First in Series of Four on Annual Theme, “With Burning Hearts, We Believe”
Luke 24: 10-17
Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.
Dear Christian Friends,
The kingdom of God is like a Christian couple who worked hard all their lives, and God blessed their labors in incredible fashion. They lived to ripe old ages, they died, and were buried. When their last will and testament was read aloud, it came to be that they were able to give away no less than ten million dollars. One million dollars each for each of their three sons, and one million dollars each for 7 other institutions and charities, including a couple of churches, a Christian camp, the Salvation Army, and the local dog shelter.
The reading of their will brought three distinct reactions from their three sons.
• Son #1 received his inheritance with absolute gratitude from Day #1. He was overjoyed with his parent’s generosity and proceeded to spend the rest of his days sharing his good fortune.
• Son #2 wasn’t quite sure what to think. He was grateful and yet he wondered why a dog shelter should get a million dollars. He had more questions than answers. Should he save his money for a rainy day? Should he pay his bills and buy a bigger house? Should he spread it around and leave a portion for his own kids? As time went on, his eyes were opened, and he came to the same conclusion as son #1.
• Son #3 had the opposite reaction. He resented the idea that he had not received a third of the money. He spent every last dollar on himself and lived out his life with a stingy heart.
Three lessons we want to learn today, in this first of four sermons focused on Luke 24 and our annual theme, “With Burning Hearts.”
The first lesson is that really good news always brings (mixed) reactions. As evidence of that theory of mine, I give three examples. 1) When the Vikings win the Super Bowl this year, there will be a mixed reaction. Vikings fans will be ecstatic, a lifelong dream has come true. Bear fans won’t really care one way or another. Packer fans will be absolutely dismayed that they will no longer be able to ask their favorite question, “How many super bowl rings do the Vikings have?” 2) A more serious and likely example is at the gravesite of a loved one who has suffered long and hard and then breathed her last.” In the same family, there will be mixed reactions. One brother will be mostly grateful that the suffering is over and will be fixed on the promises of heavenly mansions, another brother will walk away mainly resenting that there had to be so much suffering and believing that his sister deserved way better than that from God.
A third example is in our text for today, as the news began to spread that the grave was empty and that in fact Jesus was alive. Reactions were mixed, to say the least. Scribes and Pharisees were angry that someone had stolen the body, and Roman soldiers were no doubt embarrassed that it had happened on their watch. The women couldn’t stop talking and reporting the good news, and the apostles just wanted them to shut up and quit being so silly. Peter went away by himself muttering and marveling and wondering what had happened.
In one corner there was a heart where faith was duking it out with unbelief. Not too far away was a mind where Sunday joy was wrestling in the mud with Friday’s sadness. Nearby there was a believer taking one step forward in confident manner, then two steps back into doubt despair. That seemed to be the case with Clopas and his friend as they made the seven mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Wanting to believe that Jesus was alive but not wanting to have their hopes dashed yet one more time. On the road talking a mile a minute, remembering in one moment and forgetting in the next what Jesus had predicted. Hoping what the women said was true and yet suspecting it was just a false rumor. Before the day ended, they would see clearly, but for the time being, Luke records, their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus, even as He walked alongside of them and began to engage in conversation with them. I’d like to think Jesus had a twinkle in his eye and a bit of playfulness in his voice as he drew near and asked, “Hey, what are you guys talking about?” Knowing full well what they were talking about! Lesson #1 – The Good News of Jesus Christ will always bring mixed reactions and responses.
Which brings us to our second lesson learned in this text, Conversations with Jesus often include all kinds of (confusion) on the way to clarity. An honest survey of the ministry of Jesus will show that Jesus often spoke in such a way as to puzzle the hearer for a time, but with the hope that eventually they would understand and accept the truth of the obscurity. Jesus wanted people to know the truth, but to go through a bit of chaos in their heart on the way to that truth. Instead of teaching people what to think, it seems as though He wanted to teach them how to think correctly and in accordance with God’s Word.
A couple of examples. One of my favorites is “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” His point? Your sin problem isn’t your hand, it’s your heart. Another example could be that to one audience He says, “Peace I leave with you,” and to another audience, He quips, “I have not come to bring peace, but division.”
We may be sure that Jesus never spoke with hidden meanings just to be cute or for obscurity’s sake. There is always a purpose to His apparent madness. Sometimes Jesus was trying to startle the smug, and at other times He was rebuking the scoffer. At times He was simply expressing heavenly truth, as when He told Nicodemus that he had to be born again. And on other occasions, He would plant a time-delay charge, such as His prediction that He could destroy the temple and in three days raise it up again. Virtually all of our Lord’s predictions concerning the cross and resurrection fall into this latter category. The disciples heard these predictions but were slow to understand. They believed that the Messiah would deliver their nation from Roman oppression, but could not understand how death by crucifixion fit into that picture.
Lesson #2 is that there will be hours and days and even seasons of our life where God seems far away or even absent. As children hide so that other children come looking for them, so does God hide in the circumstances of life so that we will come looking. Seek and ye shall find. Ask and ye shall receive. Knock and the doors of the kingdom will be opened unto you.
Lesson #3 today as we focus on two disciples journeying on their way to Emmaus is that darkness doesn’t have a (prayer) in the presence of Jesus. Jesus knew that He would be revealing Himself to them in the breaking of the bread in the evening, and so He could hide himself for a time during the day. He knew that they would be believing once they could see clearly, and so He took the time to walk alongside. He took the time to listen to and care about their story. He took the time to let them babble their way through with all kinds of ifs, ands, or buts – knowing all along there would be a happy ending. Not only would there be a happy ending to their day as they recognized their Risen Savior, there would be a happy ending for time and eternity for all who would discern that this very body had been broken and this blood had been shed on their behalf.
The Bible says that it was for the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the cross, scorned its shame, and was crucified until He was dead and buried. Jesus knew that Easter Sunday was coming and that’s why He took the time to come from heaven down to earth, that’s why He took the time to fulfill the law in every way, that’s why He took the time to teach His disciples slowly but surely, that’s why Jesus took the time to be beaten bloody and that’s why He took the time to be slapped silly and that’s why He took the time to be tortured in total fashion on your behalf and mine. He knew that once the price was paid, debt would be cancelled. He knew that once the sacrifice was offered, sins would be forgiven. That once death had been swallowed, it would be swallowed forever. That once eyes were opened, then hearts would begin to burn, and that once hearts began to burn with resurrection truths, the lies of Satan would have to slither away into the dust from which they came.
The kingdom of God is like a large congregation of believers in a small town whose hearts are burning, some days flickering and other days going strong. They are learning again and again that darkness doesn’t have a prayer in the presence of Jesus. That although there may be weeping in the night time, the mercies of God will be cause for laughter in the morning. That as often as they draw near to their God in Divine Service or in private conversations, their God has a heart with a burning desire to give them a second chance and yet another new beginning.
The kingdom of God is like a den of Boy Scouts who know exactly how to build a fire. In the early stages, the fire is unimpressive and small. There are moments when it seems as though the drizzle and the darkness will win the day, but their teachers have taught them well. Their fire ends up ruling the night, and day by day they keep on having happy endings. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
A Feast of Rich Food
Isaiah 25:6-9, John 10:11-15
Focus: Our Savior leads us through death to everlasting life.
Function: that the hearers find comfort in the hope of the Gospel, even in their grief.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our sermon meditates on two texts for today: Isaiah 25 and John 10, and as we reflect upon our texts and upon the life of this departed saint, there are two lessons we would cling to today. First, that God will make a feast for the ages. Second, that He is the Good Shepherd.
First, He will make a feast for the ages. That is the hope held out to us in Isaiah 25. There’s a man, named Jon Reiner, who lived in New York and because of a certain disease, was not able to eat for years (for years!). He had to have his food digested by an artificial stomach that he carried on his back and pumped into his body again. For years, this is how he got nutrition, until his doctors told him to start eating again. And when he was able to eat, he said, first thing, he went to a little greasy New York diner that had been his place many years before. He ordered a fried egg and cheese sandwich with bacon. He sat down, put his elbows on the table, and dug in. He made one of these faces, the kind of face you can imagine someone would make if they hadn’t been able to eat in far, far too long, and he turns to the man sitting next to him and says, “This is the best darn sandwich I’ve ever had.” To which the man says, in true New Yorker fashion, without missing a beat, “You think that’s good, you should try the meatloaf.”
Now, I’m not sure what Karen’s favorite food was, but I do know that it had been far too long since she could enjoy it. Now, listen again to what God says to the people of Israel. On this mountain – mountains are the symbol for the places where God shows up - on this mountain I make a feast of the finest of meats and the strongest of wines. On this mountain there will be a feast for the ages. He’s talking, filet mignon. He’s talking bacon-wrapped T-bones. He’s talking the best of wines, aged and strong. He’s promising a place where there isn’t discomfort, where there isn’t pain, where the only tears are tears of joy, where the food never runs out, and where the party is just getting started, because as we see in the next verse, God goes one step further: not only does he set a feast before his people, he finally swallows up death itself. Death gone, never to come back. For the Lord has spoken.
Karen, she desired the food that could be had in this life. She watched Food Network, like Nikki said, about 20 hours a day, and when I went to Rochester to visit her, I found that same thing to be true. And yet, when I asked if she wanted the Lord’s Supper, she turned the TV off, looked me in the eye, and said with tears in her eyes, even as she had sores in her mouth, “Yes, I do.” And the hope that we held out for her is that in her days, she ate and drank the Lord’s Supper for the strength that God gave her in it. In the end of her life, Karen was first and best hungry for the Supper that her Lord would give her. And now, in these days, know this: we take the Lord’s Supper with her and all the company of heaven, until at the end of all time, God opens up the banquet tables, we get to sit ourselves down, we put our elbows on the table, and dig in.
Lesson number one is that I would invite you to spend your days desiring the food that really matters. Let these things of eternal significance that marked Karen’s life at the end of her life also mark yours. Spend your days eager to come to the Lord’s Supper, receiving strength from the foretaste of the feast to come. Keep on being fed by the Word of God, because it will sustain you like none other especially when times get lean. Feast on the riches of God’s promises, because, at the end of all time, you’ll find this to be true: nobody throws a party like God throws a party.
Second, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” John 10 goes on, “I know my own and my own know me. My sheep know my voice.” Jesse told me that through his impressive wrestling career, he went to a lot of gyms and wrestled a lot of matches with a lot of people watching, and a lot more people yelling. And when you play, you get in the zone, until it feels like only you and the other guy are there. But, he found that there was always one person that he could hear from the stands – his mom. No matter which match it was, he could hear her voice telling him, Come on, Jesse. Get it done, Jesse. Don’t let up, Jesse.
And I tell you that to tell you this: Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. My sheep know my voice.” In her moments of fear, Jesus said to Karen, “I am your Good Shepherd.” In her moments of confidence, Jesus said to her, “I am your Good Shepherd.” In every one of her days, Jesus followed her around, and he followed her around with goodness and mercy, eager, absolutely eager to comfort her, to lead her before still waters, to restore her soul, until he took the lamb that he loves in the arms of his mercy and brought her home.
This is the foretaste that calmed her fears when they tried to overtake her, that led her to her shepherd’s arms that made her strong, even when her body failed her. This is the hope held out by our Savior, Jesus Christ, who went to the cross where his body failed him, who was crucified until he suffered the sting of sin, but who rose up as the first fruits of resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Lesson number two is that here and now I would invite you to hear the voice of your Shepherd calling. If you could hear the voice of your mother so clearly amidst all the noise of those gyms, then now listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd speak in your busy times and in your quiet times. If you could find encouragement in the strength of her love, then now find encouragement in the proclamation of your Savior Jesus Christ, when he says, “I have won my wrestling match with death. Death submits. Sin subsides. Pain will fade, because Christ has mastered it, and he mastered it for you.” Let the clear, calm voice of your father in heaven speak into your ear today. Let him tell you what you learned from your mother’s knee. That death is not the end. That you are bought with the blood of another. That your shepherd has been guiding you, and he will not rest until he guides you all the days of your life and more – to the feast of the age to come.
Focus: God has claimed the victory
Function: that the hearers would struggle well in the fight.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
+ God has no (grandchildren) – Billy Graham was supposed to have said this on more than one occasion. The church has no grandchildren because it’s never a given that each generation will be raised in the Christian faith, and, even if they are, there’s no guarantee that they will continue on with it through all their days. Billy Graham echoes what our Deuteronomy text tells us: each generation must be won, must be taught, and must be confident to share with the next. Faith and instruction are handed down from generation to generation but each generation must grasp it for their own. You aren’t saved through your parents’ faith; you’re saved when you have faith. You see, this thing we call life, that we call the walk of discipleship, it’s a fight – it’s us versus them - and it’s a fight in every generation.
That’s why Paul uses battle metaphors in our text for today. Among the many metaphors for the Christian life – producing fruit like a well-cared plant, walking with your Savior, being filled by your God, maturing into adulthood… here he uses military language – a battle metaphor – because it brings out some particular truths of the spiritual life that coincide with the truth we find about war. And sure, the battle metaphor does leave some things hidden – like how we are to love the world and be kind to our enemies and all that, but it highlights at least three points we would make for today.
Three points and three lessons from these points. First that it’s a battle to the death. Second, evil comes from within. Third, that the battle’s been won.
First, it’s a battle to the (death). That is something our parish members know well these days. After six months without any funerals here at Trinity, it seems as though many who have battled well over these months are facing mortality. At the bedside of Karen Westphal, her family holds her hand as they wonder when the Lord will let her rest. At the bedside of Deb Brandmire, of Beatrice Gekeler, of Larry Hogetvedt, of Jeff Ewert, of Dale Keyes, of Russell Miller, families wrestle with the twin truths that they are glad their loved one has finished their struggle, and yet they are sad, overwhelmingly sad, that they are gone.
There are seasons of life where life and vitality abound, where the very concept that life will end in death you only grasp as an intellectual idea somewhere out there. It’s hard even to conceive of your own end. And then there are seasons when it seems as though death is around every corner, when you feel like everyone you’ve ever loved is battling a battle they know they will lose. This life is a battle and it’s a battle to the death.
One young man, writing a letter after years of wrestling an inoperable brain tumor reflected on the battle he had fought. He said, there are many times that I wanted to give up, many times I wanted to step back, but I saw how this terrible tragedy in my life had in fact unlocked a love in the hearts of my family that they wouldn’t have known otherwise.
But there’s another truth to that phrase. You see, it isn’t just a battle from the point of conception until the sleep of physical death. Paul here also tells us that it is a battle of life and death, a battle with eternal significance. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood alone – he’s saying flesh and blood aren’t our most powerful opponents – but we are against the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. These are all in Paul’s vocabulary for the fallen angels. We battle against an intelligent and willful evil that would knock down every good brick we’d build up.
So, I’ll leave you with a few questions. Have you thought of the Christian life this way recently? Have you looked at your neighbors and thought about them as if they are eternal beings that have one of two stories and your words could have significance to change that? That they, as CS Lewis would remind us, are turning into the glory of heaven or into the horrors that inhabit hell? When you think of your neighbors, do you think of their eternal destiny and how your words that day would affect them?
Second, evil comes from (within). Jesus says as much in our Gospel reading. Jesus declares all foods clean by saying “It isn’t what comes from outside into a man that defiles him. No, evil comes from within.” As Luther says, the enemies of the Gospel are the Devil, the World, and our Sinful Nature, and by the inheritance of Adam each and every soul born is first claimed by the devil as his rightful and broken property.
And, I’ll tell you, as Lutherans, we regularly acknowledge the same. This weekend, five times in fact, we will baptize Bentely, Coltyn Jr., Sara, Zachary, and Elliot. And every time, we will renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. Renounce - That’s the same language that a Christian pastor would use in an exorcism. That’s the word that means, in the name of Jesus, I kick you out. Christ claims you as his own, he cleanses you to your core, and he kicks the devil out.
But even after baptism, wickedness still comes. John Calvin recognizes this – he calls man’s heart a perpetual factory of idols. And I quote: “We may gather that man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols. . . . So it goes. Man's mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; … it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.” Man’s mind almost automatically raises up good things to be ultimate things. Man’s mind almost automatically will continue to produce idols that need to be constantly dashed down.
So to that Paul says, “Stand firm. Take up the sword of the Spirit, and let that double-edged blade of law and Gospel first kill and then make alive your own heart.” “Stand firm and keep giving over with feverish prayer and supplication, every single new idol in your heart to your God who will dash it down.” “Stand firm because we don’t have to be strong with the strength of our puny legs or our chicken wing arms. We are strong in the strength of his might.”
So, from this, Lesson number two is, put on the whole armor of God. Don’t leave any piece off. That is to say, take every opportunity to hear the words of God and let the law cut you to the bone, so that the Gospel can heal you deeply. Fit your feet with the Gospel of peace, so that you are good to go whenever God would call you away from this world, because you know who holds your hand and where your journey ends. Keep up the shield of faith because faith finds its power not on what you’ve done but on the one who is faithful to you. Be truthful and honest in your prayers and in your life. Pour out your supplications, because he is eager, cupping his ear to hear your shouts and whispers.
Third, The battle's already been (won). Some days it feels like you’ve lost. Perhaps in these days, you feel like Christianity has lost in the public sphere. Perhaps you feel your faith diminishes because of the loss you feel today. Perhaps you feel lost because things are falling apart. But remember this: These words in
Ephesians were penned by a man in chains for the Gospel, going to where he was certain he would die and yet he would use every opportunity to preach the Gospel boldly
As Christians, we know that the battle is already won. Christ has won by dying on the cross. The devil is defeated. Death has lost its sting. Sin is on its way out. It means that the pain of marital problems and divorce will one day be covered with the calm of new life. That the blinding and bewildering loneliness of grief will one day be cloaked with the fellowship of the church of God. That the idol factory of sin in your heart going out of business.
In lesson number three I’ll first tell you what that doesn’t mean by sharing a story about Laura and her family, and it’s probably one of the more controversial stories I’ll tell. It’s about cribbage. One of the first times I came to her parents’ house, they suggested, among the twelve people there, that we would split off into teams of two to play a best-of-three game series. So I’m with Laura and in the first game, we skunk the other team. That means, we beat them by over 30 points, which traditionally scored as a two-game victory, and that means we’ve already taken the series. Now, since we had done that so quickly, we had time enough to play two more games, both of which we lost, because we had figured to have fun – I mean we were already advancing – so I could just (as my Uncle Tim says) took’re easy and fool around. It turns out that that rule was not an accepted house rule where I was playing and Laura and I in fact lost that round. And I tell you that to tell you this. Our Lord has won the victory for us, but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to took’re easy.
I’ve said this twice this weekend at weddings, and I’ll say it again now. Just like a wife’s constant love doesn’t mean that the husband can slack off in his husbanding. No! It means that husbands, you should work all the harder for your wife. In the same way, the victory of Christ doesn’t mean that you can lollygag through this world; it instead means that you should look to act all the more like the one who won the victory for you.
In conclusion, we are (Freed) from curse, because God has chained himself to (promise). We are freed from the curse because God is chained to promise. The delightfully Lutheran take on the Gospel sets us free because God does what God says he’s going to do. It is God’s effort that frees these baptized babies to be children of God. It is God’s work to strengthen you in the Lord’s Supper. It is God’s work when others find encouragement from words you had long forgotten to have spoken.
In our little baptismal class, we get to the end of our Theology of baptism and there’s a little summary section: Is baptism for infants or for adults. We remember that we believe that baptism is a miracle that imparts faith, forgiveness, and salvation. We remember that baptism is not something we do but something God does. And then the question at the end of life or in the middle of doubt is not “Do we believe enough? It is instead, Does God do what God says he’s going to do? Well, yeah, he’s God."
“A Temporary Assignment”
Philippians 1:21 – “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Perhaps you have heard about the Christian woman who was approaching death, and she knew it. As she met with her pastor to clarify her own funeral arrangements, she asked if he would be so kind as to make sure that a dinner fork was put in her casket as people came to see her. The pastor was puzzled about that, and so she explained that in all her years of going to church and family meals, it had been a custom to eat the main course, and then if dessert was to be served, she would be told to keep her fork. She knew that was told to keep her fork that the best was yet to come. That is to say, dessert was on the way. She wanted her friends and family to know that as good as life was here on earth, that heaven was going to be even better. That the best was on the way.
So also for Dale Keyes – he certainly had his days full of joy and good times and good memories. And the temptation is to think that the good old days were in the past and that after a certain age, it’s all downhill. Some have described life here on earth in this way, Bad stuff happens, and then you die!” For St. Paul and for Christians throughout the ages, that’s not how we see it. As Paul approached death, he declared, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” And in our text for today, he finds himself torn between the desire to live here on earth or to be with his Savior in heaven – and finally he cries out this summary statement, “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In other words, the best is yet to come for the baptized and believing children of our Father in heaven. With that in mind, our sermon theme today is “A Temporary Assignment.”
Two lessons we want to learn again today. The first is to always remember that all our assignments here and now are temporary, and the second is to remember that the main thing in life is to keep the main thing the main thing.
First things first. Life on earth is a temporary assignment. David says it this way in Psalm 39, “O Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered, and that my life is fleeing away.” James says it this way, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” David talked about himself as a foreigner here on earth, and Peter urged early Christians to live their time as sojourners and exiles.
Realizing that life on earth is just a temporary assignment has a way of radically changing our values. It helps us to fix our eyes not so much on what is seen, but on what is unseen. It helps us to give thanks this morning for every sunrise and sunset Dale was given. To understand that every one of his assignments here and now was temporary. No doubt some assignments he carried out well, and in others he fell short, far short. Which is true for all of us. The Bible teaches that all of us sin in daily fashion, and that we fall short in the way that we think, in the words we speak, in the bad that we do, and in the good that we fail to do. If we try to live according to what we can see, if we try to be right in the sight of God by balancing our sins with good works, life will be a disaster. On the other hand, as often as we throw ourselves on the mercy of God, as often as we remember that we are strangers here and heaven is our real home, life will be ok. And many days will be even better than ok, by the grace of God. Lesson #1 today that we never ever want to learn again as we stare sudden death in the face - our assignments in life are important, but temporary.
Lesson #2 – we want to learn from our sermon text today that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing is to be baptized into the Name of the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost and to remain in that Christian faith until we breathe our last breath. The main thing is to cry out for forgiveness in each one of our days and to know that as often as we cry out, forgiveness has already come our way. The main thing is to pay attention to what God is trying to say to us and to receive what He is trying to give us, and in this way to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, even and especially on those days when it seems as though God is far away.
As we pay our last respects to Dale Keyes today, we give thanks to the God Who created Him in the first place, redeemed His soul in the second place, and followed him around with goodness and mercy all the days of life. Earlier we spoke the Apostles’ Creed – the same creed into which Dale was baptized, the same creed he confessed in his confirmation vow.
We say goodbye to him with hearts that are grateful and spirits that are humbled. Grateful that God gave Ralph 78 years plus and humbled that He took away that life without warning or a chance to really say goodbye. Grateful that we live in a land flowing with milk and honey, and humbled by the fact that naked come we into this world and naked we depart. Humbled by the truth that the wages of sin is death and grateful that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Humbled that we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment, and grateful that God daily and richly forgives all our sins.
I’d like to tell you today about one of my favorite people in life. The garbage collector. I don’t really know his name, but I can tell you when he comes by. Wednesdays. Every Wednesday, without fail, a garbage man comes along and takes away my garbage – and he never brings it back to me. Always he hauls it away, and never has he pulled up the next day and thrown it back in my face because of unpaid bills. We all know that garbage can get to be a filthy and stinking and even embarrassing collection of that which we want to never see again. And what a beautiful sound the garbage truck is, as long as you have remembered to put it out to the curb.
It seems to me that every funeral is in fact, a great opportunity to take our garbage out to the curb not just once a week, but every single day. By that, I mean to say that every day we would admit to God and to each other that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That every day we would cast our failures and faults to the foot of the cross and remember that Jesus Christ took all of our sinful thoughts and all of our sinful words and all of our sinful deeds and all of our sinful habits and all of the bad we have done and the good that we have left undone and He hoisted all of that on His shoulders and He paid the price that we could never begin to pay, and when He said on the cross that It is finished, He meant what He said and He said what He meant.
We listen to God’s Word this afternoon with the assurance that Dale’s garbage has been hauled away and his failures and faults have been forgotten in the courtroom of God, the courtroom that matters. His debt has been paid for, not with gold nor silver but with holy precious blood. Not with the repeated sacrifices of mere mortals but with the once and for all sacrifice offered by Jesus at Calvary.
In the near future, you will lay Dale Keyes to rest in the Name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. As you do so, go ahead and cry your rivers of tears, but do not cry as those who have no hope. Go ahead and tell your favorite Dale Keyes stories, but do make sure that the story of our Triune God remains front and center. Go ahead and live the next chapters of your own lives with free spirits and with great joy, but be sure to do so with the realization that every one of our assignments here and now is temporary and that the best is yet to come. It’s tempting today to think and talk as if the good old days have passed us by and as if at a certain age, it’s all down- hill. But for the people of God, to live here and now is to live in Christ, and to die is gain. Now we live by grace, and soon the day will come, and pray God that it come soon, when we will live in glory. May God bless and keep all of you strong in your Christian faith, may God permit whatever He needs to permit in your lives to keep you close to Him, may you always keep it clear what is temporary and what matters into eternity, may God help you to keep the main thing the main thing in life, and may Dale Keyes rest in peace. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Say This to My People
Numbers 6: 22-272 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
24 The LORD bless you and keep you;
25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD lift up his countenance[c] upon you and give you peace.
27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
There’s an old saying in the Midwest that there only two seasons of the year – winter and road construction. Sort of a negative way of looking at life, I suppose, but there is a measure of truth in it, to be sure. There’s an old saying in Lutheran circles that there are at least two seasons in life, as well. Times we feel as though God is near and times when He seems distant or worse yet, absent. One author Graham Cooke calls them seasons of manifestation and hiddenness. On the one hand, God reveals Himself to us in the preaching and teaching of His Word, but on the other hand, in the lonely and dark days of cancer attacking one organ after another, it feels as if God is nowhere to be found. There are days when it seems as if we are already in the Promised Land and other days when it seems as though we are stuck in the wilderness with no water or relief in sight.
In Numbers 6, the people of God were camped out at Mt. Sinai, less than a year after they had been delivered out of Egyptian slavery and through the Red Sea. They were about to spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness where the sun would be striking them by day and the moon by night. If heat stroke didn’t get them during daylight, they just might go looney in the night time. In fact, God was going to be leading the way, but more often than not it would feel as though He had abandoned them. And so God said to Moses to say to Aaron and his sons,” This is how you are to bless the Israelites. I want you to put my name on these people and in every one of your times of worship, I want you to give them a threefold Benediction.
Glenn and Sharon, when Jeffrey was just a sweet and precious and innocent little guy, you brought him into this sanctuary, and in the company of fellow travelers, you put the Name of the Triune God on him, both upon his forehead and upon his heart. Praise be to God that you made sure that happened. And then as the years went on, you saw to it that he had the resources he needed to make it through just a little over 40 years of wandering in this wilderness we call earth. You made sure he knew not only the Ten Commandments, but also the Apostles Creed. And you made sure he knew how to pray the Lord’s Prayer, how to confess his sins, where to take his burdens, and what mattered most in life. You made sure he knew that God the Father was with him blessing and keeping, that God the Son had found a way to be gracious to him, and that no matter how dry and dusty and desolate was the desert, it was possible to have the peace of God on the inside.
Three parts to our message today, as we focus on what it means to have the Name of the Triune God put on us in Holy Baptism and what it is that God wants His pastors and priests to say to His people in every one of their days.
First, God wants his priests and pastors to say to His people, the Lord bless you and keep you. In other words, when life feels as though your enemies are getting the best of you, use your ears. Use your ears to hear and to hold onto the really good and strong and undeniable news that God, the Father Almighty is cupping his ears towards you for the purpose of blessing and keeping you. The enemies of the Christian faith are fierce and more often than not, they seem to be winning the day. St. Paul urged the Ephesian Christians to put on the full armor of God in a daily sort of a way because, he warned, we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual rulers and authorities and demons of darkness. Our enemies include our own sinful nature, a nasty and messed up world, and the devil himself. Praise God we don’t have to deal with them on own. The last enemy we will have to face is death itself, and praise be to God that Jeff did not have to face that one alone.
In all the seasons of life, God the Father was blessing and keeping him, especially on those days when he didn’t feel particularly blessed and kept. He blessed Jeff with body and soul, eyes, ears, all of his members, his reason and all of his senses. Through the laws of nature and a beautiful creation and a good measure of honest labor, God gave Jeff clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and child, and all that he had. In his last days, through family and faithful friends and co-workers, God defended him and protected him from all kinds of danger and evil. A word about Salvation Army – I don’t know of an organization more focused on defending and protecting and blessing hurting people than this one. Lesson #1 today, when life feels as though your enemies are getting the best of you, be still and know by faith that God is God. Go to your quiet places and appreciate the beauty of creation. Remember what you have learned from your mother’s knees. Know by faith that what you see is not all that you are getting.
Second, God wants his pastors to say to His people, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. When life feels as though God is angry with you, this is what God wants your pastors and teachers in the faith want to help you to see. We want you to see Jesus Christ who in fact had His eyes fixed on you as He suffered and then He was dying and then He was dead. We want you to see Jesus Christ risen and looking you in the eyes today, saying, because I live, Jeff Ewert shall live. We want you to see Christ ascending into heaven, raising his hands and looking his disciples in the eyes on the way up giving a benediction. We want you to see Jesus sitting on the right hand of his Father ruling heaven and earth for the benefit of His people. We want you to see a Father who is in no way angry with you family because in fact He has taken all of His righteous anger out on His only Son. The price has been paid in full.
God may seem to be hiding from you, but He is not angry with you. Believe that and hold onto that simple and yet powerful truth that God is love and that in Christ He was reconciling the world, bringing the world into right relationship with Himself. When life is smooth and easy, we can call those seasons of, and praise God it’s time to laugh and to dance and sing like we’ve never sung before. When life is rough and as hard as it can be, we can call those seasons of hiddenness, and with tears in our eyes we know it’s time to be still, to trust, and to learn lessons like we’ve never quite learned them before. Lesson #2 today, especially when days are dark and depressing, fix your eyes on Jesus Christ, and do not forget that if His eye is on the sparrow, how much more so has it always been on you.
Finally, lesson #3, the Lord wants your pastors and priests to say to you, the Lord look with favor upon you and give you peace. By that I mean to say that when it feels as though your faith is fading, draw near to your Savior. As you do so, you will notice He has already drawn near to you. As often as you feel like your knees are going weak, put one foot in front of the other and get yourself to that place where the Spirit of God has promised to work. Get yourself to your Lord’s Supper, where the forgiveness of sins will sweep over your soul as a fresh snow covers up a muddy and messed up farmyard. Get yourself to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, where the Spirit of God will be able to reassure you and give you just enough strength to make it through another day. Get yourself to your memory bank where you can recall all that your parents and your grandparents and your Sunday School teachers and your Day School teachers and your Pastors have said to you over the years.
The last time I saw Jeff was Sunday in the late morning, the day before he breathed his last. I asked him if he was up to receiving Holy Communion. He hesitated and said, “Give me a little time.” After a bit of silence and with a fair amount of effort, he swung his feet off the bed and onto the floor. We said the Lord’s Prayer together. When I asked Glen and Sharon and Jeff if he was sorry for his sins, and if he believed in Jesus Christ, he said yes. He ate and he drank and in so doing, his sins were forgiven. The Lord looked with favor upon him, and the Spirit of God gave him peace. His last words to me were a little bit later, and they were a question. It was just the two of us, and once again he swung his feet over the bed and onto the floor and asked, “What is your vision?” As preachers do, I pontificated a bit and stumbled out a few words about the Garden of Eden and land and animals that wound need to be taken care of and a word about mansions and gold streets. Then it occurred to me to be quiet and I was. For a bit, and then I asked, “What is your vision?” To which he was quiet, and then he said, “I don’t know.” What he did know is that he wanted to be done with these days of suffering and step into glory. And that is how he prayed.
It seemed as though he was content in that moment to know that God was blessing and keeping him, that God had already shined on him and had been gracious to him, that the Lord was looking with favor upon him, and that the peace that goes beyond human circumstances was his. Stella and Glen and Sharon and Mike and Tom and Jenny and all who loved and were loved by Jeff, on the one hand, this may very well be the worst day of your lives up to this point. On the other hand, know that your God is cupping His ears in your direction for the purpose of blessing and keeping you. Know that your Savior’s eyes are fixed on you with a great desire to be gracious to you. Know that the Spirit of God is all about guiding and leading you into that season of life where you will once again soar as on the wings of an eagle. In Jesus. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther