Joel 2:12- 19
· Story about a newly wed couple where the groom drank too much at their wedding reception, he drove drunk, crashed his motorcycle, caused the death of his bride, wounded himself, and ended up in jail. Jesus Christ was wounded for that man, He was crucified until He was dead and buried for that man, He rose up again so that His Father could be gracious to that man.
· No doubt there are people not too far away from here who have drove drunk, there are those who have caused accidents, there are those who have wounded loved ones and themselves with their reckless habits. Jesus Christ was wounded for those people, He was crucified until He was dead and buried for those people, He rose up again so that His Father could be merciful to those people.
· No doubt there are children in our school who have lied to their parents, children who have disrespected their teachers, children who have fallen into fits of crabbiness, fits of nastiness, fits of orneriness. Jesus Christ was wounded for those children, He was crucified until He was dead and buried for those people, He rose up again so that His Father could be slow to anger with those children.
· No doubt there are teenagers in our high school who have broken all kinds of commandments, teenagers who have had little or no time for the Word of God, teenagers who have failed to do the good they wanted to do and fallen into bad habits they didn’t want to fall into. Jesus Christ was wounded for those teenagers, he was crucified until He was dead and buried for those teenagers, He rose up again so that His Father could abound in steadfast love for those teenagers.
· Three lessons we want to learn from Jesus about Lent on this Ash Wednesday.
1. Lent is about staring in amazement at a sacred head, now wounded, instead of just passing by unimpressed.
· Amazed at how far He came to find us - the ones who came from dust and are returning to dust. The ashes for which this day are named symbolize that we are dying, they remind us that the wages of sin is death, they warn us against getting full of ourselves.
· Amazed that Christ would take on flesh and blood, as He did when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus went so far as to become dust for us, He went so far as to become sin for us, that we might be claimed by our Father as sons and daughters.
· If ever there was a season to be amazed by the grace of God, if there was ever a season to be quiet in the house of God, if ever there was a season to be sorry for the ways we have offended our God, if ever there was a season to weep over the messes we have left behind, if ever there was a season to regret the opportunities we have missed, this is the season.
#1 lesson – staring in amazement at a sacred head, now wounded, instead of just passing by unimpressed.
2. Lent is about pastors and congregations gathering in sacred assembly, admitting that we are wounded, and crying out for mercy.
· Luther writes that Joel was a kindly and gentle man. He does not denounce and rebuke as do the other prophets, but pleads and laments. He tried with kind and friendly words to make the people pay attention and mend their sinful ways. But it happened to him as it happened to the other prophets, they did not believe his prophecies, they held him to be a fool.
· In the first chapter, Joel predicts that Israel will be destroyed and carried away by the Assyrians. He pictures the Assyrians as locusts cutting, swarming, hopping, and unrelenting.
· In our text for tonight, Joel urges the folks to blow the trumpet, to consecrate a fast, to call a solemn assembly, to gather the people. The elders and the widows were to come together, the married and the single folks were to come together, the teenagers, the children, and the nursing babies were to be summoned, ministers and priests were to lead the people in admitting that they were wounded, crying out for mercy.
· No doubt many of their wounds were self inflicted, many of their wounds were brought on by their enemies, some of their wounds were just part of being human, all of their wounds, all of our wounds are to be brought to the foot of the cross. Again and again we cry out for mercy, and mercy is ours. Even before we can get the words out, by his wounds we are healed. Hear the good news tonight – a broken and contrite heart, our God will not despise.
· Lesson #2 is about gathering together, admitting we are wounded, crying out for mercy.
3. Lent is about getting turned around by God and going in opposite direction instead of just going through the motions.
· Lent isn’t for pretend sinners. Lent is for real, honest to God sinners who have fallen, they have fallen hard, and they realize they have fallen hard. Over a thousand times in the Old Testament, we have this word for repentance that has to do with getting turned around and returning to God
· Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning….return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…
· The best the Law of God can do is show us we are in the wrong place, only the Gospel can turn us around. The Law of God can get our attention, but it is only by the grace of God that new hearts can be created. The best the Law can do is show us what the damage we have done and the holes we have dug for ourselves. Only the Gospel can undo that damage, only the Gospel can lift us up out of those holes, only the love of Christ can compel us to go in brand new directions that give glory to God and build up other people.
The kingdom of God is like a man whose head begins to hurt, his blood vessels are bleeding, he is rushed to the hospital, and after a short time, the doctor announces his decision to drill a hole in the top of his head. A more frightening moment is hard to imagine. And yet this surgeon’s drill saves a life. Recovery is slow, but sure. So also is God’s Law like surgeon’s scalpel on our sin. The Law cuts us to the heart, because we are indeed wounded by sin and death. It may feel quite uncomfortable, but God’s mercy makes such a healing possible. Praise God that he mercifully sends a wounded Savior to heal us wounded people.
Sixth in a Series of Seven Sermons
Matthew 6: 25-34
Dear Christian Friends,
At the beginning of our sermon series, we traveled through the beatitudes as a catalogue of God’s promises. Four weeks ago – who would be called great in the kingdom of heaven, three weeks ago, what are the standards for the kingdom of heaven, two weeks ago – life is all about Jesus, last week what it looks like when Christians are at worship, and today, what it looks like when Christians are living one day at a time.
Living and dying with (the Vikings) Here’s a quote out of a sermon I wrote for a Preaching Workshop class at Seminary in1980. “As a Vikings fan, I live and die with their success and/or failure. When I watch one of their games, my palms get sweaty, my hearts beats a mile a minute, and am oblivious to the outside world. When they lose, I cry. When they win, I rejoice. But while they are playing, I am in a constant state of worry. When they are behind, I worry that they are going to lose. When they have the ball, I worry they will fumble. When they throw a pass, I worry about interceptions. Even when they are ahead, I worry they will blow the lead. After 15 years of such agony, I am beginning to realize that my worrying changes nothing. Whether I worry about them or not, the outcome will be the same. My sweaty palms and rapid heart beat mean nothing to Bud Grant and the Vikings. I have no control over the game.”
Fast forward 37 years, and you might think I have figured out the foolishness of worry with regard to pro football. Some days I have, other days not so much. It is human nature cross over the line from proper concern to sinful worry, it is the devil’s great desire that we cross that line in a regular way, and as you well know, we have all kinds of misery in common with fellow worriers.
At the 2016 national youth gathering of Lutheran Church Missouri Synod youth, the top five concerns of youth were 1) terrorism, 2)the future, 3)college, 4)abortion, and 5) my faith. It’s interesting to note that in the previous seven polls going back 21 years, terrorism had never made the top five issues. It’s also interesting to note that the environment was listed #3 in 2013 and had dropped to #23rd in 2016. Suggesting that our list of worries ebbs and flows over the years, but one truth remains clear, we were tempted to worry yesterday, we are being tempted to worry today, and we will be tempted to worry tomorrow.
In today’s sermon Jesus would teach us once again what it’s like to have Him as the cornerstone of our lives, what it’s like to have a home built on solid rock, so that when the rains come down, the flood waters rise up, and the winds blow strong, our homes will stand strong. In today’s text, Jesus would give us three terrific reasons to trust in the Lord and lean not unto our own understandings. Three good reasons not to drag the guilt of days gone by and the worries of days yet to come into today. Three strong testimonies why we should spend less time worrying and more time praying, three strong testimonies set before us today to help us choose between life and good on the one hand and death and evil on the other.
There is the testimony of nature, the testimony of logic, and the testimony of Scripture.
The Testimony of (Nature) The Psalmist writes The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. In other words, just a glance into the skies, just noticing the beauty of the rivers and the valleys and the fields, just paying attention to the passing scenery will tell you that there is a God. The writer to the Hebrews says it this way, “Every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.” You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that houses don’t build themselves, birds don’t worry about spring planting, birds don’t worry about fall harvesting, flowers don’t worry about what they’re going to wear tomorrow. They get taken care of by the providence of their Father in heaven.
And so when Jesus teaches us to look at the birds of the air and how they neither sow nor reap nor gather in barns, he reminds us that Even the birds (get fed). This is an argument from the lesser to the greater, if God feeds the birds, He’s going to feed you. If your Father in heaven is willing to provide for the little birds who spend zero time worrying, why would you and I be so worried, so distracted, and so very anxious over problems big and small, especially those situations over which we have absolutely no control? The kingdom of God is like an elderly couple who spends time every day watching the birds feed outside their window. More often than not, they say to themselves, “Having food and clothing, let us therewith be contented.
Jesus would have us learn every day not just from the birds, but also the flowers. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow… in other words, Even the flowers (get clothed) Again the argument is from the lesser to the greater.. If God is able to provide for the very temporary grasses and flowers of the plant kingdom, I repeat this question, why would you and I be so worried, so distracted, and so very anxious over problems big and small, especially those situations over which we have absolutely no control? The kingdom of God is like a woman who is learning more and more to enjoy all the seasons of the year, more and more she watches out her window, less and less her tv, more and more she revels in taking care of her house plants, less and less she fusses about the dust bunnies gathering behind them.
Testimony #1 was from nature, secondly, there is The Testimony of Logic. So very many of our worries have absolutely no basis in logic, they are pure emotion. Logic dictates that certain things matter, and certain things do not. It matters that children get baptized, it doesn’t matter whether their wardrobe is brand name or not. It matters that children get nourished and cherished in the Christian faith, it doesn’t matter if the Packers advance to the Super Bowl or not. It matters that hurting people get listened to and helped, it doesn’t matter so much what people are thinking about you as you are listening and helping.
Jesus uses simple logic in this little sermon on the foolishness of crossing over the line from proper concern into sinful anxiety. He asks no fewer than five questions, 1) Is not life more important than food? 2) Is not the body more important than clothing? 3)Aren’t you more valuable than birds? 4)Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his span of life? Another translation has him asking, “Which of you by worrying can add a single cubit to your stature? 5) Aren’t you more valuable than the lilies of the field which are here today and gone tomorrow?
Two mental images come to mind, in terms of capturing the folly, even the danger of getting caught up in fits of anxiety. First, Worrying is like rocking in a (rocking chair). It is something to do, it involves all kinds of activity, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.
Secondly, Worrying is like biting off more than you (can chew). I can remember doing that more than once with a big piece of steak that wasn’t so tender. In my desire to eat in a hurry, I bit off more than I could chew. It wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t turn out that well. So also when we bite off tomorrow’s problems and try to chew on them today, along with today’s problems. Jesus would shake His heads at us today, sort of like my dad would shake his head when I wasn’t showing common sense. He would remind us that living one day at a time, by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, is so much better than living in the past, it’s so much easier than trying to live in the future. First there was the testimony of nature, secondly the testimony of logic, and finally,
The Testimony of Scripture. The apostle John wrote it this way, “These acts of Jesus are written so that you may believe that Jesus it he Christ, and that by believing you may have life in His name. Paul said it this way to Timothy, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”
Two truths the Spirit of God would use to persuade us today, to persuade us to hand over our worries in a regular sort of a way to God, to persuade us first of all that God is really smart, and secondly that God’s record is absolutely perfect.
First, God is really (smart) That’s the way I explained it to the children in chapel on Wednesday. God is really smart. Luke records Jesus saying that God knows even the number of hairs that are on each one of our heads. Wikopedia suggests that the average head has 100,000 to 110,000 hairs, also that we lose 50-100 hairs every day. Jesus was reassuring those early disciples that God was really smart, and therefore they shouldn’t be afraid when they were dragged in front of the emperors. God was really smart, and therefore they should not worry about what they were going to say in the face of persecution. If God was so smart that he knew how many hairs were on their head, then they should trust that he was smart enough to give them the words to say. Dear friends, God is smart enough to know exactly what you need in life, He knows how much success and how much failure you need,He knows how much prosperity and how much adversity you need, He knows exactly how to answer your prayers, He doesn’t need you to be consumed with worry.
God’s record is absolutely (perfect). He said that He would deliver Israel out of slavery and into the Promised Land, and He did. He said He would be with Israel night and Day in days of wilderness and in days of exile and He was. He said He would send His own Son to be our Savior, and He did. Jesus said He would suffer and He suffered. He said He would die and He did. He said He would rise up again on the third day and He did. He said He would follow us around with goodness and mercy, and He does. He said He would never leave nor forsake us and He won’t. God says what he means and means what he says. In every circumstance of life, in every one of our days, when all the dust has settled and when we have done all that we could do and said all we can do, we have good reason to be still, to know that God is God, and to resist crossing over the line from proper concern into sinful worry.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people less and less living and dying with their favorite football team and more and more Dying and Living (with Christ). Less and less worried about what tomorrow might bring and more and more living one day at a time. Less and less blaming others for their troubles and more and more saying they are sorry and crying out for mercy. Less and less listening to the voices of jealousy and rage, more and more listening to the voice of their Good Shepherd. Less and less chasing after money and all that money can buy, more and more staying close to Jesus Christ and all that He is wanting to give. Less and less do they take life’s burdens on own shoulders, more and more they pray, Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand. Amen.
Fourth in a Series of Seven Sermons
Series Theme – “Cornerstone”
Text – Matthew 5:38-48
Dear Christian Friends,
Yahoo! (Mountain Dew!) This past Friday, I was leading a service at the Janesville Nursing Home, there were about 20 folks in attendance, and the first song we sang was “Oh for a 1000 Tongues to Sing.” As nursing home singing goes, we were doing pretty well, and as we sang the last words of the last verse, a sweet little lady I had never seen before shouted out “Yahoo!” To which I responded, of course, Mountain Dew!
I was reminded of that commercial when I looked at the front cover of the bulletin today. It pictures a person a couple feet off the ground rejoicing and being glad. In this sermon series, “Cornerstone”, we are rejoicing and being glad that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our lives, that lives centered on His grace are like homes built on the rock, and that as often as the rains come down and floodwaters start rising and the winds keep blowing, these homes stand strong and solid.
Three weeks ago, we traveled through the beatitudes as a catalogue of God’s promises. Two weeks ago, Pastor Muther introduced the next section of the Sermon on the Mount and focused on Jesus’ thesis statement, “Whoever does the least of these commandments (and all the others), and teaches them, will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Last week, Jesus laid out for us the standards of the kingdom of heaven. We heard Jesus pleading with his people to take a different path than all others, to quote Pastor Muther, to take a path that “seeks to do what others need – not what they want, not what you want them to want, and not what you think they deserve….
At first glance, today’s tex
t seems to be focusing on what we should or should not be doing. Jesus seems to be lecturing His followers on not retaliating when folks do us wrong, on turning the other cheek and going the extra mile, on loving not just the folks we enjoy spending time with but also the folks that rub us the wrong way. A second glance at this text as a portion of the entire Sermon on the Mount helps us to remember that this sermon is first of all a description of Jesus Christ, and secondly of His followers. With that in mind, our theme for the fourth in a series of seven sermons is “It’s All About Jesus.” Two parts to our sermon today, 1)It’s all about what Jesus has done for us and on our behalf in the past, and 2) it’s all about what Jesus is doing in us and for us and through us on behalf of others in the present.
Part I - It’s about what Jesus (has done). Every day, no matter what is going on in our lives, we have good reason to kick up our heels and say how blessed we are. The good reason is that Jesus Christ has already done for us all that He was supposed to do, He has avoided on our behalf all the evil He was supposed to avoid, and He has suffered in our place every bit of pain and sorrow we should have suffered. His obedience to His Father’s will was both passive, and it was active.
(Passive obedience) By refusing to retaliate, He gave us an (example to follow). The writer to the Hebrews says that although He was a son, Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered. And that being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. When it was time for Jesus to suffer under Pontius Pilate and be crucified until he was dead and buried, that’s exactly what happened. Jesus could have resisted every nasty attack on his body, but He didn’t. He could have returned insult for insult, but He didn’t. He didn’t just give the shirt off his back, He gave up His back. He didn’t just go the first mile for us, He went the final mile. He didn’t just give to those who were begging for His help, He gave everything he had for every last sinner in every one of the generations.
Instead of taking matters into His own hands, He left them in His Father’s hand. Instead of calling on a legion of angels to get revenge on his enemies, He asked His Father to forgive them, for they didn’t know what they were doing. Instead of living by the law of the jungle, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, He lived by the prayer he taught us to pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” By not retaliating, by not seeking revenge, by not using his divine powers and knowledge to defend himself, he gave us an example to follow.
(Active obedience) By going to the cross, He engaged (the devil head on). If you happened to be on Facebook in recent weeks and months, you know that there are two kinds of folks when it comes to political conversations. There are those who engage in the battle and those who want nothing to do with it. There are those who love to discuss and debate, even argue about Donald Trump’s latest tweet or executive order and there are those who just want to plug their ears and make it all go away.
The decision to engage or not to engage in the give and take of politics, seems to be neither here nor there. Neither decision seems right or wrong to me, just a matter of personal preference.
But when Jesus invites us to follow Him, He takes the option of non engagement off the table. If you’re going to follow me, Jesus warns, get ready to deny yourselves and take up your crosses not just once in a while, but every day. Go ahead and rest in the fact that your Savior has already run the perfect race, rest in the fact that He has already fought the perfect fight, rest in the fact that Jesus Christ has already paid your entire debt, He has already washed away every one of your sins, He has already won the victory, but do not rest as if the work of the Holy Spirit is done. Do not rest as if there is nothing left for the Church to do. Do not rest as if your race here on earth has been completed.
Lesson #1 today was that following Jesus is all about what He has already done for us and on our behalf in the past. Lesson #2 is that It’s about what Jesus (is doing). This very day, faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. This very day, the Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life and is proceeding from the Father and the son. This very day, Jesus will be out and about in this world, working through the circumstances of life to get people’s attention. This very week, people outside the church will watching those of us on the inside to see if we are practicing the love we keep on preaching. They will either be attracted or repelled by our collective witness, but it’s hard to imagine that our witness could be neutral.
Two truths we want to learn today about what Jesus can do for us and in us and through us as we spend our days refusing to retaliate, and as we pick up our own crosses and engage the enemy forces. First of all we know that the mission of the Church will be moving forward As often as the Spirit works inside of us a desire for (reconciliation). In our text for today, we have four examples of what this desire for reconciliation might look like…..1) turning the other cheek instead of slapping back, 2)giving your coat as well as the shirt off your back instead of taking them to court, 3)walking the second mile instead of only the required first mile, 4)giving to beggars choosing to beg and borrowers wanting to borrow.
In the days of Jesus, if you wanted to insult somebody, especially if you were right handed, as a majority of people are, you would take your right hand and back hand that person’s right cheek. Human nature tells us that if a neighbor insults us, we should insult him right back in order to teach him a lesson. Jesus teaches us to not give way to anger as a way of de-escalating the conflict.
In the days of Jesus, if your neighbor owed you money, you could take him to court and legally take the shirt off his back. Human nature tells us in that situation to stand up for ourselves and make sure people know we can’t be pushed around. Jesus teaches us to go ahead and let him have the shirt and your outer garment as well as a way of helping people to know we are marching to a different drummer than everyone else.
In the day of Jesus, postal carriers were authorized by the government to requisition animals and even people to travel with them for a Roman mile. Human nature tells us to be bitter and to resist such an inconvenience, but Jesus is teaching us to go ahead and be cheerful in going above and beyond for the purpose of engaging folks in Gospel conversations.
Our final truth this morning is to note that the mission of the church will be moving forward As often as His Spirit moves us to practice a (reckless generosity). Regular generosity is when we throw a benefit for the nice woman and kids down the road whose husband died after a long and expensive bout with cancer. Reckless generosity is when we throw a benefit for the family who has fallen on hard times mainly due to drunkenness and bad behavior. Regular generosity is when we forgive folks who are apologizing for hurting us, reckless generosity is when we forgive folks who continue to hurt us and seem not at all bothered by it. Regular generosity is when we let the church borrow our snow blowers and lawn mowers, reckless generosity is when we lend it to the neighbor whose dog and children are constantly annoying us. Regular generosity is when we half of our 50 t shirts to the local thrift store, reckless generosity is when we invite a homeless couple to live in our house until they can get back on their feet. Regular generosity is when we imitate Jesus by listening carefully to the stories of broken hearted folks, reckless generosity is when we engage in an ongoing and perhaps expensive way with those broken hearted folks.
No doubt you have heard the saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. As I read up on the origins of that quote, I found a little twist on that saying that helps us to think about what it means to follow Jesus Christ in a path of non resistance and non retaliation. Imitation is the sincerest form of (worship).
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where less and less interested in insisting on their own rights and more and more focused on doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with their God. Less and less do they yearn for more instructions on how to live and more and more they want to hear Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and coming back again. Less and less do they focus on building bigger and better, more and more they make sure their home has a firm foundation and a solid cornerstone. Less and less do their goals center on the easy and comfortable life, more and more they want to be part of the mission of the Church moving forward. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
First in a Series of Seven Sermons- Series Theme –“Cornerstone”
Matthew 5: 1 - Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them,
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our sermon series theme is Cornerstone, and the refrain in a new song we’re learning in this Season of Light includes these words, When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, My anchor holds within the veil….(Refrain) Christ alone, Cornerstone; Weak made strong in the Savior’s love. Through the storm He is Lord, Lord of all.
Three little stories and three little questions we have this morning to help us to think about what it means that Jesus is Lord of all in every one of the storms of life.
Story #1 comes right out of the Sermon on the Mount, which is perhaps the most famous, the most preached about, the most familiar of all sermons of all times. It is the first of five discourses in the Gospel of Matthew, and although it is full of parabolic language, it really only has one real parable. It is a double parable, where the person who is hearing and doing God’s Word is compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock, and when the rains fell down and the flood waters came up and the winds blew against, this house stood strong. In contrast to the person who is not hearing and doing God’s Word is compared to a foolish man who built his house on sand. When the rains fell down and the flood waters came up and the winds blew against, you know what happened, the house fell in spectacular fashion. Question #1 – Do you have any idea how blessed, how fortunate, how privileged you are as often as you hear the Word of God and keep it?
Story #2 has to do with the fact that one more time I and millions of other overweight people have entered into a new year vowing to lose all kinds of weight. Vowing to do all kinds of exercising, vowing to drink all kinds of water, vowing to eat all kinds of healthy foods, and in my case vowing to drink less beer and more grapefruit. As I was eating my obligatory grapefruit the other day, Debi was reading our morning devotions, and I heard her read this, “Jesus Christ is not in us just to hang out. He is in us to be worked out into the world.” Question #2 – Do you have any idea of how blessed, how fortunate, how privileged you are as often as the love of Jesus Christ bubbles on up inside of you and spills out into the lives of others?
Story #3 - Just yesterday, as I was contemplating eating my obligatory grapefruit, I read a devotion to Debi, which included a story about how in one of the Olympics, the theme was “Light the Fire Within.”, about how a young boy skated in on the ice carrying a lighted lantern. He was followed by hundreds of children with lighted lanterns, dispelling the darkness. The author Leo Symmank wrote, “That is a picture of the Church as a thousand points of light in a darkened world, inviting others to join in the celebration of the Christ, who forgives all sins and makes all things new.” Question #3 – Do you have any idea of how blessed you are, how fortunate you are, how privileged you are to spend your days lighting candles instead of cursing the darkness?
On this first Sunday after Epiphany, our sermon theme is “A Catalogue of Promises.” Back in my day Sears and Montgomery Wards and JC Penney catalogues were big deals. All kinds of folks of all ages looked through those catalogues, dreamed of buying things out of those catalogues, and once in awhile, depending on how much money was in the checking account, would order an item of two. In today’s text, Jesus lay before us a list of 8 promises, one listed twice, promises already bought and paid for on a dark Friday afternoon, promises guaranteed on a glorious and sunshiney Easter Sunday morning, promises delivered into your hearts and souls as often as Baptism waters splash, as often as the very body and blood are tasted, as often as the promises of Almighty God are believed.
This morning, we take a run through this catalogue of promises, also known as the Beatitudes, first hearing them as the people of Jesus’ day would listen, and then hearing them as the baptized and blessed people of God in this new year of 2017. To be blessed by God isn’t at all to have smooth and easy sailing in the outward circumstances of life, but rather to have an inner sense of joy and peace because you are right with God by the grace of God and through faith in Jesus Christ. As is His custom, Jesus turns conventional wisdom on its head, as he describes what it means to be blessed. Dr. David Scaer of the Ft. Wayne Seminary says that “in the Beatitudes, catechumens are not faced with moral demands, but are promised great things from God….Especially in his suffering and death, Jesus fits the description of the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger, etc…he who is poor in spirit calls catechumens to share in his poverty. Hence the Beatitudes first are Christological descriptions of Jesus, then descriptions of his followers.”
Promise #1 – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. In the Old Testament, the poor in spirit was the nation of Israel taken into exile. The promise of Isaiah was that a Messiah was on the way who would be anointed to preach good tidings to the poor. The poor in Jesus’ day had few possessions, they were usually oppressed, they had little power and less hope. The poor in spirit were and are those who are humble before God. They come before the King as beggars with nothing to offer. The promise is that a broken and contrite heart, this King will not despise. The promise for you, here and now, no matter how seriously you have sinned, is that your sins are forgiven, your soul is saved, your blood is royal by virtue of your connection with Christ.
Promise #2 - Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. In Isaiah’s day, the nation was in the grips of ruthless rulers because of their sin. Isaiah promised them a day when the Messiah would bind up the broken hearted, mourners would be comforted, ashes would be replaced by a crown of joy. To this very day, the promise of our God is that weeping lasts only for a night, joy will be coming in the morning. How comfortable you will be as often as you make the sign of the cross early in the day and remember the promises of Baptism. And how reassured you will be late at night, as often as you go to sleep with a conscience washed clean by Jesus Christ in the flesh.
Promise #3 - Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. The meek are those who have a spirit of gentleness and self control, Moses was described as being meek and humble, the promise for Israel was that they would possess the Promised Land. They would fight their battles knowing that God would be handing them the victory. The promise for you, dear friends, here and now, is that no matter how intimidating are your enemies and no matter how overwhelming are your days, ultimate victory is yours, a new heaven new earth are on the way, and in every one of your moments, it will always be an option for you just to be still and know that God is God.
Promise #4 - Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are those who desire to be right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God has worked in them a desire to seek first the kingdom and to trust that all these other things in life will be added unto them. As life goes on, they find a passion growing on the inside of them to love what God loves and hate what He hates. A Sunday School teacher asked her students what it meant to repent. Student #1 answered that repentance meant being sorry enough to say I am sorry for doing the wrong thing. Student #2 got it even more right when she said that repentance means being sorry enough to quit doing the wrong thing.
Promise #5 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. The kingdom of God is like a teenager girl from a strong Christian family who gave birth to her firstborn before she was married. Although initial reactions included all kinds of judgment and shame, as time went on, family and friends loved her as they had been loved, they forgave as they had been forgiven. For the next 60 plus years of her life, she had a special place in her heart for unwed and single and struggling moms. She reached out in a thousand different ways, but always with a single message, your Father in heaven loves you, your Lord Jesus Christ forgives you, the Holy Spirit of God has a plan to prosper, to heal, and to use you in wonderful ways for years to come.
Promise #6 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. The pure in heart speak and act without ulterior motives. As promised, God has created in them clean hearts, and in them he has renewed a right spirit. What you see in them is what you get from them. What they say, they mean. What they promise, they will do. On the last day, they will be able to stand before God, He will have remembered their good works and forgotten their sins, they will see him face to face into eternity.
Promises # 7 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called esons1 of God. Peacemakers do more than sit by and refrain from causing trouble. They actively strive to make peace where there is enmity or hostility. Always, peace is their desire, but not peace at any price. God has worked in their hearts a passion for those who have drifted from the church, a passion for those only loosely connected with their Savior. I read research recently that suggested that one third of the unchurched have plans to go to church in the future, that 78% of the unchurched are open to a Gospel conversation, and that 55% would attend church if invited by a family member. Twin promises of God I suggest, in response to those statistics….1)Jesus offers a peace the world will never be able to give, and 2)the fields are white for the harvest/ all kinds of folks are open to the Gospel burning in your souls this very moment.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for jso they persecuted the prophets who were before you. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town whose very foundation is the Bible and whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ. On the one hand, they are finding that their mainstream and traditional teachings are not so much in the mainstream and less and less appreciated. On the other hand, they are finding dozens and dozens of people in their circles of family and friends who are getting tossed to and fro by the storms of life, their family and friends seem to be searching for what they already have, more and more they begin and end their days knowing how blessed, how fortunate, and how privileged they are to have Jesus Christ holding them by the hand and leading them. Amen.
Third in a Series of Sermons on Waiting for Jesus
James 5: 8 – You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Isaiah 35:10- And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last weekend we started out with two words – fire and brimstone. Today we start out on a bit more of a positive note with the two words, (Patience) and (Joy). Last week we fixed our attention on the preaching of repentance, today on the fruits of repentance. Last week, we saw that there will be days where we will be forgiving others in the Name of Jesus even though nobody seems to be caring that we forgave them at all. Today, we see that wherever the forgiveness of sins takes ahold in our hearts, there will be new life and a growing faith. Even in days of illness and suffering, in fact, especially in days of illness and suffering, the promise of our God is to be growing us up into Christ Jesus, and whenever we are growing up in Christian faith, there will be a distinctively Christian patience and joy, as opposed to just a generic kind of patience and joy as we wait for Jesus to come back one more time. Two parts to our sermon today, the first on the subject of patience and the second on joy. The first part is based mainly on James chapter 5 and the second part on Old Testament and Gospel lessons appointed for today.
Days of growing into a patience that overwhelms our habit of (groaning against each other). The kingdom of God is like a man who buys new strings of Christmas lights every year instead of trying to untangle the old ones. He has plenty of time to untangle the old ones, but not the patience. When asked about it, he answers, “When God was handing out patience, he left me out!”
I don’t know if I have ever heard somebody say that they were blessed by God with patience. I know plenty of folks who are patient, but nobody who suggests they are that way by nature. In his book “The Love Dare”, the author suggests that Christian love is built on two pillars that best define what it is – those two pillars are patience and kindness. He has this to say about patience, “Love will inspire you to become a patient person, When you choose to be patient, you respond in a positive way to a negative situation. You are slow to anger. You choose to have a long first instead of a quick temper. Rather than being restless and demanding, love helps you settle down and begin extending mercy to those around you. Patience brings an internal calm during an external storm…..more than clapping a hand over your mouth, patience is a deep breath. It clears the air. It stops foolishness from whipping its scorpion tail all over the room…few of us do patience very well, and none of us do it naturally. But wise men and women will pursue it as an essential ingredient to their relationships….”
In today’s Epistle lesson, James was writing to encourage Christians who were being persecuted for their faith, he wanted them to see life as a journey not so much as from cradle to grave, but rather as a journey from baptism to the parousia / second coming. The culture’s philosophy would be that bad stuff happens to you and then you die, but the church’s teaching is that the really good days are yet to come. The world around us has a habit of grumbling and groaning against all that is right in life, James would have us learn from farmers, he would have us learn from the prophets, and he would us learn from Job himself habits of patience.
The patience of a farmer who knows without a doubt there will be a (harvest). By definition, farmers believe in the process planting, growing, and harvesting. They know that planting, cultivating, and harvesting are part of their job description, and growing is in God’s. Most farmers have learned from their dads and grandpas do their work in a timely fashion and trust that God will provide. Patience is to be practiced, it is to be learned over the course of time by trial and error, it is something we have some days more than others. The really good news about distinctively Christian patience is that is worked on the inside of us by the Spirit of God as we experience God’s patience with us over the course of a lifetime. And the more patience is growing up on the inside of us, the less room there is in our hearts for groaning about this, moaning about that, grumbling against one another.
The patience of prophets who knew they were suffering for a (cause above all causes). James writes, “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Prophets and pastors and teachers in all generations know that when they speak, they speak with the very authority of the one true God. They know the Word of God has the very ability to save souls for time and for eternity. We received word from Liberian Children’s Ministry this week that enrollment in our 13 Lutheran schools is at 4500 this year, an increase of 1000 over last year. Even more amazing than that is that 75% of these additional children come from non church families. Even more amazing than that is at the very school we are building in Zleh Town, 38 children and adults were baptized during a single worship service about a month ago. The cause of Jesus Christ is the cause above all causes, His Name is above all names, isn’t it true that the more and more we taste how good is our God, the less and less room there is in our hearts for groaning about this, moaning about that, grumbling against each other.
The patience of Job who believed that when all the dust settled, His Redeemer would be (living) The readers of James’ Epistle had heard about Job. James wanted them to recall Job’s brave perseverance under the severest of afflictions. He wanted them to remember both the agenda of Satan and that of God. Satan’s agenda was for Job to curse God and die, God’s was for the example of Job to bless generations to come. Satan’s agenda was for Job to fall away from the one true God, God’s agenda was to draw him closer and closer. Listen to what James wrote in chapter 1, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Can you see how it is that we are all under construction, that our God’s great desire is not only to forgive our sins, it is for the Spirit of God to be in control, it is for us not only to survive our days of trouble, but for our days of trouble to produce inside of us both patience and joy that are distinctively Christian and absolutely contagious. Which brings us to a second and final part of our sermon.
Days of growing into a joy that keeps on chasing away (sorrow and sighing) The kingdom of God is like a woman whose health is failing, she can’t live in her own home anymore, she spends her days needing to be helped by the very folks she used to take care of. Her days are filled with all kinds of aches and pains, she more and more feels like a burden to others, and in the midst of her idleness, the devil is doing a number on her. More and more she is discouraged, she is empty, and she wonders why she should still be living. In the middle of all of that, her pastor visits, he offers and she receives her Lord’s Supper. As she uses her ears to hear and her lips to taste, in those very moments, an old and familiar gladness rises up on the inside of her. Sorrow and sighing are fleeing away, even running for their lives.
Dear Christian friends, two truths we would learn again today about what it means to have Christian joy growing up inside of us. Advent joy, Christmas joy, Good Friday joy, Easter joy, it is. Distinctively Christ-centered and Spirit given joy,and not just a little bit of it once in awhile, but to have it regularly, to have it abundantly, and to have it in a way that is contagious.
Both Isaiah and Jesus would teach us today that it is first of all The joy of walking along the “highway of safety” (already here and now). For people of Isaiah’s day, certain roads leading to the temple were only available to those who were ceremonially pure, the unclean were not at all welcome. Isaiah was inviting them to look forward to that day when the people of God return out of captivity to their beloved homeland, even beyond that they looked forward to the days of the Messiah when their sins would be paid for once and for all, days when all prophecies would be fulfilled without exception, days when salvation would be not just for the Jews but for the Gentiles as well.
Dear Friends in Christ, already here and now, there is a highway of safety on which all of the believing and baptized are able to travel. Already here and now there is a way for weak hands to be strengthened and feeble knees made firm, already now there is a voice telling anxious hearts to fear not, our God has already come with His strong arm of salvation, already now we live knowing that there is a light at the end of every one of our tunnels, there is a safety net underneath every one of our falls, there is a guardian angel for every one of our children. Already now, we live one day at a time by the grace of God as the precious, protected, and provided for people of God.
And more than that, we have the the joy of looking forward to a glorious day (coming soon). We look forward not with just a little bit of cautious optimism, but exuberant joy to day when the eyes of every blind will be opened, the ears of all the deaf will be unstopped, the legs of every lame man will be leaping like a deer, and the tongue of every mute will be singing for joy. We look forward not just with a little bit of cautious optimism to a day when burning sand deserts turn into pools and thirst grounds into springs of water, to a day when protesters will no longer be protesting and complainers will no longer be complaining and grumblers will have no reason to grumble. Looking forward with a joy that is for certain and for real, and more than that looking forward with a joy that is contagious in the words that we speak and in the deeds that we do and in the attitudes that we carry around.
The kingdom of God is like a former vicar of ours, a man in his 40’s with a wonderful wife and three boys, ages 9, 7,and 5, who in recent days has learned that he has a chronic cancer to be dealt with the rest of his life. In coming weeks, he tells us he will undergo surgery in which his lung will be pasted to his chest to stop the fluid from filling the space. Secondly, they will use a robot to surgically remove his kidney. Following that, he speculates there will be twists and turns, all kinds of bumps and bruises along the road his family will be traveling. But on this one matter, there is no speculation. That they will be walking along a highway of safety. A highway where Jesus Christ has already gone on before them, He will be walking alongside of them, and He will be picking up the pieces behind them. And even more than that, the Spirit of the living God will be growing inside of them 1) a distinctively Christ-centered patience that will time and time again overwhelm any temptation to grumble, and 2) an everlasting kind of a gladness from which sorrow and sighing will have no choice but to flee away. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther