First in a Series of Seven Sermons on The Great “O” Antiphons
Proverbs 8:1-3, 22-26 and I Corinthians 1:25 – 30
O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things; Come and teach us the way of prudence.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Advent hymn, “O Come O Come Emmanuel” has ancient roots. Since the 8th century A.D. Christians have traditionally sung these 7 great antiphons. The word antiphon means response, and they were sung to readings for the seven days before Christmas. They mine the riches of the Old Testament to portray the many facets of our Savior, as tender wisdom, as mighty Warrior, as rightful Heir, as forgiving Savior, as unparalleled Light, as Regal King, as God with us.
Perhaps you have heard the saying that Wisdom and age don’t always come together, sometimes age comes alone. Actually the exact quote from a comedian named Tom Wilson is, “Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up by itself.”
Here at Trinity it seems as if wisdom is coming with age. Now the world defines wisdom pretty much as good common sense, but the central theme of Israelite wisdom is that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” With that in mind, I would remind you that we are in the second year of a three year shared vision statement, which is simply this, “Our Shared Vision is to mature as disciples for Jesus Christ.” And the first habit of a Christian whose life is being transformed by the Gospel is “to receive gratefully God’s good gifts in Divine Service.” Recently Donita printed out for me a list of all 1778 members of this congregation according to age, starting with Ardis Erdman at age 100 all the way down to our newborn infants. I did a little analysis of a few different age groups here at Trinity, and here is what I found. 100% of members age 90 – 100, 15 of them, regularly hear the Word of God and receive Holy Communion. 100% of members age 80 – 89, all 58 of them, regularly hear the Word of God and receive Holy Communion. 95% of members in their 70’s, and there are over 100 of them, regularly hear the word of God and receive Holy Communion. When I went to those age 20-29, I found that at the most 25% of the 225 20 somethings are finding time to regularly hear God’s Word and receive their Lord’s Supper. You can spin that however you want to spin it.
Here’s my first takeaway, and it’s a positive one. At least here at Trinity, it seems as though old age isn’t just showing up by itself, wisdom in virtually all cases, is coming with it.
James reminds us that true wisdom is from above and that it is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. Our sermon for today has two parts. The first is that wisdom is the beloved daughter, and the second is that wisdom is the firstborn son.
Wisdom is the beloved (daughter). The Book of Proverbs is a result of God giving Solomon that which he asked for – wisdom and understanding with which to govern the people. Solomon frequently describes wisdom as a dear mother or beloved bride.Like most languages, the Hebrew word for wisdom is grammatically feminine. By characterizing wisdom as a woman, Solomon uses this grammar for a play onwords, which is a common feature in his writing style. In our text for today, in chapter 8, wisdom is personified as a good woman, in stark contrast to the adulterous woman of chapter 7. The good woman’s purpose is to enlighten and give life, in contrast to the harlot, who aims to deceive and destroy. The good woman encourages in the right direction, in contrast to the prostitute who leads astray. Wisdom is from on high, in contrast to the foolishness of the demons below. Three truths Solomon would teach us about this good woman – what she was, what she is, and how she spends her days.
First, She (was) before the beginning. Solomon writes, The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” Here wisdom does more than take on godly characteristics. Here wisdom takes on the nature of God himself and plays a role in the creation of the world.
Secondly, She (is) stationed at the crossroads to be heard. Unlike the harlot who lurks at every street corner, wisdom stations herself to be heard in the midst of life. Wisdom makes an appeal for everyone. All the descendants of Adam need wisdom, for we are all part of a fallen race. It is in our sinful nature to be fools and to say that there is no God. No man can say that Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. The only way to be in the Christian faith and to be growing in that faith is for the Holy Spirit to be working inside of us. Paul writes that faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Often Jesus would tell a parable and follow it up by raising his voice and calling out, “He who has ears let him hear.”
A third lesson we learn about wisdom in Proverbs 8 is that She spends her days calling out to the (vulnerable). In the previous chapter Solomon compared young men who were being led astray by the persuasive words of the adulterous woman to oxen going to the slaughter, to deer stepping into a noose and having an arrow pierce his liver, to a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.
Just a couple of days ago, a young lady who has gone through drug addiction and all the nasty troubles that so often come along with it, came back to our church office for a visit. She had attended our Lutheran School for a time, and was a member of one of our Confirmation Classes years ago. She has told me on several occasions that our sanctuary and our school had been a safe place for her, a place where she found refuge and strength. She took her boyfriend into this sanctuary and wrote how she was proud of this church and the serenity she felt here. She said this for all her friends to read on Facebook, “ I always feel like home here, it's insane how some kids come back home and it's just another day, I stop by and get emotional because this place was where I was happy, surrounded by love, childhood memories and will always have a piece of me. I may have been born in Owatonna, moved around a bit, but I will have always been raised in Janesville. Pastor thank you for never turning your back on me and keeping me close with our savior and I'm proud to say, in 4 days, I will have 11 months clean. Sitting in the church with the same scribble cards and same look, I did the same thing that I used to do, just be at one and look up at the son, Christ our lord and felt safe and not alone.” Just be at one and look up at the son, Christ our lord and felt safe and not alone. It seems as though wisdom from on high is slowly but surely chasing away the demons of foolishness.
It seems as though the seeds of wisdom planted in her heart at ages 10-14 are bearing fruit some 15 years later, which would remind us to never give up on our young people as they travel through years of getting tossed to and fro by the temptations and the trials of life, especially in their 20’s. Robert Gary Lee wrote that “wisdom is nothing more than healed pain,” which would remind us that the only way to have a tested and tried Christian faith is to be tested and tried. St. Augustine wrote that “Patience is the companion of wisdom, which would remind us to stick with people through thick and thin, for better and for worse, in sickness and in good health.
James wrote that when we meet trials of various kinds, we should count it all joy, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
Asking for wisdom from on high is simply asking for Jesus to come more and more into our hearts. Asking Jesus to be Who He is and has promised to be, the best friend we’ll ever have, the faithful brother who absolutely sticks with usin every chapter of life. Which is our second and final lesson for this morning - Wisdom is the firstborn (Son) of God. Jesus Christ is wisdom incarnate, wisdom in the flesh.
Proverbs 8, verses 23 ff declares, “I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began, When there were no oceans, I was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water, before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth….I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep….then I was the craftsman at his side The first of three points we would make about Wisdom as the first born Son is that Jesus is begotten, not (made) No one writes more eloquently that John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
Secondly, we are reminded in this first antiphon that He holds the universe together in strong, yet (gentle) manner. Jesus is the creator of all that is invisible and visible. On the one hand, He rules the nations with omnipotence, and on the other hand He sends His Church out to preach the sweetest and kindest story ever told. At the same time He rules with power and with grace. On the one hand, His throne is in the heavens and on the other hand His kingdom comes every time a little bit of water is poured over the head of a little one, every time sorry sinners eat an unimpressive bit of bread and taste an ounce or two of ordinary wine. On the one hand, with irresistible power all things exist and move according to His will, and on the other hand, His grace moves in our tired and weary souls, drawing us closer and closer and teaching us slowly but surely to say no to ungodliness and yes to that which is excellent and worthy of praise.
I invite you to spend this season of Advent worshiping, trusting, and boasting. We would worship Christ as the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made. We would trust Him as the One Who even now sits at the right hand of His Father, ruling all of heaven and earth with authority. And third, we go back into our little corners of His Kingdom and spend our days boasting in the One Who saves by way of (foolishness). Not with gold and silver did our Savior purchase us, but with holy precious blood, with divine sweat, and with innocent tears. We have been called and gathered into this sanctuary today not as people with worldly wisdom nor power nor prestige, but as hungry beggars looking for a little bit of bread, as thirsty travelers crying out for just a little bit of water, as wanderers looking for a little bit of direction, as unimpressive people in awe of a perfectly impressive God.
Come, teach us the way of (prudence) Prudence comes from a Latin word which means to look ahead, to see into the future. To be prudent is to be wise in practical affairs, and to provide for your future. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town saved by way of foolishness, traveling their way through Advent, spending their days living with purpose. Saved by way of the cross, worshiping at a manger, and crying out for prudence. They know that without the virtue of prudence, courage becomes foolhardiness, mercy encourages laziness, and weakness turns into spinelessness. And so they cry out for that wisdom which will enable them to look beyond this life which is short and full of trouble. That wisdom which will actually increase as they attend the school of hard knocks and climax as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. They spend their December not so much rushing around faster and faster, but being still, going slow, and rejoicing in the lover of their souls, the forgiver of their sins.
Less and less are they confused by the noisiness and the loudness of the culture, but more and more comforted by the clarity of the church. Less and less do they worry and are they anxious about what is to come, but more and more they cry out to Emmanuel to come back again, and to come quickly. Amen.
Confidently Sharing the Faith
Seventh in a Series of Seven on Shared Vision
Habits of Faithful Christians
1) Lives transformed by the Gospel
• Receiving gratefully God’s gifts / drifting away from means of grace
• Searching eagerly Holy Scripture / not finding time
• Confessing humbly sins / as opposed to defending & excusing
2) Culture around us transformed
• Faithfully managing vocations
• Prayerfully enduring crosses
• Joyfully gathering / crying and laughing together
• Today confidently sharing the faith
5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Lesson #1 is to keep on fanning into flame your Christian faith.
• Story of fanning campfires in Boundary Waters….the campfire wouldn’t do anybody any good unless campers gave it attention in a timely way.
• Timothy had a sincere faith, handed down by Grandma Lois and Mom Eunice. “Sincere” could be translated unhypocritical. Faith that is not just for show, but genuine, piety that isn’t evident just when people are looking, but when nobody is watching. Timothy would need a heart burning with strong faith when days of persecution came, when Caesar would declare Christianity unlawful, when friends and mentors began to be martyred. It wouldn’t be enough to just be a mama’s boy, or grandma’s good little boy when the days of suffering and great trial came. He would need the Holy Spirit to keep on breathing on Him, for the Scriptures to keep on speaking, to keep on confessing sins….Not a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and self control
• My story of Grandma Selma and Mom Dorothy handing down faith, gentle and mild, which is good and fine, life is smooth, how strong will my faith be when bad health forces retirement, how strong will the fire of my faith be when death is approaching. In all the stages of life, I will need to have the Spirit of God breathing on me………….not a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of grace and prayer, of power and strength, of sanctification and the fear of God.
• Confirmands, your parents and pastors and teachers are handing down the faith to you these days, easy to have faith while surrounded by Christians and life is going reasonably well, but what about when tough times come, when you have to decide whether you will follow the crowd or Christ, have to decide whether to the Ten Commandments and having fun. Keep fanning the flame, letting the Holy Spirit breathe on you in means of grace….
Lesson #1 was to keep on fanning the flame of faith, to keep on staying close to Jesus Christ, and now Lesson #2 is confidently share the faith you have been handed, to let the Gospel light shine.
15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
• Words that matter and words that don’t matter so much.
• In my case, weekend sermon has 2000 words or so, and I would prepare 4-6 hours so that the words make sense and are truly words of God. In contrast to shooting the breeze with the elders tonight after service.
• In the case of young people, there are the words you text each other back and forth all day, and then there the words of the Rite of Confirmation, where you indicate that you will stand with Jesus Christ and suffer death rather than fall away from Him and His Church.
• Words of the Marriage Ceremony / Noah / Pastor Muther
• 7th habit of faithful Christian is to confidently share the faith.
• Learn tonight to live our lives in such a way that people will notice our hopefulness and ask us why. Anybody ask you lately why you are so cheerful? So patient? So contented? So at peace? If not, why not?
• If I were to lose five pounds by next week, nobody would ask me about it. No big deal. If I were to go on that diet and over the next 30 days lose 30 pounds, many of you would comment. Many of you would ask how I did it.
• So also with the fruits of the Spirit. Show them patience and gentleness only occasionally and nobody will comment. No one will notice. But make a habit of patiently enduring hardship and responding to people with a gentle spirit, and folks will wonder why.
• If you were to be cheerful only when the sun is shining and the day is smooth, no big deal. No Nobel Peace prizes for you! But find a way to be cheerful in a consistent way, rain or shine, smooth sailing or rough, and eventually, people will be interested in your story. And once people are interested in what makes you tick, you can direct them to a God who has loved you, blessed you, forgiven all kinds of sins, and is following you around with goodness and mercy.
• Story of David Hughes, Baptist Seminary, Ft. Wayne, loved to get in people’s faces and ask, “brother are you saved?”
• Lifestyle evangelism instead of confrontational evangelism
• Tips for confidently sharing the faith – Joining Jesus on His Mission
1) Getting into position – realizing Jesus is already messing with people and that wherever you go, there is opportunity
2) Seeking the kingdom – Stop seeing interruptions as interruptions and rather as God appointments (story of beautiful gal in my office today. Wherever you go, there you are, and wherever you are, there Jesus is. Habit of watching for what God is showing us every day in daily routines.
3) Hearing from Jesus – what is Jesus teaching you in His word today?
4) Talking with people – Jesus can do more with two people who are talking with each other than he can with two people successfully ignoring each other. Extroverts are better at talking and introverts at listening? What kind of conversations are you having? Welcome Center.
5) Doing good- Ephesians 2:8-10 / saved by grace, good works prepared in advance for us to do. Random acts of kindness / Donita providing me with cheese sticks, Kay and Gary in Food Shelf, Julie cleaning up Welcome Center,
6) Praying with people – Pray in morning devotions for neighbors, pray Lord’s Prayer in intentional and thoughtful way, take hand of spouse and pray out loud, take family on a prayer walk through neighborhood, may I pray for you……..Fincke says you’ll only be nervous about praying out loud once…………
The kingdom of God is like a woman who is suffering the ravages of cancer without complaining, quietly, with such strength and dignity that you just want to go up to her and say, “how can you be so calm?”
It’s like a student who is getting teased at school in a merciless kind of a way, but he just keeps on brushing the bullies off like flies and doesn’t let it bother him in the least. So much so that you just want to ask him how he can keep that smile on his face?
It’s like a family facing unemployment and all kinds of money problems and questions about their future. Yet the Spirit of God keeps on breathing on them, their flame keeps on burning, and people all around them are wondering what is their secret. In Jesus Name. Amen.
What’s the Plan?
Mark 13:1-13 – As Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately. Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?
Predicting the Future
It’s in our very nature to want to know details about what will be happening tomorrow and beyond. Years ago, when I served on the Board of Directors for Camp Omega, we were constantly working on our five year plan and once in awhile a 10 or 25 year plan. My take away from that process was that I wasn’t very good at the long term planning process. In recent months, Pastor Muther and I have begun to talk about what a three year or five year plan of ministry might look like here at Trinity. My take away from those discussions is that I’m not very good at seeing into the crystal ball. This past week, Debi and I traveled to Florida on a Monday morning in preparation for our son Noah and Jenna’s wedding. That very evening, Debi wanted to know what was the plan for the next seven days. I hemmed and hawed around for awhile, and at a certain point, with a mildly stern look on her face, she suggested that I find a pen and pad and write some things down. And so we wrote down a plan for the six days in front of us, when we might go visit our one daughter staying at a resort an hour away, when we might visit Noah and Jenna, two hours away, when we needed to pick up our other daughter and family at the Orlando airport, when we needed to pick up some friends at the Tampa airport, and the list went on. All kinds of details on which to decide. Should we swim at the pool or the ocean? Should we eat breakfast with these friends or with family? What would be the plan? My take-away from that discussion is that Debi cares more about forecasting the future than I, and a second takeaway is that I need to care more!
In our Gospel lesson for today, a disciple had just remarked to Jesus how massive were the stones and how magnificently were they carved and laid into wonderful buildings in the Temple area. Jesus replied by warning them that what they were seeing with their own eyes would not only be deserted and left desolate, but destroyed. Not one stone would be left on another. To which four of the disciples asked Jesus to tell them more. When will this happen? What signs should they be looking for? What is the plan? Three answers Jesus gives them and us today about the plan for end times and His Second Coming.
First, the plan is to stay (focused) on proclaiming the Gospel, no matter who is trying to pull the wool over our eyes. The idiom “to pull the wool over someone else’s eyes” simply means to deceive, to hide from people what is true. It may well go back to the 16th and 17th centuries where both women and men would wear wigs made of wool. Already in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus forewarned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.
Already in Jesus’ day, there were Sadducces who were leading people to believe there was no resurrection of the body. Pharisees were teaching that people could be saved by outward observance of the law. Judaizers were teaching that the laws of circumcision still applied and that Christ wasn’t quite enough. Over the years there would come the religions of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Within the Christian churches there would arise all kinds of antichrists and in the end times The Antichrist. See to it that no one leads you astray, Jesus would say again to us today.
Stay focused on Jesus Christ the great high priest who has offered up the one sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Stay focused on Him who has in fact risen and appeared and ascended and is even now sitting at the right hand of the Father ruling all of heaven and earth. Stay focused on Him who has already accomplished the plan of salvation and who will at the appointed time come back again to judge the living and the dead.
Stay focused, even when good and decent people all around you have fallen for the lie that the Bible is not entirely true, have fallen for the lie that in the end pretty much everybody is going to be ok, have fallen for the lie that marriage isn’t really what God says it is, have fallen for the lie that life in all of its stages isn’t necessarily to be protected, fallen for the lie that there are many different ways to get to heaven, fallen, have fallen for the lie that there is no particular urgency to take the Gospel to the far corners of the world. Lesson #1 – the plan is for Christians and local congregations to stay focused on our Lord’s plan for the Gospel to be proclaimed to all the nations, and then the end will come.
Secondly, The plan is to stay (calm), no matter how bad the news gets. Jesus would teach us not to be alarmed when we hear of wars and rumors of war, to not be alarmed when nations rise against nation and kingdoms against kingdoms. There will be earthquakes, to be sure, and famines will be dreadful. Sin will have its consequences in every corner of our world, in nature itself, but Christian men and women need to stay calm. In the same way that Pastor and Laura (hopefully stayed) calm as birth pains began, so also are the people of God in every day of trouble to be still and know that God is God.
A good friend of mine shared this insight with me in recent days. He said that when he and his wife were going through days of uncertainty and trial, he had learned the importance of sitting down and calmly discussing what they knew and what they did not know. To focus on what was reality and what they could control and to trust God for what only He knew and could handle.
Reality these days is that this year 150,000 Christians will be martyred. Reality is that 200 million Christians are being denied basic human rights today for one reason, they believe in Jesus as Savior. Reality is that there are Christians in Afghanistan who worship together, and by doing so, they risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Reality is that there are teenagers in Sudan who are staking their claim for Jesus at the risk of torture, banishment, and death. Reality is that the real war on Christmas is worldwide and that what we experience at Starbucks and in our public squares barely registers on the Richter scale, in comparison to Islamic and totalitarian regimes across the seas.
And yet we stay calm no matter how bad the news gets. Rather than be shaken to our very core, there is a peace that surpasses all human understanding that is ruling on the inside. Rather than wondering what this world is coming to, we say to one another what we know to be true, that Jesus Christ has already come into our world, that He lived the perfect life we needed Him to live, that He suffered all that we needed Him to suffer, that He died the death we needed Him to die, that He rose up again on the Third Day, ascended into heaven on the 40th day, and to this very day He is ruling all of heaven and earth with authority and for the benefit of His Church.
And because all of that Good News is true and has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, lesson #2 today is this: the plan is that we stay calm. The bad news just doesn’t get to us the way it gets to those who aren’t really sure in whom they trust. Afflicted but not crushed. Perplexed but not driven to despair. Persecuted but not forsaken. Struck down but not destroyed.
Third, the plan is to (work hard), even as we rest in His promises. One of the problems with staying calm in the face of adversity is that we would be tempted to just retreat into our comfortable zones in life and give little attention to the mission of the church. Jesus made sure His early disciples were trained well, He made sure they knew the Holy Spirit would be giving them the words to say, He made sure they knew that it wasn’t going to be easy at all, but most of all He made sure they knew that they had hard work to do. They were to be highly motivated, but not worried. Energized, but not anxious. Hard working but not stressed out.
Is it even possible to be hard working but not stressed out. Energized but not anxious. Highly motivated without worrying? Yes, it is. So long as we put First Things First. Jesus put first things first when He set His face towards Jerusalem and for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, He scorned the shame, and He was crucified all the way to death and burial.
The early disciples were to put first things first by never forgetting that the Gospel must first be preached to all nations, and secondly the end would come. First their God would be perfectly faithful to them, and secondly they would faithfully preach the Word in season and out of season, whether people wanted to hear it or not. First, the signs of the end would be fierce, and secondly, Christ would come again. First there would be birth pains, and secondly, all who were appointed for salvation would be born again.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people in all the stages of life, but more and more the Spirit of God is drawing them closer and closer to their Savior. More contented with what they have, less complacent about what they are to be doing. More likely to cherish the truths of Scripture, less likely to follow the fads and the fashions all around them. These days, by the grace of God, they are learning again the value of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and trusting that all these other things will be added in due time.
They have heard the old saying that “those to fail to plan are planning to fail.” With that in mind, their plan is to stay focused on proclaiming the Gospel, no matter who is trying to lead them astray. Their plan is to stay calm, no matter how crazy and upside down their world gets. And although they’re not always sure how to strike the right balance, they plan on working hard on their God appointed assignments, even as they rest in His promises. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Trust Beyond Measure
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Listen to this teaching that Mark records, “For all gave out of their abundance, but she from her lack gave all she had, her whole life.”
Two points and two lessons for today as we tell the tale of two widows. One is asked day after day to measure out the last of her food, and day after day God fills her with just enough; the other is moved to measure out all she had to live on. One forms a trusting bond with the prophet Elijah in a time of extreme need; the other may not have even known she would be memorialized in this book. One was called to extravagantly give away all she had for food and the other gave away extravagantly all the money she had to live on.
The first point for today is that widows were vulnerable. From the books of Moses, we find God to be the one who “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner.” (Deut. 10:18) The prophets rail against those who “turn aside the needy from justice that widows may be their spoil and that they may make the fatherless their prey” (Is. 10:2). The early church cared especially for widows, taking up collections for them (Acts 6), and James sums the whole Christian vocation of service in these words: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
And the question is, why? Why is this class singled out? And next question is, why do they show up here in the text? But, first things first. Why is this class singled out in the Scriptures? Widows are those who had married but lost their husbands. They could be young, but many times “Widow” refers to someone who is older. In the times of the Bible, they are especially vulnerable because they’re in danger of getting lost in the shuffle, in danger of being cut off from family life, in danger of being forgotten.
So, you might think, “That’s not too bad,” but remember, we live in a time and place where I can hop in a car, drive for a quarter of a day and be 300 miles east, at my parents’ side. We live in a day when you can wash a week’s worth of dishes with a push of a button, when hot water comes at the turn of a faucet. If you lived in a day when to do laundry took a day’s worth of back-breaking labor, when making food very often meant grinding your own grain, making your own flour, baking your own bread, when getting new clothes meant that someone needed to weave them for you, then to surviving became a full-time job. You could have no sick days. But it meant something wore as well: since you fought so hard for yourself, you couldn’t really provide services for the community, you were in danger of being forgotten. Being forgotten was deadly.
It was deadly then and it’s deadly now. It’s deadly now when we spend more time looking into our screens then we spend face to face. It’s deadly when we don’t know our neighbors. It’s deadly because it’s so easy for people to pass through our lives and our town without us even knowing.
So, God had set up special provisions for widows, and he commands his people to look after them especially. So, our first lesson comes in the form of a question: who are our widows and fatherless in our little community? In part, they are the widows and the fatherless, but the question is, what makes people to fall through the cracks in little old Janesville?
Perhaps here we could add to our list young mothers. I know really well these days, it’s hard to be parents even when there are two of you. I don’t know how single moms or dads do it. Or perhaps it’s those moving into low-cost housing here. Even in my short time here I’ve seen people move in, inhabit an apartment and move on, vanishing like a ghost in the night. We have a duty to seek those who fall through the cracks.
And so our second point builds on the first: the second point is that it’s noteworthy in our texts that the widows are the ones giving and acting. It’s noteworthy because they are the ones who had the least resources to give, where every penny, every pinch of flour, every drop of oil is precious. It is precisely their poverty that gives weight to Jesus’ teaching. I mean, would it strike such a cord if a reasonably wealthy kind of a person would give a reasonable gift? Well, no, but that doesn’t quite parallel what happens here. Would it strike such a cord if an extravagantly wealthy person gave away all his wealth in the prime of his life? Instead of pennies, if Jesus praised the millionaire that gave away every one of his millions?
Because you can have the reasonable assumption that a man like that could even in hard times provide for himself. He gives, even if he gives everything, he gives out of his abundance. This is a poor, elderly woman giving away the only pittance she could scrape together, she gives out her poverty.
And its not just her, it’s us too. If the Pharisees, the pastors, the scribes, the professionals, the blue-collars, the working poor, if we were all to describe our spiritual state, we would at the end of the day, only be able to call ourselves spiritually poor.
The reason that Jesus draws attention to the widow is because her status is ours – poverty. Let me count the ways: You get the idea that we’re on the spiritual edge of the cliff every day of our lives. We are living hand to mouth every day, whether we have it all or we barely have our next paycheck. Nothing of this life is assured, and the only reason you take your life for granted is because it hasn’t been taken away yet.
It’s like the old joke…
A man dies and goes to heaven.
St. Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates and says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.” "Okay," the man says, "I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, and loved her deep in my heart."
St. Peter says, “Alright.”
the man says. "Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithes and service." “Very good”
I started a soup kitchen in my city and also worked in a shelter for homeless veterans."
"Good, good," St.Peter says.
"Two points!?!!" Exasperated, the man cries, "At this rate, the only way I'll get into heaven is by the grace of God."
'Bingo! 100 points ! Come on in!'
Or, better, it’s like Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, in the great love chapter, “If I gave away all that I had, delivered up my body to be burned but have not love (read here, have not Jesus, the incarnation of love), I gain nothing.” Without Christ, everything is poverty.
But here’s the second lesson and it’s good news, and it’s two parts. First that Jesus becomes poor for us. It is his riches that keep the world spinning, and he’s the one that gives everything away, all that is rightfully his he chooses not to keep, and he does it in order to become poorer than the poorest widow. On the cross he dumps out the riches of his divinity so that he can take our place, he takes the measure of God’s wrath, the wrath that was supposed to be against us, so that he can load up himself the debt that we have.
If that’s first, this is second: when he rises from the grave, he does so to take up his riches once again, but this time, he gives them out … to us. Jesus, the king of all that really matters, lavishly and extravagantly doles out the riches of the universe upon his people.
It is an extravagant sacrifice that leaves nothing out, that leaves nothing to chance, that bargains all of our God’s divinity against the gaping hole of sin. It is an extravagant sacrifice that takes the widows, the fatherless, those who fall through the cracks, and it makes them to sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
On the last day, God won’t be impressed by budgets, by expanding buildings or big programs. No, his praise won’t be for that – it will be for the people cared for, for the imprisoned that were visited, for the naked that were clothed, for the despised that were loved, the avenues that the people of God gave out mercy through any means necessary. Our God looks to redeem your whole life, and he won’t rest until every one of your desires is lifted up to the heights of his love.
The kingdom of God is like a fight breaking out between middle school boys, where one asks “Do you want a piece of me?!” And the other says, “No, I want the whole thing!”
Just like Pastor Griffin said last week, quoting the commentator Lenski, (I paraphrase): It is God who makes us merciful, and then he rewards us for being merciful. It is God who places the extravagance of love in our hearts and then rewards us for that love. It is God who lifts us up to the heights of heavens and then delights to find us there.
The kingdom of God is like a big church in a small town where the whole church goes around worrying less about cracks in their buildings and more about those who fall through the cracks, where husbands are beginning to learn what extravagant sacrifice for their wives means, where families gather around kitchen tables to wonder together in awe at all that God has provided for them, and how extravagantly he’s equipped them to serve.
We know a little bit about what happened to the Widow at Zarephath – she had more tragedy and more joy in store for her. We don’t particularly know what happened next to the widow that Jesus praises. We don’t even know if she knew she was praised. But for generations to come, this woman and her two pennies are a sign of the extravagance that God places and finds in the hearts of his people.
Amen and amen.
Matthew 5: 1-12
5 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Dear Friends in Christ,
The kingdom of God is like a married couple sitting at their kitchen table arguing about their finances. Their monthly bills are spread before them, and the husband is worried and he’s frustrated and he doesn’t know how they will make it. The cup is half empty and getting emptier, as he sees it. His wife remembers that there is money in the savings account, and she looks forward to the raise that her husband will be getting and she’s not at all worried and is certain they will be alright. The cup is half full and holding its own, as she sees it. Three different times, their war of words gets interrupted by three different children, asking for their cups of lemonade to be refilled. The children could not have cared less about family finances, they just knew that their parents would be glad to bless them with more lemonade.
In our Epistle Lesson for today, the apostle John invites us to revel in the simple truth that our Father in heaven has declared us to be His children, and so we are. One of the problems of growing into adulthood is that we stop acting as children, in terms of receiving the blessings of our Father in heaven. We imagine that we have earned our blessings and we start to worry about whether our blessings will be sufficient into the future, and before you know it, in all kinds of ways, we start to argue with each other and with ourselves, whether the cup is half full or half empty.
In terms of spiritual blessings, whether you see the cup as half full or half empty, know that it is (refillable!) According to the church year, today is All Saints’ Day. The word “saint” in its primary meaning, as used in Scripture, refers to those who have been “set apart” and declared to be holy by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. In this sense, therefore, all Christians, including those who are weak in their faith, are saints before God through the merits of their Savior.
Jesus began His sermon on the mount by nine times declaring His disciples blessed because of what God had in store for them. Jesus was not making ethical demands of His followers but was describing blessings they would fully enjoy in the new heaven and the new earth. Blessings they could also enjoy by faith here and now. Our sermon theme today is “Blessed”. The first four beatitudes invite us to think about what it means to be children of our heavenly father, and the next three ask us to reflect on what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ.
As children of God, we learn again today that we are in fact Blessed as often as we enjoy what our Father is (giving). Jesus says it this way, Blessed are the beggarly in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” Jesus gives us a picture of a cringing and crouching and a wretched kind of a guy who brings nothing at all to the plate. The world sees beggars as cursed, but Jesus teaches us that The riches of the future belong to the beggarly in spirit already (here and now). The poverty referred to is an attitude of a child who recognizes that all he is or possesses comes from his parents. The attitude of a messed up person who is convinced he can’t fix himself. The attitude of a broken and contrite person whose despair turns to joy as He hears that His Father in heaven is not despising Him. Even better than that, his name is written in the book of life, a mansion in heaven is on reserve for him, the riches of the future are already here.
Again, Jesus declares, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This second pronouncement is as paradoxical as the first. The verb “mourning” indicates a loud crying out such as lamenting for the dead or for a severe and painful loss. We think not only of being sorry for our sins, but all grief and sorrow due to the power of sin in this world, whatever inflicts blows, losses, and pain upon the godly. It includes every wrong done to us, as well as every painful consequence of our own wrongdoing.
In the first reading for today, Christians are pictured as those coming out of the great tribulation. Those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. The world sees the church as full of do-gooders wearing robes of hypocrisy. And there is a fair amount of truth in that perception. Today we see again that we have been given Robes that keep on losing their (stains). Day after day, we sin and fall short of the glory of God, some days really short. As often as we cry out for a word reassurance and comfort, reassurance and comfort are ours!
Jesus declares, “Blessed are the meek, for just they shall inherit the earth. The kingdom of God is like a man the world sees as mild mannered, calm, cool, and collected. A man who can be pushed around and almost never will push back. In high school, he could have been voted most likely not to succeed. Jesus would predict just the opposite on this All Saints’ Sunday. That in fact this man is already enjoying an inheritance fought for and earned by (another). He rejoices in what is yet to come, even as he enjoys already here and now blessings too numerous to count. Notice the sign outside our church, “Get rich quick. Count your blessings!”
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. We think here of the Fourth Petition, Give us this day our daily bread. Daily we cry for forgiveness, and daily God satisfies us. Satisfied one day at a (time). In terms of physical eating and drinking, we know that food and drink tastes best when we’re really hungry and thirsty. So also in terms of spiritual eating and drinking, if we stop being hungry and thirsty, Jesus could no longer pronounce us blessed, he could no longer satisfy us.
Lesson #1 today is to live one day at a time, believing that the sins of our past are forgiven, believing that the troubles of our future are in the hands of Almighty God, leaving us with just today to enjoy what our Father is giving. If lesson #1 was to live as children in relationship with a loving Father, lesson #2 is to live as brothers and sisters in Christ giving away all that we have received.
Part 2 of our sermon today is that we are Blessed as often as we look out for our siblings, just (for the fun of it). This week, the Griffin family is headed for sunny Florida for our baby boy Noah’s wedding to a beautiful Christian young lady Jenna. Noah wasn’t really an afterthought in our family, but he is the caboose. When he was born, his siblings were 12, 11, and 6 years old. Especially the older two, Heather and Nate looked out for Noah and I would like to think it wasn’t entirely out of a sense of duty. More often than not, they seemed to have fun doing it.
Perhaps Jesus had that in mind when He declared, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. The first four beatitudes look toward God, the next three towards other people in our lives. Mercy and pure hearts and peacemaking are three virtues which mark Christians as blessed. Luther wrote that in all the beatitudes faith is presupposed as the tree on which all the fruit of blessedness grows. With God grace is always first and mercy second. First God makes us merciful and then blesses us for being merciful.
More and more as we live in and enjoy His grace, our old sinful nature’s desire to give people what we think they deserve gives way to a new and desire to be merciful. “Have to” attitudes give way to (“get to”) habits. No longer do I say that I have to provide for my children and I have to take care of my parents in their old age and I have to be nice to people who really irritate me, but rather I get to go to work and I get to rake my neighbor’s leaves and I get to go on a mission trip and I get to listen to my neighbor’s hurting heart one more time.
Beatitude #6 - “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are they who are hearing the Word of God and keeping it and holding it dear and near to their hearts. As they do so, they find their human agendas giving way to heavenly (visions). Less concerned about 401k pension plans and more interested in the Vision Statement of their local congregation. Less motivated to get ahead in the corporate world and more focused on the Second Coming of Christ. Less multitasking and more fixing their eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith. Not so much woe is me and why is my life so dull and more blessed am I and what is my next step in terms of letting my Gospel light shine all over my neighborhood.
Beatitude #7, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God. To be at peace with God is to have a peace the world cannot give. The author John Piper wrote in his book, This Momentary Marriage, that “all of us, married and single, are supposed to live hour by hour by the forgiving, justifying, all supplying grace of God and then bend it out to all the others in our lives.” I like that picture of bending God’s grace out into other people’s lives. Being at peace with God and then living in peace, if possible, with others and working to keep and to make peace wherever peace is threatened or lost. This isn’t a “peace at any price” kind of peace which ignores Biblical truth, but rather the truth of God’s Word comes first, peace with people second. Friends are dear, the Word of our greatest Friend dearest.
As we spend our days rejoicing in what a friend we really do have in Jesus, we find the rainy days to be not quite so dreary, the challenges of ordinary life to be not quite so daunting, and the future to be quite so formidable. We find our small mindedness giving way to the big picture and our last point of the day, Pettiness giving way to (sweet peace).
Just yesterday, I was privileged to spend time with a good friend, an alumni of our school, a former confirmation class student of mine, who recently came back home after spending 32 months in prison. I shook his hand for the first time since his day of Confirmation, the day he was wearing a white robe made white in the blood of the Lamb. He’s been through what I would consider hell on earth, but the look in his eyes said everything I needed to know about him. The look in his eyes told me that he was blessed. Blessed to be enjoying the riches of his future already now. Blessed with a white robe that keeps on losing its stain. Blessed with an inheritance fought for and earned by another. Blessed by knowing what it means to live one day at a time. Blessed as he begins a new chapter of life where he will be looking out for his brothers and sisters in Christ. His “have to” attitude has given way to a “get to” way of looking at life. His human agenda is giving way to a heavenly vision, and whatever used to be ruling in his heart, Someone way better has taken its place. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters