Confession and Absolution
October 13 and 14, 2018
Second in a Series of Six Sermons / “Heaven on Earth”
I John 1:9-10 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
Dear friends in Christ,
Imagine that you were a college student and that you landed a summer job that paid $50 an hour and that it included washing windows on a high rise apartment building. Now imagine that you were given a choice between two options of how to do your job. Option #1 would be that you would hang onto a rope with one hand and wash windows with the other hand. Option #2 was that a rope harness would be placed securely around your body and you would use both hands to wash windows. Obviously option #1 would require faith in your own ability to hang on tight, and option #2 would require faith in the one who manufactured and installed the harness.
So also do we have at least two options for how to be facing our challenges and living out our lives as Christians. Option #1 is to carry out our vocations in life with our own human strength and to cry out for God’s help as a last resort. Option #2 is to rest in His strength even as we cry out for His help day after day.
Or to say it another way, we rest in God’s grace day after day, even as we cry out to Him for mercy. Last week we focused on The Invocation, where we make the sign of the cross and remember that in Baptism, the Triune God has claimed us to be His very own sons and daughters. Today, as we continue the Divine Service, we do so confessing the truth about ourselves. We don’t just amble into the presence of God as if we belong here, we admit again and again that we have fallen short of keeping the Ten Commandments, we acknowledge that we have missed the mark in terms of loving God with all of our hearts / souls / minds and that we have more often than not loved ourselves more than we have loved our neighbors. To use the language of Option#2, we would not only rest in God’s baptismal grace, we would return to that grace again and again by confessing our sins with every expectation that God’s forgiveness would sweep over our souls and be ruling in our hearts and having its way in our minds.
Three truths we would note in our readings for today about the confession of sins. First, the confession of sins is our duty. Secondly the confession of sins is our privilege. Third, the confession of sins is life changing.
First, the confession of sins is our (duty). To do something out of a sense of duty suggests that it isn’t something we prefer to be doing, it isn’t something we want to be doing. King David preferred not to admit that he was an adulterer, he preferred not to admit that he was a cold blooded murderer, he preferred not to admit that he was a low down liar. It was only when the Holy Spirit got ahold of David through the witness of the prophet Nathan that David realized it was his duty to come clean.
In our Old Testament lesson for today, the prophet Isaiah urges the confession of sins with words like, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean…he says that are sins are like scarlet, they are red like crimson”. In today’s Epistle lesson, John writes that if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we say that we are in fellowship with the light of the world and yet walk in darkness, we are in fact lying and not practicing the truth.
The confession of sins isn’t something that comes naturally, what comes naturally is the explanation of our wrongdoing – tell a boy on the playground to quit hitting the other boy, and more often than not he will explain that the other boy started it. Tell an older sister to quit being mean to her younger sister, and she will explain that the younger sister was being really, really, really annoying. (Story of Eddie and Leroy trying to kick each other in the head in my confirmation class).
Truth #1 today is to learn again that the confession of sins, the coming clean on the subject of our guilt doesn’t happen easily, it is a duty that needs to be commanded and taught. We recognize that what comes naturally when confronted with our failures and our faults is to explain, it is to defend, it is to excuse, it is to rationalize, it is to stay silent.
Secondly, the confession of sins is our (privilege). It is the privilege of called and ordained pastors to speak in the stead and by the authority of Jesus Christ words of absolution. It is the privilege of every Christian to look repentant sinners in the eyes and say that Jesus Christ paid for those sins,(to use Isaiah’s language) though they be like scarlet, they are now white as snow, though they are red like crimson, today they have become like wool.
To use King David’s language, there is no greater joy than to have your transgressions be forgiven, there is no greater joy than to have your sins covered, there is no greater joy than having the judge declare you not guilty.
Dear Christian friends, whatever personal failures or frailties are weighing heavy on your heart today, whatever personal darkness is making your eyes water today, whatever mistakes of the past that are haunting you this morning, know that even as you confess them, forgiveness is yours. Even as you apologize, the angels and the archangels of heaven are rejoicing. Even as you make a promise to do better, your Father in heaven is well pleased, Jesus is holding you close, the Spirit of God is changing you from the inside out. Which brings us to our third and final truth
Third, the confession of sins is (life-changing). The prophet Isaiah makes it clear that once the people of Israel had made themselves clean through repentance, they were to remove the evil of their deeds in God’s sight. They were to cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. The apostle John makes it clear that if we have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, we will be walking in the light and no more in the darkness.
James makes it clear that while it is true that we are saved by faith alone, it is also true that saving faith in Jesus Christ never comes alone. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who gather each week in the Name of the Triune God. Again and again they admit that the good they have wanted to do, they have not – and the evil they have wanted to avoid, they have done. Again and again they hear with their own ears their sins are forgiven, their souls are washed, their debt is cancelled, their status is restored.
The kingdom of God is like a husband who goes home that very afternoon from church, looks his wife in the eyes and admits that he has been out of sorts recently, he’s not sure why, he is sorry, he wants to do better.
It’s like a wife who goes home, looks her husband in the eyes, she admits that she has been holding a grudge, she has no explanation, she feels bad about it, she wants a new beginning.
It’s like people of all ages, all sizes and shapes, all walks of life who go home today, they look their Savior in the eyes, they admit they are broken, they’re messed up, they have no excuses, they are sorry, they wonder out loud if they could have an extra measure of grace.
Praise be to God, their lives are never the same again. Amen.
Heroes: More Than Reality
September 29 and 30
Daniel 6:1-28 / Rev. 5:1-5 / Mark 9:20-25
21 – Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before them, and also before you, king, I have done no harm…So Daniel was taken up out of the den (of lions), and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.”
Dear Christian Friends,
In this three part sermon series, we are exploring our way through the early chapters of the prophet Daniel to see what it means that God has called us to be heroes of the faith, to be part of this grand plan for heaven to be reaching out through every saint into the lives of others near and far.
Two weekends ago, we learned that Christian faith is so much more than the feelings that may be sweeping their way through our hearts, and we examined the question, “In those times of life where it feels as though God is far away, how do we hold onto the promises of God beyond our feelings?
Last weekend, we saw that Christian faith is so much more than the thoughts that might be driving us into a tizzy, and we asked the question, “In a culture that looks less and less distinctively Christian, how do we hold onto the promises of our God beyond our intellect?”
Today we see that Christian faith is so much more than what we are experiencing in our own particular circumstances. We ask one question, “When the things we can see and grasp seem to tell a different story that that of the Gospel, how do we hold to the promises of God?”
Mountain top experiences vs. the “ordinary”
Our three lessons for today give us three amazing stories of mountaintop experiences. In the case of Daniel, surrounded all night by wild and hungry beasts, the Lord sent his angel who literally shut the mouths of the lions, Daniel records that no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in the Lord. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus sees a crowd gathering around a boy who had been tortured by demon possession since childhood, he commands the mute and deaf spirit to leave and never come back, and sure enough, the demon causes one last and terrible convulsion and he comes out. Mountaintop experience #3 of course is recorded in Revelation 5, where the Lion of Judah, aka Jesus Christ offers up a once and for all bloody sacrifice and in so doing, he makes full and complete payment for the sins of the world, he defeats the devil in dramatic fashion, he conquers death itself for all who would be baptized into the promises of God and would hold onto those promises.
Of course, mountain top experiences are few and far between. Almost all of life is ordinary. That is to say, our day to day realities are the norm while dramatic and life changing incidents are the exception. And day to day realities are full of trouble, some days we try hard and fall short, other days, we don’t even try. Some days we take a step forward, many days we take two steps back. If we’re honest with ourselves, even though some of our suffering is inflicted by other sinful people and sometimes we suffer through no fault of our own or others, much of our pain in life is self inflicted. All of which leads us back to the question of the day, “When the circumstances of life seem to be telling a different story than that of a loving and gracious God, as in the case of Daniel and the father with a demon possessed son, how do we hold to the promises of God? Two answers we offer to that question, two realities we want to hold front and center in our minds, in our hearts, and in our souls.
Reality #1 is that around every corner, there is one prowling around like a roaring lion (looking to devour).
(Story of children’s lesson years ago, where our Silo Lutheran School had just put on an operetta that included kids dressed like various circus animals. A jr. high aged girl named Michelle had played the part of a lion, and so I arranged with her on Sunday morning to come on out dressed like a lion, I asked her to prowl around and roar and try to scare the 25 or 30 or so children assembled for the lesson. The problem was, when she came out, she was the non scariest lion ever, the kids knew who it was, and they laughed!)
The reality is that the devil and his demons are no laughing matter. Or to say it another way, every day, all of us wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness. That’s what we promise to do and to help one another do in our vows of baptism and confirmation, to spend our days renouncing the devil, renouncing every one of the devil’s ways, renouncing every one of the devil’s works.
To help us think through how to deal with the one prowling around like a roaring lion looking to devour us, we take a look at how Daniel dealt with the lions surrounding him. Three lessons we learn from Daniel about how to live out the ordinary days of life. Three lessons, one is from before the lion’s den, one is from in the lion’s den, and one is from after the lion’s den.
(Before) the lion’s den we know in chapter 6 that although he faced certain death if he did so that Daniel got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God. In last week’s sermon, chapter 2 of Daniel, although he and all the wise men of Babylon faced certain death, he went home, asked his three buddies to get down on their knees, and they prayed for mercy from God. Two weeks ago, in chapter 1 of Daniel, we find these same four men of God resolving that in no way, no how, never would they defile themselves with the king’s food or the wine he drank.
(In) the lion’s den, we don’t know exactly what Daniel did. We don’t really know if he went up and petted the lions and made friends with them, but we might speculate that he simply was still and trusted that God would be God.
After) the lion’s den we find Daniel giving testimony to the power and the might and the goodness of His God. He told the king what he had seen with his own eyes, that God had sent his angel to shut the mouths of the lions, he reported that the lions had not hurt him, that he was found innocent in God’s sight, and that he had never been disloyal to the king. Although the king’s hands had been tied by his own decrees, God’s hands were not. Daniel had just learned one more time what Jeremiah had stated a half century earlier, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” Reality #1 to keep in mind is bad news, it’s tough news, it is that as we live out the routine and the ordinary days of life is that around every corner is the adversary, the devil and his demons, he is like a roaring lion prowling around, seeking to deceive, to demonize, to drag us around, to devour our souls as only he can devour.
Reality #2 on the other hand is good news, it’s as beautiful a message as a message can be, it is a truth superior to and going above and beyond reality #1. Reality #2 is that Standing in your corner is One Who is both Lion and Lamb (Who has already triumphed). Dear friends in Christ, today I invite you to bring all of your good intentions gone awry, all of the failures and faults that are tugging at your consciences, bring all of the bad habits that have crept into your lives and are causing such trouble, bring them to the foot of the cross, bring them to the empty tomb and see there Jesus standing in your corner. He is both the Lion and that lamb. He is the lion who was born of a woman in a little town of Judea and at the same time the lamb who takes away the sins of the world once and for all. He is the lion who even now fight for you and the lamb who has already triumphed.
As a boxer is inspired and coached by his manager standing in his corner, so are we privileged to have Jesus Christ and His Spirit standing in our corner in every one of our days, in every one of our challenges, in every one of our circumstances. Jesus Christ standing in our corner claiming one more child for God’s family every time the waters of Baptism splash. Jesus Christ standing in our corner correcting and coaching and encouraging us every time God’s Word is preached and listened to. Jesus Christ standing in our corner rejoicing every time we confess our sins, reminding us of who we are every time we pay attention to His promises, refreshing us with his forgiveness every time we eat and drink at His Supper believing these words, “given and shed for you for the remission of sins.”
And then out the doors into the real world we go, thinking about what it means to be heroes of the faith, what it means that heaven is reaching out through every saint in this next week. Three thoughts from our appointed lessons for the day about being heroes.
First, Being a hero first of all means (to be diligent in the use of the means of grace. Once in awhile, at a national youth gathering or at a very inspiring church service or when it seems as though the angels of God have worked a miracle in your life, you may have one of those mountaintop experiences. But for the most part, Christian life is the ordinary, it is the routine training sessions, it’s a matter of daily ploughing your way through your daily duties and responsibilities. Muhammad Ali, one of the most successful boxers ever, had this to say, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
Secondly, being a hero means being still and knowing that God is God. (Story of Jamie crying so hard at the snowmobile death of her boyfriend, she wonders out loud again and again, Pastor Griffin, what am I going to do? The answer that day was to cry, to be still, and to know that God is God.
Third, being a hero means looking every day for neighbors that you can love as much as you love yourselves. Or to say it another way, to go looking for people to love as you have first been loved, to go looking for people to forgive as you have first been forgiven, to go looking for people to serve as you have first been served, to go looking for people to rescue as you have first been rescued. In Jesus’ Name and for His sake. Amen.
Heroes: More Than a Thought
September 22 and 23, 2018
Daniel 2: 10 – 30 and I Corinthians 2:6-10
Heroes: More Than a Thought
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week, we began a three part series of sermons focused on our annual theme, which is “Heroes: Heaven Reaching out through Every Saint.” We’re exploring our way through the book of Daniel and paying attention to the way that God was working through those saints in their days of Babylonian exile.
In all three weeks of this series, we are admitting our tendency to look for God in places where God isn’t found. When we search for God in the midst of our feelings, we are tempted to despair. Next week, we find that when we search for God in the midst of our reality, our experiences, we are tempted to drift in our faith. Today we find that when we search for God’s truths in our intellect, or by reasoning life out, by thinking our way through, we are tempted to doubt God’s promises.
Today’s message is aimed at any of us who can talk ourselves into a tizzy, any of us who can worry ourselves right into a near breakdown, any of us who can drive ourselves crazy by the way we talk to ourselves. We see in Daniel an example of a young man who had the kind of faith that stayed on track, the kind of faith that took his worries in the right direction, the kind of faith that permitted God’s promises to rule.
In chapter 1 of the prophet Daniel, we see him and friends dragged off into the great unknown, and today we see them forced Into the realm of (the impossible). Daniel chapter 2 adds insult to the injury of chapter 1. In chapter 1, the brightest and best of Jewish young men were deported into exile away from family and friends. Their oppressors demanded that they would be immersed in a heathen culture, they were forced to adopt pagan names, and they were required to eat foods considered unclean by their own faith. No doubt feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, sadness, and anxiety swept over their souls as a rainstorm sweeps over the prairie.
Now in chapter 2, Daniel and his friends had to be thinking about how life had gone from difficult into the impossible. King Nebuchadnezzar had one disturbing dream after another, and one night a mysterious dream woke him up and kept him awake. Perhaps he suspected that this dream might have a symbolic meaning, it could very well be that one or more of the 4000 gods the Babylonians were required to worship were trying to tell him something.
And so he insists on the impossible, or else. Either you so called wise men, magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers tell me what I dreamed and what it means, or else, as my mom would say, the whole kitten caboodle of you will be cut into pieces and your homes will be turned into piles of rubble. Do that which is humanly impossible, or you will be tortured, killed, and your possessions will be destroyed. Do that which cannot be done, and oh, one more thing, there will be absolutely no mercy.
Two parts to our sermon today as we try to think our way through circumstances in life that defy logic. Part I is to see what heroic faith looks and sounds like, and Part II is to rejoice in God’s great desire to reveal the secrets of the kingdom to His people. Part I is to think about Daniel’s resolve which was to cry out for mercy, and Part II is to be strengthened in our faith by God’s promise to reveal the very mysteries of the kingdom to us, as needed.
Lesson #1 today is to think through Daniel’s resolve was to cry out for (mercy). In our text for today, Nebuchadnezzar seemed to be getting more and more agitated. When the so- called wise men, magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers insisted that he was asking for the impossible, the king concluded they were stalling, he wanted them to know his mind was made up, and he accused them of conspiring / colluding to mislead and deceive. They fussed and whined one more time, and in verse 12, Daniel records the king became so angry and furious and ordered the execution of every so -called wise men, magician, enchanter, sorcerer, and astrologer in all of Babylon.
Last week we saw Daniel’s resolve to hold onto the promises of His God instead of holding onto and understanding at a young age that faith is more the feelings that might be crushing your spirit. Today we see Daniel asking the king for some time to think, we see him understanding that faith in the one true God is more than the more than just trying to reason his way through his days of crisis, then we see him asking his friends to plead for mercy from the one true God concerning this mystery.
Somehow and in some way, it seems as though God’s Spirit had already worked in Daniel’s heart a confidence that with God all things were possible. Somehow and in some way, God had worked in this prophet an understanding that human wisdom would be of no use in this crisis, an understanding that all the wise men of the greatest kingdom on earth were helpless in this situation, an understanding that if help was to be found, it would have to come from another world, it would have to come from the true God and not from the false and the useless gods of Babylon.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where all kinds of people are wondering if they are in the realm of the impossible. They listen to what the politicians are doing and saying and they wonder if we are beyond the point of no return. They look around at the culture in which they live and see so many abandoning the core beliefs and values in which they were raised, and they lose sleep at night thinking about what their children and grandchildren will be facing, they commiserate with their coffee shop friends that in fact society is going to hell in a handbasket, they see tornadoes and windstorms ravage their countryside in a random sort of a way, they search their intellects and when life isn’t logical, they find deep down inside of them doubts one right after another rise up and begin to rule. And so collectively, they get on their knees, they cry out for mercy, they ask for answers, they listen carefully for the will of God to be made clear. And praise be to God again and again, God’s good and gracious will is made clear to them. Which is our second and final main thought for the day for this 18th Sunday after Pentecost.
Lesson #2 today is to rejoice that God’s will was and is to reveal (mysteries). Daniel records that he urged his friends to “plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision.”
At which point Daniel praised the God of heaven, saying things like, Praise be to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are his…..and he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning…He reveals deep and hidden things, he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells within him.
Dear friends, how awesome is it that God knows what lies in the darkness, and that as long as Jesus is sitting at the right hand of his Father, there is light at the end of the tunnel?
Paul said this about talking our way through the darkest of our days, “I have learned the secret of contentment, I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound….I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and n34eed, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Dear friends, how amazing is it that the Spirit of God has called together sinful little flocks of people all over the world, declared them to be his forgiven saints, and then invited them to reach out in His name with the secrets of the kingdom? Some of you are old enough to remember the show, “I’ve Got A Secret.” And all of you know how your ears will perk up when a friend whispers, “I’ve got a secret I want to tell you!”
The kingdom of God is like a little flock of believers full of folks who are growing up in their Christian faith. By the grace of God and through all the ups and downs of life, they are learning what their parents and grandparents were trying to impress on them years ago. They are learning that even when the darkness of financial ruin or marriage failure is closing in, even when friends are breaking their necks and thinking through what it’s like to not be able to move your hands, even when neighbors are pouring into your yard ravaged by tornadoes, even when death’s dark hands are knocking at your door, even then these folks know the secret of contentment. They know that all wisdom and power belong to God. That he works everything out for the good of those who love him That even though we are all in charge of our own little corners of the kingdom, God is in ultimate control. He decides when spring, summer, fall, and winter will arrive. He directs the affairs of the nations, even using evil rulers to accomplish his purposes.
Being a (hero) Dear friends, how surprising is it that heaven would reach out through saints like us to shine our Gospel lights all over the neighborhood. To be heroes in the lives of others. One of my favorite signs is posted at the assisted living place where one of our members is residing, “Everyone here is a hero to someone.” In closing today, three thoughts about what it means that faith is more than just the thoughts and ideas that are flooding through your mind, three truths from Daniel chapter 2 about what it means to be a hero.
First, being a hero means trusting that God’s ways are higher than our ways. Which is another way of saying that God’s greatest desire is that sinners repent and be saved and that all the circumstances of life are directed towards that end. This is the way heroes of the faith tend to talk to themselves….Jesus loves me this I know, the Bible tells me so….I know that my Redeemer lives, my sins are washed away, my debts are cancelled, I can do all things that God is asking me to do with Christ’s strength, there is a way through every one of my days.
Secondly, being a hero means asking good questions of God in heaven above. Questions like “Lord, will you have mercy on me one more time?” “Lord, will you teach me in this moment what is my purpose and how best I can serve?” “Lord, I do believe, will you help me with my unbelief? Will you help me not to doubt and will you help me not to waver and will you help me not to be tossed about by the waves and winds of life?
Third, being a hero means acting on those truths which have been revealed to us. After listing dozens of First Article truths which have been revealed to us, Luther closes out his explanation with these words, “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey.”
In this next week, may I suggest to you that everyone here will have multiple opportunities to be a hero to others. It means trusting that God’s ways are higher than your ways. It means asking good questions of God in heaven above. It means acting on those truths which have been revealed to you. In the name of Jesus, and for the sake of others, everyone here is a hero to someone. Amen.
HEROES: More than a feeling
First in a series of three on our Annual Theme
HEROES: HEaven Reaching Out through Every Saint
Daniel 1:1-21 // Luke 22:39-46
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text to begin this sermons series, well, I have two texts: First from Daniel chapter 1, “The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand.” And from Daniel chapter 7 our theme verse “But the saints of the most high shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.” Our texts thus far.
Dear friends in Christ,
This is the first of three in a series of sermons on our Annual Theme, HEROES, Heaven Reaching Out through Every Saint, and to that end, we are looking at the book of Daniel, looking at the way that God is working through these saints in a time of exile, as they go into forced service in a land far, far away, as they go...
Into the (unknown.) September 11, 2001. The rescue workers, the emergency techs, seeing buildings on fire and collapsing, not knowing what they will be up against, and still going into the unknown. September 11, 2010. Me, on my first date with a gal named Laura Anna Elizabeth Smith, wondering if this is the start of something more, wondering how it will be, wondering what will happen, nervous, and yet still going into the unknown. September 15, 2013. Ordained five years ago, wondering what church work would be like, wondering what it would be like to have a toilet in my downstairs closet, looking at the start of a great unknown... Daniel 1. Let’s read these verses for what they say. These young men, in their late teens or early twenties, their whole rhythm of life stripped away, made eunuchs (a painful process), forced away from any family they knew, unable to worship their God (Jerusalem was the center of their worship life).
Into the unknown. Can you imagine what they would feel like in this first chapter? Can you imagine what it would be like to be Jehoiakim, king of Judah, the one who lost the city of David? Can you imagine what it would be like to read the Scriptures of Isaiah and to know that you would have seventy years of exile under this Babylonian empire?
What would go through your mind?
I suspect, if you’re anything like me, you would do a lot of feeling. You would be anxious, anxious because of a life that will be unrecognizable from the life you lived. You could be despondent, doing everything you can not to face reality but to live n the past that you won’t admit is already gone. You might despair, despair over the
It’s the feeling, I suspect, that any widow has when she thinks about life after the funeral.
It’s the feeling, I would think, that any teenager has when he thinks about another day in a place he doesn’t want to be, waiting for it to be over.
Here’s the thing. You don't have to go to Babylon to feel like Daniel and the others would have felt. You don’t have to have your city destroyed to know how it feels. You don’t have to get your name changed to know the fear of the unknown.
So, we circle back to our sermon theme, HEROES, When heaven reaches out through every saint, the faith God gives us as a gift is more than just a feeling. Feelings are like flowers. They bloom and grow in season; they wither and fade. And the key to enjoying flowers isn’t to be disappointed when they fade away; the key is to cultivate the soil in a way that makes them come back.
Two thoughts as we meditate on this journey into the unknown. Two thoughts on cultivating our hearts and our minds so that our faith is more than a feeling. Two thoughts on what it means to rest in the grace of God.
Thought number one is to notice what Daniel does. Thought number two is to notice what God does. First, I want you to notice what Daniel does. Daniel (resolved). Daniel and his friends are shipped over to Babylon to be indoctrinated into the Babylonian way of life – to know their literature, to eat their food, to become one of them and serve them for his whole life, and one of the things he was supposed to do was to eat the king’s meat and drink his wine. You need to know that this meet would have been unacceptable to a Jew. The wine would have been blessed before the idols of that land. And so, what did Daniel do?
Daniel (resolved.) He resolved to stick his neck out. He resolved to remember the traditions of his faith and he resolved to stay faithful to his faith. He did NOT so much live in the fiction that life was as it had always been; he DID live in the real,, present world. He did NOT so much cling to every single tradition of years gone past; he DID hold onto those things that got to the heart of his faith.
In his case, it was the diet that made them distinctive.
What expressions of our faith and life together do we regularly resolve to do together? What expressions of our faith get to the heart of God’s gifts to us in this place?
Thought number two. As Daniel is resolving, before and after Daniel does anything, I want us to notice the Lord’s (will). Did you notice that here and there in our reading? It was the Lord giving Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzar’s hands. It was the Lord who gave wisdom and knowledge to Daniel and his friends. It was the Lord who made them healthier and stronger.
I want to begin with a quote from Shakespeare’s play, “All’s well that ends well”: All the world’s a stage, // And all the men and women merely players; // They have their exits and their entrances.
I’m going to say that I am indebted at this point to a pastor named Pete Briscoe for these insights. In the theater world, front of stage, back of stage. Things happen front of stage, people move around, but there is all kinds of work that goes on back of stage. For all the movement in the front there is ten times that in the back to make sure that everything happens as it needs to, and yet, when it is done right you don’t see any of that at all.
Here we get these little front of stage moments of God, moments when we can see clearly what he is doing, moments when he is out there acting powerfully.... and yet, it is the Christian hope and promise that he is working even when we don’t see him. It is the Christian hope and promise that from the beginning, from the very first promise of the Gospel in the Garden of Eden, in Genesis 3, buried within the curse that he pronounces over Adam and Eve, God had begun the work that he was continuing in the slavery of Israel to Egypt, that he showed front of stage in the plagues and the Red Sea, that he continues even as his people go into exile, that he ratchets up to the greatest tension as the Son of God himself comes front of Stage to do the will of God as God himself, and yet the greatest moment of Christianity is this curious set of three days, when God himself dies, when the quietness of death settles over his disciples, and when the tomb door cracks open to reveal... nothing. The place where our Lord should have lay.
The greatest event of this life happens back of stage, in the place where we cannot see but just the littlest glimmer of the power of our God.
The quiet splashing of water, the ordinary eating and drinking, the chosen words of absolution, they all point toward the God who works when we know it and when we don't. They all point to the God who loves us when we feel like we are loveable and when we don’t. They all point to the God who is saving us when we feel like we are being saved, and even when we know we won’t be saved from cancer, from death, from exile.
To be a HERO, then, is to receive our Savior’s words at the Mount of Olives – Not my will but yours be done – as the resolve of our Savior to accomplish our salvation for us, and then to speak those words ourselves. Not my will but yours be done.
To be a HERO, to see HEaven Reaching Out through Every Saint, is to know two, or maybe three things at once.
First, that your God is not so much concerned with your life’s plans. He doesn’t have a lot to say about which college you should go to, or which house you should buy, with your five-year plans, with your ten-year plans.
Second, that your God is utterly concerned with your eternal calling. He has spent everything that only God himself can spend so that you might be secure in his promises for the rest of eternity.
Third, that your God is utterly concerned with your immediate calling – the way you treat your neighbor, with the person right next to you, the person in line next to you, the person driving next to you. He has much to say about what it means to be Christian right where you are.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young man who might not be as young anymore. He has spent much of his life wondering where God will take him, wondering what the world will look like in 10 years, what his family might look like, where his job might take him, until he started noticing that wherever he went, there his neighbor was. Wherever he went, there his calling was, wherever he went, his eternal significance was still secure.
Amen and amen.
Let the Little Children Come to Me
Luke 18:15-17 – Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
September 8 and 9, 2018
Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ,
A Tale of Two Gardens For ten years, starting in 1980, we lived next to Principal Peterman and his family. Sitting out there two miles north of small town Lewiston was a Lutheran school, a little white wooden church, the principal’s house, and the parsonage, in that order. For about 7 years, our gardens were adjacent. The Peterman garden looked like it came right out of Better Homes and Garden magazine, the Griffin garden not so much. His rows of vegetables were straight, clean, and lush, ours not so much. He not only hoed up his weeds, he picked them up and carried them far away, me not so much. In the latter weeks of July, Mr. Peterman would be harvesting his produce in timely fashion, the Griffins would be on vacation, allowing the garden to do it’s own thing. One spring day, I believe in 1987 or so, I did one of the smartest things I ever did. I tilled up our garden and seeded it into grass. A tale of two gardens.
At least two attitudes one can take towards tending a garden, and so also with raising up children in the Christian faith. In some of our homes, it seems as though Christ and His Word are front and center, and in others shoved into the background. A snapshot of our homes on some days would show adults and children gathered around God’s Word and on their knees in prayer, and other days, we’re just too busy and not wanting to be bothered. In today’s text, the disciples may have meant well when they tried to prevent parents with small children from crowding around and even touching Jesus, but they were as mistaken as they could be. Let the infants and the little ones come to me, Jesus teaches. Let them be close to me. Help them to know the are valuable, they are precious, they are the apple of my eye. Two parts to our sermon today. Part #1is Jesus teaching us and Part #2 is Jesus challenging us.
Part #1 is our Lord teaching His disciples and He is teaching us. His teaching is that In the eyes of Jesus, children are (valuable). In Jesus’ day, at least in the Greco-Roman world, children and especially infants were thought very little of . Maybe it was because of the high child mortality rate at the time. At least one preacher surmised that since many children were going to die anyway, maybe it was a psychological way for adults to not get too attached to them. In any case, children didn’t have value at all until they could at least help with the family farm or business. Children were thought so little of in the Roman world that infanticide and child abandonment were rampant. Luke seems to be pointing this out by emphasizing that they were bringing even infants to Jesus! And so one of the great missions of Christians for the first centuries of the church was actually trying to save children who had been abandoned by their parents in the wilderness.
Paul wrote to young pastor Timothy, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Truth #1 on this Christian education Sunday, as we kick off Sunday School and Confirmation classes and Lutheran School, truth #1 is that in the eyes of Jesus, every child, without exception is valuable.
They are valuable in the first place, because God created them wonderfully and marvelously, and (He still takes care of them)Many of you will recognize this as First Article language, where Luther reminds us that not only has God made us and all creatures, not only has he given us bodies and souls, eyes, ears, and all our members, not only our reason and all our senses, but he still takes care of us. How does God still take care of us? And specifically, how does God take care of children?
Well to say it simply, God takes care of children’s bodies and minds mainly through the efforts of their parents in partnership with schools and we care for their souls mainly through the efforts of their parents in partnership with local congregations. Add to that the angels of God watching over these children and you realize that you have a partnership between heaven itself and earth. Matthew records Jesus declaring this as He prepares to tell the parable of the lost sheep, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.
Keeping in mind our partnership with angels in heaven above, keep in mind that we have 480 children listed as baptized members age 0-14 here at Trinity, and if you add to that 100 high schoolers or so, we have up to 580 children and teenagers in our care, every one of them valuable in the first place, because God created them wonderfully, marvelously, and with significant purpose.
They are valuable, in the second place, because Jesus Christ has redeemed them, (that they might belong to Him) You will recognize this as Second Article with explanation language, where Luther writes how Christ has redeemed us as lost and condemned people, he has purchased and won us from all sins, purchased and won us from death, purchased and won us from the power of the devil, and say it with me, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, that we may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.
Jesus taught that where a man’s treasure is, there is his heart. Usually we think of that as a stewardship sermon coming down the pike, but today I invite you to think of how where God’s treasure is, there is his heart. The Father who sacrificed his only and beloved and his treasured son at the cross, there is his heart. The Son who shed precious and innocent blood on a little hill outside of Jerusalem, there is his heart. Our text for today makes it abundantly clear – Jesus treasured children and even infants, he wanted in the worse way for them to come close, he wanted with all of his heart to take them up in his arms and to bless them.
As many of you well know, in this place, we believe there is a sanctity of human life beginning at conception and going all the way until we breathe our last. Furthermore, we believe in a two part process for the raising up of children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord – part #1 get your child baptized, and part #2 in the words of Moses in his farewell sermon, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children…..”
If Part #1 in our text is that Jesus is teaching us that in His eyes children are valuable, then Part II is that Jesus challenges us today. He challenges us first of all to become like children, and secondly to care about children.
Challenge #1 from Jesus to the disciples and to us is (To become like) children. Children are by definition needy, they require someone bigger and stronger and smarter to take care of them, they are dependent. In the earliest stages of life, children are absolutely helpless. Spiritually speaking, they contribute nothing at all to their salvation, they are in no way able to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and make something of themselves, and so Jesus would challenge us today to become like children in the way that we receive the gifts of the kingdom, become like children in the way that we open up the gifts of the kingdom, become like children in that way that we come to Jesus with all of our burdens, with all of our weariness, with all of our troubles, and cry out for help.
Challenge #2 from Jesus to the disciples and to us is (To care about) children. I read recently that of all people who end up believing in Jesus Christ, 90% of them started believing before the age of 18. Now that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to witness to adults living apart from Christ, but it does mean that time and treasure and talent spent in bringing children into the presence of Christ is time and treasure and talent well spent.
My hunch is that I wouldn’t find a single voice in our midst today who would dissent with the idea that time, treasure, and talent spent in bringing children into the presence of Christ is time, treasure, and talent well spent. The more difficult questions, of course, include these: What are the best ways for us to care for the children in our care? How can we be the best possible stewards of our time, our treasure, and our abilities? How can this church, this school, this Sunday School, this confirmation class program, this release class program best partner with parents and grandparents, how can we best partner with the very angels of heaven, how can we best partner with God in heaven above to care for and about the children, especially the 580 or so listed on our membership roster?
A Tale of Two Villages
There’s an old African proverb that says, “"If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together." Hillary Clinton quoted another related proverb which unsurprisingly became controversial, “It takes a village to raise a child.” With those two proverbs in mind, we close with a tale of two villages. In a land not too far away there are two villages adjacent to each other. In one village the several churches are partnering with any families that are interested in helping the children to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and friend, in the other village not so much. In the one village, the truths of Scripture are taught by trained and Spirit filled teachers in diligent fashion, in the other not so much. In one village, parents are more often than not turning off the screens and gathering for brief devotional times, they are kneeling at their children’s bedsides night after night praying “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep,” parents and grandparents and Godparents are seeing themselves as partnering with pastors and teachers, partnering with Jesus and the whole company of heaven, in the other village not so much. A Tale of Two Villages, one with all kinds of happy endings, the other one, not so much.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther