Say This to My People
Numbers 6: 22-272 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
24 The LORD bless you and keep you;
25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD lift up his countenance[c] upon you and give you peace.
27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
There’s an old saying in the Midwest that there only two seasons of the year – winter and road construction. Sort of a negative way of looking at life, I suppose, but there is a measure of truth in it, to be sure. There’s an old saying in Lutheran circles that there are at least two seasons in life, as well. Times we feel as though God is near and times when He seems distant or worse yet, absent. One author Graham Cooke calls them seasons of manifestation and hiddenness. On the one hand, God reveals Himself to us in the preaching and teaching of His Word, but on the other hand, in the lonely and dark days of cancer attacking one organ after another, it feels as if God is nowhere to be found. There are days when it seems as if we are already in the Promised Land and other days when it seems as though we are stuck in the wilderness with no water or relief in sight.
In Numbers 6, the people of God were camped out at Mt. Sinai, less than a year after they had been delivered out of Egyptian slavery and through the Red Sea. They were about to spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness where the sun would be striking them by day and the moon by night. If heat stroke didn’t get them during daylight, they just might go looney in the night time. In fact, God was going to be leading the way, but more often than not it would feel as though He had abandoned them. And so God said to Moses to say to Aaron and his sons,” This is how you are to bless the Israelites. I want you to put my name on these people and in every one of your times of worship, I want you to give them a threefold Benediction.
Glenn and Sharon, when Jeffrey was just a sweet and precious and innocent little guy, you brought him into this sanctuary, and in the company of fellow travelers, you put the Name of the Triune God on him, both upon his forehead and upon his heart. Praise be to God that you made sure that happened. And then as the years went on, you saw to it that he had the resources he needed to make it through just a little over 40 years of wandering in this wilderness we call earth. You made sure he knew not only the Ten Commandments, but also the Apostles Creed. And you made sure he knew how to pray the Lord’s Prayer, how to confess his sins, where to take his burdens, and what mattered most in life. You made sure he knew that God the Father was with him blessing and keeping, that God the Son had found a way to be gracious to him, and that no matter how dry and dusty and desolate was the desert, it was possible to have the peace of God on the inside.
Three parts to our message today, as we focus on what it means to have the Name of the Triune God put on us in Holy Baptism and what it is that God wants His pastors and priests to say to His people in every one of their days.
First, God wants his priests and pastors to say to His people, the Lord bless you and keep you. In other words, when life feels as though your enemies are getting the best of you, use your ears. Use your ears to hear and to hold onto the really good and strong and undeniable news that God, the Father Almighty is cupping his ears towards you for the purpose of blessing and keeping you. The enemies of the Christian faith are fierce and more often than not, they seem to be winning the day. St. Paul urged the Ephesian Christians to put on the full armor of God in a daily sort of a way because, he warned, we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual rulers and authorities and demons of darkness. Our enemies include our own sinful nature, a nasty and messed up world, and the devil himself. Praise God we don’t have to deal with them on own. The last enemy we will have to face is death itself, and praise be to God that Jeff did not have to face that one alone.
In all the seasons of life, God the Father was blessing and keeping him, especially on those days when he didn’t feel particularly blessed and kept. He blessed Jeff with body and soul, eyes, ears, all of his members, his reason and all of his senses. Through the laws of nature and a beautiful creation and a good measure of honest labor, God gave Jeff clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and child, and all that he had. In his last days, through family and faithful friends and co-workers, God defended him and protected him from all kinds of danger and evil. A word about Salvation Army – I don’t know of an organization more focused on defending and protecting and blessing hurting people than this one. Lesson #1 today, when life feels as though your enemies are getting the best of you, be still and know by faith that God is God. Go to your quiet places and appreciate the beauty of creation. Remember what you have learned from your mother’s knees. Know by faith that what you see is not all that you are getting.
Second, God wants his pastors to say to His people, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. When life feels as though God is angry with you, this is what God wants your pastors and teachers in the faith want to help you to see. We want you to see Jesus Christ who in fact had His eyes fixed on you as He suffered and then He was dying and then He was dead. We want you to see Jesus Christ risen and looking you in the eyes today, saying, because I live, Jeff Ewert shall live. We want you to see Christ ascending into heaven, raising his hands and looking his disciples in the eyes on the way up giving a benediction. We want you to see Jesus sitting on the right hand of his Father ruling heaven and earth for the benefit of His people. We want you to see a Father who is in no way angry with you family because in fact He has taken all of His righteous anger out on His only Son. The price has been paid in full.
God may seem to be hiding from you, but He is not angry with you. Believe that and hold onto that simple and yet powerful truth that God is love and that in Christ He was reconciling the world, bringing the world into right relationship with Himself. When life is smooth and easy, we can call those seasons of, and praise God it’s time to laugh and to dance and sing like we’ve never sung before. When life is rough and as hard as it can be, we can call those seasons of hiddenness, and with tears in our eyes we know it’s time to be still, to trust, and to learn lessons like we’ve never quite learned them before. Lesson #2 today, especially when days are dark and depressing, fix your eyes on Jesus Christ, and do not forget that if His eye is on the sparrow, how much more so has it always been on you.
Finally, lesson #3, the Lord wants your pastors and priests to say to you, the Lord look with favor upon you and give you peace. By that I mean to say that when it feels as though your faith is fading, draw near to your Savior. As you do so, you will notice He has already drawn near to you. As often as you feel like your knees are going weak, put one foot in front of the other and get yourself to that place where the Spirit of God has promised to work. Get yourself to your Lord’s Supper, where the forgiveness of sins will sweep over your soul as a fresh snow covers up a muddy and messed up farmyard. Get yourself to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, where the Spirit of God will be able to reassure you and give you just enough strength to make it through another day. Get yourself to your memory bank where you can recall all that your parents and your grandparents and your Sunday School teachers and your Day School teachers and your Pastors have said to you over the years.
The last time I saw Jeff was Sunday in the late morning, the day before he breathed his last. I asked him if he was up to receiving Holy Communion. He hesitated and said, “Give me a little time.” After a bit of silence and with a fair amount of effort, he swung his feet off the bed and onto the floor. We said the Lord’s Prayer together. When I asked Glen and Sharon and Jeff if he was sorry for his sins, and if he believed in Jesus Christ, he said yes. He ate and he drank and in so doing, his sins were forgiven. The Lord looked with favor upon him, and the Spirit of God gave him peace. His last words to me were a little bit later, and they were a question. It was just the two of us, and once again he swung his feet over the bed and onto the floor and asked, “What is your vision?” As preachers do, I pontificated a bit and stumbled out a few words about the Garden of Eden and land and animals that wound need to be taken care of and a word about mansions and gold streets. Then it occurred to me to be quiet and I was. For a bit, and then I asked, “What is your vision?” To which he was quiet, and then he said, “I don’t know.” What he did know is that he wanted to be done with these days of suffering and step into glory. And that is how he prayed.
It seemed as though he was content in that moment to know that God was blessing and keeping him, that God had already shined on him and had been gracious to him, that the Lord was looking with favor upon him, and that the peace that goes beyond human circumstances was his. Stella and Glen and Sharon and Mike and Tom and Jenny and all who loved and were loved by Jeff, on the one hand, this may very well be the worst day of your lives up to this point. On the other hand, know that your God is cupping His ears in your direction for the purpose of blessing and keeping you. Know that your Savior’s eyes are fixed on you with a great desire to be gracious to you. Know that the Spirit of God is all about guiding and leading you into that season of life where you will once again soar as on the wings of an eagle. In Jesus. Amen.
Ephesians 5: 22-33
Dear Friends in Christ,
In heaven there is no (marriage). I knew you were going to say beer. I’m not going to say “thus says the Lord” on this one, but my personal opinion is that there will be really good beer in heaven. And maybe for Doug Berndt’s sake, a good supply of cheap beer like Schmittys.
What the Bible does say about heaven is that there will be no more hunger in the presence of Christ and there will be no more thirst in the presence of Christ and there won’t be any tears because God will have wiped every one of them away. We were privileged to tell the family of Larry Hogtvedt this week that there will be no more COPD and no more lung disease in heaven. And we can tell the family of Dale Keyes that there will be no more heart attacks in heaven. And this very day we can tell Jeff Ewert and Karen Westphal and Dan Hoehn and Terry Hinze and Mike Goltz and the family of Angie Milbrett and a million other families that there will be no more cancer in heaven. All kinds of reasons we have today to actually look forward to heaven and to quit being so blasted afraid of dying. In heaven there will be no more trouble and no more trials and no more tiredness and no more tribulations!
But the point I really wanted to make is that in heaven there will be no good reason to be married. This is what Jesus says, in answer to the Sadducees who were mocking the idea of the resurrection of the body. They asked Jesus a long drawn out question about a man who married a woman and then he died without any children. And so a brother married her and no children and he died and so on down the line until the same woman had been married to seven brother. In heaven, they asked, whose wife will she be?
Jesus answers by telling them how wrong they are. How they as highly educated people don’t really know what they are talking about. How they know neither Scriptures nor the power of God. How in the resurrection people will not be married, and how we will be like the angels in heaven. We will be like the angels in that our number will be fixed and in that our bodies will not die and in that we will not need to be fruitful and multiply.
So if marriage will be unnecessary in heaven, what are we to think about marriage on earth? In today’s sermon, we want to learn two truths about the nature and the purposes of marriage. First, the Holy Spirit would enlarge our vision of earthly marriage, and secondly, we would understand that all vocations, including those of husband and wife, are ultimately to be all about Jesus Christ. I want to give credit to two authors for much of the language I am using today – John Piper, who wrote This Momentary Marriage, and Gene Edward Veith Jr., who wrote Family Vocation / God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood.
First, Enlarging the vision of earthly marriage. One can easily make a case that every generation in every culture has fallen short of God’s standards of marriage. Some cultures have respected the importance and permanence of marriage more than others. Our own culture has been sinking lower and lower into what Piper calls a “low, casual, take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards marriage.” So much so that the view that one man should leave his parents and be joined together with one woman for has become a laughable idea in many circles. And if you really want to see eyes roll with disdain in certain corners of our society, just go ahead and reaffirm the traditional and old fashioned idea that any sex before or outside of marriage is wrong.
Before we get too high and mighty and on our high horses, however, we want to admit that every one of us in every one of our days have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory in our thoughts and words and deeds with regard to marriage and a host of other truths. Before we try to get the specks out of our neighbor’s eyes, we want to deal with the logs that are clouding our own vision.
The first truth we want make about enlarging our vision is that Earthly marriages are God’s (doing) It was God who knew that the man needed help. It was God who designed the woman in specific fashion to be for the man exactly what he needed her to be. It was God who took a rib out of the man, made it into a woman, and brought her to the man. It was God who as Father gave away the first bride. It was God who spoke marriage into existence and it was God who joined them together, and to this very day in churches which are holding to the old fashioned Biblical view of marriage, right after man and woman are pronounced husband and wife, the pastor will thunder, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” In the Roman Catholic and other churches, marriage is a Sacrament, and in the Lutheran Church, it has occurred to me that we use words that comes real close to being sacramental kind of language.
A second truth we learn today that would enlarge our vision is that Earthly marriages are for God’s (glory). Listen closely to what the author Piper says, and let his words soak into your soul. He says that staying married isn’t mainly about staying in love, it’s first of all about a man and his wife keeping their promises to each other. The beautiful thing about spouses keeping their promises to each other is that it will more often than not create the kind of climate in that home where folks hold onto a good measure of romance, pleasure, and light.
Christ was and is and ever shall be that bridegroom coming for his bride, the chosen and the precious people of God. He is One who knew he would have to pay for his bride with his own blood, and that’s exactly what He did. Christ is the husband who promises never to leave His wife. In comparison to the eternal marriage of Christ and His bride, our marriages are momentary. I repeat, our marriages are not mainly about being or staying in love. They are mainly about telling the truth with our lives about Jesus Christ and the way He relates to His people. Jesus died for sinners. He died so that a blemished bride could be presented to His Father as unblemished. So that stained lives could be presented as unstained. So that wrinkled garments could be presented as unwrinkled. Which brings us to our second and broader lesson for the day,
Secondly, we want to be Understanding that all vocations are ultimately (Christological). Luther wrote that all Christians are liberated from the bondage of sin through the gospel, whereupon they are called to be “little Christs” to their neighbors. That we are to be Jesus with skin on in every one of our conversations and connections. That we are to be spending our days letting our Gospel lights shine so that others may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.
Husbands, in particular, are put into the position of Christ in the clearest possible terms. Husbands are to be little (Christs) to their wives. (Veith) “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…As Christ pursued His bride by setting his face towards Jerusalem and not resting until He arrived in time to be beaten bloody and have his body broken, so also are husbands called to spend their days chasing after their wives. Chasing them not to get something from them, but to give them everything.
I don’t know about the other men her, but when I was in high school and into college, girls terrified me. Especially pretty ones like my wife. At junior and senior high dances, if I did get up the nerve to ask a girl to dance, I would be sweating up a storm and I could only think of two things to say, “it’s hot in here!” and “the music is loud.” I never asked a girl out on a date unless I was pretty sure she would say yes. I often wondered if any one person would want to spend the rest of her life with me. And if the cute little feisty Green Bay Packer loving Milwaukee girl had not indicated her interest in me, my life may well have taken on a whole different direction.
As Pastor Muther would say, I tell you that to tell you this, it doesn’t come all that natural for a lot of us men to pursue a woman into marriage and to keep on pursuing her until the day that death separates us. But if we are to be little Christs to our wives, we will be setting our face towards the cross and we will not be resting in any one of our days until we have listened attentively to every story they want to tell us, until we have done everything we could do to provide for them, until we have laid down our lives in every possible way to protect them, until we have said every word we need to say that will help them to be happy, until we have forgiven every one of their sins as we have been forgiven and until we have beared with every bit of strangeness or unpredictable behavior they may throw our way. I often say to newly married grooms, if you ever come to me and say “how much do I have to put up with this woman,” I will look at your hands to see if you have been crucified unto death yet or not. If not, I will say, go home and love your wife as Christ loved His Church. Life isn’t about you, it’s about her in a temporary sort of a way, and ultimately about Christ.
Both wives and churches are first of all to be (recipients) of love, sacrifice, and commitment. The first assignment of a Christian wife isn’t just to put up with her man, it is to receive what the love he is trying to give her and to live in the safety of that love. Her first assignment isn’t to take care of him, it is to be taken care of by him. Her first assignment isn’t to sacrifice on his behalf, it is to receive and respond to his sacrifice. Her first assignment is not to be committed to him, it is to see in him the ways he is trying hard to please her and accept that and be grateful in the deepest recesses of her heart and mind.
I can hear some of you saying, “that all sounds fine and good, but that’s not reality.” I can wives saying, “my husband is more often than not a selfish knucklehead who isn’t coming close to taking care of me, how can I receive when he isn’t giving?” And I can hear husbands saying, “I tell you there is no pleasing my wife, your head would spin around as on a swivel if you could hear her ever changing demands and constantly repeated expectations.” Which brings us to our final point of the day. Christian vocation is where we bear our crosses.
The Crosses of Marriage – We ought never be surprised or disillusioned to find ourselves bearing crosses in marriage. If any would come after me, Jesus says, deny yourself and take up your cross and follow. The kingdom of God is like a mature Christian couple who in their early years fought like a cat and a dog once or twice a month. In the midst of that fighting, they felt empty, alone. Some days their disappointment festered into resentment, and there were days when they wondered if their unhappiness meant they had made a big mistake. They survived by doing what their parents had taught them to do. They stuck it out, as Jesus Christ stuck it out all the way to death and burial. In the darkest of nights, they went to their quiet places and remembered how patient their God had been with them. In the busiest of days, they messed up and they fell into one bad habit after another, but week after week, they went to the house of God and threw themselves on the mercy of Almighty God. They found a way to forgive as they had been forgiven, to love as they had been loved, to serve as they had been served, to bear with as they had been beared with, again and again to be raised up from the dead as Christ had been raised. Still they have days that they just sort of survive. But more and more they find that their days are better than ever before. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
For the wedding of Kelsey Hering and Austin Barchenger...
Multi-faceted, Interconnected Dependency
Focus: Christ is love incarnate.
Function: that the hearers fill their lives following after love incarnate.
Grace, Mercy, and Peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At this, the marriage of Austin and Kelsey, we have two texts we reflect upon: 1 Corinthians 13 and Ecclesiastes chapter 3.
Two stories to begin our meditation today, one from my life and another from the lives of Kelsey and Austin. I remember when I was just about to get marriage, I was working at a fancy-dancy apartment complex as a doorman, and I had built up a relationship with a man and his wife as they started their family. And so, a week before my wedding, on my last shift, I asked this man if he had any advice for me as he came in from a walk, and I remember him answering me, as he had a big 100lb dog on a leash in one hand pulling him one way, as he had a two-month-old baby starting to cry in the stroller, as the elevator door was trying to close, all these things happening, he looks back to me and says, “Paul, marriage is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But it’s the best.”
Our second story is from Kelsey’s Facebook page: She wrote, way, way back, “We made it through our first pre-marital session with our pastor! We were both asked what love means to us” and I remember this. I had asked, and usually I turn to the gentleman first, and I did this time, and I look over at Austin’s face, and I remember – it was indescribable. He just had this look, it’s a farmer kind of look, like “What kind of a question is that? Love is love. That’s why you call it love.” So I turn to Kelsey, and she had some time to think, and in the end she gave me this definition: love is multi-faceted, interconnected dependency.” I’ve already learned that love is much simpler than that. Love is Jesus Christ and love is Austin Barchenger. They are the love that fills my heart with life every single day.”
Today we celebrate more than the marriage of a charming man to a cute blonde – those are their words, not mine. Let me, as Paul writes in the last verse of 1 Corinthians chapter 12, show you a more excellent way.
Love is patient when doesn’t want to be and love is kind when it’s easier to be to be cruel. Love does not envy nor does it boast of what it’s done. It doesn’t get arrogant or rude. It endures all bad. It bears with strangeness. It takes one look at you and knows you, knows you for what you are, no matter if you’re covered in mud or in the finest clothes you own.
And if Paul tells us what love does, then Solomon tells us when love does it. Love is kind in times of mourning and of dancing. Love is patient in times of weeping and times of laughing. Love endures in tearing and sewing. Love is beautiful because it is eternal.
Does that sound like you? I’ll give you the answer: No. The lesson of our first premarital counseling session is one truth of your marriage you will learn again and again and again. It’s the lesson of 1 John 4: In this the love of God was made manifest – was incarnate – among us, that God sent his only son into the world so that we might live though him. God is love and love is this: Chris has died, Christ is raised, Christ will come again. Before you would give yourself to your spouse, know this: that you are not your own, and you were never were. You have been bought with a price. You have been taken up in the arms of love incarnate.
If you want to learn how to love, if you want to fill your life and your marriage with good things, then follow around the man, Jesus Christ, as we see him save his people. Hear him speak truth that hurts to people who need to hear it. Watch him dole out unconditional love when he sits in the dust next to those who’ve really screwed up. Let his grace first wash over you and all your imperfections and then, and then, when you recognize yourself as a redeemed Child of God, then take up your role to look like Christ in the life of your spouse.
And that is why marriage is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But it’s the best. Because no one and I mean no one else in their life will get the awesome, insane, incredible privilege to speak a multi-faceted interconnected word of forgiveness and grace to them again and again and again. Now, don’t get me wrong – to forgive isn’t to say that it’s ok, it doesn’t matter, don’t worry about it. When you forgive, you are saying, I know you have done wrong, and it hurt me. But I choose not to hold that hurt against you. I will pay your debt. To look at your spouse when they are at their best, and when they are at their worst, to say precisely when you see their imperfections and flaws, that you love them no matter what.
And so your love is a chasing after his love for you. So you two get the great privilege of loving each other when you are loveable and when you are not-so-loveable. When Austin, your boots are fresh and when your boots are muddy. When Kelsey your car is clean and also when your car is not so clean. When Austin you are home at 6pm, or when you’re home at “Farm-time” 6pm, which I hear is more like 8. It means that apart from your vocation as child of God, you are now known first and best not as reporter, not as farmer, not as son nor as daughter but as husband and wife.
Marriage will be the best thing you ever do when it is a place of clearest following after Jesus Christ.
Questions from the Disciples
Focus: God is the only god.
Function: that the hearers go to God for true food.
So far we have been following the questions of the crowd, and the questions of the Jews, and today we look to the questions of the disciples. But before we get there, notice this one feature: our circle is getting tighter.
You can first picture the whole crowd, with the disciples and the Jews, around Jesus, thousands pushing in saying, Hey Jesus, come on, give us bread.
And after he answers their questions, they turn aside so that the more theologically minded Jews can ask their questions, which we heard in last week’s sermon. But finally today, we see the circle tighten even more when these Jews fade off into the distance and we see Jesus standing with his disciples.
Notice in our text a little bit of distance here. You probably heard it when I read verse fifty-nine forces us to pause a little when we read it. There’s a distance of perhaps time or space in fifty-nine and then, then verse sixty takes ahold.
There are four questions in our text today: First, the disciples ask, “Who can listen to your teachings?” To that Jesus answers “Do you take offense at this?” Third, Jesus turns to the twelve, to the closest ring of disciples, and asks “Do you want to go away as well?” And Simon Peter replies “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
First, Who can listen to this? This is the question that his disciples ask – not just the twelve but also the over 120 folk that had been sent out on mission journeys and taken up to follow Jesus in a consistent kind of a way. His disciples have been around for the whole conversation, where Jesus has turned the crowd and the Jews on their own head. Those who came seeking unlimited bread, he has corrected. Those who would just make Jesus into a great man, a great moral teacher, he has corrected. Just before this question, these disciples, who’ve heard the whole conversation, they say, “This is a hard saying, a difficult teaching to hear.”
Now, we can think of some instances in Jesus’ ministry where his teaching was difficult because it didn’t make any sense. It was hard to understand, like when he says, “Where the corpse is, the vultures will gather,” or “Let the dead bury their own dead.” That isn’t the case here. The Greek implies that they understood his teaching; it wasn’t a difficult teaching because it was hard to understand. It was difficult because it was harsh, unpleasant and strict. Jesus says, if you believe that I am the true bread from heaven then you would look for, you will long for, you will ache for me and my word more than you do for meals at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and (at least in the case of Pastor Griffin) the midnight snack table. That is a hard teaching, to be satisfied in Christ before you are satisfied in the filling of your physical needs. Do we do that? How do you do that?
For me, it makes worship easier, not harder, when I don’t have a grumbling stomach, right? I’m sure it’s never happened to you, but I have, on occasion, had a bible study before lunch and in the little times of quiet when people are thinking, my stomach makes those noises that tell you you’re hungry. It makes worship easier and not harder when I’m not sleep deprived. It makes worship easier, not harder when God meets all of our needs and we can worship comfortably.
False. The first lesson of our text is to be satisfied in Christ before all others. And that is a hard lesson.
The kingdom of heaven was like a couple whose tongues were sharp and their complaints were loud. They loved each other, but that love kept getting overshadowed by their disappointments. Until one day when health troubles took them to the hospital. Deprived of their daily routine, first for a week, then for months, then for years, it was, frankly, the best thing that ever happened for their faith and for their family.
And Jesus senses his disciples’ grumbling – their grumbling, their murmuring. They have the same quiet air of unease around them that the Jews were had in last week’s text, and the same thing that the Israelites did in the desert when they first received bread from heaven. It’s the same thing that Adam and Eve did when they hid their sin from their God – a discontent that’s below the surface, that they don’t want to express.
And so Jesus does here what we would give as advice to premarital couples, exactly what God did with Adam and Eve, exactly what Moses did with the Israelites. Just because you hide your grumbling doesn’t mean it goes away. The only way to resolve conflict is to first, unearth it. Bring it out into the open.
So Jesus does just that. He asks them, “Do you take offense at this?” If you take offense at this, then what will you do when you see me in all my glory? He’s talking to people who are on the edge of trusting him. They see their physical needs. They’re at the top of the cliff looking down. Right? That’s what I felt when I went cliff jumping. You stand up there forty feet above the water, just standing, just standing. You know you can do it, you know the water’s deep. But still you haven’t jumped.
He asks them, “Will you be shocked? Are you scandalized that as Lord, I rule your whole life? Will you follow me when I am humbled, so that you can follow me when I’m glorified? Or do you fall away from me when public opinion is against me?” It seems foolish to follow a dying man to his death. It seems foolish to believe that Jesus is Lord. It seems foolish to think that one man’s death should pay for all. And many would tell you that, and they’d be right.
But the second lesson of our text is on the scandalous nature of God’s love. As one author writes, “Grace is uncivilized, vulgar, rebellious. We make rules for it and it breaks them. Grace is a constant embarrassment to the prim and proper religiosity of the squeaky clean.
Grace doesn’t give a rip if you’re a high school dropout or a Ph.D., a felon or a cop, a virgin or a porn star. You’re all guilty of leading lives of rebellion in which every intent of the thoughts of your heart is only evil continually. You’re all equally dead in transgressions and sins. You’re all equally condemned by the law of God and sentenced to life in the prison of death. Yet there stands Grace, the anti-Santa, doling out gifts to bad boys and girls. It throws open its door to holler, “Come one, come all. Fools and wise men, penniless and powerful, Pharisees and publicans. You’ve all got a seat at my table.”
Grace is the God who was born in a barn, swaddled in rags, in the cold darkness of a world too lost even to know it needed finding. Grace is the God with a motley crew of former tax-gougers, terrorists, and blue-collar fishermen at his heels. Grace is the God with such poor taste in friends that his detractors labeled him a glutton and a drunkard, a sidekick of sinners. Grace is the God who loved them all, loved them unto death, even death on a cross.”
And so we get to one of major sea-changes in the Gospel of John. The Jews had started to look for ways to kill him in chapter five, and they continue to do so here. Up until this point Jesus was rising in popularity. Now, he diminishes. As some in his outer ring of disciples walk away from him, Jesus does something unique in our little narrative of chapter 6. Up until this point in the conversation, the people would ask Jesus questions and Jesus would respond, sometimes in conventional ways, but mostly in ways that turned them on their heads. For the first time, he initiates conversation with a question, and he talks to the Twelve. He asks the closest disciples, those in whom he had poured time and life and energy and love, “Do you want to go away as well?”
And here is our third point and, as well, the crux of our chapter. Third, we see Jesus ask the perfect question, which leads to the perfect response. So long we’ve seen imperfect people ask imperfect questions, to which Jesus in his kind, gentle and strong way corrects their questions and gives them the answers that answer the questions that should have been asked. But here, notice that this is different. Right here, the perfect man asks the perfect question, and get this: Peter gets it right. He replies, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.
The wise man becomes wiser when he returns to the beginning, because “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Paul tells us not to be empty but to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Even Peter gets it right when Christ is the one asking the question. So finally we turn to Peter’s question. What better question could we ask than that of Peter? It is a wondering, sincere, helpful and helpless kind of a question.
I can’t get over the helpless kind of simplicity that comes from this question. Where else would we go? In asking the perfect question, Jesus allows Peter to show us the false choice - there is no other place to go; there is only one God and you are it. There’s only one basket, so the only choice we have is to put our eggs in it, or let them fall on the ground. Psalm 73 says, whom have I in heaven but you? There’s nothing on earth that I could desire besides you. My heart and my flesh they may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion.” You are my portion, Lord, because you own the whole pie.
This is the helplessness of Stephen, the martyr, and the apostles. In Acts as the apostles are brought again and again to the Sanhedrin and told to stop preaching, they say, how could we stop speaking about that which changes our life? If the Word of God would lead us in smooth sailing or rougher waters, what choice do we have?
Who else could we go to? This question, asked by a man whose god is his enemy, whose God is a cruel tyrant and a miser, this question is a word of terror and famine and hardship. But to us, whose God is our father, where we are bought and delivered beloved children, these words are like a feast set before us, without end and ever lasting.
The kingdom of heaven is like a big church in a small town where the rich often look out for the poor, the strong often look out for the weak, and the young often look out for the old. Where their own helplessness, their own loss and their own weakness sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly turns into a time and a place to ask for forgiveness and to give forgiveness. Where we know that the one we run to is the one who has already run to us. Amen and amen.
Funeral Sermon for Beatrice Gekeler
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
About a week ago, a school teacher friend of mine had the brakes on his car go out in my next door neighbor’s drive way. A day later, on one of the hottest days of the summer, I drove into my driveway only to see him underneath his car, sweating up a storm, working on his car with the help of his dad. I rolled down my window and hollered out, “Hey, there’s people that can do that for you, you know!” We talked smart for a bit and I went off to relax in the shade on my patio while he finished the job. Or so I thought. A few days later, when I asked Eiden how it all worked out, he admitted that in the process of fixing one of the brakes, one of the other brakes was damaged and in reality, he caused more damage than he fixed! When it comes to car repair, there are two kinds of people – the do-it-yourself kind of a person and the take it to the repairman kind of a person.
So also when it comes time for soul repair, it seems as though there are two kinds of folks – those who go running with their questions to the lover of their souls, Jesus Christ, and those who try to slug their own way through their own days of trouble. Our text for today is a portion of the Gospel lesson appointed for yesterday, the 12th Sunday of the Pentecost season. Jesus was teaching the people how vitally important it was to believe in Him and follow Him. Again and again, He declared Himself to be the living bread that came down from heaven. Again and again, He pleaded with people to know that if they eat of this bread, they would live forever. Again and again, He taught them that blessed would be the folks who would hear His Word and blessed would be the folks who would hold on for dear life to His promises and blessed would be the folks who would keep on running to God for refuge and for strength.
But on the other hand, cursed would be the folks who would try to answer their own questions and handle their own troubles. Weak and burdened would be the folks who would try to carry their own loads and solve their own conflicts. Confused and injured would be the folks who would try to fix their own messed up lives and blaze their own trails.
In John 6, Jesus had proclaimed these realities of sin and grace so clearly that many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Jesus. Perhaps it was with tears of sadness in His eyes that Jesus asked the Twelve Disciples, “Do you want to go away as well?” And then the outspoken Peter, the one who often got it wrong, actually got it right. He answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Beatrice Gekeler got it right every time she ate the living bread that came down from heaven, every time she sat still and knew that God was God. She got it right every time she made her way slowly and surely into the house of God and used her ears to hear. She got it right every time she admitted that she was a sinner and threw herself on the mercy of Almighty God. She got it right every time one of her pastors asked her if she would like Holy Communion and with tears in her eyes she said yes. Of course she wanted to receive the very body and blood of her Savior. Of course she knew that she couldn’t make it through the trials of life on her own strength and with her own ingenuity. Of course she couldn’t fix her own troubled heart and struggling soul. Where else would she go?
We all know where to go if we have medical concerns – to the doctor. If our problems are financial, we go to an accountant. If we have serious legal difficulties, we are wise to consult a lawyer. But what about days like this, when we spend a few hours following caskets into and out of the church and over to the cemetery? Where shall we go after the dust has settled and the casket is buried? If we really want to get it right in the quietness of tonight, where shall we go? Specifically, where shall we go with our questions?
In Jesus’ day, people could walk up to Jesus and ask Him the questions that they had. They would , and He would answer them. Frequently He answered their questions with another question. Often He answered them with a story or a parable that seemed unrelated. On more than a few occasions, Jesus answered the questions people should have been asking instead of the ones they actually did?
This morning, there are a few questions that really matter and all kinds of questions that matter not very much at all. Rather than asking if Beatrice believed enough, we ask, was she baptized? Yes, she was. Rather than asking if she did enough good, we ask Was and is God faithful to His promises? Yes. Rather than asking if questions about her decisions and her character, we ask, Was she instructed in the faith and did she confess that faith publicly? Yes she did. Did her Good Shepherd follow her around in all the chapters of life with goodness and mercy? Yes He did. When she cried out in her days of trouble, did God answer in a way that was perfectly thought through and for her benefit? Yes. When her believing heart pumped for the last time, and as she breathed her final air, did the angels of God take her soul into the very presence of Jesus? Absolutely. On the last day, will this cold and lifeless body be resurrected and reunited with her soul and will she see Jesus face to face and is it true that in heaven there is no more pain and no more falls and no more fractures and no more tears of frustration and no more fears of failure. Yes, yes, and yes, this is all as certain and valid as the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The final questions are for all of you, dear friends and family of Beatrice. Where are you going these days for your refuge and for your strength in time of trouble? Where are you going with the wrong that you have done and the good you have failed to do? Where are you going with your fears and your doubts, your worries and your failures? Is the Holy Spirit of God drawing you closer and closer to your Lord Jesus Christ through the ups and down and the zigs and the zags of life, or have you grasped for the straw, the idea that you could make it through all of that with your own good effort and honest toil?
Research from George Barna suggests that between high school and turning 30, that 43% of once active millennials have dropped out of regular church attendance. That’s 8 million twentysomethings who for various reasons have become spiritual do-it-themselfers.
Dear friends, wherever you are at in your own spiritual journey, it’s a beautiful sight for Beatrice’s pastors to see you all here today. Oh my goodness, how the tears of joy would flow from her eyes if she could see so many of her 6 children, her 18 grandchildren, her 49 great grandchildren, her 5 or 6 great grandchildren sitting still and knowing that God is God. You should know that from this day forward, every time you eat the bread and drink the wine, every time you receive the very body and blood of your Savior into your souls, you are getting it right. More than that, the very angels and archangels of heaven and the communion of saints who have gone on before you are celebrating with and for you. If you want to fix your own cars or tear apart your own lawn mowers or sheetrock your own basements, go ahead and knock yourselves out. But for heaven’s sake, when it comes to getting your hearts mended and your minds corrected and your souls repaired, do come running to the One Who has already gone on before you, all the way to the cross. Come running to me, Jesus would say, with all of your faults, your failures, and your fears. Come running with your burdens, your brokenness, and your bruises. Come running with all that needs to be fixed, and as often as you do so, know that the words of eternal life will sweep over your soul as a cup of water quenches the thirsty, as a piece of bread satisfies the hungry, and as a word of forgiveness heals the broken. God grant that the children and the grandchildren and the great grandchildren and the generations to come would always know how beautiful are the words of eternal life, that they would spend their days holding onto those words and cherishing those words and being changed by those words and sharing with other those words, and may Beatrice Gekeler rest in eternal peace.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther