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.
44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Dear Friends in Christ
Our sermon series on these four weekends of Advent is titled, “Waiting for Jesus.” Today – Waiting for Jesus as in the days of Noah, next Sunday- waiting for Jesus as in the days of John the Baptist, the next Sunday – Waiting for Jesus as in the days of illness and suffering, and Dec. 18 – Waiting for Jesus as in the days of Mary’s pregnancy.” Today we focus on being vigilant, what it means to be watchful and to be paying attention to the signs of the end times, in fact the people of Noah’s day give us the supreme example of how not to wait, of how to be careless instead of carefully interpreting the signs of the times.
A story has been told of a new preacher who was preaching without notes on the second coming of Christ. He was a bit nervous, and about ten minutes into the message, his mind went blank. He remembered what his seminary prof had taught him to do when he couldn’t think of what to say. He should repeat his point, and that would help him to remember the next words. And so he gave it a try. Behold, I come quickly! Still, his mind was blank and so he thought he would try it again. Behold I come quickly! Still nothing. He tried it one more time with such force that as he shouted out Behold I come quickly! He fell forward, he fell forward through the pulpit, he tripped over a flower pot, he fell into the lap of a little old lady in the front row. He started to apologize and explain, but she interrupted him, she said, “that’s all right young man, it was my fault. I should have gotten out of the way. You told me three times you were coming!”
It is in our very nature not to listen to warnings until it’s too late. We imagine that whoever is warning us isn’t really serious. There’s an old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!” The first part of today’s sermon is a bit of revision of that old saying…..
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me for 120 years, shame (on me!) 120 years is how long some Bible scholars suggest it took Noah to build the ark. This construction project was no small matter. The ark was as long as 1 and 1 half football fields, it was 75 feet wide, 45 feet high. The ultimate purpose of the ark wasn’t to travel from Point A to Point B, it was simply to float, it was to save both humanity and the animal kingdom from total destruction. Bible scholars suggest there were millions, perhaps even billions of people that were living in this time period, about 1600 years after Adam and Eve were created. We don’t really know how many people there were, but this we know:
The people of Noah’s day fooled themselves into thinking they could ignore the signs of the (end times) Peter writes to the early Christians that God was waiting patiently while the ark was being prepared, God was waiting for what He has always waited for – He was waiting for sinners to admit they had sinned not just a little bit, but they have sinned seriously. He was waiting for unbelievers to start listening to the preaching of His Word, He was waiting for them to see the error of their ways, He was waiting for foolish people to get turned around by His Spirit from their foolishness.
But God wasn’t just passively waiting. He was send them signs upon signs to get their attention. He was sending His Spirit to work through the preaching of a righteous man named Noah. Just imagine the great size of the trees that needed to be cut, hauled, processed, and nailed. Just imagine that huge number of men that must have worked on this ark and had opportunity to think about what was coming. Just imagine how God was yearning with every board that was cut, He was yearning with every nail that was pounded, He was yearning even as He summoned animals and birds of all kinds to come inside the ark for safety, He was yearning then as He is yearning in every generation for sinners to repent. For wherever there is repentance, there God is able to shower down a wisdom from on high. Which is another name for the forgiveness of sins. And wherever there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and there is salvation.
To this very day, it is true, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” We are fooling ourselves whenever we confuse “good times” with the (favor of God)There is nothing inherently dangerous about eating, drinking, marrying, and being given in marriage. What is dangerous is to get so caught up in having a good time that we don’t take time to do what we said in the Rite of Confirmation we would do – be diligent in the means of grace. The most dangerous decision you could ever make would be to stop listening to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Equally as dangerous would be to absent yourself from eating and drinking at your Lord’s Table for one reason or another.
If the first lesson for today is to quit fooling ourselves into thinking that the signs of the end times can be ignored, then our second lesson is to know the beauty of paying attention to them. Our first lesson today is pretty much the Law, the second is pure Gospel. The first lesson is to be aware of how dangerous it is to fall asleep, spiritually speaking, and the second is to know how beautiful life is when the Spirit of God is able to wake us up and keep us awake in a regular kind of a way. Another way of saying that is that to be forewarned is to be (forearmed).
To be forewarned is to be forearmed. In today’s Epistle lesson, Paul urges the Christians in Rome every day to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. These words remind us of our Baptism liturgy, where we vow again and again as a congregation to help these little ones renounce the devil and all of his evil ways and works. In our Baptismal prayer, we cry out to God to keep these little children safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, and that they would be in all the chapters of life separated from the multitude of unbelievers, that they would serve God’s Name at all times with a fervent spirit, that they would be declared worthy of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
To be forewarned is to forearmed. We put on the full armor of God as often as we use our ears to hear, as often as we taste and enjoy the favor of God in the very body and blood of Jesus Christ. You see, dear friends, Christ makes it possible for us to rest without (falling asleep). I read a story once of a boy who was getting pushed and shoved around by the neighborhood bullies. It happened more than once, and it kept getting uglier and uglier until one day when the father of the boy getting bullied happened to see what was going on. Before the main bully knew what happened, this big strong dad had picked him up by the scruff of shirt and told him in no uncertain terms to knock it off, he told him if he ever saw this happening again or if he even heard a whisper about it happening again, he would be back, and it wouldn’t be pretty. In that moment the boy who had been getting bullied began to relax. From that moment on, he rested in his father’s strength, he rested in his father’s strong arm of protection. You see, his father had made it possible for his son to feel safe and secure, in his neighborhood, and beyond.
So also has Christ made it possible for us to rest in His grace, to rest in His mercy, to rest in the peace only He can give. As you well know, Jesus Christ came from heaven above to earth below on our behalf. At the cross, he took Satan by the scruff of his neck, told him a new day had dawned, he told the world it was finished, he made it possible for our sins to be forgiven, he made it possible for our souls to be saved, it made it possible for the darkness to be vanished, he made it possible for us to rest without falling asleep, to rest without being left behind on the last day. No one knows when that last day will be. Not the angels, not even Jesus in His state of humiliation knew the day of his return. One wonders why it has to be such a secret.
Christ keeps us guessing so that we won’t be (surprised). Jesus says it this way, “Know this, if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
The kingdom of God is like a mother who tells her daughter she will be gone for two or three hours and gives her a list of chores to do. Her list includes doing dishing, vacuuming, dusting, and an overall picking up around the house. The daughter’s inclination is to wait until about ten minutes before her mom is expected and to try to do an hour’s work in ten minutes. As you might well suspect, the strategy of putting off until later what should be done sooner doesn’t work well.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where the people are learning more and more to put First things first. On the first day of the week, they set aside an hour or two to hear the Word of God, and more often than not, it seems as though that week the joy of the Lord is a little bit stronger. In the first hour of their days, they have a habit of making the sign of the cross and remembering they are the baptized and precious and loved people of God, and more often than not, it seems as though their days are just a little bit brighter. By the grace of God, they have developed this habit of being watchful without being worry warts. They will be surprised when the Son of Man returns, but not at all surprised at the final victory He will be delivering. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Thanksgiving Eve and Day, 2016
Proverbs 30:8 -
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.
Dear Friends in Christ,
One author suggested that the first Thanksgiving celebration, which took place in 1621 with the Pilgrims and Indians, was more about praying than it was about feasting. It was a three day gathering which followed what they considered a bountiful harvest, which had followed on the heels of a brutal winter where more than half of the pilgrims had died. It’s not hard to imagine that their gathering was more about praying / praising / thanking / asking than it was about feasting / celebrating / In today’s Old Testament Lesson, we find Moses urging Israel to enter the Promised Land thankfully, carefully, and prayerfully. In today’s Epistle Lesson, we find Paul urging early Christians to bring all of their requests before God with thanksgiving and to be learning what he had learned, namely the secret of contentment. Both the Proverbs 30 prayer and our Lord’s Prayer have as their premise a daily contentment that keeps on growing into and turning into thankfulness.
The Fourth Petition is a bit of an odd prayer, if you think about it. We ask God to give us enough daily bread for today, already knowing that we have supplies that would last us dozens, if not hundreds of days into the future. We say that we will be contented if we have food and clothing and shelter, knowing that we already have bought and paid for enough food and clothing and shelter to provide for a small army of people.
What does it mean that we pray for that which we know has already been given? Luther answers, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
The Catechism expands on Luther’s answer with three answers to this question, why do pray to God for daily bread? With that in mind, I invite you to consider these three answers to the question, “Why would Jesus want us to pray for that which we have already received and would most likely receive even without asking?
Answer #1 is so that we realize that our entire life and that of everyone else depends on God. In our text for today, we find the writer of Proverbs 30 requesting two things. First he asks to be kept from sinning in his speech. Just as God’s Word is pure, so Agur asks that God with his sanctifying power, keep his words pure.
Secondly, Agur asks that he be neither impoverished nor made rich. He requests that God feed him only his allotted food. That God would daily provide him with only what he needs for this body and life each day. This is the way God had provided manna for Israel in the wilderness, one day at a time, and this is the way God promises to provide from beginning to end in Holy Scripture. Agur knew what we want to know today – that if a believer receives more than he needs and gets rich, the temptation will be to rely on his own success and riches and deny God, saying, “Who needs Yahweh?” On the other hand, if a believer has too little to provide for the needs of himself and his family, he faces the temptation to abandon his trust in God and take matters into his own hands by becoming a thief or a swindler.
It seems as though in these days, the temptations of riches and poverty could be a bit different. The danger of having too much, one could argue, is that we are tempted to take our blessings for granted. On the other hand, the temptation that comes along with poverty or having far less than the people around us have is that of complaining about what we don’t have instead of being grateful for what we do have.
(Chapel story where I gave De $20, Ingrid, $10, and Kristin $1). De couldn’t wait to go shopping, Ingrid complained about how unfair it was that De got more, and Kristin quite humbly said thank you and put it in the offering plate!
Which brings us to the second reason why we want to pray day after day, give us this daily bread. The second reason is that Jesus would teach us as we pray to not only realize that God is the giver of all good gifts, but that we would receive all our physical blessings with thanksgiving.
This morning, we do well to admit to God and to one another the many ways we have fallen short in terms of receiving our daily bread and so much more with thanksgiving. It’s one thing to have a general feeling of thankfulness, it’s quite another to speak words of thankfulness in a consistent kind of a way, and it’s quite another to actually overflow with thankfulness in ways that help and befriend others. Some days, we may find ourselves feeling as though our cups are pretty much empty, other days only half full, on our good days we may realize our cups are full, and on our best days, we say with the Psalmist that our cups are overflowing.
It’s on our not so good days that we are tempted to take our prosperity for granted. One author came up with a top ten list of blessings we tend to take for granted: we take our jobs for granted instead of realizing how God has given us ability to work, we see problems as wastes of time instead of as opportunities to learn, we take our schools for granted, we take the government for granted instead of appreciating it, we take air for granted, we take food and drink for granted, we take friendship for granted, freedoms for granted, family for granted, even Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, we take for granted. Lord, teach us how and why to pray, give us this day our daily bread. Help us to be aware of how privileged, how absolutely privileged we are!
Author David Smith, “If we could reduce the world’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, 60 would be Asians, 14 Africans, 12 Europeans, 8 Latin Americans, and 5 North Americans. 33 Christians and 67 non Christians. Five out of 100 would control 32% of all wealth, and all 5would be US citizens. 80 would live in substandard housing and 24 would have no electricity. Education- 67 would be unable to read, and one would have a college education50 of 100 would be malnourished, and 33 would not have a safe water supply, only a third would have toilets, 7 would have internet access.
It’s tempting to hear all of that and feel as guilty as we can feel, but the Spirit of God would instead nudge us in this hour towards gratitude for blessings received. And not just feelings of gratitude, but words and prayers and songs of gratitude that get passed on from one generation to the next. And not just words and prayers and songs of gratitude that get passed on from one generation to the next, but actions of generosity that show up in such a way that congregations little and big all across the countryside become like cities of light set on hills where God is praised and neighbors are befriended. Cities of light set on hills where Jesus Christ is trusted, sins are forgiven, and tragedies are traveled through together. Cities of light set on hills where the Good News is felt, the Good News is spoken, the Good News is believed, the Good News is lived by folks whose cups are consistently spilling over. And it all began with the people of God one by one praying again and again, give us this day our daily bread, receiving their daily bread, deciding how much of that daily bread they will keep to themselves, and giving away the rest as fast as they can, as much as they can, as cheerfully as they can.
A third answer our Catechism gives to the question, why pray to God for daily bread, is this, “Christ would teach us to look to God for physical as well as spiritual blessings.”Looking to God for blessings in body and soul doesn’t mean walking through life with our heads held high in the sky, it means doing the work we have been called to do with a good understanding of what God has done for us in the past, what He is doing this very day, and what He promises for the future.
At today’s dinner table, like many of you, Debi and I will have four generations together praying and feasting. What a terrific opportunity we have to give thanks to God for each of our family stories and to see how God has given each generation their daily bread. I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more reflective I get.
I reflect on my Grandpa Griffin, born in Iowa, farming in South Dakota as a young man, scratching out a living in the 20’s and thirties, praying over and over again, give us this day our daily bread, I think of him losing a farm and starting over in 1939, sending four sons off to war, I think of them surviving poverty, by the grace of God not turning into a thief or a swindler, day after day praying give us this day our daily bread.
I think of my great great grandparents on my mom’s side helping to build a little German Lutheran Church and School in Watertown, Wisconsin in the 1850s, my great grandparents building a little German Lutheran Church and School in Lotts Creek, Iowa in the 1880s, I think of my grandparents helping to build a little German Lutheran Church and School in Barney, North Dakota, I think of how they wanted more than anything fountains where their babies could be baptized, they wanted communion rails where their sins could be forgiven, they wanted pastors who would shepherd their families into green pastures and beside the still waters, they wanted cemeteries where their loved ones could be buried, all the while praying day after day, give us this day our daily bread.
I think of my own parents working with the hands the work they were given by God to do, I think of three meals a day always preceded with prayer, I think of supper time concluding with Little Visits with God and prayer, I think of dad and me sitting down with huge dishes of ice cream before bed, I think of Mom tucking us kids in praying now I lay me down to sleep………and as eyelids grew heavy, give us this day our daily bread.
May I suggest that this day in our own little family circles be days not so much about feasting, but more about praying. Perhaps our prayers would focus on the next generation and this is how our prayers might go…. Lord God, we praise you for our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren, we praise you for all the children in these days and for creating them marvelously, wonderfully, and with purpose. We ask that you give them neither poverty nor riches; that you would feed them with the food that is needful for them. We pray that you would work in their hearts a gratefulness that will not complain, that your Spirit would work in their souls a thankfulness that will not take their blessings for granted, tht you would work in their spirits a generosity that keeps on spilling over into the lives of others. Hold them close, Jesus Christ, no matter what, hold them close. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther