Heaven on Earth: Service of the Word
Third sermon in a series of six
Isaiah 55:6-11 // Romans 10:14-17 // Luke 19:1-10
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You’ll notice that I’m in the pulpit today, and that’s because today we meditate on the Service of the Word, the first high point in the Divine Service. Our sermon pursues all three texts read, especially these words from Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Dear friends in Christ,
We are three sermons into a series on the liturgy, asking why we do what we do, what it means to worship the way that we do, how the liturgy is supposed to form not just this hour but every hour, every day, every year of our lives. And to that end, we study the Service of the Word. I would invite you to turn your eyes to the screen.
One question for our meditation today, two answers. The question we ask of the Divine Service is this: How does the Service of the Word form us? What kind of a pattern is it supposed to make in our lives?
Answer number one for today is that Christ is our down arrow. Answer number two is that our response ought to be “Thanks be to God.”
Christ is the down arrow – he’s God in pursuit of us. That’s what we find in Luke 19. Christ comes to Zaccheus. He pursues him. He invites himself into the man’s house, and then he declares, “The Son of Man came for the purpose of seeking and saving those who are losing themselves to ruin.”
This distinguishes Christianity among world religions. In no other religion but Christianity does God humble himself in order to die for our sins, so that he can pursue the world’s people with his gifts of salvation. In no other religion but Christianity does God wrap us in the robe of his righteousness, for the sake of the blood he shed while we were still sinners.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks that are purused by their savior. Their salvation is wholly in his hands, and they rest in his amazing grace.
It’s like a mother and a father who could be all kinds of worried about how their kids will grow up, but they know that their children are children of the heavenly father, who neither slumbers nor sleeps.
It’s like a bunch of 7thand 8thgraders that are learning again how their God has spent all that only God can spend to purchase and win them from all that can truly hurt them. Christ is the down arrow; he’s God in pursuit of us.
Our response is “Thanks be to God.” That is to say, in every and any circumstance, find a way to be grateful. I think about this in Isaiah 55 – those beautiful words of promise, that as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return to it before they water the earth making bread for the eater and seed for the sower, so shall my word be – this is God talking here – that comes out of my mouth, and here’s the promise God’s make: it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
So, the question is, “What is the purpose of God’s word?” Much of the time when confronted by questions like this, I need to use the theologian’s primary answer: “I don't know.” But for this question, we know well: the purpose of God is that which has revealed as his purpose, as his essence, as his chief quality: his desire to have mercy.
All his Scripture as written to that end. All of his work in the world is to that end. All that our God does to bring this age to a close is so that all would see his mercy.
The trouble, of course, is that there are so many places where that mercy seems very far off, so many times when it seems impossible for us to know what God’s purpose is, let alone to say, “Thanks be to God.” And one of those places was the Siberian prison camp in communist Russia. I want to read you a story, from a priest who died last year.
“Father Placid, a 100-year-old Hungarian priest, a ... happy, gentle man [that] had spent 10 years of his life beaten, starved, and forced into hard labor in an inhumane Siberian prison camp.” What did he do to survive? Four things:
1. Don't complain. It makes things worse. Philippians 2:14-16
2. Find reasons to rejoice (an extra piece of potato in your thin soup; a guard who doesn’t make you remove your hat in the icy wind). Philippians 4:4-9
3. Remember you're never alone. Jesus is with you. Hebrews 13:5
4. Show the guards you're different because of your faith. Matthew 5:16
These principles can help us think and act like Christians whatever our circumstances, freeing us from all types of "prisons."
Thank-you, Father Placid!”
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town full of folks that know their salvation is won by the merit of Jesus alone. They know that this truth doesn't change, and every week they come back again and again to remember it again.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man having a really bad day, the kind of day where everything is going just about as wrong as it ever could, and still it has been his habit to be grateful from the good, to be seeking out when and how to say, “Thanks be to God.”
It’s like a woman who’s first inclination is to let the few bad things in her life color all of the good, but then she steps back, she remembers how her savior has served her, and she can let everything be whatever it is.
It’s like farmers and city folk, young and old, clean cut and shaggy, suits and blue jeans, police and felons all coming into the same sanctuary to hear the same word, to respond the same way and to know that the same savior knows them better than they know themselves, the same savior has paid more than they can imagine for them, the same savior has given them a love that surpasses their understanding.
Thanks be to God.
Amen and Amen.
Confession and Absolution
October 13 and 14, 2018
Second in a Series of Six Sermons / “Heaven on Earth”
I John 1:9-10 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
Dear friends in Christ,
Imagine that you were a college student and that you landed a summer job that paid $50 an hour and that it included washing windows on a high rise apartment building. Now imagine that you were given a choice between two options of how to do your job. Option #1 would be that you would hang onto a rope with one hand and wash windows with the other hand. Option #2 was that a rope harness would be placed securely around your body and you would use both hands to wash windows. Obviously option #1 would require faith in your own ability to hang on tight, and option #2 would require faith in the one who manufactured and installed the harness.
So also do we have at least two options for how to be facing our challenges and living out our lives as Christians. Option #1 is to carry out our vocations in life with our own human strength and to cry out for God’s help as a last resort. Option #2 is to rest in His strength even as we cry out for His help day after day.
Or to say it another way, we rest in God’s grace day after day, even as we cry out to Him for mercy. Last week we focused on The Invocation, where we make the sign of the cross and remember that in Baptism, the Triune God has claimed us to be His very own sons and daughters. Today, as we continue the Divine Service, we do so confessing the truth about ourselves. We don’t just amble into the presence of God as if we belong here, we admit again and again that we have fallen short of keeping the Ten Commandments, we acknowledge that we have missed the mark in terms of loving God with all of our hearts / souls / minds and that we have more often than not loved ourselves more than we have loved our neighbors. To use the language of Option#2, we would not only rest in God’s baptismal grace, we would return to that grace again and again by confessing our sins with every expectation that God’s forgiveness would sweep over our souls and be ruling in our hearts and having its way in our minds.
Three truths we would note in our readings for today about the confession of sins. First, the confession of sins is our duty. Secondly the confession of sins is our privilege. Third, the confession of sins is life changing.
First, the confession of sins is our (duty). To do something out of a sense of duty suggests that it isn’t something we prefer to be doing, it isn’t something we want to be doing. King David preferred not to admit that he was an adulterer, he preferred not to admit that he was a cold blooded murderer, he preferred not to admit that he was a low down liar. It was only when the Holy Spirit got ahold of David through the witness of the prophet Nathan that David realized it was his duty to come clean.
In our Old Testament lesson for today, the prophet Isaiah urges the confession of sins with words like, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean…he says that are sins are like scarlet, they are red like crimson”. In today’s Epistle lesson, John writes that if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we say that we are in fellowship with the light of the world and yet walk in darkness, we are in fact lying and not practicing the truth.
The confession of sins isn’t something that comes naturally, what comes naturally is the explanation of our wrongdoing – tell a boy on the playground to quit hitting the other boy, and more often than not he will explain that the other boy started it. Tell an older sister to quit being mean to her younger sister, and she will explain that the younger sister was being really, really, really annoying. (Story of Eddie and Leroy trying to kick each other in the head in my confirmation class).
Truth #1 today is to learn again that the confession of sins, the coming clean on the subject of our guilt doesn’t happen easily, it is a duty that needs to be commanded and taught. We recognize that what comes naturally when confronted with our failures and our faults is to explain, it is to defend, it is to excuse, it is to rationalize, it is to stay silent.
Secondly, the confession of sins is our (privilege). It is the privilege of called and ordained pastors to speak in the stead and by the authority of Jesus Christ words of absolution. It is the privilege of every Christian to look repentant sinners in the eyes and say that Jesus Christ paid for those sins,(to use Isaiah’s language) though they be like scarlet, they are now white as snow, though they are red like crimson, today they have become like wool.
To use King David’s language, there is no greater joy than to have your transgressions be forgiven, there is no greater joy than to have your sins covered, there is no greater joy than having the judge declare you not guilty.
Dear Christian friends, whatever personal failures or frailties are weighing heavy on your heart today, whatever personal darkness is making your eyes water today, whatever mistakes of the past that are haunting you this morning, know that even as you confess them, forgiveness is yours. Even as you apologize, the angels and the archangels of heaven are rejoicing. Even as you make a promise to do better, your Father in heaven is well pleased, Jesus is holding you close, the Spirit of God is changing you from the inside out. Which brings us to our third and final truth
Third, the confession of sins is (life-changing). The prophet Isaiah makes it clear that once the people of Israel had made themselves clean through repentance, they were to remove the evil of their deeds in God’s sight. They were to cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. The apostle John makes it clear that if we have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, we will be walking in the light and no more in the darkness.
James makes it clear that while it is true that we are saved by faith alone, it is also true that saving faith in Jesus Christ never comes alone. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who gather each week in the Name of the Triune God. Again and again they admit that the good they have wanted to do, they have not – and the evil they have wanted to avoid, they have done. Again and again they hear with their own ears their sins are forgiven, their souls are washed, their debt is cancelled, their status is restored.
The kingdom of God is like a husband who goes home that very afternoon from church, looks his wife in the eyes and admits that he has been out of sorts recently, he’s not sure why, he is sorry, he wants to do better.
It’s like a wife who goes home, looks her husband in the eyes, she admits that she has been holding a grudge, she has no explanation, she feels bad about it, she wants a new beginning.
It’s like people of all ages, all sizes and shapes, all walks of life who go home today, they look their Savior in the eyes, they admit they are broken, they’re messed up, they have no excuses, they are sorry, they wonder out loud if they could have an extra measure of grace.
Praise be to God, their lives are never the same again. Amen.
Heaven on Earth: Invocation
First in a series of six
Acts 2:37-41 // Romans 6:4-8
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We are beginning our sermon series today on the Liturgy. This is the stage-two ouf our annual theme for the year, HEROES, HEaven Reaching Out through Every Saint, and for the last few weeks, we have been walking through parts of the book of Daniel to see how Heaven has been reaching out through Daniel and his friends, in their exile, in a time and a place when their faith looks very different from the culture around them.
And today, we turn to stage two. Stage one we asked, How is heaven reaching out through every saint? Stage two we ask, “How does heaven reach out to us? How does heaven break in tour lives? And the answer is that it breaks into our lives in the Divine Service, in this pattern and order of liturgy that we do week after week, year after year. The words we say and the actions we take here are important; the are supposed to order our actions on every other day.
And so, with that, today we begin at the beginning, with the Invocation. Please direct your eyes up to the video screen for a brief time of teaching.
One question that I put before you today, based on the Invocation and upon our readings, two answers that I would submit to you today.
The question is this: How does the Invocation form us?
Answer number one is that in the Invocation, in the name of God, God names us. Answer number two is that in the invocation, God orients us.
How does the Invocation form us? In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In it, God names us. I think back to the day when my firstborn son was born, September 30th, 2015. You see, we chose not to know the sex of our baby in the ultrasounds leading up to that day, and so we had two girl names picked out, and two boy names picked out, and we thought we would make a decision the day of. And I remember, at 3:12pm in the afternoon, the doctor gathered this little baby up into her arms, she said, “He’s a boy!” I looked at him, and I thought, “He’s a Benjamin.” Laura looked at him and said, “He’s a Benjamin.” It just fit. We looked at him and, here’s the point, there was no other name that we could give to him.
We go to our readings. Look at Acts 2. Remember, this is Peter’s Pentecost sermon, the first sermon of the Christian church, and Peter’s giving it in Jerusalem 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead. Our reading picks up where Peter ends the sermon. But look back a few verses – he says, “this Jesus, whom YOU crucified, God has raised and made both Lord and Christ.” And its very likely that there were people there that day that had been in the crowd before Pontius Pilate, crying “Crucify him, crucify him!” And do you see what this does to the people? Cut to the heart, they say, “Brothers, what are we going to do?” And do you see what Peter tells them? Repent and be baptized. Every one of you.
That is to say, in Baptism, they enter into the Christian life. In baptism, they are covered in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In baptism, all of the sin and stain that they have done, however great it may be, even to the point of killing the author of life, all of that sin and stain is wiped away, and they by the name of Jesus their names are written in the book of life.
God’s name brings you into his family. He calls you: renewed, reborn, redeemed, holy.
How does the Invocation form us? Answer number one is that in the Invocation God names us. Answer number two is that in the Invocation, God orients us.
I can tell you now that in my house, I have two little sermon illustrations running around, and the younger one is named Amos. Amos is now a little over a year old and he has started to walk. But you see, when he sees his dad or his mom, what he does is he will crawl over all the way to you, He’ll climb up your pant leg, and then cling on to you as he takes a step. And as long as you stay there, he’s fine. He’ll take a step, then another step, then another, as long as you’re still there. But if you move – if you try to start cutting potatoes again to make fries, or if you try to sneak downstairs to change the laundry like you should’ve done hours before, then he knows. You see, and here’s the point, ,he orients himself toward you. He looks back to you, and as long as he knows that what’s important is still there, he rests secure.
We go to our text in Romans 6. Here we see the inner workings of baptism, that in Baptism, we die Christ’s death so that we live his life. We are buried with him so that we can be raised from the dead from him, and as the video relayed, this changes our orientation.
For the Christian, you see, the first day of our life becomes not so much the day of our birth but the day of our baptism. The last day of our life becomes not so much the day of our death but the return of Christ when he comes again to give us eternal life. We are oriented toward something entirely different, something entirely other-worldly.
And so, the entire Christian life is a journey between these two bright points, between these two promises. It is a journey that looks backward to baptism and knows that your God has spent all that only God can spend on your behalf to wash you clean of far more than you could know about. It looks forward to Christ’s resurrection and knows that neither death nor life, nor anything in this world and the next can separate me from the love that I find in Christ Jesus my Lord.
It is a journey that orients our weekly worship. It is a journey that forms us into the people of God, caring about the things of Christ, living under the name of Christ. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Heroes: More Than Reality
September 29 and 30
Daniel 6:1-28 / Rev. 5:1-5 / Mark 9:20-25
21 – Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before them, and also before you, king, I have done no harm…So Daniel was taken up out of the den (of lions), and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.”
Dear Christian Friends,
In this three part sermon series, we are exploring our way through the early chapters of the prophet Daniel to see what it means that God has called us to be heroes of the faith, to be part of this grand plan for heaven to be reaching out through every saint into the lives of others near and far.
Two weekends ago, we learned that Christian faith is so much more than the feelings that may be sweeping their way through our hearts, and we examined the question, “In those times of life where it feels as though God is far away, how do we hold onto the promises of God beyond our feelings?
Last weekend, we saw that Christian faith is so much more than the thoughts that might be driving us into a tizzy, and we asked the question, “In a culture that looks less and less distinctively Christian, how do we hold onto the promises of our God beyond our intellect?”
Today we see that Christian faith is so much more than what we are experiencing in our own particular circumstances. We ask one question, “When the things we can see and grasp seem to tell a different story that that of the Gospel, how do we hold to the promises of God?”
Mountain top experiences vs. the “ordinary”
Our three lessons for today give us three amazing stories of mountaintop experiences. In the case of Daniel, surrounded all night by wild and hungry beasts, the Lord sent his angel who literally shut the mouths of the lions, Daniel records that no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in the Lord. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus sees a crowd gathering around a boy who had been tortured by demon possession since childhood, he commands the mute and deaf spirit to leave and never come back, and sure enough, the demon causes one last and terrible convulsion and he comes out. Mountaintop experience #3 of course is recorded in Revelation 5, where the Lion of Judah, aka Jesus Christ offers up a once and for all bloody sacrifice and in so doing, he makes full and complete payment for the sins of the world, he defeats the devil in dramatic fashion, he conquers death itself for all who would be baptized into the promises of God and would hold onto those promises.
Of course, mountain top experiences are few and far between. Almost all of life is ordinary. That is to say, our day to day realities are the norm while dramatic and life changing incidents are the exception. And day to day realities are full of trouble, some days we try hard and fall short, other days, we don’t even try. Some days we take a step forward, many days we take two steps back. If we’re honest with ourselves, even though some of our suffering is inflicted by other sinful people and sometimes we suffer through no fault of our own or others, much of our pain in life is self inflicted. All of which leads us back to the question of the day, “When the circumstances of life seem to be telling a different story than that of a loving and gracious God, as in the case of Daniel and the father with a demon possessed son, how do we hold to the promises of God? Two answers we offer to that question, two realities we want to hold front and center in our minds, in our hearts, and in our souls.
Reality #1 is that around every corner, there is one prowling around like a roaring lion (looking to devour).
(Story of children’s lesson years ago, where our Silo Lutheran School had just put on an operetta that included kids dressed like various circus animals. A jr. high aged girl named Michelle had played the part of a lion, and so I arranged with her on Sunday morning to come on out dressed like a lion, I asked her to prowl around and roar and try to scare the 25 or 30 or so children assembled for the lesson. The problem was, when she came out, she was the non scariest lion ever, the kids knew who it was, and they laughed!)
The reality is that the devil and his demons are no laughing matter. Or to say it another way, every day, all of us wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness. That’s what we promise to do and to help one another do in our vows of baptism and confirmation, to spend our days renouncing the devil, renouncing every one of the devil’s ways, renouncing every one of the devil’s works.
To help us think through how to deal with the one prowling around like a roaring lion looking to devour us, we take a look at how Daniel dealt with the lions surrounding him. Three lessons we learn from Daniel about how to live out the ordinary days of life. Three lessons, one is from before the lion’s den, one is from in the lion’s den, and one is from after the lion’s den.
(Before) the lion’s den we know in chapter 6 that although he faced certain death if he did so that Daniel got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God. In last week’s sermon, chapter 2 of Daniel, although he and all the wise men of Babylon faced certain death, he went home, asked his three buddies to get down on their knees, and they prayed for mercy from God. Two weeks ago, in chapter 1 of Daniel, we find these same four men of God resolving that in no way, no how, never would they defile themselves with the king’s food or the wine he drank.
(In) the lion’s den, we don’t know exactly what Daniel did. We don’t really know if he went up and petted the lions and made friends with them, but we might speculate that he simply was still and trusted that God would be God.
After) the lion’s den we find Daniel giving testimony to the power and the might and the goodness of His God. He told the king what he had seen with his own eyes, that God had sent his angel to shut the mouths of the lions, he reported that the lions had not hurt him, that he was found innocent in God’s sight, and that he had never been disloyal to the king. Although the king’s hands had been tied by his own decrees, God’s hands were not. Daniel had just learned one more time what Jeremiah had stated a half century earlier, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” Reality #1 to keep in mind is bad news, it’s tough news, it is that as we live out the routine and the ordinary days of life is that around every corner is the adversary, the devil and his demons, he is like a roaring lion prowling around, seeking to deceive, to demonize, to drag us around, to devour our souls as only he can devour.
Reality #2 on the other hand is good news, it’s as beautiful a message as a message can be, it is a truth superior to and going above and beyond reality #1. Reality #2 is that Standing in your corner is One Who is both Lion and Lamb (Who has already triumphed). Dear friends in Christ, today I invite you to bring all of your good intentions gone awry, all of the failures and faults that are tugging at your consciences, bring all of the bad habits that have crept into your lives and are causing such trouble, bring them to the foot of the cross, bring them to the empty tomb and see there Jesus standing in your corner. He is both the Lion and that lamb. He is the lion who was born of a woman in a little town of Judea and at the same time the lamb who takes away the sins of the world once and for all. He is the lion who even now fight for you and the lamb who has already triumphed.
As a boxer is inspired and coached by his manager standing in his corner, so are we privileged to have Jesus Christ and His Spirit standing in our corner in every one of our days, in every one of our challenges, in every one of our circumstances. Jesus Christ standing in our corner claiming one more child for God’s family every time the waters of Baptism splash. Jesus Christ standing in our corner correcting and coaching and encouraging us every time God’s Word is preached and listened to. Jesus Christ standing in our corner rejoicing every time we confess our sins, reminding us of who we are every time we pay attention to His promises, refreshing us with his forgiveness every time we eat and drink at His Supper believing these words, “given and shed for you for the remission of sins.”
And then out the doors into the real world we go, thinking about what it means to be heroes of the faith, what it means that heaven is reaching out through every saint in this next week. Three thoughts from our appointed lessons for the day about being heroes.
First, Being a hero first of all means (to be diligent in the use of the means of grace. Once in awhile, at a national youth gathering or at a very inspiring church service or when it seems as though the angels of God have worked a miracle in your life, you may have one of those mountaintop experiences. But for the most part, Christian life is the ordinary, it is the routine training sessions, it’s a matter of daily ploughing your way through your daily duties and responsibilities. Muhammad Ali, one of the most successful boxers ever, had this to say, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
Secondly, being a hero means being still and knowing that God is God. (Story of Jamie crying so hard at the snowmobile death of her boyfriend, she wonders out loud again and again, Pastor Griffin, what am I going to do? The answer that day was to cry, to be still, and to know that God is God.
Third, being a hero means looking every day for neighbors that you can love as much as you love yourselves. Or to say it another way, to go looking for people to love as you have first been loved, to go looking for people to forgive as you have first been forgiven, to go looking for people to serve as you have first been served, to go looking for people to rescue as you have first been rescued. In Jesus’ Name and for His sake. Amen.
Heroes: More Than a Thought
September 22 and 23, 2018
Daniel 2: 10 – 30 and I Corinthians 2:6-10
Heroes: More Than a Thought
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week, we began a three part series of sermons focused on our annual theme, which is “Heroes: Heaven Reaching out through Every Saint.” We’re exploring our way through the book of Daniel and paying attention to the way that God was working through those saints in their days of Babylonian exile.
In all three weeks of this series, we are admitting our tendency to look for God in places where God isn’t found. When we search for God in the midst of our feelings, we are tempted to despair. Next week, we find that when we search for God in the midst of our reality, our experiences, we are tempted to drift in our faith. Today we find that when we search for God’s truths in our intellect, or by reasoning life out, by thinking our way through, we are tempted to doubt God’s promises.
Today’s message is aimed at any of us who can talk ourselves into a tizzy, any of us who can worry ourselves right into a near breakdown, any of us who can drive ourselves crazy by the way we talk to ourselves. We see in Daniel an example of a young man who had the kind of faith that stayed on track, the kind of faith that took his worries in the right direction, the kind of faith that permitted God’s promises to rule.
In chapter 1 of the prophet Daniel, we see him and friends dragged off into the great unknown, and today we see them forced Into the realm of (the impossible). Daniel chapter 2 adds insult to the injury of chapter 1. In chapter 1, the brightest and best of Jewish young men were deported into exile away from family and friends. Their oppressors demanded that they would be immersed in a heathen culture, they were forced to adopt pagan names, and they were required to eat foods considered unclean by their own faith. No doubt feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, sadness, and anxiety swept over their souls as a rainstorm sweeps over the prairie.
Now in chapter 2, Daniel and his friends had to be thinking about how life had gone from difficult into the impossible. King Nebuchadnezzar had one disturbing dream after another, and one night a mysterious dream woke him up and kept him awake. Perhaps he suspected that this dream might have a symbolic meaning, it could very well be that one or more of the 4000 gods the Babylonians were required to worship were trying to tell him something.
And so he insists on the impossible, or else. Either you so called wise men, magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers tell me what I dreamed and what it means, or else, as my mom would say, the whole kitten caboodle of you will be cut into pieces and your homes will be turned into piles of rubble. Do that which is humanly impossible, or you will be tortured, killed, and your possessions will be destroyed. Do that which cannot be done, and oh, one more thing, there will be absolutely no mercy.
Two parts to our sermon today as we try to think our way through circumstances in life that defy logic. Part I is to see what heroic faith looks and sounds like, and Part II is to rejoice in God’s great desire to reveal the secrets of the kingdom to His people. Part I is to think about Daniel’s resolve which was to cry out for mercy, and Part II is to be strengthened in our faith by God’s promise to reveal the very mysteries of the kingdom to us, as needed.
Lesson #1 today is to think through Daniel’s resolve was to cry out for (mercy). In our text for today, Nebuchadnezzar seemed to be getting more and more agitated. When the so- called wise men, magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers insisted that he was asking for the impossible, the king concluded they were stalling, he wanted them to know his mind was made up, and he accused them of conspiring / colluding to mislead and deceive. They fussed and whined one more time, and in verse 12, Daniel records the king became so angry and furious and ordered the execution of every so -called wise men, magician, enchanter, sorcerer, and astrologer in all of Babylon.
Last week we saw Daniel’s resolve to hold onto the promises of His God instead of holding onto and understanding at a young age that faith is more the feelings that might be crushing your spirit. Today we see Daniel asking the king for some time to think, we see him understanding that faith in the one true God is more than the more than just trying to reason his way through his days of crisis, then we see him asking his friends to plead for mercy from the one true God concerning this mystery.
Somehow and in some way, it seems as though God’s Spirit had already worked in Daniel’s heart a confidence that with God all things were possible. Somehow and in some way, God had worked in this prophet an understanding that human wisdom would be of no use in this crisis, an understanding that all the wise men of the greatest kingdom on earth were helpless in this situation, an understanding that if help was to be found, it would have to come from another world, it would have to come from the true God and not from the false and the useless gods of Babylon.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where all kinds of people are wondering if they are in the realm of the impossible. They listen to what the politicians are doing and saying and they wonder if we are beyond the point of no return. They look around at the culture in which they live and see so many abandoning the core beliefs and values in which they were raised, and they lose sleep at night thinking about what their children and grandchildren will be facing, they commiserate with their coffee shop friends that in fact society is going to hell in a handbasket, they see tornadoes and windstorms ravage their countryside in a random sort of a way, they search their intellects and when life isn’t logical, they find deep down inside of them doubts one right after another rise up and begin to rule. And so collectively, they get on their knees, they cry out for mercy, they ask for answers, they listen carefully for the will of God to be made clear. And praise be to God again and again, God’s good and gracious will is made clear to them. Which is our second and final main thought for the day for this 18th Sunday after Pentecost.
Lesson #2 today is to rejoice that God’s will was and is to reveal (mysteries). Daniel records that he urged his friends to “plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision.”
At which point Daniel praised the God of heaven, saying things like, Praise be to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are his…..and he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning…He reveals deep and hidden things, he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells within him.
Dear friends, how awesome is it that God knows what lies in the darkness, and that as long as Jesus is sitting at the right hand of his Father, there is light at the end of the tunnel?
Paul said this about talking our way through the darkest of our days, “I have learned the secret of contentment, I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound….I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and n34eed, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Dear friends, how amazing is it that the Spirit of God has called together sinful little flocks of people all over the world, declared them to be his forgiven saints, and then invited them to reach out in His name with the secrets of the kingdom? Some of you are old enough to remember the show, “I’ve Got A Secret.” And all of you know how your ears will perk up when a friend whispers, “I’ve got a secret I want to tell you!”
The kingdom of God is like a little flock of believers full of folks who are growing up in their Christian faith. By the grace of God and through all the ups and downs of life, they are learning what their parents and grandparents were trying to impress on them years ago. They are learning that even when the darkness of financial ruin or marriage failure is closing in, even when friends are breaking their necks and thinking through what it’s like to not be able to move your hands, even when neighbors are pouring into your yard ravaged by tornadoes, even when death’s dark hands are knocking at your door, even then these folks know the secret of contentment. They know that all wisdom and power belong to God. That he works everything out for the good of those who love him That even though we are all in charge of our own little corners of the kingdom, God is in ultimate control. He decides when spring, summer, fall, and winter will arrive. He directs the affairs of the nations, even using evil rulers to accomplish his purposes.
Being a (hero) Dear friends, how surprising is it that heaven would reach out through saints like us to shine our Gospel lights all over the neighborhood. To be heroes in the lives of others. One of my favorite signs is posted at the assisted living place where one of our members is residing, “Everyone here is a hero to someone.” In closing today, three thoughts about what it means that faith is more than just the thoughts and ideas that are flooding through your mind, three truths from Daniel chapter 2 about what it means to be a hero.
First, being a hero means trusting that God’s ways are higher than our ways. Which is another way of saying that God’s greatest desire is that sinners repent and be saved and that all the circumstances of life are directed towards that end. This is the way heroes of the faith tend to talk to themselves….Jesus loves me this I know, the Bible tells me so….I know that my Redeemer lives, my sins are washed away, my debts are cancelled, I can do all things that God is asking me to do with Christ’s strength, there is a way through every one of my days.
Secondly, being a hero means asking good questions of God in heaven above. Questions like “Lord, will you have mercy on me one more time?” “Lord, will you teach me in this moment what is my purpose and how best I can serve?” “Lord, I do believe, will you help me with my unbelief? Will you help me not to doubt and will you help me not to waver and will you help me not to be tossed about by the waves and winds of life?
Third, being a hero means acting on those truths which have been revealed to us. After listing dozens of First Article truths which have been revealed to us, Luther closes out his explanation with these words, “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey.”
In this next week, may I suggest to you that everyone here will have multiple opportunities to be a hero to others. It means trusting that God’s ways are higher than your ways. It means asking good questions of God in heaven above. It means acting on those truths which have been revealed to you. In the name of Jesus, and for the sake of others, everyone here is a hero to someone. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther