Isaiah 65:17-25 // Romans 8:18-25 // Luke 5:17-26
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon for today includes all three readings. Let me read for you Isaiah chapter 65 verse 25, “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” Our text thus far.
Dear Christian friends,
In these weeks, we’ve been talking about peace, about the biblical concept of Shalom, and it’s not so much an absence of violence or hate or war as it is the presence of something greater. One commentator writes that peace happens when grace shows up and does its work in our relationships.
And so far, we’ve considered what the grace bought by the blood of our savior does to our relationship with ourselves, namely how it brings honesty and tranquility. We’ve considered what grace does to our relationship with others, namely how it brings reconciliation that seeks to build bridges rather than burn them.
And today, we take a look at our relationship with creation. Now, this isn’t as near and dear a topic for me as our relationship to our own selves, and it isn’t as comfortable a topic for me as relationships like marriages, siblings, neighbors, and the like. In fact, when I went through my preaching notes from the last three years, I can’t say I have ever given more than a passing reference to creation; much of my life application has had to do with human to human relationships.
Today, we meditate on the biblical witness of our relationship with creation, how the grace bought by the blood of Jesus Christ manifests itself in a peace that we share with all created things under our God. Three lessons for today. First that creation is part of God’s story. Second, that our disharmony means that even our good will do evil. Third, when Christ comes back, our harmony will be complete.
Our first lesson for today is that creation is part of the great story of God’s love. It’s not just a backdrop. It’s not just a really good set of earthly pictures to help us talk more clearly about God who is spirit. All of creation was rent apart by our Fall into sin, and it – these are Paul’s words – groans and longs for the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
A three-year-old kid came up to me and asked me the kind of question that a three-year-old asks, “Did God make hurricanes?” Which is the kind of question that you can think, “If I answer yes then he’ll ask why, and if I answer no, he’ll ask, but I thought God created everything. Who created hurricanes then? To which I replied, well, did God make wind? Well, yeah. Did God make rain? Well, yeah. And is everything affected by sin? Yes. That which God had intended for good had now been twisted and marred into destruction and mayhem.
In Genesis 3, the ground every bit as much as Adam as God curses him. In Genesis 6, creation bears the punishment that God unleashes in the flood. In Genesis 9, God gives humans permission to eat animals. Creation bears the curse with us. Creation is not just a backdrop for God’s story of salvation; it groans for a savior, and it longs for peace.
Second, even outside of the wickedness we are capable of, our good can do harm and suffering. The good of raising people out of subsistence can mean that our efforts scar the earth around us. Just ask any farmer if they intended to thin the eggshells of bald eagles with the use of DDT… they’ll tell you no! They just wanted to grow healthy crops. And yet, there was an unforeseen consequence on creation. How many of us that buy clothes intend that workers’ wages would be poor and their lives impoverished? And yet, we support systems that make choices which go against human decency.
You see, this is the double-edged sword of sin, this is again the struggle that Paul exemplifies in Romans chapter 7 and 8, this is the time and place where we see in stark relief how diabolical sin is, that it would take even the good that we do and the good that we do well, and still the devil can twist the outcome, so much so that what we intend for good, he would use for evil.
And it starts at the heart. Dear Christian friends, this is why Lutherans talk in such deep terms about sin and grace, because it allows us to see how people with the best intentions, with the best motivations, people with the best technologies and the best resources are still mired in the muck we call sin, because in our hearts, in our minds, in our environment, in the creation around us, even the highest good that we intend, if we intend it at all, bears still the curse of our sin.
But we hearken back to the story of Joseph from last week, because how wonderful and beautiful a truth it is that we have a good that would take all that others and we ourselves, whether intended for good or for evil, all that the devil would twist to his own devices, all that would in the end hurt and destroy and maim and kill, and he uses it for our good. What you intended for wickedness, our God has used for our good and for the good of all.
The treachery of Judas. The treason of Peter. The cowardice of Mark. The brashness, the harshness, the unthinking crowds, the deceiving Sadducees, each and every intention of the devil was shaped by our God into the story of salvation of all things. How beautiful it is that Christ was crucified for our sins, and how beautiful it is that he was raised up on the third day. How beautiful it is that he bears the brunt of the curse meant for us, and how beautiful it is that in his life we now life. How beautiful it is that we are sons and daughters of God, and how we, like all creatures, stand under the creator that, when he comes, will make the mountains and hills sing, that will make the trees of the field clap their hands, will make the creation in all of its glory to be in harmony together, and to be in harmony with humanity.
You see, because Jesus, in the end intends not only to do away with sin, but to do away with all the effects of sin as well. With all of the lameness, with all of the blindness, with all of the tears, all of the suffering, all that would ever hurt or destroy on all his holy mountain, this is the avalanche of God’s love that begins with the very simple words of Christ, the ones that he speaks to the lame man, saying, “I forgive you.” And if you do not believe that I can forgive sins, then let me say this, “Get up and walk.” The forgiveness that deals first with the very fundamental and basic need of forgiveness, how much more will it not attend, in its own time, to all the needs of body and soul?
Third, we look ahead to the day when our harmony will be complete. Where, in the new heavens and the new earth, we will see things as they are. The Greek word for sin, hamartano, means “to miss the mark.” It means to misjudge something, to look at something wrongly, to see it as it is not, to stare something down and to miss what it’s about. It’s sizing up a three-pointer and throwing over the backboard. It’s thinking that you see a pathway forward and, halfway up, you realize it’s a dead end. It’s opening your mouth and realizing you’ve bit off more than you can chew. That’s what it means to miss the mark, to see something and misjudge, for something to be not quite right. And yet Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, on that glorious day, we will not miss the mark, but instead see things as they really are.
My grandpa was a master woodworker kind of a guy and he would take my grandma Gerry to furniture stores where she would pick out the furniture she liked. When she pointed to something in the store, he’d take a look at it, and he’d stare it down, and then he’d say, yeah, I think I could make that. His eye had been trained to see things as they were. He could look at them like only a wood worker could, and see how they came together.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, now we see in part, then we will see in full. Now we know in part, then we will know in full even as we are fully known. What a world it will be? How will it be when Christ comes back and we may see things, honestly for the first time, as they truly are? To see the soil and know what it needs to support us. To look up to the sky and see what weather the wind will blow our way. To rejoice where our God rejoices, to rejoice in a way that creation longs for. To be in harmony with nature in a way that protects and provides for all of God’s creatures in God’s time with God’s own hand, as his servants, as the pinnacle of creation, as the gardeners that stand by his side, in the new Garden of Eden.
Amen and amen.
Psalm 42:1-11 // Romans 7:14-25 // Luke 14:25-35
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the next four weeks, we are turning toward our Annual Theme, Shalom: That Glorious Day. Shalom means Peace. Peace is not just the absence of violence or the absence of hate; it is a harmony of relationships. Those relationships were broken in the Fall, and each generation smashes the plate into more pieces. But. The Hebrew Shalom means a fullness of love, of joy, of right relationship between God, ourselves, others, and creation. One commentator writes that when grace manifests itself in our relationships, it’s called peace. In the grace of Christ, we receive a peace that passes all our understanding. In Christ, God brings peace to our broken relationships with others. In Christ, God starts in us a peace that finishes in the glorious second coming of Jesus.
The theme for our meditation today is “Peace with Ourselves.”
One of the best pieces of my seminary education was a requirement of my counseling class: that each and every student would go to at least 3 sessions with a professional counselor.
I remember going the first and second times and skating the surface, but on my third session, I opened up … about my fears: Would I be able to finish seminary school?, about my insecurities: am I worthy for someone to love?, about my faults and my regrets: I’m a clumsy, forgetful, up-in-the-clouds kind of a person, and I remember getting in my car and driving home crying because of all the things I had hardly told anyone, that had all come out that night. And I tell you that to tell you this: all that pent-up whatever-it-was had been keeping from peace in myself.
Today, our meditation is on how the grace of God won for us on the cross manifests itself in our closest relationship – in our relationship with ourselves. Four questions we would ask for today: First, what is the opposite of peace and what causes it? Then, what causes peace with ourselves and what does it look like?
First, what is the opposite of this kind of peace? What do you call it?
Some might call it insecurity. Others call it self-doubt. If you were reading parenting books from the 1980’s, you might call it lack of self-esteem. Some would call it a restless soul or a bad feeling inside but whatever you call it, you know how it looks…
It’s the teenager who looks in the mirror and wonders, “Why did you have to make me like this, God?” It’s the man struggling with depression whose friends don’t really know what to do with him, other than watch and pray. It’s the woman overtaken by alcohol who can’t seem to muster the willpower to stop. It’s the aging adult who used to be the get-it-done fixer type of person, who now, more often than not, is the one who needs help, whether he says it or not.
Why do you think that is?
Three ideas that I have for you. First, that issues of this nature are shameful. It doesn’t feel good to think that the thing closest to ourselves – that is our own self – isn’t working right. You use yourself every day. You try to keep yourself in good working order. It doesn’t seem like you should be a problem for you.
Second, these issues are overwhelming. You are the only self that you can use. Trying to fix yourself would be like trying to wipe peanut butter off of your face with hands full of peanut butter; it only makes it messier. It would be like having to pedal on flat tires to get to a store and buy new tires; it’ll do more damage to your bike to get there. It’s overwhelming because it’s so close to what you do and who you are everyday.
Third, these issues are under the surface. Like me at my counseling sessions, it takes time to get to these issues. They aren’t about actions; they’re about a way of life. They aren’t about content; they’re about tone. More often than not, you leave yourself wondering, yeah, why did I do that at all?
That’s what it looks like, but what causes it?
The short answer is sin. Did you catch it above? When man fell into sin, all our relationships were broken, even our relationship with ourselves. And every generation since smashes the plate a little more. Paul says it like this, in a verse that I shared with a man in prison, broken by his own addiction, as he sat in the chair next to me saying, “I knew what I was doing. I knew I would get caught. I knew I was betraying my son, my mom, and my girlfriend. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I did it anyways.” Paul says it like this: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Do you catch the biblical way to talk about these things? Paul says, lack of peace in me takes me captive. It’s a sin deep in my bones. A wretched man trapped in a body of death. David calls his soul downcast. Sin leaves us with the abiding sense that something is NOT RIGHT and we can’t put our finger on it.
And here’s the crux of the Law. You can’t just will yourself out of it. Just as any person struggling with depression would know, just as any person wrestling with anxiety would tell you, just as anyone dealing with substance abuse, with self-harming tendencies, with overeating, oversleeping, overworking, oversexing can say, the solution does not start with the statement “Just try harder.”
The real problem is sin – is a desire to love something that in the end hurts and destroys you.
You see, for the Christian, this kind of a peace begins where every other kind of peace begins: by the grace of God. Without it, self-help books are only a temporary fix.
It starts outside of yourself. The fancy-dancy Latin way to say that is Extra Nos. Peace is the manifestation of grace in our relationships, even our relationship with ourselves.
Love incarnate would sit down in the dust next to you and hold your hand. He would dry your tears. He would look you in the eye and tell you, you are worthy because I paid a price for you. You are whole because I broke the body of my son for you. You are good because I have taken every stich of your shame, your burden, and I have thrown it all away. The only one who can tell you who you are has told you that you are first and best a child of God, and nothing can snatch you out of your father’s hand.
That’s the beginning of a peaceful soul. Knowing that the very great questions of life have been asked and answered by your God, and that every other question will follow suit. David says, a peaceful soul is like flowing streams. It’s full of hope. It’s like a room where the windows are open and light streams in. It’s what Paul calls, “The victory in Jesus Christ.”
So, what should this make us do?
First, see yourself as God sees you. Accept your faults, your limitations, and your shortcomings. Own them. Know them. Look them in the eye. Do this, because they’re no secret to God, and guess what, he loved you anyway. Drop the “perfect” act. Leave the idea that you are without fault behind. Instead, remember again that Jesus Christ knows all your faults and yet he still loves you. He knows all your shortcomings even better than you know yourself, and yet he still chases after you. He knows all of your sins, and yet he would hold out the gift of salvation to you, on your good days and on your bad, in sickness and in health.
Second, know that God loves you, and he calls you to love what he loves, and one of those things is you! He says, you are worth it, and you are worthy. You are loveable, and you are loved. You are redeemed whether you feel like it or not. You are bought by the very most precious thing in the world, the blood and death of your God on the cross, and on your shoulders rests the very righteousness of Christ. If that’s true, and it is, then love yourself the way God loves you. Learn to desire what he desires; learn to love what he loves, to go where he goes, to stay where he stays. Seek him where he promises to be found.
Third, make your inner circle people that believe the same thing you do. Learn to rely on people that are chasing after what God would have them do. Learn to rely on people whose first inclination is one of forgiveness and tranquility, of grateful reception and of kind action.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young person who has grown up knowing from his mother’s knee that his worth comes from God’s love for him, and so as he grows and becomes useful and successful, he learns to love what God loves and to do what God does, and when his abilities leave him, and he can no longer go and do but only be, he rests in the same knowledge he has had from his mother’s knee: that his worth comes from God’s love for him.
Amen and Amen.
Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ,
A refusal to crawl! Just this week, a friend of mine told me a story about his niece who at about age one learned how to walk. And as soon as she learned how to walk, she wanted nothing to do with crawling (Sort of like 16 year olds who as soon as they learn how to drive, they want nothing to do with riding a bike or walking!) Anyway, back to the one year old who took off walking into a whole new world. Which wasn’t really a problem until her parents took her to a particular playground that included a tunnel which was just a little too small for her to walk through it. She did want the adventure of walking through that tunnel, but she was just a couple inches too tall, and so she walked to the tunnel, she pressed her head against the top of the tunnel, and began to cry. She refused to crawl. I don’t really know how long she cried or if she ever did get down and crawl, I don’t really know the end of the story, but this I know. She serves to illustrate the sermon theme for today, which is “taking the low road.”
Now usually we think of taking the high road as doing that which is full of grace and beneficial for all concerned, but as is His custom, in our text for today, Jesus takes a bit of human wisdom and turns it on its head. He notices that the invited guests at a wedding were pushing and shoving their way to the places of honor, he teases them a bit by saying if you really wanted to be honored in public kind of way, maybe you should sit down low and hope the host will tell you to come on up higher. Jesus didn’t just want them to see bad their behavior was. He wanted to warn them against exalting themselves, he wanted them to think about what it would mean to choose humility, of course what he really really really wanted was what he has always wanted, what he is wanting for us this very day, what he will be wanting in every chapter of our lives, he wants to have mercy on our sorry souls!
Two lessons I invite you to learn in our sermon today, under the theme of “taking the low road and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Lesson #1 is what it means to be taking the low road as invited guests, and lesson #2 what it means to be taking the low road as the ones doing the inviting.
(First of all) Taking the low road as invited (guests). In that day, guests would recline at low tables, the place of honor at each table would be on the left, and the tables with the most honor would be those closest to the groom. The person reclining on the left side would have the fullest view and the guests to the right would have to bend back in order to see what was going on. I don’t suppose they had multi media visual presentations on the big screen in those days, and I’m not even sure the guests would be cracking their spoons against their fine china to get the groom and bride to give a big smooch, but this we know, there was a definite pecking order in the way guests would be seated. Two truths Jesus would teach us today about what it means to take the low road, what it means to choose humility, what it means to spend our days as my father would say “to not get too big for your britches”….two truths:
Truth #1 is remembering that mirrors never (lie). The Pharisees were looking at themselves in the mirror and outwardly they appeared to be righteous, but Jesus was holding the mirror to the inside and declared them to be full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. The Pharisees looked at their behavior at wedding receptions and saw behavior that was not only normal, but necessary. Jesus watched what they were doing and saw the kind of arrogance that was not simply annoying, it was keeping them from entering the kingdom of God.
So also would Jesus hold the mirror before us as invited guests at his table today. We may agree that we’ve made some mistakes in our day, we may admit that we can be a bit full of ourselves some days, if push comes to shove we will agree that we have habits that are annoying, habits that are offensive, yes, habits that are hurting the very people we really do care about. But Jesus Christ would hold the mirror before as this morning, and with absolute disappointment in his eyes, he would say, “dear brothers and sisters, it’s way worse than that, you haven’t just made a few mistakes- you have sinned against my father in serious fashion and have fallen far short of the glory of God……your habits aren’t just a little bit annoying, they are grieving the very Spirit of the living God and are enough to keep you out of the kingdom of God.” Truth # 1 about taking the low road as invited guests is to remember first thing in the morning that mirrors do not lie.
Truth #2 is believing that humility eventually (wins). In our text for today, Jesus begins with a healthy dose of sarcasm. He suggests to these presumptuous guests that if they really wanted to win a few points in this game of social climbing, they should do the opposite of what they were doing. Instead of rushing for the highest seat of honor and risking public humiliation by being asked to move down lower, they should clamor for the worst seat in the house in anticipation of public exaltation by being asked to move up higher!
Understand, dear friends, that Jesus took no pleasure in making fun of these knucklehead Pharisees. He takes pleasure in having mercy on their souls. He took no pleasure in putting them in their place and revealing them to be the self-righteous and on their way to hell sinners that they were. What brought Jesus joy then and what brings Jesus joy now is genuine humility, the kind of humility that drops back like the publican in the temple and says “God be merciful to me a sinner.” The kind of humility that comes running home like the prodigal son and says, “dad, I’m an idiot and I am so very sorry.” The kind of humility that steps forward to the Lord’s Table today and says, “dear Lord, I’m struggling and I don’t really know where else to turn and I don’t deserve at all to ask, but would you be so kind as to forgive me one more time?”
As often as we cry out for mercy, mercy is ours. As often as we humble ourselves, the victory of the cross and the empty tomb is delivered into the deepest recesses of our hearts and minds. It was Jesus Christ who for the joy that was set before him chose humility, who for the joy set before him took the low road and endured the cross, who for the joy set before him accepted the dishonor of the cross, who for the joy set before him was crucified until he was almost dead and then he was dead and buried into the ground. His joy was in knowing that the Father would in fact raise him up on the third day, that he would be exalted into the heavens on the 40th day, that on the 50th day he and his father would send their Spirit to be the one who helps us through all the highs and lows of life, they would send their Spirit to keep on guiding and to keep on counseling and to keep on nudging us to stay low, drop back, keep on nudging us to remember what matters in life and what does not matter very much at all. Truth #2 – a broken and a contrite heart God will not despise, or to say it another way, genuine humility always wins.
Lesson #2 today is to focus on taking the low road as the ones doing the (inviting). Jesus speaks now as the one who has gone to his bloody death and been vindicated by his resurrection. He speaks as the one who was exalted in the very act of humiliation. He speaks as the stone rejected by the builders but has become the very cornerstone. In this parable he turns from the invited guests to the host and focuses on whom to invite. He says that his hospitality now will affect his status at the end time banquet. It is absolutely imperative, Jesus says, that you do not invite those who can repay your hospitality, but instead invite those who cannot repay you. He is saying to the Pharisees on this Sabbath evening that they should break every rule of etiquette they hold dear, that they should invite folks they consider unclean to their high brow events, that they themselves should choose humility now in anticipation of a blessedness yet to come. Two truths we would learn today about what it means for us to spend our days inviting others into the table fellowship we enjoy as the people of God.
First, it means letting everyone know the tables are (round). (Read text)Our Lord’s Table has neither a head nor a foot, it is circular. At our Lord’s Table, there are no places of honor or dishonor, there are no places closer to or farther away from the groom, there is neither male nor female, there is neither rich nor poor, there are no distinctions between people who have messed up more than others. At the Lord’s Table, there is one kind of sinner, a sinner who has already been redeemed and is in that moment sorry for the way he has been thinking, sorry for the way he has been talking, sorry for the way he has been acting, sorry for the bad habits into which he has fallen, sorry for the incredible amount of good he has failed to do.
Friends in Christ, life doesn’t get any better than at our Lord’s round table. Here is Jesus Christ in all of his bloody glory, forgiving our sorry souls, reassuring our troubled consciences, soothing our wounded spirits. And that’s not all who is here, if we listen closely,we can hear the angels and the archangels singing. If we look closely, we will see the saints who have gone on before us rejoicing. If we taste carefully, we will taste just a little bit of heaven here on earth!
Means refusing to cross people off the (list). Read Text) (Three examples of crossing off 1) Story of crossing people of my Christmas list, story of crossing people off wedding reception list for daughter’s wedding / Facebook decisions to give up on people, to not hear people, to not engage with people
The kingdom of God is like a couple who is planning their wedding and decides to add names to the list, figuring to themselves the more the merrier! It’s like a widow who starts thinking already in August about adding names to her Christmas card list. It’s like Facebook participants actively looking for opportunities to engage with people that they like and people they have a hard time liking / Like married couples choosing in this very moment not to keep a record of each other’s wrongs, in response to their Father in heaven not keeping a record of their wrongs, for Jesus’ sake. It’s like a man deciding this very day to mend a fence with a former friend, in response to God finding a way to reconcile sinners to Himself. It’s like a woman who is repenting in this very hour for bridges she has burned, in response to the ever so deep and wide and long love of her God. It’s like a young person feeling sorry this very moment for doors she has slammed shut, it’s like a middle aged person confessing resentments held onto for years, it’s like an elderly person crying out for grace to cover the many times she has been less than gracious.
Finally, the kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people determined this very day to guard against an inward focus that keep them from being the kind of place where everybody is in fact welcome. Or to say it another way, they go forward from their Lord’s Table looking for people to forgive, looking for hurting people to encourage, looking for angry people to listen to and engage with in conversation, looking for folks who have messed up their lives again and again just to see how they might help them, looking for people to invite closer to Jesus and always with this one purpose in mind, that Jesus Christ could have mercy on their souls. In the name of and for the sake of Jesus. Amen.
Isaiah 66 // Hebrews 12:4-24 // Luke 13:22-30
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our sermon text is from Hebrews chapter 12. Just previous to this we heard the heroic lives of faith, the stories of those who thick and thin held fast to their faith… And our reading from last week ended with those iconic words of Hebrews 12, Let us throw off sin and run the race set out for us. And so, we hear the epistle writer turn to discipline, to pain, and to hardship.
He says, Your pain is for your good. Who wants to hear that? Who wants to say that?
The overriding theme of our epistle lesson is a hard truth: that the race we run is difficult and there will be drooping hands and weak knees. The writer to the Hebrews spells it out clearly: for the Christian, all hardship, all hurt, whether we bring it on ourselves, or others bring it to us or the random world brings it our way, all hardship is used by God for our discipline. All tumult and upheaval and unrest of our souls, whether we can see it or not, God uses to yield in us the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Can that be right?
If you are sons of God, and you are, then God longs to see you holy. If you are sons of God, and you are, then God longs to see you make the correct choices.
I remember back when I was a little boy and when my brothers were not so little, and at that time, I as a younger brother was pretty into wrestling my older brothers to prove my strength. And typically, when Mom and Dad were gone for an evening, I’d march around, demanding to wrestle, and as soon as they were sick of it, my brothers would put me in timeout by locking me in the bathroom. No doubt they wanted some peace and quiet. No doubt they were tired of the little brother acting the way he was, but I tell you all that to tell you this: the point of the discipline was to make me into a little brother that loved what they loved.
Then, Paul says it like this in Romans: not conformed to the world but transformed by the renewing of your mind. It is the thought that God would break every barrier down. He would take away any success that clouds your view of Gospel truth. And more than that, he would use any experience you’ve been given, whether good or bad, to draw you closer to him, to show you how to love as he loves, to do as he does, to see his holiness in you.
So, you might be asking yourself, Pastor Muther, that’s all well and good, but what am I supposed to do? And that’s a good question. Hebrews here says to strive for peace with all. Now, this isn’t a false peace. It isn’t just living alongside others; it means deep-seated peace. It means harmony with others and restored relationships. Guard yourself against a root of bitterness – make sure that your hardships and trials do not make your heart clench up and your compassion tighten.
I remember in Cross Country as we were running, our coach would hand us little wooden sticks and tell us to hold them. You see, the best way to run was with relaxed hands, arms and shoulders, with your eyes straight ahead but most people, myself included, when the race gets long and you get tired tend to look down at the ground, tighten your shoulders and clench your hands. He gave us those sticks to show us how tight we would get and to get us to relax.
These are challenges of the middle. Challenges of the beginning of a race are going out too fast, thinking too much of yourself, biting off more than you can chew. Challenges of the end are not finishing strong, or not knowing how soon the end is coming, but these are the challenges of the middle, to endure the long hardship well.
Raise up your eyes and look toward the horizon of God’s love. See the greater purpose that everything would have, and know by faith alone that God has woven all the days of his chosen people into the tapestry of his salvation, to show you the greatness of your God in love, in his sacrifice, and in his grace.
For we do not come to what may be touched. Here the writer to the Hebrews references Mount Sinai, with the people of Israel too scared even to touch it because of the wrath of God. From that fearful mountain they received the Ten Commandments. And yet, the writer to the Hebrews says, we do not worship what can be touched. We do not worship the laws of this world. We do not worship the elemental principals of nature; instead, we worship – and get this because it is explicitly and peculiar in its Christianity – we worship a God that willingly went under the laws of creation that he created in order to bear our sin and be our savior. We worship a God who out of those broken by hardship has created a people that will dwell in the New Jerusalem. We worship a God whose sprinkled blood surpasses the blood of Abel with a better word.
What does that mean? That’s a good question. His brother Cain in the first murder spilled the blood of Abel way back in Genesis 4. Moses writes that the blood cried out for vengeance. It cried out for this wrong, it stained the ground with its sin. But the sprinkled blood – the sacrificial lamb, who takes away the sin of the world – it washes all our stains and sins away.
It is indeed a better word that Christ speaks. He says, I have seen your sin and taken it upon myself. I have seen your hardship, and know that in the end all will be paid. I have seen all that the world, the devil and your own self would throw at you, and know that I have taken it all for you.
It is Christ who first suffered the discipline of his father for our sake. It is Christ who has received all the chastisement that we should have suffered. It is Christ whose holiness we share.
And this is a message that must go out to the nations. From Isaiah 66: I will send out my survivors to the nations, so that they declare my glory. Blessed are the ones that our Lord sends, even if he sends them through hardship. Blessed are the ones who hear the word of God, and not only hear it; but also do it. Blessed are the ones who pass through the narrow door, because they have taken ahold of their salvation now.
You see, that’s Jesus’ main concern in the passage from Luke. Someone comes up to him on the road and asks “Will those who are saved be few?” And he proceeds to answer a different question. The answer he gives is rather “Grab ahold of your salvation now! The time is now, the place is here! Don’t dally when it comes to salvation; don’t think you can do it later, come along and come quickly!”
You grab ahold of your salvation every time you remember in the invocation the words that were spoken over you in baptism, sealing you with the guarantee of the holy Spirit. You grab ahold of your salvation every time you place the bread which is Christ’s body and the wine which is Christ’s blood into you mouth and know that the promises of God are strong. You grab ahold of your salvation every time you confess your sins and receive the forgiveness of Christ. You grab ahold of your salvation every time you hear, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man clenching his hands wondering at the bitterness at the bottom of his heart. He’s wondering at how his life got so hard and how many choices he got wrong in the end. But in the middle of his guilt, in the middle of his shame, he remembers the better word of the Gospel, the way that Christ has sprinkled forgiveness over him, and so his hands unclench, his heart becomes less bitter and slowly but surely, the Spirit of God works in his heart to bring him in the end of his days, home.
Amen and Amen.
Psalm27:1- The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Dear Friends in Christ,
Years ago, I was visiting an elderly man who had fought in World War I, who was a man’s man kind of a man. He was tougher than nails, he trusted in his Savior, he was very hard of hearing. A day or so before he died, I visited him in the nursing home, and I asked him if he was afraid of dying. He couldn’t hear me, so I asked a second time and he couldn’t hear me. About the third or fourth time I was literally yelling this question at Hillcrest Nursing Home, are you afraid of dying? When he finally heard me, grumbled back, “hmff, what the ‘heck’ is there to be afraid of?” Ted knew by faith that the Lord was with him and would not forsake him, that he had no eternal reason to be afraid, that at the end of every day he could be still and know that God was God.
That’s pretty much the attitude of King David in Psalm 27. Remember that David had good reason to be afraid in the various chapters of his life. He had faced at least one lion and a bear wanting to attack his sheep. He faced a giant by the name of Goliath. He had dodged more than one appear hurled his way by King Saul He was forced to part company from his good friend Jonathan. At various times, he had fled for his life, he was without food and weapons, he was hunted by King Saul like a man hunts for deer, he led armies into battle, his infant son died as a direct result of his own sinful decisions, his own sons rebelled against him, his best friend betrayed him, his own wife Michal absolutely despised him – just to mention 8 or ten of his enemies. And in spite of all of that darkness and danger, David cried out, The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? What David truly wanted was to dwell in the house of the Lord in all the days of his life, which is another way of saying he wanted to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple, which is another way of saying as long as he was in the presence of the Lord, as long as he knew the Lord was his good shepherd, as long as he knew that the Lord was following him around with goodness and mercy, he would not be afraid.
Anita Wynnemer had good earthly reasons to be afraid, as do all of us. She had chapters of life that were better and some that were worse. She had years that were richer and some that were poorer. She had times good health and times of sickness. When Dan and Gail were hurting, she was hurting. When they were crying or struggling or sinking, she was crying and struggling and sinking.
The Bible says in a number of ways that life here and now is on the one hand full of blessings and on the other hand full of trouble. There is all kinds of good news to be enjoyed, and at the same time there are enemies to be faced. Anita had at least three enemies to face, as do all of us in every one of our days. Enemy #1 was her own sinful nature, which would tempt her to think wrong, to speak wrong, and to do wrong. Enemy #2 was this sinful world which would coax her to stumble and fall short of God’s standards of perfection – namely the Ten Commandments, and enemy #3 was the devil himself with all of his nasty demons who would be lurking and prowling and throwing roadblocks and causing trouble in her family every step of the way.
But in all of her days her Lord Jesus Christ was stronger than her enemies. He was her light and her salvation, as often as she listened to His Word, as often as she held onto that Word, and as often as she cherished that Word. Jesus Christ was her sigh of relief, He was her refuge and strength and very present help in trouble as often as she cried out for help, as often as she sought His face, as often as she looked beyond herself for answers. The Good News for her is that as often as she confessed her failures and her faults to her God, the forgiveness of sins swept over her soul and she was not afraid……….as often as she ate and drank at her Lord’s Supper, that often her heart was declared pure, that often her spirit was refreshed, that often her faith was strengthened, that often there was peace that surpasses human circumstances, that often she was not afraid.
It’s comforting to know that Anita loved Jesus (Jesus doll) and that she worked hard at following Jesus, but even better news than that is that Jesus Christ has been following her around every step of the way as well. His Spirit has been teaching her spirit and encouraging her soul every time she read and studied her Bible, and let me tell you – she loved her Bible as much as she loved her children. The Lord was her Shepherd, and as often as she came into the house of God and used her ears to hear what God wanted her to hear and as often as she received the good gifts that God wanted her to receive, that often her head would be lifted up and she would sing and make melody to the Lord.
It’s comforting to know that Anita was strong and growing in her faith, but even more comforting than that is that Jesus Christ is stronger than every one of our enemies, and even better than that, by suffering under Pontius Pilate, by being crucified until he was dead and buried, and by rising up again on the third day in glorious fashion, he has defeated every one of our enemies as predicted and as promised. By living the perfect life none of us can even get close to living, by suffering all that we should have suffered, by offering up a sacrifice to end all required sacrifices, by rising up again on the third day and by ascending into heaven on the 40th day and by sending His Holy Spirit in superabundant fashion on the 50th day, he works in us a heart that is not afraid, he works in our life in such a way that we do hide in his shelter, in such a way that we are concealed under the cover of his tent, in such a way that we do spend our days waiting for the Lord, we do spend our days looking upon the goodness of the Lord, we do spend our days doing all things he is asking us to do through the strength of our Lord.
One assignment he gave Anita was to raise up her children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and so she did, by the grace of God and through faith in Jesus Christ. She loved both of her children, and grandchildren, she loved friends and family not in a perfect way, but in a way that was faithful and in response to Jesus Christ loving her first. It’s hard for me not to talk about Gail a little bit today, and I do so in the context of a Bible verse we often quote around here when one of God’s people dies. We say, “Blessed are they who die in the Lord from now on, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.”
Even though we want all of the accolades and all of the glory to go to God this afternoon, I am going to say a couple of nice things about Gail. It seems as though Anita handed off the baton of faith in a strong way to Gail, it seems as though by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, Gail is spending her days not being afraid, focused on her Savior, and eager to brighten the lives of others.
Many of you might know that Gail has been stuffing weekend bulletins around her since around1991 or so – that’s 25 years times 50, that’s over 1,250 times that she has been coming into our church office on Friday afternoons talking smart and loving life and brightening up all kinds of lives, including mine. Gail seems to just do good stuff just for the fun of it, and as she does, the Spirit of God has a way of making that joy contagious. There are days when if I didn’t know better, I would have thought that Anita and Gail were angels sent from heaven, that’s how blessed so many of us have been by Anita, who is now resting from her labors – and Gail, who will continue to be who God has called her to be and do what He has called her to do……
Dear Christian friends, no matter what is heavy on your heart, no matter what is making your nervous, no matter what is keeping you up at nights, no matter what is causing you to be afraid, the Lord is your light and your salvation, you have every good reason not to be afraid. The sins of your past have been washed away in the blood of your Savior, the worries of your future are in the hands of your Father, leaving you just with today to be who God has called you to do and to do that which He has called you to do. Know that Jesus Christ is anxious to hold you close in all of your days, know that for Anita to live here and now was Christ and that for her to die was gain. Know that she is resting in the presence of her Savior and that the day is coming when the angel will be shouting and the trumpet will be sounding and Jesus will be returning and this body which you may lay into the ground today will be rising! Know that in Jesus Christ there is forgiveness of sins, there is a resurrection of the body, and there is life everlasting. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther