Third Sunday After Pentecost
I Kings 17:17-24 - And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.
Luke 7: 11-17 – And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the coffin, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
Dear Friends in Christ,
One of my not so fond memories from serving as Pastor to our first congregation near Lewiston, MN was of one particular marriage that was struggling. I remember one visit in my office that included him storming off red faced and angry and her sitting there stunned and sobbing. I remember their marriage deteriorating and at one point driving to their residence at her request so that I could be there when the law enforcement delivered to him a court ordered restraining order. I remember leaving Lewiston in the summer of 1990 and coming to Janesville thinking to myself their marriage was doomed and chalking it up in my mind as yet one more of my ministry failures. Fast forward about 15 years, and imagine my surprise one Sunday afternoon as I began to preach at the installation of a pastor in a town near Lewiston when I looked out and saw this couple sitting together, cuddled up, in church, and living happily ever after. Their marriage was dead, and then it was alive, thanks be to God!
So also in our Old Testament lesson for today, we find the son of a widow from Zarephath dead, and then by the power of God he was alive. In our Epistle Lesson, Paul recalls how as a persecutor of the church he was dead in his own trespasses and sins, but as soon as Jesus Christ got ahold of him, he was alive and absolutely on fire for the very cause he had been trying to destroy. And in our Gospel lesson, yet one more story of a young man who was dead and on his way to getting buried until Jesus brought his funeral procession to a halt, and the crowds even knew what hit them, the dead man was sitting up and beginning to speak! Dead, Then Alive is our sermon theme today.
Lesson #1 today is that human reaction to the calamities of life is sinful at its worst and mixed at best. Sinful at its worst and mixed at best. First of all, we have the story of the prophet Elijah coming to live in the home of a widow from a small town named Zarephath. Israel was in the midst of a three and a half year drought God had sent. A drought which brought suffering to believers and unbelievers alike. Zarephath was outside Israel and was the hometown of Queen Jezebel. God tested the faith of Elijah by sending him to a woman in that idolatrous land, and Elijah had passed the test of faith by doing exactly as God had said.
There in Zarephath, God would also test the faith of the widow he had chosen. God’s promise to her was clear – the bowl of flour and the jar of oil would not be exhausted until the famine was over. The widow also passed God’s test. By preparing bread for Elijah, the widow acted as though the flour and oil would last forever. This, in fact, is the very essence of faith. Faith is being certain of what we do not see.
In spite of her poverty, this widow kept bringing cakes of bread to God’s prophet. And so when her son dies, her reaction was mixed. She was angry with God. She was angry with God’s prophet. She was angry with the world. She was angry with herself. No doubt God was punishing her for a particular sin from her past. As is often the case with so many of us in our days of trouble and uncertainty, her mind was racing. A thousand and one thoughts and feelings came one right after another, and so she did what many of us do when under pressure. She blurted. She blurted once, and she blurted twice. What do you have against me, you man of God? I know why you’re here. You’re here to bring up my past, and you’re here to cause the death of my sin. I knew I shouldn’t trust you. I knew it.” On the one hand, she thought she deserved better than she was getting, and on the other hand, she had this nagging suspicion she was reaping what she had sown.
So also did Elijah have a mixed reaction. Towards the woman he was gentle, and towards God, he shook his puny little fist and said, “God, is this really what you had in mind?” To the woman, he said with tears in his eyes, “give me your son”, and to God he cried out for a resurrection, he threw himself body and soul at God’s mercy and pleaded for a miracle. And a miracle they received. The Bible says that God listened to the voice of Elijah, and in that very moment, the child began to live again. Thanks be to God, said Elijah. Thanks be to God said the woman. And although the boy’s reaction isn’t really recorded, one could imagine that thanks be to God, said the little boy!
So also in our Gospel lesson for today does calamity strike one more time, yet more woman. It’s bad enough that she has already buried her husband, leaving her in that day at the mercy of her family. To make matters worse, her son dies, and to make matters even worse than that, he’s the only son she had. We don’t really have her specific reaction recorded, but we do know that in that day, the women would usually lead the funeral procession, and that there would be all kinds of wailing and weeping. This widow may have been too poor to hire professional mourners, to poor to hire professional flutists who would play dreary funeral music, to poor to hire professional clergy and serve the customary scalloped potatoes and ham meal. The body would have been wrapped in a burial shroud, the dead man’s face would be exposed. No doubt this young man had been caring for his mom, doing the hard work of farming, but now he was gone. He was dead and would be silent forever. No doubt a thousand and one thoughts and feelings were racing around inside of her, perhaps she was a blurter who kept spitting out words of loneliness and despair, or perhaps she was a brooder who kept it all inside of her. We don’t know. What we do know is that human reaction to the calamities of life is sinful at its worst and mixed at its best.(Lesson #1)
Lesson #2 is that divine reaction to calamity is delayed, at its worst, and compassionate at its best. Our Lord’s reaction to this woman’s plight is not at all mixed. He had compassion on her. He suffered right alongside of her. Her tears were his tears. His desire first of all was to help her stop crying, and secondly for this death and resurrection to point people towards his death and resurrection. Step #1 was to help this woman to stop crying, which is really a guy thing, isn’t it. Most of us guys, me included, can’t stand to see our ladies cry, and we’ll do just about anything / within reason / to help you be happy. But I digress.
Step #1 for Jesus was to do what his heart told him to do. With tears in his own eyes, he tells her to stop her sobbing. With a quiet joy in his soul, and I’d like to think a smile on his face, Jesus steps up to what we would call a stretcher, He touches that stretcher, he invites the dead man to be alive, and so he is alive, in the full view of not one but two large crowds, the dead man sits up, he speaks, and Jesus does what has to be one of his favorite all time things to do – he does what Elijah did back in another little Gentile town- he reunites mother and son.
Dear friends, I don’t know exactly what is making you cry these days, but I do know that Jesus wants to help you stop crying. He wants you and me to learn what two widows in two different generations in two different Gentile small towns learned – that God’s reaction to the calamities, to the troubles, to the heartaches in your life is delayed at its worst, but compassionate at its best. Delayed at its worst, compassionate ultimately and at its best.
It is true that God delayed 4000 years or so before He sent His one and only and beloved Son into this world to reverse the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, but when the Son came, He suffered right alongside of us, He was dead, and then He was alive, thanks be to God. It is true that God delayed by 450 years before He delivered Israel out of Egyptian slavery, but when he deliver them, he did so in such a way that they would never forget how the blood of the lambs made all the difference in the world. It is true that God delayed by 70 years and then by 120 years to bring back Israel from Babylonian captivity and then Assyrian captivity, but when he did bring them back, the people of God had learned their lessons, they knew above all that their God loved them with an everlasting love, they knew collectively that they were the people of God, that He was their covenant God who had a definite plan to prosper them and to heal them, in other words, to have compassion on them.
The kingdom of God is like a pretty decent kind of a guy whose wife decided she didn’t love him anymore, she moved out and as time moved on and took up with another man. His loneliness some days is unbearable, his temptation is to be perpetually angry, the death of his marriage makes him feel as though life isn’t really worth living, he imagines that he is suffering alone, but then He is reminded that His Savior has gone on before Him, is walking alongside of Him, and has a great desire to help him stop crying. More and more his conscience begins to bother him. He remembers how often and how seriously he had sinned against his ex wife in their marriage, he confesses that sin to God and to her, and as he does so, the forgiveness of sins sweeps over his soul like it has never before. He was dead, and now he is alive.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people who are more and more considering themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. They do a lot of funerals in their small town, and they do them well. They know that if they can lay their loved ones to rest with the sure confidence that these dead bodies will one day soon be alive, well then what calamity is there that they cannot face. They know that if God spared not His only Son on their behalf, well then what good gift won’t He give them. They know that on the one hand their reactions to calamities will be sinful at worst and mixed at best, but on the other hand divine reaction to their calamities will be delayed at worst, compassionate at best. Thanks be to God!
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There’s a dating app out there – not that I’m looking, I just watched a satirical video on it – but there’s a dating website out there called “The League” and it was built as a place where high-powered, successful young people can form relationships with other high-powered, successful young people, and to do that, they screen their clientele closely. Hiding behind words like “well-balanced community” and “high quality content” they weed out people that aren’t pretty, don’t have the education, or don’t make the money that fits their profile. You have to apply for membership and then they’ll rate your profile photos, your interests and hobbies, your lifestyle by their standards, whether that sits well with us or not. And then they can invite some in and exclude others out.
Today we honor graduates of our high school for what they’ve done. They’ve taken the tests. They’ve written their papers and completed a four-year long journey. But we also honor them for their future. For some that includes applications to schools, for others that includes taking the ACT’s, others the SAT’s, and for many it includes writing essays promoting yourself – which is a very awkward thing to have to do – or putting on a shirt and tie for an interview, or generally learning how to talk yourself up.
And for the biggest universities, they have a set of profile characteristics they’re looking for. They hide behind words like “well-balanced community” and “high quality education” so that you apply and they rate your interests and hobbies, your lifestyle by their standards, whether that sits well with us or not. And then they can invite some in and exclude others out.
During vicarage, I happened to be part of a men’s basketball night on Mondays from 7-9:30 or so and through the year more guys started coming until we would play full-court, then two 4 on 4 half-court games, then even more. But the problem was, the growth we had was mostly high schoolers, and they were fast. The more that joined us, the faster the game went and the more the older guys weren’t able to play. So, the men took a look at their growth and had a choice – either they minister to the younger ones that were already coming or they could exclude them and keep their exercise. And whether or not it sat well with me, they used their standards to invite some in and exclude others out.
The point of our meditation today is to think on the subject of worthiness. What makes a man worthy? Or, in other words, when do you deserve something? Three places of meditation from the three pieces of dialog from our text.
The Jews had their own thoughts in our text. In Luke they come up to Jesus looking to do some good for a man who did some good for them. They come up to Jesus and say, “Look at this good man. He underwrote our synagogue. He loves our people. He cares for the health of his servant, and more than that he loves his servant. By our standards, he passes muster. By our standards, he’s worthy to be helped. He’s helped us and now we should help him.”
One commentator notes the language they use – it’s used in other ancient documents – the formula “He is worthy for he loves our nation” is the language of the Roman system of patrons. Unlike previous empires, Roman governors and centurions built goodwill with the peoples they conquered by funding projects and encouraging city life. They would befriend and reinforce local systems of governance. The centurion sent for the Jewish leaders and the Jewish leaders were obligated to their patron to go to Jesus. They worked through the system. They worked in ways appropriate to their social and political system to help the person who, by their standards, was worthy of help.
We work within our systems. We work within our policies. We work within the standards that we’ve made in this world in order to do what the standards allow us to do to the best of our abilities. We live in a democratic republic where you can voice your opinion by exercising your right to vote. You can voice your opinion through protest. You can voice your opinion through the system. That’s what the Jewish elders are doing. They’re trusting the system to work in the way it was designed to work. He scratched our back, we’ll scratch his.
And Jesus goes along with them. In this particular story, it’s surprising – now pick this up – it’s surprising to think that Jesus doesn’t have one of his funny prickly little conversations with these folk. You think of how he answers the rich young ruler’s question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? – Who do you call good? God alone is good!” But he doesn’t do that here… he goes along with them.
But notice the second thing that happens. As Jesus goes with them, it isn’t the centurion that comes to meet them on the road – we NEVER see him in this story -- , nor is it his servants. It’s his friends. Now, we don’t know if his friends were Jewish or not but what we do know is that they came bearing a message from the man himself.
And he says pretty much the opposite of what the Jewish elders said. I am not worthy for you to come under my roof. I am not even worthy to meet with you. I am definitely not worthy to ask you to heal my servant.
What that means is, I have no claim to get you to come. I know that I look worthy by the world’s standards, but I am absolutely unworthy. I have no ace-in-the-hole to force you to do anything. I have no chips coming up to the poker table. I’m asking only out of the bottom of my desperate need.
But, he says, nevertheless, you have the power to do what you will do. I am a man who has authority, therefore I know if you use your authority, it will be done.
And then Jesus answers. But he doesn’t answer the friends. He turns and addresses the crowd. You can picture him in your mind turning his back on the messengers and looking to the crowd before saying, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” In this phrase, he says two things: First he says that the centurion is right – that he isn’t worthy. Second, he says that the centurion is wrong – that Jesus has declared him worthy. What kinds of words are these?
Well, they are words that follow the pattern of our Christ. You see there are two truths that come evident in our text for today and the first is that God has standards and they are incredibly high. Matthew chapter 5: Jesus did not come to abolish the law. He came to reveal it fully. He laid out the policies and procedures of God in the electronic drop-box of the 1st century. Our God is a god of order, and that order stands even when we don’t stack up. God knows, and he knows even better than you, all your failures, all your regrets, every time you fall short and don’t live up to his standards. It’s not a secret to him, and it never was.
And his laws are absolute. They stand apart as the way that any human who is a human is supposed to live. There are no exceptions. Every time we fall short, we fall short of being human.
But at the same time, Jesus has come to redeem sinners. He didn’t come to redeem the righteous; he came to redeem sinners. Only the sick need a doctor, and we’ve got the best doctor around. Only those who acknowledge their own unworthiness can see how incredible the gift of God in the courtroom of justice is. You don’t get what you deserve. You hear the gavel come down and the judge says “Not guilty.” You walk out of the courtroom saved by grace given to you in your desperate need.
Or to say it in another way, to paraphrase John Piper for our lives, there are two ways to live without the naked shame of Adam and Eve. First is to be absolutely perfect in every way – to have nothing to be ashamed about – and that way left us ever since the Garden of Eden. But the second is to let forgiveness and mercy flow over all shame and imperfection.
The unworthy are declared worthy and so they become worthy.
Two lessons from our text today: the first is to know the rules, the policies, the procedures and the standards of the world. The second is to remember that Jesus crossed those lines whenever it was for the good of the kingdom of God. Look through the Gospels and you’ll see a Jesus that sometimes followed social convention, sometimes didn’t. Sometimes he showed up where and when custom would allow him and sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes he honored the Sabbath customs because they glorified God, and sometimes he spoke as the Lord of the Sabbath, healing the lame and making them take up their mats and walk.
The Gospel not only saves our sorry souls by declaring us forgiven children of God; it redeems the physical, the social, the business, and the political realities of our everyday lives. As one commentator puts it, “Jesus… has the authority to heal, even from a distance, and even when that distance is measured as much in [religious and cultural] terms as in meters or yards… the healing power of Jesus overcome[s social and religious] barriers.” It privileges our fellow human’s walk of faith above social niceties.
It calls us to love when society would challenge us to hate. It calls us to speak strongly when society would beg us to whisper. It calls us to call people out for their sin even as we keep on loving them.
The kingdom of God is like a man who after years of marriage, is just starting to realize how unworthy of his wife he really is. He comes to the Lord’s Supper and remembers how unworthy of his Lord’s Body and blood he really is. He hears the words of forgiveness and realizes just how much he needed to hear those words. And yet, it doesn’t paralyze him or shame him, because it allows him to rest all the more in the incredible grace that takes the unworthy and makes them worthy in Christ himself. Amen and Amen.
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31/ Acts 2:22-36 /John 8:48 – 59
Dear Friends in Christ,
A not – so – inspiring pair of golfers
• Me hitting four balls into creek, picking up and throwing
• Me looking for my driver with my right hand and holding it in left
• Muther and I taking two days to complete one round
• Muther standing too close to a tree / breaking a three wood on the tree
• The point of all four stories, if you’re looking for golfers to watch that will inspire you to take your own game to the next level, don’t be watching these two preachers!
On the other hand, if you want to take your game of life to the next level in terms of growing up into Jesus Christ and living the abundant Christian life the Spirit of God would have you live, well then, this sermon is for you. Confidence Inspired is our sermon theme today, and in all three lessons, the Holy Spirit would move us to be trusting in God with all our heart and never again to be leaning unto our own understandings.
Three bad habits we want to address in our sermon today. Bad habits that keep us from enjoying the grace, the mercy, and the peace that the Holy Trinity is wanting to multiply into our hearts in every season of life, one day at a time. The first bad habit we address is that of worrying that God is unhappy with us, the second is that of letting life’s troubles get the best of us, and the third is being afraid of dying.
First of all, perhaps you are here this morning feeling as though you’ve been falling short of living a God pleasing life, feeling as though you keep taking one step forward and two backwards, feeling as though you just can’t get your act together, feeling as though God must be shaking his head no as he watches you mess up one day after another, feeling as though God is disgusted with you, listen to truth #1 which comes primarily out of Proverbs chapter 8.
Truth #1 is that already in the beginning, the Holy Trinity was (delighting in you). For some people, the doctrine of the Trinity may seem abstract, dry, and intellectual. If you were to take a video of the average congregation reciting the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed or even the once a year Athanasian Creed, the outward appearance is hardly one of celebration. And yet in this text, the Father is delighting in His Son, the Son is delighting in the Father, together they are rejoicing in every bit of creation and in particular they are delighting in the inhabitants of that world….then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.
A time capsule from Orange, California. In July of 2014, St. John’s Lutheran Church in Orange, California, celebrated the 100th anniversary of its sanctuary. As part of the celebration, they opened the cornerstone and took out the time capsule placed there a century before. In the capsule, among other things, they found a German Bible, a German hymnal, and a local newspaper. In these three things, Professor David Schmitt from the St. Louis Seminary writes, “you have a picture of God’s work among and through his people: the Word of God, the words of his people, and the words of the world….with these small objects, those who laid the cornerstone offered a prayer for future generations, that they would continue in his mission.
In our Old Testament reading this morning, we do not have a time capsule with objects in it, but we do have a rare glimpse of what was there at the earth’s foundation. A time capsule from Proverbs. Most of us are familiar with the account of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” By faith we know that out of nothing God brought all things into being. What is beautiful about this text from Proverbs is that we are given a glimpse of God before his work of creation. What we see there is delight. God’s delight. Before the world began, God was rejoicing, and his delight begins the story of our salvation.
What was God delighting in? Verses 30 and 31 answer in two ways. The Lord was delighting in Wisdom, and Wisdom was delighting in the people God made to inhabit the world. Jesus is this master workman who is with the Father before the world was created. The Father delighted in Jesus, and Jesus delighted in the Father. Before the world even began, Jesus was filled with delight for all people, including and especially you, and after the fall into sin, Jesus held on to this original delight. If one were to go back to the foundation of the world and recover a time capsule, within that capsule we would find a veritable festival of delight. Lesson #1 – The next time you feel like having a pity party and imagining that even God is pretty much ticked off at you, think again. His delight in you is for Jesus’ sake, and it is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Bad habit #2 into which we fall is to let life get the best of us. Our golfing buddy Norm is a pretty good golfer, better than your two pastors anyway, but the game of golf gets the best of him on a regular basis. After every bad shot, he mutters. And if he hits two or three bad shots in a row, he is pretty famous for saying, “I’m going to quit this game!” Perhaps you’re here this morning, muttering about bad breaks in life, thinking pretty seriously about picking up your toys and going home, feeling as though God is far away.
Truth #2 is that in every season of your life, the Holy Trinity is (right there beside you). All too often, we think of God as a momentary fix for our problems in life. We turn to God mainly when something is wrong, we cry out for his help only when we are driven to our knees in time of crisis. And God is that temporary healer, that ever present refuge and strength in time of trouble.
But the forgiveness of sins is not simply a momentary fix in our lives. It is part of a much larger story. It is part of God’s delight before the world began. God not only rejoiced in creating us in marvelous and wonderful fashion, He has always looked forward to saving our sorry souls for time and eternity. Throughout Scripture, for those who were in fact sorry for their sins and crying out for God to have mercy, the Lord has always been near. And the fact that the Lord has been near has always inspired confidence in the hearts of believers. It has meant everything.
For David, it meant that he (would not be shaken). This is one of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture. Peter quotes David saying, I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken: therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope.” As Israel wandered through the wilderness, as often as they saw the pillar of clouds by day and fire by night, they knew the Lord was near, and they would not be shaken. As often as their priests made bloody sacrifices on their behalf, they knew the Lord was near and they would not be shaken. So also for New Testament Christians, as often as we hear the Word of God and keep it, we know that the Lord is near and we would not be shaken. As often as the water connected with the Word splashes in this place, we know that the Lord is near, and we will not be shaken. As often as we eat and drink at our Lord’s Supper with believing hearts, we know the Lord is near and we will not be shaken. As ofen as we confess our sins, that often our sins are forgiven, and as often as our sins are forgiven, we will not be shaken. Tossed around maybe, but not crushed. Confused, but not driven to despair, suffering and sad as can be, but not abandoned, struck down but we keep getting back up again, by the grace, the mercy, and the peace of our God.
For Peter, it meant that repentance and faith were (two sides of the same coin). In our text for today, Peter spoke with confidence about the resurrection of the Christ, that his body was not abandoned to hades nor did his flesh see corruption. He spoke with confidence about Jesus rising up again and how they were to be witnesses of that near and far. He spoke with confidence about Jesus being exalted at the right hand of God and pouring out His Spirit at just the right time and according to a definite plan. He wanted the Jews to know first and eventually the Gentiles to know for certain that Jesus was both Lord and Christ, to know for certain that whoever repented and was baptized would be saved, to know what I’m calling lesson #2 today, that because of who God is and all that He has done and all that He promises, life need not get the best of us anymore!
Truth #1 was that already in the beginning, dear friends, the Triune God was delighting in you, He had a blast creating you in the first place, and nothing gave Him greater joy than saving you in the second place. Truth #2 was that in every season of life, not only is your God going on before you, not only He is right there beside you, He is always picking up the pieces after you!
Truth #3 is that even if you end up dead and buried, the Holy Trinity will not (abandon you).
David said it this way, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades or let your Holy One see corruption.” Jesus said it this way, “Truly truly I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death…..in response, the Jews paraphrased what Jesus said this way, “and yet you say if anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.” With these words, Jesus would inspire in a confidence that in Him there is forgiveness of sins, there is a resurrection of the body, there is a life everlasting.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town who spend their days tasting (victory). They know they are but pilgrims and travelers here and that a new heaven and a new earth will be their home. They know that even when they feel like they’re fighting a losing battle, the ultimate victory is theirs. They come early and they come often to their Lord’s Table, where the foretaste of paradise is as sweet as it can be. They know that to live here and now is Christ, to die is gain. They desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
The kingdom of God is like a pair of preachers who will be sticking to their (day jobs). Golfing will remain their hobby, and for now and the forseeable future, preaching will remain their vocation. A not so inspiring pair of golfers we are and I’m guessing will remain. But on this Trinity Sunday, 2016, your pastors invite you to listen in as we pray for you, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, fil the hearts of your faithful people in this place, in this hour. Inspire in them strong confidence in you and help them not to lean unto their own understandings. Help them to know how already in the beginning, you were delighting in them, help them to know in every season of life that you are beside them, help them to know that even if they end up dead and buried, you will not abandon them to their graves. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Genesis 11:1-9 / Acts 2:1-21 / John 14:23-31
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon for today is the last of seven in our series, “Lives Changed.” We’ve been looking through the book of Acts and digging into the lives of the characters there as we ask two questions: “How does the Holy Spirit change lives?” and “What do changed lives look like?” Whether you look at Paul or the Ephesian elders, at Lydia or Cornelius, at Matthias or today at the disciples and the people of Pentecost, you find that success in the early church isn’t so much about reports of thousands coming to faith or about great miracles that amaze. It has more to do with how the wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing in order to make the things that were broken whole again, to bring clarity to those who are confused, and to let mercy and forgiveness flow where there is sin and strangeness.
Seven scenes for today as we see God change lives on the festival of Pentecost where we see the Spirit of God working to speak in words that people could hear.
Scene number one, where my friend shares with me about las paltas. It was four years ago, when one of my good friends, Katie Lane, came back from mission work in South America, she told me about many things, but one particularly meaningful thought for today. She told me that she’d never again eat an avocado. Not because she disliked the taste, not because she’d gotten sick, but because to her, they weren’t avocados; they were las paltas. To call them las paltas was to speak her language, to bring up everything that they meant to her in her time there. To understand what they meant to her, you would have to speak in the language of her heart
Scene number two, where my wife learns to speak my language. You see, I was doing the Poppa time thing with my bouncing baby boy, itty bitty Benjamin when Laura came home from work and asked me to start making a sauce for our dinner.
And here’s what you need to know: I need different directions than Laura. Directions I need are like the ones in a recipe book: I like to hear words like “Take a quarter cup of this…” or You’ll need two tablespoons of that.” Laura’s more of a “two generous scoops of this, a dash of that, the rest to taste”
And so she starts explaining: You just need to get this and that out, and you kind of eyeball it up, and I’m not sure how much of the other thing you should add, but you just add it, but not too much…” and I tell her, “Is it a quarter cup, or is it a tablespoon?” Are you taking scoops like a half-cup’s worth or like heaping teaspoon scoops?”
And it’s taken three – almost four – years of marriage for us to get this, but Laura, instead of shooting me a look like I was a knucklehead, just took a deep breath and started speaking in words I could understand.
Scene number 3, our Old Testament lesson, where success in the short-term would only lead to failure. The wickedness planted in the hearts of Adam and Eve had fully bloomed during the time of Noah, so God sent a flood and told Noah to start it all up again, but it wasn’t enough. God had washed the world once but that flood wasn’t enough to wipe men’s souls clean, and the people banded together under one language and put together all their resources to do whatever came out of their hearts, and that was to build a tower towards the heavens.
Now, know what that means. God had told them to spread out and they gathered themselves together. God had told them to start taking care of the ground, and they cared more to reach up for the heavens. God had told them to be like him, to be his hands and feet, his co-caretakers in the world, and they cared not to do God’s work but to be like God, to be gods themselves.
It’s not that God was worried they would overthrow him – have you ever wondered about that? He says, “And if they finish this, nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” That means, if they finish this, then they’ll believe that any vain conceit will fill the hole in their hearts. If they succeed here, then they’ll start down a path whose only end is destruction. Their success won’t be for their good. It will only lead to greater harm.
And so he makes their language match their hearts. They had confused the desires of their own hearts and now he confuses their language. He inflicts pain and suffering so they could be ready to hear him speak in a language they could understand. Have you ever experienced that?
Scene number 4, where disciples hear but they don’t hear. It’s Maundy Thursday, John 14. The disciples gather around Jesus asking the same confused questions and getting the same confusing answers. No doubt they believed that Jesus was the Christ, but they did not know what it meant for his kingdom to come or his will to be done. No doubt they believed with all their hearts they would never fall away, but they had not yet experienced the forgiveness that covers over even the multitude of their sins. No doubt they knew the right answers, but those answers hadn’t sunk deep down into the language of their hearts. It took the Father sending the Son. It took the Son sending the Spirit. It took the Spirit blowing wherever it would, afflicting and comforting, guiding and leading, to open hearts and minds to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Scenes five and six. It’s been fifty days since the Passover Sabbath that we know as Holy Saturday and ten days since Jesus ascended into heaven. Scene number five happens when the disciples – not just the apostles but all 120 disciples – were waiting for the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. This was the Jewish feast celebrating how the people of Israel received the covenant on Mt. Sinai fifty days after the Angel of Death passed over the children of Israel – on that day, the wind of the Spirit decided to blow with the words of the new covenant, and their house was filled with wind, their hair was filled with fire, and for a time God reversed the curse of the Tower of Babel.
Scene number six, where the disciples start speaking the same kind of message in all kinds of ways. The disciples start going outside and talking to all kinds of people who speak all kinds of languages. For some, this complicates matters. They start wondering, How are these men jabbering on? Are they already drunk? But for those that the Holy Spirit had prepared, this miracle wasn’t nearly as remarkable as the mighty works of God they spoke. The miracle of tongues played second fiddle to the story of how God had saved the world. The programs that they ran and the numbers they put up and the money they raked in and all that was flashy that day only served the greater good that the people of God got to be the people of God and do what the people of God do: preach the Gospel, break down barriers of sin and strangeness, and preach the same kind of message in any and every way they can.
Scene number seven, where a married couple gets it right. A newly married couple comes in scared because their marriage felt like it was blowing apart. They were screaming at each other. They were both hurt. They were lost and angry, so much so that they wouldn’t let the other person finish their sentences before they had something else to say. And it wasn’t my job to fix their conflict or to fix their marriage. In those hours, it was my job to help them hear what the other was actually saying. That he isn’t angry and selfish; he’s just never felt like he was smart or good enough to deserve her, and he needs to know she respects him and will stay by his side. She isn’t being nit-picky and judgmental; she’s scared that he didn’t think of her and wasn’t keeping her safe. And as much as they had tried, their real intentions were lost in a confusion of words. In order to hear, they needed to slow down and listen to what was really being said.
And with tears in their eyes, they listened to each other as if for the first time and heard again how beautiful the words of forgiveness sound.
How does the Holy Spirit change lives? The Holy Spirit changes lives in our readings by breaking down barriers. He changes lives by confronting us with our failure that comes from our own sin that leads to our own death so that he can shower us with the Gospel. He changes lives by adding frustration where we’d wish success, by guiding and preparing us in the least likely ways, but most of all, the Holy Spirit changes lives, time and time again, by working in the ways God’s promised to work – by the word, in baptism, in the Lord’s Supper – and doing it through his people, wherever they go, whatever they do, however they succeed, whenever they fail.
The kingdom of heaven is like a church spending a good deal of money to send youth down to a Youth Gathering to hear the same words they hear up here at our church for free. And yet, whether it’s the close quarters or the large crowds, whether it's the cool music or seeing their pastor brush his teeth, the Holy Spirit starts breaking down barriers so that they can hear the life-changing message of the Gospel as just that – life-changing.
The kingdom of heaven is like a husband and wife whose temptation is to run through their days only half-listening. And yet that have made a habit of looking each other in the eyes and listening to each other for what they’re actually saying.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town more interested in seeing what the Spirit is doing than keeping its programs going. More interested in walking with others in a life that looks like the Gospel than moving more butts in the pews. More interested in connecting with people however we may than preserving our own pride and culture. So they spend their days rejoicing in the Gospel, weeping at their sin and sins of others, and walking humbly with Jesus wherever he would go on his mission.
What do changed lives look like? They look about as different as different could be. They spring up in the most unlikely ways. Some travel together and some apart. Some grow fast and strong, others are more like watching corn grow. But one thing binds them: they have one Christ who saves them, one Holy Spirit who leads them, one Father who loves them, and one God who prepares all kinds of good for them in advance to do.
Sixth in a Series of Seven Sermons
Seventh Sunday of Easter and Mother’s Day
Acts 1 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Over the past five Sundays in this Easter season, we have been pointing out that when we think about healthy and growing churches, our thoughts usually go first of all to growing numbers. Growing numbers of people in the pews, growing numbers of cars in the parking lots, growing numbers of baptisms and confirmations and members joining. As we read through the Book of Acts, we see days where thousands of sinners were getting baptized, and we find all kinds of examples of the Holy Spirit showing up in spectacular fashion. Tongues of fire on the apostles’ heads, sound of a mighty rushing wind, speaking in tongues, miracles of healing and even of resurrections. Again and again, however, we have wanted you to see that what makes Christianity so extraordinary is that the Holy Spirit is transforming hearts one at a time. His usual methods are slow, but sure. They are most often gradual, even invisible. Today, we would focus on Mathias and on moms and again, we would answer two questions, “How does the Holy Spirit change lives?” and “What do lives that have been changed by the Holy Spirit look like?”
July 13, 1980 That was the day I was installed as pastor at Immanuel Lutheran, also called Silo Lutheran, near Lewiston, MN. One of my most vivid memories of that day was how ecstatic the folks in that place were to have us there. Not because of anything that was particularly special about my family, but for the simple reason that they had been without a full time pastor for three and a half years. No fewer than 19 or 20 (they lost count) experienced pastors had received the call to be pastor there, and all 19 or 20 had, for one reason or another, said no thank you. Finally they prayed about it and they voted to ask the Synod to send them a pastor, in those days they couldn’t really specify who they wanted, they just said send us somebody, anybody, a warm body! Which turned out to be me. The Holy Spirit knew all along what was the plan, of course. You see, God’s plan for calling and gathering and enlightening and sanctifying His people has always been His plan, not ours. Today, we would study how it came to be that Matthias filled the office vacated by Judas, the man described by Luke as the one who became the guide to those who arrested Jesus. We ask the same question we’ve been asking in this season of Easter, how does the Holy Spirit change lives? Two answers to that question.
The first answer is that Lives are changed for generations to come by (spending time with Jesus). When it came time to replace Judas, only one qualification is mentioned. The 12th apostle would have to be a man who had spent time walking alongside of Jesus, a man who had spent time watching Jesus in action, a man who had spent time listening to Jesus. Two truths we want to learn today about the importance of spending quality time with our Savior.
The first truth is that God doesn’t choose the qualified, He (qualifies the chosen). By this I mean to say that God doesn’t look out over the crowds and select the best and the brightest to do His bidding, He chooses us before we were ever formed in our mother’s wombs and prepares in advance lists of good works for each of us to do.
This was true for the Office of (Apostle) Jesus made it clear to his disciples that they did not choose him, he chose them and he appointed them to go and bear fruit that would last. The first disciples didn’t walk up to Jesus and ask for an application to fill in for the office of apostle, He walked up to them and said “follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.” We can be sure that God knew before creation that Matthias would be the 12th apostle. And as often as Matthias listened to Jesus teach, as often as he watched Jesus perform one miracle of healing right after another, as often as he searched the Scriptures available to him, that often the Holy Spirit was changing him from the inside out. That often the Holy Spirit was changing him for the better and for the benefit of generations to come. Luke had this to say in Acts 17 about God taking some pretty ordinary kinds of men and molding them and making them into something pretty special, Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
The principle that God doesn’t really choose the qualified, but has a way of qualifying the chosen has always been true for the Office of (Mother), as well. God doesn’t look out over the crowd and determine that certain girls and young ladies have earned the right to give birth, no, before the world was ever created, God chooses many, but not all women to give birth and He appoints them to go and bear fruit that will last for generations to come. Like many of you, I was blessed with a mom who did spend her days searching Holy Scripture. I have this memory seared into my mind of my older siblings going off to school, dad going outside to do his work, and mom in her bathrobe sitting on our couch having her quiet time, sitting still with her Bible and big green prayer book spending time with her Savior.
Like many of you, I was blessed with a mom who did make sure the family would pile into the car and make it to church Sunday after Sunday. (Story of sitting between mom and dad in front, mom putting spit on her fingers and wetting down my rooster tails, then going into my ears with her little perfumed handkerchief and cleaning, much to my dismay and the delight of sisters and brother in the back seat.)
How eager so many of our moms were for us to believe and never doubt that Jesus loved us, that He suffered, died, and was buried for us, that He rose up again on the third day for us that he ascended into heaven and was crowned king of kings on the 40th day for us. Listen to what Luke writes about the Berean Christians on this subject of searching Scripture in eager fashion, Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
Back to our text. We see that before Matthias could be chosen as the 12th apostle, Judas Iscariot had to commit suicide. Before we can read the story of the early church praying and then casting lots and the lot falling on Matthias, we have to read of Judas hanging himself, falling headlong, bursting open in his midsection, and all his bowels gushing out. Not a very soft and fluffy and cuddly story for Mother’s Day, but there it is. Again we learn that it may not seem like it, but there’s always a method to (God’s madness).This was true in the (early church) in so very many ways. There had to be the madness of Judas committing suicide before there could be the installation of Matthias as witness to the resurrection. There had to be the madness of Good Friday before there could be the victory of Easter Sunday. There had to be the madness of Saul persecuting the early church before there could Jesus could slap him upside the head and make him a missionary to that church. A couple of weeks ago, I described how there had to be the madness of my brother Curtis dying in a car accident before there could be a desire in my heart to pursue the vocation of pastor.
This is what Jesus prays for, (even today), that through all the madness of every day living, that the Holy Spirit would keep on changing lives for the better and for the benefit of others. Listen to Jesus pray to His Father, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”This is what Jesus pray for, even today, that you would believe and never doubt believe and never doubt that Jesus loves you, that He suffered, died, and was buried for you, that He rose up again on the third day for you, that he ascended into heaven and was crowned king of kings on the 40th day for you. This is what Jesus prays for, even today, that the witness of the apostles would be your foundation, that Jesus Christ would be your cornerstone, and to use the words of our Shared Vision, the culture around you would be transformed as you faithfully manage your God-given vocations.
Which brings us to our second and final question, “What do lives that have been changed by the Holy Spirit look like?” Christian vocation is at the same time both complex and (simple). The early church’s life together was complicated as news swept through their ranks that one of the 12 had committed suicide, and at the same time it was simple as they prayed for guidance and then listened. Our life together here at Trinity is complicated by the fact that we have a trio of enemies assaulting us in every one of our days – sinful nature, sinful world, devil and all of his demons – and at the same time it is as simple as it can be as our sins are forgiven, as often as we are still and know that God is God, as often as we hold onto that which many of us received at our mother’s knees.
The kingdom of God is like washing your (robes). There was something really simple about doing laundry back in my college days. I did what all the guys would do – jam as many clothes of all colors and fabrics as could be jammed in the washing machine, throw in a bunch of detergent, turn it on and walk away. When I got married, I learned that laundry is much more complicated than that. In fact, Debi has pretty much put a restraining order on me, she forbids me to do laundry! John records Jesus saying in the last chapter of our Bible, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” The forgiveness of sins is easy for us, Christ has already done all the heavy lifting. The forgiveness of sins is easy for us, how hard can it be to take a robe that has been washed clean and put it on? The forgiveness of sins is easy for us, how hard is it to receive a gift that has already been paid for in full?
In his book, “Joining Jesus on His Mission”, Greg Finke suggests that The kingdom of God is like driving a (car) He writes, “My car has several complex systems working together in order to allow me to drive to the store simply. In the same way, God has his complex “systems” (namely his kingdom and his mission) working together in order to allow us, his people to be included in his redemptive mission, and in a way that is simple enough for any of us to participate.” Witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus Christ is easy for us, Christ has already done the heavy lifting, how hard is it to repeat good news we know to be true?
It’s not so much a matter of ability as it is a matter of (persistence) Those were the first words of Professor Norb Mueller from the Ft. Wayne Seminary as about 20 other pastors and I began the Doctor of Ministry program. It turned out that he was right. So also dear friends, in closing, know that as often as you spend time with Jesus Christ, that often you are putting yourself in a position for the Holy Spirit to mold you into the kind of person God wants you to be. And as often as God’s Spirit is working on you from the inside out, that often you will find it possible to manage whatever vocation God is asking you to manage. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther