2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
Grace which manifests itself as peace in our relationships, to you from our Lord Jesus and from God the Father.
At the end of our Church year, we turn again to the end times and to the future shrouded in mystery. In the coming month, we’re going to walk through 2 Thessalonians, and, in the next weeks, I’d invite you to read through 2 Thessalonians with us. Read it, soak in it, wrestle with it. It’s a short-enough letter to get through in ten minutes, and in reading it again and again, you will see the remarkable depth of the word of God.
From the Day of Judgment to the Day of Salvation, from the sons of destruction to the sons and daughters adopted into the family of God, from the weariness of our long years to the joy of the world to come, we find ourselves fleeing once again, in the midst of uncertainty, trial, affliction, fire, and suffering, to that which we have always known – the promises of our merciful God.
A Growing Faith In Days of Affliction
Paul begins his letter by thanking God for the Thessalonians – for their growing faith – that’s their relationship with their God, their identity…. They’re gratefully receiving his divine gifts, eagerly searching their Scriptures for what he’s saying, they’re rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins. And for their increasing love – that’s the way their faith is allowing them to see God working and leading them in every nook and cranny of their lives, that’s their purpose in life. As far as for which you would thank God, these two would be top on the list.
But notice why this growth is happening. That’s verse 4 and 5. This super-abundant growth and increase in the Thessalonian church is in persecution and affliction. It’s happening when the budget’s shrinking and the needs are growing. It’s happening when the culture is against them. It’s happening when the town demographics are falling. It’s happening when hope for change seems furthest.
And it seems our text takes it one step further – not only in, but also because of persecution and affliction. Do you notice that?
I remember sitting at the side of Orville Grothe and hear his breathing grow calm as I spoke the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer and he clung to those words like never before. Ask many of our faithful widows and they’ll tell you that their dark days were when they had to cling closest to their Lord. Ask many of the families that have traveled through grief and they’ll tell you that the hope for the resurrection never felt more real than when they needed to hold onto it through tears.
Our faith and our love, they grow, especially in times of affliction. I remember a bike trail a pretty famous bike trail that goes from Elroy Wisconsin to Sparta Wisconsin. The reason this particular bike trail was famous was because it was built on an old railroad line, and it had three tunnels on it – two ¼ mile tunnels and one ¾ mile tunnel. And as you get to this tunnel, you see the mist rolling toward you, you feel the temperature dropping, and you stare in the face of tis black cave… my father in law and I went in and everyone else stayed at the edge… and as we went in, the light behind us faded, and there was a point, a hundred yards in, where you couldn’t see where you had been and you couldn’t see where you were going…. You had to just keep walking forward. And we walked forward, and then the most remarkable thing happened... your eyes strained to see it. You wondered if it was real, but you could see, the faintest glimmer of light in the distance. You could see that you were heading in the right direction..
And I tell you all that to tell you this: in the end, fighting the darkness will help you love the light. Right? For however long your days might be, your purpose doesn’t change – to grow in faith and love for one another… for however long your days might be, your identity doesn’t change – you are a beloved child of your God.
The Day of Salvation is the Day of Judgment.
The heart of our passage, verses 7 to 10, paints a picture where the day of salvation and the day of judgment are like two sides to the same coin, like a double-edged sword, cutting twice with one stroke, they happen on the same day, they fall in the same stroke. “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you and to grant relief to you who are afflicted… They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction when he comes to be glorified in his saints.” Can that be right?
I say it because it’s in the Bible, and I ask because if it weren’t in the Bible, I’d rather not believe it, and yet, there it is. The day of our salvation is also the day of judgment.
I think about it like this: I remember being a young boy taking piano lessons with my older brother John, and we were required to practice piano for 30 minutes a day, every day, and I remember at least on one occasion that my Mom had left and told us to practice piano while she was gone. My brother John did practice, but I chose not to, even if John had told me to. Now, when my mom came home, it was a day of John’s salvation was also the day of my judgment.
Or how, for all kinds of Chicago Cubs fans, Pastor Nathan Grewe included – you should check out his Facebook page for a pretty entertaining commentary on Game 7 – this past Wednesday was a day of salvation when a supposed curse was broken, and yet, with that same last out, for Cleveland Indian fans, it was a day of judgment and loss and hardship.
Or how, for some, the deathbed of a loved one is a blessed relief, because they knew where they were going, because their pain is ended, because their battle is won, even as it is in the same way painful departure, marked with tears and suffering and the sting of sin which is death.
The Day of our Salvation is also the Day of Judgment. When you look through our Bible, you’ll find that there is far more judgment than there is salvation. When you look through Lamentations to find the beautiful Gospel, “Morning by morning, new mercies I’ll see,” you see yourself wading through five chapters of longing, lamenting, of suffering and sighing, just to get to 3 verses of Gospel.
In Job, you find yourself wading through 19 chapters of argument and struggle before you get the desperate voice of Job, whose business had tanked, whose children were dead, whose wife had left him, who was covered with boils, whose friends had turned against him, crying out, I know that my redeemer lives. You get another eighteen chapters of heartache and struggle and pain before God shows up and declares that he is God, and that, however much we don’t understand, he is God and he is good and he will take care to do all that is needful. What would t have been like to have lived those long chapters? What would it have been like to have stopped in the middle?
Dear Christian friends, perhaps what will shed light on this is a phrase from our funeral liturgy. In the prayers, we say “Help us, we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and find comfort in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer…”
Help us we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand. Whether it is persecution or affliction. Whether it is malice premeditated or random tragedy. Whether it is the inconstant nature of man or the incomprehensible nature of God. Whatever would stretches the limits of our sanity. Whatever makes the day look dark and the night look long. Whatever the tension is between the reality before our eyes and the Word of God. Whatever loose ends and long questions we wish we could get answers to, we pray in this prayer, help us, Lord, in the midst of all kinds of things that are too high and lofty – that’s Job’s words – for us to understand, help us to believe in and find comfort in what you have promised.
That the back of Christ is broad enough to take the punishment for the whole world’s sins. That on the cross of Calvary, Christ died for us while we were still ungodly. That the chief desire of our Father in Heaven is to have mercy instead of bloodshed. That it is by Christ and Christ alone we are made worthy and glorified and filled with goodness and grace.
To This End, We Always Pray.
Paul sums up his whole run on sentence so far with these words, To this end we always pray. So, what is that end? What should we take from this chapter?
First, we ought to search the whole counsel of God. It is no good to pick and choose what you believe. It is good to search the scriptures eagerly, to hold the promises that god commands us to hold, and to keep on clinging to the words that we know are true.
Second, that we would strive to be constant even in suffering. Our identity and our purpose do not change, even when all society would change. Our identity and purpose do not change even as the circumstances of our lives change. That our attitude of love and grace does not depend on someone’s reaction to it.
Third, that with Paul, we would pray to this end always. He says it twice – once in verse three, once in verse eleven. That he is thanking and praying always, at all times. It is a daily dialogue with our God where we honestly hash out all of life’s joys and difficulties. It is a daily remembering of our baptism, a daily rest in God’s grace.
To this end, like Paul, do we pray. Amen and Amen.
Luke 19:1-10 – And Zachhaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
Today’s sermon is the fifth in a series of five sermons, “Saying of Mature Disciples.” Marks of maturing disciples include
Speaking of determination, it’s hard not to think of Martin Luther, who became convinced by Holy Scripture that the sale of indulgences was leading Christians away from true repentance and genuine good works. And so not really knowing what he was getting into, he nailed 95 statements, we call them 95 theses on a Wittenberg, Germany chapel door. As time went on, and as the Holy Spirit had his way with this highly educated monk, Luther became determined to stand on the principles of (Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone). Although Luther was very much open to debate and to discussion, although he was very much open to being corrected or rebuked or even proven wrong, he would not back down on fundamental teachings of God’s Word. He was determined to preach and teach that it was not Scripture plus church traditions that would be authoritative, but Scripture alone, he was determined to preach and teach that it wasn’t through a combination of believing and doing good works that one could be made right with God, it was by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
In today’s sermon, we focus on the story of Zachhaeus coming to faith and how as a result of coming to faith he determined to spend the rest of his days giving away his money to the poor and making restitution to those he had swindled. But the beginning of this story of Zacchaeus goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden where we have the first promise of our Savior.
Lesson #1 this morning is to be spending our days remembering and rejoicing in all that our God has done for us, remembering and rejoicing in the salvation that already has been provided for us, remembering and rejoicing in the full and complete payment of sins that has already been remitted to our account. In our text for today, Jesus wasn’t just passing through Jericho to see the sights, He was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. This story isn’t so much about what Zacchaeus was determined to do, it’s about what Jesus was determined to do. Jesus was determined to make things right between His Father and (sinners).
We have been studying our way through sections of Luke in recent weeks, and this particular section has been called the Gospel of the Outcast. Last week we heard the despised publican in the temple crying out for mercy, the week before the widow with no power or pull crying out for justice, the week before that the unclean and cast out lepers getting healed by Jesus, and the week before that a lowly servant just doing his duty. In today’s lesson, we have not just a run of the mill tax collector, we have an overseer of tax collectors, we have not just a successful cheater and a swindler, we have a filthy rich cheater and swindler, we have a man not just a bit curious about seeing Jesus, we have a man willing to abandon all dignity and to run ahead and climb up into a tree just to catch the eye of his Savior. Little did he know that not only was he looking for Jesus, Jesus was looking for him!
Both Zacchaeus and Jesus were looking (for each other). The Scriptures are full of exhortation and encouragement to draw near, to seek out, and to be looking for our God. Hebrews 4:16, Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 10:22, “since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith….the Psalmist writes, “Call upon me in thy day of trouble.” Jesus invites, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden….”and in His Sermon on the Mount, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness……and again “seek and ye shall find, knock, and the door will be opened, ask, and it shall be given to you.”
But the parallel truth to all of those invitations is the promise that God is looking for us. James writes, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” Jesus in John 12, points forward to the cross and declares, “When I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” As a child lost in a crowd and her mom are both looking for each other, as a soldier returning from deployment and getting off the airplane and his wife are both looking for each other, so were Zacchaeus and Jesus looking for each other in our text for today. At first glance it seems as though this chief of sinners found Jesus, the greater reality is that Jesus found him.
The good news today and in every one of your days is that Whether or not you are looking for Jesus, He is (looking for you.). Little Cora Lea Ruth Schaetzke isn’t really looking for her Savior this morning, but her Savior is looking for and finding her in the waters of Baptism, nevertheless. Even in those chapters of life where we are despising the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, the preaching and the teaching of God’s Word goes forward, and as the Word of God goes forward, the Spirit of God is calling out and searching far and wide for any and for all.
It was true in the day of Zacchaeus, it is true on this Reformation Day, and it will be true until the end of time, the Son of Man came in order to seek and to save the lost. He has always been about the task of making sinners right with His Father. Lesson #1 – remember that Good News, rejoice in that Good News, rest in that Good News.
Lesson #2 is not just to be remembering and rejoicing and resting in the good news that our souls have been saved, but to take that which we have received and to give it away as fast as we can, as completely as we can, and as joyfully as we can. Once salvation came to His house, Zacchaeus was determined to make things right with his (neighbors).
Zacchaeus wasn’t just sorry for his sins, didn’t just believe in Jesus as Savior and want to leave it at that, he had a desire to make amends. He wasn’t just made right with God and content with that, he wanted make things right with his neighbors. The Bible says that faith without works is dead, it is no faith at all. The great Reformation truth is that we are saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ, the corresponding truth is that Christian faith never comes alone, it always comes with good works. Good works are the fruits of repentance. They are evidence of the faith that is within. In the court of popular opinion, words of apology might be enough, but in the courtroom of God, words of apology need to be matched with the actions of apology.
The Five Languages of Apology (Chapman and Thomas) Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas are psychologists and authors who have noticed in their marriage counseling sessions that when it comes to apologizing, people speak different languages. They suggest “that is why sincere apologies may not always be received as sincere, and why forgiveness and reconciliation are not always forthcoming. From our observations as marital therapists, we notice a deafening lack of persuasive apologies. We believe that the shortage of apologies with impact may be a central factor in the epidemic of crumbling marriages that we see today.”
In closing today, I invite you to examine these five languages of apology,to hear five little stories that illustrate each language, and give some thought to which of the five you are most likely to use….and which of the five you are most anxious to hear from your loved ones. As you do so, keep in mind the great desire of your God to have mercy on sinners, keep in mind the lively celebrations that happen in heaven every time a single sinner apologizes, keep in mind how good confession is for the soul, how contagious repentance can be in the home, and how beautiful it is when salvation comes into our households.
Apology language #1 is Expressing (regret) – “I am sorry.” The kingdom of God is like a teenager who realizes that his attitude in recent weeks has been not at all what it should be. He looks his dad in the eyes tonight, and speaks quietly, “Dad, I’m sorry for being and not getting out of bed this morning, I’m sorry for tormenting my sister in recent days, I’m sorry for not being very grateful for all that you and Mom do for us kids. I’m sorry.”
Apology language #2 is Accepting (responsibility) – “I was wrong.”The kingdom of God is like a politician who looks the camera in the eyes and says, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career, I haven’t always kept my promises, I have a tendency to do more talking than listening, here and now I just want to be honest with you all and let the chips fall where they may.
Apology language #3 - Genuinely (repenting) – “I’ll try not to do that again.” The kingdom of God is like a husband who is sorry for his habit of drinking too much, he is recognizing the troubles he is causing in marriage, he eats and drinks one more time at his Lord’s Supper, that very day he asks God to give him the strength to change his ways, he asks his wife to hold him accountable, he asks his children to give him another chance.
Apology language #4 - Requesting (forgiveness) – “Will you please forgive me?”The kingdom of God is like parents who have gotten in the habit of not going to church, they are realizing how far short they are falling with their children, they go to their children, and they say that they are sorry, they say they have been caught up with wrong priorities, and they ask, “will you forgive us?”
Apology language #5 - Making (restitution) – “What can I do to make it right?”The kingdom of God is like Zacchaeus who hears the town folk grumbling about how Jesus welcomes and has table fellowship with no good men like himself, he is sincerely sorry for so much wrong he has done, he spends time with Jesus, he can hardly wait to go looking for folks who need his help, he can hardly wait to be generous with those he has defrauded, he can hardly wait to make things right. In the Name of and for the sake of Jesus. Amen.
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Genesis 4:1-15 // 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 // Luke 18:9-17
4th of 5 in a series
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today, we reflect on the words of the tax collector sinner, beating his breast at the back of the church saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
In these days, we’ve been walking through Luke 17 and 18 and the disciples that respond to the grace of God though all kinds of difficult chapters of life. These are the habits that those disciples cultivate as they follow Jesus for their days. These are the sayings that shape their lives. Our first saying was one of humility, “We have only done our duty.” Second, of gratefulness, “God has been good to me.” Third, of confidence “God answers our prayers.”
And today, we think on the subject of repentance. “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
We get the audience right at the beginning – Jesus tells this parable to people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.
So, what kind of people is Jesus talking to? What does it mean that they trusted in themselves, that they were righteous? What does it mean that they treated others with contempt? What is contempt?
The first answer would be that Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, just like the one that’s in his parable. Jesus often speaks in strong terms against the Pharisees, and so we have one particular view of them, but let me paint our picture first with a different brush: the Pharisees were the spiritual leaders of their local communities. The Pharisaic movement began one hundred or so years before Jesus as an answer to the question, “How can we keep our people faithful to God?” They were, in so many ways, the pastors of their day.
But Jesus here is talking to pastors whose righteousness is in themselves and treated others with contempt. and to explore that, we turn to the Pharisee’s prayer. He prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
First, let’s deal with the content of his prayer. He was thanking God for good things. You have to know that first. These are legitimately good things for which he is thanking God. Would any of you do the opposite? Would any of you give thanks to God that you are like extortioners, unjust adulterers or swindlers? He gives thanks to God that he has no propensity to abuse alcohol, that he has no problems eating an appropriate amount of food. He gives thanks that he can get to church once a week. He gives thanks that he lives a good kind of life.
Does any of that content sound familiar? Thanking God for the good things of life. Thanking God that we’ve escaped the danger that’s befallen others. Thanking God for the opportunities that he’s afforded us in life that he hadn’t afforded to others… Thanking God for every good thing, for every opportunity of service.
But then, don’t just look at the content; look at the tone. It’s not that those good things are bad. The problem is that they’re good. It’s that this pious person has made good things into the ultimate thing. This becomes one of our greatest dangers as life-long Christians. We take good things and we make them ultimate things.
Let’s unpack that. I remember this last weekend – I wasn’t in church – I was at the Mankato half marathon, and let me tell you, that was about the most perfect day, and it was great with all the people around me, but it was tough… I remember having to break down the longer run into smaller chunks – if I can just make it to mile ten… if I can just make it up the next hill… And I tell you that, to tell you this: Even when meeting a shorter goal, even when getting there is a good thing, I still have more race to go, I needed to keep the final goal in mind.
God has made us stewards of everything we have, and we’re just that – stewards. The world is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. We are only managers, resting in the grace of God. You make good things into ultimate things when you begin looking at your bank account for safety. Now, it’s good to have a bank account, and it’s good to provide for your family, but when you start looking at the zeros in your bank account as your safety and security, you’ve started making a good thing into an ultimate thing.
You make good things into ultimate things when your spouse and your family, some of the best gifts that God has given us, when they become your value and worth. When you define yourself solely as son or husband, as father or brother, then you put your whole identity in something that passes away.
This whole world will pass away, but God’s word will never pass away.
What good things are you tempted to make into ultimate things?
But this is all a foil to the tax collector. He slinks when the Pharisee walks proud. He sits when the Pharisee stands. He whispers when the Pharisee speaks up. He repents when the Pharisee boasts. He knows his sinful place before a sinless God when the Pharisee goes to God almost as equal.
And the tax collector whispers, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”
One thought comes to us from C.S. Lewis, from his essay, The Weight of Glory. He writes about humility and repentance: as he matured in his Christianity, he stumbles upon “what is in fact the humblest, the most childlike, the most creaturely of pleasures—nay, the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator.”
The specific pleasure of the inferior. The joy of a dog before its master. The joy of a baby in its mother’s arms. The joy of a learner in learning from the learned. The joy of the creature before its creator.
To know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our pleasure is first and best to receive all that God is giving to us. To receive every bit of forgiveness that he would shower down upon us, to remember again the washing of holy baptism, to eat and to drink again for the very same forgiveness.
To know, first and best, that God is God and we are not. And second, to remember that it is purely God’s nature to be merciful to the undeserving. Did you catch that about the tax collector’s prayer? That he’s asking his God to do and be exactly what he does and who he is. And third, to ask that God would be God, that he would do what is in his nature to do, right here in our midst.
Because the real beauty of Lutheran theology is that it was never about the best of humanity. The beauty of Lutheran theology is that the good, the rich, the talented, the eloquent, any and all are that have and enjoy the good things of this life, they are saved the very same way that every alcoholic, drug-addicted, foolish, angry, sexually immoral, immature, homicidal wreck of a human life. Even those at the top of their game, even those who are well-educated, healthy, strong, good looking, marriageable, with good eyes and clean living, those who are on their way to checking off all the things on their bucket list, even they are far from the kingdom of God until they repent.
By the grace of Christ. By the love of God, taken human form, marched up to Calvary, hung on a cross until he was good and dead, then raised from the tomb.
By the mercy of God, by the great riches of who Jesus is, doled out and spent down to the very last cent, spent down to the point of his death, so that your reward might be rich in heaven.
By the son of God, by the love of the Father for his son, we are adopted into the family of God, we are given the full inheritance of sons, the eternal life of Jesus Christ.
And that is an incredible work. Our God, in every deed, in every word, he is working to bring about what will come in full when Jesus Christ comes again. He is working to renew all of creation so that those who believe and are baptized might live with him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness. That’s incredibly complex.
But all he requires of us is the faith of a simple child. Let me paraphrase Greg Finke. A car is both incredibly complex and incredibly simple. There are so many things that have to happen so precisely that make timed explosions happen in sequence so that wheels turn, steering wheels steer, headlights work, ipods play and I get to where I am going. But here’s the thing. I don’t need to know all of that. Someone else has designed it. Someone else has done the incredibly complex work. Someone else has done the heavy lifting, and they’ve done all that so that all I need to do is turn the key.
And I tell you that to tell you this: Christ has done and is doing the incredibly complex work in your life and in the world. He is working in his time, in his way, in your conflicts, in your life. He is drawing you and others to repentance. He is paving the way for reconciliation. He is preparing the ground so that his kingdom would come and his will would be done. Don’t try to do his work. He’s got it.
Instead, take up the incredibly simple job of being a little child. Knowing that God is God and you are not. Knowing that our identity rests on being first and best redeemed children of God. Rejoicing in the inferiority of being a creature before the creator.
And following that creator wherever he would lead. Where is he leading you? What incredibly complex work is he doing, so that he can lead you through like a little child? What pathways has his grace paved for us, so that we can follow where he leads? God be merciful to me, a sinner. God, thank you for your mercy to me, a sinner.
Amen and Amen.
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.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther