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.
Big Words: But
Fourth in a series of five
Genesis 3:8-15 // 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 // Mark 3:31-35 // Romans 5:8
Dear friends in Christ,
We are exploring a sermon series in these days called “Big Words.” So very often in the English language the words that have the greatest depth of meaning aren’t the longest and the most complicated but instead are the simplest. Little words, like go, be, with, but, and for. It’s tough to start a sentence without them. In this sermon series, we examine five little words, we ask what they mean and how they help us to express the depth of our theology. Three weeks ago, as we celebrated Pentecost, and we focused on the word “Go,” remembering the mission of God is both near and far. After that, we celebrated Holy Trinity Sunday, remembering the great mystery of who are God is, we focused on the word, “Be.” Last week, we moved into the great green season of Pentecost, the season of growth, as we looked at the word with.
Next week, during Hay Daze weekend, Pastor Griffin will lead us through “For.” Today, we meditate on the word “But.” What does that word mean?
I’ll tell you this: it is unlike the other words that we have encountered. Other words have a great variety of meaning, 10 or more definitions on how you can use a little word. But only really has one meaning.
It is adversative. It contrasts one thing against another. Yet, Nevertheless, however, still, despite that, in spite of, although. That is to say, things have followed a different course than the way your sentence started.
I woke up today happy, but – on the other hand -- Benjamin woke up sad.
I thought I would get to eat a piece of cake, but it was all gone.
I think my sermons are pretty short, but… some people would like them longer.
But again, this word is everywhere. You can’t talk for too long without running into this word again and again. You can’t go more than a few sentences before you have to use it. There is no substitute for the word, “But,” for the concept of reversal.
And dear friends, as many of my confirmands might know, everyone in the Bible has a big but. Adam has a big but. Moses had a big but. David has a big but. You and I have big buts.
Or, to say it in a different way, our Bible is full of reversals. Adam was created perfect, BUT he fell into sin. Moses led the people Israel out of slavery, BUT never got to set foot in the Promised Land. David was a man after God’s own heart, BUT he fell to adultery. Solomon had all the wisdom of the whole world, BUT he erred into foolishness. Gideon was cowardly, BUT God still worked through him to save his people.
And then, we see the greatest reversal of all: Jesus had no sin, but he took on the sin of the whole world. We were dead in our trespasses, but our God sent his son.
Reversal. It happens in each and every one of our stories – yours and mine -- and it happens in different ways. One story for today, three reversals, all three reversals found in our Scripture as well. First, a reversal the way we see our sin, second a real reversal of the course of human history, and third a reversal of the way we see our story.
There is a woman, connected to this congregation, living in Janesville, years before I got here. She looked like she had it all together: a family, a husband, a house, a job, but underneath the surface, things were not what they seemed.
She was addicted to meth. Her husband was addicted too. I don’t know who bit that apple first, but it didn’t take long before the life that they lived was a sham. She would sneak out of the house. He would cover. They started selling things to feed their habit. Things were not as they seemed. As her life, her health, her marriage started falling apart, no one really knew how to help her, and she didn’t even really want help herself, until one day when it all came crashing down. She had a warrant out for her arrest. She had our police chief knocking at her door.
And she said to me, “The day when Chief Ulmen arrested me, he was being my best friend. I didn’t think it at the time, but I look back, and I know.”
Reversal number one is, sometimes the But, the reversal, is in the way we see our sin. This is the reversal we see in our Old Testament reading; that moment when our perception catches up with our reality. That moment when the consequences catch up with our actions. That moment when Adam and Eve, who were absolutely perfect in every way eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they run away from reality. They react by thinking, “If we get away from what we had done, everything would be fine.” Have you ever thought that?
But the kindest thing that their God could do for them – the absolute kindest thing…. Is to be their best friend, to confront their sin, to draw near to them, to be WITH them, as we said last week and to let Adam and Eve see reality.
This gal, her world came crashing down. She saw how low she had gotten. Our church, we helped her out as she limped along. We helped her keep her house for a little bit longer. We helped to do some things, but eventually she left. She went through hard times. She hit rock bottom. She realized that she needed help. She realized she couldn’t do it alone. And her faith was the key to her change.
Point number two is that the reversal, the But, is that God changes reality. We find our Epistle reading. Our God doesn’t just help us see clearly; he changes the course of history. He doesn’t just let us look positively; he makes dead things alive. He brings to nothing the things that are. He uses the things that are not. He loves the unlovable and by his miracle they love him back. He pursues the faithless and by his miracle makes them faithful. He takes the universe on the crash course to annihilation and destruction, and by the most unlikely of means, by the death of the author of life, he brings eternal life and forgiveness to his enemies.
By your baptism, you are born into the story that changes human history. By the Supper, you are eating and drinking the body and blood that stem the tide of hatred and bloodshed, that bring forgiveness that only God can give. By his Word he feeds you that which is of more substance than any other word you could hear.
How do I know this story that started so long before my time here? Well, that gets us to reversal number three. I can tell you, I wouldn’t know it. I wouldn’t know our part in it, except for last year this young woman came on into the office and Pastor Griffin was out – he might’ve been on vacation... She stepped into my office to say thank you. Thank you for the part that Trinity played in her life, whether we knew how things would end or not. Thank you for the part we played as her Lord grabbed ahold of her time and time again.
Thank you. How can a person say thank you after a life of felonies, of jail time, of struggle, of loss? I would submit to you that for the Christian, this question leads us to the final reversal for today, from the Gospel reading. Sometimes, the But is that God bids us look back at the sin and brokenness and failure of our past, and he bids us see it through his eyes.
It’s not that what she had done had changed; it’s that her values changed. It is not that the facts changed; it is that her perspective has become a heavenly perspective. The curse of the serpent in the Garden becomes the first reading of the Gospel. The death of God leads to his resurrection and the resurrection of all flesh.
In the Gospel reading, we hear some hard words, but I’ll tell you this: Jesus’ mother was still his mother, his brothers were still his brothers. That doesn’t change. Think to the end of John’s Gospel, one of Jesus’s last seven words on the cross is to John and to his mother. Woman, this is your son. This is your mother. He says, in overwhelming love, “John, take care of my mom.” He still loved his mom and his brothers – one of his brothers went on to become (traditionally) the writer of the book of James.
But in Mark 3, Jesus is inviting a different perspective. He is reminding us that the kingdom of heaven binds us more deeply than our ties of blood. He is reminding us that the most meaningful connection we have with anyone is that we are sons and daughters of the same Heavenly Father. That all of our life, the good and the bad and everything in between, is ordered to that point, so that men might see our good deeds – and the confession of our faults – and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.
In counseling, as men and women come into our offices, broken by their own sin and broken by the sin of others, the comforting prayer that we can offer them is that it is your God’s firm desire that all the brokenness and emptiness and flaw and failure of our lives can and will in his time be used in your witness to those around you. All of the pain and bitterness and tears that you have now can and will be part of the great backdrop of God’s grace and his mercy through the pain and the storm. We are firm believers that these stories will one day allow you to speak when someone really needs to hear that you’ve been there, and you’ve come out the other side.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town, trusting that God is writing their story every week -- in his word, with his sacraments. They mess up just about as much as anyone else messes up, but they have this curious habit of asking for forgiveness and giving, this curious habit of holding onto the hope held out to them in the face of all that would cause them to mourn and doubt, this curious habit of remembering again and again that their savior has conquered all that needs to be conquered, and their lives are in his hands.
Amen and Amen.
Big Words: With
Third in a series of five
Deuteronomy 5:12-15 // 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 // Mark 2:23-28
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon includes meditation on the three texts read, as well as from a familiar Christmas text, one that quotes from Isaiah the prophet, Matthew 1:23, “You shall call his name Immanuel, which means God-With-Us.” Our texts thus far.
Dear friends in Christ,
We are exploring a sermon series in these days called “Big Words.” So very often in the English language the words that have the greatest depth of meaning are the simplest. Words like go, be, with, but, and for. In this sermon series, we examine five little words, we ask what they mean and how they help us to express the depth of our theology.
Two weeks ago, as we celebrated Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Jesus was raised from the dead, ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven, and we focused on the word “Go.” Last week, as we celebrated Holy Trinity Sunday, remembering the great mystery of who are God is, we focused on the word, “Be.” The last sentences of our pastor’s corner last week really summarize the sermon: “Who God is has made you and me. Who God is has redeemed you and me. Who God is sanctifies you and me.”
In the coming weeks, we will study the words “But” and “For.” Today, we meditate on the word “With.” What does it mean – and here we can help but build on last week’s sermon – what does it mean to be with?
The dictionary suggests that with can mean alongside, to go with someone. It can mean against. I’m fighting with you. It can be an adverb. Eat your food with joy. It can indicate relationship. I’m with her. One dictionary had no less than 10 definitions for the way we use this word.
This is a really interesting word, because we see it and its ramifications all throughout the Old and New Testaments. It is everywhere, and this little four-letter word. In Genesis, God is with Adam and Eve until they eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and they no longer fell like they can be with God. God is angry with them. God sends them outside of the Garden, separated from paradise, without paradise. The Exodus story begins with the Lord hearing his people and drawing near them to be with them. When he is with them the angel of death passes over them.
Isaiah 43: When you walk through the deep waters, I will be – and here’s that word again, WITH you, for – and this is a throwback to last week’s “BE”, I AM the LORD your God. Do you notice that? I AM the one who is, and when the One-Who-Is is WITH you, the troubles of life will not overtake you. If you’ve ever read your way through Ezekiel, you can find his plaintive and simple refrain: All this is for the point that I will be your God and you will be my people. So that I can be with you. The promise of the angel at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel: He will be called Immanuel, God-With-Us. Jesus’s great promise that bookends Matthew’s Gospel: I will be – you can guess it – with you always, to the very end of the age. St. John in his Revelation writes, “Amen! The dwelling place of God is with man, and he will live with them.
And guess what. That’s just the tip of the biblical iceberg. As you can probably guess about many biblical subjects, I could go on and on. But stay with me. Soooo, what does it mean to be “with”? The presence of God. That God is not distant but near. That God dwells in the midst of messy human drama. God is active in his presence in creation. The presence of God.
Today we look behind our texts and readings, not so much focusing on the content of the reading – the Old and New Testament are all about the Sabbath and Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath, but instead seeing the movement of our God in the text…. And asking the question, what does it mean for him to be “with” us?
From our Old Testament reading, to be withGod means guidance. It’s not just in the little snippet we have; it’s in the entire section. Moses is reading again the entirety of the Law to the people of Israel as they enter into the Promised land. They are remembering again that their God has come near in order to reveal to them the way that they are to go. Not only in this section about the Sabbath but throughout the Law, God is giving his people a rhythm that allows them the most opportunity to do exactly what he reminds them of at the end of our passage: “You shall remember that you were a slave and the Lord God brought you out from Egypt with a mighty hand.”
There’s at least one person that I talk to every week, who’s asked me to ask them questions, keep them accountable, help guide them. One particular person comes to my office and I meet with them week after week. What does my presence in her life do? Not much. I have no expertise. I can give very little good advice, but what I can do is be there to ask her questions, what I can do is be there week after week in order to give accountability and guidance. That’s what keeps people moving ahead. That’s one reason to be with people.
So, do you afford yourself opportunities to remember on a regular basis how much your God has done for you? Do you use the rhythm of our worship service to inform the rhythm of your day-to-day life? When life doesn’t go as planned, what’s the first word that comes to mind? Is it a word of praise? Of prayer? Or something else? To be with God means guidance.
Second, to be with God means transformation. That dovetails with last week’s sermon – “Who God is has redeemed you and me.” And we see it in our Gospel lesson. To be with Jesus for the disciples meant that the rhythm of Sabbath rest wasn’t abolished, but it is deepened. It wasn’t that there wasn’t a Sabbath, but it is that the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. Here’s the truth behind that truth: When the almighty, incarnate revelation of God, Jesus Christ comes into contact with anything, his presence transforms it.
Lutherans have a word for this, a word that not many other Christian denominations understand as deeply as we do. The word is “vocation,” or calling.
It’s the idea that all the facets of your life are made meaningful, and that meaning is transformed because of the calling of Jesus Christ to know what you are doing in relation to him! What you do, every second of the day, is significant, because it is part of the story that culminates on the cross. It is significant, because through your hands and your feet, your God is working to bring the whole universe to a close in Jesus Christ, not by fire and violence and war and pestilence – even though that is here and it will surely come – but by your hands and feet he is working the kingdom of God -- the presence of his son – in the lives of everyone who knows you.
Third, the presence of Jesus, our God with us, means life in the midst of death. I’ve said before, all the biggest event of life are never convenient. Births rarely come when you expect them. Children are born whenever they are born; just talk to a couple pregnant for the first time to know what helpless feels like. Children take over your life and they don’t give it back for a long time. Death comes when it comes. I’ve seen people who die quickly, before help can even come. I’ve seen others live on after all the machines are taken away, for hours, for days, even a week.
What does that do to a family? Not knowing how long they have to wait?
I can tell you this: those moments are not easy, but they are good. I was with a family in Rochester this last week, as they gathered in his last hours asking, aching to receive the hope that only Jesus can give, in the word, in his Sacraments. It got hot in the room. There were tears. But as we shared the hope that comes with eating the bread which is Christ’s body, drinking the wine which is Christ’s blood, and knowing in our hearts and confessing with our lips what Paul writes, that even when our jars of clay break, even when we carry death in our bodies, the life of Jesus is with us.
And in that moment, there is an unearthly peace and a godly strength. It doesn’t mean that tears don’t flow. But it means that peace can surpass our understanding.
Being there in those last moments, it puts us into a far deeper rhythm of life than we normally want to know. It slows us down to be present – to be WITH – this one whom we love, even if he isn’t there in the way we want him to be.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who plans out his days, even as he knows that the presence of his God will often lead him to all sorts of unplanned fruit. The kingdom of heaven is like a community where people ask questions, where people take the time to be with others, and that draws them together in a deeper way than words can tell. The kingdom of heaven is how God decided to make himself to man by becoming a man, by being with man in all the trials of a sinful life, yet being without sin and dying a death that transforms our life.
Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters