Third in a Series of Sermons, “Yet”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Perhaps you have heard this story, a man was trapped in his house during a flood. He began praying to God to rescue him. He had a vision in his head of God’s hand reaching down from heaven and lifting him to safety. The water started to rise in his house. His neighbor urged him to leave and offered him a ride to safety. The man yelled back, “I am waiting for God to save me.” The neighbor drove off in his pick-up truck.
The man continued to pray and hold on to his vision. As the water began rising in his house, he had to climb up to the roof. A boat came by with some people heading for safe ground. They yelled at the man to grab a rope they were ready to throw and take him to safety. He told them that he was waiting for God to save him. They shook their heads and moved on.
The man continued to pray, believing with all his heart that he would be saved by God. The flood waters continued to rise. A helicopter flew by and a voice came over a loudspeaker offering to lower a ladder and take him off the roof. The man waved the helicopter away, shouting back that he was waiting for God to save him. The helicopter left. The flooding water came over the roof and caught him up and swept him away. He drowned.
When he reached heaven and asked, “God, why did you not save me? I believed in you with all my heart. Why did you let me drown?” God replied, “I sent you a pick-up truck, a boat and a helicopter and you refused all of them. What else could I possibly do for you?”
God sent in no fewer than three rescue teams, yet he would not be rescued. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus came walking over the water to rescue His disciples, yet their first reaction was to be terrified. Today’s sermon is the third in a series of sermons, “Yet.” Our first sermon was of Herod who was perplexed by John the Baptist, yet heard gladly. Last week was of Christ feeding the multitudes with five loaves and two fish, yet it was the hands of the disciples who fed them.
Our texts these three weeks speak of paradox, of two truths that seem to contradict each other. The Bible is full of paradox, as in “blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted” and “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” and “many who are first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
In II Corinthians, Paul delivers in writing a veritable festival of paradox, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true, as unknown, and yet well known, as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
Two parts to our sermon today, both stated in terms of paradox. Lesson #1 is that the disciples knew Jesus well, yet they struggled to recognize Him. It is appropriate that today’s Old Testament reading and our Gospel both deal with watercraft. Ever since Noah took his little congregation of seven aboard the ark, watercraft have been a metaphor for the church. Frequently in Scripture, ships and boats have been used to represent the church. In our Baptism liturgy, we pray that the little ones would be kept safe and secure in the ark of the Christian Church, kept separate from the multitudes of unbelievers.
Already before this miracle took place, the disciples knew Jesus well, yet they frequently did not understand. They knew that Jesus could calm a storm in three words or less, and yet they were anxious. They knew that Jesus could heal lepers and men filled with demons and paralytics, and yet they had no idea he could multiply a little bit of food and feed thousands of people. They knew Jesus could walk on water, yet when they saw Him doing so they thought it was a ghost. They knew Jesus as well as anybody has ever known Jesus, yet their first reactions to the circumstances of life are to shriek and to shrink away in sheer terror.
Even after Jesus had identified Himself as the Great I Am, even after Jesus had stepped into the boat, even after the winds had stopped blowing and the waves had ceased their crashing, even then Mark records, “they were utterly astounded….they did not comprehend the feeding of the multitude, their hearts continued to be hardened.”
If we take time to study the history of Israel, we see that this hardness of heart is not at all new or unusual. God sent plague after plague to free Israel from Egypt, yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. God opened up the Red Sea so Israel could walk through in miraculous fashion; He drowned the army in the sea, food appeared on the ground every morning out of nowhere, rocks gave forth water to quench thirst, God Almighty revealed His presence as a cloudy pillar of fire and smoke. Yet, they too, had hardness of the heart.
The early disciples were dull. They were slow to see answers to questions they were asking. Jesus stilled the waves, yet they didn’t see. He healed the sick, yet they didn’t understand. They were right there when He fed the multitude, yet they didn’t catch a glimpse. Time and again, their hearts went soft, and then back again to a spirit of stubbornness and status quo.
To this very day, Christians have hardness of heart. We believe, misbelieve and disbelieve at the same time. We trust and we worry and we pray and back again to doing it all over again. We fear God one hour and men the next. We are famous for trying to serve two masters at the same time. We are still and know that God is God one day and kick and scream our way through the next one. Back and forth we go, loving our God with almost all of our hearts and souls, but not quite. We see Jesus as we eat and drink at His Holy Meal on Sunday mornings and wonder where He is in our lives Sunday afternoon and evenings and beyond. Lesson #1 is to realize that like the early disciples, we may know Jesus well, but we still have this bad habit of not recognizing Him when the waves are crashing and the winds are ferocious. Recently, I spoke to a Christian woman who is going through all kinds of trouble, and she wondered out loud where God was in all of that trouble. My first reaction wonder along with her why her story had to include so much pain, and then I heard myself saying to her, “I don’t know where God is in all of that, but I do know where you can find Him.” To which she replied, “Where is that?” At which time I pointed her to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and her Lord’s Supper. Which brings us to our second lesson today.
Lesson #2 is good news. It’s really good news. In the language of paradox, it is this: We keep on taking two steps backwards, yet Christ keeps on stepping forward. In our Gospel lesson for today, the sluggish faith of the disciples does not deter Jesus. They land on the Galilean shore near Gennesaret, and soon the people recognized Him. They brought their sick friends and neighbors to Jesus, and they healed them. They pleaded for the chance just to touch His garments and be healed, and so it happened.
To this very day, the outward appearances of life make it seem as though the Church is losing the battle, yet Jesus Christ has already stepped forward to a little hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Like a lamb he was slaughtered, yet as a shepherd He rose up and won the great victory. Like stupid sheep, we keep on going astray, yet our Good Shepherd keeps on pursuing us. We keep on losing ground with our bad habits, but Christ and His Church keep gaining. In recent days, your pastors have seen it happening again and again. In this corner of the kingdom, a young man’s body gets ruined by cancer, yet his faith and the faith of dozens of family members grows by leaps and bounds. In that corner over there, a marriage ends in disaster, yet in the quiet of the night both parties cry out for the forgiveness of sins, and even before they an utter the words, forgiveness is granted. Two steps backwards, but the Kingdom of God moves forward.
Not too far away from here is a young man caught up in meth addiction again, and off to the hospital he goes and then gets thrown back in county jail. It looks as if the devil has won yet another battle and as if all is lost. Yet a slender young pastor steps into his little space with a listening ear, a Bible and a particular word written by Paul to the Romans, “The good that I want to do, I do not do, but the evil I do not want I do,” At which point Pastor Muther said his eyes came open and he said, “that’s me. When it comes to using, I feel like I can’t help it. I know what I should do. I know what will happen to me if I don’t, but I still can’t help it.” In the loneliest of surroundings, Christ is recognized, grace is received, and heaven is tasted, two steps backwards, but Christ moves ahead..
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town that keeps on falling short, yet the royal banner keeps on standing tall. Their roof and walls may be leaking, but their foundation is firm. Some days their efforts are strong, and other days not so strong at all, yet in every one of their days, their Savior is walking towards the, standing with them, and out in front of them. Their first reaction to so many of life’s setbacks is to be terrified, but as often as they think it through, as often as they remember what they have learned from their mother’s knees, as often as they pay attention to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, as often as they eat and drink at the Holy Supper, as often as they hold on to the very obvious fact that the rescue mission has already been completed, as often as they fix their eyes on the rainbow, that often they are made well. Still they get terrified, but always, they know they have been saved.
Wedding of Amber Williams and Brandon Ness
Colossians 3:12-17 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Dear Christian Friends,
In my world, it doesn’t really matter whether the clothing I wear matches. It’s what’s on the inside that matters. In Debi’s world, it matters. In my world, all shades of blue will match with each other, and if I wear brown socks with black shoes and gray pants, nobody will really care. In Debi’s world, people really care. In my world, it wasn’t a problem the other morning when I dressed for our walk with gray shorts with a light green stripe, a bright red t shirt, blue shoes with orange shoe laces, and my John Deer cap. In Debi’s world, it was a problem. She took a look at me and cringed. I took a look at her face and said, “What? Are you upset about something?” She looked straight ahead and said, “It’s obvious you have stopped caring about the clothes you wear.”
This afternoon, the two of you obviously care about the clothes you are wearing. Amber, you are beautiful in a stunning kind of a way. And Brandon, you look alright too.
You both have done a lot of work to prepare yourselves spiritually and emotionally for getting married. We’ve talked very honestly about marriage in our premarital counseling sessions. I believe you’re more than ready to enter the institution of marriage, which Pastor Muther likes to say on the one hand will be the best thing you’ll ever do, and on the other hand, it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.
One of the readings you chose for today is Colossians 3, and our theme is “Dressed For Success.” When you take off your wedding clothes, what are you going to put on? How does one dress for success in a marriage? What are you going to wear that will help you ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after?
First thing each morning, we would invite you to make the sign of the cross and to remember that in Holy Baptism you were clothed with a robe of righteousness purchased and won for you by Jesus Christ at the cross. In that moment, your parents and Godparents saw to it that you were dressed for success in all the chapters of life.
Our text for today suggests an inner garment, no fewer than six regular garments, and an overcoat.
First there is the inner garment of compassion. Literally, compassion means a heart of pity. It is an inner attitude you would have towards each other. It is a fullness of tender caring for and about the other’s vulnerability and strengths, and it will overflow into how you treat each other privately and publicly. It is not something you can muster up by yourselves, it will flood through your souls and your hearts and your minds as often as you cry out for the mercy of God. As often as you admit that you are by nature messed up, mismatched, and inclined towards misbehavior. Mission #1 each morning is to receive all of the grace and mercy and tender loving care that God is wanting to give you, and Mission #2 is give it away as fast and as best you can. In this way, you will be dressing for success in God’s eyes.
Secondly, there are the regular garments of kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance and forgiveness.
Kindness is a garment with healing in its wings. It is proactive and goes on the offensive looking for ways to befriend and be helpful
Humility is a garment that gets down on its knees and stays low. It thinks more highly of others than itself. It recognizes its own sinfulness and appreciates all that God has done for sinners in Christ. Gentleness is a garment of self-control. It is not a spinelessness that bows before every breeze or refuses to take a stand on any principle. The gentle spirit will not be easily provoked to fits of rage and would rather suffer injury than inflict it. Patience will not bear a grudge and refuses to harbor thoughts of revenge when wronged. It is a defensive strategy that prevents all kinds of molehills from becoming mountains.
Amber and Brandon, if you’re going to dress for success, Mission #1 each morning is to be still and know that God is God, and Mission #2 is to help others to do the same. Mission #1 is to remember that Jesus Christ was stripped naked on your behalf, and when sinners in every generation stripped all of his garments away, all that remained was love for those very sinners. Mission # 2 walk alongside of each other and others helping them to know for certain that Jesus loves them without condition, without hesitation, and without exception. Mission #1 is to relax in knowing your Savior’s humility, His gentleness, and His patience, and to help others relax as well.
Paul continues by writing, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. In his book, “This Momentary Marriage,” John Piper writes about forgiveness and forbearance as that which to be emphasized even more than romance and enjoying each other. He says that marriage is first of all about keeping your promises to each other and only in a secondary way about staying in love. Three truths he would want us to know. 1)There is going to be conflict based on sin, we need to forgive sin and bear with strangeness, and sometimes you won’t even agree on which is which; 2) The hard rugged work of forgiving and forbearance is what makes it possible for affections to flourish even when they seem to have died. 3) God gets glory when two very different and very imperfect people forge a life of faithfulness in the furnace of affliction by relying on Christ.
Brandon, no doubt you have noticed that Amber is a sinner, but have you noticed that she can be strange? And Amber, no doubt in mind that you have observed Brandon as a sinner, but have you noticed that he can be strange? If you need an example of strangeness, I simply refer you back to the opening story of how my idea of matching clothes isn’t really sinful, it’s just what Debi considers strange. Not really wrong, just different! Forgive each other’s sins as Christ as forgiven you. Bear with each other’s strangeness, as Christ has first of all bore with you.
Finally, we come to the outer garment of love which is able to bind all of these virtues together in perfect unity. We have talked in pre marriage counseling about the different kinds of love necessary in your marriage. The love which you will be promising today is agape love, the love which is always wanting to give and never concerned about getting paid back. The love which is always ready to sacrifice and never concerned about whether your partner has done his or her share.
Brandon, here’s where I want to put the pressure on you, and I ask you never to forget that you are to love this beautiful bride in the same way that Christ has loved his not so beautiful bride, the Church. If you want to be dressed for success, from this moment on, your first assignment is to make this marriage all about Amber Elizabeth-Williams Ness. At the same time and in every one of your days you are to rest and not get your rest. What I mean by that is that on the one hand you are to rest in the all sufficient grace and never ending mercy and omnipotence of Almighty God, on the other hand you are to get no rest. As Jesus Christ would not be distracted and would get no rest until He made His way to Jerusalem and as He would get no rest until He had suffered everything He was appointed to suffer and as He would get no rest until He was spit at and slapped and whipped and cursed and beaten bloody and crucified, dead and buried on behalf of His not so beautiful bride……….so are you to get no rest in any one of your days until you have listened to every word she wants to say to you. We want you to get no rest until you have done everything you could do and said everything you could say and suffered every bit of unfairness you could suffer for this one simple purpose – to help her be as happy as she is today. To help her be all that she can be. To help her feel like she is the luckiest young lady in Mankato, MN.
Amber, from this moment on, your main assignment is to receive. To receive and to rest in and to enjoy all of that love and all of that kindness and all of that patience and all of that compassion and all of that gentleness and all of that humility and all of that forgiveness and all of that forbearance brought your way by this well dressed young man. And then, as time permits, to give it right back to Brandon in the form of respect.
The kingdom of God is like a couple who soiled themselves with their own self-centeredness someday. Other days, they fell into traps of crabbiness and stubbornness. Still other days, they came up way short in the arena of patience and kindness. But praise be to God that in every one of their evenings, they found each other’s hands under the covers, and in the quietness of the night, they prayed 1)forgive us all the ways we have fallen short today, and 2)tomorrow, Lord, do help me to bear with my lover’s strangeness. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Second in a Series of Three Sermons – “Yet”
Mark 6:30 – 44
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our texts in this three part sermon series speak of paradox, as Pastor Muther would say, “two things that don’t come together, are in fact opposed to each other.” As Jesus would say, “Blessed are those who mourn” and “Many who are first shall be last, and many who are last shall be first.” Last Sunday, King Herod was perplexed by John the Baptist, yet he listened to him gladly. Next Sunday, we will see that the disciples were terrified by Jesus walking on water, even as they were rescued by Him. Today we see that Jesus fed the multitude in miraculous fashion, yet it was the disciples’ hands that distributed the food. Christ’s Work, Yet Our Hands.
In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul offers no fewer than seven paradoxical truths in less than 50 words. He writes, “we are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live, as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
In last Sunday’s sermon, we met up with Herod, who was at the same time perplexed and delighted with the teachings of John the Baptist. Even though Herod knew that John was a righteous and holy man, he saw to it that John was arrested and bound and put in prison. Even though he wanted to protect and release John from prison, he ended up issuing the command for John to be beheaded. In the verses immediately preceding our text for today, Herod had permitted John’s disciples to take the body without a head and bury it. The time was about a year before Jesus’ own death. Jesus died at the Passover, and John the Baptist’s bloody death pointed forward to that of Jesus.
While John’s body was without a head, this morning, I invite you to think of what it would be like to have a head without a body. In pre marriage counseling, I often ask couples if the husband is going to be the head of the wife, and most often they say no. Next, I ask “if the husband is the head, what does that make the wife?” The men usually stay quiet at this point. A few of the ladies will answer “foot” and at least one answered, “rear end.” At which time I gently remind the ladies that if the husband is the head, the wife would be the body. Unless you want to have two heads and no body. Or a head without a body. Which brings us to the metaphor I want you to think about today, which is that Christ is the Head and the Church is the body. And to our sermon theme today, Christ’s Work, Yet Our Hands. Two lessons I invite you to learn today, both stated in terms of paradox.
First, Christ does all the work, yet we get the (marching orders). At the heart of Christianity is that we ae saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ, but faith never comes alone. Salvation is a free gift that can in no possible way be earned or deserved, and yet we are challenged in Scripture to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus did everything necessary to save our sorry souls, and yet it is necessary that we spend our days feeding the hungry and giving a drink to the thirst and visiting those sick and in prison. When Jesus cried out on the cross that “It is finished,” He said what He meant and He meant what He said. And yet the Church’s New Testament work was just beginning. Christ suffered all that we should have suffered, yet He looks us in the eyes and says, “get ready to suffer and to be rejected and to be persecuted on my behalf.” He died the death that we deserved to die, yet turns and declares, “if any would be my disciples, get ready to deny yourselves and for your crosses to be heavy.” Christ has defeated in complete fashion every one of our enemies, yet there is a battle for every one of us to fight in every one of our days on our way to realizing the final victory.
Christ does all the work, yet we get the marching orders. One way of summarizing our marching orders is that our assignment is to gather those who wish to be (scattered). In today’s Old Testament lesson, God was railing against the shepherds of Jeremiah’s day for destroying and scattering the sheep of His pasture. It was and is and ever shall be in the very nature of sheep to stray from green pastures into what they mistakenly think are yet greener ones. And in Jeremiah’s day, the religious leaders were famous for compounding the problem by teaching falsely. They preached neither Law nor Gospel. They fed their own fat faces and neglected the needs of their flocks.
Their flocks were as sheep without a shepherd, a reality which broke God’s heart in Jeremiah’s day, broke the heart of Jesus in His day, and should break our hearts in every one of our days. Listen carefully, the fact that people reject their shepherd doesn’t make them any less dependent, or less of a sheep. It simply makes them like sheep without a shepherd. One pastor said it this way, “to think that we are the masters of our own destiny and that we are safe within the cocoons we have woven around ourselves makes us in fact prey to every philosophy, every ism, every purpose and cause that dries the hearts and minds away from our God.”
A second way of summarizing our marching orders, as the body of Christ, is to feed people who may or may not realize their (hunger). Back on our little North Dakota farm, one of my winter duties was to carry pails of oats into the feed lots where the calves were growing into yearlings and then be sent off to market. Always they were hungry. Never was it easy to walk through them and into the bunk where we would dump their food for the day. Often it took a kick to their head to get them to make room for the very hands that would feed them.
So also with spiritual hunger. Always we need what Christ would give us, but it often takes the proverbial two by four smashing into our head to get us to realize what is the one thing needful. To those who are not aware of spiritual need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament, Luther gave this advice. 1)Put your hand in your bosom and see if you have flesh and blood. 2) Look around to see whether he is still in the world. 3) Remember the devil will be around you lying and murdering day and night and will let you have no peace within and without.
Mission #1 each day is to be lie down in green pastures, and mission #2 is to invite others to lie down as well. Mission#1 is to be led by the still waters, and Mission #2 is to be constantly inviting others to come to those waters. Mission #1 is to get something to eat, and Mission #2 is to give others something to eat. Which brings us to our Lord’s response when the disciples were urging him to stop preaching and send the people away to get their own food. Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.”
2. We ask the wrong questions, yet Christ gives us the (perfect answers.) If you want to have some real fun with God’s Word some day, just go through the Gospels and write down every question Jesus was asked and how He responded. Rarely did He give a straight answer. Occasionally He gave no answer at all. Often He would answer questions with what seemed like a totally unrelated question. Always He would answer in perfect fashion. Today we have three questions that may or may not be good questions and our Lord’s perfect answers.
Although Jesus wanted to get away with his disciples for a time of rest and debriefing from their recent mission trip, he saw the crowds coming after Him and went to Plan B – which according to Mark was to teach them many things. Matthew and Luke add that he healed the ones without strength, and Luke says that he spoke unto them of the kingdom of God. When the disciples thought he had preached long enough, they urged him to wrap it up and send them away. To which He answered, You give them something to (eat.) The kingdom of God is like a man this very day is wondering why there is so much hunger, so much poverty, and so much misery in this world. He is bothered to no end by the idea that a few have so much and most have so little. He does with His questions to His Lord, and Jesus answers, “You give them something to eat.” Christ’s Work, Yet Our Hands.
The second question Philip asked on behalf of the disciples was “Shall we pool our money and go out and buy some bread? In other words- You are asking us to do the impossible and why don’t you get real. To which Jesus answered, Go and see (how many loaves you have) The kingdom of God is like a woman who is wondering how she is going to get everything done / how long she can keep on taking care of her family and doing her job and dealing with all of the challenges in her life. To which Jesus answers, “go and see how many loaves you have.” Or to say it another way, “go off into your private place and count your blessings, and then come back to me with an answer.”
When the disciples come back to with the answer that they have found five bread cakes and two fish, they expect Jesus to admit the obvious. But He speaks the opposite of the obvious, Tell them to sit down (in groups) The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town that does many things well, but keeps on falling short. They work hard and they play hard and they laugh hard and they cry hard and at the end of each week, they come back together with the obvious – once again and in ever increasing fashion, they have messed up. They expect Jesus to agree with Him. He tells them to sit down in groups. He takes the little bit of bread and fish they have brought and He looks up to heaven and says a blessing. He breaks the loaves and gives it to their pastors to set before the people. They eat and they are satisfied. Christ’s Work, Yet Our Hands.
“For the Glory of God”
John 11:1-4 11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Dear Christian Friends,
The death of every loved one is a terrific time to think about what matters a lot and what matters not so much. To think about who we are and why we are and where we have been and where we are now and where we are going. The Bible says that there is a time to be born and a time to die, and this week we know on the one hand that it was Angie’s time to die and on the other hand that she has been born again into a new and better life. The Bible says that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, and this week is your time to spend time both weeping and laughing. Weeping because the wages of sin is death, but laughing because the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Weeping because death stings and stinks and separates, but laughing because in Christ there is forgiveness of sins and resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
One of the values of the funeral process is that we do our crying and our rejoicing as the family of God, and we do it together in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In every family there are stories to be told of good times and not so good. Stories that are for better and for worse, stories of sickness and health. Stories of days so full of joy we don’t want them to end and stories of days so jam packed with suffering that it seems as if they will never end. This morning I invite you to think through with me three stories – the story of Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, the story of Angelica, and the story of you and me and how every one of these stories is to be told for the glory of God.
Mary from Bethany is famous for sitting at Jesus feet, for listening carefully to the teachings of her Master, and for being commended by Jesus for choosing what mattered a lot. In contrast to Sister Martha who could not sit still as long as there was food to prepare and was scolded by Jesus for choosing what mattered not so much. Mary was famous for loving Jesus so much she poured expensive perfume on the head and then feet of Jesus and then wiped his feet with her hair. For which she was praised by Jesus for doing a beautiful thing. Her story would be told in memory of her, Jesus predicted, wherever this Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world. Mary was famous for staying home and crying when her brother Lazarus died, in contrast to Martha who aggressively went out to drill Jesus with questions. Our Lord’s response to Martha was to teach, and in response to Mary, when He saw her weeping, John records that “He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly trouble.” Jesus asked where they had laid the dead brother, and when they answered, He shed quiet tears as well. The rest of the story, as you well know, is that there was a resurrection of a dead man that day, and the bottom line of this story is that this illness and temporary death was for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.
Angelica from Germany/ Mankato / Iosco Township is famous in her pastors’ minds for sitting still and letting God be God. For listening carefully to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and stepping forward with a broken heart to her Lord’s Supper. In contrast to so many of us, me included, who are so often so very busy doing that which is secondary that we don’t have time to do that which is primary. Angelica is famous in many of your minds for cutting hair with style, with grace, and with mercy. She is famous for listening well, for encouraging in a regular sort of a way, for taking time to smell the roses even though there were all kinds of thistles to pull. She is famous for holding fast to her family and to her friends and to forgiveness, in contrast to so many of us, me included, who spend so many of our days distracted, discouraged, and dismayed.
A few of us were privileged to read through 50 or more pages of Angie’s letters written in the form of prayers to her dear Lord God. It’s clear that over the years, the Holy Spirit had worked in her heart a faith that held on tightly to her Savior. Again and again she cried out for Jesus to stay close to her and loved ones. Over and over she was thankful for doctors, caregivers, and nurses, thankful for God’s creation and Jesus laying down His life, thankful for yesterday and today and the days she failed to write in her notebook, thankful for the sermons and the sunshine and the Spirit of God, thankful for Steve and for Walter and for Brooke and for Alex and for Garrett and for Courtney and for mother and sister and brother, thankful for springtime and for earth and for water and for sky and for galaxies and universes, thankful! Without end, she prayed for strength to bear what was so painful, patience to deal with the faults of others, for safety in every one of her days, for California to get some rain, for God’s help to be one of His chosen, and her final recorded petition on the Evening of Pentecost, May 24, “Please, dear Lord, can you teach me patience please.” Steve wanted you to know what Angie wanted you to know – that her suffering and death would draw you closer to your Savior and God forbid that the opposite would happen. In the words of our text, that her death would be as the death of Lazarus was, for the glory of God. There is little doubt in my mind, that if given a chance to end her earthly story the way she wanted to, Angelika would anoint her Lord’s body from head to toes with the most expensive fragrance she could find and as Mary did, then get down on hands and knees and wipe His feet with her hair.
Which brings us to your story and to mine, in closing today. I don’t know who all of you are, where you have all been, where you are today in your journey of faith, or where exactly you are headed in life. But we do know that it is God’s great desire for every one of you that you would spend your days living for the glory of God and for the building up of His people. We know that for many perhaps all of you, your story includes that you have been claimed by the Triune God as His very own in the waters of Baptism. We know that Jesus Christ will follow you around with goodness and mercy in every chapter of life. We know that in days of smooth sailing He is wanting to work in you a spirit of gratitude and that in stormy days He is working in your heart a healthy dose of humility. We know that the same Father who spared not His only Son for you will give you all good and necessary blessings with a perfect sense of timing. We know that as often as you cry out for mercy, mercy will be yours. We know that every time you get too full of yourselves the devil and his demons stand up and cheer and that every time you admit your faults and failures, the angels and archangels will party as if there is no tomorrow. We know that every one of your sins has been paid for and not a single one of your bad habits is so bad that the Spirit of God cannot help you overcome it. We know that every one of the hairs on your head has been numbered and that your God has this deep and abiding desire that you live your days feeling precious and chosen. We know that what God ordains is always good, or as Grandma Martha likes to say, “There’s a reason for everything.”
We know that the language in heaven will be German – well actually I’m not sure of that one. Let’s do that one over – we know that there are mansions in heaven on reserve for every German and for people of all tribes and nations who have been called, gathered, enlightened, sanctified, and kept in the one Christian faith, even as Angelika Luise Kintzel Milbrett was called, gathered, enlightened, sanctified, and kept close to her dear Lord Jesus Christ. May God send His angels to be with every one of you in the days ahead, that the wicked foe may have no power over you. May God’s Spirit do and permit whatever He needs to do and permit in your life that will keep you close to Jesus Christ, and may Angelika rest in peace. Amen.
SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Dear Christian Friends,
I really don’t know too much about face to face rejection other than the one time years ago when I walked into a nursing home room to visit an older man with whom I had a polite but not perfect relationship. He wasn’t a member of the Church and he had not asked me to visit him. As I walked into his room with Bible in hand, I could see his eyes strain to see who I was. When he recognized me, his eyes started to grow angry. I started to say, “good morning Mr. So and So, how are you today. But before I could even get his name out, he hollered with a raspy voice, “Get out of here!” I thought maybe he mistook me for somebody else and started to say that I was interested in having a little prayer with him, but again the command came through loud and clear and angry, “Get out of here!” No, I didn’t take the time to shake the dust off my feet. And yes, did take a few minutes before my heart stopped racing and I could process what had just happened.
This morning, I invite you to process with me first of all why Jesus was rejected by his home town folks, why Paul was rejected by so many first century folks, and why the Christian Church seems to be increasingly rejected in this land of the free and home of the brave. Secondly, I invite you to think through with me, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, how Jesus reacted to rejection, how Paul reacted to persecution, and how we should react as individuals and as a congregation when our message is not received.
Question #1 - Why is there such a rejection of Jesus? When Jesus sent out 72 additional disciples two by two, he said it this way, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Matthew records Jesus reassuring his disciples that they are absolutely valuable to their Father in heaven and ought not be afraid, and then adds, “So everyone who confesses me before men, I also will 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.” It’s no small matter when people drift away from and will not listen carefully and believe Biblical teaching.
First question of the day again – why was there and why is there and why shall there ever be here on earth a rejection of Jesus and His Bride the Church? Three reasons come quickly to mind.
Reason #1 - Satan is always on the (attack). In the story of Job, Satan’s agenda was to cause so much suffering in his life that he would do as his wife said he should do, “Curse God and die.” Praise be to God that Satan’s agenda backfired and to this very day, millions of believers are studying Job’s story and learning to patiently suffer whatever afflictions come their way. In the story of Paul in our Epistle lesson for today, Satan’s agenda was to harass and to torment / original language uses the word “fisticuff” blows to the body / to get Paul to quit preaching the power of the cross. Praise be to God that Satan’s agenda backfired and to this very day, millions of believers are studying Paul’s writings and believing that God’s grace is sufficient for them. While it is true that we wrestle against forces of darkness that can be powerful and ever so frightening, it is also true that Jesus Christ has wrestled the perfect fight and come out on top. We are as weak as we can be, but He is strong. Paul’s conclusion has to drive the devil crazy, “therefor I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Reason #2 there is wholesale rejection of the Christian message is that we live in a world that has always been inclined towards evil. It is inclined that way in this generation, and this side of paradise, it shall always be inclined in that direction. To say it another way, it seems as if we live in a (Nazareth culture). Why Jesus’ hometown people rejected Him isn’t entirely clear. Initially there was a positive reception, but somewhere in our text, everything changes. No doubt some thought Jesus was just a crazy man. Others seemed to think his power source was demonic. Yet another factor was that they lived in a social system was status was fixed at birth. Who you were at birth defined who you would always be. In the minds of many, it was simply impossible for Jesus the son of a carpenter to amount to anything special. One author Eugene Peterson translated it this way, “Because people think they know who Jesus is, they end up asking disdainfully, “Who does he think he is.”
Why such rejection of Jesus? Reason #1 was the devil and his nasty demons. Reason #2 was and is a world of sinners conceived in iniquity, born in sin, and inclined towards evil from their youth. Reason #3 is our own sinful nature. Many days our worst enemy is (us). Jesus was despised and rejected by His generation for doing what was good, right, and proper. He taught truth in a perfect fashion, and people just didn’t want to hear it. Still to this day, there will be times when we will be rejected for doing what is right, it’s also true that we will be rejected for doing what is wrong.
Christianity in the western world is in deep trouble. In America over 1/4th of adults have left the religion of their youth, most for no religion at all. In Europe, many grand cathedrals and basilicas are more like mausoleums than thriving centers of worship. A pastor Rick Morley has suggested the root problem to be trust. He points out that the Roman Catholic Church has been embroiled in a child sexual abuse scandal…that evangelical pastors who have railed against homosexuality have been found to seek male prostitutes…that we have high profile church leaders saying that hurricanes are the result of gays and abortions….and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The Bible teaches us to let our light so shine before others that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven. And vice versa is true as well, as often as church going Christians fall into darkness, people will see our hypocrisy and want nothing to do with organized religion. They see us coming with Bibles in our hands and self-righteousness in our hearts and say to us in a variety of ways, “Get out of here! Don’t be preaching to me. I just don’t want to hear it today.”
Which leads us to our second and final question. How shall we react when our message is rejected? When Jesus was rejected by His home town folks, he doubled down. He went to other villages and kept on teaching, whether people received it or not. He kept on healing and helping, whether folks believed Him or not. He sent out the Twelve and later on 72 disciples two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He urged them to travel light and not to worry about their pension plans. Don’t be spending your time and money shopping for clothes, but as one sinner talking to another sinner, do be telling them to repent. If they won’t listen to you, shake the dust off your feet and warn them that a heap of trouble is coming their way. And move on with absolute confidence that the grace of God is sufficient for you.
Dear friends in Christ, how shall we react to the news that church attendance is declining and immorality is increasing? How shall we react to folks who do not want to hear that that the Bible is still true, that the Ten Commandments still apply, and that traditional values should be defended? How shall we react to our neighbors and friends and co-workers who have concluded that we really don’t care about them, that we are full of self-righteousness, that we are more concerned with building fancy buildings than we are with showing mercy to the down and the out? How shall we react to good and decent people who say that they believe in God, but not so much in the Church? Three reactions the Spirit of God would teach us today. To keep on repenting, to keep on teaching, and to keep on trusting.
First, to keep on (repenting). Collectively and individually, we have much for which to be sorry. We have reason to be sorry for the bad habits we have fallen into and the good habits we have failed to form. We have been quiet when we should have spoken up and spoken up when we should have been quiet. We have prayed in our quiet places when we should have been marching in the streets and marched in the streets when we should have been praying in our quiet places. We have judged people when we should have tolerated and tolerated when we should have pronounced the judgement of God. We have dishonored marriage in wholesale fashion in our heterosexual kind of ways and then blamed the gay community as if they were worse sinners than we. Collectively and individually, we learn again today to be ever so concerned about the speck in our brothers’ eyes, but only after we have removed the log out of our own. Yes, we want to keep on repenting. Can I get an amen to that?
Secondly, we keep on (teaching). Our chosen theme this year is “With Burning Hearts.” For the next 12 months, we want to be informed by a particular Bible story of the risen Jesus coming alongside of two disciples on the road to Emmaus. To be informed by Jesus the Master Teacher as He asks really good questions, as He listens carefully to their stories, as He explains to them truths they had learned but forgotten, as He breaks bread with and reveals His heart to them. And so their hearts burned as they rehearsed in their minds what Jesus had taught them. Our assignment in this place is to keep on rehearsing in our minds what we have been taught from our mother’s knees and to keep on teaching. In this year, we would teach what has always been taught – and to do so with hearts on fire for the one message that matters. The message that the grace of God is sufficient and not to be taken lightly. That the love of Jesus Christ is for everybody but only benefits those who receive it. That if we’re going to follow Jesus Christ, there will be rejection, but that rejection ought not sour our attitudes.
Which leads us to our third and final assignment - Keep on (trusting). Keep on trusting that not a single sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s permission and that you are much more valuable than the sparrow. Keep on trusting that your sins of omission and your sins of commission have been paid for by the son of a carpenter man and that for that reason alone you will be accepted and not rejected on the Last Day in the courtroom of God / the one courtroom, by the way, that matters.
“It could be my last chance!” The kingdom of God is like a man I knew 35 years ago who loved to go on evangelism calls. He loved to knock on doors, to engage in small talk and to get invited into living rooms and make a full-fledged Law and Gospel presentation. But if that wasn’t going to happen, he would do all that he could possibly do to get a word in about Jesus. And almost always there would be an invitation to Church. And the thought that was constantly burning in his soul was this one – with this one person, it could be my last chance to tell them about Jesus. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther