Sixth in a Series of Seven Sermons
Matthew 6: 25-34
Dear Christian Friends,
At the beginning of our sermon series, we traveled through the beatitudes as a catalogue of God’s promises. Four weeks ago – who would be called great in the kingdom of heaven, three weeks ago, what are the standards for the kingdom of heaven, two weeks ago – life is all about Jesus, last week what it looks like when Christians are at worship, and today, what it looks like when Christians are living one day at a time.
Living and dying with (the Vikings) Here’s a quote out of a sermon I wrote for a Preaching Workshop class at Seminary in1980. “As a Vikings fan, I live and die with their success and/or failure. When I watch one of their games, my palms get sweaty, my hearts beats a mile a minute, and am oblivious to the outside world. When they lose, I cry. When they win, I rejoice. But while they are playing, I am in a constant state of worry. When they are behind, I worry that they are going to lose. When they have the ball, I worry they will fumble. When they throw a pass, I worry about interceptions. Even when they are ahead, I worry they will blow the lead. After 15 years of such agony, I am beginning to realize that my worrying changes nothing. Whether I worry about them or not, the outcome will be the same. My sweaty palms and rapid heart beat mean nothing to Bud Grant and the Vikings. I have no control over the game.”
Fast forward 37 years, and you might think I have figured out the foolishness of worry with regard to pro football. Some days I have, other days not so much. It is human nature cross over the line from proper concern to sinful worry, it is the devil’s great desire that we cross that line in a regular way, and as you well know, we have all kinds of misery in common with fellow worriers.
At the 2016 national youth gathering of Lutheran Church Missouri Synod youth, the top five concerns of youth were 1) terrorism, 2)the future, 3)college, 4)abortion, and 5) my faith. It’s interesting to note that in the previous seven polls going back 21 years, terrorism had never made the top five issues. It’s also interesting to note that the environment was listed #3 in 2013 and had dropped to #23rd in 2016. Suggesting that our list of worries ebbs and flows over the years, but one truth remains clear, we were tempted to worry yesterday, we are being tempted to worry today, and we will be tempted to worry tomorrow.
In today’s sermon Jesus would teach us once again what it’s like to have Him as the cornerstone of our lives, what it’s like to have a home built on solid rock, so that when the rains come down, the flood waters rise up, and the winds blow strong, our homes will stand strong. In today’s text, Jesus would give us three terrific reasons to trust in the Lord and lean not unto our own understandings. Three good reasons not to drag the guilt of days gone by and the worries of days yet to come into today. Three strong testimonies why we should spend less time worrying and more time praying, three strong testimonies set before us today to help us choose between life and good on the one hand and death and evil on the other.
There is the testimony of nature, the testimony of logic, and the testimony of Scripture.
The Testimony of (Nature) The Psalmist writes The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. In other words, just a glance into the skies, just noticing the beauty of the rivers and the valleys and the fields, just paying attention to the passing scenery will tell you that there is a God. The writer to the Hebrews says it this way, “Every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that houses don’t build themselves, birds don’t worry about spring planting, birds don’t worry about fall harvesting, flowers don’t worry about what they’re going to wear tomorrow. They get taken care of by the providence of their Father in heaven.
And so when Jesus teaches us to look at the birds of the air and how they neither sow nor reap nor gather in barns, he reminds us that Even the birds (get fed). This is an argument from the lesser to the greater, if God feeds the birds, He’s going to feed you. If your Father in heaven is willing to provide for the little birds who spend zero time worrying, why would you and I be so worried, so distracted, and so very anxious over problems big and small, especially those situations over which we have absolutely no control? The kingdom of God is like an elderly couple who spends time every day watching the birds feed outside their window. More often than not, they say to themselves, “Having food and clothing, let us therewith be contented.
Jesus would have us learn every day not just from the birds, but also the flowers. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow… in other words, Even the flowers (get clothed) Again the argument is from the lesser to the greater.. If God is able to provide for the very temporary grasses and flowers of the plant kingdom, I repeat this question, why would you and I be so worried, so distracted, and so very anxious over problems big and small, especially those situations over which we have absolutely no control? The kingdom of God is like a woman who is learning more and more to enjoy all the seasons of the year, more and more she watches out her window, less and less her tv, more and more she revels in taking care of her house plants, less and less she fusses about the dust bunnies gathering behind them.
Testimony #1 was from nature, secondly, there is The Testimony of Logic. So very many of our worries have absolutely no basis in logic, they are pure emotion. Logic dictates that certain things matter, and certain things do not. It matters that children get baptized, it doesn’t matter whether their wardrobe is brand name or not. It matters that children get nourished and cherished in the Christian faith, it doesn’t matter if the Packers advance to the Super Bowl or not. It matters that hurting people get listened to and helped, it doesn’t matter so much what people are thinking about you as you are listening and helping.
Jesus uses simple logic in this little sermon on the foolishness of crossing over the line from proper concern into sinful anxiety. He asks no fewer than five questions, 1) Is not life more important than food? 2) Is not the body more important than clothing? 3)Aren’t you more valuable than birds? 4)Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his span of life? Another translation has him asking, “Which of you by worrying can add a single cubit to your stature? 5) Aren’t you more valuable than the lilies of the field which are here today and gone tomorrow?
Two mental images come to mind, in terms of capturing the folly, even the danger of getting caught up in fits of anxiety. First, Worrying is like rocking in a (rocking chair). It is something to do, it involves all kinds of activity, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.
Secondly, Worrying is like biting off more than you (can chew). I can remember doing that more than once with a big piece of steak that wasn’t so tender. In my desire to eat in a hurry, I bit off more than I could chew. It wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t turn out that well. So also when we bite off tomorrow’s problems and try to chew on them today, along with today’s problems. Jesus would shake His heads at us today, sort of like my dad would shake his head when I wasn’t showing common sense. He would remind us that living one day at a time, by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, is so much better than living in the past, it’s so much easier than trying to live in the future. First there was the testimony of nature, secondly the testimony of logic, and finally,
The Testimony of Scripture. The apostle John wrote it this way, “These acts of Jesus are written so that you may believe that Jesus it he Christ, and that by believing you may have life in His name. Paul said it this way to Timothy, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”
Two truths the Spirit of God would use to persuade us today, to persuade us to hand over our worries in a regular sort of a way to God, to persuade us first of all that God is really smart, and secondly that God’s record is absolutely perfect.
First, God is really (smart) That’s the way I explained it to the children in chapel on Wednesday. God is really smart. Luke records Jesus saying that God knows even the number of hairs that are on each one of our heads. Wikopedia suggests that the average head has 100,000 to 110,000 hairs, also that we lose 50-100 hairs every day. Jesus was reassuring those early disciples that God was really smart, and therefore they shouldn’t be afraid when they were dragged in front of the emperors. God was really smart, and therefore they should not worry about what they were going to say in the face of persecution. If God was so smart that he knew how many hairs were on their head, then they should trust that he was smart enough to give them the words to say. Dear friends, God is smart enough to know exactly what you need in life, He knows how much success and how much failure you need,He knows how much prosperity and how much adversity you need, He knows exactly how to answer your prayers, He doesn’t need you to be consumed with worry.
God’s record is absolutely (perfect). He said that He would deliver Israel out of slavery and into the Promised Land, and He did. He said He would be with Israel night and Day in days of wilderness and in days of exile and He was. He said He would send His own Son to be our Savior, and He did. Jesus said He would suffer and He suffered. He said He would die and He did. He said He would rise up again on the third day and He did. He said He would follow us around with goodness and mercy, and He does. He said He would never leave nor forsake us and He won’t. God says what he means and means what he says. In every circumstance of life, in every one of our days, when all the dust has settled and when we have done all that we could do and said all we can do, we have good reason to be still, to know that God is God, and to resist crossing over the line from proper concern into sinful worry.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people less and less living and dying with their favorite football team and more and more Dying and Living (with Christ). Less and less worried about what tomorrow might bring and more and more living one day at a time. Less and less blaming others for their troubles and more and more saying they are sorry and crying out for mercy. Less and less listening to the voices of jealousy and rage, more and more listening to the voice of their Good Shepherd. Less and less chasing after money and all that money can buy, more and more staying close to Jesus Christ and all that He is wanting to give. Less and less do they take life’s burdens on own shoulders, more and more they pray, Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand. Amen.
Fourth in a Series of Seven Sermons
Series Theme – “Cornerstone”
Text – Matthew 5:38-48
Dear Christian Friends,
Yahoo! (Mountain Dew!) This past Friday, I was leading a service at the Janesville Nursing Home, there were about 20 folks in attendance, and the first song we sang was “Oh for a 1000 Tongues to Sing.” As nursing home singing goes, we were doing pretty well, and as we sang the last words of the last verse, a sweet little lady I had never seen before shouted out “Yahoo!” To which I responded, of course, Mountain Dew!
I was reminded of that commercial when I looked at the front cover of the bulletin today. It pictures a person a couple feet off the ground rejoicing and being glad. In this sermon series, “Cornerstone”, we are rejoicing and being glad that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our lives, that lives centered on His grace are like homes built on the rock, and that as often as the rains come down and floodwaters start rising and the winds keep blowing, these homes stand strong and solid.
Three weeks ago, we traveled through the beatitudes as a catalogue of God’s promises. Two weeks ago, Pastor Muther introduced the next section of the Sermon on the Mount and focused on Jesus’ thesis statement, “Whoever does the least of these commandments (and all the others), and teaches them, will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Last week, Jesus laid out for us the standards of the kingdom of heaven. We heard Jesus pleading with his people to take a different path than all others, to quote Pastor Muther, to take a path that “seeks to do what others need – not what they want, not what you want them to want, and not what you think they deserve….
At first glance, today’s tex
t seems to be focusing on what we should or should not be doing. Jesus seems to be lecturing His followers on not retaliating when folks do us wrong, on turning the other cheek and going the extra mile, on loving not just the folks we enjoy spending time with but also the folks that rub us the wrong way. A second glance at this text as a portion of the entire Sermon on the Mount helps us to remember that this sermon is first of all a description of Jesus Christ, and secondly of His followers. With that in mind, our theme for the fourth in a series of seven sermons is “It’s All About Jesus.” Two parts to our sermon today, 1)It’s all about what Jesus has done for us and on our behalf in the past, and 2) it’s all about what Jesus is doing in us and for us and through us on behalf of others in the present.
Part I - It’s about what Jesus (has done). Every day, no matter what is going on in our lives, we have good reason to kick up our heels and say how blessed we are. The good reason is that Jesus Christ has already done for us all that He was supposed to do, He has avoided on our behalf all the evil He was supposed to avoid, and He has suffered in our place every bit of pain and sorrow we should have suffered. His obedience to His Father’s will was both passive, and it was active.
(Passive obedience) By refusing to retaliate, He gave us an (example to follow). The writer to the Hebrews says that although He was a son, Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered. And that being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. When it was time for Jesus to suffer under Pontius Pilate and be crucified until he was dead and buried, that’s exactly what happened. Jesus could have resisted every nasty attack on his body, but He didn’t. He could have returned insult for insult, but He didn’t. He didn’t just give the shirt off his back, He gave up His back. He didn’t just go the first mile for us, He went the final mile. He didn’t just give to those who were begging for His help, He gave everything he had for every last sinner in every one of the generations.
Instead of taking matters into His own hands, He left them in His Father’s hand. Instead of calling on a legion of angels to get revenge on his enemies, He asked His Father to forgive them, for they didn’t know what they were doing. Instead of living by the law of the jungle, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, He lived by the prayer he taught us to pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” By not retaliating, by not seeking revenge, by not using his divine powers and knowledge to defend himself, he gave us an example to follow.
(Active obedience) By going to the cross, He engaged (the devil head on). If you happened to be on Facebook in recent weeks and months, you know that there are two kinds of folks when it comes to political conversations. There are those who engage in the battle and those who want nothing to do with it. There are those who love to discuss and debate, even argue about Donald Trump’s latest tweet or executive order and there are those who just want to plug their ears and make it all go away.
The decision to engage or not to engage in the give and take of politics, seems to be neither here nor there. Neither decision seems right or wrong to me, just a matter of personal preference.
But when Jesus invites us to follow Him, He takes the option of non engagement off the table. If you’re going to follow me, Jesus warns, get ready to deny yourselves and take up your crosses not just once in a while, but every day. Go ahead and rest in the fact that your Savior has already run the perfect race, rest in the fact that He has already fought the perfect fight, rest in the fact that Jesus Christ has already paid your entire debt, He has already washed away every one of your sins, He has already won the victory, but do not rest as if the work of the Holy Spirit is done. Do not rest as if there is nothing left for the Church to do. Do not rest as if your race here on earth has been completed.
Lesson #1 today was that following Jesus is all about what He has already done for us and on our behalf in the past. Lesson #2 is that It’s about what Jesus (is doing). This very day, faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. This very day, the Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life and is proceeding from the Father and the son. This very day, Jesus will be out and about in this world, working through the circumstances of life to get people’s attention. This very week, people outside the church will watching those of us on the inside to see if we are practicing the love we keep on preaching. They will either be attracted or repelled by our collective witness, but it’s hard to imagine that our witness could be neutral.
Two truths we want to learn today about what Jesus can do for us and in us and through us as we spend our days refusing to retaliate, and as we pick up our own crosses and engage the enemy forces. First of all we know that the mission of the Church will be moving forward As often as the Spirit works inside of us a desire for (reconciliation). In our text for today, we have four examples of what this desire for reconciliation might look like…..1) turning the other cheek instead of slapping back, 2)giving your coat as well as the shirt off your back instead of taking them to court, 3)walking the second mile instead of only the required first mile, 4)giving to beggars choosing to beg and borrowers wanting to borrow.
In the days of Jesus, if you wanted to insult somebody, especially if you were right handed, as a majority of people are, you would take your right hand and back hand that person’s right cheek. Human nature tells us that if a neighbor insults us, we should insult him right back in order to teach him a lesson. Jesus teaches us to not give way to anger as a way of de-escalating the conflict.
In the days of Jesus, if your neighbor owed you money, you could take him to court and legally take the shirt off his back. Human nature tells us in that situation to stand up for ourselves and make sure people know we can’t be pushed around. Jesus teaches us to go ahead and let him have the shirt and your outer garment as well as a way of helping people to know we are marching to a different drummer than everyone else.
In the day of Jesus, postal carriers were authorized by the government to requisition animals and even people to travel with them for a Roman mile. Human nature tells us to be bitter and to resist such an inconvenience, but Jesus is teaching us to go ahead and be cheerful in going above and beyond for the purpose of engaging folks in Gospel conversations.
Our final truth this morning is to note that the mission of the church will be moving forward As often as His Spirit moves us to practice a (reckless generosity). Regular generosity is when we throw a benefit for the nice woman and kids down the road whose husband died after a long and expensive bout with cancer. Reckless generosity is when we throw a benefit for the family who has fallen on hard times mainly due to drunkenness and bad behavior. Regular generosity is when we forgive folks who are apologizing for hurting us, reckless generosity is when we forgive folks who continue to hurt us and seem not at all bothered by it. Regular generosity is when we let the church borrow our snow blowers and lawn mowers, reckless generosity is when we lend it to the neighbor whose dog and children are constantly annoying us. Regular generosity is when we half of our 50 t shirts to the local thrift store, reckless generosity is when we invite a homeless couple to live in our house until they can get back on their feet. Regular generosity is when we imitate Jesus by listening carefully to the stories of broken hearted folks, reckless generosity is when we engage in an ongoing and perhaps expensive way with those broken hearted folks.
No doubt you have heard the saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. As I read up on the origins of that quote, I found a little twist on that saying that helps us to think about what it means to follow Jesus Christ in a path of non resistance and non retaliation. Imitation is the sincerest form of (worship).
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where less and less interested in insisting on their own rights and more and more focused on doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with their God. Less and less do they yearn for more instructions on how to live and more and more they want to hear Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and coming back again. Less and less do they focus on building bigger and better, more and more they make sure their home has a firm foundation and a solid cornerstone. Less and less do their goals center on the easy and comfortable life, more and more they want to be part of the mission of the Church moving forward. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther