Hear O Israel: Soul
Colossians 3:12- 17 / I Peter 2:9-12 / Matthew 10:26-33
Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Shema is an ancient prayer found in the book of Deuteronomy, a petition still prayed twice a day by devout Jewish believers. In the first three parts of this six part study of the Shema, we turned to the structure of the prayer:
The Greek word of heart is cardio, and thus we can refer to our heart doctors as cardiologists. As many of you know, I have a 15 year history with my cardiologist that includes triple bypass surgery at age 48, another round of procedures and stenting at age 58, regular conversations and lectures from Dr. Houlihan, leading up to my last appointment with him a couple of years ago where he looked me in the eyes and said,
Griffin, Your problem is half genetics and (half behavior). On the one hand, I could blame my heart troubles on my father and grandfathers who seem to have passed along their heart disease to me, but on the other hand I need to recognize that there’s a war going on in my heart and body with a desire on the one hand to be healthy and fit but a desire on the other hand to eat all kinds of bacon cheeseburgers covered with pepper jack, cheddar, and American cheese.
So also do we want to recognize this morning that your spiritual problems are part genetic and part behavior. On the one hand we have inherited all kinds of fleshly desires from our parents, and on the other hand, we have been successfully tempted over the years to develop all kinds of lousy habits that sabotage our genuine desire to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts / souls / strength.
What does it mean to love the Lord our God with all our soul? Peter answers, Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
First lesson - Our souls are (at war), says Peter. Peter knew all about falling into temptation, and he knew all about Jesus Christ having mercy on his soul, he knew all about being given all kinds of second chances. In our reading for today, Peter wants us to know three truths. First, he wants us to know who we are, to never doubt that by the grace of God we have been chosen to be a royal, a holy, and a redeemed people. Secondly, he wants us to know our purpose, to never forget that we are to spend our lives proclaiming the excellencies of Christ who has called us out of darkness into a marvelous light. And third, he wants us to never take lightly the fact that there are dark and powerful forces at war against our soul, to never take lightly that the devil’s #1 desire is for our souls to be lost forever, to never take lightly the fact that every morning we will wake up with an inclination towards selfishness, stubbornness, and worse, to never take lightly the enemies of our faith that are all around us and yes, within us.
The kingdom of God is like a man who has been in and out of treatment for alcoholism multiple times, he has been in and out of favor with his own children because of his own bad behavior, the good that he wants to do he has a hard time doing, the bad that he wants to avoid he has a dickens of a time avoiding that which he wants to avoid. As life goes on he more and more appreciates the fact that even though he stands in a great victory won by His Savior at the cross and empty tomb, it will be a daily battle to fight against the passions that are warring against his soul
There is good news, there is bad news, and there is an assignment. The Good News is that a great victory is already ours by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The bad news is that there will be a war against our souls until the moment we breathe our last. Your first assignment this week is to spend some time thinking about and naming one or two of your sinful passions that are causing trouble in your life.
What does it mean to love the Lord our God with all our souls? And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell….Fear not, therefore you are of more value than many sparrows.
Second lesson - Our souls are (of great value), says Jesus. The kingdom of God is like a woman who is not afraid to speak truth these days. She has arrived at a point in her spiritual journey where she is more concerned with her Savior’s reputation than her own. She knows without a doubt that the devil with the help of his minions can cause all kinds of trouble in her life, but Almighty God is in fact the keeper of her soul. In those days when she is tempted to stay quiet on the social issues of the day, she remembers that the very hairs of her head are numbered by her Father in heaven, she remembers that not a single silly sparrow falls to the ground unless God gives permission, she remembers that she is so much more valuable than many sparrows, her entire being body, soul, and spirit are in the hands of the one who lived the perfect life she could never begin to live, in the hands of the one who suffered all that he was appointed to suffer, in the hands of the one who was crucified until he was dead and buried for her, in the hands of the one who rose up on the third day for her, in the hands of the one who has commissioned her to confess Him by the way that she lives, by the way that she behaves, by the way she speaks.
The Good news is that our souls are of great value, the bad news is that we are easily tempted to be afraid of what other people might be thinking, and our assignment #2 this week is to spend some time thinking about and naming one or two of your fears which are keeping you from speaking in the daylight what Jesus taught his disciples in private, name one or two of your fears which are keeping you from proclaiming from the rooftops what you have been taught in your confirmation class and beyond.
What does it mean to love the Lord our God with all of our souls? Colossians 3: Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…
Third lesson - Our souls are in need (of clothing or virtues from on high), says Paul. Greek philosophers named the four cardinal virtues as temperance, prudence, courage, and justice. I Corinthians 13 suggests the three virtues of faith, hope, and love or charity. In Colossians 3, Paul names virtues as compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, he talks to us about forgiving as we have been forgiven and putting on love, which binds all these virtues together in perfect harmony. He talks to us this morning about letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts and he follows it up with an encouragement to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly.
In closing today, I invite you to think in practical terms – what does it mean to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly? How does one go about letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, or to use a more literal translation, letting the peace of Christ be the umpire in your life? How does one be clothed with virtues from on high in a daily sort of a way?
Permit me to use the metaphor of getting dressed in the morning as a way of thinking about whether the Word of God is dwelling in us richly or something less than that?
A man I know very well gets dressed in the morning in three minutes or less. He grabs a pair of socks and the first shirt that he sees, and he goes from there. Usually he will ask his bride if it matches, and often there is change in plans, but it doesn’t take long and he’s on his way. His wife on the other hand engages in a thoughtful and more than three minute process, and almost always she comes out looking, as my Aunt Linny would say, as pretty as a picture.
As there are at least two attitudes one can take towards getting dressed in the morning, so also are there at least two attitudes one can take towards the precious Word of God. Dear friends in Christ, in this place we believe that the Word of God is inerrant, it is inspired, and it is inspiring. In this place we believe that the Word of God is able to make us wise unto salvation and to train us in holy living. The preaching and the teaching and the reading and the listening to and the study of and the meditation on the Word of God is essential if we are to do what we say we want to do in our life together – to love the Lord our God with all of our souls, our nephesh.
The good news is that the Word of God incarnate is Jesus Christ and He loves us through all the chapters of life with a love we cannot receive but not begin to understand. The bad news is that in every one of our days we will be tempted to chase after other words, other voices, and other gods. Your assignment, should you be in the mood to accept it, is to examine your attitude towards the Word of Christ and to choose a statement that best describes that attitude.
Hear, O Israel: Heart
Fourth in a series of six
Jeremiah 31:31-34 // 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 // Mark 7:14-23
Our sermon texts are all three
Dear Friends in Christ,
Three weeks ago we began a six-part study of the Shema, an ancient prayer found in the book of Deuteronomy, a petition still prayed twice a day by devout Jewish believers. Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Once again, we turn to the structure of this prayer: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God. It begins with a command: Hear this. Listen up! I need your eyes for this: Hear that the Lord our God is one. Since he is God and he is one, therefore, Love the Lord your God. So far, we’ve gone Command, confession, Command.
In the second half of this sermon series, , we answer the question, “With what do we love the Lord our God?” Love the Lord your God with what? With all your heart today, with all your soul next week, and with all your strength the week after. And today, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart.”
So, here’s my question to you: What are the desires of your heart? Is that an easy question or a hard one? Do you know the desires of your heart, or not?
I can tell you this, I don’t have a teenaged daughter, but I’m told that from time to time a dad comes home to see his teenage daughter, the pride of his heart, crying on the couch. He wants to fix things; he wants to make it all better, and so he asks her, “What’s wrong?” And do you know what she says? She says through tears, “Dad, I don’t know.” She doesn’t know the desires of her heart.
Or, I’ve been around enough 8thgrade boys to know that they can be knuckleheads. I’m young enough to remember being an 8thgrader and being a knucklehead; doing and saying things that just didn’t make sense. And you ask them, “What were you thinking?” They say, “I dunno.” Sometimes they say that because they just don’t want you to know, but much of the time, they really don’t know. They don't know the desires of their heart.
I was at a leadership training seminar, the first thing they did was tell us to calm ourselves and to answer the question, “How are you?” I calmed myself and realized, apart from the usual throw-away answer, “Good” or “Peachy” (which aren’t all bad, but that’s a discussion for a different time) I didn’t really know how I was.
Or, to say it in a different way, I didn’t know the desires of my heart.
There’s a parable that the philosopher James K. A. Smith retells, of two people in a wasteland future being guided to a room where you receive the desires of your heart. They get right there, to the edge of the room.
“[The two] hesitate because it dawns on them: What if I don’t know what I want? ‘Well,’ [the author] observes, ‘that’s for the Room to decide. The Room reveals all; what you get is not what you think you wish for but what you most deeply wish for.’ A disturbing epiphany is creeping up on [the two]: what if they don’t want what they think?”
If you’ve ever struggled to complete a diet, if you’ve ever sabotaged yourself on a way to a goal, you know that what you think you wish for (in your brain) can be different than what you deeply wish for.
We’re beginning this meditation at the point where our little word study video ended. We saw that the Hebrew word for heart, Lev, encompasses the place life springs from, thoughts spring from, feelings spring from, and at the root of that all are our motivations, our desires.
We can control our actions and our thoughts; we can name our feelings, much of the time at best we can only guess at our motivations. There is more about ourselves than we know about ourselves.
That’s part of what Paul’s saying in the epistle. The first step of humility is to know how little we know, and the first step that Paul takes is to think, “If I don’t even know all of my motivations, how can I judge the motivations of someone else?” Paul isn’t saying, “Don't judge the actions of others. Don’t name your emotions. He is saying, “Leave to God the things that are God’s.” Let the God who shines light into the darkness be the one who discloses the purposes of your heart.
What part of your life, if you were honest, would you really wish God would leave alone? Because much of the time, we would rather God only look at our actions, not at our thoughts, not at our inmost desires. We would rather him look at the outside, because not even we sometimes know what’s deep down in ourselves.
Jesus goes a step further. He says, evil actions don’t come from what goes into you; they flow from a corrupted heart. As Jesus always does through the Gospels, he raises the level of expectation in the Law up to the top. Every single sin demonstrates not a scratch that needs a bandaid, but that something in us is fundamentally flawed, fundamentally broken. Bad fruit aren’t the problem; the bad tree that bears bad fruit is the problem.
But here, of course, is the kingdom of heaven. Because, you’ll note, it’s Jesus speaking the words of our Gospel. It is mercy incarnate telling us by words of love that we cannot do it on our own. It is the Living Forgiveness that in the same breath as he condemns our sins he takes them upon himself and the only One who has pure motivations takes on all that flows from our wicked desires. The one that knows us better than we know ourselves loves us more than we can understand,
The word for this is sincerity, in the Greek, haplotetis, literally meaning “Single-hearted.” That your life and your thoughts and your deeds and your desires are single-hearted.
Because the Lord our God, the Lord is single-hearted, he is of one purpose he is One and because -- here are the simple and beautiful words of our Old Testament reading: because he would be our God, so that we can be his people.
Which brings us back, like our little video, to Jeremiah 31. The goal of the Christian life is so that we know the Lord: that the truths of God would be so ingrained in us, that after day after day of forgiving and being forgiven, after day after day of loving and caring and being cared for and being loved, after day after day of having compassion and weeping together and laughing together, then the law of God wouldn’t be something that we need to follow, but that it would be laid on our hearts, it would be our immediate reaction, it would be the new covenant that we run to and cling to in every trouble and trial, that we would praise in every good thing.
Three thoughts for today at the end of sermon.
Thought number one is that one of the goals of Scripture is that by this vast collection of human experiences, we would know the thoughts and motivations of our hearts.
Second, the primary goal of Scripture is that we would know the thoughts and motivations of our God; we would know him as he is.
Third, the third goal of the Scriptures is that by knowing our God more, it would shape us even more into his people.
Praise be to God that he is single-hearted in his desire that all are saved through faith in Christ. Praise be to God that he sent his son
Amen and amen.
We are using videos to do short word studies on each of the Hebrew words that we are using in the sermons. https://thebibleproject.com/videos/yhwh-lord/
Hear O Israel: LORD
Second in a series of six
Exodus 3:13-15 // Acts 2:32-36 // Mark 2:1-12
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are in the Green season, the season of Pentecost, where we seek to grow and deepen our Christian faith. We continue working our way through the Shema, the ancient prayer in Deuteronomy, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
Dear friends in Christ,
This is the second in a series of six sermons on the Shema. The first sermon was on the first word of the Shema, which is Shema. If you weren’t here last week, you’re wondering what that word means, and here’s the answer: it means listen. But not just listen; it means, like we use the English word, it means listen, and understand, and obey.
It’s a command. Hear, O Israel. Do it. Hear this. Hear and obey! To which one of our kind and gentle members came up to me and asked, “Pastor is this really a prayer? It doesn’t sound like a prayer,” which is a good question, because she’s right; it doesn’t really sound like a prayer. Usually we start out prayers with “Dear Lord,” and usually, they are directed toward God, and yet here we have a command, a command directed toward us: Hear!
Maybe this is a better way of looking at it: Israel was to pray the content of these words. Let me give you an example. Many times in the funeral process, I speak the Words of Psalm 23 to the family – The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..., but sometimes I pray them: Lord, be our Good Shepherd in this place. Make us not to want. Do you see the difference? And yet, they are essentially the same.
In reciting these words at the beginning of the day and the end of the day, they were saying in essence, Lord help me to hear. Help me to remember. Help me to obey what you are asking of me.
Now, notice the progression of our prayer: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God. Notice the progression: Command, confession, Command. The first word is HEAR! Hear what’s coming next. Remember it. Hang it on your hearts, and don’t let go. And what does he say next? The Lord our God, the Lord is One.
What does that mean? It’s a statement of confession. What does it confess? The Lord our God, the Lord is One.
What does that say? Right? Because this is significant... it signals the reason, the confession, the ground, that allows Moses to give the greatest commandment (or at least that’s what Jesus calls it): Love the Lord your God. Remember that the Lord is God and the Lord is one, and when you remember this, then it gives rise to the greatest commandment, love the Lord your God, and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.
So, this confession, it’s significant; it's a big deal; it’s the basis for the whole Law, the whole idea of being moral. But what does it confess?
Three layers that we explore and two questions that we ask. For the beginning of an answer, we can turn back to Exodus 3, remembering that the same Moses who is preaching Deuteronomy to the people is the one who forty-odd years before heard from the burning bush the personal name of God himself.
I am who I am. Tell them, I AM, HE IS, He says to Moses, the LORD has sent you. We talked about this a few weeks ago, on Trinity Sunday. God is who he is. He depends on no one. He needs nothing. He has no flaws. He is first, and before him is nothing, and nothing could ever possibly come after him, because he is eternal.
The Lord our God, the Lord is One. He is number one. He is preeminent. He is one. There are none other like him. His power is unlike all other power. His love is unlike all other love. His holiness is of a different kind. He is one.
Remember the Nicene Creed? I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, in one Lord Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord. And yet there are not three Lords but one Lord. There are not three almighties but one almighty. One in Three, three in one.
Let me add the second layer. Hear the poetry of this: The God who is before everything was and who will be after everything is not, who has no flaws, needs nothing chooses to make himself known by being incarnate as an infant. The God who depends on no one makes himself known by becoming the most dependent, helpless little creature, who (as I remind my 7th and 8th graders) couldn’t eat on his own, sleep without being told to sleep, who couldn’t even hold up his own head with his little neck.
Here is the significance of Acts 2:32-36. God has revealed himself as fully as we can handle to know in Jesus Christ, the infant Son of God, defenseless and dependent as he came into the world, and defenseless and dependent as he died, utterly emptied of his divine powers as he demonstrates the clearest picture we have of our God. The cross proves that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man; the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of man.
Now, let me add the final layer. We go back to Mark 2. Usually in this passage we focus on the guys who let their friend down through the roof, but today, let’s focus on what Jesus does first, and what the reaction is. He forgives the man’s sin. If he did that today, no one would bat an eye. He forgives the man’s sin and the Pharisees bring up the charge of blasphemy – and remember that this is the charge that’s brought up against Jesus at the end of his life. No one can forgive sins but God alone.
Not only is the LORD one, not only does he choose to make himself known in weakness, the final layer of this all is that the God whose list of attributes is bewildering and eternal, the God who is fierce, who is Judge, who is holy, who is terrifying, who is every bit the God who to see means certain death, this God actively chooses to say that the first quality He wants you to know about him is his mercy.
He was and is able to be known in many other ways, but when he speaks (and let me remind you, he speaks with a voice that created the universe) when he speaks, he chooses to say words of mercy.
If our God in his might has chosen to reveal himself in weakness and dependence, then, what are we supposed to do?
If our God in his might has chosen that he desires to be known chiefly by his forgiveness, by his mercy, what are you known by?
Praise be to God that he chooses to be known by his mercy, in his weakness, in his Son, Jesus Christ. Amen and amen.
Theme – Hear O Israel: Shema
(First in a Series of Six Sermons)
Texts – Deuteronomy 6:1-9, James 1:19-27, Matthew 13:10-17
June 23 and 24, 2018
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
In this sermon series, we explore one of the most famous and important prayers contained in the Bible. To this very day, devout and orthodox Jews repeat this prayer twice daily. This prayer is called the Shema, and in the five weeks to come, we will focus on the Hebrew word for LORD, which is Yahweh, then on the Hebrew word for LOVE, then on the word for HEART, then on the word for SOUL, and finally on the word for STRENGTH.
Today we focus our attention on the first word of this famous prayer, the word SHEMA. As our little video clearly showed, the word SHEMA is a Hebrew word full of meaning. It is often translated to hear or listen, but it’s more than just sound waves entering your ear. Biblically, to shema is to listen and to obey. Listening and obeying are two sides of the same coin. Shema is about giving respect to the one speaking to you and doing what they say. In this sense, real listening takes effort and action.
Shema at 410 North Main The best I know to illustrate the meaning of shema involves my dear bride, Debi. Imagine that! (Story of Debi 25 years ago out for a walk, picking up a Waseca Shopper newspaper off a sidewalk, taking it up into a “little room” in our house, sitting down, opening up the paper, and a bat flies out! I hear the kind of a scream that led me to think one of our children had died. The words were something like, “Larry come here!” Of course I responded in record time, I threw open the door, I bravely threw a towel over the bat and took her by the hand, and rescued her. Then, like the coward I am, I sent our son Nathan up there with two tennis rackets to deal with the unwanted fowl.
The word Shema in my house on that day included no less than four thoughts1)Hear the scream / sound waves entering my head. 2) Pay attention to the scream. 3)Respond to the one who is screaming. 4) Respond now to the scream.
Shema in the Old Testament includes on the one hand people living with the premise that God is hearing them cry out, God is paying attention to their crying out, God will be responding, and God will be responding in an ongoing and generous and wise manner. On the other hand, we see that the very covenant relationship between Israel depended on Israel listening, listening closely, and obeying the commandments and the statutes if they were to continue to enjoy God’s special treatment.
Leah cries out for help, and God (shema). In Genesis 29, we read that when the Lord saw that Jacob loved his wife Rachel but hated his wife Leah, He chose to open Leah’s womb but close Rachel’s. Leah cried out to the Lord, he heard (the word is shema) her cry, and he responded by giving her a son whom she called Simeon. The name Simeon in Hebrew is shim’on, which means that God heard her prayer.
At Mt. Sinai, Israel’s very future depended on them (shema) In Exodus 19, God thundered down from Mt. Sinai that if Israel shemas him, that is to say if they listen and obey his covenant, then out of all the nations on earth, they would be his treasured people, they would be to him a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Their listening to and responding to God’s Word would change their hearts, it would make them a people that would be different than all other peoples on the face of the earth. Shema in the Old Testament carries with it the idea of listening, paying attention to, and responding.
Shema in the New Testament is also all about both hearing and doing the Word of God.
Our Epistle Lesson for today teaches us that Hearing without doing is (worthless). James says that hearing but not doing the Word of God is like a man who looks himself in the mirror, then walks away and immediately forgets what he looks like. James goes on to say that the one who claims to be religious but spends his days slandering and gossiping and tearing down people with his words, that religion is worthless. His baptism and confirmation certificates, to quote an old saying, wouldn’t be worth the price of the piece of paper they are written on.
James reminds us today that religion that is pure and undefiled in God’s courtroom is the religion that visits the orphans, the widows, sick, and those in prison. Religion that is pure and undefiled is the religion that cares about the basic needs of others, it cares about the social issues of the day, it cares about those who are struggling with all kinds of troubles, whether those troubles are self-inflicted or not.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who desire to love their neighbors as much as they love themselves, but many days they don’t know where to start, they don’t know who needs their help the most, and they aren’t always sure if their helpfulness is actually helping. And so they cry out in a regular way for God to give them wisdom from on high. They understand the first safety net for folks in danger would be a circle of family and friends, the next safety net would be local Christian congregations near and far, and the third safety net would be local, state, and national government. Often they are tempted to throw their hands up in the air and to let everyone else fight their own battles and to adopt the attitude that says “you made your bed, now lie down in it.” But the apostle James keeps poking them, reminding them that in fact hearing without doing the Word of God is worthless.
Finally, today, in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus would teach us that Our very (blessedness) depends on seeing and hearing what God is wanting us to see and hear. Jesus would teach us today that we are the little children to whom he has entrusted the secrets of the kingdom. Those who keep on resisting Jesus would be losing what knowledge they have. This is why Jesus spoke almost always in parables and short stories – to give grace to those who were looking for grace and to show mercy to those who had ears to hear.
Our very blessedness in life has to do with listening to God’s Word and refusing to let it go in one ear and out the other. It has to do with being still on a regular basis and working hard to listen, to actively listen, to use the language of the 1941 hymnal, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God. Shema has always been true, in the language of Jesus, that blessed are they who hear the Word of God and hold onto it, treasure it, keep it. That’s another way of saying, to use the language of David, that blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, blessed is the one who sin is covered, blessed is the man against whom the Lord count no iniquity. Another way of saying, in the language of Psalm 1, blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, blessed is the woman who does not stand in the way of sinners, blessed is the person of all ages who delights in the law of the Lord, and on this law he meditates day and night.
The kingdom of God is like a nation whose people are less and less paying attention to the God of their parents and grandparents, more and more they feel like something is missing. But it’s also like little and big Christian congregations all across the country side who operate with the premise that their covenant God is hearing them cry out for mercy and guidance, he is paying close attention to their crying out, He is responding to their cries, He is responding in a regular way to their crying out. And because of all that is true, these folks are more and more appreciating that they are the favored and the redeemed people of God, they are more and more delighting in the forgiveness of their sins, more and more contented to be swimming in the waters of their Holy Baptism, more and more reveling in the eating and the drinking of the Lord’s Supper, less and less do they feel like something is missing.
Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Big Words: For
Fifth in Five Part Series
June 16 and 17, 2018
Romans 8:30-31/ Ezekiel 17:22-24 /II Corinthians 5:11-17 / Mark 4:26-34
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
Dear Friends in Christ,
In these past four weeks, we’ve been exploring little words with big meanings. We’ve noted that in the English language, so very often the smallest of words have the greatest depth of meaning.
First of all, Christ for us. In today’s Old Testament lesson, the prophet Ezekiel is inviting the kingdom of Judah to look way beyond the darkness and the despair of their present circumstances to the arrival of the Messiah. Jesus Christ would be that tender twig, and his father would plant this twig on a high and lofty mountain. From this small and humble beginning would grow a noble cedar tree, and in the shade of this tree’s branches birds of every sort would nest. We think of how Christ was for us as he was born in humble circumstances, He was for us as He grew up as a carpenter’s son, for us as he gathered a small band of ordinary men to be his disciples, he was for us as he suffered all that we should have suffered, as he cried out forsaken by his own father, as he died and rose up again with a picture of your family and mine in his heart.
The New Testament Church is that noble cedar tree, and as often as we cry out to our Father in heaven for mercy, we are those birds finding shelter in those branches. Today, the Christian Church is the largest religion in the world, numbering 2.9 billion people, which is 31% of this world’s 7.3 billion population. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Today’s Epistle Lesson reminds us that to be in Christ is to be a new creation, the old things are passed away, all things are become new. The kingdom of God is like a grandpa here today with all kinds of regrets, all kinds of memories of being too busy working when his kids were little, all kinds of failures and faults that threaten to dampen his joy. But the Spirit of God is at it again. He is reminding this grandpa that Christ is for Him, his sins have been forgiven, his debt has been paid, his heavenly mansion is on reserve, in the one courtroom that matters, he has been declared innocent.
In today’s Gospel lesson, the kingdom of heaven is compared to a mustard seed, which is relatively small but produces a relatively large shrub. Jesus’ own ministry was small and unimpressive interms of numbers, but resulted in the Christian Church, which now spans the globe and has dramatically influenced civilization. From 120 in Jerusalem to 500 in Galilee to 3000 on Pentecost Day, to 5000 soon after the Church moved into the Gentile world and turned it upside down. By 313Ad, when persecution ended, an estimated 1 million people were confessing Christ in the Roman world.
The kingdom of God is like a father hearing God’s Word this morning. Last night he looked himself in the mirror and saw a man trying hard but falling way short. He saw a man with good intentions but tempted in so many ways to be stubborn and self-centered. But the Spirit of God is teaching him this morning. He’s learning once again that Christ is for him, he’s learning that as often as he brings his burdens, his tiredness, and his chaos to Christ, as often as he lays all of that down at the cross, that often his soul is at rest, his spirit is renewed, his heart quietly rejoices. If God is for him, who can be against him?
Lesson #1 today is to be absolutely grateful as we think about what it means that God is for us. And lesson #2 is to think about what it means for us to respond to all of that grace and all of that mercy, what does it mean for us to live for Christ?
Us for Him Specifically today, we want to paint a picture of what it looks like when a Christian man lives out his vocation as father, we want to be grateful for all that our fathers did right by the grace of God, and 3) we want to direct all fathers to the One Who is all about new beginnings and second chances.
First, what does it look like when a Christian man lives out his vocation as father? If we use Luther’s explanation of the First Article of the Creed as a starting place, we see that our Father in heaven creates, He takes care of, He gives, He richly and daily provides, He defends, He guards and protects, and He does all this out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy with absolutely no merit or worthiness in his children.
Secondly,we want to be grateful today for all that our fathers did or are still doing right, by the grace of God. When I think of all that my dad did right, I think of him and his dad losing a farm and then starting over in1939, over the years, he took care of that farm, he worked the land, he raised white faced Hereford cattle, God gave him the privilege of being a co-creator of 6 children, including four which were born and three which still live today, dad did all kinds of things right, he loved mom with all of his heart, they worked as a team to provide all that was needed, they made a decision early on to go to church and to be on the receiving end of God’s gifts of grace in a regular kind of a way, they taught their children right from wrong, they allowed for the process of trial and error to happen, they were steady, not splashy, quiet, not at all noisy, work first and then play kinds of folks.
Third, we give thought to our fathers failures, their faults, their bad habits, their lousy decisions, and the demons they have or still are battling. The stories abound in our circles of fathers drinking too much, listening too little, and falling way short of perfection. All kinds of fathers, perhaps most of us, if we could do some things differently, would jump at the chance.
Dear friends in Christ, and especially you fathers and step fathers and grandfathers out there today, we would simply have you see Jesus. See Jesus living a perfect life for you, see Him turning His face towards Jerusalem for you, see Him writhing in pain for you, see His blood being poured out for you, see His body getting broken for you, see Him rising up and ascending into heaven and sitting at his father’s right hand for you, see Him in this very moment interceding to His Father for you, see Him working everything out with perfect timing for you, see him shaking his head and being sad every time you’re being a knucklehead, see him and his angels rejoicing over you every time you say “I’m sorry.”
For Shade and For Fruit The kingdom of God is like a small town planted in the midst of corn and bean fields where not just one or two or three but four congregations are full of folks who have concluded this – that Christ has died for all, that those who live might no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. They think of themselves at the same time as birds and branches. Birds who know which trees will provide the best shade and as branches meant to bear fruit. This very night, all kinds of fathers and step fathers, all kinds of grandpas and step grandpas get down on their knees, they praise God in heaven above for the generations who have gone on before them, they ask God to bless anything that day they might have done right by God’s grace, and they cry out one more time for grace to cover the bad they have done and the good they have failed to do, they ask their Father in heaven for one more new beginning, yet another second chance, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther