Third in a Series of Five Sermons – “Sayings of Mature Christians”
Genesis 32: 22-30, II Timothy 3:14 – 4:5, Luke 18:1-8
Week#1 – Humility – “I’ve Only Done My Duty.”
Week #2 – Gratefulness – “God has been good to me.”
Today – (Confidence) – “God Answers My Prayers.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
A few of you might remember that in the fall of 1960, John F Kennedy and Richard Milhouse Nixon were duking it out for the right to be President of the United States. I was praying hard in those October days, but it wasn’t for our nation. I was Praying for a (new bike) in 1960. You see, my 6th birthday was coming up and my two sisters had bikes and my brother Curtis had a brand new bike and my friends and cousins were riding bikes, and so I prayed. I prayed often and I prayed hard for a new bike, and in fact God answered my prayers. Yes, he did. But not exactly the way I wanted him to answer. You see, instead of getting a shiny new boys bike, I received my sister Judy’s hand me down bike. It wasn’t shiny or new and the worst part of it all was that it wasn’t even a boys bike. Horror of horrors, it was a girls bike, and while I don’t remember necessarily questioning God’s fairness, I do remember thinking that the neighborhood bully Billy Heitkamp was going to have a field day with this one!
Already then, I was starting to learn what it means to pray with confidence and boldness, as dear children pray to dear moms and dads. What it means to trust in God with all of our hearts and souls and minds and not just portions of our hearts and souls and minds. What it means to rest in the truth that God knows us better than we know us, that God will in fact give us what is good for us in the long run instead of giving us what are pretty sure is good for us here and now. Three lessons we want to learn again today, one from each of our three appointed lessons for this 22nd Sunday after Pentecost.
First, God answers our prayers even on those days when life feels like a (wrestling match). When I speak to you about wrestling, I speak as one who wrestled at the college level without having wrestled at the high school level. I want that to sink in a little bit. You see our high school dropped the wrestling program about the time I got to be of age, and then when I showed up at little Concordia College in 1972, there were only about 6 or 7 guys on the team, one one of my good friends was a wrestler, he told me that I could make the team, and he was right. Suffice it to say that I worked pretty hard at it, and it didn’t go well. I spent most of my time flat on my back, looking at the rafters in gymnasiums at Hamline University, Bethel University, McAlaster University,even Pillsbury Baptist in Owatonna where we lost 60-0. I remember praying a) that I wouldn’t get hurt, and b) that I could make it into the second period without getting pinned.
In today’s Old Testament lesson, Jacob found himself wrestling with a mysterious kind of a man who turned out to be the Son of God himself. The context of this wrestling match is that 20 years before, he and his mom had connived for him to get the blessing of the firstborn, a blessing that belonged to his twin brother Esau. Esau figured it out and came after Jacob to kill him, Jacob ran away to Haran, married Leah and then her sister Rachel, they were blessed with all kinds of sons and daughters, and now he was going home to try and make peace with his brother. They wrestled and they wrestled and just as Jacob was about to prevail, this man who was the Son of God pulled rank, threw Jacob’s hip out of joint, and pleaded with Jacob to let him go! At which time Jacob prayed for a blessing. His prayer was a bit unorthodox, it went like this, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
God answered Jacob’s prayer by blessing him with a new name and teaching him a new lesson. His name would now be Israel, which means “He struggles with God.” He would have a hard time forgetting what his name meant, from that day forward he walked with a limp. The lesson he would learn was that God would always be faithful to His promise, that God could always be trusted, that God always answers prayers and that He absolutely knows what He is doing.
The kingdom of God is like a single mom who is struggling to raise up her always lively and sometimes rebellious three children, she is struggling to pay her bills, she is struggling to forgive the folks who have let her down in life, she is struggling to overcome her own bad decisions in life. But at the end of the day and especially on the first day of the week, she comes again and again to the foot of her Savior’s cross, she hears that she is a precious and a valuable and a forgiven child of her God, she believes that God has a plan to heal and to prosper, she takes a deep breath and she prays, Lord, I’m not going to leave here until you bless me, and every time, without exception, He blesses her!
Secondly, God answers our prayers every day in the same way that He answered the prayers of our (mothers and grandmothers). Next to my office computer are all kinds of pictures, including one of my mom’s mom, Grandma Selma, holding me at age 6 months or so. I really was a pretty cute little guy, although I seemed to be pouting in the picture. Next to that picture is one of my mom as a young and beautiful college age lady, next to that is a picture of mom’s hands folded in prayer about two days before she died, and next to that are all kinds of pictures of grandchildren enjoying life. It’s a pretty easy thing to look at all of those pictures and to continue in what I have learned from God’s Word. I know from whom I learned it, as did many of you. I was made wise unto salvation, as were many of you, in the waters of Holy Baptism, in Sunday School classes, and in confirmation instruction. The Holy Spirit has been breathing on me, as he has been breathing on you for a long time now in the preaching and teaching and memorizing and remembering and holding onto these Scriptures.
Dear friends in Christ, I don’t know exactly what are your anxieties, your challenges, your heartaches are today, but this we know. We know that there is a way through every bit of trouble, there is a way through every season of suffering, there is a way through every conflict, His Name is Jesus Christ, He has gone on before you, He is walking alongside of you, He will behind you to pick up the pieces. He knows exactly who you are, He knows the bad you have done and the good you have failed to do, and He loves you just the same. Some days he will give you that shiny new bike, other days he will say you don’t need a bicycle at all, and still other days he will say, just wait and we’ll see what happens.
The kingdom of God is like a grandma that spends a lot of time listening to news local, national and worldwide. The more she listens, the more she cries, and the more she cries, the more she worries. Some days the worries threaten to do her in, and then she knows what to do. She takes her Bible in hand and she reads it, she takes her prayer book out and she prays it, she takes a photo album out and she look through it, a spirit of confidence sweeps over her soul, a confidence that God will in fact answer the prayers of her descendants in the same way, in the perfect way he has answered the prayers of her ancestors.
God answers our prayers even in those chapters of life where we find ourselves questioning God’s (fairness). The key figure in our Gospel lesson parable today is a poor, a down and out and powerless widow who would not be denied justice. The judge was as bad as God is good. He neither feared God nor cared about people. He was for him and himself alone. And yet this woman kept coming back at him, she would not leave him alone, the language indicates that he felt like he was in a boxing match and she was beating him black and blue, and so he gave her justice, not because he was just, not because he wanted to be fair, not because he was good and gentle and caring, just to get some peace and quiet!
Dear friends in Christ, how much more caring and gentle and good is our God! If God spared not His only Son, how much more so will he not give us all good things? If not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our father in heaven giving permission, how much more so will the devil have to have God’s permission before he teases and taunts and tests your faith? If even the hairs on your head are numbered, how much more so is it true that you are not just a number in the kingdom of God, each one of you is dear and near to your Savior, each one of you has one or more angels assigned to watch over you, each and every time you cry out for justice, justice is on the way, and even better than that, justice has already arrived. His Name is Jesus, He has already paid the penalty, He has already paid the bill, He has already answered the one prayer that we keep on praying, God be merciful to me……which is in fact our sermon theme for next Sunday.
Praying for our (nation) in 2016. The kingdom of God is like a large congregation in a small town traveling through life’s ups and downs together. Often they are tempted to shake their collective and puny little fists at God and wonder if He is really being fair, they wonder why God would permit this and why He would permit that, they wonder often if their nation is in fact going to hell in a hand basket. Even more often than that, they search the sacred writings, they hear that their sins have been forgiven and sent as far away as New York is from California, and they pray. They pray not for shiny new bikes, but for God to have mercy on all the nations. They pray not only for their side to prevail but for the will of God to be done on earth as it is done in heaven. On their bad days, they pray for the strength just to survive the election. On their ok days, they pray for opportunities to witness. And on their good days, they pray with boldness and with confidence for God to give them what His Son has already earned for them on the cross. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Isaiah 11:1-6, Revelation 21: 1-7, Luke 16: 19-21
I Thessalonians 5:23: 23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Dear Friends in Christ,
In these past three weeks, we have been studying the Biblical concept of shalom, which is the Hebrew word for peace. In week #1we studied peace in ourselves, and we learned that shalom isn’t simply the absence of violence or hatred in our lives, it’s the presence of Christ and all that He brings. In week #2, we studied the matter of peace with others, and we learned once again at the foot of the cross how beautiful life can be when we receive God’s forgiveness and then give it away as fast and as completely and as cheerfully as we can. Last week, we studied peace with creation, and we learned that creation itself is part of the great story of God’s love, that our sins, both personal and collectively have cursed and corrupted that creation in so many ways, and how beautiful it is that in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection we catch glimpses of paradise already here and now.
Of course glimpses of paradise are a far cry from paradise itself. It’s like getting a little piece of a steak appetizer on a toothpick at Hyvee in anticipation of the full blown t bone steak meal in the comfort of your home. Here and now we have foretastes of peace in ourselves, with one another, and even with creation on our way to a more glorious day where peace is perfected. In today’s sermon, we focus on how grace which has been won fully on the cross will show up in perfect fashion on the Last Day. Specifically, we take a look at the victory we already have over our spiritual enemies - he enemy of our own sinful nature, the enemy of this sinful world, the enemy of Satan himself, the final enemy of death – in anticipation over the final victory yet to come.
An enemy morphs into a (friend) Back in the late 60’s and 70’s, when I played high school football for the Wyndmere Warriors, our nearest and most dreaded enemy was the Lidgerwood Cardinals. We Warriors just didn’t like the Cardinals. We didn’t. Both schools had pretty good football programs, both schools enjoyed modest success, both football teams hit a little harder and stepped it up a notch when playing each other. Our mascot was a fierce native American kind of a mascot, theirs was a bird. A bird. You can imagine how the homecoming floats pictured the mighty warriors destroying the silly birds. Birds.
Fast forward ten short years when I began to hear rumors that the 11 man Warriors team and the 11 man Cardinals team had become one 9 man Wyndmere /Lidgerwood team, and now they would be called the Warbirds. Seriously, the Warbirds. And imagine my surprise when the Warbirds became a North Dakota powerhouse team, getting second place in the great state in 1982, and winning championships in 1987 and again in 1992, and again in 2010. Our worst enemy had morphed into one of our best friends!
As Pastor Muther would say, I tell you all of that to tell you this. So also for Christians who have been baptized and are believing with all of their hearts and souls and minds that Jesus is their Savior an Lord, so also does one of our worst enemies morph into one of our best friends. I speak of course, of death. The Bible speaks of death as the final enemy to be destroyed. Whether death comes in the womb, at age 22 or at age 62 or age 92, it’s ugly. It hurts like nothing else hurts. It makes us cry like nothing else makes us cry. It separates and brings on emptiness like nothing else separates and brings on emptiness. And yet this enemy has also been tamed by our truest and best and almighty friend, Jesus Christ. And if spend time at funerals and burials and funeral lunches for Christians for any length of time, you will hear dozens and even hundreds of friends and family members talking about death as a relief, as a victory, as something that is better already now and in anticipation of a really glorious day yet to come. Three parts to our sermon today.
Already now, there is a Way through our tears, the day is coming when there will be (no more tears!) Listen to anybody whose property was ravaged by flood waters in recent days, and you’ll hear them talking about how hard they cried when the rains came rushing through. You might even see a tear or two rolling down their cheeks. But keep listening, and you’ll hear them talking about how it’s just stuff, they still have life, and underneath it all is a premise that the day is coming when a new heaven and a new earth is coming soon, and in that place, there will be no raging seas, no uncertainty, no mourning nor crying nor worrying, for the former things will have passed away.
Listen to any Christian whose marriage is struggling to survive or whose teenagers are making horrible decisions or whose life circumstances are getting the best of them, and part of you will just want to sit down and cry with them, to just sit down and agree how overwhelming life can be, to just sit down and complain, to just sit down and have a pity party. But keep listening, and in one way or another, sooner or later, you will hear them remember that there is in fact a peace that surpasses human understanding, you will hear them saying that God has his plans and purposes, you will hear them talking about all that is right in their lives, and you may even hear them say that their suffering will produce endurance and that endurance will produce character and that character will produce hope, and this hope will never ever disappoint!
Lesson #1 today, already here and now, Jesus Christ has taken away the power of sin, already here and now He has taken away the guilt of sin, already here and now He has taken away the eternal punishment of sin, the day is coming when sinful nature and this sinful world will no longer be bothering us, much less tormenting us.
Secondly, already now, Satan has been bound with a chain, the day is coming when he will be (thrown into the fire.) It’s impossible to talk about spiritual enemies without thinking about the devil and all of his demons. The Bible says that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Here and now, we daily battle, and some days, it seems as though it is a losing battle. But by virtue of our Baptism, by virtue of our faith in Jesus Christ, we have the very armor of God with which to resist.
The Bible speaks of Christ as the stronger man who comes in and binds up the strong man, the devil. In Revelation 20, John writes, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit, and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent,who is the devil and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
We understand this 1000 year period of time to be symbolical and not literal. The 1000 years refer to the New Testament age that began when Jesus Christ suffered all that needed to be suffered under Pontius Pilate, when he was crucified until he was dead and buried according to the will of God, and when he rose up again on the third day in glorious fashion. This suffering and death and resurrection was a package deal where Jesus drank in full the cup of his Father’s wrath, where he paid in full the debt caused by the sins of all mankind in every generation, where he bound the devil with a chain and limited his power. In these days, he still prowls the earth like a lion, tempting and teasing and torturing all who would let themselves be tempted and teased and tortured. The bad news gets worse when we realize that in the end times, his chain will be lengthened, his influence will be even greater, there will be more and more evidence that he is having his way.
Lesson #2 is this, already here and now, the devil can’t hurt you if you will stay out of his circle of influence. As often as you hear and hold onto and rest in the promises of your God, as often as you cry out for your Savior’s grace to do its work in your circle of family and friends, as often as you eat and drink at your Lord’s Table, that often Jesus Christ will give you a peace that only he can give, that often your sins are washed away and sent away, that often you will be able to tell the devil to get lost, and he will get lost – on his way to that day when he will be tossed into that lake of fire where the Bible says he and his minions will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Already now, the sting of death is bearable, the day is coming when death will be (swallowed up forever!)(Story of working for a beekeeper, Dick Ruby, summer of’72, getting stung often by honey bees, my boss telling me to just scrape the stinger out, don’t be a baby about it, and just keep on working. He reminded me of my dad, who if I was crying about some little trouble in my life, he would say, “quit your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
Which is really another way of saying what the Bible says, “It is through much tribulation that you must enter the kingdom of God.” Which is another way of saying that even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, our Good Shepherd will be with us. Even in our final hours, shalom will be ours – not just an absence of evil, it will be the very presence of our God. (For 37 years now, I have had the privilege of praying with and being encouraged by hundreds of Christians meeting up with their final enemy. Almost without exception, they have done so with the grace of God showing up in their rooms and working a peace and a calmness beautiful to see. Almost without exception, they and their families have been able to just scrape the stinger out, to not be babies about it, and to keep on living. For the most part, they have been still, they have known that God is God, and they have finished their race in strong fashion.
This past week, I read a devotion by former Lutheran Hour Speaker Ken Klaus, where he told about a runner from Tanzania who had been injured in a fall early in his Olympic race. Eventually he limped into the Olympic stadium, hours after the winner of the marathon had received his Olympic gold medal. Later, the runner was asked why he stayed in the race once he had lost it, why he had risked causing injury to his leg. Simple, he said, “They didn’t send me 7,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 7,000 miles (to finish it.)
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people intent on running their races well, focused on finishing strong. More and more, they find themselves being sanctified with a wisdom that comes from on high, more and more they are filled with a confidence their God is a faithful God and that he will do all that he says he will do, more and more they are looking forward to that day when a peace they already enjoy will be perfected. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Isaiah 65:17-25 // Romans 8:18-25 // Luke 5:17-26
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon for today includes all three readings. Let me read for you Isaiah chapter 65 verse 25, “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” Our text thus far.
Dear Christian friends,
In these weeks, we’ve been talking about peace, about the biblical concept of Shalom, and it’s not so much an absence of violence or hate or war as it is the presence of something greater. One commentator writes that peace happens when grace shows up and does its work in our relationships.
And so far, we’ve considered what the grace bought by the blood of our savior does to our relationship with ourselves, namely how it brings honesty and tranquility. We’ve considered what grace does to our relationship with others, namely how it brings reconciliation that seeks to build bridges rather than burn them.
And today, we take a look at our relationship with creation. Now, this isn’t as near and dear a topic for me as our relationship to our own selves, and it isn’t as comfortable a topic for me as relationships like marriages, siblings, neighbors, and the like. In fact, when I went through my preaching notes from the last three years, I can’t say I have ever given more than a passing reference to creation; much of my life application has had to do with human to human relationships.
Today, we meditate on the biblical witness of our relationship with creation, how the grace bought by the blood of Jesus Christ manifests itself in a peace that we share with all created things under our God. Three lessons for today. First that creation is part of God’s story. Second, that our disharmony means that even our good will do evil. Third, when Christ comes back, our harmony will be complete.
Our first lesson for today is that creation is part of the great story of God’s love. It’s not just a backdrop. It’s not just a really good set of earthly pictures to help us talk more clearly about God who is spirit. All of creation was rent apart by our Fall into sin, and it – these are Paul’s words – groans and longs for the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
A three-year-old kid came up to me and asked me the kind of question that a three-year-old asks, “Did God make hurricanes?” Which is the kind of question that you can think, “If I answer yes then he’ll ask why, and if I answer no, he’ll ask, but I thought God created everything. Who created hurricanes then? To which I replied, well, did God make wind? Well, yeah. Did God make rain? Well, yeah. And is everything affected by sin? Yes. That which God had intended for good had now been twisted and marred into destruction and mayhem.
In Genesis 3, the ground every bit as much as Adam as God curses him. In Genesis 6, creation bears the punishment that God unleashes in the flood. In Genesis 9, God gives humans permission to eat animals. Creation bears the curse with us. Creation is not just a backdrop for God’s story of salvation; it groans for a savior, and it longs for peace.
Second, even outside of the wickedness we are capable of, our good can do harm and suffering. The good of raising people out of subsistence can mean that our efforts scar the earth around us. Just ask any farmer if they intended to thin the eggshells of bald eagles with the use of DDT… they’ll tell you no! They just wanted to grow healthy crops. And yet, there was an unforeseen consequence on creation. How many of us that buy clothes intend that workers’ wages would be poor and their lives impoverished? And yet, we support systems that make choices which go against human decency.
You see, this is the double-edged sword of sin, this is again the struggle that Paul exemplifies in Romans chapter 7 and 8, this is the time and place where we see in stark relief how diabolical sin is, that it would take even the good that we do and the good that we do well, and still the devil can twist the outcome, so much so that what we intend for good, he would use for evil.
And it starts at the heart. Dear Christian friends, this is why Lutherans talk in such deep terms about sin and grace, because it allows us to see how people with the best intentions, with the best motivations, people with the best technologies and the best resources are still mired in the muck we call sin, because in our hearts, in our minds, in our environment, in the creation around us, even the highest good that we intend, if we intend it at all, bears still the curse of our sin.
But we hearken back to the story of Joseph from last week, because how wonderful and beautiful a truth it is that we have a good that would take all that others and we ourselves, whether intended for good or for evil, all that the devil would twist to his own devices, all that would in the end hurt and destroy and maim and kill, and he uses it for our good. What you intended for wickedness, our God has used for our good and for the good of all.
The treachery of Judas. The treason of Peter. The cowardice of Mark. The brashness, the harshness, the unthinking crowds, the deceiving Sadducees, each and every intention of the devil was shaped by our God into the story of salvation of all things. How beautiful it is that Christ was crucified for our sins, and how beautiful it is that he was raised up on the third day. How beautiful it is that he bears the brunt of the curse meant for us, and how beautiful it is that in his life we now life. How beautiful it is that we are sons and daughters of God, and how we, like all creatures, stand under the creator that, when he comes, will make the mountains and hills sing, that will make the trees of the field clap their hands, will make the creation in all of its glory to be in harmony together, and to be in harmony with humanity.
You see, because Jesus, in the end intends not only to do away with sin, but to do away with all the effects of sin as well. With all of the lameness, with all of the blindness, with all of the tears, all of the suffering, all that would ever hurt or destroy on all his holy mountain, this is the avalanche of God’s love that begins with the very simple words of Christ, the ones that he speaks to the lame man, saying, “I forgive you.” And if you do not believe that I can forgive sins, then let me say this, “Get up and walk.” The forgiveness that deals first with the very fundamental and basic need of forgiveness, how much more will it not attend, in its own time, to all the needs of body and soul?
Third, we look ahead to the day when our harmony will be complete. Where, in the new heavens and the new earth, we will see things as they are. The Greek word for sin, hamartano, means “to miss the mark.” It means to misjudge something, to look at something wrongly, to see it as it is not, to stare something down and to miss what it’s about. It’s sizing up a three-pointer and throwing over the backboard. It’s thinking that you see a pathway forward and, halfway up, you realize it’s a dead end. It’s opening your mouth and realizing you’ve bit off more than you can chew. That’s what it means to miss the mark, to see something and misjudge, for something to be not quite right. And yet Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, on that glorious day, we will not miss the mark, but instead see things as they really are.
My grandpa was a master woodworker kind of a guy and he would take my grandma Gerry to furniture stores where she would pick out the furniture she liked. When she pointed to something in the store, he’d take a look at it, and he’d stare it down, and then he’d say, yeah, I think I could make that. His eye had been trained to see things as they were. He could look at them like only a wood worker could, and see how they came together.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, now we see in part, then we will see in full. Now we know in part, then we will know in full even as we are fully known. What a world it will be? How will it be when Christ comes back and we may see things, honestly for the first time, as they truly are? To see the soil and know what it needs to support us. To look up to the sky and see what weather the wind will blow our way. To rejoice where our God rejoices, to rejoice in a way that creation longs for. To be in harmony with nature in a way that protects and provides for all of God’s creatures in God’s time with God’s own hand, as his servants, as the pinnacle of creation, as the gardeners that stand by his side, in the new Garden of Eden.
Amen and amen.
Psalm 42:1-11 // Romans 7:14-25 // Luke 14:25-35
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the next four weeks, we are turning toward our Annual Theme, Shalom: That Glorious Day. Shalom means Peace. Peace is not just the absence of violence or the absence of hate; it is a harmony of relationships. Those relationships were broken in the Fall, and each generation smashes the plate into more pieces. But. The Hebrew Shalom means a fullness of love, of joy, of right relationship between God, ourselves, others, and creation. One commentator writes that when grace manifests itself in our relationships, it’s called peace. In the grace of Christ, we receive a peace that passes all our understanding. In Christ, God brings peace to our broken relationships with others. In Christ, God starts in us a peace that finishes in the glorious second coming of Jesus.
The theme for our meditation today is “Peace with Ourselves.”
One of the best pieces of my seminary education was a requirement of my counseling class: that each and every student would go to at least 3 sessions with a professional counselor.
I remember going the first and second times and skating the surface, but on my third session, I opened up … about my fears: Would I be able to finish seminary school?, about my insecurities: am I worthy for someone to love?, about my faults and my regrets: I’m a clumsy, forgetful, up-in-the-clouds kind of a person, and I remember getting in my car and driving home crying because of all the things I had hardly told anyone, that had all come out that night. And I tell you that to tell you this: all that pent-up whatever-it-was had been keeping from peace in myself.
Today, our meditation is on how the grace of God won for us on the cross manifests itself in our closest relationship – in our relationship with ourselves. Four questions we would ask for today: First, what is the opposite of peace and what causes it? Then, what causes peace with ourselves and what does it look like?
First, what is the opposite of this kind of peace? What do you call it?
Some might call it insecurity. Others call it self-doubt. If you were reading parenting books from the 1980’s, you might call it lack of self-esteem. Some would call it a restless soul or a bad feeling inside but whatever you call it, you know how it looks…
It’s the teenager who looks in the mirror and wonders, “Why did you have to make me like this, God?” It’s the man struggling with depression whose friends don’t really know what to do with him, other than watch and pray. It’s the woman overtaken by alcohol who can’t seem to muster the willpower to stop. It’s the aging adult who used to be the get-it-done fixer type of person, who now, more often than not, is the one who needs help, whether he says it or not.
Why do you think that is?
Three ideas that I have for you. First, that issues of this nature are shameful. It doesn’t feel good to think that the thing closest to ourselves – that is our own self – isn’t working right. You use yourself every day. You try to keep yourself in good working order. It doesn’t seem like you should be a problem for you.
Second, these issues are overwhelming. You are the only self that you can use. Trying to fix yourself would be like trying to wipe peanut butter off of your face with hands full of peanut butter; it only makes it messier. It would be like having to pedal on flat tires to get to a store and buy new tires; it’ll do more damage to your bike to get there. It’s overwhelming because it’s so close to what you do and who you are everyday.
Third, these issues are under the surface. Like me at my counseling sessions, it takes time to get to these issues. They aren’t about actions; they’re about a way of life. They aren’t about content; they’re about tone. More often than not, you leave yourself wondering, yeah, why did I do that at all?
That’s what it looks like, but what causes it?
The short answer is sin. Did you catch it above? When man fell into sin, all our relationships were broken, even our relationship with ourselves. And every generation since smashes the plate a little more. Paul says it like this, in a verse that I shared with a man in prison, broken by his own addiction, as he sat in the chair next to me saying, “I knew what I was doing. I knew I would get caught. I knew I was betraying my son, my mom, and my girlfriend. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I did it anyways.” Paul says it like this: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Do you catch the biblical way to talk about these things? Paul says, lack of peace in me takes me captive. It’s a sin deep in my bones. A wretched man trapped in a body of death. David calls his soul downcast. Sin leaves us with the abiding sense that something is NOT RIGHT and we can’t put our finger on it.
And here’s the crux of the Law. You can’t just will yourself out of it. Just as any person struggling with depression would know, just as any person wrestling with anxiety would tell you, just as anyone dealing with substance abuse, with self-harming tendencies, with overeating, oversleeping, overworking, oversexing can say, the solution does not start with the statement “Just try harder.”
The real problem is sin – is a desire to love something that in the end hurts and destroys you.
You see, for the Christian, this kind of a peace begins where every other kind of peace begins: by the grace of God. Without it, self-help books are only a temporary fix.
It starts outside of yourself. The fancy-dancy Latin way to say that is Extra Nos. Peace is the manifestation of grace in our relationships, even our relationship with ourselves.
Love incarnate would sit down in the dust next to you and hold your hand. He would dry your tears. He would look you in the eye and tell you, you are worthy because I paid a price for you. You are whole because I broke the body of my son for you. You are good because I have taken every stich of your shame, your burden, and I have thrown it all away. The only one who can tell you who you are has told you that you are first and best a child of God, and nothing can snatch you out of your father’s hand.
That’s the beginning of a peaceful soul. Knowing that the very great questions of life have been asked and answered by your God, and that every other question will follow suit. David says, a peaceful soul is like flowing streams. It’s full of hope. It’s like a room where the windows are open and light streams in. It’s what Paul calls, “The victory in Jesus Christ.”
So, what should this make us do?
First, see yourself as God sees you. Accept your faults, your limitations, and your shortcomings. Own them. Know them. Look them in the eye. Do this, because they’re no secret to God, and guess what, he loved you anyway. Drop the “perfect” act. Leave the idea that you are without fault behind. Instead, remember again that Jesus Christ knows all your faults and yet he still loves you. He knows all your shortcomings even better than you know yourself, and yet he still chases after you. He knows all of your sins, and yet he would hold out the gift of salvation to you, on your good days and on your bad, in sickness and in health.
Second, know that God loves you, and he calls you to love what he loves, and one of those things is you! He says, you are worth it, and you are worthy. You are loveable, and you are loved. You are redeemed whether you feel like it or not. You are bought by the very most precious thing in the world, the blood and death of your God on the cross, and on your shoulders rests the very righteousness of Christ. If that’s true, and it is, then love yourself the way God loves you. Learn to desire what he desires; learn to love what he loves, to go where he goes, to stay where he stays. Seek him where he promises to be found.
Third, make your inner circle people that believe the same thing you do. Learn to rely on people that are chasing after what God would have them do. Learn to rely on people whose first inclination is one of forgiveness and tranquility, of grateful reception and of kind action.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young person who has grown up knowing from his mother’s knee that his worth comes from God’s love for him, and so as he grows and becomes useful and successful, he learns to love what God loves and to do what God does, and when his abilities leave him, and he can no longer go and do but only be, he rests in the same knowledge he has had from his mother’s knee: that his worth comes from God’s love for him.
Amen and Amen.
Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ,
A refusal to crawl! Just this week, a friend of mine told me a story about his niece who at about age one learned how to walk. And as soon as she learned how to walk, she wanted nothing to do with crawling (Sort of like 16 year olds who as soon as they learn how to drive, they want nothing to do with riding a bike or walking!) Anyway, back to the one year old who took off walking into a whole new world. Which wasn’t really a problem until her parents took her to a particular playground that included a tunnel which was just a little too small for her to walk through it. She did want the adventure of walking through that tunnel, but she was just a couple inches too tall, and so she walked to the tunnel, she pressed her head against the top of the tunnel, and began to cry. She refused to crawl. I don’t really know how long she cried or if she ever did get down and crawl, I don’t really know the end of the story, but this I know. She serves to illustrate the sermon theme for today, which is “taking the low road.”
Now usually we think of taking the high road as doing that which is full of grace and beneficial for all concerned, but as is His custom, in our text for today, Jesus takes a bit of human wisdom and turns it on its head. He notices that the invited guests at a wedding were pushing and shoving their way to the places of honor, he teases them a bit by saying if you really wanted to be honored in public kind of way, maybe you should sit down low and hope the host will tell you to come on up higher. Jesus didn’t just want them to see bad their behavior was. He wanted to warn them against exalting themselves, he wanted them to think about what it would mean to choose humility, of course what he really really really wanted was what he has always wanted, what he is wanting for us this very day, what he will be wanting in every chapter of our lives, he wants to have mercy on our sorry souls!
Two lessons I invite you to learn in our sermon today, under the theme of “taking the low road and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Lesson #1 is what it means to be taking the low road as invited guests, and lesson #2 what it means to be taking the low road as the ones doing the inviting.
(First of all) Taking the low road as invited (guests). In that day, guests would recline at low tables, the place of honor at each table would be on the left, and the tables with the most honor would be those closest to the groom. The person reclining on the left side would have the fullest view and the guests to the right would have to bend back in order to see what was going on. I don’t suppose they had multi media visual presentations on the big screen in those days, and I’m not even sure the guests would be cracking their spoons against their fine china to get the groom and bride to give a big smooch, but this we know, there was a definite pecking order in the way guests would be seated. Two truths Jesus would teach us today about what it means to take the low road, what it means to choose humility, what it means to spend our days as my father would say “to not get too big for your britches”….two truths:
Truth #1 is remembering that mirrors never (lie). The Pharisees were looking at themselves in the mirror and outwardly they appeared to be righteous, but Jesus was holding the mirror to the inside and declared them to be full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. The Pharisees looked at their behavior at wedding receptions and saw behavior that was not only normal, but necessary. Jesus watched what they were doing and saw the kind of arrogance that was not simply annoying, it was keeping them from entering the kingdom of God.
So also would Jesus hold the mirror before us as invited guests at his table today. We may agree that we’ve made some mistakes in our day, we may admit that we can be a bit full of ourselves some days, if push comes to shove we will agree that we have habits that are annoying, habits that are offensive, yes, habits that are hurting the very people we really do care about. But Jesus Christ would hold the mirror before as this morning, and with absolute disappointment in his eyes, he would say, “dear brothers and sisters, it’s way worse than that, you haven’t just made a few mistakes- you have sinned against my father in serious fashion and have fallen far short of the glory of God……your habits aren’t just a little bit annoying, they are grieving the very Spirit of the living God and are enough to keep you out of the kingdom of God.” Truth # 1 about taking the low road as invited guests is to remember first thing in the morning that mirrors do not lie.
Truth #2 is believing that humility eventually (wins). In our text for today, Jesus begins with a healthy dose of sarcasm. He suggests to these presumptuous guests that if they really wanted to win a few points in this game of social climbing, they should do the opposite of what they were doing. Instead of rushing for the highest seat of honor and risking public humiliation by being asked to move down lower, they should clamor for the worst seat in the house in anticipation of public exaltation by being asked to move up higher!
Understand, dear friends, that Jesus took no pleasure in making fun of these knucklehead Pharisees. He takes pleasure in having mercy on their souls. He took no pleasure in putting them in their place and revealing them to be the self-righteous and on their way to hell sinners that they were. What brought Jesus joy then and what brings Jesus joy now is genuine humility, the kind of humility that drops back like the publican in the temple and says “God be merciful to me a sinner.” The kind of humility that comes running home like the prodigal son and says, “dad, I’m an idiot and I am so very sorry.” The kind of humility that steps forward to the Lord’s Table today and says, “dear Lord, I’m struggling and I don’t really know where else to turn and I don’t deserve at all to ask, but would you be so kind as to forgive me one more time?”
As often as we cry out for mercy, mercy is ours. As often as we humble ourselves, the victory of the cross and the empty tomb is delivered into the deepest recesses of our hearts and minds. It was Jesus Christ who for the joy that was set before him chose humility, who for the joy set before him took the low road and endured the cross, who for the joy set before him accepted the dishonor of the cross, who for the joy set before him was crucified until he was almost dead and then he was dead and buried into the ground. His joy was in knowing that the Father would in fact raise him up on the third day, that he would be exalted into the heavens on the 40th day, that on the 50th day he and his father would send their Spirit to be the one who helps us through all the highs and lows of life, they would send their Spirit to keep on guiding and to keep on counseling and to keep on nudging us to stay low, drop back, keep on nudging us to remember what matters in life and what does not matter very much at all. Truth #2 – a broken and a contrite heart God will not despise, or to say it another way, genuine humility always wins.
Lesson #2 today is to focus on taking the low road as the ones doing the (inviting). Jesus speaks now as the one who has gone to his bloody death and been vindicated by his resurrection. He speaks as the one who was exalted in the very act of humiliation. He speaks as the stone rejected by the builders but has become the very cornerstone. In this parable he turns from the invited guests to the host and focuses on whom to invite. He says that his hospitality now will affect his status at the end time banquet. It is absolutely imperative, Jesus says, that you do not invite those who can repay your hospitality, but instead invite those who cannot repay you. He is saying to the Pharisees on this Sabbath evening that they should break every rule of etiquette they hold dear, that they should invite folks they consider unclean to their high brow events, that they themselves should choose humility now in anticipation of a blessedness yet to come. Two truths we would learn today about what it means for us to spend our days inviting others into the table fellowship we enjoy as the people of God.
First, it means letting everyone know the tables are (round). (Read text)Our Lord’s Table has neither a head nor a foot, it is circular. At our Lord’s Table, there are no places of honor or dishonor, there are no places closer to or farther away from the groom, there is neither male nor female, there is neither rich nor poor, there are no distinctions between people who have messed up more than others. At the Lord’s Table, there is one kind of sinner, a sinner who has already been redeemed and is in that moment sorry for the way he has been thinking, sorry for the way he has been talking, sorry for the way he has been acting, sorry for the bad habits into which he has fallen, sorry for the incredible amount of good he has failed to do.
Friends in Christ, life doesn’t get any better than at our Lord’s round table. Here is Jesus Christ in all of his bloody glory, forgiving our sorry souls, reassuring our troubled consciences, soothing our wounded spirits. And that’s not all who is here, if we listen closely,we can hear the angels and the archangels singing. If we look closely, we will see the saints who have gone on before us rejoicing. If we taste carefully, we will taste just a little bit of heaven here on earth!
Means refusing to cross people off the (list). Read Text) (Three examples of crossing off 1) Story of crossing people of my Christmas list, story of crossing people off wedding reception list for daughter’s wedding / Facebook decisions to give up on people, to not hear people, to not engage with people
The kingdom of God is like a couple who is planning their wedding and decides to add names to the list, figuring to themselves the more the merrier! It’s like a widow who starts thinking already in August about adding names to her Christmas card list. It’s like Facebook participants actively looking for opportunities to engage with people that they like and people they have a hard time liking / Like married couples choosing in this very moment not to keep a record of each other’s wrongs, in response to their Father in heaven not keeping a record of their wrongs, for Jesus’ sake. It’s like a man deciding this very day to mend a fence with a former friend, in response to God finding a way to reconcile sinners to Himself. It’s like a woman who is repenting in this very hour for bridges she has burned, in response to the ever so deep and wide and long love of her God. It’s like a young person feeling sorry this very moment for doors she has slammed shut, it’s like a middle aged person confessing resentments held onto for years, it’s like an elderly person crying out for grace to cover the many times she has been less than gracious.
Finally, the kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people determined this very day to guard against an inward focus that keep them from being the kind of place where everybody is in fact welcome. Or to say it another way, they go forward from their Lord’s Table looking for people to forgive, looking for hurting people to encourage, looking for angry people to listen to and engage with in conversation, looking for folks who have messed up their lives again and again just to see how they might help them, looking for people to invite closer to Jesus and always with this one purpose in mind, that Jesus Christ could have mercy on their souls. In the name of and for the sake of Jesus. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther