February 13 and 14, 2016
First Sunday in Lent
Romans 10: 8b-13“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
My aunt Linny was a favorite aunt kind of a lady. She was the life of the party. She was a woman of strong faith who lived the last 45 years of her life as a widow. She was one of the dearest Christian women I have ever known, and I’m certain I could find another 200 or 300 people in the Wahpeton ND area who would absolutely agree with me. But there were at least that five mistakes you would never want to make with Aunt Linny (her actual name was Gerlinda Wilhemina Magdalena Mindeman Luebke, by the way). #1- you never wanted to touch her hair. #2 – you never wanted to cause her to miss her Thursday morning hair appointment. #3 – You never wanted to splash her hair while swimming in the lake or pool. #4 – You never wanted to comment on her age or ask her how old she was. And #5 - You never wanted to ask her who she voted for. I asked her that question after a presidential election one year, and I thought she was going to do bodily harm to me. Her exact answer was “that’s none of your blanket blank business.” And when I stuttered a follow up question, she told me in no uncertain terms that politics and voting was a private matter. Who you voted for was nobody else’s business. Since that conversation, I have remembered learning from one of my great uncles that there were actually three taboo subjects in our family – sex, politics, and religion. Sex, politics, and religion, at least in my family, were considered to be not only personal, but private matters, absolutely ineligible for open and honest conversation.
I tell you that story about my family so that I can tell you another story, a story that invites you to think about what it means to live in a society where just about everything is to be tolerated except for traditional values. Where just about every idea is to be accepted except for the idea that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one can be accepted into heaven except through Him.
The story to which I refer happened about 6 years ago, when the famous golfer Tiger Woods was caught red handed by his wife cheating on their marriage. All kinds of hell broke loose in his personal life, and as a result all kinds of journalists and pundits weighed in. Tiger Woods happens to be a Buddhist, and so Fox News Anchor Brit Hume weighed in by recommending that Tiger should seek his answers instead in Christianity, saying, “I don’t think that the Buddhist faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith, and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”
The reaction against Brit Hume came fast and furious. Jay Brookman of the Atlanta Journal Constitution asserted that “faith is a private matter between that person and God, and is not a matter to be judged by some pompous TV anchor.” Bookman called Hume “rude and crass” and guilty of “bad manners.” An anchor from a different TV David Shuster maintained that Hume had somehow “denigrated” and “diminished” Christianity. USA Today religion writer Cathy Grossman asserted on her blog that the commentator Brit Hume was “talking trash.”
And so what some would consider “talking trash” we would consider confessing that Jesus is Lord. What some would consider really bad manners, we would consider simple and true testimony to the fact that they and only they who call on the name of the one true God will be saved. What some would consider bigoted and extreme religious views, we consider the best news that could ever be delivered.
Jesus said it this way, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. You can no more hide your affection for Jesus Christ than new parents can hide their affection for their infant child. You can no more hide your confidence in your Savior’s Easter Sunday’s victory than the Denver Bronco fans can hide their joy in their team’s recent Super Bowl victory.
The fact that God has raised His Son from the dead may not be all that recent, but it is historical and never to be forgotten, never to be denied, never to be ashamed of, never to be kept to ourselves. Could you imagine possessing a bottle of pills that would cure breast cancer or colon cancer or you name it cancer and keeping it to yourself? Can you imagine knowing the perfect strategy for preventing war or doing away with terrorism or eliminating drug and alcohol addiction and considering it a private matter not to be released into the general public?
In Matthew 10, Jesus was releasing His 12 disciples out into the general public, and their assignment was clear. What He told them in the dark, they were to say in the light. What He whispered in their ears, they were to proclaim from the housetops. They were to never forget that the very hairs on their head were numbered, that not a single sparrow would fall to the ground without their Father’s permission, that they were way way more valuable than many silly sparrows, and then Jesus looked them in the eyes, and said it this way, “So everyone who confesses me before men, I also 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.” Saving faith – personal but by no means private.
This past Wednesday evening, the grandson of one of our members, Marlyn Gekeler, died in a car accident near Germantown, Ohio. Zach was 20, and if my memory serves me correctly, he was baptized as an infant in this sanctuary. His mom Andrea poured out her broken heart the next day on Facebook, I am at a loss for words…I hurt, so very much my son. I don't know how I am supposed to go on doing my day, without you. I woke up this morning and checked my phone to see if you texted me. I look out in the driveway for your car. I listen for the fan in your room to know you made it safe, but the fan is silent. The house is dark, my heart is broken. I don't know how to do this. I don't know where to go. I've longed to hear your voice, I wait for you to walk up the sidewalk. I don't know why you had to leave me, but I know I will never, for the rest of my life feel whole again. ….even though I know this is real, I can't wrap my mind around my worst nightmare that has come true. I never imagined you would go before me. I never imagined this would be my life.
The kingdom of God is like Christian pastors and family and friends who are surrounding and loving and encouraging and lifting up those parents bent low with grief. With their hearts they are believing that God has raised His one and only and beloved Son from the dead, because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, it is also true that He is Who He said He is, the very Son of God……and because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, it is also true that everything the Bible says is true ………and because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, it is also true that the sins of those who have been baptized and are believing have been forgiven……and because Zachary was baptized into the Name of the Triune God, it is true that God has been faithful to the promises He made in Holy Baptism, and because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, so shall Zachary rise again from the dead.
The Kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where hurting and broken sinners get tempted in every one of their days to live by bread alone, but in their hearts, they know there is a better way. They get tempted in every one of their days to bow down before the gods of pleasure and entertainment, but from their mother’s knees they have been taught there is only one God deserving of their worship. They get tempted in every one of their days to keep the forgiveness of sins to themselves, but the Word of the living God is near them. It is in their hearts and it is in their mouths. As often as they hear that word, they find that their hearts are believing and their lips are confessing. Their faith is personal, but by no means private.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther