February 13 and 14, 2016
First Sunday in Lent
Romans 10: 8b-13“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
My aunt Linny was a favorite aunt kind of a lady. She was the life of the party. She was a woman of strong faith who lived the last 45 years of her life as a widow. She was one of the dearest Christian women I have ever known, and I’m certain I could find another 200 or 300 people in the Wahpeton ND area who would absolutely agree with me. But there were at least that five mistakes you would never want to make with Aunt Linny (her actual name was Gerlinda Wilhemina Magdalena Mindeman Luebke, by the way). #1- you never wanted to touch her hair. #2 – you never wanted to cause her to miss her Thursday morning hair appointment. #3 – You never wanted to splash her hair while swimming in the lake or pool. #4 – You never wanted to comment on her age or ask her how old she was. And #5 - You never wanted to ask her who she voted for. I asked her that question after a presidential election one year, and I thought she was going to do bodily harm to me. Her exact answer was “that’s none of your blanket blank business.” And when I stuttered a follow up question, she told me in no uncertain terms that politics and voting was a private matter. Who you voted for was nobody else’s business. Since that conversation, I have remembered learning from one of my great uncles that there were actually three taboo subjects in our family – sex, politics, and religion. Sex, politics, and religion, at least in my family, were considered to be not only personal, but private matters, absolutely ineligible for open and honest conversation.
I tell you that story about my family so that I can tell you another story, a story that invites you to think about what it means to live in a society where just about everything is to be tolerated except for traditional values. Where just about every idea is to be accepted except for the idea that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one can be accepted into heaven except through Him.
The story to which I refer happened about 6 years ago, when the famous golfer Tiger Woods was caught red handed by his wife cheating on their marriage. All kinds of hell broke loose in his personal life, and as a result all kinds of journalists and pundits weighed in. Tiger Woods happens to be a Buddhist, and so Fox News Anchor Brit Hume weighed in by recommending that Tiger should seek his answers instead in Christianity, saying, “I don’t think that the Buddhist faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith, and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”
The reaction against Brit Hume came fast and furious. Jay Brookman of the Atlanta Journal Constitution asserted that “faith is a private matter between that person and God, and is not a matter to be judged by some pompous TV anchor.” Bookman called Hume “rude and crass” and guilty of “bad manners.” An anchor from a different TV David Shuster maintained that Hume had somehow “denigrated” and “diminished” Christianity. USA Today religion writer Cathy Grossman asserted on her blog that the commentator Brit Hume was “talking trash.”
And so what some would consider “talking trash” we would consider confessing that Jesus is Lord. What some would consider really bad manners, we would consider simple and true testimony to the fact that they and only they who call on the name of the one true God will be saved. What some would consider bigoted and extreme religious views, we consider the best news that could ever be delivered.
Jesus said it this way, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. You can no more hide your affection for Jesus Christ than new parents can hide their affection for their infant child. You can no more hide your confidence in your Savior’s Easter Sunday’s victory than the Denver Bronco fans can hide their joy in their team’s recent Super Bowl victory.
The fact that God has raised His Son from the dead may not be all that recent, but it is historical and never to be forgotten, never to be denied, never to be ashamed of, never to be kept to ourselves. Could you imagine possessing a bottle of pills that would cure breast cancer or colon cancer or you name it cancer and keeping it to yourself? Can you imagine knowing the perfect strategy for preventing war or doing away with terrorism or eliminating drug and alcohol addiction and considering it a private matter not to be released into the general public?
In Matthew 10, Jesus was releasing His 12 disciples out into the general public, and their assignment was clear. What He told them in the dark, they were to say in the light. What He whispered in their ears, they were to proclaim from the housetops. They were to never forget that the very hairs on their head were numbered, that not a single sparrow would fall to the ground without their Father’s permission, that they were way way more valuable than many silly sparrows, and then Jesus looked them in the eyes, and said it this way, “So everyone who confesses me before men, I also confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Saving faith – personal but by no means private.
This past Wednesday evening, the grandson of one of our members, Marlyn Gekeler, died in a car accident near Germantown, Ohio. Zach was 20, and if my memory serves me correctly, he was baptized as an infant in this sanctuary. His mom Andrea poured out her broken heart the next day on Facebook, I am at a loss for words…I hurt, so very much my son. I don't know how I am supposed to go on doing my day, without you. I woke up this morning and checked my phone to see if you texted me. I look out in the driveway for your car. I listen for the fan in your room to know you made it safe, but the fan is silent. The house is dark, my heart is broken. I don't know how to do this. I don't know where to go. I've longed to hear your voice, I wait for you to walk up the sidewalk. I don't know why you had to leave me, but I know I will never, for the rest of my life feel whole again. ….even though I know this is real, I can't wrap my mind around my worst nightmare that has come true. I never imagined you would go before me. I never imagined this would be my life.
The kingdom of God is like Christian pastors and family and friends who are surrounding and loving and encouraging and lifting up those parents bent low with grief. With their hearts they are believing that God has raised His one and only and beloved Son from the dead, because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, it is also true that He is Who He said He is, the very Son of God……and because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, it is also true that everything the Bible says is true ………and because the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, it is also true that the sins of those who have been baptized and are believing have been forgiven……and because Zachary was baptized into the Name of the Triune God, it is true that God has been faithful to the promises He made in Holy Baptism, and because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, so shall Zachary rise again from the dead.
The Kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where hurting and broken sinners get tempted in every one of their days to live by bread alone, but in their hearts, they know there is a better way. They get tempted in every one of their days to bow down before the gods of pleasure and entertainment, but from their mother’s knees they have been taught there is only one God deserving of their worship. They get tempted in every one of their days to keep the forgiveness of sins to themselves, but the Word of the living God is near them. It is in their hearts and it is in their mouths. As often as they hear that word, they find that their hearts are believing and their lips are confessing. Their faith is personal, but by no means private.
Luke 9:28-36, Transfiguration Sunday
Focus: God sends his Gospel through conversation.
Function: that the hearers would engage in conversations of hope.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This is the final sermon in the series developed by Dr. David Schmitt, “Hope Rising,” and in it we’ve explored biblical hope through the lens of Luke – where it comes from, what it points to in the future, and then finally what it makes you change in the now. Sermon five of five is Hope in Holy Conversation, and we follow Peter, James and John as they go up the mount of Transfiguration to see Jesus, first praying, then wrapped in light, with the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, and a voice from heaven booms. And in this beautiful unearthly mountaintop experience we find all kinds of hope flowing from the holy conversation that happened up there.
But first, a word about conversation. Conversation can build up, or it can break down. We know that well, especially in recent days, that the small town living can be either a blessing or a curse, where people know all your business and they use it to hurt you, or they know your business and they come around you to support you.
As Americans, we love it. Case in point, I’ll go ahead and spoil every episode of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” for you right now. This is a drama where the a couple of detectives track down major cases and they inevitably come up with the guy by the middle of the episode, and although the guy doesn’t crack at the beginning, the lead, Vincent D’Onofrio rachets up the pressure on him until in an emotionally scene the accused cracks and yells “Alright I did it, and here’s how.” And the episode ends, every time.
Now, real life doesn’t work like this but I tell you that to tell you this: in our culture, we hold pretty closely to the idea that conversation is powerful, and our storytellers take this to an extreme. In most movies, the bad guys don’t lose because the good guys have better guns. No, usually they have worse ones. The bad guys lose because the good guys win the argument.
So, what kinds of conversations does a Christian have, and to what sort of hope does it lead?
Three parts to our meditation today, from the three points of conversation in our text. First, hope found in prayer. Second, hope found in holy conversation. Third, hope found in correction.
First, hope found in prayer. Let’s look at this interesting detail that Luke gives us at the beginning of the story. This is a story that we find in Matthew and Mark as well, but at the beginning, we find that Luke inserts this little detail: that Jesus was transfigured while he was praying. Jesus had made a habit of prayer, and he often went out alone to pray. At his baptism, during his ministry, when the crowds were following him, before Peter confesses him as the Son of God and many other times in between, Jesus has made a habit of prayer.
Prayer is conversation with God, and it works two ways. First, we make our requests known to God. That’s Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” And second, when you pray, you let God form you.
Just look at the Lord’s Prayer. Hallowed be thy name? His name is already holy. Thy will be done? His will is certainly done. Lead us not into temptation? God tempts no one. It’s a prayer as much about delivering requests to God as it is about aligning what you desire with what he desires.
The kingdom of heaven is like a seven o’clock phone call from a mom chasing her son to the hospital. She can’t breathe. She can’t think. She doesn’t know what’s going on. But slowly and surely, the calm voice of her pastor helps her to put all her cares on her savior, and when she opens her eyes again, she knows what she can do and what needs to be done.
Second, hope found in holy conversation. We turn to the conversation of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Up on the mountain, they talk about Jesus’ death which will lead to life. They talk about it as – and this is the Greek – his Exodus. His departure. His death on the cross. But remember too what Exodus was in Jewish history. It was life. It was freedom. The place of Jesus’ death would be the place of his resurrection.
We see this Holy Conversation centers around Jesus. In their time together, they are speaking the Gospel. They are speaking together words of encouragement, of hope, words of faith and of trust. They are saying everything that was needful to be said.These words are the heart of the Christian message and so they should be the heart of our every conversation, every look, every day, every word, every action.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man coming into a pastor’s office to confess his sins. He can’t look that pastor in the eye as he shares the guilt that’s been on his heart. And with tears in his eyes as he lowered them to the ground, he asked, “Well, Pastor, what do you have to say?” And the pastor said, “The only thing God would let me say – I forgive you.”
Third, hope found in correction. Follow me now to the disciples. They’re heavy with sleep. They awake, disoriented kind of like my son when he wakes up for a nap, you can imagine them wide-eyed and confused to Jesus’ glory and immediately Peter says what’s in his heart to say. He says, Master! – He doesn’t call Jesus Lord, Kyrios but he calls him Master – it is good that we are here. Let’s build booths for you and for Elijah and Moses.
And then catch the next part. While he was saying this. While Peter was speaking, that’s when the cloud enveloped them and God interrupted Peter. Now, stay there for a little bit. God interrupts Peter. How many people could say that they’ve been interrupted by God?
Holy conversation with God means being interrupted by him when he turns you back to the one thing needful. Now, even in Peter’s life it was pretty rare for God to envelope him in a cloud and speak to him. But you better believe that God used the likes of Paul and the other apostles to correct him when he wandered.
Holy conversation means taking correction humbly whether you understand it at the moment or not. Holy conversation means knowing that your Good Shepherd’s rod and staff are there to gently guide where you should go and to keep you from where you shouldn’t. It means that when either joy or tragedy strike in small towns like this one, the people of God would respond in a way that is slow to gossip, quick to help, and happy to stand alongside any – any – who are in need.
The kingdom of heaven is like a group of moms that decided to make a freezer full of meals, so that whoever, whenever, whether they made some mistakes or life just dealt them another blow, can have a meal in the oven, a friendly neighbor at the door, and a knowledge in their heart that the Gospel is much, much more.
So, what do these conversations teach us?
First, holy conversation calls a thing what it is. It is hard for hope to grow when lies about ourselves and others would choke it out. It is hard for hope to grow when your field is full of rocks. And if you’re a marshmallow kind of person like me, you need to hear this. Holy conversation pulls weeds and picks out stones so that the word of God is planted in deep and rich earth.
Second, holy conversation doesn’t withhold God’s grace, ever. Whether a person has done wrong once or a thousand times, all equally deserve God’s punishment. But God gives grace anyways. That’s why it’s called grace. As often as sinners would cry out in their sinfulness, that often God lets grace overflow. As often as the full counsel of God is preached, that often is the universal, untamable forgiveness of God unleashed on a people that absolutely needs it.
Third, holy conversation not only expresses its requests to God; it works to form us to God’s will. He corrects. He guides. He aligns us with who he is, so that he makes us to look like the hope he holds out for us. We begin to look like what we long for now, until the day of our death, and even on to eternal life.
Amen and Amen.
1 Corinthians 13
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Or text for tonight is 1 Corinthians 13, and we’ve been going through about two chapters so far of Paul’s letter to people in the town Corinth.
Two weeks ago, Pastor Griffin led us through the first part of chapter twelve. He made the case that all gifts are given by the One Holy Spirit. Last week, we looked at the body of Christ and saw that all gifts are given for service within the body.
Today, the point of the text is that all gifts are given meaning by the greatest gift. And that gift is love. But we don’t mean it like that.
Now, what do we mean by gifts? To do that, we should remember who the Corinthians are. They are a talented, rich, and growing group of young people who have a lot of gifts, and those gifts separated the leaders from the followers. They separated those who had a voice from those who didn’t. They separated the cool kids from the dorky ones.
For them, things they wanted were speaking in tongues – to speak in the language of angels. They really coveted the powers of healing and the ability to prophesy – to preach in the present and to look toward the future.
Now, I don’t know how cool you think those things are but I would say that we have a different set of gifts that we want. We’re more likely to be jealous of another person’s silky smooth jump shot, or the way their body looks, or the way they can give some zippy one-liners, or you can fill in the blank.
Paul writes, and read with me verse one: … He says “Gifts without love? They are hollow. There’s nothing to them.” Gifts without love are like a clanging gong. The word for clanging there is onomatopoetic – it sounds like its meaning. The word is alalazon. It’s meaningless babble. And it’s not just the wild and crazy gifts – he turns to prophecy and knowledge– that’s preaching -- and then even to sacrifice. Even if you sacrifice everything you have and your own body, but have not love, you gain nothing.
He goes on to say what love is not. We’re going to skip the first part of verse four, and let’s read together verse four through six starting with “Love does not envy…” Love does not envy – it doesn’t look at someone else’s gifts and wish them for himself. It doesn’t boast – it’s not a windbag. It is not arrogant – it isn’t puffed up. Have you ever seen a puffball mushroom? I remember in Outdoor Ed when we went orienteering and found huge puffball mushrooms the size of a person’s head, and for all their size they were so light that you could pick them up and pop them and they’d just explode. Love is not rude – it gives respect where respect is due. It doesn’t look for its own gain first. It doesn’t dwell on evil. It doesn’t rejoice in evil.
And Paul turns to what Love is. Love is patient. Now, he doesn’t mean a “let it all blow over” patience, or even a “I hope it all goes away” patience – no, he means the kind of patience that a firefighter has controlling the water cannon in front of a blaze. He’s talking about the patience that a basketball player has in the closing seconds of the game when he knows he can’t rush his shot. He’s talking about enduring under pressure. He’s talking about keeping on even when it’s tough to keep on.
And he says, love is kind. Kindness – χρηστευεται – means to work toward another’s benefit. He means Love looks for the good of others, not only when they would ask you but especially when they wouldn’t ask. Not only when it’s the easy thing to do, but also when what’s beneficial to them is the last thing they want to do.
Love looks to replace wickedness with good. It never stops enduring. It never stops hoping. It never stops believing. It never stops persevering. It is relentless. It never stops.
If you looked at these verses, if you replaced the word love with your own name, what would they sound like? Do they sound like you?
I can’t speak for you, but for myself, I fall short. I am often rude when I should be kind. I am more prone to preach about building bridges and to practice burning them.
But thanks be to God because he gives us the victory through Jesus Christ. Love has a name and his name is Jesus. He is love incarnate. He is love with skin and hair and teeth and feet.
Husbands, if you want to see what caring for your wife looks like, see Jesus caring for his body, the church. Wives, if you want to see what gently guiding your husbands looks like, look at Jesus dealing with his knucklehead disciples. Confirmands, if you want to see how to be the best possible friend to your friends, the Christian answer is to look at Jesus befriending all kinds of strange people, never giving the answers that you’d expect, always defending the people that need defending.
And know that before all you’ve done, he did it for you first. Our problem goes deeper than an imperfect love. It goes much deeper than the surface. Every time we fall short of love, we show – and this is the Scriptures talking – we show the rot that’s crept into our souls. I am not well. I am infected with a sin that I don’t know what to do with. It is only when love incarnate came, that he died my death. He took the disease of my sin, and he gave me instead his life.
Paul concludes this chapter by talking about childish ways. (embarrassing story about either Christmas or about McDonalds) I put those childish ways behind me, because I realized how trivial and trite a thing it was to cry over something so small. When you look back in 10, 20, 50 years, what about your life will seem small?
For Paul, it’s not a sentimental thing. Love is being Christ, and love is Christ, and for the love of Christ, He saves you. Amen and Amen.
Written in the book of life
Job 19, 1 Corinthians 15, John 14
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is Revelation 3:5 – “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him her what the Spirit says to the churches.”
The sermon text that I’ve chosen is met by the readings read earlier, the same readings that were chosen for Herb’s wife Betty, when she passed away two years ago January. They tell the tale of a God whose words have weight and of a Savior that conquered the grave. Two stories and two lessons for today as we reflect on the readings before us.
First from Pastor Dahl. I was talking with Pastor Dahl yesterday about Herb, and he said that whenever he came to the old farmhouse where Herb and Betty lived, he would sit down and they would shoot the breeze a little bit, and if you knew Betty and Herb, you knew that Betty did most of the talking. Herb wasn’t much in it for the small talk, at least with the pastor, and so they would talk for a while and it would come time for Pastor Dahl to take out his communion set. He would ask, “Can I offer you communion?” And this part, he says with a twinkle in his eye, Herb would sit up straight. He would bring his hands up on the table, and he would be ready, because he knew that this was the reason for the visit.
Herb knew that there were times to talk about the weather and times to talk about faith. Times to talk about little things and times to talk about big things. Times to let the hours pass by and times to get to the point.
Lesson number one is to remember what you should sit up straight for. Remember what is important in this life. Remember that the most important things of this life aren’t even of this life – they are a foretaste of the feast to come. They are the reason why Job could declare before God and man in the midst of pain, of terrible suffering, “I know that my redeemer lives and at the last I will see him on this earth.” They are the reason why all those baptized into the blood of the lamb can depart in peace, for his word has been fulfilled.
As often as we remember when salvation washed over us like the water of our Baptism, salvation is ours. As often as we recite the truths of the Bible that we’ve learned from our mother’s knee, those promises become real again. As often as we taste the bread and drink the wine, forgiveness is ours in bodily form. As often as we hear the weighty and true words of Scripture that point us toward a Savior who lived, died, and was raised to life for us, his resurrection is ours.
Second, from this last week. I talked to Gary before the Wednesday service, and he indicated that Herb had been going downhill, and asked that I come. After service, I came down and about 8:00 we spoke the Apostle’s Creed and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. I made the sign of the cross both upon Herb’s forehead and upon his heart, the same sign of the cross made over him in his baptism, marking him as one redeemed by Christ crucified. We prayed, and I left Gary and Jeff as they settled in for the night. It was the next day when I heard that the night was not long. His breathing had slowed, and he passed away moments after I left.
It is never ours to know the day or time when our loved ones pass away, but know this: that our Lord and Savior had been preparing Herb’s room in his Father’s house since before he was knit together in his mother’s womb, and he would bring him home in his time. Herb’s name had been written in the book of life, and no one, absolutely no one, could blot it out.
Lesson number two is to trust our Savior to do exactly what he needs to do for you, exactly when he needs to do it. Whether you know the reasons yet or not. Whether it seems to make sense or not. Whether it meets your expectations or not. He is the way, he is the truth, and he is the life, and he will guide you along at his pace, in his time, to his end, even unto eternal life.
It is in the cross of Christ that our Savior proves to be stronger than the strength of men. It is in the cross of Christ that our Savior proves to be wiser than the wisdom of men. It is in his death and resurrection that our Savior guides us along in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He has faced the valley of the shadow of death for us. And he has won.
Today, I invite you to rest in the promises of God knowing that his goodness is beyond measure. I invite you to take ahold of the peace that passes understanding, knowing that our Savior holds us in his hands already. Stay here today as we speak words about life and death, words that matter, and as we rejoice as we cling to the promise that our Savior has brought life out of death, and in the last all those clothed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness have their names written in the book of life and will stand to see our God face to face.
Focus: Jesus Christ brings hope to every place.
Function: that the hearers find hope in every place
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Today we continue in our five-part sermon series focused on distinctively Christian hope – Where it comes from, what it points to, what it makes us do now. This is the fourth of five, Hope In Every Place.
Where do you expect to find God?
I can tell you most often where American culture would like to find God: nature. It would have you climb up into a tree stand at 4 in the morning to see the sun creep up over the horizon. Our culture would have us climb mountains and stand under waterfalls to feel transcendence. It would have you go to the same places every culture would have you go, to ancient places, to rare places, down into the depths or up in to the highest heights.
And also, I can tell you what the Christian answer is: Church. And I can tell you what one friend of mine said when I asked him about his summer Sunday morning routine, which involved one or two rounds of golf, and he said: Paul, wouldn’t you rather me on the golf course thinking about church than in church thinking about the golf course?
Now, that’s a smart-alecky response, but it helps us remember how Christians usually think of church. We think of it as a place filled with all kinds of beautiful artwork and reminders of God’s promises, and it’s a place where pastors do their thing, where members come to worship, where God comes to us in Word and in Sacrament, and where people leave worship to serve God in their daily lives.
Dear Christian friends, the text we have before us is a text where Jesus reconciles these two views, but he doesn’t do it how you would think he would. Last week, Jesus had been in Capernaum and all kinds of small towns before coming to Nazareth and doing much the same thing in Nazareth that he had been doing around other places, and in last week’s text, we saw Jesus go to work preaching. This week, we see all the other kinds of ministry that his preaching led to.
You see, Jesus didn’t enter into a vacuum when he was born of a virgin, grew up, and began his ministry. He came, preceded by the prophets, preceded by John, preceded by the temple, the synagogues and all kinds of opportunities for his people to hear the words about him, day in and day out. When he comes, he comes into the midst of his people so that he can bring those words to life.
And then things get real. First, the Spirit leads Jesus to a synagogue to preach and a man with an unclean spirit shows up. And then, the same word that had just explained the Scriptures in a new way – and with authority – is the word that rebukes the demon and restores peace.
Second, the Spirit leads Jesus into Simon Peter’s house to see his mother-in-law, and the same word that had rebuked the unclean spirit now rebukes a fever and brings peace, a peace that lets Simon’s mother-in-law to heal so completely that she return immediately to normal life.
And after rebuking all kinds of physical and spiritual ailments, third, the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert where the purpose of Christ once again becomes clear. He’s no physician who heals himself – His father is sending him to other towns still.
So, where does this get us with our question? Where do you expect to find God?
Well, it seems as though the first place that we found God in our readings for today was in the synagogues. The same God who had been with his people in the flame of Moses’ day also filled the temple of Solomon’s day with the cloudy train of his presence and the same God who filled their hearts with sorrow and joy in the reading of the book of the Law in Nehemiah’s day also gathered his people in synagogues to be with them as they remembered his promises to them in the day of Jesus.
Because back then as well as today, Church isn’t a place; it’s a people. It’s a people that gather around God’s word so that they listen with their ears and believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord and let that simple confession of the early church fill their hearts and their lives.
So, first, our answer to this question is to say that we find God where he promises he’ll show up and he says, where two or three are gathered, there I will be. He says, you are the body of Christ and all of you are body parts in the body of Christ. He says, find me in the bread and body, the wine and blood that I’ve shed for you. He says, find me in the waters of baptism that wash over you to deliver to you a faith that reaches far, far deeper than simple understanding. It delivers to you a relationship we can only begin to describe by calling God “Father.”
If it doesn’t start here, it doesn’t start. If it doesn’t come from the promises that God has told from the beginning of humankind, then as Paul says, It is a false gospel told by a false angel, and as a starting point, it’s worthless. The hope that flows from the second person of the Trinity and his ministry is the same hope that the Father has sent through the Son and now delivers to us in the Spirit. If it weren’t then it wouldn’t be hope.
But notice in our text where Jesus goes. From the gathered congregation around, he brings the church to all kinds of places. He takes them to the daily places of their lives – “to the privacy of Peter’s house, to the common streets of the city, and then in the roads that travel to [all kinds of] other places in the world.”
From the Word spoken in the synagogue, Jesus does something remarkable. Second, our answer follows Jesus from the synagogue to the streets. He begins to claim the whole world as his own. He rebukes demons and fevers. He is absolutely letting His word do its work wherever he would go. Because he’s on a mission to save the whole world, first the Jews, then the Greeks. First to redeem man, then to redeem the whole kit and caboodle. And this is important. “Jesus claims all places in him as places where he can bring hope.”
Do not be afraid to walk highways and byways with Christ. If you are searching for the church, you need look no further than the people of Christ doing the things of Christ. You need look no further than Christian carpenters making really good tables, you need look no further than kind and generous people hurting for others and rejoicing with others, you need look no further all kinds of broken and hurting people hearing as for the first time the promise of God’s forgiveness, and that can happen at any time, in any place where the people of God are listening to the Word of God.
Third, notice that Jesus doesn’t just go to these places. He transforms them. He fills them. Where unclean spirits would torment men, Jesus leaves a trail of people-made-whole. Where ailments would pull people onto hospital beds, Jesus leaves a trail of people grateful to God for how hope had come to their place. When he searches out among the common streets and the highways, they become the holiest temple of God, where God’s word is spoken, where the release of the kingdom of heaven changes lives, where God himself shows up in his promises, and where people lie prostrated on the ground worshipping their God. He brings hope to many places and then that hope transforms them.
C.S. Lewis writes it like this: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has rise: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Knowledge of God and worship in his word transforms every place, whether it’s beautiful or common, into a place of worship. But it does so not as to replace his word but as an extension of it.
This is the reason why we teach our children memory verses – so that those verses and stories follow them around all their days. This is the reason that we remember feasts and festivals, why we speak the same rich words week in and week out. So that, when we really need them, the words are there. They come to life in a way that took years of repetition to deepen.
And I would ask you to hold one last insight: Christ is there before his disciples and followers. That is, the people following Jesus around are following him around. They trail where he leads. And more than that, as Jesus walks around, he is led by the Spirit on his path and the Father sets all kinds of people in his path.
One of the prayers that our office people pray at the beginning of our day together is that God would bless all the god-ordained divine appointments we have today, whether we scheduled them or not. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you are joking, talking, laughing and crying with people within whose lives our Lord and savior is already moving, working, and guiding. The God of the universe precedes you into their lives, and he will be there working even after you are gone.
So, in our days, I would urge you to pray this prayer: Dear God, Thank you for letting me be a part in this person’s life. Please show me where you are already working. Lead me to be a part of what you’re already doing, and when we part, please keep on following them around with goodness and mercy all their days. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther