(Second in a Series of Three Sermons)
John 6:35-51 – I am the Bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The kingdom of God is like a teenage son who says to his mom, “Hey Mom, what’s for supper?” To which mom replies, “Your room is a pigpen. I can’t stand it anymore. You need to clean it up or I’m just going to put it all in boxes and give it to Salvation Army. Do you hear me?” To which he says, “ok, ah mom, did you see that $20 bill I left on the table?” To which mom says, “And that’s another thing. Money doesn’t grow on trees you know. Back in the good old days, kids knew the value of money and they appreciated all that their parents did for them. No such thing as credit cards back then. You saved up for rainy days and you paid cash. Are you listening to me?” “Ah ok, mom, yes, could I just ask you one more question? What time will supper be?” I’ll tell you one more thing, buster brown. You better start getting up and going to church on Sunday mornings. If you’re going to live under this roof, there’s some rules you’re going to have to follow. Back in my day, we kids went to church, no questions asked. We knew that Jesus loved us and we would sit still and be quiet if we knew what was good for us!
The teenager must have felt like the Jews in our text for today. His mom kept answering questions different than the ones he was asking. So also with Jesus. He rarely answers the questions people asked; He instead answers the questions they should have been asking. The outline of today’s sermon includes ten questions. First, the questions the Jews asked, and secondly, the questions Jesus answered.
The Questions the Jews Asked
The first question the Jews asked in our text for today was, “Isn’t this that little (Galilean) boy whose parents we know by name?” For some time now, their hearts had been hardened against Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee. They wondered if anything good could come out of such a small and insignificant town. They had seen with their own eyes this Jesus feeding 5000 men plus women and children with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish, but they would not believe. They had heard reports of Jesus healing the sick and giving sight to the blind and raising the dead, but they would not accept Him as the long promised Messiah. Like the mom in the opening story who was blasting forward with her own agenda instead of responding to simple questions, the Jews were in a foul mood. Their only comeback to Jesus offer to satisfy their deepest and spiritual needs was to scoff at the idea that the son of Joseph the carpenter could be anybody special. Even though Jesus’ great desire was to gather them as a mother hen would gather her chicks, they would not be gathered.
Their second question was much like the first, “How dare he say that he came down (out of heaven?)” Jesus had been spending His days fulfilling prophecy after prophecy, and yet these religious leaders kept on preferring the status quo. Jesus was all about mercy and they were all about tradition. He was all about second chances and new beginnings and they were all about doing things the way they had always been done. He was all about the forgiveness of sins and they were all about keeping a record of wrongs. Even though their Father in heaven wanted to draw them near as a nursing mom draws her precious child near, they would not be drawn.
Their third question is actually in next week’s Gospel lesson, and is another example of the enemies of Jesus blasting forth with their own hostile agenda instead of listening with humble hearts. Does he think we’re a bunch of (cannibals?) Or to say it another way, “How is this one able to give us his flesh to eat?” By this time, the Jews weren’t just muttering among themselves. They were crying out in loud voices their ideas. The language indicates they were divided. They knew they were against Jesus, but they differed on exactly what their objections were. They were together in their scorn for this man, this son of Joseph, but they couldn’t really come together in terms of how to express that scorn. Jesus was speaking in spiritual terms, and they kept on speaking in physical language. Jesus was inviting them to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, and they would do nothing of the sort. Even though the Holy Spirit would in that moment have called, gathered, and enlightened them with His gifts, they would not be called nor gathered. Darkness was to be preferred.
In the first part of our sermon today, we focused on the questions the Jews asked with hostile hearts. In the second part, we focus on The Questions Jesus Answered. In our text for today, we can find at least seven answers to questions they should have been asking. It’s almost like the popular TV game Jeopardy, where the answers are provided, and contestants try to come up with the questions that match the answers.
The first question -Who are you? The answer “The Bread of Life.” When Jesus identified Himself as the Bread of Life, He was saying He was essential for life. He was trying to get the Jews thinking off the physical realm and into the spiritual real. He was contrasting what He brought as their Messiah with the bread He miraculously created the day before. That was physical bread that perishes. He was the spiritual bread that brought eternal life. Jesus was making yet another claim to deity. This statement was the first of the “I AM” statements in John’s Gospel the phrase I AM was the covenant name of Yahweh God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Jews who were listening would have automatically understood this as a claim to deity.
The second question that should have been asked- Where should we go with our hunger? Answer #2 is ME. It is of our very nature to take our hunger to the breakfast table and to the lunch table and to the supper table and even to the late night snack table. To take our hunger to the places where we work and are entertained and you fill in the blank. In reply Jesus says, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger.” He would teach us today simply to come to Him. To come just as we are, to come without one plea, to come hungry and to come often to His Table, His promises, His Word. It is of our very nature to think that we can satisfy our deepest desires in life by running fast and working hard and aiming for perfection and getting as close to perfection as is humanly possible. Jesus would have us keep it simple this morning. To simply believe that He is Who He said He was and that He has done everything He said He would do. To believe that He has lived the perfect life that none of us can even get close to living, that He has suffered all that He was appointed to suffer, and that because He did in fact die on a Friday and rise up on a Sunday morning and make appearances all over the countryside the next 40 days, because all of that is true beyond the shadow of a doubt, there is no more hunger, heaven is ours, sins are forgiven, all is well.
Question #3 - Where should we go with our thirst? Answer – Me. It is of our very nature to think that we can satisfy our thirst with a few beers or maybe it’s rum and cokes, or maybe it’s financial success or maybe it’s position or popularity or power or you fill in the blank. In reply, Jesus says, whoever believes in me shall never thirst. We are inclined to chase after all these other things in life and think that human happiness is complicated and dependent on all kinds of factors, some which we control and many which we cannot. Jesus would have us keep it simple this morning. To simply believe that as often as we come to Christ, there is no more thirst, heaven is ours, sins are forgiven, all is well.
Question #4- “Will you be casting us away?” Answer – Not if you come to me. It is of our nature to think that the nastiness of our sins and the bad habits that we can’t quite overcome will disqualify us from God’s presence. For many of us who have had so many advantages that we have taken for granted and we have had so many opportunities that we have wasted and we have had so many privileges that we have abused, we are tempted to stop coming, to stop asking, and to give up trying. In reply, all that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” As the waiting father looks down the road for his son and does not cast him out but runs down the road to meet with him, embraces him with tears of joy and issues the order for the homecoming to be celebrated…..so also do the angels and archangels of heaven stand on tiptoe yearning for us to repent this morning, that our repentance might be celebrated. As a mother of a toddler cries for joy when that child steps forward with an apology and a desire to be loved, so also does our Lord Jesus Christ cry for joy every time we stumble forward admitting that we have messed up again and wondering if we could still be loved.
Question #5 to Jesus, Who gives you your marching orders? Answer - (My Father)”For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.
Question #6 to Jesus, What are your marching orders? (Not to lose you)And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”
Question # 7 to Jesus - How do we come to you? (Use your ears) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. It is written in the Prophets, and they will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me
The kingdom of God is like a man who was brought up to believe that if a man will not work, neither shall he eat. It is in his very nature to work hard so that he might eat well. To eat well so that he might work hard. To work even harder so that he might eat even better. And so the cycle goes faster and faster until He starts to get more and more exhausted in a regular sort of way. And then more and more he finds that he is sitting still. And the more he sits still the more he is drawn to this familiar voice that speaks in such a way as to keep it simple. And the more he listens to this gentle and ever so reassuring voice, his hunger is gone, his thirst has been quenched, heaven is his, sins are forgiven, all is well. In Christ. Amen.
Focus: Jesus is the bread of life.
Function: that the hearers would ask the right questions, to get right answers.
Questions, questions questions. Does anyone have any questions? One of my undergraduate professors, Kermit Radcliffe, would start every lecture that same way. Because, he taught, “The Bible” a class where you had to read through vast swaths of scripture and come to class for discussion. He said, “The more you read the Bible, the more questions you’re gonna have.”
Today and for the next three weeks, we will be jumping from the gospel of Mark to the Gospel of John. From the feeding of the five thousand and the calming of the storm as Jesus walks on the water, we’re on the far side of the sea of Galilee where the same crowd that Jesus just had compassion on has pursued Jesus across the lake, and here Jesus has an extended dialog with them. We study together the questions of the crowd, then from the Jews, and finally from the disciples. Today, we look at three questions that the crowd asked Jesus, and how (if at all) Jesus answered them.
But first, let me tell you of one of the manliest things I’ve ever done. I dry-walled a room in my house. You see, when the house was first built almost a hundred years ago, the style was nail strips of wood between joists and then cover that wood with plaster. Over the years… the plaster, coming apart, would separate from the lathe, and our trustees had done their faithful job of patching up cracked plaster. But, as the years lengthened, the problems got worse and the cracks that had been spackled would crack again until I have a two foot crack in my wall that’s held apart by the weight of the spackle. And the only solution was to take out the plaster and to re-dry wall the room… Here’s the point of the story: now the spackle makes it worse and the problem needed to be taken down to its core.
Question #1 from the crowd: When did you get here? The crowds, breathless from scooting across the lake they look a little bit like the guy who’s waiting for a girl. You know, he’s waiting in the same spot at the same time every day, just so that he can “casually” bump into her and ask her, “Oh, hi, do you come here often.” You can see the crowd huffing and puffing, and then casually coming up to Jesus and saying, “Oh Hi, Jesus how’s it going today?”
Notice what Jesus says to them. He doesn’t answer their question; he answers the question they should have asked. As William Barclay writes, Jesus cuts through all the niceties, to get to the heart of their problem. He reveals to them their inner motivations. He says, “You are here, not even because I did a miracle, but just because you filled your bellies.” As John Piper would say, “You are fixated on the product, not the person.”
It’s like those who come to our church only to be married, like those who come to church only for baptisms, only for funeral service, only for the food shelf, only to rent this space. But it isn’t just for those out there. I find myself falling into this trap. It has been proven that meditation and prayer have positive physiological effects. It is well known that when you have a stable routine that includes quiet time in church that toddlers do their toddling better. It weekly improves my marriage for me to confess my sins publicly to someone other than my wife. Those are all good things, yes… But the real reason to go to church, to read your bible, to be a Christian, isn’t the bread we reap in this world, it isn’t the physiological,, psychological, social, or relational advice we reap, it is that we get to know our savior. … Jesus gives the right answers even when we ask the wrong questions. He says, “Work for food that endures. All the other stuff will perish. But the food that endures, the Son of man gives it to you from the Father.”
So then, we get to question #2. The crowd asks, What must we do? If we’re supposed to work, then what work are we supposed to do?
This question seems to come from a sincere place in the crowd’s heart. If this is true, then what do we do?!? It’s the same question of the Rich young ruler, to who Jesus said, and you remember, sell everything that you own and follow me, and the rich young ruler. It’s the same question that would burn in my heart as a college student when I heard sermons that touched my heart. Yeah, but what am I supposed to do? But first, notice that the only word from Jesus’ response they catch on to is “work.”
And then notice Jesus’ response. He says, “Believe.” That is to say, the works of God are in fact the works that God does. The way to be saved is for someone else to save you. Pastor Griffin put it this way: “The one work that God requires you to do is actually a work of God.” As Paul says in Romans chapter four, you are saved the same way that our Father Abraham was saved – by faith in the coming savior Jesus. The only thing you “have to do” - and the words “have to do” even break our English language – is believe that God has done it already.
C.S. Lewis writes like this in his book The Last Battle. After Narnia is destroyed, those who are left are visited by the Lion Aslan, in whom some believe and others do not. Some look around and see the world that Aslan was re-creating, and others see only the remnants of a destroyed world and thus they cannot see the riches that Aslan put before them. “You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” They are in prison, yes, and their prison is their own mind.
In this, Lewis restates much the same truth of Jesus in our text: to have salvation, we must only believe that we are already saved, that God has already saved us. That is the salvation won on the cross 2,000 years ago. Your sins today and for your lifetime were paid for once and for all on the cross of Christ. Your sins were washed away in the baptism that happened before you could understand it. In the real and mysterious presence of the Lord, the sins you admit to and the sins that you have not uncovered are stolen from your soul in the proclamation of absolution. To have salvation, we must only believe that works of God are in fact, God’s work.
Question #3: What sign would you give? How can we prove you? The crowd challenges Jesus again, revisiting and refining its first question and Jesus says, “Look, the bread your fathers received wasn’t from Moses, but from God. It was God gave that bread, and it is God who gives the true bread from heaven. I am that true bread.”
The true bread from heaven is the person of Jesus, God incarnate, walking among them. The living water goes thirsty on the cross. The strong man of the universe hangs weak on the cross. And yet it isn’t the cruel callousness of Roman execution that makes him cry out in pain; it isn’t lack of food and water that make him stumble on the path to Golgotha; it is instead the deep loneliness of separation from God, the deep cracks of loneliness that we would spackle over with so much of this world’s bread. This is what he took from you. This is what makes him cry out.
As often as I preach the word of God, that often do I hear God speaking to me in this place. As often as broken men and women hear the words of Institution and eat bread and drink wine, so often does the true bread from heaven come down into our midst. As often as the great and many benefits of this place attract others for the wrong reasons, so often do we have the opportunity to see the word of God do what the word of God did on the edge of the Sea of Galilee in Capernaum: change questions, break barriers, and walk among us. As often as the people of God come back to the altar of God so often does God do what they do not deserve. He heals them. He saves them. And on top of that he gives them heaps and piles and loads of blessings, not only for the next life but for this also.
Today and this weekend, we celebrate the life of a man among us who has shepherded God’s flock here at Trinity for 25 years, and that is something worth celebrating. But know this: the reason it is worth celebrating is because as much as Pastor Griffin might know your names, that is the corner of how God in heaven knows you utterly and intimately. As much as Pastor Griffin has cried with you over the years, that is a taste of how much more God has suffered with you in your grief. For as much as Pastor Griffin has faithfully and humbly led this church, let know that God would turn our eyes to how much more faithful and humble and strong and kind and gentle is our Savior in heaven. If we would give thanks for this man, let us give thanks at how small of a picture this would give us of a God who can fill our ever need in his time.
Third in a Series of Sermons, “Yet”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Perhaps you have heard this story, a man was trapped in his house during a flood. He began praying to God to rescue him. He had a vision in his head of God’s hand reaching down from heaven and lifting him to safety. The water started to rise in his house. His neighbor urged him to leave and offered him a ride to safety. The man yelled back, “I am waiting for God to save me.” The neighbor drove off in his pick-up truck.
The man continued to pray and hold on to his vision. As the water began rising in his house, he had to climb up to the roof. A boat came by with some people heading for safe ground. They yelled at the man to grab a rope they were ready to throw and take him to safety. He told them that he was waiting for God to save him. They shook their heads and moved on.
The man continued to pray, believing with all his heart that he would be saved by God. The flood waters continued to rise. A helicopter flew by and a voice came over a loudspeaker offering to lower a ladder and take him off the roof. The man waved the helicopter away, shouting back that he was waiting for God to save him. The helicopter left. The flooding water came over the roof and caught him up and swept him away. He drowned.
When he reached heaven and asked, “God, why did you not save me? I believed in you with all my heart. Why did you let me drown?” God replied, “I sent you a pick-up truck, a boat and a helicopter and you refused all of them. What else could I possibly do for you?”
God sent in no fewer than three rescue teams, yet he would not be rescued. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus came walking over the water to rescue His disciples, yet their first reaction was to be terrified. Today’s sermon is the third in a series of sermons, “Yet.” Our first sermon was of Herod who was perplexed by John the Baptist, yet heard gladly. Last week was of Christ feeding the multitudes with five loaves and two fish, yet it was the hands of the disciples who fed them.
Our texts these three weeks speak of paradox, of two truths that seem to contradict each other. The Bible is full of paradox, as in “blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted” and “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” and “many who are first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
In II Corinthians, Paul delivers in writing a veritable festival of paradox, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true, as unknown, and yet well known, as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
Two parts to our sermon today, both stated in terms of paradox. Lesson #1 is that the disciples knew Jesus well, yet they struggled to recognize Him. It is appropriate that today’s Old Testament reading and our Gospel both deal with watercraft. Ever since Noah took his little congregation of seven aboard the ark, watercraft have been a metaphor for the church. Frequently in Scripture, ships and boats have been used to represent the church. In our Baptism liturgy, we pray that the little ones would be kept safe and secure in the ark of the Christian Church, kept separate from the multitudes of unbelievers.
Already before this miracle took place, the disciples knew Jesus well, yet they frequently did not understand. They knew that Jesus could calm a storm in three words or less, and yet they were anxious. They knew that Jesus could heal lepers and men filled with demons and paralytics, and yet they had no idea he could multiply a little bit of food and feed thousands of people. They knew Jesus could walk on water, yet when they saw Him doing so they thought it was a ghost. They knew Jesus as well as anybody has ever known Jesus, yet their first reactions to the circumstances of life are to shriek and to shrink away in sheer terror.
Even after Jesus had identified Himself as the Great I Am, even after Jesus had stepped into the boat, even after the winds had stopped blowing and the waves had ceased their crashing, even then Mark records, “they were utterly astounded….they did not comprehend the feeding of the multitude, their hearts continued to be hardened.”
If we take time to study the history of Israel, we see that this hardness of heart is not at all new or unusual. God sent plague after plague to free Israel from Egypt, yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. God opened up the Red Sea so Israel could walk through in miraculous fashion; He drowned the army in the sea, food appeared on the ground every morning out of nowhere, rocks gave forth water to quench thirst, God Almighty revealed His presence as a cloudy pillar of fire and smoke. Yet, they too, had hardness of the heart.
The early disciples were dull. They were slow to see answers to questions they were asking. Jesus stilled the waves, yet they didn’t see. He healed the sick, yet they didn’t understand. They were right there when He fed the multitude, yet they didn’t catch a glimpse. Time and again, their hearts went soft, and then back again to a spirit of stubbornness and status quo.
To this very day, Christians have hardness of heart. We believe, misbelieve and disbelieve at the same time. We trust and we worry and we pray and back again to doing it all over again. We fear God one hour and men the next. We are famous for trying to serve two masters at the same time. We are still and know that God is God one day and kick and scream our way through the next one. Back and forth we go, loving our God with almost all of our hearts and souls, but not quite. We see Jesus as we eat and drink at His Holy Meal on Sunday mornings and wonder where He is in our lives Sunday afternoon and evenings and beyond. Lesson #1 is to realize that like the early disciples, we may know Jesus well, but we still have this bad habit of not recognizing Him when the waves are crashing and the winds are ferocious. Recently, I spoke to a Christian woman who is going through all kinds of trouble, and she wondered out loud where God was in all of that trouble. My first reaction wonder along with her why her story had to include so much pain, and then I heard myself saying to her, “I don’t know where God is in all of that, but I do know where you can find Him.” To which she replied, “Where is that?” At which time I pointed her to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and her Lord’s Supper. Which brings us to our second lesson today.
Lesson #2 is good news. It’s really good news. In the language of paradox, it is this: We keep on taking two steps backwards, yet Christ keeps on stepping forward. In our Gospel lesson for today, the sluggish faith of the disciples does not deter Jesus. They land on the Galilean shore near Gennesaret, and soon the people recognized Him. They brought their sick friends and neighbors to Jesus, and they healed them. They pleaded for the chance just to touch His garments and be healed, and so it happened.
To this very day, the outward appearances of life make it seem as though the Church is losing the battle, yet Jesus Christ has already stepped forward to a little hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Like a lamb he was slaughtered, yet as a shepherd He rose up and won the great victory. Like stupid sheep, we keep on going astray, yet our Good Shepherd keeps on pursuing us. We keep on losing ground with our bad habits, but Christ and His Church keep gaining. In recent days, your pastors have seen it happening again and again. In this corner of the kingdom, a young man’s body gets ruined by cancer, yet his faith and the faith of dozens of family members grows by leaps and bounds. In that corner over there, a marriage ends in disaster, yet in the quiet of the night both parties cry out for the forgiveness of sins, and even before they an utter the words, forgiveness is granted. Two steps backwards, but the Kingdom of God moves forward.
Not too far away from here is a young man caught up in meth addiction again, and off to the hospital he goes and then gets thrown back in county jail. It looks as if the devil has won yet another battle and as if all is lost. Yet a slender young pastor steps into his little space with a listening ear, a Bible and a particular word written by Paul to the Romans, “The good that I want to do, I do not do, but the evil I do not want I do,” At which point Pastor Muther said his eyes came open and he said, “that’s me. When it comes to using, I feel like I can’t help it. I know what I should do. I know what will happen to me if I don’t, but I still can’t help it.” In the loneliest of surroundings, Christ is recognized, grace is received, and heaven is tasted, two steps backwards, but Christ moves ahead..
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town that keeps on falling short, yet the royal banner keeps on standing tall. Their roof and walls may be leaking, but their foundation is firm. Some days their efforts are strong, and other days not so strong at all, yet in every one of their days, their Savior is walking towards the, standing with them, and out in front of them. Their first reaction to so many of life’s setbacks is to be terrified, but as often as they think it through, as often as they remember what they have learned from their mother’s knees, as often as they pay attention to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, as often as they eat and drink at the Holy Supper, as often as they hold on to the very obvious fact that the rescue mission has already been completed, as often as they fix their eyes on the rainbow, that often they are made well. Still they get terrified, but always, they know they have been saved.
Wedding of Amber Williams and Brandon Ness
Colossians 3:12-17 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Dear Christian Friends,
In my world, it doesn’t really matter whether the clothing I wear matches. It’s what’s on the inside that matters. In Debi’s world, it matters. In my world, all shades of blue will match with each other, and if I wear brown socks with black shoes and gray pants, nobody will really care. In Debi’s world, people really care. In my world, it wasn’t a problem the other morning when I dressed for our walk with gray shorts with a light green stripe, a bright red t shirt, blue shoes with orange shoe laces, and my John Deer cap. In Debi’s world, it was a problem. She took a look at me and cringed. I took a look at her face and said, “What? Are you upset about something?” She looked straight ahead and said, “It’s obvious you have stopped caring about the clothes you wear.”
This afternoon, the two of you obviously care about the clothes you are wearing. Amber, you are beautiful in a stunning kind of a way. And Brandon, you look alright too.
You both have done a lot of work to prepare yourselves spiritually and emotionally for getting married. We’ve talked very honestly about marriage in our premarital counseling sessions. I believe you’re more than ready to enter the institution of marriage, which Pastor Muther likes to say on the one hand will be the best thing you’ll ever do, and on the other hand, it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.
One of the readings you chose for today is Colossians 3, and our theme is “Dressed For Success.” When you take off your wedding clothes, what are you going to put on? How does one dress for success in a marriage? What are you going to wear that will help you ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after?
First thing each morning, we would invite you to make the sign of the cross and to remember that in Holy Baptism you were clothed with a robe of righteousness purchased and won for you by Jesus Christ at the cross. In that moment, your parents and Godparents saw to it that you were dressed for success in all the chapters of life.
Our text for today suggests an inner garment, no fewer than six regular garments, and an overcoat.
First there is the inner garment of compassion. Literally, compassion means a heart of pity. It is an inner attitude you would have towards each other. It is a fullness of tender caring for and about the other’s vulnerability and strengths, and it will overflow into how you treat each other privately and publicly. It is not something you can muster up by yourselves, it will flood through your souls and your hearts and your minds as often as you cry out for the mercy of God. As often as you admit that you are by nature messed up, mismatched, and inclined towards misbehavior. Mission #1 each morning is to receive all of the grace and mercy and tender loving care that God is wanting to give you, and Mission #2 is give it away as fast and as best you can. In this way, you will be dressing for success in God’s eyes.
Secondly, there are the regular garments of kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance and forgiveness.
Kindness is a garment with healing in its wings. It is proactive and goes on the offensive looking for ways to befriend and be helpful
Humility is a garment that gets down on its knees and stays low. It thinks more highly of others than itself. It recognizes its own sinfulness and appreciates all that God has done for sinners in Christ. Gentleness is a garment of self-control. It is not a spinelessness that bows before every breeze or refuses to take a stand on any principle. The gentle spirit will not be easily provoked to fits of rage and would rather suffer injury than inflict it. Patience will not bear a grudge and refuses to harbor thoughts of revenge when wronged. It is a defensive strategy that prevents all kinds of molehills from becoming mountains.
Amber and Brandon, if you’re going to dress for success, Mission #1 each morning is to be still and know that God is God, and Mission #2 is to help others to do the same. Mission #1 is to remember that Jesus Christ was stripped naked on your behalf, and when sinners in every generation stripped all of his garments away, all that remained was love for those very sinners. Mission # 2 walk alongside of each other and others helping them to know for certain that Jesus loves them without condition, without hesitation, and without exception. Mission #1 is to relax in knowing your Savior’s humility, His gentleness, and His patience, and to help others relax as well.
Paul continues by writing, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. In his book, “This Momentary Marriage,” John Piper writes about forgiveness and forbearance as that which to be emphasized even more than romance and enjoying each other. He says that marriage is first of all about keeping your promises to each other and only in a secondary way about staying in love. Three truths he would want us to know. 1)There is going to be conflict based on sin, we need to forgive sin and bear with strangeness, and sometimes you won’t even agree on which is which; 2) The hard rugged work of forgiving and forbearance is what makes it possible for affections to flourish even when they seem to have died. 3) God gets glory when two very different and very imperfect people forge a life of faithfulness in the furnace of affliction by relying on Christ.
Brandon, no doubt you have noticed that Amber is a sinner, but have you noticed that she can be strange? And Amber, no doubt in mind that you have observed Brandon as a sinner, but have you noticed that he can be strange? If you need an example of strangeness, I simply refer you back to the opening story of how my idea of matching clothes isn’t really sinful, it’s just what Debi considers strange. Not really wrong, just different! Forgive each other’s sins as Christ as forgiven you. Bear with each other’s strangeness, as Christ has first of all bore with you.
Finally, we come to the outer garment of love which is able to bind all of these virtues together in perfect unity. We have talked in pre marriage counseling about the different kinds of love necessary in your marriage. The love which you will be promising today is agape love, the love which is always wanting to give and never concerned about getting paid back. The love which is always ready to sacrifice and never concerned about whether your partner has done his or her share.
Brandon, here’s where I want to put the pressure on you, and I ask you never to forget that you are to love this beautiful bride in the same way that Christ has loved his not so beautiful bride, the Church. If you want to be dressed for success, from this moment on, your first assignment is to make this marriage all about Amber Elizabeth-Williams Ness. At the same time and in every one of your days you are to rest and not get your rest. What I mean by that is that on the one hand you are to rest in the all sufficient grace and never ending mercy and omnipotence of Almighty God, on the other hand you are to get no rest. As Jesus Christ would not be distracted and would get no rest until He made His way to Jerusalem and as He would get no rest until He had suffered everything He was appointed to suffer and as He would get no rest until He was spit at and slapped and whipped and cursed and beaten bloody and crucified, dead and buried on behalf of His not so beautiful bride……….so are you to get no rest in any one of your days until you have listened to every word she wants to say to you. We want you to get no rest until you have done everything you could do and said everything you could say and suffered every bit of unfairness you could suffer for this one simple purpose – to help her be as happy as she is today. To help her be all that she can be. To help her feel like she is the luckiest young lady in Mankato, MN.
Amber, from this moment on, your main assignment is to receive. To receive and to rest in and to enjoy all of that love and all of that kindness and all of that patience and all of that compassion and all of that gentleness and all of that humility and all of that forgiveness and all of that forbearance brought your way by this well dressed young man. And then, as time permits, to give it right back to Brandon in the form of respect.
The kingdom of God is like a couple who soiled themselves with their own self-centeredness someday. Other days, they fell into traps of crabbiness and stubbornness. Still other days, they came up way short in the arena of patience and kindness. But praise be to God that in every one of their evenings, they found each other’s hands under the covers, and in the quietness of the night, they prayed 1)forgive us all the ways we have fallen short today, and 2)tomorrow, Lord, do help me to bear with my lover’s strangeness. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Second in a Series of Three Sermons – “Yet”
Mark 6:30 – 44
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our texts in this three part sermon series speak of paradox, as Pastor Muther would say, “two things that don’t come together, are in fact opposed to each other.” As Jesus would say, “Blessed are those who mourn” and “Many who are first shall be last, and many who are last shall be first.” Last Sunday, King Herod was perplexed by John the Baptist, yet he listened to him gladly. Next Sunday, we will see that the disciples were terrified by Jesus walking on water, even as they were rescued by Him. Today we see that Jesus fed the multitude in miraculous fashion, yet it was the disciples’ hands that distributed the food. Christ’s Work, Yet Our Hands.
In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul offers no fewer than seven paradoxical truths in less than 50 words. He writes, “we are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live, as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
In last Sunday’s sermon, we met up with Herod, who was at the same time perplexed and delighted with the teachings of John the Baptist. Even though Herod knew that John was a righteous and holy man, he saw to it that John was arrested and bound and put in prison. Even though he wanted to protect and release John from prison, he ended up issuing the command for John to be beheaded. In the verses immediately preceding our text for today, Herod had permitted John’s disciples to take the body without a head and bury it. The time was about a year before Jesus’ own death. Jesus died at the Passover, and John the Baptist’s bloody death pointed forward to that of Jesus.
While John’s body was without a head, this morning, I invite you to think of what it would be like to have a head without a body. In pre marriage counseling, I often ask couples if the husband is going to be the head of the wife, and most often they say no. Next, I ask “if the husband is the head, what does that make the wife?” The men usually stay quiet at this point. A few of the ladies will answer “foot” and at least one answered, “rear end.” At which time I gently remind the ladies that if the husband is the head, the wife would be the body. Unless you want to have two heads and no body. Or a head without a body. Which brings us to the metaphor I want you to think about today, which is that Christ is the Head and the Church is the body. And to our sermon theme today, Christ’s Work, Yet Our Hands. Two lessons I invite you to learn today, both stated in terms of paradox.
First, Christ does all the work, yet we get the (marching orders). At the heart of Christianity is that we ae saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ, but faith never comes alone. Salvation is a free gift that can in no possible way be earned or deserved, and yet we are challenged in Scripture to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus did everything necessary to save our sorry souls, and yet it is necessary that we spend our days feeding the hungry and giving a drink to the thirst and visiting those sick and in prison. When Jesus cried out on the cross that “It is finished,” He said what He meant and He meant what He said. And yet the Church’s New Testament work was just beginning. Christ suffered all that we should have suffered, yet He looks us in the eyes and says, “get ready to suffer and to be rejected and to be persecuted on my behalf.” He died the death that we deserved to die, yet turns and declares, “if any would be my disciples, get ready to deny yourselves and for your crosses to be heavy.” Christ has defeated in complete fashion every one of our enemies, yet there is a battle for every one of us to fight in every one of our days on our way to realizing the final victory.
Christ does all the work, yet we get the marching orders. One way of summarizing our marching orders is that our assignment is to gather those who wish to be (scattered). In today’s Old Testament lesson, God was railing against the shepherds of Jeremiah’s day for destroying and scattering the sheep of His pasture. It was and is and ever shall be in the very nature of sheep to stray from green pastures into what they mistakenly think are yet greener ones. And in Jeremiah’s day, the religious leaders were famous for compounding the problem by teaching falsely. They preached neither Law nor Gospel. They fed their own fat faces and neglected the needs of their flocks.
Their flocks were as sheep without a shepherd, a reality which broke God’s heart in Jeremiah’s day, broke the heart of Jesus in His day, and should break our hearts in every one of our days. Listen carefully, the fact that people reject their shepherd doesn’t make them any less dependent, or less of a sheep. It simply makes them like sheep without a shepherd. One pastor said it this way, “to think that we are the masters of our own destiny and that we are safe within the cocoons we have woven around ourselves makes us in fact prey to every philosophy, every ism, every purpose and cause that dries the hearts and minds away from our God.”
A second way of summarizing our marching orders, as the body of Christ, is to feed people who may or may not realize their (hunger). Back on our little North Dakota farm, one of my winter duties was to carry pails of oats into the feed lots where the calves were growing into yearlings and then be sent off to market. Always they were hungry. Never was it easy to walk through them and into the bunk where we would dump their food for the day. Often it took a kick to their head to get them to make room for the very hands that would feed them.
So also with spiritual hunger. Always we need what Christ would give us, but it often takes the proverbial two by four smashing into our head to get us to realize what is the one thing needful. To those who are not aware of spiritual need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament, Luther gave this advice. 1)Put your hand in your bosom and see if you have flesh and blood. 2) Look around to see whether he is still in the world. 3) Remember the devil will be around you lying and murdering day and night and will let you have no peace within and without.
Mission #1 each day is to be lie down in green pastures, and mission #2 is to invite others to lie down as well. Mission#1 is to be led by the still waters, and Mission #2 is to be constantly inviting others to come to those waters. Mission #1 is to get something to eat, and Mission #2 is to give others something to eat. Which brings us to our Lord’s response when the disciples were urging him to stop preaching and send the people away to get their own food. Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.”
2. We ask the wrong questions, yet Christ gives us the (perfect answers.) If you want to have some real fun with God’s Word some day, just go through the Gospels and write down every question Jesus was asked and how He responded. Rarely did He give a straight answer. Occasionally He gave no answer at all. Often He would answer questions with what seemed like a totally unrelated question. Always He would answer in perfect fashion. Today we have three questions that may or may not be good questions and our Lord’s perfect answers.
Although Jesus wanted to get away with his disciples for a time of rest and debriefing from their recent mission trip, he saw the crowds coming after Him and went to Plan B – which according to Mark was to teach them many things. Matthew and Luke add that he healed the ones without strength, and Luke says that he spoke unto them of the kingdom of God. When the disciples thought he had preached long enough, they urged him to wrap it up and send them away. To which He answered, You give them something to (eat.) The kingdom of God is like a man this very day is wondering why there is so much hunger, so much poverty, and so much misery in this world. He is bothered to no end by the idea that a few have so much and most have so little. He does with His questions to His Lord, and Jesus answers, “You give them something to eat.” Christ’s Work, Yet Our Hands.
The second question Philip asked on behalf of the disciples was “Shall we pool our money and go out and buy some bread? In other words- You are asking us to do the impossible and why don’t you get real. To which Jesus answered, Go and see (how many loaves you have) The kingdom of God is like a woman who is wondering how she is going to get everything done / how long she can keep on taking care of her family and doing her job and dealing with all of the challenges in her life. To which Jesus answers, “go and see how many loaves you have.” Or to say it another way, “go off into your private place and count your blessings, and then come back to me with an answer.”
When the disciples come back to with the answer that they have found five bread cakes and two fish, they expect Jesus to admit the obvious. But He speaks the opposite of the obvious, Tell them to sit down (in groups) The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town that does many things well, but keeps on falling short. They work hard and they play hard and they laugh hard and they cry hard and at the end of each week, they come back together with the obvious – once again and in ever increasing fashion, they have messed up. They expect Jesus to agree with Him. He tells them to sit down in groups. He takes the little bit of bread and fish they have brought and He looks up to heaven and says a blessing. He breaks the loaves and gives it to their pastors to set before the people. They eat and they are satisfied. Christ’s Work, Yet Our Hands.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther