Psalm27:1- The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Dear Friends in Christ,
Years ago, I was visiting an elderly man who had fought in World War I, who was a man’s man kind of a man. He was tougher than nails, he trusted in his Savior, he was very hard of hearing. A day or so before he died, I visited him in the nursing home, and I asked him if he was afraid of dying. He couldn’t hear me, so I asked a second time and he couldn’t hear me. About the third or fourth time I was literally yelling this question at Hillcrest Nursing Home, are you afraid of dying? When he finally heard me, grumbled back, “hmff, what the ‘heck’ is there to be afraid of?” Ted knew by faith that the Lord was with him and would not forsake him, that he had no eternal reason to be afraid, that at the end of every day he could be still and know that God was God.
That’s pretty much the attitude of King David in Psalm 27. Remember that David had good reason to be afraid in the various chapters of his life. He had faced at least one lion and a bear wanting to attack his sheep. He faced a giant by the name of Goliath. He had dodged more than one appear hurled his way by King Saul He was forced to part company from his good friend Jonathan. At various times, he had fled for his life, he was without food and weapons, he was hunted by King Saul like a man hunts for deer, he led armies into battle, his infant son died as a direct result of his own sinful decisions, his own sons rebelled against him, his best friend betrayed him, his own wife Michal absolutely despised him – just to mention 8 or ten of his enemies. And in spite of all of that darkness and danger, David cried out, The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? What David truly wanted was to dwell in the house of the Lord in all the days of his life, which is another way of saying he wanted to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple, which is another way of saying as long as he was in the presence of the Lord, as long as he knew the Lord was his good shepherd, as long as he knew that the Lord was following him around with goodness and mercy, he would not be afraid.
Anita Wynnemer had good earthly reasons to be afraid, as do all of us. She had chapters of life that were better and some that were worse. She had years that were richer and some that were poorer. She had times good health and times of sickness. When Dan and Gail were hurting, she was hurting. When they were crying or struggling or sinking, she was crying and struggling and sinking.
The Bible says in a number of ways that life here and now is on the one hand full of blessings and on the other hand full of trouble. There is all kinds of good news to be enjoyed, and at the same time there are enemies to be faced. Anita had at least three enemies to face, as do all of us in every one of our days. Enemy #1 was her own sinful nature, which would tempt her to think wrong, to speak wrong, and to do wrong. Enemy #2 was this sinful world which would coax her to stumble and fall short of God’s standards of perfection – namely the Ten Commandments, and enemy #3 was the devil himself with all of his nasty demons who would be lurking and prowling and throwing roadblocks and causing trouble in her family every step of the way.
But in all of her days her Lord Jesus Christ was stronger than her enemies. He was her light and her salvation, as often as she listened to His Word, as often as she held onto that Word, and as often as she cherished that Word. Jesus Christ was her sigh of relief, He was her refuge and strength and very present help in trouble as often as she cried out for help, as often as she sought His face, as often as she looked beyond herself for answers. The Good News for her is that as often as she confessed her failures and her faults to her God, the forgiveness of sins swept over her soul and she was not afraid……….as often as she ate and drank at her Lord’s Supper, that often her heart was declared pure, that often her spirit was refreshed, that often her faith was strengthened, that often there was peace that surpasses human circumstances, that often she was not afraid.
It’s comforting to know that Anita loved Jesus (Jesus doll) and that she worked hard at following Jesus, but even better news than that is that Jesus Christ has been following her around every step of the way as well. His Spirit has been teaching her spirit and encouraging her soul every time she read and studied her Bible, and let me tell you – she loved her Bible as much as she loved her children. The Lord was her Shepherd, and as often as she came into the house of God and used her ears to hear what God wanted her to hear and as often as she received the good gifts that God wanted her to receive, that often her head would be lifted up and she would sing and make melody to the Lord.
It’s comforting to know that Anita was strong and growing in her faith, but even more comforting than that is that Jesus Christ is stronger than every one of our enemies, and even better than that, by suffering under Pontius Pilate, by being crucified until he was dead and buried, and by rising up again on the third day in glorious fashion, he has defeated every one of our enemies as predicted and as promised. By living the perfect life none of us can even get close to living, by suffering all that we should have suffered, by offering up a sacrifice to end all required sacrifices, by rising up again on the third day and by ascending into heaven on the 40th day and by sending His Holy Spirit in superabundant fashion on the 50th day, he works in us a heart that is not afraid, he works in our life in such a way that we do hide in his shelter, in such a way that we are concealed under the cover of his tent, in such a way that we do spend our days waiting for the Lord, we do spend our days looking upon the goodness of the Lord, we do spend our days doing all things he is asking us to do through the strength of our Lord.
One assignment he gave Anita was to raise up her children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and so she did, by the grace of God and through faith in Jesus Christ. She loved both of her children, and grandchildren, she loved friends and family not in a perfect way, but in a way that was faithful and in response to Jesus Christ loving her first. It’s hard for me not to talk about Gail a little bit today, and I do so in the context of a Bible verse we often quote around here when one of God’s people dies. We say, “Blessed are they who die in the Lord from now on, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.”
Even though we want all of the accolades and all of the glory to go to God this afternoon, I am going to say a couple of nice things about Gail. It seems as though Anita handed off the baton of faith in a strong way to Gail, it seems as though by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, Gail is spending her days not being afraid, focused on her Savior, and eager to brighten the lives of others.
Many of you might know that Gail has been stuffing weekend bulletins around her since around1991 or so – that’s 25 years times 50, that’s over 1,250 times that she has been coming into our church office on Friday afternoons talking smart and loving life and brightening up all kinds of lives, including mine. Gail seems to just do good stuff just for the fun of it, and as she does, the Spirit of God has a way of making that joy contagious. There are days when if I didn’t know better, I would have thought that Anita and Gail were angels sent from heaven, that’s how blessed so many of us have been by Anita, who is now resting from her labors – and Gail, who will continue to be who God has called her to be and do what He has called her to do……
Dear Christian friends, no matter what is heavy on your heart, no matter what is making your nervous, no matter what is keeping you up at nights, no matter what is causing you to be afraid, the Lord is your light and your salvation, you have every good reason not to be afraid. The sins of your past have been washed away in the blood of your Savior, the worries of your future are in the hands of your Father, leaving you just with today to be who God has called you to do and to do that which He has called you to do. Know that Jesus Christ is anxious to hold you close in all of your days, know that for Anita to live here and now was Christ and that for her to die was gain. Know that she is resting in the presence of her Savior and that the day is coming when the angel will be shouting and the trumpet will be sounding and Jesus will be returning and this body which you may lay into the ground today will be rising! Know that in Jesus Christ there is forgiveness of sins, there is a resurrection of the body, and there is life everlasting. Amen.
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ,
In recent days, my sister Gail gave me three boxes of my mom’s scrapbooks, journals, and prayers. And so it is that I have been spending time reading through my mom’s reflections and how it is that the Spirit of God worked in her heart a strong and a growing Christian faith, a faith that has been blessing her children and grandchildren and family and friends for decades, a faith I’d like to give you a little glimpse of how my mom laid aside that which was entangling her and how she kept her eyes focused on her Savior.
The context of this glimpse, this little snapshot is that my parents were having a disagreement about how best to help my mom’s brother, who had a long history of abusing alcohol and all that comes along with drinking problems. “The rains woke me this morning, and I reached over to touch Jack. I needed his warm arms to hold me, but he felt the tear on my cheek and I felt the lump come back into my throat. It has been there so much these troubled days….and I guess the tears were blinding me so that I couldn’t see just where Jesus is standing….Why don’t I take more time and look out these beautiful south windows and see all the beauty God created; see or wait to see the beauty behind the clouds and storms of life also. Try to concentrate on your blessings at these times, like this beautiful house where I sit in comfort as the rains come down. I dreamed of a house like this as a girl….Lord as I prepare to face this day with its problems, help me throw away the words and actions which do no one any good….I’ll get steak in the crock pot for supper before I go to work…”
Our sermon theme today would focus on what it means to live by faith instead of by sight. Three lessons we would learn about what it means to have a growing instead of a plateauing or declining faith. Lesson #1 is that a growing faith never stops studying (the past). There is an old saying that appears in many different forms, but the earliest version is probably that of the poet and philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Or to say it another way, “Happiness will never come to those who fail to appreciate what they already have.” Or as our local philosopher Gail Wynnemer likes to say, “You don’t appreciate “nuthin” until you don’t got it!”
The Bible says of course, that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. One way of hearing the Word of God is by hearing again and again the simple truths that we have learned from our mother’s knees. We might categorize these simple truths into two kinds of blessings – there are the routine blessings, and then there are the miraculous.
Remembering the (routine). My mom’s faith would be strengthened every time she remembered that her husband was a faithful and dependable and kind provider, every time she noticed the beauty of a sunrise and the glory of a sunset, every time she gave thanks for her daily bread, every time she enjoyed the comforts of her home and the company of friends and family. No doubt Abraham’s faith was strengthened as he remembered how God had blessed him with a faithful wife and servants, every time he noticed the seasons of the year coming and going, every time he and his household had food to eat and his livestock enjoyed green pastures and still waters. No doubt Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Moses and the people of Israel were strengthened in their faith every single time they were still and knew that God was God, every single time they survived yet one more day of danger, every time they kept on making mistakes and God kept on showing them mercy.
Remembering the (miraculous). I know for a fact my mom’s faith was strengthened every time she taught her Sunday School students the familiar stories of the Bible, every time she gave birth to a child, every time she rejoice in the birth of one of her ten grandchildren, every time she received news of the birth of a great grandchild (25 or so an counting at the time of her death.) No doubt Abraham’s faith was strengthened every time he bounced on his knees his little son Isaac, the son who was born to a woman who everybody said was as good as dead in terms of bearing children. No doubt Jacob’s faith was strengthened every time he recalled all the miracles he had seen in life, including his favorite son Joseph surviving being sold into slavery, including the reuniting of his fractured family, including the forgiveness of sins sweeping over his twelve sons and their families in powerful way. No doubt the people of Israel were strengthened in their faith every time their parents and grandparents taught them history, every time they remembered plagues of water turning into blood, frogs covering their land, and gnats swarming over people and beast alike, every time they shivered in horror at the memory of plagues of flies, then livestock dying, and then boils, then hail, then locusts, then darkness, and finally as they remembered their own firstborns getting spared and Egyptian firstborns getting slaughtered. Lesson #1 today is that our faith, which has nothing to do with our own accomplishments and everything to do with who God is and all that He has already done, our faith will be growing as long as we never stop being students of history.
A growing faith stays focused on the One Who holds (the future). The kingdom of God is like a big strong dad who was walking down an icy sidewalk in the middle of winter with his little son. First the little boy wanted to walk by himself without the help of his dad, and that didn’t work, the little boy slipped and fell several times. Next, the little boy tried to hold onto his dad’s hand, and that worked for a time, but eventually, that didn’t work either, his grip on his dad’s hand kept slipping, and down he went again and again. Finally the father suggested that he hold onto the boy’s hand, and so he did, and all was well.
To stay focused on the one who is holding our future is to keep on (Trusting) in His promises. By faith, Abraham could offer up his one and only and beloved son knowing that if worse came to worse, God could raise him up again from the dead. By faith Joseph made mention of a future exodus from Egypt and gave instructions for his own burial, knowing that the God in whom he trusted kept all his promises without exception. By faith, Moses and the people at the Red Sea could take their next steps in life, knowing that the day they and their children entered the Promised Land would be absolutely glorious!
And so it is that to stay focused on the one who is taking our hand and leading us into our future means that we will be (Investing) in the next generations By faith Isaac could bless into the future his sons Isaac and Jacob, knowing the God in whom he trusted was the same yesterday, today, and forever. By faith the parents of Moses could hide their baby boy on the river and not be afraid of an earthly king, knowing the king they believed in was to be feared above all else. By faith, the Dorothy Fischers and so many others have left portions of their inheritance to this church and school, knowing that children would be baptized into the name of the Triune God and taught their Savior’s love for generations to come. By faith, so many grandmas and grandpas and senior citizens in this very place and all across the world keep on investing in Christian education, knowing that seeds planted in the present will yield harvest all the way into eternity. Lesson #2- A growing faith tays focused on the One Who holds our future in his hands.
Lesson #3 A growing faith goes on running the race with perseverance (one day at a time). The kingdom of God is like one of our dear Christian ladies being laid to rest this very week. Her list of trouble and trial is longer than most and includes a major battle with mental illness. And yet she and her faithful husband kept living by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, kept on putting one foot in front of the other, for better and for worse as they say, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poor.
Two thoughts about running our assigned courses with endurance. Some days we will be Running in directions that feel (all wrong). It had to feel all wrong for Abraham to raise the knife and slaughter his beloved son, it had to feel not entirely right for the parents of Moses to leave their son out there crying and defenseless, it had to feel dangerous for Rahab the prostitute to give a welcome to foreign spies. In our day, it feels awkward to stand up for traditional and old fashioned teachings of the Bible, it feels uncomfortable to ask hard questions to people we care about, it feels wrong to forgive people who aren’t really apologizing, it feels not entirely right to help people who keep on making the same mistakes over and over again.
Other days, we will simply be Running for (safety). That’s what the people crossing the Red Sea were doing, running like scared mice away from the big tomcat. That’s what Moses was doing leaving Egypt after he had killed a man in his anger. That’s what many of us do every day in private devotions, running to God’s Word for refuge and for strength, that’s what we do stepping up for the Holy Supper again and again – running straight towards that place where our sins are forgiven, our faith is strengthened, and our souls are refreshed. Lesson #3 – a growing faith goes on running the race with perseverance, one day at a time, some days running in direction that feel all wrong, some days just running to stay alive, every day running by faith so that we do not grow weary or fainthearted.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people often get weary and fainthearted, but they know where it is that their hearts will be lifted up. They work hard and they play hard, but their best times are when they rest hard in the promises of their God. They believe and they pray to God to help them overcome their unbelief. They trust at the same time that they doubt, and oh how grateful they are to have a God who believes in second chances and new beginnings. They make all kinds of mistakes, but they know at the end of every day that their souls are loved, their sins are forgiven, heaven is theirs. And so their faith doesn’t just sit there and survive life, it keeps on growing. It grows as often as it studies the past, it grows as often as it stays focused on the One who holds the future, it grows as often as it concentrates on running or shall we say walking their marathon one mile at a time.
Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, 12-14; 2:18-26 // Colossians 3:1-11 // Luke 12:13-21
Dear Christian friends,
I haven’t been an old man yet, but I’m moving toward it. To everyone who says I look like I’m just out of high school, I say, first, Thank you, and then, I’m working on it, one day at a time. My mom asked me if I would be a grumpy old man or a cheerful old man, and I told her it’d depend on the day. Today, we find that our texts ask and answer the questions of those reaching the end of their life.
Do you ask any of those questions? Erik Erikson would have you believe that those in their twenties struggle with the question “Who am I? What will I do?” They hope to find their identity in their relationships and in their work. Those in their 40’s struggle with the question, “What am I doing? Am I just being busy, or am I doing something good?” Those in their 60’s and beyond are concerned with their legacy, the product of everything they labored so long to do. They ask the questions of our text for today, “What, if any, lasting legacy do I have?” They have a legacy problem.
You look back at the end of your life and you wonder what good you have done, what legacy you’ve built, what lasting impression you’ve made on the world. You might think about the many people you’ve met or the goals you accomplished. Some people long for the good old days, at the end of their life they look at their past with rose-tinted glasses. They only see the good times, only the easy nights, only the sunny days.
Others look at their legacy in the opposite way, whatever the opposite of rose-tinted is. They see their life as a sad series of failures culminating in the slow decline of death. They regret their parenting. They regret their children. They regret their choices. If they could do it all over again, they’d do it differently. But both look back and say that legacy is important.
Perhaps you’re wondering and worrying over the legacy of your years. Perhaps you’re only beginning on the work of a lifetime. Maybe you dream you can change the world. Some of you, no doubt, have left your mark. Others of you, no doubt will leave your mark. Some of us wish to have the very longest of life, only to find our sad fate is the bury everyone we’ve ever loved. Others, no doubt, wish for one more day, one more year to hang on.
But our passage from Luke and from Ecclesiastes would agree; our first truth for today is that the rich have the same (enduring) problem as the poor, that we have a legacy problem. Jesus takes us through a parable about the kind of man who’s living a blessed life. He had a farm that grew good crops, so that he could build barns so that he could grow more crops, so he could build bigger barns so that he could grow even more crops, and then life takes a turn for the even better. He has a bumper crop kind of a year and he needs even bigger barns, when in the prime of life his time is up. When life seemed to be going about as good as it could, it was all taken away. He found that in the end, in the face of death, all that made his life a good life became meaningless.
Ecclesiastes says the same thing. Solomon writes, Meaningless, meaningless, vanity, vanity. The word that he uses there is Hevel; it means the opposite of weighty, flimsy to the point of being just breath. “The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to them all. Then I said in my heart, ‘What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?’”
He says, What good is it to build up my kingdom, when I have no control on whether the next guy will run it into the ground? If I have the same end as the fool, what point is there in being wise? If the salad eater has the same end as the bacon-eater, what point is there in eating leafy greens? If in this world, following Christ will get you punishment rather than reward, if it ends in the same struggle of death as the wicked, what is the point of living clean?
Legend has it that Persian kings would write their legacies on the mountainsides so that they could be read by all generations, but these thousand years later, they’ve turned back into weathered stone. Even in Egypt, the greatest of pharaohs who built the most enduring of monuments in their quest for eternal life are reduced to names in history books and bones in museums. They all end up in the grave, a fate they share with however many countless slaves of their household.
We might have a legacy problem, but thanks be to God that we’re given an inheritance that we didn’t (earn). In the parable, God tells the man, “You fool! Do you not know your soul will be required of you this night? Your barns, your crops, your life, your breath, even your very soul is a gift from God, and the first step of wisdom is to remember that again and again.”
Your life is not your own. You’ve been bought with a price. Though the Water and the Word, all who have been baptized are hidden in Christ. That means, you’ve experienced all that he experienced. You have all the benefits that he has won. You’ve been crucified on his cross and you’ve been raised to life from his tomb. You obtain his righteousness. You get to call God your Father. Your legacy, your story, your days, your toils, your successes, your failures, your life goals, and your detours, they all are subsumed into the great Grand Story of how our God made the world, loves a broken world, sent his son, and makes it right again.
My life is hidden with Christ on high. In the mystery of Baptism, we’re hidden in Christ. Or, As Psalm 46 says it, our God is a fortress and when he we stand in him, we will not be shaken. He’s like a rock, a refuge, a help in trouble; his forgiveness becomes a wall around us. Our inheritance has been granted to us through Christ. Our legacy does not end in death because our life has been swallowed up into his.
So, if this is true, and it is, if the promises of our God are strong, and they are, then, what part do we have to play in His Story? Three little thoughts from our text today.
Reaping what others (sowed). One of the greatest privileges I’ve had here at Trinity thus far is to see how the Spirit of God has blown in this town, how faithful church and pastors have done ministry, how the long word of grace has gone out among the people.
Ruth Jacobs sends a 400,000$ check because a ministry of the Word married her here 50 years ago. Recovering drug addicts walk through my door eager to share their stories because this church helped them to pay their rent one more time while they could live in Janesville. College students come back to do ministry for the summer here because of the influence of our youth Director and their teachers. These are not seeds that I’ve sown. These are plants that another had watered. These are stories in a God-sized story of this church being taught, corrected, rebuked, and trained to faithfully live out the Gospel, whether we see the results or not. You see, that is the point of Paul in Colossians --- the point of pulling off the sinful nature and clothing yourself in Christ isn’t so much because it’s nice to wear clean clothes, or how it feels good to love others, or even how it’s the right thing to do.
No, the real reason that Paul commands us to look like Christ, the real reason that gives lasting legacy to our work, the real reason why we can refute the cry of Ecclesiastes, meaningless meaningless, is because we get to look like Christ to someone, whether we know it or not. We get to be the hands and feet of Jesus so that Jesus can work his long story through our little time and small actions.
Better open your arms (wide!) I was in a kiddie pool playing catch with my cousin’s son, Owen and he’s about three years old. He’s right at that edge between actually being able to throw and catch. You know, sometimes he really whips it and other times it hits the ground right in front of him. But what I’m thinking about today is the way that he catches. Before they can follow the ball well, when you tell them to get ready to catch something, do you know what they do? They throw their arms out as wide as they can. They get ready for you to toss the ball by opening themselves up as wide as possible so they can get it wherever it might go. You see, the point is this: their arms are open wide. They’re ready in the best way they know how, and they’ve got their arms open to catch anything you send their way.
Today, I invite you to open your arms wide to catch whatever tour God sends your way. I invite you to keep your eyes open for whichever way the Spirit of God is leading you. I invite you keep your days free to see what good works your Father in haven has set aside for you to do.
It’s not the (What), it’s the (how). Legend has it that in the making of the Discipling Center, there were some that wanted to get it up quick, to see the walls and roof come on, and others that focused on the process, on how the foundation, on making sure the block was set straight, that the pouring was even, that the measurements were right. They focused on the process. That’s the point that Paul makes in Colossians. Put to death the way of doing things that’s angry. Throw away the way of doing things that’s filled with lust, that’s filled with gossip. Because that’s the truth of conflict. You can have conflict in a healthy way. It’s not the fight that’s the problem; it’s the way that you fight to win, to put the other down, to be right, to look good. Take off those dirty clothes. They don’t suit you. Put on instead humility, and kindness. Speak your truth with gentleness and love..
The kingdom of God is like a pastor in the 1950’s, faithfully ministering to a woman to be wedded to her fiancé, spending time, shepherding, leading, and guiding them as they approached marriage, never knowing that his efforts would reward a church flourishing long after he passed away.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town that spends less time worrying about the effectiveness of its programs and more time asking God to be faithful to his promises to guide and care for their community. They care less and less for the internal politics, for the … and more and more for the preaching of the word that led to communion and fellowship that led to walking alongside all kinds of unexpected people.
The kingdom of God is like a slender young pastor who can’t believe how blessed he is to reap all kinds of stories that he did not sow. And so, he lifts up in prayer all kinds of people he may never see again, so that at the end of his service, all that he helped might not remember him but remember the Christ who worked through him.
The enduring problem of the rich and the poor is that our legacy disappears far too quickly. But, thanks be to God that we’re given the inheritance of eternal life that we didn’t earn. And in that inheritance, it is our privilege to reap what others sowed, to open our arms wide to whatever God sends our way, and to see the how as much as you see the what. Amen and amen.
(Second in a two part series on Abraham)
Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ,
Chutzpah? I’m going to begin with a story that’s political, but it’s not partisan. Political, but it’s not partisan. As I listened to one of our presidential candidates this past week, I heard him refer to a major and nationwide problem, and then instead of suggesting that we could fix this problem if we worked together, he simply said, “And I’m the man who can fix it.” It wasn’t an isolated case of one politician saying one time that he or she could fix some terrible situation we have going on in our country. It’s bothered me, and no doubt all of you, for a long time, and it will bother us this week as well, that candidates use the “I” language instead of the “we” language.
Everybody who knows anything about this great country of ours knows there are three branches of government, knows that there are all kinds of checks and balances in our Constitution and Bill of Right, knows that there’s virtually nothing that lone rangers can do at any level of government, knows that it is simply what I’m going to call misplaced chutzpah to talk about what one presidential candidate can do, if only the masses will vote for him or her.
At first glance at today’s Old Testament lesson, it might seem to be misplaced chutzpah on the part of Abraham as he intercedes with Almighty God to change his mind about destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. The idea that a mere mortal would approach the immortal and almost always invisible God and ask him to spare a metropolitan area for the sake of 50 righteous people, the chutzpah that it would take to suggest that it would be unfair for the righteous to be treated the same way as the unrighteous? And then when Yahweh says yes to his prayer that he dares to ask a second time, what about if you can only five 45 believers, and when God says yes, he says what about 40 believers, and when God says yes, he says what about 30, and when God says yes, he says what about 20, and when God says yes for a fifth time in a row, the chutzpah that it would take to ask one more time, for a man who admits that he is nothing but dust and ashes, for a man who knows he is a poor and miserable and wavering and frail and sinful creature, to ask one more time, what about 10? Would you spare this city, where my beloved nephew and family are living, would you spare them if you can find 10 believers?
Moses records these amazing words, words which teach us so very much today about The Gift of Prayer, “He answered, ‘For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.’ And the Lord went his way, when he had finished to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.” Three questions we want to ask today about the gift / the amazing privilege of prayer – 1) For whom shall we pray? 2) How shall we pray? 3) For what shall we pray?
(For whom) shall we pray? St. Paul answers that question in his letter to young pastor Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Everybody knows we should pray for friends and family, but Jesus takes it a step further in His Sermon on the Mount, “Pray for those who persecute you.” Some would extend their prayers for those who have already died, and yet the writer to the Hebrews has this to say, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”
Our catechism answers the question for whom should we pray, “We should pray for ourselves and for all other people, even for our enemies, but not for the souls of the dead.”
The story of Abraham interceding for an metropolitan area which included Sodom and Gomorrah reveals the heart of a man who cared deeply about others, including those who did not follow God. His prayers were For those who “deserve” it and those who (“don’t). The reality of our sinful nature, of course, is that not a one of us deserves the mercy of God, there’s not a one of us that doeth good and sinneth not, as the King James version would say it. But when the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are included in the equation, well then a few believers are deemed worthy while the many unbelievers are considered unworthy. The pleading of Abraham was not only for the few who might have been believing in the one true God but also for those who obviously were not.
We would learn again today that we have every reason to pray both For people we know and people we (don’t). You see, God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, and so we pray not only for those who are inside of the church but for those who are outside in the world. Christ died for all, and so we pray for those who think and talk and look and act like us and those who think and talk and look and act different than us. Jesus loves all the little children and so we would care deeply not only about the little children in little Janesville, MN but the little children in Zlehtown, Liberia, not only about the salvation of children in Mankato, but also the salvation of children in Minneapolis and Monrovia and Moscow and you fill in the blank. That’s for whom should we pray.
Question #2 (How) shall we pray? The catechism answer is this – we should pray in the Name of Jesus, we should pray with confidence, and we should pray according to God’s revealed will. In our text for today, we find that it’s God who initiates the conversation, not Abraham. It’s God who comes down in person to tell Abraham and Sarah face to face that they’re going to have a baby in less than a year. It’s God who asks himself whether he should hide from Abraham what he is about to do to Sodom and Gomorrah, it is God who reminds himself that he has chosen Abraham to be the father of a great and a mighty nation, it’s God who talks to himself and reminds himself that he is molding and shaping Abraham so he can command his household in such a way that all nations on earth would be blessed with the Messiah.
We learn from this Bible story that we may pray to our Father in heaven first of all as dear children would ask their dear (father) This past week, Debi and I did a fair amount of child care with their mom gone on a youth trip to New Orleans. My time with them went pretty well, and mainly for this reason. This grandpa pretty much gives them what they want. When they ask for ice cream, they’re almost always going to get it. When they ask to go swimming, they’re almost always going to go swimming. When they wonder if they can have screen time, they’re probably going to get screen time. If children were going to vote for grandpa of the year, I might be in the running!
Our Father in heaven, of course, is the perfect father. If even good earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will our father in heaven give good gifts to his children? Dear friends in Christ, I don’t know what exactly is on your hearts and minds today, but we do know that you may pray with absolute confidence in every one of your days to your father in heaven. Answer #1 to the question, how shall we pray, is with absolute confidence that our God will answer every one of our prayers in a perfect way, with perfect motives, and with perfect timing. The reason we have absolute confidence in our God, of course, is that Jesus Christ has taken our place by living the perfect life we could never begin to live, he has taken our place by suffering all that we should have suffered, he has died the death we should have died. He has paid the price demanded by a righteous God, therefore our sins are forgiven, therefore our souls have been redeemed, therefore our prayers ascend in direct fashion to the throne of our God. Abraham pleaded on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah mainly for the sake of his beloved nephew Lot and family, as it turned out there were only three or four believers, and not ten, and yet the end of this sorry story is that God spared a small town called Zoar for the sake of Lot and his two daughters.
We pray first of all with confidence and boldness, and secondly with persistence. As deeply troubled neighbors would seek out their best (friend). In our Old Testament story, Abraham asked not once, not twice, not three times, not four times, not five times, but six times in a row, and as often as he asked, he received. He kept on seeking and he kept on finding. He kept on knocking and the door kept on being opened. Also in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells a story about a friend who went knocking at midnight and kept on asking until the irritated neighbor gave him the three loaves of bread. He gave him the bread not out of the goodness of his heart, but just to get him to quit bothering him. If even an irritated friend will do us a favor to get us to be quiet, how much more so will our best friend Jesus give us what we need, and many times, what we don’t really need, but we want it?
Final question of the day, (For what) shall we pray?
Answer #1- Anything and everything that has to do with the (body) Our first inclination in life is to pray for our physical needs. A look at our today’s bulletin prayer requests includes thanksgiving and petitions for marriage, for the birth of a baby, for health concerns, for our nations political and racial wounds, and for our military folks. Prayer requests come flooding into our church office almost every day, usually having something to do with sickness and safety. Which is absolutely fine and God pleasing, Scriptures are absolutely full of invitations to pray and examples of God’s people crying out for healing and safety, crying out for protection and peace, crying out for daily bread and deliverance.
Answer #2 to the question for what shall we pray - Especially that which has to do with the (soul). The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town that regularly cries out for their God to bless the teaching and the preaching of God’s Word near and far, it’s like an army of grandmas and grandpas praying for the salvation of their children and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren’s souls, it’s like all kinds of parents getting down by their children’s bedsides at night time praying that the faith of their children would grow and never die, it’s like Abraham praying for God to have mercy on Sodom and Gomorrah, it’s like redeemed believers in every generation praying for God to have mercy on people they know and people they don’t know, praying for God to have mercy on folks who seem to deserve God’s mercy and on those who seem not to deserve it, praying for God to have mercy on the Democrats and the Republicans and every body in between, praying for God to have mercy on the liberals and the conservatives and on those who don’t know what they are anymore, praying for God to have mercy on their friends and family and especially on their enemies and those who are bothering them world without end, praying for God to have mercy not with a misplaced chutzpah, but with chutzpah rising up out of Easter Sunday dust and ashes in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.
Oratio, Meditatio, and Tentatio (Prayer, Meditation, and Testing)! Luther taught that the life of a theologian would be one of 1)praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit, 2) meditating on the written Word, and 3)being tempted by Satan. That the cycle of life would be praying in the name of and for the sake of Jesus Christ, reading and thinking through the Word of God, and then doing battle with all that the enemies of this world and our own sinful flesh and the devil himself can throw our way. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people going on their merry way, spending their days storming the gates of heaven for favors small and large, spending their days fixing their eyes on their Savior with absolute confidence that He loves them and knows what He is doing, spending their days getting breathed on by the Spirit of God through Scriptures that are profitable for teaching and reproof, for correction, and for training, spending their days as a friend of mine likes to say, climbing every hill with the knowledge that it’s getting you ready for the next hill.
First in a Two Part Series on Abraham
Genesis 18:1-10a And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks[a] of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3 and said, “O Lord,[b] if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5 while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs[c] of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
9 They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Who’s serving? That was the question of the month back in Peace Lutheran Church in little Barney, North Dakota years ago. First of all it was the question asked about the monthly Ladies’ Aid meeting. Secondly, it was the question asked about the monthly Walther League meeting.
Who’s serving? It was a big deal. The answer was in the weekly bulletin, and the answer was right on the monthly church calendar. And the answer of who served and what exactly they served could be found in Ladies Aid minutes and perhaps even in the Walther League minutes. To this very day, in little and big churches all over the country, including here at Trinity, if you want to know who’s serving at the monthly meetings coming up, we can get that answer for you. In fact, if you want to know what the ladies will be serving, and let me tell you, it’s always really good, we can get that answer as well. (Story of Mom and her sister Linny getting ready to serve at Ladies Aid just ten years ago, when they were both into their 80’s. A big deal!)
Who’s serving? That’s a question we want to ask both about our Old Testament and Gospel lessons for today. Who’s serving whom? And what are they serving? Three answers to those questions today, three parts to our sermon. 1) Abraham and Sarah give us a glimpse of (Old Testament hospitality) 2) Martha gives us a glimpse of (New Testament hospitality) 3) Christ came first of all not to be served, but to deliver (Divine hospitality)
First, Abraham and Sarah give us a glimpse of (Old Testament hospitality). Hebrew 13:2 urges New Testament Christians to show hospitality to stranger for this reason – some have entertained angels without being aware of it. This may well be a reference to this Bible story, where Abraham rolls out the red carpet for three strange men before he realizes that they were Yahweh himself and two of his angels. Abraham made them feel welcome, and he did so in a hurry. He ran to where they were standing, and he prostrated himself before them. He makes it clear to them that it would be his privilege to serve them and he pleaded with them to stay. He insists that their feet be washed, which was step #1 of desert hospitality. He offers a little bit of bread and then orders Sarah to prepare three measures, four and a half pecks, approximately a bushel of flour into bread, way more than three men could eat. He personally ran out to his herd, selected the finest of heifers, and made sure it was slaughtered, butchered, and roasted. He personally saw to it that they could drink the best of drinks, and he stood by while they ate.
(Story of the first Christmas meal Debi ate with my family, where ladies served and stood by while the rest of us ate, and then sat down at a card table later to eat. Debi not impressed with that custom and saw to it that it never happened again!)
One wonders why Abraham was so very hospitable. Was it because he wanted something in return? In fact, in the very next chapters of Genesis, he does ask God for a huge favor. He pleads for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in general and for his nephew Lot in particular to be saved. In next Sunday’s sermon, we will focus on Abraham interceding and God hearing the prayers of his saints.
But today, we would take a look in the mirror and see whether we are ever guilty of doing the right things for the wrong reasons. The times we have found ourselves in all kinds of trouble and promised God if he would just get us out of this mess, we would come to church every Sunday. The times we have imagine our going to church and volunteering in the church should count for something in the courtroom of God? Have we ever wined and dined others with less than pure motives? Along with the Psalmist, we pray and we pray often, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
In today’s Gospel lesson, we know what Martha’s thoughts are about her sister Mary. It’s Martha who is fussing and stewing and preparing and cleaning and baking and serving and it’s Mary who is just sitting there and listening to Jesus. It’s Martha who is getting more annoyed and irritated by the moment until she just can’t keep it in any more. “Jesus, don’t you even care that Mary is just sitting on her duff while I do all the work? Can’t you just tell her to start pulling her weight around here? Don’t you think everybody should do their fair share?
Martha gives us a glimpse of (New Testament hospitality)At first glance, Martha was doing the one thing needful. The New Testament makes it very clear that when your neighbor is hungry, you should feed him. When she’s thirsty, you should give her something to drink. When your friends are in the hospital, you should visit them. When your acquaintance in is jail, you should visit. Peter writes, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
Jesus takes New Testament hospitality a step further when he says to go beyond normal duties of being a decent and kind person. If some nasty neighbor is suing you for your tunic, go ahead give him your cloak as well. If some detail oriented friend insists that you walk with her one mile, go ahead and go with her the second mile. If you get slapped on the right cheek for the sake of the Gospel, go ahead and turn the other cheek as well.
Again, at first glance, Martha is doing what is right and God pleasing. She is going the extra mile, and she is covering for her princess of a sister Mary. And when she just can’t hold it inside for one more minute, she lets the fur fly. No doubt with tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat, she wonders out loud why her Lord doesn’t seem to be appreciating her as she deserves to be appreciated.
Which is exactly the moment where Jesus had to gently rebuke dear Martha. Martha, you’re doing a really good work there, but in this moment Mary is getting it right. I really do appreciate you fussing and bustling about and I know you love me, Martha, but your first assignment each day is to receive, not give. That’s another way of saying this, Christ came first of all not to be served, but to deliver (Divine hospitality)
First of all, it was true that the preincarnate Christ came first of all To Abraham and Sarah not to be served, but to deliver divine hospitality. This visit wasn’t about getting something to eat and drink, it was about God telling Sarah in person what he had already told Abraham – that she was going to have a baby. Keep in mind that Sarah and Abraham had heard this promise before- twenty five years ago they had heard they were going to have a baby, when Sarah was 65 and Abraham was 75 they were told that their descendents would be like the sand on the seashore and as many as the stars in the sky. And they were still waiting and hoping and doubting, and no doubt there were many days when they wondered if the Lord was really going to come through on his word. Perhaps they prayed as did the Psalmist, Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
The good news has always been that God is a covenant God, that He keeps every promise without exception, and that it has always been about Jesus Christ coming first of all not to be served, but to serve. So also in our Gospel lesson was Jesus coming To Mary. The front cover of your bulletin today gives you a picture of Jesus serving Mary. Serving her with the one thing needful, which is that her God had loved her with an everlasting love. Which is that when Jesus was born as a baby in the little town of Bethlehem, he would be born for her. When he would live the perfect life, he would be living it for her. When he would suffer under Pontius Pilate, he would be suffering for her. When Jesus would be crucified and dead and buried, he would be crucified, dead, and buried for her. When Jesus would rise up again, he would be rising up again for her.
So also to us. We made the case in last Sunday’s sermon, and we make it again today. In Divine Service, our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are serving us. In the words of absolution, God is serving us with the forgiveness of our sins. In the reading and preaching of His Word, God’s Spirit is coming into our hearts calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying us with His truth. God’s Word is truth. In the Holy Supper, Jesus is present. He’s really present, and as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we taste the very goodness of God. Make no mistake about it, our first assignment in Divine Worship is to receive.
There’s an old saying that has to do with traveling salesmen, “you can’t sell from an empty wagon.” Also in the Church, you can’t give away what you haven’t received. While it may well be more blessed to give than receive, it’s also true that if you keep on giving and giving without receiving and receiving, you’re going to have those days when you come up empty. Your cup is going to feel like it’s empty instead of overflowing.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people who are learning one more time this week that the Son of Man came first of all not to be served, but to serve. Not to be wined and dined, but to seek and to save the lost. With that lesson in mind, they are learning one more time that it is more blessed to listen than it is to talk. More blessed to console than it is to be consoled. More blessed to understand other people’s opinions than to be understood. And with that in mind they go looking for people to love. They go look for people to forgive. They go looking for people to give them another perspective on this world’s troubles. They go looking for folks who are hurting and broken and messed up and full of rage. And in their quiet moments, they hear Jesus whispering into their ears, When I needed somebody to listen, you (listened)
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther