NO LIMITS TO CHRIST’S LOVE

makings of ministry

John 2

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.