The Shadow of Sadness
Fourth in a Series of Six, The Shadow of the Cross
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What is the point of life?
That’s a question I remember begin asked once last year. I remember it was a Sunday, and we were doing worship service on Sunday morning. There was a gal, a young gal, who had come into the office. I was finishing up service and Pastor Griffin was told that she was back there. He went and I stayed, and we agreed that when it came time for the sermon, he would come back and I would go.
You see, this gal, she had lost the man she loved, the man she thought she would spend the rest of her life with, and she didn’t know what to do. She was lost in the shadow of sadness. I remember coming into the office area, her with tears running down her cheeks, weeping, until she looked up and asked... Will I ever laugh again? Will I ever feel again? What is the point of life?
Have you ever felt like that? Perhaps you lost a loved one, who was very dear to you and you came to this question, what is life without them? Perhaps you lost your way and came to this question, What is the point of all of this busy-ness? Perhaps you came to a day like any other day and still you asked this question, “What’s the point to life?”
You see, we can be tempted on our good days to think that the point of life is to be happy. Don’t get me wrong, I want you to be happy as much as you can be, but the point of life is not to be happy-dappy holly-jolly all the time. No, if the point is to aim at happiness, then you will be questioning your reason to exist in any number of chapters of life. The point isn’t as simple as happiness. How do I know that?
We go to Isaiah 53:3. Now, remember that Isaiah is speaking this with the voice of God as a prophecy about the Messiah. He – and we know him to be Jesus – he was “a man of sorrows.” He was “acquainted with grief.” Read that – that even God himself come to earth was not happy all the time, and that’s not even the deepest meaning! We can go further, that he is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was acquainted, he was familiar with our grief. He knows it intimately, even better than we know it ourselves, and then we go one step further.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Not only has he known sadness himself, not only does he know our sorrow, he also has borne them for us. Not only does he weep with this gal in my office; he bears her grief for her. He has borne it to the cross.
And you see what you’ve already known, dear Christian friends, that this is the point of life, this is the point of our existence, this is the point of life – to know that Christ knows you and loves you in sadness and happiness. To know that you are cared for and that he picked you up in your baptism, he bears you now, carrying you forth in his word, and that he will one day gather all the lambs of his flock into the arms of his mercy and bring them home.
My dear second son, Amos, is far more of a cuddler than Benny was. Benjamin, when he woke up, would sit straight up and be ready to go go go. Amos, on the other hand, when he wakes up, he likes to snuggle. He’ll wake up, want to be in your arms, eyes bright, hands tucked in, just to be there with you.
Here’s the point – the point is that he knows who is holding him. He knows who is with him. He knows the one who bears him will look out for his good.
Happiness will come and go. Sadness will come and go. Laughter will come and go. Grief will come and go. But the man who has borne your griefs also bears you, now and into eternal life.
Amen and Amen.
The Hour of Repentance
March 23 and 24, 2019
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our text for today includes tragedies recorded in history and a parable told by the great story teller himself. This morning Jesus would call us to repentance. Please pray with me……….
As we journey through the Sundays of Lent, our sermon series focuses on these pivotal moments in the Gospel of Luke, these hours of Jesus life, and we remember that the word “hour” doesn’t just mean sixty minutes in the day. The word “hour” rather refers to certain opportune times and particular pivotal moments in the life and ministry of Jesus. Two Sundays ago, we saw Jesus in the hour of temptation, last Sunday in the hour of the trap, and today, in the hour of repentance.
A warning that led to (change)
Those of you 40 or over may remember January 28, 1986 as the day that the space shuttle Challenger exploded and broke apart over the Atlantic Ocean. You may remember that the blame was laid on faulty O-rings that could not maintain their integrity if the temperature fell below freezing. The night before that fateful launch, a man named Allan McDonald who was the Director of the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Motor Project had refused to sign off on the launch because the temperature had dropped below freezing. But the launch took place anyway and turned into a full- fledged disaster. For telling the truth McDonald was removed from his job and demoted. Eventually however, a Presidential Commission vindicated him, he was put back on the job, he led the redesign of the solid fuel boosters, and because of those improvements and 110 successful flights following, astronauts now consider the solid rocket boosters the safest pieces of equipment on the shuttle. This was a tragedy which led to a change of mind, which is the literal meaning of the Greek word for repentance.
Martin Luther’s words about repentance signaled the beginning of the Reformation. They dominated the first four of the 95 Thesis. He said in the first thesis, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, Repent ye! He makes clear that the whole life of His believers is to be a constant or unending repentance.”Our catechism defines repentant believers as those who are sorry for their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. Part 1 of repentance is contrition and part 2 is faith.
Three lessons for today as we explore our Lord’s call for daily repentance to the end that God’s grace would be sweeping over our hearts and homes today, to the end that God’s mercy would be ruling in our church and school in these days, to the end that God’s forgiveness and the fruits of repentance would be making a come back in our nation in this hour.
Lesson #1 is that Every tragedy is a call to (repentance) In our text, the first tragedy was that a group of Galilean Jews who were offering sacrifices in the temple ended up getting slaughtered by Roman soldiers. There were people in that day suggesting that those Galileans who were slaughtered must be worse sinners than all other Galileans, but Jesus looked them in the eyes and said, “you couldn’t be more wrong about the relationship between sin and suffering. Let me tell you, unless you repent, you’re going to die.”
A second tragedy was that a tower that fell on and killed 18 unsuspecting people. There were those who thought it must be a case, to use a 21st century word, it must be a case of karma, these folks must be worse offenders against God’s commandments than the rest of us. Jesus looked them in the eyes, and said, “Wrong again, this tragedy and every tragedy is in fact, a warning for everyone who hears about it to get yourself in front of a mirror, take a good hard look at the way you are thinking and speaking and doing life. Every disaster is an opportunity for you and me to be sorry for our own sins, and opportunity to say out loud, “there but for the grace of God go I”, an opportunity to cry out to your Savior who loves you so much, and to believe with all of your heart and soul and mind that your sins have been forgiven, your debt has been paid in full, heaven is yours.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where the folks hear news reports about billions and billions of dollars of flood damage in nearby cities and states, they hear news reports of Christians being slaughtered in Nigeria and Muslims getting gunned down in New Zealand. They respond by confessing their faults again and again to God, and to one another, that the blood of Jesus Christ might wash over their souls, much like a good hot shower washes away the dirt and the grime day after day.
Lesson #2 is that Every unproductive fig tree is without (excuse). Jesus tells this parable to support his call for repentance and to illustrate God’s patience. We should understand today that God’s patience is long, but not without end. John the Baptist had said it this way to the Pharisees and their buddies, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come…even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees and every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the first.” There is a point at which God in heaven above says, “that’s enough.” I’m reminded of my dad, who would tolerate just a little bit of whining and fussing and complaining, and then he would say, as many of your dads would say, “quit your complaining, or I’ll give you something to complain about.”
In today’s parable, God is the owner of the vineyard, the vineyard is the nation of Israel, and Jesus is the gardener. All that God could do for this vineyard, he has done. For three years now, the gardener has come looking for fruit, and this unproductive fig tree is standing without excuse.
So also do we stand before God without excuse today. Most of us have grown up in the church, and in homes where we have been warned of how dangerous it is to ignore the commandments of God. Many of us have been well catechized by our pastors, we have been taught in a faithful way by our teachers, and we have grown up in homes where the Word of God is front and center.
The preaching and the teaching and the remembering of the Law is meant to stop is in our tracks, to show us our unworthiness, and to make us contrite. The Augsburg Confession defines contrition as the terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin. One pastor Karl Ehlers says it this way, “There is no repentance without sorrow, no regeneration without sorrow, no conversion without sorrow.”
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where increasing numbers of people are sorry. They are sorry for the bad they have done and the good they have failed to do. They are sorry for losing their tempers, they are sorry for throwing themselves pity parties, they are sorry for being stupid. They are sorry for talking before thinking, they are sorry for bad habits into which they have stumbled, they are sorry for walking by on the other side of the road again and again right past those who are wounded and wondering if anybody cares.
Dear friends in Christ, I have really good news for you today, “A broken and a contrite heart, our Lord will never despise.” This is the main responsibility of every pastor that dares to step into the pulpit and preach God’s Word – to let the Gospel have the final word, to let the love of Jesus Christ be the dominating message in our life together.
If lesson #1 1 was that every tragedy is a call to repentance, and if lesson #2 was that every unproductive fig tree is without excuse, then:
Lesson #3 is that Every gardener has the responsibility of both cultivating and (fertilizing). Listen to this vinedresser pleading for the owner to be patient, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.”
You may not want to hear this, but I know something about manure. I used to pitch it and spread it all over the neighborhood on spring Saturdays in the great state. It wasn’t my favorite job in the world, but obviously it needed to be done. You should know that I grew about 30 miles from Gwinner, North Dakota, where the Melroe brothers began to produce Melroe bobcats. I heard about the wonders of those bobcats, and I can remember suggesting to my dad that if we could just make our barn doors a little bit bigger, we could buy a bobcat and get our barns cleaned in a hurry. I’m not even sure if dad dignified my request with words, but if he did, it was something like, “quit being a pill.”
The preaching of the law is like a gardener digging around his plants, and the preaching of the Gospel is like spreading manure, spreading fertilizer. The preaching of the Law is all about loosening up the hard soils of our heart, and the preaching of the Gospel is about nurturing our faith. Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
Dear friends in Christ, three words of Gospel I speak to your hearts today. 1) God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. 2)You and I belong to the world. 3)Therefore God is reconciled unto you and to me. One more time in this Lenten season, I invite you to come to the foot of the cross and even as you do, know that Christ comes to you praying, Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing. Come to your Lord’s Supper again and again, and even as you do, hear Jesus Christ interceding with his father, “give them one more year, and if they bear fruit next year, well and good, but if not, you can cut them down.”
A promise that leads to (turning around)
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town weaving and winding their way to their Annual Meeting, a meeting where their officers are elected, their priorities are set, and their one year plan for ministry is launched. They hear one more time that their sins against God and one another are not remembered in the courtroom of their God. The believe with all of their hearts that their failures and faults have been sent away as far as the east is from the west. Collectively, they breathe one more sigh of relief. They pinch themselves to see if this good news can possibly be true. They turn around and go in a new direction. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
A Good Deposit
Funeral Sermon for Carol Jean
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ.
Today we consider the grace, the mercy, and the peace of Jesus in the life of Carol Jean Muther. We consider God’s grace to her, and we consider God’s grace through her, a grace that has come to all of us.
Two images, two Scriptures, and two thoughts for today as we reflect the life, the death, and most importantly the everlasting life of Carol Jean Muther, and I’m not going to use her first name, because she wouldn’t have wanted that.
Image number one. It was years and years ago that grandma was looking to clean out her garage, which is a story all in itself, and she asked us to come on over and take what we would want to take, and next to the belt grinder, across from one of the chest freezers, kind of wedged by the door, on the ground, behind a miscellaneous small engine or two I found a couple of cast iron skillets. Caked with rust, wrapped in paper towels, sitting on the ground. They were Grandma’s, and when we pulled them out she said, “Oh those are still good. All you have to do it clean them up.” And that’s what we did. Put a little elbow grease into them, re-seasoned them in the oven, and they are to this day, our very favorite skillets. It was a good inheritance, from generation to generation.
And I tell you that to tell you this. It isn’t just cast iron skillets that we inherited. Grandma and Aunt Suz coming to Janesville for the Muther Reunion. It was a production. It was hot, but it was really good. I remember seeing Grandma in the corner of the playroom, with a little plate of something, with a (you knew this was coming) a half cup of hot coffee, seeing Uncle Tim laying on the couch next to her. Our inheritance is being a part of a family. Doing the things that we have all felt as normal our whole lives, that is an inheritance that we see, one that is passed down, one that is what it is because of who grandma was... For example, my sense of humor, like my varicose veins comes from my Dad which comes from Grandma and Grandpa. We wouldn’t be the way that we are if Grandpa wouldn’t have tried to convince everyone to invest in Heinz, because everyone uses ketchup. And Grandma sighed and said, “Oh Bob.”
It is what Paul tells Timothy in his letter, right at the beginning. “As I remember your tears – and there are tears today – I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt in your grandmother and in your mother and now is in you.” This faith that you have is a deposit, a gift, from your parents and your parents’ parents. This faith is a product of a family that saved for a good Lutheran education. This faith is a product of a family that cared for each other in good times and in bad. This faith is a good deposit, an inheritance from generation to generation. To make really good German potato salad. To bear with each other’s weaknesses. To value laughter. To mourn in hope because we know for heaven’s sake, there’s more to life than what we can see. It is an inheritance passed from generation to generation.
Image number two. It’s from her very favorite psalm, Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. You know it well. The last line, surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. The image, the final life, of Jesus Christ following Grandma around, much like Aunt Suz was following Grandma around, much like Grandma was following Aunt Suz around.
Just as in John 10, Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, following Grandma around with goodness and mercy, not only in this life but also for eternity. Dear family, the Christian hope is that instead of a wall, death has become a door. By the death and resurrection of Jesus, instead of an end, death becomes a gate. By the sacrifice of God himself, the Good Shepherd that’s been following Grandma around all of the days of her life is now the Good Shepherd that has led her home.
He has called her by name in her baptism, and no one could ever, ever snatch her out of his hand.
Jesus Christ was born into this world for Carol’s sake. He was crucified and buried to pay for Grandma’s salvation. He died with a picture of her in his heart. He was raised to life again with her name on his lips.
Her life in a place where the eggs sandwiches are as good they get, where there is no more back pain, where there are no more tears, where life is not hard anymore, where the homemade ladders are not wobbly, where the tips are always good, and where her family, the one she loved in life, becomes the family of Christ forever and ever.
And like Grandpa, she’s never been arrested.
Amen and amen.
The Hour of the Trap
Second in a series of five, The Hour Has Come
Luke 13:31–35 // Philippians 3:17–4:1 // Jeremiah 26:8-15
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today involves local politics, global politics, it involves the Pharisees, Herod the ruler of Galilee, Pontius Pilate and the High Priest, but most of all, it involves Jesus. And so, I would invite you to pray for your preacher in this moment, pray that the Word of the Lord would be living and active as it is sown today..... Amen.
Dear friends in Christ,
As we journey through the Sundays of Lent, our sermon series focuses on these pivotal moments in the Gospel of Luke, these hours of Jesus’s life, remembering that the word hour doesn’t just mean sixty minutes in the day. The word hour in our text refers to these opportune times, these pivotal moments, these crucial stories and teachings that give light to what happens before and after. Today, we see Jesus in the hour of the trap.
Three images I want to put before you today. Picture this, a rabbit smelling some delicious food, cautious but getting close and closer, seeing no one, just the food in front of him, he ventures near until the metal door swings up and he is trapped.
Picture this, playing chess, knowing that you’re not in control, but still thinking that you have a chance, moving, surviving, striking back until you can see that they have their queen and their bishop and their rook, all ready. You realize this was their game all along. They haven’t won yet, but there’s no way you can win anymore. You are trapped.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany. He was a German pastor during the time of WWII. He was in America studying when Hitler came to power, and he had the chance to stay in America, to leave his homeland that seemed to be inevitably falling into fascism, suspicion, and Nazism, but he didn’t. He returned to Germany, even as he saw the trap closing around him. He was asked to become an agent of the state as he lectured in countries outside of Germany, and though he knew the Nazis would find out, he still passed information off to the Allies. He started an underground seminary even though he knew it would be found and shut down. He participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler, even though he knew it could fail. The trap, a trap that he could see, was closing in around him.
Or think of Jesus in our text for today. He walked out of his hometown when they wanted to stone him. The Pharisees were turning against him. Herod the Great had wanted to kill him when he was born and now Herod Antipas may have put his cousin John to death.
Four lessons as we consider the trap in our text for today.
First. Almost always, our motivations are (mixed). Consider the Pharisees. Not as caricatures but as real people. Consider their history, as the ones who held the Jewish faith together when everything was falling apart. Consider that they are looking at Jesus rocking the boat that they’ve spent so much to keep upright. Consider what happens forty years after Jesus is crucified: their fears are realized. The temple is destroyed; the Jewish people are punished.
Their hearts may have been moved by Jesus’s message, but they had other concerns, other things pulling them in other directions. Political realities. Social concerns. Basic survival.
Almost always, our motivations are mixed. A parent disciplines, not only for the good of the child, but just so that you can get a little sanity for yourself. You tell your friend the truth of what was bugging you, not only to let them know, but because it felt good to say it straight, and it gives you a little moral high ground to stand on.
Create in me a pure heart, O God. Our hearts, our desires, our motivations, almost always, are mixed. God, only you can create in me a clean heart.
Second. Almost always, the forces that act on us are (complex). It’s not just one piece that’s moving against you. It’s multiple forces, pushing and pulling you in different directions, moving parts upon moving parts as you try to make sense of your surroundings and your goals, and even they are a moving target.
If you read any scientific study these days, they typically end with the same thought: whatever we studied is not a silver bullet, or a magic pill. It’s only one factor out of many in a complex relationship.
Herod, Pontius Pilate, the institution of the Pharisees, the crowds around Jesus. His disciples. And all these could cloud what mattered: Jesus doing the will of his Father.
The forces that act on us are complex. You see this in Bonhoeffer’s life in Nazi Germany. I remember thinking as an 8thgrader, “How could they let this happen? It’s so clear what was happening around them.” There are countless other faithful Lutheran pastors that didn’t make the difference that he did. Martin Niemoeller, he was one that tried to work with the government, tried to work within the system, to no avail. There were others that believed the government propaganda saying that reports of concentration camps were a lie. There were others that believed the government would listen reason.
It wasn’t that he didn’t have the rest of this going on; Bonheoffer just knew what was more important than the rest.
Third. Always, our God’s love is the (same). I’m going to pull out a phrase that I haven’t used for a while. God’s love is a love on the far side of complexity. It isn’t that God disregards these powers; it isn’t that he doesn’t get we have mixed motivations; it isn’t that the forces in the world aren’t complex.
It’s just that the way that only God can do, the greatest of all truths. In a way that only God can do, the will of the Father gets done through these forces and despite our motivations. In a way that only God can do, Herod contributed to the salvation of the world, and would that he would have repented of his part in it and followed the cross of his savior!
Always, our God’s love is the same. He is love in every instance, everything that he does. To be crucified for our sin is the most loving thing. If God is love, then to call Herod a fox is the most loving thing that he could do.
Fourth. Always, our response is the (same). We go back to Bonhoeffer. The trap did close around him. The last months of his life were spent in a prison awaiting execution. His Writings and Letters from Prison are poignant and heartfelt.
In the face of death, what did he do? He followed through on his vocation. He loved his neighbor as himself. He was a pastor to those around him. He sung his hymns and remembered that death is not the end, that even facing death by execution, death has been wrestled to the ground. Life had overcome death. And eternal life, for the sake of our savior, is yours.
Amen and amen.
In the Ashes
Grace, mercy and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down! That’s the end to a nursery rhyme that Benny just started really liking. He would take the hands of his cousins, ring around and around, until the closing line, Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
We all do fall down, don’t we? That’s what it means to put these ashes on your head. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I say this to my sons, to my wife, as I put that cross of ash on their heads. Benny, you are dust, and to dust you will return. Amos, you two little handfuls of human, you are dust, and to dust you will return.
You, you were made from dust and to dust you will return.
These ashes once had a life. They were once something big. But this is the story of big things becoming little. Great things becoming little. Alive things becoming dead. These ashes once had a life, but like everything, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Living becomes dead.
But ashes, for us, are a only the next-to-last chapter. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
What do you do when you’re done with the game? Do you stay down? No, ashes, ashes, we all rise up!
That’s our text. To grant to those who mourn in Zion -- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning.
It’s our Christian hope that ashes are not our end. It’s our Christian hope that these ashes will rise up on the last day. It’s our Christian hope that Christ will raise me and all the dead and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.
Lent is a journey of repentance, a journey from sin to grace, from hate to love, from death to life.
Worship Sermons & Letters