The Loving Way of the Lord.
Dear friends in Christ,
Our sermon series in preparation for Christmas has been called “The Way of the Lord.” In the last few weeks, we’ve explored the Faithful way, the Mighty way, the Peaceful way, and this morning, the Revealed Way of the Lord. Tonight, our theme is the Loving way of the Lord.
Our text begins, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
What is love? That’s the question that we’re asking tonight. But before we ask that question, there is a broader question that we need to ask. What is the way that we know what love is? How do we even know what we know? What basis do we have for answering the question, “What is love?
Tim Keller tells the story of a young man from a healthy family that grew up with a loving mother and a loving father who ended up marrying a loving wife that grew up in a healthy family with a loving mother and a loving father. But when it came time for them to divide up the work of life together, they had deep-seated conflict. He said, he was working on a sermon and noticed a dirty diaper. He called out “I think so and so needs to be changed.” She looked up from washing the dishes, “Why don’t you do something about it?” He felt something deep inside of him angry and he didn’t know why.
How does that happen? How can two fine and healthy people from fine and healthy families have conflict?
You see, he had been raised in a family where his mother’s outpouring of love for his father was to do everything that needed to be done at home. That was his definition of love. She had been raised in a house where her mother had a debilitating disease and her father’s outpouring of love was to do everything that needed to be done for her mother. Each is extraordinary, but if you have one picture and not the other, your understanding of love is still shallow.
And I tell you that to tell you this: love, and our expression of love, is normed by our culture and experiences. It seems natural. We base our opinions on what we know, on what we’ve seen, on what we’ve experienced.
But the point of our meditation tonight is that for the Christian, our definition of love is not defined by our experiences. It is not defined by our culture. It is instead defined by the Scriptures. Now, what do I mean by that? I mean that for the Christian, we believe that life is bigger than our senses can experience, and if we are going to have a deep understanding of love, we need to look outside of ourselves, we need to go to the Scriptures.
Three particular ways that we would describe love, three peculiar ways based on our reading of 1 John 4 tonight. Let’s go to our text.
“In this.” Those are the first two words of verse nine, and they form the refrain we find through the rest of our text. In this, for the Christian, is the totality of our love. That there is no other place in heaven or on earth where God has made his love more manifest. In fact, the opposite is true: in this the entirety of God’s love is ours. The next phrase, in this the love of God was made manifest. It was revealed. It was shone to be what it is, that God sent his son. Usually when we think about sending, we think about God sending his son off, on a mission to someplace else, on a journey far away, but here’s the point of John’s opening statement, here’s the surprising fact, that God sent his Son, and he sent his Son to be with us. Love is first presence.
If you’ve done premarital counseling or marital counseling here at Trinity, or if you’ve talked to a pastor here about the subject of love for more than five minutes, you might be familiar with the Five Love Languages, a book about the ways that we give and receive affection. It states that there are ten ways (jk, it’s five) ways that we love: Words of affirmation, acts of service, the giving of gifts, physical touch, and quality time. But if we are talking not-so-much about the surface ways that we express our affection, it seems that each of these has a corner, a piece of the deeper need filled by love, and behind all of these, I would submit that the deep need we see is the need for presence.
That when I use kind words, I am showing that you are in my thoughts, and I am hoping that these words convey my presence to you, even when I’m not there. That acts of service are demonstrating that I am taking care to do what you need. Gifts convey the amount of time and energy it takes to find them. All of these convey a desire that we would be present with the one we love, and they would be present with us, even when we’re not around.
That’s what Isaiah writes when he prophesies Jesus as the Immanuel – as God-With-Us. The first truth that we see is that in the Christmas story, we see our God fully present with us. Which is hard to do.
But then our text goes on to make our second point. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Point number two for tonight is that love is, for the Christian, propitiation. In this the love of God is made manifest. In the – and get this word right – propitiation of our sins. Can you imagine that? Someone comes up to you on the street and asks, What is love to you, and you say, “Propitiation.” They ask what is that? You say, “I don’t know! My preacher told me to say that.”
So at this point, you might be saying, “Hold on a second preacher man” – because I’m sure you have an inner dialog about the sermon and in your inner dialog you always call me preacher man – “Hold on a second, what does that have to do with love?”
Propitiation is a word that means atoning sacrifice. That is to say, for the Christian, our understanding of what love is is rooted in our understanding of how God has been interacting in the world. From ancient times, from the Levitical laws, from the time that God set up his people as a people on Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel had been once per year sacrificing an unblemished lamb for their sins and sprinkling its blood on the assembly, atoning for them in the sacrifice of that animal. In the New Testament we find that those sacrifices were effective because they pointed toward what Christ would do once for all on the cross.
As Christians, if we want to rely not so much toward our own experiences or on the whims of our culture but instead on the wide swath of what the Bible has recorded of God’s action from the beginning of time, we would remember that love is first presence, it is the presence of God in our lives and second, propitiation, the sacrifice that our God has given to atone for our sin.
The Love is Jesus Christ. The point is, for the Christian, Jesus Christ is love incarnate. Paul said it like this: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” John says it like this, “In this, not that we have loved God but that he loved us. In this is love, In this, that when we love each other, it is not we who love but God who loves others through us. God is love and love is this: Christ has died; Christ is raised; Christ will come again. It is in Christ we find love, and it is Christ who is in you.
Now, let’s know that truth. Let’s own it. Let’s chew on it. It’s an interesting exercise to read through the Gospel with this thought in that back of your mind, that Jesus Christ is love incarnate. That mean, the time that he calms the winds and the waves and calls his disciples “O you of little faith” it is love incarnate doing it. The time that he tells Peter, “Get behind me, Satan,” those are the words of Love itself. The time that he says, “let the dead bury the dead” to his family and the time that he says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
What does that do to your definition of love? His is the loving response in every one of his situations, his is a love for friends, a love for enemies, a love for disciples who love him, a love for the crowds who don’t care about him, a love for the heroic, a love for the cowardly, a love for the sinner, a love for the repentant. He is love. In every situation. In every word. What does that do for your love?
We read verse 17… By this, love is perfected with us – the word there is the same one that Jesus spoke on the cross, Τετελεσται, It is finished. It is completed, it is made perfect and made whole, it is love, fully orbed and fully known. It’s in your baptism that his love sets up shop. It’s in the words of absolution that we stir embers of his love. It’s in the Lord’s Supper that you taste love incarnate, which is Christ in you.
Lesson number three, and this is the lesson for all the marbles, for tonight is that love is Jesus Christ. And if you are a Christian, and if you want to know what love is, if you see love fully orbed, outside of yourself, sent to the world to bear your sins and be your savior, then you would spend your days following around love incarnate. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God… Beloved if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… (and from beyond our text) By this is love perfected with us.”
If you want to learn how to love, if you want to fill your life and your marriage, your friendships with good things, then follow around the man, Jesus Christ, as we see him save his people. Hear him speak truth that hurts to people who need to hear it. Watch him dole out unconditional love when he sits in the dust next to those who’ve really screwed up. Let his grace first wash over you and all your imperfections and then, and then, when you recognize yourself as a redeemed Child of God, then take up your role to look like Christ in the life of others.
Amen and Amen.
The Revealed Way of the Lord
Fourth in a series of five
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 // Romans 16:25-27 // Luke 1:26-38
Dear friends in Christ,
The way of the Lord. For the last three weeks, we’ve been preparing for Christmas with our Sermon Series called the “Way of the Lord.” We started with the Faithful way, the Mighty way, last week was the peaceful way. Today is the Revealed way.
I’ll tell you this: I am a terrible baseball player. I can’t even say that. I am a terrible softball player – not that baseball is any less challenging than softball, but my softball career started and ended in fifth grade, of which I have two memories: first, I remember getting hit in the face with a flyball. Second, I remember that the only hit I ever had in a game was a little blooper to center field. I took my base and – this was a no-stealing league – I waited until the next guy got walked (or so I thought), went to take my base, and they ended up calling me out.
So, fast-forward to seminary school when I was once again attracted to softball, but this time because I had heard they grilled brats after the games and had adult beverages. So, I thought I’d shake the dust off of my softball swing and I wnet to Tower Tee, with a softball batting cage, and I started hitting some balls, and hitting, until one of my friends saw the baseball cage. He had played baseball in high school and started hitting at 70 or 80 mph. I decide to try. I get in the cage. I know what to do. I know where the ball is coming. I know how to swing. And still…. Miss.
The point is, The path of the ball was revealed. The actions I needed to take were clear. The prophecy of what would happen was simple. And still, there was a difference between knowing what was needed and living in it.
We go to our texts. Here we have a snapshot of the prophecies fulfilled, from 2 Samuel 7, and our first point is that the promises of God have been known for a long time.
The eternal God from long ages past unto ages and ages has made known all the things that he has done. The prophecy in the Garden of Eden is compounded by the blessing of Abraham, is compounded by the blessing of Judah, is made clear in the prophecy of Nathan, is amplified by the prophet Isaiah, is spoken again and again and again by the Pentateuch, by the prophets, by the Psalms, by the writings.
How unremarkable Jesus is. Jesus is the only normal person in this whole story, if you want to say it that way. He is the little baby born in the normal way, doing normal baby things. As a character in the story, he’s in the background, just growing and eating and sleeping. His actual birth in Luke 2 only takes half a verse.
Most of the story is everyone else that’s dealing with angels, that’s fleeing the country, that’s following stars, that’s believing dreams. How unremarkable it is, particularly for this reason, because it is such a mundane miracle that our God would come down to earth to be exactly who he is, to bear our sins and to be our savior. From this side of history, it is earth-shatteringly mundane that God would love, and that he would love so much that he would, while we were still enemies declare us right with him, that he would pour out the power of his Godhead so that we could be freed from sin.
It is the M.O. of our God that he works the most remarkable of miracles in the most unremarkable ways. It is in washing and words that the Holy Spirit enters our hearts. It is in the declaration of forgiveness that your chains are gone and you’ve been set free. It is in the eating and the drinking of bread and wine that the Body and Blood of your Savior are yours, so that you can receive unearthly peace and godly strength for the length of your days and beyond.
A way of open hands. I think of my Grandpa Utech. He’s lived more than half a decade since the death of my Grandma. He has, in my mind, aged as gracefully as a body could possibly age. He willingly sold his house. He willingly gave up his license. He has passed close to the valley of the shadow of death several times now, but I’ll tell you this. The most amazing thing that he’ll say, I had skipped over for years now.
The most amazing display of his Christian faith is when he talks about grandma. He says, “It still hurts. I still think about her everyday, and I just want to be with her. But I’ll be here as long as the Lord allows.”
Do you see the strength of his words? He holds his pain and his joy, and he holds them in open hands. He can be happy and sad at the same time. He can hold the good even as he suffers the bad. He says, as our vice-chair said this past Leadership Council meeting, “It is what it is.” Or better, as Paul writes, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” Or perhaps best of all, God’s own words in Revelation chapter 21, when he says, “Behold, it is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” What remarkable strength there is in the ordinary life of a Christian underneath the cross, to know the One who is the beginning and the end, to know that all that is needful has been accomplished even as you make the journey!
Dear Christian friends, the living water that Christ holds out to us allows us to hold both our sorrow over this world’s sin and our joy in the work that Christ has already done. Our taste of the living water allows us to hurt with the pain of our suffering here, knowing that hope will not in the end disappoint. Our taste of the living water helps us to know that however much we have need and hunger and thirst in this body and in this life, we have the promise that in his time, our God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, that in the cross, he has won every battle that needed to be won, that our hunger and thirst for righteousness is satisfied.
The Peaceful Way
December 16 and 17, 2017
Third in a Series of Five Sermons
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, he will surely do it.
Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11 /I Thessalonians 5:16-24 / John 1:6-8,19-28
Dear Friends in Christ,
Why is God doing this to me?
Recently I visited and prayed with an elderly lady whose long time gentleman friend had passed away, and now she was alone. We visited at length about how good he was to her over the years, how he had protected and provided for her in her days of trouble, and how afraid she was of what was to come. Her large and friendly dog named Buddy had finally settled down and was sitting at her feet, as if he was watching over her and a bit suspicious of me. At a certain point I handed her a booklet of devotions with the title, “I am trusting God.” At this point, she erupted with tears and with anger. She cried out, “I have been trusting God all my life. Why is God is God doing this to me? “ She looked me squarely in the eyes and wanted to know, “What is the purpose of God taking him away from me?” At the height of her emotion, the dog Buddy stood up and came towards me, as if to say, what’s going on here?
No doubt you have had those kinds of days. Days when you had a hard time understanding God’s ways and thinking, days when you felt alone and as if God were far away, days when you may have shaken your puny little fist at Almighty God and cried out, why is God doing this to me? In all three lessons appointed for this Third Sunday in Advent, the Spirit of God would invite us to know the peace that only Jesus Christ can give. A peace that the world has no way or idea of how to deliver. A peace we forfeit as often as we worry about the things we cannot control. A peace we forfeit as often as we fail to recognize the realities of life. A peace we forfeit as often as often as we excuse the things we could, in fact control.
Two Sundays ago we focused on the Faithful Way of the Lord, last Sunday the Mighty Way of the Lord, next Sunday the Revealed Way, and Christmas Eve candlelight, the Loving Way. Today the Peaceful Way of the Lord is our theme.
Three parts to our sermon today focused on feeling and sensing and knowing the peace which our world has no way of giving us, the peace that only Jesus Christ can give. God’s peace comes our way as often as we know Christ as 1) Evangelist, 2) Preacher, and 3) Light.
(Old Testament lesson) First, God’s peace comes in knowing Christ as (Evangelist). We learn this from the prophet Isaiah who writes, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
In these first verses of Isaiah 61, the Messiah Himself is speaking. He has been anointed to bring good news to the poor. Evangel is good news. Evangelism is the bringing of good news. Christ is the evangelist commissioned to bring good tidings to the meek. The meek are the poor in spirit. They are persons whose hearts have been rendered receptive by God’s grace. They are folks who cry out for forgiveness, and know the peace of having their hearts and souls declared blameless.
God’s peace flows and even floods into every nook and cranny of our lives as often as we know Christ as Evangelist. The kingdom of God is like a couple whose marriage broke apart years ago, but in this Advent season, they realize that God’s grace is slowly but surely healing their hearts. The kingdom of God is like a man captured by his own addictions, but in these days, by God’s grace, he is experiencing a new beginning. The kingdom of God is like a family bent over in grief over the loss of a lost one, but these days – the Christmas story is helping them to know what Isaiah meant when Christ spoke of giving them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit…
Lesson #1 today is bring all of our faint spirits, all of our bleeding hearts, all of our troubled souls again and again to the One Who knows what we need even before we ask, it is to spend time with Him Whose great desire has always been to have mercy, it is to know again and again the God of peace himself who is able to sanctify us completely.
(Epistle) Second, God’s peace comes in knowing Christ as (Preacher) 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good….
In verses preceding our text in I Thess. 5, Paul is admonishing the early Christians to be patient with those who are causing trouble in their midst. He warns them against seeking revenge. He invite them to keep on pursuing that which will be beneficial to others.
In our text, Paul first gives us a description of the sanctified Christian life, and then tells us how the God of peace will sanctify us through and through. Isaiah had described the people of God as oaks of righteousness who have been planted by the Lord for the glory of God. And now Paul describes us as people who have found a way to be rejoicing in all the circumstances of life, as people who prayerfully work their way through the ups and downs of life, and as people who develop the habit of counting their blessings and living life with cheerful hearts. Proverbs 15:15 comes to mind, ….he that is of a cheerful heart [hath] a continual feast.
So how is it that we get to have this continual feast of cheerfulness and prayerfulness and thankfulness? By knowing Christ as Preacher! Luther explains the Third Commandment in this way, we should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
The kingdom of God is like a family who has gotten out of the habit of attending Divine Services. They are finding that when life is going well, all seems well with their hearts and souls. But when their days of troubles and trials come, it seems as though nothing is right. The kingdom of God is like a young person drifts away from the Church, and as he does so, his Christmases seem more and more to be getting emptier and emptier. Something is missing, he’s not sure what.
Dear friends in Christ – the best solution we know for the problem of emptiness is spending time with Christ the Preacher. Jesus declares, Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. The Psalmist says it this way, “Blessed is he whose delight is in the law of the Lord. Blessed is he who on his law meditates day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water that yield their fruit in season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. Paul says it this way in our text for today, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything, hold fast to what is good.”
Lesson #1 on the subject of the God of peace sanctifying us completely was to know Christ as the bringer of good news / Evangelist. Lesson #2 is to know Christ in the preaching of His Word/ Preacher, and Lesson #3 is to know Christ as Light.
Third, God’s peace comes in knowing Christ as (Light) 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
Darkness is all around us, darkness is nearby, darkness is world wide, perhaps the worst darkness is on the inside of us. Just a couple of days ago, we were visiting our daughter Michelle and family near Lewiston, and for whatever reason, I stopped at the Church of the Brethren cemetery where our little grandson Gabriel is buried. You won’t be surprised to know that as I approached the fresh grave, the tears began to flow one more time. The wind seemed colder and the darkness seemed darker out there. I wasn’t sure exactly how to pray, and so I thanked God for His promise of resurrection, and I asked God to help me be a better grandpa, I asked him to help me be a better husband, I asked him to help me be a better pastor. If I would have been thinking about our Gospel lesson for today, I would have asked God to help me be a more faithful witness to the light of the world.
Dear friends in Christ, I don’t know what kinds of darkness is holding you back in this season of Advent, but I do know that it doesn’t stand a chance as often as you spend time in the presence of Jesus Christ. I don’t know exactly what are your specific purposes and assignments are in these days, but I do know what Pastor Muther would say is your number one assignment in all the days of life – namely that you receive the light of the world into your hearts, that you live in that light, that you enjoy the light, and that you bear witness to that light.
I’ve told this story before, and now I’m going to tell it again. (Story of Delilah, a nursing home resident I visited, prayed with, and communed month after month for many years. One of the first times I visited, as part of our devotions and lead up to communion, I reminded her that Jesus had died on the cross for her. At which time her eyes got big, she got this worried look on her face, she looked me squarely in the eyes and blurted, “He’s dead?” And when I assured her that Jesus rose up again on the third day, she relaxed, she was as relieved as she could be, and she rejoiced! In most of my visits from that day forward, I would use the expression that Jesus died for her, just so we could have the pleasure of rejoicing in the resurrection.
Lesson #1 this morning is to know Christ as Evangelist, lesson #2 is to know Him as Preacher, and lesson #3 is to know Him as Light. Dear friends, this very day and in all of your days, Jesus Christ has this great desire to be a light unto your paths and a lamp unto your feet!
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who from outward appearances don’t really look any different from anybody else, but a closer look will reveal that their God of peace has not only called and gathered them into the Church, He is in fact enlightening them, He is sanctifying them, He is keeping them in the true faith through all the ups and the downs of life. They know that Jesus Christ does more than just help them survive the season, He keeps on bringing good news of great joy worthy of all kinds of celebration. They know that the preaching of God’s Word isn’t just to be one option among many activities to be considered, it is their opportunity to be clothed with the very garments of salvation. They are tempted like everyone else to be swallowed up by the darkness of conflict and failure and cemeteries, but the light is never very far away, in fact it is inside of them, by grace, and through faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Mighty Way of the Lord
Second in a series of five
Isaiah 40:1-11 // 2 Peter 3:8-14 // Mark 1:1-8
Dear friends in Christ,
The way of the Lord. Last week, Pastor Griffin started out with the phrase “My Way or the highway.” Today, we see that at least in one instance, Isaiah chooses the highway. Which reminds me that on all kinds of occasions I in my youth would be a little brother to my two brothers in the back of our car on our way home from something, my Dad would tell me to stop, then he’d tell me, “If you keep on doing that, you’re gonna walk home” and I would stop. But I remember particularly on only one occasion that as I was doing all that a little brother seems called to do, my dad told me to stop, and he told me to stop, and I didn’t back down, and so Dad followed through on his threat, opened up the car door, he told me to get out, and I walked the last block home. It wasn’t that long – it was only the last block – but…
I tell you that to tell you this: there were two ways to go that day, and they were really only one way. There was the way of obedience that led home quickly or the way of repentance that took time. But they really were one in the same.
Just like last week, we find Isaiah giving us the image of the conquering king. Last week, we explored our God’s faithfulness, faithful even when we cannot see what he is doing, faithful to deliver an eternal purpose to our days, faithful in unexpected ways.
Today, we explore the MIGHTY way of the Lord, how the might of our God is so vast that it is unlike our strength. Three lessons that we draw from three readings today, three adjectives that further describe our God’s might. First it is a gentle might. Second it is a patient might. Third, it is a humble might.
First, his might is gentle… I’ll tell you this Benjamin and I, we carry on one of the traditions of my childhood. We wrestle. Actually Benjamin calls it “Knock Papa Down.” He pushes and I fall. I grab him and make bear sounds and we roll around. He gets worked up and runs at me from across the room. He pushes me down with all of his might. It’s a fun game, but my point is that, he can go all out on me; I don’t use my full strength on him. He can have fun at me full force. I use my strength for his safety.
We go to the text. Isaiah writes, All flesh is like grass. But he is forever. All the world is wilderness. But he makes the path of salvation.
Thought number one is that his might is not like that of a father for a son. Not like a father for a son… in this way – his might is DIFFERENT IN KIND. It is the difference between the might of beast and the might of a mountain. It’s the difference between Creator and Created. It’s not simply a difference in degree. It’s a difference in kind.
Thought number two is that his might is like that of a father for a son. It is like a father for a son… in this way – his might is FOR us. The one who is eternal is eternally working for the good of those who love him who are called according to his purpose. The one who is unlike the grass that withers has sent not a death-dealing word but a life-giving word that stands forever.
Second, his might is patient… Consider the epistle lesson from Peter – we have a God who is not slow as we count slowness… We’re like a kid at Six Flags – it’s going to take forever before he’s tall enough to ride the rides. We’re like a kid after his birthday – it’s going to take forever for that day to come around again. But God’s might is patient. He is strong enough to bide his time and act when it is time to act.
His actions take into account the whole tapestry of time, from beginning to end. When we have the whole Scriptures, we find that most of our pages deal with relatively few people at few places and few times.
Consider this. There are 400 years between the ending of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus. 400 years of privilege sliding into slavery, of dreams and prayers, years without miracles, without comment, 20 generations with all kinds of faithful people passing down their faith to their children. Consider this: There between the last page of Malachi and the first sentence of Matthew, there are 400 years – that’s two empires, one independent Jewish kingdom, the birth of synagogues and Pharisees and, if we want to get really mundane, one of the greatest architectural achievements ever, the first known use of concrete.
And yet, Bible records none of that significant history. Its authors had something absolutely other in mind. God is telling a different story. He is not slow as some count slowness. He is patient.
We are often frustrated because we are impatient with our pace. That is, in fact, the greatest danger for anyone who is a runner. The worst thing you can do is to do too many miles too early and too fast. To move forward, you need the patience to go slow and the strength to keep at it.
Patience takes strength. Deliberate action comes from patience and patience comes from experience and experience comes from resting in the wisdom of those who have done it before.
To the text! We see in 2nd Peter the picture of our God. Our God is not slow as some consider slowness. Let’s know it, and then let’s know that we don’t know what we think we know. Our God is not slow as some consider slowness. He is patient with us. His is a canvas spread out from the beginning of time to the end, and every brushstroke has significance.
His might is humble. You see, humility isn’t so much downplaying what you do and who you are; true humility is knowing your own worth, knowing what you can do and what you can’t do, and considering the welfare of others.
The same Jesus so far mightier than John the Baptist was the Creator of the universe who stooped down to wash his disciples’ feet before his last Passover. In our God’s strength, he allowed all that could happen to him to happen to him, so that he could bear our sins and be our savior. In our God’s strength, he emptied himself of his divine power to be humbled to the point of death.
Because, as Paul would say, when I am weak then I am strong. His grace is sufficient for me, for his power is made perfect in weakness.
I was named after the Apostle Paul, which was pretty exciting until I took Greek class. You see, the Apostle’s name had been Saul. Saul was the first king of Israel, a great big, tall, imposing guy, an honorable name. But when God got ahold of Saul on that road to Damascus, he changed his name to Paul. That’s a Greek adjective that means, “Little guy.” “Short stuff.” In 2 Corinthians, Paul struggles with his smallness, with his weakness. He says that a messenger from Satan assailed him and he pleaded that God relieve him and God would not. Instead, he heard these words “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” When I am weak, then I am strong.
My grace is sufficient for you, even when your suffering will last the rest of your life. My grace is sufficient for you, even when your weaknesses will keep tempting you for the length of your days. My grace is sufficient for you even when your past mistakes would seem to never blow over, on this side of eternity they will always haunt you. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
The Way of the Lord
The way of the Lord draws us on as he weaves together all ages into his story of salvation. He takes the strands of obedience and disobedience. He takes the strands of repentance and forgiveness. He takes the amount of this world’s comings and goings and weaves them into the most unlikely summary of world history; he weaves them into the one way the truth and the life, the only way to the Father, Jesus Christ, our mighty Lord.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town where you can’t really point to anything that makes them different, except that everything feels different. It isn’t that life is strange in any one way; it’s that in their life together, there is strength and joy that seeps through every crack, so that in the best of times and in the worst of times, one thing is clear, that this one article reigneth: the presence of their Lord, the hope of a life spent with you.
Our God is mighty. He is gentle. He is patient. He is humble.
Amen and Amen.
The Faithful Way of the Lord
First in a Series of Five Sermons
December 2 and 3, 2017
Isaiah 64:1-9, I Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 11: 1-10
I Corinthians 1:9 - God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Dear Friends in Christ,
My way or the highway is a predominantly American idiom that dates back to the 1970’s. This philosophy of my way or the highway works well in certain professions and arenas of life and not so well in others.
Recently I listened to a presentation by Mark Gregston, who suggests that the three inner needs of every child are 1) a secure love, 2)a significant purpose, and 3)a strong hope. Three lessons we would learn today about the faithfulness of our God, one from each of the appointed lessons.
Lesson # 1 has to do with living secure in God’s love, He is present even when it seems as though He is (hiding).
The context of Isaiah 64 is that even though Judah would be taken into exile by Babylon, and even though their capital city would be destroyed, and even though it would seem as though God had withdrawn His presence, the day would come when the tables would be overturned, the Babylonians would be destroyed, the Jews would be released, and the kingdom of God’s grace would prevail. God would be present in the preaching of His Word, He would be present in the shedding of blood at their altars, He would be present in their Passover meal. No matter what happened to them as a nation, they were to be secure in God’s love. He would be present even when it seemed as though He had withdrawn entirely.
To this very day, in every one of our families, there are chapters of life where it seems as though God has withdrawn His presence, chapters of life where it seems as though He is not making His face to shine on us, but is hiding. These days, Tom Eustice has to be wondering where God was when his wife was suffering a heart attack and then dying, the Westphal family had to be wondering where God was when their mom and grandma was suffering the ravages of dementia, and my own family could be forgiven for wondering why our little grandson Gabriel Brandon was given only an hour to live here on earth, why we would need to lay into the cold ground a beautiful little child.
We have wondered what many have wondered, has my family done something wrong? Is God angry with us? The answer, of course, is that yes, our family has done plenty that is wrong, in our sins we have been a long time, we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like polluted garments…
But no, God is not angry with our family, He took every ounce of His anger out on His own Son, Jesus Christ. As Jesus went the way of Calvary, His Father poured out on Him the sinful thoughts, the sinful words, the sinful deeds, the sinful habits, the sins of omission, the sins of every generation onto His beloved Son. He poured out His anger until there was no anger to pour out. No, God is not angry with any of us who are calling on His Name. Though our sins be as scarlet, in Christ, they are white as snow. As far as the east is from the west, that far has our faithful God sent our transgressions. Application #1 today, as often as it seems as though God is hiding, that often go looking for Him. Go looking for Him in the preaching of His Word. Go looking for Him in the waters of Baptism. Go looking for Him in the repentance of your sins. Go looking for Him in His Supper.
Lesson #2 about the faithfulness of our God comes from today’s Epistle Lesson, it has to do with our need to have important assignments in life and not just to be wandering aimlessly through life, He enriches us in every way for a significant (purpose). The really good news we celebrate in this Advent season is that even when we are faithless, our God is faithful. He is the one who has called us into the fellowship of believers in the waters of Baptism in the first place. It is through the preaching of His Word that He has sustained His Church throughout the ages, it is by his true body and blood that He preserves us steadfast in true faith unto the end.
He preserves us in faith not just so that we can survive life and have our own souls saved, but that we could spend our days encouraging others along the way as well.
Lesson #3 about the faithfulness of our God comes from our Gospel lesson, His desire is that we live by His grace with strong hope for the future, He keeps His promises in unexpected (ways). The people of Jesus were looking for a Messiah who would assert himself, they were looking for a king who would overthrow the domination of the Romans, they were looking for an anointed one who would restore the kingdom of Israel to former prominence and prosperity. A normal king would ride into town on a war horse with chariot, but not this King, He came in on a donkey not yet ridden. A normal king would come in pomp and circumstance planned out well in advance, but this celebration would be spontaneous and from the hearts of folks who would cry out Hosanna, which means “save now Lord.”
In this Advent, we do well to cry out in every one of our families, to cry out as a congregation of believers, to cry out as a nation, Hosanna, which is to say, save us now. Save us now, Lord. Save us, Lord Jesus, in these days from falling into the ditch of being so busy that we don’t have time to be still and to be secure in your love. Save us, Lord Jesus, from falling into the ditch of wandering through life without Godly purposes. Save us now, Lord from falling into the ditch of hopelessness. Help us, dear God, to never forget that You are a promise keeper. Many days, He keeps His promises in regular and expected fashion. Some days, He keeps His promises in unexpected ways. Every day, He is faithful and be trusted. He is the way, the truth, and the life. His promises are as sure as His suffering, His death, and His resurrection from the dead.
The not so easy way. (Story of my high school football coach Ken Bakkegard, who asked me, as one of the senior co captains, what went wrong. We had just lost a game we didn’t think we should have lost. The other team had come from behind and beaten us. I said words I later regretted. I said, “Coach, I don’t think we’re in shape.” The rest of the season wasn’t so easy, coach worked us harder than ever, and at the end of every practice, he would ask me to lead an addition ten minutes of working out. We won some, we lost some, but in every one of our days, it was the coach’s way or it was the highway.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who are secure in their Savior’s love, they know their lives have significant purpose, and they live with this strong hope that Jesus is coming, they pray often that he would come soon.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther