Mark 13:1-13 – As Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately. Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?
Predicting the Future
It’s in our very nature to want to know details about what will be happening tomorrow and beyond. Years ago, when I served on the Board of Directors for Camp Omega, we were constantly working on our five year plan and once in awhile a 10 or 25 year plan. My take away from that process was that I wasn’t very good at the long term planning process. In recent months, Pastor Muther and I have begun to talk about what a three year or five year plan of ministry might look like here at Trinity. My take away from those discussions is that I’m not very good at seeing into the crystal ball. This past week, Debi and I traveled to Florida on a Monday morning in preparation for our son Noah and Jenna’s wedding. That very evening, Debi wanted to know what was the plan for the next seven days. I hemmed and hawed around for awhile, and at a certain point, with a mildly stern look on her face, she suggested that I find a pen and pad and write some things down. And so we wrote down a plan for the six days in front of us, when we might go visit our one daughter staying at a resort an hour away, when we might visit Noah and Jenna, two hours away, when we needed to pick up our other daughter and family at the Orlando airport, when we needed to pick up some friends at the Tampa airport, and the list went on. All kinds of details on which to decide. Should we swim at the pool or the ocean? Should we eat breakfast with these friends or with family? What would be the plan? My take-away from that discussion is that Debi cares more about forecasting the future than I, and a second takeaway is that I need to care more!
In our Gospel lesson for today, a disciple had just remarked to Jesus how massive were the stones and how magnificently were they carved and laid into wonderful buildings in the Temple area. Jesus replied by warning them that what they were seeing with their own eyes would not only be deserted and left desolate, but destroyed. Not one stone would be left on another. To which four of the disciples asked Jesus to tell them more. When will this happen? What signs should they be looking for? What is the plan? Three answers Jesus gives them and us today about the plan for end times and His Second Coming.
First, the plan is to stay (focused) on proclaiming the Gospel, no matter who is trying to pull the wool over our eyes. The idiom “to pull the wool over someone else’s eyes” simply means to deceive, to hide from people what is true. It may well go back to the 16th and 17th centuries where both women and men would wear wigs made of wool. Already in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus forewarned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.
Already in Jesus’ day, there were Sadducces who were leading people to believe there was no resurrection of the body. Pharisees were teaching that people could be saved by outward observance of the law. Judaizers were teaching that the laws of circumcision still applied and that Christ wasn’t quite enough. Over the years there would come the religions of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Within the Christian churches there would arise all kinds of antichrists and in the end times The Antichrist. See to it that no one leads you astray, Jesus would say again to us today.
Stay focused on Jesus Christ the great high priest who has offered up the one sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Stay focused on Him who has in fact risen and appeared and ascended and is even now sitting at the right hand of the Father ruling all of heaven and earth. Stay focused on Him who has already accomplished the plan of salvation and who will at the appointed time come back again to judge the living and the dead.
Stay focused, even when good and decent people all around you have fallen for the lie that the Bible is not entirely true, have fallen for the lie that in the end pretty much everybody is going to be ok, have fallen for the lie that marriage isn’t really what God says it is, have fallen for the lie that life in all of its stages isn’t necessarily to be protected, fallen for the lie that there are many different ways to get to heaven, fallen, have fallen for the lie that there is no particular urgency to take the Gospel to the far corners of the world. Lesson #1 – the plan is for Christians and local congregations to stay focused on our Lord’s plan for the Gospel to be proclaimed to all the nations, and then the end will come.
Secondly, The plan is to stay (calm), no matter how bad the news gets. Jesus would teach us not to be alarmed when we hear of wars and rumors of war, to not be alarmed when nations rise against nation and kingdoms against kingdoms. There will be earthquakes, to be sure, and famines will be dreadful. Sin will have its consequences in every corner of our world, in nature itself, but Christian men and women need to stay calm. In the same way that Pastor and Laura (hopefully stayed) calm as birth pains began, so also are the people of God in every day of trouble to be still and know that God is God.
A good friend of mine shared this insight with me in recent days. He said that when he and his wife were going through days of uncertainty and trial, he had learned the importance of sitting down and calmly discussing what they knew and what they did not know. To focus on what was reality and what they could control and to trust God for what only He knew and could handle.
Reality these days is that this year 150,000 Christians will be martyred. Reality is that 200 million Christians are being denied basic human rights today for one reason, they believe in Jesus as Savior. Reality is that there are Christians in Afghanistan who worship together, and by doing so, they risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Reality is that there are teenagers in Sudan who are staking their claim for Jesus at the risk of torture, banishment, and death. Reality is that the real war on Christmas is worldwide and that what we experience at Starbucks and in our public squares barely registers on the Richter scale, in comparison to Islamic and totalitarian regimes across the seas.
And yet we stay calm no matter how bad the news gets. Rather than be shaken to our very core, there is a peace that surpasses all human understanding that is ruling on the inside. Rather than wondering what this world is coming to, we say to one another what we know to be true, that Jesus Christ has already come into our world, that He lived the perfect life we needed Him to live, that He suffered all that we needed Him to suffer, that He died the death we needed Him to die, that He rose up again on the Third Day, ascended into heaven on the 40th day, and to this very day He is ruling all of heaven and earth with authority and for the benefit of His Church.
And because all of that Good News is true and has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, lesson #2 today is this: the plan is that we stay calm. The bad news just doesn’t get to us the way it gets to those who aren’t really sure in whom they trust. Afflicted but not crushed. Perplexed but not driven to despair. Persecuted but not forsaken. Struck down but not destroyed.
Third, the plan is to (work hard), even as we rest in His promises. One of the problems with staying calm in the face of adversity is that we would be tempted to just retreat into our comfortable zones in life and give little attention to the mission of the church. Jesus made sure His early disciples were trained well, He made sure they knew the Holy Spirit would be giving them the words to say, He made sure they knew that it wasn’t going to be easy at all, but most of all He made sure they knew that they had hard work to do. They were to be highly motivated, but not worried. Energized, but not anxious. Hard working but not stressed out.
Is it even possible to be hard working but not stressed out. Energized but not anxious. Highly motivated without worrying? Yes, it is. So long as we put First Things First. Jesus put first things first when He set His face towards Jerusalem and for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, He scorned the shame, and He was crucified all the way to death and burial.
The early disciples were to put first things first by never forgetting that the Gospel must first be preached to all nations, and secondly the end would come. First their God would be perfectly faithful to them, and secondly they would faithfully preach the Word in season and out of season, whether people wanted to hear it or not. First, the signs of the end would be fierce, and secondly, Christ would come again. First there would be birth pains, and secondly, all who were appointed for salvation would be born again.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people in all the stages of life, but more and more the Spirit of God is drawing them closer and closer to their Savior. More contented with what they have, less complacent about what they are to be doing. More likely to cherish the truths of Scripture, less likely to follow the fads and the fashions all around them. These days, by the grace of God, they are learning again the value of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and trusting that all these other things will be added in due time.
They have heard the old saying that “those to fail to plan are planning to fail.” With that in mind, their plan is to stay focused on proclaiming the Gospel, no matter who is trying to lead them astray. Their plan is to stay calm, no matter how crazy and upside down their world gets. And although they’re not always sure how to strike the right balance, they plan on working hard on their God appointed assignments, even as they rest in His promises. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Listen to this teaching that Mark records, “For all gave out of their abundance, but she from her lack gave all she had, her whole life.”
Two points and two lessons for today as we tell the tale of two widows. One is asked day after day to measure out the last of her food, and day after day God fills her with just enough; the other is moved to measure out all she had to live on. One forms a trusting bond with the prophet Elijah in a time of extreme need; the other may not have even known she would be memorialized in this book. One was called to extravagantly give away all she had for food and the other gave away extravagantly all the money she had to live on.
The first point for today is that widows were vulnerable. From the books of Moses, we find God to be the one who “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner.” (Deut. 10:18) The prophets rail against those who “turn aside the needy from justice that widows may be their spoil and that they may make the fatherless their prey” (Is. 10:2). The early church cared especially for widows, taking up collections for them (Acts 6), and James sums the whole Christian vocation of service in these words: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
And the question is, why? Why is this class singled out? And next question is, why do they show up here in the text? But, first things first. Why is this class singled out in the Scriptures? Widows are those who had married but lost their husbands. They could be young, but many times “Widow” refers to someone who is older. In the times of the Bible, they are especially vulnerable because they’re in danger of getting lost in the shuffle, in danger of being cut off from family life, in danger of being forgotten.
So, you might think, “That’s not too bad,” but remember, we live in a time and place where I can hop in a car, drive for a quarter of a day and be 300 miles east, at my parents’ side. We live in a day when you can wash a week’s worth of dishes with a push of a button, when hot water comes at the turn of a faucet. If you lived in a day when to do laundry took a day’s worth of back-breaking labor, when making food very often meant grinding your own grain, making your own flour, baking your own bread, when getting new clothes meant that someone needed to weave them for you, then to surviving became a full-time job. You could have no sick days. But it meant something wore as well: since you fought so hard for yourself, you couldn’t really provide services for the community, you were in danger of being forgotten. Being forgotten was deadly.
It was deadly then and it’s deadly now. It’s deadly now when we spend more time looking into our screens then we spend face to face. It’s deadly when we don’t know our neighbors. It’s deadly because it’s so easy for people to pass through our lives and our town without us even knowing.
So, God had set up special provisions for widows, and he commands his people to look after them especially. So, our first lesson comes in the form of a question: who are our widows and fatherless in our little community? In part, they are the widows and the fatherless, but the question is, what makes people to fall through the cracks in little old Janesville?
Perhaps here we could add to our list young mothers. I know really well these days, it’s hard to be parents even when there are two of you. I don’t know how single moms or dads do it. Or perhaps it’s those moving into low-cost housing here. Even in my short time here I’ve seen people move in, inhabit an apartment and move on, vanishing like a ghost in the night. We have a duty to seek those who fall through the cracks.
And so our second point builds on the first: the second point is that it’s noteworthy in our texts that the widows are the ones giving and acting. It’s noteworthy because they are the ones who had the least resources to give, where every penny, every pinch of flour, every drop of oil is precious. It is precisely their poverty that gives weight to Jesus’ teaching. I mean, would it strike such a cord if a reasonably wealthy kind of a person would give a reasonable gift? Well, no, but that doesn’t quite parallel what happens here. Would it strike such a cord if an extravagantly wealthy person gave away all his wealth in the prime of his life? Instead of pennies, if Jesus praised the millionaire that gave away every one of his millions?
Because you can have the reasonable assumption that a man like that could even in hard times provide for himself. He gives, even if he gives everything, he gives out of his abundance. This is a poor, elderly woman giving away the only pittance she could scrape together, she gives out her poverty.
And its not just her, it’s us too. If the Pharisees, the pastors, the scribes, the professionals, the blue-collars, the working poor, if we were all to describe our spiritual state, we would at the end of the day, only be able to call ourselves spiritually poor.
The reason that Jesus draws attention to the widow is because her status is ours – poverty. Let me count the ways: You get the idea that we’re on the spiritual edge of the cliff every day of our lives. We are living hand to mouth every day, whether we have it all or we barely have our next paycheck. Nothing of this life is assured, and the only reason you take your life for granted is because it hasn’t been taken away yet.
It’s like the old joke…
A man dies and goes to heaven.
St. Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates and says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.” "Okay," the man says, "I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, and loved her deep in my heart."
St. Peter says, “Alright.”
the man says. "Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithes and service." “Very good”
I started a soup kitchen in my city and also worked in a shelter for homeless veterans."
"Good, good," St.Peter says.
"Two points!?!!" Exasperated, the man cries, "At this rate, the only way I'll get into heaven is by the grace of God."
'Bingo! 100 points ! Come on in!'
Or, better, it’s like Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, in the great love chapter, “If I gave away all that I had, delivered up my body to be burned but have not love (read here, have not Jesus, the incarnation of love), I gain nothing.” Without Christ, everything is poverty.
But here’s the second lesson and it’s good news, and it’s two parts. First that Jesus becomes poor for us. It is his riches that keep the world spinning, and he’s the one that gives everything away, all that is rightfully his he chooses not to keep, and he does it in order to become poorer than the poorest widow. On the cross he dumps out the riches of his divinity so that he can take our place, he takes the measure of God’s wrath, the wrath that was supposed to be against us, so that he can load up himself the debt that we have.
If that’s first, this is second: when he rises from the grave, he does so to take up his riches once again, but this time, he gives them out … to us. Jesus, the king of all that really matters, lavishly and extravagantly doles out the riches of the universe upon his people.
It is an extravagant sacrifice that leaves nothing out, that leaves nothing to chance, that bargains all of our God’s divinity against the gaping hole of sin. It is an extravagant sacrifice that takes the widows, the fatherless, those who fall through the cracks, and it makes them to sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
On the last day, God won’t be impressed by budgets, by expanding buildings or big programs. No, his praise won’t be for that – it will be for the people cared for, for the imprisoned that were visited, for the naked that were clothed, for the despised that were loved, the avenues that the people of God gave out mercy through any means necessary. Our God looks to redeem your whole life, and he won’t rest until every one of your desires is lifted up to the heights of his love.
The kingdom of God is like a fight breaking out between middle school boys, where one asks “Do you want a piece of me?!” And the other says, “No, I want the whole thing!”
Just like Pastor Griffin said last week, quoting the commentator Lenski, (I paraphrase): It is God who makes us merciful, and then he rewards us for being merciful. It is God who places the extravagance of love in our hearts and then rewards us for that love. It is God who lifts us up to the heights of heavens and then delights to find us there.
The kingdom of God is like a big church in a small town where the whole church goes around worrying less about cracks in their buildings and more about those who fall through the cracks, where husbands are beginning to learn what extravagant sacrifice for their wives means, where families gather around kitchen tables to wonder together in awe at all that God has provided for them, and how extravagantly he’s equipped them to serve.
We know a little bit about what happened to the Widow at Zarephath – she had more tragedy and more joy in store for her. We don’t particularly know what happened next to the widow that Jesus praises. We don’t even know if she knew she was praised. But for generations to come, this woman and her two pennies are a sign of the extravagance that God places and finds in the hearts of his people.
Amen and amen.
Matthew 5: 1-12
5 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Dear Friends in Christ,
The kingdom of God is like a married couple sitting at their kitchen table arguing about their finances. Their monthly bills are spread before them, and the husband is worried and he’s frustrated and he doesn’t know how they will make it. The cup is half empty and getting emptier, as he sees it. His wife remembers that there is money in the savings account, and she looks forward to the raise that her husband will be getting and she’s not at all worried and is certain they will be alright. The cup is half full and holding its own, as she sees it. Three different times, their war of words gets interrupted by three different children, asking for their cups of lemonade to be refilled. The children could not have cared less about family finances, they just knew that their parents would be glad to bless them with more lemonade.
In our Epistle Lesson for today, the apostle John invites us to revel in the simple truth that our Father in heaven has declared us to be His children, and so we are. One of the problems of growing into adulthood is that we stop acting as children, in terms of receiving the blessings of our Father in heaven. We imagine that we have earned our blessings and we start to worry about whether our blessings will be sufficient into the future, and before you know it, in all kinds of ways, we start to argue with each other and with ourselves, whether the cup is half full or half empty.
In terms of spiritual blessings, whether you see the cup as half full or half empty, know that it is (refillable!) According to the church year, today is All Saints’ Day. The word “saint” in its primary meaning, as used in Scripture, refers to those who have been “set apart” and declared to be holy by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. In this sense, therefore, all Christians, including those who are weak in their faith, are saints before God through the merits of their Savior.
Jesus began His sermon on the mount by nine times declaring His disciples blessed because of what God had in store for them. Jesus was not making ethical demands of His followers but was describing blessings they would fully enjoy in the new heaven and the new earth. Blessings they could also enjoy by faith here and now. Our sermon theme today is “Blessed”. The first four beatitudes invite us to think about what it means to be children of our heavenly father, and the next three ask us to reflect on what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ.
As children of God, we learn again today that we are in fact Blessed as often as we enjoy what our Father is (giving). Jesus says it this way, Blessed are the beggarly in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” Jesus gives us a picture of a cringing and crouching and a wretched kind of a guy who brings nothing at all to the plate. The world sees beggars as cursed, but Jesus teaches us that The riches of the future belong to the beggarly in spirit already (here and now). The poverty referred to is an attitude of a child who recognizes that all he is or possesses comes from his parents. The attitude of a messed up person who is convinced he can’t fix himself. The attitude of a broken and contrite person whose despair turns to joy as He hears that His Father in heaven is not despising Him. Even better than that, his name is written in the book of life, a mansion in heaven is on reserve for him, the riches of the future are already here.
Again, Jesus declares, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This second pronouncement is as paradoxical as the first. The verb “mourning” indicates a loud crying out such as lamenting for the dead or for a severe and painful loss. We think not only of being sorry for our sins, but all grief and sorrow due to the power of sin in this world, whatever inflicts blows, losses, and pain upon the godly. It includes every wrong done to us, as well as every painful consequence of our own wrongdoing.
In the first reading for today, Christians are pictured as those coming out of the great tribulation. Those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. The world sees the church as full of do-gooders wearing robes of hypocrisy. And there is a fair amount of truth in that perception. Today we see again that we have been given Robes that keep on losing their (stains). Day after day, we sin and fall short of the glory of God, some days really short. As often as we cry out for a word reassurance and comfort, reassurance and comfort are ours!
Jesus declares, “Blessed are the meek, for just they shall inherit the earth. The kingdom of God is like a man the world sees as mild mannered, calm, cool, and collected. A man who can be pushed around and almost never will push back. In high school, he could have been voted most likely not to succeed. Jesus would predict just the opposite on this All Saints’ Sunday. That in fact this man is already enjoying an inheritance fought for and earned by (another). He rejoices in what is yet to come, even as he enjoys already here and now blessings too numerous to count. Notice the sign outside our church, “Get rich quick. Count your blessings!”
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. We think here of the Fourth Petition, Give us this day our daily bread. Daily we cry for forgiveness, and daily God satisfies us. Satisfied one day at a (time). In terms of physical eating and drinking, we know that food and drink tastes best when we’re really hungry and thirsty. So also in terms of spiritual eating and drinking, if we stop being hungry and thirsty, Jesus could no longer pronounce us blessed, he could no longer satisfy us.
Lesson #1 today is to live one day at a time, believing that the sins of our past are forgiven, believing that the troubles of our future are in the hands of Almighty God, leaving us with just today to enjoy what our Father is giving. If lesson #1 was to live as children in relationship with a loving Father, lesson #2 is to live as brothers and sisters in Christ giving away all that we have received.
Part 2 of our sermon today is that we are Blessed as often as we look out for our siblings, just (for the fun of it). This week, the Griffin family is headed for sunny Florida for our baby boy Noah’s wedding to a beautiful Christian young lady Jenna. Noah wasn’t really an afterthought in our family, but he is the caboose. When he was born, his siblings were 12, 11, and 6 years old. Especially the older two, Heather and Nate looked out for Noah and I would like to think it wasn’t entirely out of a sense of duty. More often than not, they seemed to have fun doing it.
Perhaps Jesus had that in mind when He declared, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. The first four beatitudes look toward God, the next three towards other people in our lives. Mercy and pure hearts and peacemaking are three virtues which mark Christians as blessed. Luther wrote that in all the beatitudes faith is presupposed as the tree on which all the fruit of blessedness grows. With God grace is always first and mercy second. First God makes us merciful and then blesses us for being merciful.
More and more as we live in and enjoy His grace, our old sinful nature’s desire to give people what we think they deserve gives way to a new and desire to be merciful. “Have to” attitudes give way to (“get to”) habits. No longer do I say that I have to provide for my children and I have to take care of my parents in their old age and I have to be nice to people who really irritate me, but rather I get to go to work and I get to rake my neighbor’s leaves and I get to go on a mission trip and I get to listen to my neighbor’s hurting heart one more time.
Beatitude #6 - “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are they who are hearing the Word of God and keeping it and holding it dear and near to their hearts. As they do so, they find their human agendas giving way to heavenly (visions). Less concerned about 401k pension plans and more interested in the Vision Statement of their local congregation. Less motivated to get ahead in the corporate world and more focused on the Second Coming of Christ. Less multitasking and more fixing their eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith. Not so much woe is me and why is my life so dull and more blessed am I and what is my next step in terms of letting my Gospel light shine all over my neighborhood.
Beatitude #7, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God. To be at peace with God is to have a peace the world cannot give. The author John Piper wrote in his book, This Momentary Marriage, that “all of us, married and single, are supposed to live hour by hour by the forgiving, justifying, all supplying grace of God and then bend it out to all the others in our lives.” I like that picture of bending God’s grace out into other people’s lives. Being at peace with God and then living in peace, if possible, with others and working to keep and to make peace wherever peace is threatened or lost. This isn’t a “peace at any price” kind of peace which ignores Biblical truth, but rather the truth of God’s Word comes first, peace with people second. Friends are dear, the Word of our greatest Friend dearest.
As we spend our days rejoicing in what a friend we really do have in Jesus, we find the rainy days to be not quite so dreary, the challenges of ordinary life to be not quite so daunting, and the future to be quite so formidable. We find our small mindedness giving way to the big picture and our last point of the day, Pettiness giving way to (sweet peace).
Just yesterday, I was privileged to spend time with a good friend, an alumni of our school, a former confirmation class student of mine, who recently came back home after spending 32 months in prison. I shook his hand for the first time since his day of Confirmation, the day he was wearing a white robe made white in the blood of the Lamb. He’s been through what I would consider hell on earth, but the look in his eyes said everything I needed to know about him. The look in his eyes told me that he was blessed. Blessed to be enjoying the riches of his future already now. Blessed with a white robe that keeps on losing its stain. Blessed with an inheritance fought for and earned by another. Blessed by knowing what it means to live one day at a time. Blessed as he begins a new chapter of life where he will be looking out for his brothers and sisters in Christ. His “have to” attitude has given way to a “get to” way of looking at life. His human agenda is giving way to a heavenly vision, and whatever used to be ruling in his heart, Someone way better has taken its place. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
A Voice Like Roaring Waters –
John 10:4, Rev. 1:15
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus. Our texts for today are both from St. John, first from his Gospel and then from his Revelation.
More than once I would see Lenny before the 9:15 service sitting in the back pew, as he went through his treatments. I would sit next to him and ask him, “Well. Lenny, how are you doing today?" And he would answer with a clear voice and say, “Oh, I’m doing pretty good, Pastor.” And he’d tell me all about his treatments for the week, and we would watch the church gather before worship together.
A few days ago, I went to see him in the nursing home. I sat next to him and asked, “Lenny, how are you doing today?” And he answered with a clear voice and said, “Oh, I’m doing pretty good, Pastor.” And he told me of his days in the hospital.
On Thursday, Pastor Griffin went to see Lenny in the nursing home. They said the Lord’s Prayer together and the Apostle’s Creed. They remembered their baptisms and Pastor Griffin said to Lenny, “It seems you’re going home soon. How do you feel about that?” And Lenny said with a clear voice, “I’m at peace.” Even when his breath grew shallow, even when his strength of his body was failing, his voice was clear and strong.
In the face of his trials, his struggles with cancer, and even the day of his death, his voice was clear. Today, I invite you to listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd, clear and strong, as he holds out to you the hope that Lenny clung to all the days of his life.
Two points for our meditation today: first, that the voice of Lenny’s Good Shepherd was clear, and second that it was strong. First, the voice of our Good Shepherd is clear. John says it like this in his Gospel: I know my own and my own know me. The Good Shepherd calls his own sheep by name. He goes out before them, and they follow him because they know his voice.
Pastor Griffin has said that on more than one occasion, he would sing in the choir on Hay Daze and he really didn’t know what he was doing. So, it was always his goal to find someone who could really sing and stand next to him. Now, I’m not too sure if Pastor Griffin sings bass or tenor (I don’t know if he knows himself) but when you’re following someone who really belts it out (and belts it out for 70 years), when you hear a clear voice leading you, it becomes easy to follow.
From the day he was baptized, April 23, 1928, the clear voice of Leonard’s Good Shepherd called him into his flock as soon as the Water and the Word touched him. From the day he was confirmed, March 29, 1942, his Good Shepherd fed and nourished him with the Body and Blood, bread and wine. As he was called to fight the good fight of faith all his days at home and abroad, as he was called to take ahold of eternal life in these days, as he was taught by his God to have a generous hand, a kind heart, so again and again and again, Leonard came to the place where he could hear the clear voice of his good shepherd calling out to him with the same good news that we’ve preached for two thousand years and more:
Death was never the design, and it will not be your end. Your savior has fought the good fight for you. Your savior took your punishment in your place. Your savior will lead you through the valley of the shadow of death. Your savior follows you around with goodness and mercy all the days of your life.
These are the promises of God, clear, absolutely clear, sung by the saints below and again by the saints above.
Second, the voice of our Good Shepherd is strong. Listen and wonder at the description of Jesus in the book of John’s revelation. Can you tell in his writing? These are words describing a man that defies description. He comes riding the clouds. His eyes are like flames of fire; his feet like burnished bronze. His face like the sun shining in full strength; his voice is like the roar of many waters, like the perpetual crash of a bowling alley, like the sound of Niagara Falls.
The first Europeans were awestruck when they saw the falls of Niagara. And I quote: “The human habitants within sound of its Fall were few and far apart… Its few visitors came, gazed and departed in silence and awe.” It was like a wall of sound that deafened all else, like peal of thunder that would never stop; when you draw near, it overwhelms first your ears and then all your senses.
And I tell you that to tell you this: the overwhelming roar of those waters is like a drop in the bucket compared to your Savior’s strength for you. The greatness that makes those falls great serves best when it lets us hear the merest part of the greatness of God. Carl Boberg said it like this: “Oh Lord, my God, When I in awesome wonder, consider all the works thy hand hath made – I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed…”
It is that strength – the indescribable strength of the Father - that wrestled death to the ground for Leonard. It is that thunder – the thunderous love of Jesus Christ - that proclaimed “It is Finished” on the cross for Leonard. It is that vitality – the vitality of the Spirit of Life - that will raise Leonard from the grave on the last day. It is that power that gives eternal life to Leonard and all believers in Christ. And for that, “Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee, How Great thou art, How Great thou art!”
Our God is powerful enough to answer our prayers. He is loving enough to answer for our good. Our God is powerful to redeem us from our sins. He is loving to die in our place. Our God is powerful to lead us home. He is loving to prepare for us a place.
So, I urge you, now as you’re in our earthly choir to sing the refrains of the promises of our God. Sing, and sing like you’ve never sung before. Know that your voices are joined with all who sing in the heavenly choir, even its newest member. Know that your voices are raised to our God in heaven. Know how great he is. And let the clear, strong voice of your savior lead you through death even into eternal life. We sing together the final verse and refrain of Hymn #801, How Great Thou Art.
Third in a Series of Seven Sermons
40 “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes. 44 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God. 45 But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
• Two weeks ago – receiving gratefully God’s good gifts, receiving ungratefully, or not receiving them at all
• Last week – searching eagerly Holy Scripture, searching not so eagerly, or not searching at all
• Tonight – confessing humbly your sins to God and others, confessing sort of, kind of, with a few conditions, or confessing not at all
• Two parts to confession 1)acknowledge our sins, and 2)receive absolution
• To be repentant is to be 1)sorry and 2)to believe in Jesus as Savior
• Necessary result of repentance – amend sinful ways / change in behavior (tell story of older brother beating up younger brother / saying he is sorry, but he keeps beating him up)
• Story of Jake in our Release Class Time video /Christian boy making a one time mistake, posting nude photos of girl friend on website / called into principal’s office, at first denying, then confessing, then getting expelled. His youth pastor helped him to believe that his sins were forgiven, and at the same time he suffered consequences. Saint and sinner. Temporary but not eternal suffering. 1)run to God for mercy, 2)learn from mistakes, 3)teach others.
• Story of Israel was one of sin, suffer, supplication, savior cycle / messing up, suffering miserably, drawing near to their holy God for forgiveness, learning from their mistakes, teaching their children and others.
• The first 16 chapters of Leviticus told Israel how God was to come near to God with a)blood sacrifices, b)through the priesthood, c)by avoiding defilement.
• The last 11 chapters of Leviticus show how Israel was to live out their relationship with God in terms of personal holiness, holiness with regard to sexual behavior, holiness in society, holiness for the priests, holy festivals, holiness of the land, and tonight we turn in chapter 26 to God’s rewards for obedience and punishment for disobedience.
• Rewards for obedience required 11 verses to enumerate / if they listened and were careful to walk humbly before the Lord as a nation included rain in its season, ground yielding its crops, and trees bearing fruit. Additional rewards include all the food they could possibly want to eat, the ability to live in safety, and peace in the land. They would be able to lie down in peace at night, they would not have to sorry about savage beasts, and enemy armies would not bother them. If they listened as a nation and obeyed their covenant God, five of their good men could handle a hundred of their enemies and a hundred of their soldiers could chase down a thousand. No problem. They would still be eating last year’s harvest and would have to make room for the new one. That’s how abundant their lives would be.
• On the other hand, the punishment for disobedience took 27 verses to list. Five different paragraphs.
1) If they didn’t listen and obey as a nation, if they rejected his statues and hated his commandments, God threatened them with panic attacks, infection diseases, and high fevers. They would sow but not reap, and their enemies would rule over them.
2) A second time God said if after all that they would not listen, he would punish them seven times over. He would break down their stubbornness, the rain wouldn’t fall, the ground would be dry and hard, no crops and no fruit.
3) A third time God repeated that if they would not be corrected, he would be hostile towards them, he would get out the big sword, they would be given over to the enemy, ten women would have to share one oven, they would eat but always be hungry.
4) A fourth time God said he would punish their obstinate ways with wild animals destroying their children and their animals.
5) A fifth, as if they had not already gotten the message, God would punish them with neighboring bands of raiders,their armies would be defeated, there would be cannibalism, wholesale slaughter, cities destroyed, captivity. Not just a streak of bad luck, but it would seem as though God had cancelled out the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Finally, we get to our text for tonight, with Good News that is even sweeter than the bad news is sour. If they would confess their sins, God’s grace would cover them. If they would admit the sins of their fathers and if they would come clean with their record of treachery and hostility and stubbornness, the mercies of God would be fresh like the morning dew. When they were ready to cry out as the publican in the temple, God be merciful to me a sinner, and when they were ready to suffer the temporary consequences of their sins, as a nation they would be declared forgiven. As a nation, God would remember the sacred promises He had made to their patriarchs. As a nation they would be saved and their sins would be sent away as far as Egypt is the east is from the west. As a nation they would be blessed and kept by the God who had brought them out of slavery and across the Red Sea on dry land. As a nation, they would once again see the Lord making his face shine on them and being gracious unto them, and as a nation, they would know once again what it would be like to have the favor of their God upon them and to be at peace.
The kingdom of God is like a man I know in a distant city who was happily married with children, but not any more. Over the years their good habits were overcome with their bad ones, and their good intentions gave way to all kinds of fussing and fighting. They did eat and drink with believing hearts at their Lord’s Table, but their own supper tables were a disaster.
They did listen to the preaching of God’s Word with attentive hearts, but more often than not, they couldn’t practice what had been preached. The good that they would do they did not and the bad that they would not, that’s what they ended up doing. As the marriage comes to an end, this man throws himself on the mercy of his wife, but it’s too late. Not too late for her to forgive him, but too late for the marriage to be rescued. Not too late for God to wash him clean, but too late for the damage to be undone. Not too late for grace to rule, but too late for lifelong consequences to be avoided.
The kingdom of God is like a large nation more blessed than any in the history of the world, but some days you wonder where it’s all going to end. Over the years their good habits have given way to not so good. Their thankfulness has dwindled into discontentment. They struggle even to define what a marriage is, much less live them out in God honoring fashion. They have a hard time deciding if they would rejoice in babies born or perhaps terminate them long before they have the chance. The bad news is nasty in so many ways, but every day the Good News remains sweet. It may be too late for this nation to recover its glory years, but it’s not too late to confess their sins. It may be too late to avoid the consequences of their immorality, but it’s not too late to cry out for mercy.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town learning more time that as often as they cry out for mercy, mercy is theirs. That in every one of their days, confession will be good for their souls. That no matter how conflicted their relationships, Jesus Christ is the way through and beyond. That every one of their stories which takes them to the cross is a story that has a good ending. That all is well that ends well.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther