into the weakest positions: born in a barn, tempted relentlessly, publicly discredited, arrested unfairly, accused untruthfully, killed innocently.  He faced the worst so that you and I could have the best.  When he was exalted, it shows us where we will be when we are with him forever.

These weakness that we have now are such a blessing, are such a delight for us for a couple reasons.  One, they will never be the kind of difficulties that we deserve.  We deserve death and hell, but God in his grace will not give any of that punishment to those who believe in Jesus.  Two, “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

People often pray when there is a disaster, a health scare, a financial crash, a family emergency.  They see the trouble and they look to God for help.  That’s a good thing.  It’s a good thing for our relationship with God.  It’s a good thing for our faith.  When life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not going too well, then God’s grace and power is needed.

So because he loves us so much, God allows the weaknesses to pop up in your life so that your eyes and prayers are directed where they need to be.  It’s not just a few days of the year that we need this reminder.  It is every day and all day.  We have total and complete dependence on Jesus every single second of the day.  If you need an ouchie, an illness or a disease to recognize that, then thank God he was there to give it to you and to get you through it.  If you need a rude neighbor, a needy friend, a brazen child to get you on your knees is prayer, then thank God he was there to give them to you and to get you through it.  If you need a completely chaotic political situation to see that no country can provide what God’s eternal home can, then thank God he was there to give it to you and to get you through it.

Peace is found in God’s grace and his power, and that’s why the Apostle Paul could say, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”  If the power of Christ rests on you, your doing pretty good.  Because that power forgives sin, destroys death, protects against Satan, and opens the door to your heavenly home.

My brothers and sisters, be thankful for the country we have.  But even more, be thankful for the weaknesses you have.  Be thankful that you have God’s all-sufficient grace and his almighty power.  Be thankful that when you are weak, he is strong.  Amen.

THE BLOWING WIND OF PENTECOST

6.4.17 Pentecost A

pentecost pic.png

Acts 2

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, d 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “ ‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

 

I looked out my office window on Thursday and saw my picnic table umbrella doing something a little odd.  It was still stuck in that center hole of the table, but it was doing its best Mary Poppins impression, trying to take off and take my table with it.

What was the cause?  What had the power to lift an umbrella that is anchored by a piece of concrete?  It’s the wind.  The wind is powerful, and it’s all around us.  We know that pretty well here in North Dakota.  Out in this part of the country companies are even using it for energy.  Whether you like that idea or not, it doesn’t change the fact that wind is powerful.

But the thing is you can’t see the wind, you just can see what it does.  I didn’t see wind out my office window this past Thursday, I saw what it was doing.  I couldn’t tell you what direction the wind was coming from or where it would end up.  You can’t see wind, but you see what it does.  You can hear the sound as it blows through the trees and prairies.

Today, God wants us to think about the wind.   It’s a fascinating word in the Bible:  Ruach (רוּחַ) in the Old Testament and pneoma (πνεῦμα) in the New Testament.  When God uses that word in the Bible, it also the exact same word he uses to talk about the mysterious, miraculous, and powerful third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  The Bible calls him the Holy Wind, Ruach (רוּחַ) and pneoma (πνεῦμα).  You can’t pin him down to one location, but you see his power all over the place.  You can’t see him, but you can see his effects in the lives of people all over the world.  You can’t control his boundless energy, but God gives a bounty of it to be our power source for Christian living.

And this is his day.  You see, in the Christian Church there are three big festivals that we celebrate, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.  Each one of these festivals highlights one of the three persons of the Trinity.  Christmas is the festival of God the Father, who so loved the world that he gave us the greatest gift we could ever have, his one and only Son, who was of the Father’s love begotten.  Easter is about God the Son, who suffered, died, rose to save us from sin, death, and hell.  He is our Savior who lives and reigns for us.  Pentecost is about that Holy Wind, God the Spirit.

Today is the birthday of the Holy Christians Church, and that’s a day to celebrate the Holy Spirit.  Because on this day the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples with power from heaven.  It was on this day the he formed tongues of flame on their heads and put tongues of foreigners on their lips.  This is the day the heavenly and Holy Wind, who was promised, came and powered his small church of Jesus’ followers to be bold and take the saving gospel out to the nations. That powerful wind is still showing itself on this festival all these years later.

But you can’t just see wind in North Dakota or any other place, right?  In order to notice the power of the wind it needs something to blow against.  To utilize the power of the wind here in North Dakota, it needs to blow against those big windmills.  To get around in a boat you can use a motor or you can use the power of the wind by putting up a sail.  To see the power of the wind you need to leave your picnic table umbrella open.  The wind needs something to blow against.

In a way, the same is true for the Holy Spirit, that heavenly wind.  He is God and that means he is all-powerful, all-knowing, and always present.  But in order to see the effects of his power, he needs something to blow against.

And just what is that, you ask?  It’s actually quite simple.  This resource that the powerful Holy Spirit blows against is not hard to find.  When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly the sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 

The disciples were the ones seeing the effects of the Holy Spirit’s power on Pentecost.  There was no actual wind that day, but the Spirit, the heavenly and holy Wind, was blowing against those disciples.  His power was clearly the main attraction that day.

Some wanted to make it about the disciples, how they were speaking in different languages with fire on their heads and in their hearts.  Some were making a mockery by saying they were simple Galileans who had had too much to drink.  But Pentecost is not about the disciples’ power.  They were simply there for the Spirit’s power to blow against.

This is how I know that I am nothing special; there is nothing powerful about this pastor.  I have a very special and important job that I love to do, but it’s not about my power or position. God’s church will go on just fine with or without me here in Bismarck or here on earth. If you were able to join us for the Luther movie this past Wednesday, you probably noticed how the church got into a lot of trouble back in the late Middle Ages when it was all about the priests and popes and earthly political powers.  The church can never be about the men who serve it.  Instead, it needs to be about the Spirit who empowers it, the Christ who saves it, the Father who preserves it, and the Word that proclaims all God’s truth.

The Spirit’s power blew against the disciples that Pentecost.  It wasn’t the sound of the wind that really mattered or the fire or the men.  It was the message.  That was the real power of Pentecost.  That is the power that continues to blow throughout the church today.

And do you know what that message is?  Peter got up that day to preach it, and the Spirit was blowing through the crowd.  I am called as your pastor to get up and preach it, and the Spirit still blows through us who gather here with this message:  Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Everyone!  Do you know who that includes?  God doesn’t say it’s the straight A students.  God doesn’t say it’s the people you like.  God doesn’t say it’s only the good people.  He doesn’t say it’s those who try really hard to cover up their mistakes.  God says, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Yes, that includes people who struggle with sin.  In fact, that is the only kind of person there is.  Every man, woman, and child on earth struggles with sin.  It’s not a unique trait for a few.  God says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We know this from looking in the mirror and seeing what God sees: sinners.  People feel this burden.  They know the guilt that sin brings.  They know the conflict that evil inflicts.  They know the uncertainty of death.  These are universal struggles across the board for everyone, including us.

God has the universal answer in Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Jesus died to pay the price for all sins of everyone.  Jesus rose from the dead to open the gates of heaven for every man, woman, and child that believes in him.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  This is the solution to a guilty conscience.  This is the strength for living with sicknesses and sadness.  This is secret to rebuilding relationships.  This is the answer to what lies on the other side of death, because God is promising a future that has nothing to do with your current circumstances.

God isn’t uncertain about this. “…will be saved.”  In Christ, God stretches our perspective out to eternity.  In Christ, we have the cure for cancer.  In Christ, we have the formula for a blessed life.  In Christ, we have the ability to live forever in heaven.

That is what we have.  And God says everyone on the face of this earth can have the exact same thing.  The heavenly Wind wants to blow into the hearts and lives of every man, woman, and child in this world.  God has promised, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The heavenly and holy Wind just needs someone to blow against for people to see his power.  God has given this amazing privilege and honor to people like us.  He could do it himself, but the heavenly Wind wants to use you to show how his power is for us and in us and among us.

The sound of the wind, the fire, and the languages would have accomplished nothing without the disciples speaking the saving message of a Savior who died and rose again.  The Holy Spirit chooses to show his power by blowing against people like the disciples, people like you and me.  Because that is when you really see what the power of the wind, when it is blowing against something.

Brothers and sisters, I know how fearful it can be.  I know how easy it is to pass up opportunities to say the simple truth about faith in Jesus.  I know the excuses that come up: “It’s probably someone else’s job.  They know it better.  They have a better knack for evangelism stuff.”   It’s ridiculous and absolutely amazing that God would want to include us in taking a message of such importance out to the world.

But there’s something else I know about you.  You have the same thing as the disciples.  You have the forgiveness of sins, which Jesus delivered with his death.  You have the certainty of heaven, which Jesus opened to you when he came back on Easter.  You have his authority as he rules over you from his throne.  You have the power of the Spirit blowing against you for the people around you to see.  If you don’t think you are ready or fit for the job, then you are exactly the kind of person that God wants to use because then you know the power isn’t coming from you but from that Holy Wind of God.

The wind needs something to blow against for people to see its power.  The Holy Spirit wants to blow against you so that people see how great our God is and what he has done to save us.  What does that mean for you?  I don’t know, maybe that means you will join our outreach team to help us find people who are lost and don’t know Jesus in our community.  (That’d be great!)  Or maybe you will help us carry out ministry here, like planning events so we can invite people here or like prioritizing projects to make our ministry and church witness better.  Or maybe you will pray for this work and generously support it.  Or maybe it simply means that you will go to work and let your light shine, so that people see your good deed and praise your Father in heaven.

Whatever it is, you know the power that is behind you.  It doesn’t come from you, it comes from that heavenly and holy wind.  And when that wind is blowing against you, people will notice, just like seeing an umbrella doing its best imitation of Marry Poppins.

God grant it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

WHAT WAS HE THINKING?

4.9.17 Palm Sunday

final battle year A holy Week

Philippians 2

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

 

It’s Palm Sunday. Welcome to Holy Week, the final battle.  This is the day that starts the end, and these are pretty familiar events. We see Jesus asking for the donkey to fulfill that prophecy from Zechariah 9.  The people welcome him as the Son of David, as their king, with palm branches paving his way.  And so we get the name, and why we had kids waving palm branches at the beginning of the service, because that’s how people greeted Jesus on this day almost 2000 years ago.  In fact, 1600 years ago believers in the Jerusalem area would retrace the steps of that day with palm branches in their hands.  It’s been a special church festival day ever since.

These things that happened are pretty well known.  But it’s not just the things that happened that are important, we also need to remember why they happened.  This is the part that is a little tougher to admit.  Jesus rode into Jerusalem because of me.  He wasn’t enjoying a nice Sunday stroll with his followers.  He wasn’t begging for attention.  He wasn’t going to Jerusalem to take over the throne he deserved as the King of the Jews.  He rode into Jerusalem because there was a final battle, my battle that he had to fight.

That’s because I’m the one who has sin on my record, not Jesus.  I’m the one who has found myself trapped on the devil’s side of the battle lines far too often.  I’m the one who has broken every kind of commandment there is.  If you think of God’s law as a mirror, then what does just one brick do to a mirror?  It smashes it into a bunch of pieces.  Just one sin is a brick to God’s law, smashing it to a bunch of pieces.  I can’t put those pieces perfectly back together again.  And even if I could, there’s another problem.  I don’t have just one sin on my account.  There are tons, every day.  It’s been this way sin before I was born because I have two sinful parents who made a…? sinful child.  That’s me and that’s you.  Sinful people like us caused this Palm Sunday event to take place.

Yes, it’s exciting to see Jesus enter Jerusalem with a grand welcome.  Yes, it’s nice to see Jesus fulfilling more prophecy as my Lord.  But he’s going to Jerusalem for a battle. It’s should never have happened.  The Son of God should not have to fight my battles.  The King of kings, the ruler of all things should not come to serve anyone.  He should be served by every man, woman and child under the sun.  This is the one who can make anything happen with a split second thought, a snap of his almighty fingers.  Blizzard in North Dakota in April, no problem.  120 degrees in North Dakota on the very next day, he yawns with the kind of ease it takes to do something like that.   Keeping the sun, planets, stars, and that outer space stuff in its place doesn’t cost him any energy.

On top of that, the Son of God had already dealt with the devil in a quick and easy way.  Casting the devil out of heaven after he rebelled against God’s perfect authority, wasn’t a fight like trying to quiet a temper-tantrum throwing toddler.  He just said, “Be gone!”  God already won the battle against Satan.  But the devil left heaven and made this place his playground.  If he couldn’t beat God up there, he would go after God’s creatures down here.   Now, because humanity foolishly left God’s side of this battle, and made an unholy agreement with the devil when we gave in to his temptations, we have this battle raging every day.  It’s mine and yours.  Jesus  shouldn’t have to fight our battle, especially not with all of the things that will unfold this week.

But he did!  Because of me and because of you.  We are the ones who could never do enough to find ourselves on the other side of this battle, the good side, Jesus’ side.  We could never trick the devil and we could never trick God about who we are or what we’ve done so that we end up on the safe side.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday because of me and because of you.   He saw it from his home in heaven.   He saw it with two human eyes as he walked this earth.  He knew he was going to have to go to Jerusalem to fight my battle against sin because we couldn’t do it. He knew it was going to be agonizing and excruciating. He knew it all along, that this road pave in palms and cloaks led to his death.

So what was Jesus thinking? If someone asked, really told, you to do something like fight the kind of battle that really wouldn’t benefit you so much, but would help others out a whole lot, would you do it?  We really aren’t wired that way.  We think, “What’s good for me?  What do I like?  What do I want?”  We don’t spend our time or energy fighting a life threatening battle for someone who doesn’t deserve it.  We don’t volunteer for that.  That’s not the way we think.

So, what was Jesus thinking?  We don’t really get that information from the Gospel for the day, but I think these verses from this old hymn or poem that Paul quotes in Philippians two give us some helpful insight.  We know that Jesus followed through with it.  He came to Jerusalem.  He got on the donkey to fulfill the prophecy.  He entered the city to shouts of Hosanna only to hear so many of those voices cry out “crucify, crucify him,” less than a week later.

But what he thought about all this is even more amazing.  Paul describes his attitude like this: “being in very nature God, [Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”  The Son of God decided to be called the Son of Man.  He didn’t come to earth kicking and screaming. He didn’t need the power and glory.  He wanted to be here to fight our battle, even when he knew it would take humility, the greatest display of humility ever witnessed in this world.  He wanted to fight for us, even when he knew it would be painful, messy, miserable, and lonely, because he never wanted us to suffer that way.

From his very first moments in this world, it was all about the servant-like service rather than that godly glory.   He took up residence in the womb of a rather simple virgin, whose husband was a lowly carpenter and not a king.  He was born in backwater Bethlehem and placed in a feed box for his first night.  Shepherds were his first worshipers.  The Son of God, who was there to create the human body, had to grow up in the human body.  People spoke to him as they would anyone else, most treated him even worse than that.  Even on a day like Palm Sunday, we see God living as a humble man riding on a beast of burden. Jesus certainly knew humility and what it was like to be a servant.

But that wasn’t all.  “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”  In humility, Jesus willingly put himself under the curse of sin.  He let the opponents plot.  He let jealous, angry Jewish leaders and a Roman governor brutalize him.  The Son of God let men decide his fate.

This was our battle, not his.  It was painful and messy.  We would never be perfect enough to do it.  We would never be humble enough to do it.  But Jesus was.  He was all of those things and more.  And so on Palm Sunday he willingly went to this final battle, not just because of us and our sin, but for us.  Jesus knew that this battle would be exactly like the time the devil rebelled.  There was no hope for him.  The devil is evil and all he wants his evil.  Jesus would fight evil with his humble love.  He would take the punishment sin deserves.  He would ride on to die as payment for our victory.  It took his lowly death, but Jesus loves you that much.

The Son of Man didn’t act like a son of man after that, however.  On the cross, yes.  He was forsaken by his holy Father as he suffered the torment of hell for the sins of the world.  But his humble death was not the end.  The Son of Man is also the Son of God.  His death led to the most glorious event in all of history.  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

When we are talking about this final battle against sin, death, and the devil, they lose.  And everyone who is on that side of this battle, everyone who doesn’t see Jesus as the humble servant who has saved us from sin and won a glorious victory, every one of them loses, too.  They will have to acknowledge that fact.  There is no option.  Every knee will bow whether it’s in faith or in utter shock or angry disbelief.

I’d rather join the faithful procession of those who hail him as the king.  I’d rather you do that, too.  Because that procession is the one who has a Savior from sin.  The people in that procession enjoy total victory over death forever with Jesus in heaven.

And do you know what else I like about being on his side?  On this side, on the side that worships Jesus for his humble service, we don’t clamor for the glory.  We don’t push and shove to get to the front of the line.  We don’t treat each other like garbage.  We don’t look down on others, because there is no better or worse.  There’s Jesus exalted on the throne over all for the battle he willingly fought and won for us, and then there’s all of us.  There are no levels.  There is no favoritism.   There’s just Jesus and then believers.  There’s Jesus and then all of us who follow his humble, loving, and willing example.  He has made us his people, how else should we act?

Today, we join the procession for Jesus, who willingly came because of us and for us.  We praise the Son of God and Son of Man for his humble love and sacrifice.  We look forward to the events of this week because we know his final battle means we win the eternal victory.  We are amazed that he was thinking it was all worth it…for you!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.  Amen.