Third Sunday in Lent
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We live in a culture that has mastered the art of being outraged. We hear of yet another gunman in Hesston, Kansas being served with a protection order barring him from contact with his girl friend, that 90 minutes later he goes on a shooting spree wounding 14 and killing 3 or 4, and we say to one another, “that’s outrageous!” What’s the matter with people nowadays?” As if something is really wrong with him and not so much with us. And then Jesus looks us in the eyes and says, “Let me tell you something, unless you repent you’re going to die.”
We hear of Black Lives Matter protesting violence against blacks by stopping traffic on busy freeways or we hear of swarms of Bernie Sanders fans crying out for free college education or $15 minimum wage for everybody and we say to ourselves, “That’s outrageous! Why don’t those people get their attitudes straightened out and see life the way we see it? As if something is really wrong with them and not so much with us? To which Jesus replies, “Unless you repent, you’re going to die.”
Or we hear of Syrian Muslims beheading Christians just because they are Christians and we shake our heads and wonder what’s the matter with those people, and we maybe even take it a step further and yearn for the day when they will get what they have coming to them all the way into eternity, as if something is really the matter with them, and not so much for us. Jesus looks us in the eyes today and declares, “Unless you repent, you’re going to die.”
Also in our text for today, there were some people who were absolutely outraged that Pontius Pilate would send his Gentile soldiers into the sanctuary where only priests were normally allowed and murder Galilean laypeople who were engaged in sacrifices to the one true God. They assumed that the Galileans who were murdered must have committed some great sin for which God sent this particular punishment through Pilate. They assumed that these Galileans must have been worse sinners than the average sinner. They assumed that the evidence was in this terrible tragedy. Jesus tells them they are assuming wrong. That unless they repent, they also will die. Another way of saying that all we like sheep have gone astray, that the soul that sinneth it shall die, that the wages of sins is death, that the need for repentance is universal, and that the time for repentance is today.
To drive the point home with a second example, a recent news item that would have been known to the crowds engaging with Jesus in conversation. He asks them whether those 18 who were killed by a collapsing tower were worse sinners than all the other men living in Jerusalem? Jesus makes the same emphatic denial and uses the same words that form our sermon theme for today, “ No I tell you, but unless you repent you will all perish the same way.”
Two truths the Spirit of God would teach us today. First of all, we learn of God’s great desire to have mercy on sinners, and secondly, we learn of God’s strong expectation that we bear fruit and that we do so sooner rather than later.
First, we see in today’s lesson God’s great desire to have mercy on sinners. The section in Luke from which our text is taken is part of a larger conversation in which Jesus has just been discussing how crucial it is to interpret the present time. Just as we act accordingly when we see storm clouds gathering on the horizon, so also we should act accordingly by recognizing that the time for repentance is now. The message of this larger section of Luke is that no knows the day or hour of his or her own death, much less when the world will end, so don’t be putting off until tomorrow the forgiveness you need today.
On the subject of suffering, we do well to remember that there are at least three kinds. There is self inflicted suffering, there is suffering inflicted by others, and there is suffering that comes our way through no fault of our own. While the presence of suffering in an individual’s life should not be interpreted as punishment for a specific sin, the presence of suffering in general is indeed a consequence of the fall. Therefore, whenever we hear yet another gunman shooting up a town or a school, whenever we hear yet another political candidate saying things that make us shake our heads and want us to run for cover, whenever we hear of Palestinians training their four year old children to strap bombs on their bodies and be suicide bombers, our response should not be to assign blame, but rather to see in the tragedy further evidence of our own sin and need for repentance.
Repentance is being sorry for our sins and trusting in Jesus as the forgiver of those sins. It is admitting our own failures and shortcomings and nasty habits and looking in faith to Him who was beaten bloody and murdered on a cross on account of every one of those failures and shortcomings and nasty habits. Repentance is getting the log out of our own eye before we start commenting on the speck in the eye of some angry gunman in Kansas. It’s crying out for mercy for my own soul before I start wringing my hands in despair over how much everybody else needs to get a life.
The good news today, of course, is that Jesus came that we may have life and that we may have it abundantly. This is the reason for which Jesus Christ came, lived, suffered, died, and rose up again – that the logs in our eyes could be removed, that the debts we have accumulated could be forgiven, that our mansion in heaven would be on reserve.
Listen carefully dear friends, when Jesus warns us to repent or we’re going to die, He is at the same time promising that as often as we repent, we live. The kingdom of God is like a mom who disciplines her toddler for playing in the street so that he can live. It’s like a family that intervenes in the life of a loved one whose drinking problems are ruining family life so that this family can have a new beginning. It’s like the hearers of God’s Word on a third Sunday in Lent decide to be outraged at their own faults rather than the faults of their neighbors. Outraged at their own failures to be light of the world and salt of the earth kinds of people instead of aiming their outrage at those Washington DC in general and this year’s crop of presidential candidates in particular. Outraged at their own lack of fruit rather than the bad fruit of others.
You see, as often as we are outraged at our own lack of fruit, that often the vinedresser has a chance to dig around us and apply a bit of fertilizer. First of all we would learn again today of God’s great desire to have mercy on repentant hearts, and secondly of His great desire that we bear the fruits of repentance. Fruits like love and joy and peace. Fruits like patience and kindness and goodness. Fruits like faithfulness and gentleness and self control. Paul writes to the Galatians that against such fruits there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Jesus’ parable of the fig tree supports his call to repentance by illustrating how God’s great desire to have mercy on us is always paired up with His strong expectation for us to bear fruit. To bear fruit today and not some day in the future. As a vineyard owner plants and cultivates and prunes and protects and cares for and takes great pride in his vines with an eye towards harvest, so has God planted and cultivated and pruned and protected and cared for and loved this congregation in the past with an eye towards a harvest in the present and multiplying out into the future.
The kingdom of God is like a man who has developed a habit of being embarrassed by his own sinful habits, but outraged at the nasty habits of those whose messed up lives make the news. In this very sanctuary, in this very moment, his God is opening his eyes. Opening his eyes to see that he is chief of sinners and not somebody else. Opening his eyes to see how beautiful life is as often as he throws himself on the mercy of his God, how beautiful life is as often as He receives all that His God is wanting him to have, how beautiful life is as often as he goes looking for people to forgive, to love, and to serve. Amen.
Jeremiah 26:8-15, Philippians 3:17-4:1, and Luke 13:31-35
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah prophesies against a city that doesn’t care to hear him, a city that would sooner kill him than listen. Paul cries tears when he warns the Philippians not fill their bellies but to set their minds on what’s above. Jesus laments over a Jerusalem that kills prophets and stones messengers.
In all three readings, these faithful kinds of people all have to speak hard words to the people of God, and frankly, after the readings are read, it is difficult to respond with “Thanks be to God.”
I’d invite you to keep in your mind a person or two that you are in conflict with, someone to whom you have to speak hard words, or someone that you’ve let down.
Because the question for today is, how does the Christian speak hard words when they need to be spoken? How do you avoid, on the one hand, being a marshmallow that never deals with conflict and, on the other hand, being a hard-nose that always burns your bridges? How do you speak truth, but speak it in love? Three parts today, from the three readings, with three don’ts and three dos.
First don’t: speaking hard truths, it doesn’t come from a place of satisfaction. It’s not about sticking the knife in further and watching them squirm. That’s why the officials of Judah charged Jeremiah. They assumed his motives. They thought he was speaking from a place of satisfaction. They thought his personal agenda was getting in the way of his judgment, and they respond accordingly.
And that’s pretty easy to do. I was thinking just the other day: After a long day at work, with my bouncing baby boy Benjamin Button a little bit fussy, and Laura came home a little bit later than I expected, and the whole day had put me out of sorts. Now, instead of putting on my big boy pants and admitting that I was out of sorts, my first inclination was instead to make her pay, to ignore her, to let her stew and guess at what I was mad at. To just make her feel bad before I tell her what’s wrong. Who does that? Now, when I eventually came around and asked for her forgiveness, but the point is....
That’s not the way to speak a hard truth. Instead, notice Jeremiah’s response: “The Lord sent me to prophesy. Turn from your deeds, mend your ways, obey the voice of the Lord. Turn and the Lord will relent.” Now, notice what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “Turn and maybe the Lord will string you along for a while and then forgive you.” He doesn’t say, “Turn and guess what I’m mad at.”
The intention when the Lord speaks hard words is repentance, and when that end was achieved, immediately the Lord comes with goodness and mercy. Immediately his wrath is ended and his love shows. Luther calls this “the over-burning love of God,” that he would love us enough to tell us when we stray, and love us enough that when we repent he is there with forgiveness.
More often than not, married couples going through hard times have great difficulty with this. They have been at conflict for so long that the expectation of repentance is that it’s total and incredible. You have to be perfect in absolutely every way before I will begin to think about forgiveness. You have no room to make mistakes. You’ve got to prove yourself each and every day until I decide you’re ok. Thank God that he doesn’t work that way. He is absolutely quick to let forgiveness flow. The angels in heaven rejoice to see another sinner stumble his way through confession and hear what God has already done.
Second don’t: speaking hard truths, it doesn’t come from a place of retribution. It isn’t an eye for an eye. It isn’t about taking what’s owed and then just leaving you alone, right?
I mean, could you see Paul doing that in our text from Philippians? Saying, just stop setting your mind on earthly things, remember your citizenship is heaven, and then I’ll leave you well enough alone. Do that and you can go your way and I can go mine.
He doesn’t say that. He says, “Join in! Imitate me and walk with me and gather around with others and stand firm, because you are my brothers, and you are beloved.” The Christian does himself a disservice when he fails to recognize all the kinds of people that walk with him on the path of life. The Christian does himself a disservice when he doesn’t see the great depth and width of different stories contained in even our little church, even here in our little town. The Christian does himself a disservice when he assumes that conflict is just about giving back what’s owed, because conflict is first about restoring relationships.
And here’s the point: Paul sorrows over their sin. With tears in his eyes he writes about how they walked as enemies of the cross of Christ. With tears in his eyes he sorrows and suffers over their sin, even if they wouldn’t sorrow or suffer with him. With tears in his eyes, he would face their shame, their destruction, even if they wouldn’t for themselves. Are you willing to suffer for someone, so that you can do what’s right for them?
Third, speaking hard truths: It doesn’t come from a place of self-righteousness. It’s not about saying, “I’m better than you, and you should come crawling back.” Out of all of us, Jesus would have the most reason to say this. As perfect Son of God, he could say you better come to me. But he doesn’t. You see it in what Jesus say, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets. Nevertheless, I will go to you. I will gather you. I will finish my course.
No, when the righteous one comes among us, you can see how he acts. Christ looks your sin full on in the face, and he doesn't flinch. Righteousness incarnate runs after all kinds of people that don’t deserve him to run after them. Righteousness Incarnate longs to gather together under his wings those who would scream “Crucify him, Crucify him!”
And here’s the point: Jesus Christ looks to do what a person needs, even if we would fight him on it. His love is absolutely relentless and his grace is overwhelming. His path for you led to the cross, and it led through the grave, so that he could bring to you what you were too dead in your own trespasses to long for – salvation. And all who would follow after him look to do what a person needs, not what they want, not what you want them to want, but what a person needs.
It isn’t the Christian’s calling to avoid conflict or eschew sin. It is our calling to see the places where sin wreaks havoc, and then do all that we can to bring the healing power of the Gospel to bear. That’s our aim, our every hope, in every situation, with every person, that we would see Christ gather all of us sinners like a hen gathers her chicks, that we would love and long for the reconciliation of our brethren, and that whether or not God calls us to speak like Jeremiah, we would know the power that the Gospel brings to bear.
In conclusion, we see three questions to ask in our texts, three questions that shed light on how Christians deal with conflict. First, “Am I eager to forgive as Christ has forgiven me?” Second, “Am I willing to suffer with them for what they need, just as Christ suffered on my behalf?” Third, “Am I seeking this person’s good as Christ has sought mine?”
Christians follow after Christ, and we stand in a long line of faithful men and women who spoke truth in love, no matter what the consequences, because we know the end of the story. Amen and Amen.
Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
John Paton was a Christian missionary to a place called New Hebrides. He soon discovered that the natives had words for house and tree and stone and the like, but they had no words for love and joy and peace. Worst of all they had no word for “believe.” One day as he sat in his hut frustrated with his ministry and more specifically his Bible translation skills, an old native entered and slumped down in a chair. Exhausted from a long journey, the man said, “I’m leaning my whole weight on this chair.” Dr. Paton asked him to repeat what he had just said. The man said, “I’m leaning my whole weight on this chair.” Immediately, the missionary latched onto that phrase to teach this native tribe what it meant to “believe in Jesus.” It meant that you lean your whole weight into Jesus.
As you stare death in the face this morning, the very best word of encouragement I can give you is to lean your whole weight into Jesus Christ. That’s another way of saying go ahead and fix your eyes on Jesus and don’t stop fixing your eyes on Jesus ever. He is the same yesterday and today and forever. He is the one who fixed his eyes on Jerusalem and He set His face towards Jerusalem, and He didn’t stop until He had been arrested, slapped around, beaten up, ridiculed, mocked, and crucified until He was stone cold dead and buried. The reason He did all of that was ultimately that He had His eyes fixed on Sandra Boulais and every other human being ever conceived and born into this world.
This is the Good News that supercedes every bit of bad news that is overwhelming your souls and dragging on your spirits today, the awful news that Sandra has suffered in her body, and even worse than that, she has suffered the wages of sin, which is death. The Good News is that Jesus Christ is where faith starts, and He is where it finishes. He is the one who looked past the shame of the cross, He scorned the shame of the cross, He despised the shame of the cross. He said to sin and shame, “bring it on!” He said “bring it on” because He saw in His own shame on the cross joy. He saw the joy of Sandra and all baptized believers spending eternity in heaven with Him.
You see, in the waters of Baptism, Jesus Christ fixed His eyes on Sandra Sue Boulais, and He never took His eyes off her. Oh she may have felt like God was at a distance in certain chapters of life, but He was always near. He was always near in the preaching and teaching and remembering of His Word. He was always near in the bread and wine of His Holy Supper. He was near with His forgiveness, and wherever there is forgiveness there is life and salvation.
Although Sandra may have felt that the life was overwhelming and that she was alone, in fact her Good Shepherd has followed her around with goodness and mercy in all the days of her life.
In our text for today, God is encouraging every one of us to keep running the race called living the Christian life. This is done, in spite of the challenges and difficulties of life, by fixing your eyes, your focus, your faith on Jesus, your Lord and your Savior.
We remember today that nothing that is valuable is achieved without effort. Fritz Kreisler, the famous violinist, testified to this point when he said, “Narrow is the road that leads to the life of a violinist. Hour after hour, day after day and week after week, for years, I lived with my violin. There were so many things that I wanted to do that I had to leave undone; there were so many places I wanted to go that I had to miss if I was to master the violin. The road that I traveled was a narrow road and the way was hard.
So also in our text for today, we learn that the road of salvation is narrow, and the way is hard. The writer to the Hebrews warns us that if we are going to run the race that is our Christian life, we are going to have to run with perseverance. There’s going to be all kinds of sins that will easily entangle us, and if we don’t find a way to throw them off, they’re going to get the best of us. By nature, all of us sin and fall short of the glory of God, but praise be to God, it is in His nature to be a God of new beginnings and second chances. It is reality that a messed up world is going to mess with us in every one of our days, but the greater reality is that Jesus Christ led the perfect life not a one of us could even begin to live, He suffered all that we should have suffered, He died the death we needed Him to die, He rose up again on the third day, He spent 40 days appearing to all kinds of people and proving that in fact He was alive and well, He ascended on the 40th day, He poured out His Spirit in a new and spectacular way on the 50th day, and in every one of our days, He is sitting at the right hand of His Father, ruling all of heaven and earth for the sake of His precious and valuable people here on earth.
What contact I did have with Sandra over the years was always pleasant, and almost always she was having health problems of one kind or another. Our conversations always had something to do first of all with her daughter and grandchildren, and secondly, since I’m a pastor kind of a person, they always had something to do with her Savior. It seemed as though she always had reasons to be weary and to lose heart, but there was never a doubt in my mind that she had fixed her eyes on Jesus as both author and finisher of her faith.
I regret that I did not visit her in recent months, but my hunch is that she had the same kind of yearnings that so many Christian have when illnesses are taking over their bodies and ruling their days. The yearning for this life to be over. The yearning to depart and be with Christ. The yearning that looks past death to the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.
A story about my dad wanting to get out of the nursing home and be reunited with my mom…………ending with dad wheeling himself down the hallway of that nursing home and trying to kick his way out of there.
I don’t know what Sandra’s last hours or days were like, but it may well be that she just wanted to get out of this life with all of its pain and suffering and be with her Savior in paradise. Praise be to God that because Jesus Christ lives, Sandra Boulais lives. Praise be to God that she is resting from her labors, and her works do follow her. My prayer is that you, Jennifer, and you Haley and Tyler and you who have loved and were loved by this decent and straight forward kind of a Christian woman would keep your eyes fixed on Jesus Christ. My prayer is that you would spend every one of your days staying close to your Savior, receiving all that He wants you to have. That you would spend your days reveling in His grace, appreciating your second chances, and enjoying every blessing you have been given. May God’s angels be with you, that the wicked foe would have no power over you, and may Sandra Boulais rest in peace.
Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise
Second in a Series of CrossWords
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Jesus, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” Luke 23:39-43
Dear Friends in Christ,
Once again we invite you fix on the artwork of James Tissot, the French Artist, who painted this watercolor with the title, “The Pardon of the Good Thief.” Come with me to Mt. Calvary, where
• That place where the soldiers are crucifying and the women are crying and the disciples are hoping and Jesus is forgiving.
• That place where Pilate is pretending and Judas is betraying and Peter is denying and Jesus is suffering.
• That place where Mary is needing an adult son to take care of her and Jesus is making sure that is happening.
• That place where our Father in heaven is forsaking and His Son is suffering
• That place where the very source of living water is thirsty and one prophecy after another is getting fulfilled
• That place where our salvation is finished and our Savior is giving up His Spirit.
Paradise for the thief on the cross was wherever Jesus was. Paradise for my dad, at least here on earth, was wherever Mom was. Story of Dad in a nursing home and wanting to be reunited with Mom. The day I took him out of the nursing home, I took too much time visiting, and pretty soon, he wheeled himself out to the side door and was pretty much beating down the door, to get out of there, to get to that place where Mom would be!
Here in this place, we would learn three truths. First we learn how natural it is for us to take a bad situation and make it worse. Secondly, we see how beautiful life can get as often as we cry out for mercy, and third, we learn how anxious is our Savior for us to be in paradise with Him.
First, we learn how natural it is for us to take a bad situation and make it worse.
• My high school football story of Laurie Paulson.
• Alex story of leaving the milk out, getting scolded by Grandma, smarting off, and getting grounded for a month
• Criminal #1 is identified by Matthew as a thief, and what we know about Roman justice was that it was severe – one strike and you’re out! This thief wasn’t sorry for what he had done, he was sorry for being caught. The really good news for him was that Jesus was near, Jesus was dying for him, and Jesus so very much wanted him to be saved – but he would not be saved, he would not be gathered as a chick is gathered under a mother hen, he was more interested in smarting off. More interested in taunting this would be Savior to come down from the cross. More interested in getting in a few jabs and pokes than in receiving what Jesus was trying to give Him.
• Thief #1 is like a student who was too lazy to finish his homework. When confronted by a teacher, his first inclination is to make matters worse by making excuses instead of offering an apology and asking for forgiveness. Thief #1 is like a man with a drinking problem and when he is confronted by a friend, his first inclination is to make matters worse by smarting off instead of admitting his failures and looking for help. Thief #1 is like the well meaning couple who is working hard and playing hard. So hard that they are too busy most days to pray, too busy most days to search their Scriptures, too busy many weeks to be still in the sanctuary and revel in the grace of their God. When confronted, their first inclination is to explain instead of being corrected. And in so doing, they make matters worse.
Secondly, we see how beautiful life can get as often as we cry out for mercy. Thief #2 had messed up as badly as thief #1, maybe worse. He knew that he was getting exactly what he deserved, but when he looked at Jesus, he saw a king. And the more he thought about what it, he realized that Jesus had a kingdom, one that was not of this world. His simple request was that Jesus would remember him when he went into his kingdom.
Perhaps thief #2 had heard Jesus cry out for forgiveness for the soldiers, “for they know not what they do.” No doubt thief #2 could see that the soldiers were not apologizing, they were not saying they were sorry, they were not asking for forgiveness, they were not planning on changing their sinful ways – and yet Jesus wanted them to be forgiven! Somehow and in some way, the Spirit of God had worked in the heart of thief #2 a faith that asked to be taken along into the kingdom. A faith that was sorry for what he had done, not just sorry for getting caught. A faith that wanted to be forgiven, not just that wanted to smart off. A faith that had this inkling of how beautiful life could be if only he could go wherever this Jesus was going.
As the Canaanite woman cried out for a crumb, as dogs beg for something to eat, as thirsty travelers plead for just a little cup of water, so did thief #2 ask for a place. Not a throne and not a seat of glory among the angels and not a place at the right or left of Jesus, but just a place in the kingdom. In the moment that he asks, Jesus says yes and in the moment Jesus says yes, the angels of heaven break out in a victory dance, and in the moment the angels break out in a victory dance, paradise is his.
Third, and finally today, we learn how anxious is our Savior for us to be in paradise with Him. Jesus had disappointed King Herod with his silence, He had irritated Pilate by not answering the questions, but He was quick to speak to this thief. He had suffered getting slapped and beaten in silence, he had endured ridicule and mockery without words, but as soon as a sinner repented, he was all over it!
So also with you, dear precious and redeemed people of God. Your God is slow to anger, but quick to forgive. The thief had done nothing good before or after his conversion which could have counted before God. He could not walk the straight path, for his feet were nailed tight. He could do any good with his hands, not even fold them in prayer, because they were fastened too. He could live a better life, because he was dying. He could not step forward for His Lord’s Supper, he could offer no church membership nor gifts to charity, he had no opportunity to make things right with those he wronged, all he could do was call on Jesus to remember him when he went wherever he was going.
I tell you the truth, Jesus says. Paradise is yours, not some day in the future, but today. Paradise is yours, not in that day when you get your life figured out and your good habits have replaced your nasty ones, but today. Paradise is yours, not if,when, and maybe, we’ll think about it, but today.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people who spend their days rejoicing that their Savior is ever so anxious to be in paradise with them.
February 13 and 14, 2016
First Sunday in Lent
Romans 10: 8b-13“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
My aunt Linny was a favorite aunt kind of a lady. She was the life of the party. She was a woman of strong faith who lived the last 45 years of her life as a widow. She was one of the dearest Christian women I have ever known, and I’m certain I could find another 200 or 300 people in the Wahpeton ND area who would absolutely agree with me. But there were at least that five mistakes you would never want to make with Aunt Linny (her actual name was Gerlinda Wilhemina Magdalena Mindeman Luebke, by the way). #1- you never wanted to touch her hair. #2 – you never wanted to cause her to miss her Thursday morning hair appointment. #3 – You never wanted to splash her hair while swimming in the lake or pool. #4 – You never wanted to comment on her age or ask her how old she was. And #5 - You never wanted to ask her who she voted for. I asked her that question after a presidential election one year, and I thought she was going to do bodily harm to me. Her exact answer was “that’s none of your blanket blank business.” And when I stuttered a follow up question, she told me in no uncertain terms that politics and voting was a private matter. Who you voted for was nobody else’s business. Since that conversation, I have remembered learning from one of my great uncles that there were actually three taboo subjects in our family – sex, politics, and religion. Sex, politics, and religion, at least in my family, were considered to be not only personal, but private matters, absolutely ineligible for open and honest conversation.
I tell you that story about my family so that I can tell you another story, a story that invites you to think about what it means to live in a society where just about everything is to be tolerated except for traditional values. Where just about every idea is to be accepted except for the idea that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one can be accepted into heaven except through Him.
The story to which I refer happened about 6 years ago, when the famous golfer Tiger Woods was caught red handed by his wife cheating on their marriage. All kinds of hell broke loose in his personal life, and as a result all kinds of journalists and pundits weighed in. Tiger Woods happens to be a Buddhist, and so Fox News Anchor Brit Hume weighed in by recommending that Tiger should seek his answers instead in Christianity, saying, “I don’t think that the Buddhist faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith, and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”
The reaction against Brit Hume came fast and furious. Jay Brookman of the Atlanta Journal Constitution asserted that “faith is a private matter between that person and God, and is not a matter to be judged by some pompous TV anchor.” Bookman called Hume “rude and crass” and guilty of “bad manners.” An anchor from a different TV David Shuster maintained that Hume had somehow “denigrated” and “diminished” Christianity. USA Today religion writer Cathy Grossman asserted on her blog that the commentator Brit Hume was “talking trash.”
And so what some would consider “talking trash” we would consider confessing that Jesus is Lord. What some would consider really bad manners, we would consider simple and true testimony to the fact that they and only they who call on the name of the one true God will be saved. What some would consider bigoted and extreme religious views, we consider the best news that could ever be delivered.
Jesus said it this way, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. You can no more hide your affection for Jesus Christ than new parents can hide their affection for their infant child. You can no more hide your confidence in your Savior’s Easter Sunday’s victory than the Denver Bronco fans can hide their joy in their team’s recent Super Bowl victory.
The fact that God has raised His Son from the dead may not be all that recent, but it is historical and never to be forgotten, never to be denied, never to be ashamed of, never to be kept to ourselves. Could you imagine possessing a bottle of pills that would cure breast cancer or colon cancer or you name it cancer and keeping it to yourself? Can you imagine knowing the perfect strategy for preventing war or doing away with terrorism or eliminating drug and alcohol addiction and considering it a private matter not to be released into the general public?
In Matthew 10, Jesus was releasing His 12 disciples out into the general public, and their assignment was clear. What He told them in the dark, they were to say in the light. What He whispered in their ears, they were to proclaim from the housetops. They were to never forget that the very hairs on their head were numbered, that not a single sparrow would fall to the ground without their Father’s permission, that they were way way more valuable than many silly sparrows, and then Jesus looked them in the eyes, and said it this way, “So everyone who confesses me before men, I also confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Saving faith – personal but by no means private.
This past Wednesday evening, the grandson of one of our members, Marlyn Gekeler, died in a car accident near Germantown, Ohio. Zach was 20, and if my memory serves me correctly, he was baptized as an infant in this sanctuary. His mom Andrea poured out her broken heart the next day on Facebook, I am at a loss for words…I hurt, so very much my son. I don't know how I am supposed to go on doing my day, without you. I woke up this morning and checked my phone to see if you texted me. I look out in the driveway for your car. I listen for the fan in your room to know you made it safe, but the fan is silent. The house is dark, my heart is broken. I don't know how to do this. I don't know where to go. I've longed to hear your voice, I wait for you to walk up the sidewalk. I don't know why you had to leave me, but I know I will never, for the rest of my life feel whole again. ….even though I know this is real, I can't wrap my mind around my worst nightmare that has come true. I never imagined you would go before me. I never imagined this would be my life.
The kingdom of God is like Christian pastors and family and friends who are surrounding and loving and encouraging and lifting up those parents bent low with grief. With their hearts they are believing that God has raised His one and only and beloved Son from the dead, because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, it is also true that He is Who He said He is, the very Son of God……and because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, it is also true that everything the Bible says is true ………and because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, it is also true that the sins of those who have been baptized and are believing have been forgiven……and because Zachary was baptized into the Name of the Triune God, it is true that God has been faithful to the promises He made in Holy Baptism, and because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, so shall Zachary rise again from the dead.
The Kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where hurting and broken sinners get tempted in every one of their days to live by bread alone, but in their hearts, they know there is a better way. They get tempted in every one of their days to bow down before the gods of pleasure and entertainment, but from their mother’s knees they have been taught there is only one God deserving of their worship. They get tempted in every one of their days to keep the forgiveness of sins to themselves, but the Word of the living God is near them. It is in their hearts and it is in their mouths. As often as they hear that word, they find that their hearts are believing and their lips are confessing. Their faith is personal, but by no means private.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther