“For the Glory of God”
John 11:1-4 11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Dear Christian Friends,
The death of every loved one is a terrific time to think about what matters a lot and what matters not so much. To think about who we are and why we are and where we have been and where we are now and where we are going. The Bible says that there is a time to be born and a time to die, and this week we know on the one hand that it was Angie’s time to die and on the other hand that she has been born again into a new and better life. The Bible says that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, and this week is your time to spend time both weeping and laughing. Weeping because the wages of sin is death, but laughing because the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Weeping because death stings and stinks and separates, but laughing because in Christ there is forgiveness of sins and resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
One of the values of the funeral process is that we do our crying and our rejoicing as the family of God, and we do it together in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In every family there are stories to be told of good times and not so good. Stories that are for better and for worse, stories of sickness and health. Stories of days so full of joy we don’t want them to end and stories of days so jam packed with suffering that it seems as if they will never end. This morning I invite you to think through with me three stories – the story of Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, the story of Angelica, and the story of you and me and how every one of these stories is to be told for the glory of God.
Mary from Bethany is famous for sitting at Jesus feet, for listening carefully to the teachings of her Master, and for being commended by Jesus for choosing what mattered a lot. In contrast to Sister Martha who could not sit still as long as there was food to prepare and was scolded by Jesus for choosing what mattered not so much. Mary was famous for loving Jesus so much she poured expensive perfume on the head and then feet of Jesus and then wiped his feet with her hair. For which she was praised by Jesus for doing a beautiful thing. Her story would be told in memory of her, Jesus predicted, wherever this Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world. Mary was famous for staying home and crying when her brother Lazarus died, in contrast to Martha who aggressively went out to drill Jesus with questions. Our Lord’s response to Martha was to teach, and in response to Mary, when He saw her weeping, John records that “He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly trouble.” Jesus asked where they had laid the dead brother, and when they answered, He shed quiet tears as well. The rest of the story, as you well know, is that there was a resurrection of a dead man that day, and the bottom line of this story is that this illness and temporary death was for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.
Angelica from Germany/ Mankato / Iosco Township is famous in her pastors’ minds for sitting still and letting God be God. For listening carefully to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and stepping forward with a broken heart to her Lord’s Supper. In contrast to so many of us, me included, who are so often so very busy doing that which is secondary that we don’t have time to do that which is primary. Angelica is famous in many of your minds for cutting hair with style, with grace, and with mercy. She is famous for listening well, for encouraging in a regular sort of a way, for taking time to smell the roses even though there were all kinds of thistles to pull. She is famous for holding fast to her family and to her friends and to forgiveness, in contrast to so many of us, me included, who spend so many of our days distracted, discouraged, and dismayed.
A few of us were privileged to read through 50 or more pages of Angie’s letters written in the form of prayers to her dear Lord God. It’s clear that over the years, the Holy Spirit had worked in her heart a faith that held on tightly to her Savior. Again and again she cried out for Jesus to stay close to her and loved ones. Over and over she was thankful for doctors, caregivers, and nurses, thankful for God’s creation and Jesus laying down His life, thankful for yesterday and today and the days she failed to write in her notebook, thankful for the sermons and the sunshine and the Spirit of God, thankful for Steve and for Walter and for Brooke and for Alex and for Garrett and for Courtney and for mother and sister and brother, thankful for springtime and for earth and for water and for sky and for galaxies and universes, thankful! Without end, she prayed for strength to bear what was so painful, patience to deal with the faults of others, for safety in every one of her days, for California to get some rain, for God’s help to be one of His chosen, and her final recorded petition on the Evening of Pentecost, May 24, “Please, dear Lord, can you teach me patience please.” Steve wanted you to know what Angie wanted you to know – that her suffering and death would draw you closer to your Savior and God forbid that the opposite would happen. In the words of our text, that her death would be as the death of Lazarus was, for the glory of God. There is little doubt in my mind, that if given a chance to end her earthly story the way she wanted to, Angelika would anoint her Lord’s body from head to toes with the most expensive fragrance she could find and as Mary did, then get down on hands and knees and wipe His feet with her hair.
Which brings us to your story and to mine, in closing today. I don’t know who all of you are, where you have all been, where you are today in your journey of faith, or where exactly you are headed in life. But we do know that it is God’s great desire for every one of you that you would spend your days living for the glory of God and for the building up of His people. We know that for many perhaps all of you, your story includes that you have been claimed by the Triune God as His very own in the waters of Baptism. We know that Jesus Christ will follow you around with goodness and mercy in every chapter of life. We know that in days of smooth sailing He is wanting to work in you a spirit of gratitude and that in stormy days He is working in your heart a healthy dose of humility. We know that the same Father who spared not His only Son for you will give you all good and necessary blessings with a perfect sense of timing. We know that as often as you cry out for mercy, mercy will be yours. We know that every time you get too full of yourselves the devil and his demons stand up and cheer and that every time you admit your faults and failures, the angels and archangels will party as if there is no tomorrow. We know that every one of your sins has been paid for and not a single one of your bad habits is so bad that the Spirit of God cannot help you overcome it. We know that every one of the hairs on your head has been numbered and that your God has this deep and abiding desire that you live your days feeling precious and chosen. We know that what God ordains is always good, or as Grandma Martha likes to say, “There’s a reason for everything.”
We know that the language in heaven will be German – well actually I’m not sure of that one. Let’s do that one over – we know that there are mansions in heaven on reserve for every German and for people of all tribes and nations who have been called, gathered, enlightened, sanctified, and kept in the one Christian faith, even as Angelika Luise Kintzel Milbrett was called, gathered, enlightened, sanctified, and kept close to her dear Lord Jesus Christ. May God send His angels to be with every one of you in the days ahead, that the wicked foe may have no power over you. May God’s Spirit do and permit whatever He needs to do and permit in your life that will keep you close to Jesus Christ, and may Angelika rest in peace. Amen.
SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Dear Christian Friends,
I really don’t know too much about face to face rejection other than the one time years ago when I walked into a nursing home room to visit an older man with whom I had a polite but not perfect relationship. He wasn’t a member of the Church and he had not asked me to visit him. As I walked into his room with Bible in hand, I could see his eyes strain to see who I was. When he recognized me, his eyes started to grow angry. I started to say, “good morning Mr. So and So, how are you today. But before I could even get his name out, he hollered with a raspy voice, “Get out of here!” I thought maybe he mistook me for somebody else and started to say that I was interested in having a little prayer with him, but again the command came through loud and clear and angry, “Get out of here!” No, I didn’t take the time to shake the dust off my feet. And yes, did take a few minutes before my heart stopped racing and I could process what had just happened.
This morning, I invite you to process with me first of all why Jesus was rejected by his home town folks, why Paul was rejected by so many first century folks, and why the Christian Church seems to be increasingly rejected in this land of the free and home of the brave. Secondly, I invite you to think through with me, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, how Jesus reacted to rejection, how Paul reacted to persecution, and how we should react as individuals and as a congregation when our message is not received.
Question #1 - Why is there such a rejection of Jesus? When Jesus sent out 72 additional disciples two by two, he said it this way, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Matthew records Jesus reassuring his disciples that they are absolutely valuable to their Father in heaven and ought not be afraid, and then adds, “So everyone who confesses me before men, I also will 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.” It’s no small matter when people drift away from and will not listen carefully and believe Biblical teaching.
First question of the day again – why was there and why is there and why shall there ever be here on earth a rejection of Jesus and His Bride the Church? Three reasons come quickly to mind.
Reason #1 - Satan is always on the (attack). In the story of Job, Satan’s agenda was to cause so much suffering in his life that he would do as his wife said he should do, “Curse God and die.” Praise be to God that Satan’s agenda backfired and to this very day, millions of believers are studying Job’s story and learning to patiently suffer whatever afflictions come their way. In the story of Paul in our Epistle lesson for today, Satan’s agenda was to harass and to torment / original language uses the word “fisticuff” blows to the body / to get Paul to quit preaching the power of the cross. Praise be to God that Satan’s agenda backfired and to this very day, millions of believers are studying Paul’s writings and believing that God’s grace is sufficient for them. While it is true that we wrestle against forces of darkness that can be powerful and ever so frightening, it is also true that Jesus Christ has wrestled the perfect fight and come out on top. We are as weak as we can be, but He is strong. Paul’s conclusion has to drive the devil crazy, “therefor I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Reason #2 there is wholesale rejection of the Christian message is that we live in a world that has always been inclined towards evil. It is inclined that way in this generation, and this side of paradise, it shall always be inclined in that direction. To say it another way, it seems as if we live in a (Nazareth culture). Why Jesus’ hometown people rejected Him isn’t entirely clear. Initially there was a positive reception, but somewhere in our text, everything changes. No doubt some thought Jesus was just a crazy man. Others seemed to think his power source was demonic. Yet another factor was that they lived in a social system was status was fixed at birth. Who you were at birth defined who you would always be. In the minds of many, it was simply impossible for Jesus the son of a carpenter to amount to anything special. One author Eugene Peterson translated it this way, “Because people think they know who Jesus is, they end up asking disdainfully, “Who does he think he is.”
Why such rejection of Jesus? Reason #1 was the devil and his nasty demons. Reason #2 was and is a world of sinners conceived in iniquity, born in sin, and inclined towards evil from their youth. Reason #3 is our own sinful nature. Many days our worst enemy is (us). Jesus was despised and rejected by His generation for doing what was good, right, and proper. He taught truth in a perfect fashion, and people just didn’t want to hear it. Still to this day, there will be times when we will be rejected for doing what is right, it’s also true that we will be rejected for doing what is wrong.
Christianity in the western world is in deep trouble. In America over 1/4th of adults have left the religion of their youth, most for no religion at all. In Europe, many grand cathedrals and basilicas are more like mausoleums than thriving centers of worship. A pastor Rick Morley has suggested the root problem to be trust. He points out that the Roman Catholic Church has been embroiled in a child sexual abuse scandal…that evangelical pastors who have railed against homosexuality have been found to seek male prostitutes…that we have high profile church leaders saying that hurricanes are the result of gays and abortions….and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The Bible teaches us to let our light so shine before others that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven. And vice versa is true as well, as often as church going Christians fall into darkness, people will see our hypocrisy and want nothing to do with organized religion. They see us coming with Bibles in our hands and self-righteousness in our hearts and say to us in a variety of ways, “Get out of here! Don’t be preaching to me. I just don’t want to hear it today.”
Which leads us to our second and final question. How shall we react when our message is rejected? When Jesus was rejected by His home town folks, he doubled down. He went to other villages and kept on teaching, whether people received it or not. He kept on healing and helping, whether folks believed Him or not. He sent out the Twelve and later on 72 disciples two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He urged them to travel light and not to worry about their pension plans. Don’t be spending your time and money shopping for clothes, but as one sinner talking to another sinner, do be telling them to repent. If they won’t listen to you, shake the dust off your feet and warn them that a heap of trouble is coming their way. And move on with absolute confidence that the grace of God is sufficient for you.
Dear friends in Christ, how shall we react to the news that church attendance is declining and immorality is increasing? How shall we react to folks who do not want to hear that that the Bible is still true, that the Ten Commandments still apply, and that traditional values should be defended? How shall we react to our neighbors and friends and co-workers who have concluded that we really don’t care about them, that we are full of self-righteousness, that we are more concerned with building fancy buildings than we are with showing mercy to the down and the out? How shall we react to good and decent people who say that they believe in God, but not so much in the Church? Three reactions the Spirit of God would teach us today. To keep on repenting, to keep on teaching, and to keep on trusting.
First, to keep on (repenting). Collectively and individually, we have much for which to be sorry. We have reason to be sorry for the bad habits we have fallen into and the good habits we have failed to form. We have been quiet when we should have spoken up and spoken up when we should have been quiet. We have prayed in our quiet places when we should have been marching in the streets and marched in the streets when we should have been praying in our quiet places. We have judged people when we should have tolerated and tolerated when we should have pronounced the judgement of God. We have dishonored marriage in wholesale fashion in our heterosexual kind of ways and then blamed the gay community as if they were worse sinners than we. Collectively and individually, we learn again today to be ever so concerned about the speck in our brothers’ eyes, but only after we have removed the log out of our own. Yes, we want to keep on repenting. Can I get an amen to that?
Secondly, we keep on (teaching). Our chosen theme this year is “With Burning Hearts.” For the next 12 months, we want to be informed by a particular Bible story of the risen Jesus coming alongside of two disciples on the road to Emmaus. To be informed by Jesus the Master Teacher as He asks really good questions, as He listens carefully to their stories, as He explains to them truths they had learned but forgotten, as He breaks bread with and reveals His heart to them. And so their hearts burned as they rehearsed in their minds what Jesus had taught them. Our assignment in this place is to keep on rehearsing in our minds what we have been taught from our mother’s knees and to keep on teaching. In this year, we would teach what has always been taught – and to do so with hearts on fire for the one message that matters. The message that the grace of God is sufficient and not to be taken lightly. That the love of Jesus Christ is for everybody but only benefits those who receive it. That if we’re going to follow Jesus Christ, there will be rejection, but that rejection ought not sour our attitudes.
Which leads us to our third and final assignment - Keep on (trusting). Keep on trusting that not a single sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s permission and that you are much more valuable than the sparrow. Keep on trusting that your sins of omission and your sins of commission have been paid for by the son of a carpenter man and that for that reason alone you will be accepted and not rejected on the Last Day in the courtroom of God / the one courtroom, by the way, that matters.
“It could be my last chance!” The kingdom of God is like a man I knew 35 years ago who loved to go on evangelism calls. He loved to knock on doors, to engage in small talk and to get invited into living rooms and make a full-fledged Law and Gospel presentation. But if that wasn’t going to happen, he would do all that he could possibly do to get a word in about Jesus. And almost always there would be an invitation to Church. And the thought that was constantly burning in his soul was this one – with this one person, it could be my last chance to tell them about Jesus. Amen.
Cain and Abel / Genesis 4
Fifth in a Series of 9 Sermons
• Golden Calf rising up out of impatience and desire to have fun / Second Commandment/ God revealing Name to Moses
Third Commandment / Balance between rest and work
Fourth Commandment / Eli failing to restrain sons
• Move into Fifth Commandment / which is aimed at how we deal with our neighbors, especially our enemies who do us harm – Shall we get revenge or let it go? On Last Day, when I was hungry? Etc
• What does it mean to be my brother’s keeper?
• Story of Curtis protecting me from Bill Heitkemp on first day of jr. high football
• Verses 1-5 – God blesses Cain with life and with vocation / Parents must have taught sons to be thankful and to return thanks. First mistake was to bring an offering with a wrong attitude / perhaps a left over instead of firstfruit / perhaps he thought that God could be influenced to answer his prayer with an offering / In any case, devil’s agenda was to get him on the road to murder.
• Verses 6-8 – asks a question and warns him about sin crouching at the door and his need to fight the good fight of faith. We learn here the need to resist temptation early and often. Mistake #2 was to let anger have its way instead of resisting temptation. Lost temper instead of crying out for help to control his temper.
Stories on internet of Chinese man being unhappy with judge’s divorce ruling and smashing his own car outside of courthouse / another wife unhappy that husband wouldn’t take her to lake as promised and so she went on rampage / dairy farmer walking into church with cast on his hand / neighbors who yell and fight and cops are called / husband and wife moving into silent treatment as a way of punishing.
• Verse 9 – Third mistake was to make excuses instead of confessing what he had just done / Adam making excuses as well / Classic case of man drinking because his wife is so crabby and ornery and wife being crabby and ornery because her husband drinks so much. Notice God’s desire to have mercy.
• Verses 10-16 – Mistake #4 was to complain about his punishment rather than crying out for a second chance / or standing up like a man and learning from his lessons. God disciplines, but puts a mark on him / gives him a sign to protect and go with him. God still cares for him with a mark, even as he cared for Adam and Eve by making them clothes to cover their nakedness. Our sign of the cross put on us in waters of Baptism, Invocation, Absolution, Lord’s Supper, Benediction / Conversation with Isaiah and Brianne today – no complaining, rather tears, listening to Scripture, praying that the will of God be done.
• Verses 17-24 – Cain’s family story went from bad to worse / focus on building a city/ fine arts apart from God / revenge / polygamy.
• Verses 25-26 – Story goes back to promise / Seth appointed to take Cain’s place / God’s desire to have mercy never wavered / 4000 years later Savior is born / NT explanation of 5th commandment / all that leads up to murder is to be resisted early and often / our vocation to neighbors is to help and befriend them in every bodily need as a remedy for hurting and harming them in revenge.
• 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[b] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
• Am I My brother’s keeper? Yes, my sister Gail still looks after me / concerned about my health etc / actually nothing noble about that – even pagans do that. Do you know anybody with a drinking problem? Losing his temper problem? Spending money problem? Laziness problem? Drifting away from church problem? Poverty problems? Financial disarray problem? Have you thought about the best way to help them? Have you listened? Walked alongside as one sinner to another sinner?
• The kingdom of God is like a small band of believers who belonged to a large church in a small town. One summer evening they decided to spend the next week looking for people who needed help and to help them. Not as a way of earning God’s favor, but because God had already favored them. They did so not so much out of a sense of duty, but for the privilege of serving their Savior. The more they thought of Jesus forgiving the very enemies who were nailing him to the cross, the stronger their desire grew to love those not so easy to love. They are learning again that they are in fact their brother’s keeper, especially the ones who have fallen and are having a hard time getting up again. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Story #1 - Keep in mind that my parents were baptized into the Name of the Triune God at a young age. They trusted God with almost all of their hearts. They had lived through the Dust Bowl years and World War II with the help of their God. They appreciated and often counted their blessings. Their hope was in the God who had made heaven and earth. And yet on Friday and Saturday nights in the late 60’s their oldest son Curtis was out doing what 19 year olds did in those days – he was drinking beer and he was driving the 30 miles down to Clara City, South Dakota, maybe even buying some beer for other underage drinkers. And there was my mom on the couch crying and worrying and praying, in that order. In those evenings, she was trusting God with almost all of her heart, but she developed the habit of not going to bed until all of her kids were home safe and sound.
I can imagine dad saying to her, “Dorothy, why don’t you come to bed now, it doesn’t do anybody any good for you to get all worked.” To which she would have said very quietly, “Dad, I just can’t sleep.” To which he would have said, “I’m going to bed.”
I could imagine Jesus asking my mom, “Dorothy, where is your faith?” And I can her answering, “My faith is in you, Lord, but I’m just so restless and I love Curtis so much and it seems as though I should stay up and pray. And I can imagine Jesus answering, “Dorothy, I have loved your son before He was ever born. I love him even more than you do. I loved him with my very body and blood at the cross. I will love him all the way into eternity. Trust in my Father, and trust in me. You need your rest. Go to sleep now and please lay your head down in peace.
Story #1- Keep in mind that these disciples already knew that Jesus was all knowing and all powerful. They had already seen with their own eyes a dozen and maybe two dozen and more of their Master’s miracles. They knew that Jesus had been born of a virgin woman. They knew that He could change water into wine and they knew He could drive out demons and they knew he could tell paralyzed men to get up and walk and they would. They knew he could cure lepers of leprosy and they knew he could tell a man with a withered hand to stretch it out and it would be healed. And even more than that, they had seen him interrupt a funeral processional in the little town of Nain. Jesus had left them speechless as He told a sobbing widow to quit crying. He proceeded to tell the dead man to get up out of that coffin, and he got up out of that coffin and began to speak.
Now with all of that in mind and so much more, think about why Jesus would intentionally take his disciples into a boat and then fall asleep and then have them meet up with a storm. Not just a little spring squall, but an overwhelming kind of a storm with hurricane force winds and waves crashing over the sides of the boat and watch as the disciples do everything they can do and they worry and they pray and they get ready to die and finally they wake up Jesus and ask him if he even cares that they’re all gonna die!
Jesus rebukes the wind and then turns to the sea and says, “Be quiet. Put a muzzle on it.” And I wonder if Jesus had a twinkle in His eye when He asked, “Where is your faith? I can imagine them saying, “Oh my goodness, Jesus, our faith is in you, but why do you mess with us like that? We were going down and you’re sleeping, for heaven’s sake! And then Jesus saying, “It was for heaven’s sake that I was messing with you. We’re going to go through worse than this, and I want you ready. We’re going to go through nastier storms than this and I want you never forget that I’m the one who laid the foundations of the earth in the first place. Do not doubt me on this. I’m the one who created the winds and the waves in the first place, and more than that, I have loved you men with an everlasting love and I will love you at the cross with my very body and blood and I will love you all the way into the gates of heaven. I want to get you to the point where you can be calm not only after the storm but before and during.
Story #3 - The kingdom of God is like a man named Harry who works hard and he plays hard and he sleeps hard. Keep in mind that Harry had been baptized as a little boy and he had heard from his mother’s knee that Jesus loved him and that the Bible was entirely true. He believed in God, He really did with almost all of his heart and soul and mind. He tells himself that he happiest when he is putting in long hours and making lots of money and getting ahead in life. By getting ahead, he means that his house is getting paid for and his retirement years will be provided for and oh my goodness the years yet to come he is planning for them to be golden. Some days he feels like something is missing, but his favorite reaction to that is to put in some over time and every once in a while he gets to make a double payment on his house and oh how he loves to manicure his lawn and have his cars clean and shiny. One day out of the clear blue sky, he thought he heard God whisper in his ear, “Where is your faith?”
To which Harry said, “Why, my faith is in you dear Lord. Why would you ask me such a question? Where is your happiness? Well, my happiness is in you Lord. Pretty much anyway. Why are you messing with me like this, Lord? You know I work hard and I pay my bills and I’m a good person. You know that I feel I’m very blessed and I love life. I really do. Are you really happy? Well, life isn’t perfect, but as soon as I get my house paid for and the day is coming when we will retire and then life is going to be really good. Yeah, life is going to be really good someday. And then what? Well, I suppose life will be really good and then I suppose one day my wife and I will maybe get sick, but I’m sure we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. And then what? I don’t know. I suppose one of us will die and that will be really hard, but I think we’ll be ok. What do you mean by “I think we’ll be ok.” Hey God, it’s been chatting, and I really do need to get my lawn mowed, and hey have you heard that song that says, “God is great, beer is good, and women are crazy?” Actually, I think it says that people are crazy. Harry, can I ask a favor of you? Yes. Could you maybe sit still once a day or so and just know that I am God and you are not.
Story #4 - The kingdom of God is like a beautiful young lady who loves her Lord and she loves her family and she loves her life and she loves to be healthy! Keep in mind that she knows so many people who are so less fortunate than she is. That her heart is as grateful as it can be and she almost always takes time to pray and to praise and to give thanks. She runs and she trains and she is attractive and she is faithful and she cares deeply about her neighbors, especially those in need. One week, she doesn’t feel very good and the next week it’s a bit worse and three months after that she has enough symptoms to get her into her doctor. And as weeks of testing turn into a full-fledged storm of cancer washing over her body, she goes again and again to her Lord in prayer. She has so many questions for her Lord, but in so many of her days, she finds God to be silent. She begins to wonder if God has forgotten her. Worse yet, maybe He is punishing her. One day she says it out loud, “Lord, don’t you care that I am dying?” To which He responds, “Where is your faith?”
Lord, you know that I believe in you. Where else would I go for the words of eternal life? Where else would I turn for refuge and strength? Why does this storm have to be so nasty? What should I be doing? Just stay close to me. Sometimes I choose to calm the storm. Always I want to hold you close. Sometimes I will love you with smooth sailing. Other times I will love you by taking you right into the eye of the storm. Sometimes it will seem as if I am sleeping. That’s my way of messing with you, or to say it another way, to get and to keep your attention. Always know that I have loved you before the world ever came to be. I loved you at the cross with my very body and blood. I intend you love you through thick and through thin, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health.
Story #5 – The kingdom of God is like a father who trusts in His Savior and at the same time He trusts in himself. At the same time he counts his blessings and wonders why he so cursed. In the same hour he resolves to be a better dad and throws up his hands and says, “I’m done trying.” Sunday after Sunday, he says amen to the absolution and most Monday mornings he feels like a failure and a flop. As the years fly by, he has developed the habit of taking one step forward and two backwards. Some days he stays calm under pressure and some days he’s a jerk. But whether he has remained calm during the storm or only after the storm had passed, this he remembers every night as he lays himself down to sleep – my help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Amen.
Third in a Series of Sermons – 1) Chosen 2) Sanctified, 3) Unshakeable
Acts 2:22 – 28 – “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken.”
Hebrews 12: 28 – Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Three part sermon series – 1)Chosen to bear fruit that will multiply into eternity, 2)Sanctified and kept and protected and watched over by our Father in heaven, even as we keep our eyes peeled for the enemies of the faith. 3) Unshakeable Christian faith.
CS Lewis talked about three kinds of fear in his book, “The Problem of Pain.” The first kind of fear would be to know you were in danger, if you were told there was a tiger in the next room. The second kind would be if you were told there is a ghost in the next room. Lewis described that fear as “uncanny rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread.” The third kind of fear would be to suppose you were told simply “there is a mighty spirit in the room,” and you believed it. In this case Lewis suggests that “your disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a shrinking away sort of fear and awe in the presence of greatness.
It is this third kind of fear and trembling in the presence of holiness we want to talk about on this Trinity Sunday. The prophet Isaiah seemed to have it in our first lesson appointed for today. Peter talked about King David and Christ Himself having it in his Acts 2 Pentecost sermon. And in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus engages in a Good News kind of a conversation with Nicodemus so as to work within him a strong and a steady Christian faith.
It’s the kind of unshakeable faith a man by the name of Foster Walker had obtained. He was a man who accidentally strolled into the scene of a holdup at a store in Memphis Tennessee. All of a sudden, he found himself face to face with a gun in his face and the orders to surrender his money “or I’ll shoot you.” To which Walker answered, “You just go ahead and shoot. I just got done reading my bible, and I have already said my prayers.” The robber stood there frozen and dumbfounded, and Walker walked away unharmed.
It’s the kind of strong and steady and unshakeable kind of faith we would want our school children and our Sunday school children and our confirmation classes students and this weekend our high school graduates to have. A faith that shrinks away in unworthiness and draws near with confidence at the same time. A faith formed by the preaching of both Law and Gospel. A faith that will not be shaken even when the mountains are falling into the midst of the sea and the waters are roaring and foaming and the mountains are trembling. A faith that will not be diminished even when parents are divorcing and grandparents are dying and friends are disappointing. A faith that will be tested by not lessened when plans are failing and dreams are fading and life is overwhelming.
Three questions about what it means to have an unshakeable Christian faith. First, why do we need such a faith? Secondly, how and where does one get it? And third, what does it feel and look like?
First, why do we need such an unshakeable faith? It’s tempting to think that we can get by with a faith that is just ok, just an average “get you by” sort of a faith. Some would call it an “emergency faith” – the kind that really doesn’t cry out to God in regular fashion, but only when we find ourselves in serious trouble.
The people of Nepal found themselves in serious trouble about a month ago when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked their land. 8800 plus were killed. Hundreds of thousands homeless. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re not particularly concerned with people getting clobbered in faraway lands. We may be mildly concerned about the crime rate in Baltimore or the Christians getting executed by Isis in Syria or the flooding in Houston Texas, but our faith is rarely shaken by disasters in the distance.
What is more likely to turn our worlds upside down are the troubles experience by those near and dear. Husbands and wives who fight like cats and dogs. Friends and family dying of cancer. Neighbors getting killed in car or farm accidents. Bills that are getting paid, threats of utilities getting shut off, bankruptcy not far away. The problem with having just a “get you by” sort of a faith is that Jesus Christ didn’t do all that He did so that you can barely survive life. He came that you might have life and that you might have it abundantly. His desire is that you be afflicted, but not crushed. Perplexed, but not driven to despair. Persecuted, but not forsaken. Struck down, but not destroyed. Tested but not defeated.
The Bible makes it very clear that in the end times the earth and the heavens will be shaken. Isaiah said it this way, “The foundations of the earth tremble. The earth is utterly broke, the earth is rent asunder, the earth is violently shaken. The earth staggers like a drunken man, it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again.”
Revelation 6 warns, “…behold there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood…The sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place…
Life has always been short and full of trouble. And in the end of times, the Bible teaches that the leash of the devil will be lengthened. The fires of persecution will get hotter. Tribulations will multiply. Which is why we need a faith that is strong and steady and unshakeable.
Which leads us to our second question, How and where do we get such a faith? The simple answer is that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Faith came to Isaiah as God shook him down with a display of Trinitarian holiness and then raised him up with the words of his angel, Behold your guilt is taken away.” Faith came to David as God shook him down through the prophet Nathan telling a timely story and then raised him up with assurance that his transgressions were forgiven and his sins were covered. Faith came to Nicodemus as Jesus challenged him with questions and then laid out for him the plan of salvation.
How and where will our high school graduates get the kind of faith they will need to find their way through the ups and the downs, the successes and the failures, and twists and turns of life? The kingdom of God is like a teenager who has already survived significant setbacks in life and has figured out that every time she admits her faults instead of explaining them away is a time of refreshing. That every day she finds time to be still and spend time in Scripture is a day that goes better. That every week she finds time to listen to a sermon and eat and drink at her Lord’s Table is a week that goes better. That every time she started to wonder if anybody really cared about her or not, she would remember that Jesus Christ lived for her the perfect life she could not come close to living, that Christ suffered for her all that she should have suffered, that her Savior died for her the death she needed Him to die, that Christ rose up for her and ascended into heaven for her and is sitting at the Father’s right hand ruling heaven and earth for her.
First question today was why do we need an unshakeable Christian faith? Second question was how do we get it? Third is what does it look and feel like? For Isaiah it looked and felt like a man stepping forward with his sins forgiven and saying it loud and saying it proud, “Here I am. Send me.” For King David, it looked and felt like a man stepping forward with his sins forgiven and saying it with a conviction not to be denied, “I see the Lord always before me. He is at my right hand, and I will not be shaken!” For Nicodemus, it looked and felt like a man stepping forward with his sins forgiven and helping to provide proper burial for His Savior.
What does it look and feel like to have a strong and a steady and unshakeable Christian faith. The kingdom of God is like that high school graduate who doesn’t really understand it, but as her college years come and go, she is finding that the Spirit of God is working inside of her a heart that fears and loves God at the same time. At the same time she trembles and is relaxed in the presence of the Triune God. She has a growing horror in her heart as she realizes how seriously short she falls from the glory of God, and at the same time she is feeling more and more comfortable in laying her burdens and her worries at His feet.
It’s so good to hear your voice again. Just this week, I received a phone call from a young woman who I hadn’t heard from for ten years or so. She told me parts of her story which included all kinds of trouble, all kinds of financial problems, all kinds of relationship failures. As we began to conclude our conversation, she blurted out, “it’s so good to hear your voice again.” As we unpacked that little statement, she explained that her time in this church and over at our school was a time when she and her son felt safe. In this place, they had listened to the Voice of their Good Shepherd. In this place, they had trembled with fear and been calmed down by grace at the same time. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther