“Seeing the Glory of the Lord”
Isaiah 40: 1-5 – Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Dear Christian Friends,
Years ago, when we lived near Lewiston, MN, a neighbor woman was dying of cancer. Her name was Ida, and she and she was a cheerful and well respected Christian lady in our farm community and one day her husband Marlo the dairy farmer called me and said, “If you want to want to say goodbye to Ida, you’d better get over here. She doesn’t have much time.” I visited her, and we did a little bit of small talk and then when it came time to talk to her about dying, I started to cry. She asked me why I was crying and I had such a lump in my throat I couldn’t really say anything and then she scolded me for crying and she knew where she was going and heaven was going to be way better than this and why don’t you stop your crying and say a prayer. It was as if she could almost taste the glory of God. And so I prayed with her that God would receive her into paradise in His time.
A couple of years ago, I had a similar experience with my dear mom. She was in hospice care, and one day it was just me and her, and she was sleeping and I was thinking and then I started to cry. She opened her eyes and saw that I was crying and she said, “Larry, are you crying?” I said, “yes.” She asked why. I tried to tell her that it was because I loved her so much, but I couldn’t get any words out. She assured me that she was going to be ok and maybe I could pray for her. It was as if she could almost see the glory of paradise and she wanted to be there sooner rather than later.
Just a few days before Mary breathed her last, I couldn’t help but get teary eyed as I greeted her and noticed that in spite of all that she had endured, she had a bit of a smile on her face. It was if it was frozen in place. As if she couldn’t not smile. Instead of asking her a yes or no question, I asked her an either or one. I asked her if she was getting discouraged or if she was keeping her spirits up. It took every bit of energy she had to mouth the words “keeping spirits up.” It was as if she could already see the glory of God in the midst of her frail and declining condition.
Our sermon text for today is in Isaiah 40, “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Our theme is “Seeing the Glory of God.” I invite you to think with me today what it means to live by faith instead of by sight. What it means to see the glory of God, even when life is ever so inglorious. What it means to celebrate the beauty of the resurrection even as you stare in the face the ugliness of death.
The assignment of the prophet Isaiah was to comfort the people of God. He was to speak with a tender voice to them that their time of exile in Babylon would soon be over, that their sins had been forgiven, and that their blessings would be abundant. They were to get themselves ready to see the glory of their God by making straight in the wilderness the way of their Lord, by lifting up the valleys, making low the mountains and hills, and smoothing out the rough edges in their lives. In other words, they were to spend their days repenting, that is to say – being sorry for their sins, throwing themselves on the mercy of God, receiving that mercy, holding onto that mercy, and walking by faith instead of by sight. Living according to what God had promised instead of according to what they could see.
It seems as if Mary Cords had figured out how to live by faith instead of by sight. She knew the reality of polio and she knew the unbelievable pain of losing a son at a young age and she knew the loneliness of losing a husband and she knew the long days and nights of cancer and treatment and surgeries, and yet she kept on seeing with the eyes of faith that Jesus was her Savior, that God was with her, and that His promises were to be trusted. Or to say it another way, she had found a way to see the glory of God even when life was short and full of trouble.
Bob and Wayne and Al and Molly and all you who loved Mary and were loved by her, today, I invite you to spend your days here and now seeing the glory of God, no matter how dark or discouraging are your days. You might wonder where it is that you can find the glory of God, and in answer to that, the Bible offers at least three answers – First Article, Second Article, and Third Article glory.
First Article. The Psalmist writes that “The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Take a look outside in any one of your days, and notice and take in the breathtaking beauty of nature. You can’t miss it. In the Book of Exodus, when Moses was dealing with a wandering and starving and complaining people of God, he indicated that in the mornings God would provide manna and in the evenings quail meat, and as often as they saw the bread and meat and so much more, they would be seeing the glory of their Lord.
Second Article – You may see the glory of the Lord as often as you fix your eyes on the cross, where Jesus Christ was crucified until He was dead and buried. As often as you make the sign of the cross, as often as you see the sign of the cross, as often as you lay your burdens down at the foot of the cross, that often you will see the glory of your Lord. The hymnwriter says it this way, “In the cross of Christ I glory, Towring o’er over the wrecks of time, All the light of sacred story Gathers round its head sublime. When the woes of life o’ertake me, Hopes deceive and fears annoy, Never shall the cross forsake me,Lo, it glows with peace and joy. Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure By the cross are sanctified; Peace is there that knows no measure, Joys that through all time abide.
Third Article – Holy Spirit, Holy Christian Church, Communion of Saints, Forgiveness of Sins, Resurrection of the Body, Life Everlasting.
As you lay your dear wife, sister, mother, mother in law, grandma, and friend into the ground today, I invite you to do so absolute confidence that her soul and spirit are already now in the presence of Jesus Christ and that the day is coming when Jesus Christ will come not as a baby in a manger, but as a Lamb upon a throne. Believe that on that day the archangel will shout and the trumpet will blow and the saints in every generation will rise and be accepted into glory.
Go ahead and cry today, but not as the unbelievers cry. Cry out as the people of God who know that you have been claimed in the waters of Baptism, that your mansions in heaven have been put on reserve, and that your Good Shepherd is following you around with goodness and mercy. Go ahead and be sad, but not for Mary. Mary’s never been better. Take your sad and your empty hearts to one another and hold onto family and travel through this valley of the shadow of death together, and never alone. Even more importantly, resolve this day to stay close to Jesus Christ all the days of life. Stay close to Him by listening to His Word, and not just once in awhile, but in regular fashion. Stay close by stepping forward to His Supper, and not just when life is overwhelming you, but in the good times and not so good. May God every last one of Mary’s friends and family closer and closer to Him, may God help you to see and even taste His glory no matter how strong are the winds and no matter how high the waves, and may Mary Cords rest in peace.
Second Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 40 - A voice cries:[b] “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are in the second of a four week Advent series, Comfort and Joy. Peace of Christ / Pardon of Christ / Presence of Christ / Power of Christ. Last weekend, we learned what the peace of Jesus Christ is not- an absence of violence, an absence of noise – and what it is in fact – the presence of God’s comfort. On Wednesday, we learned what that peace of Christ does – namely that it actively infuses our relationships and conversations and daily activities with the very strength of God and the gladness that comes in knowing and being known by Christ. Today, we focus on what it means to have the pardon of Christ and how to get hold of and treasure that pardon. (Draw attention to bulletin Family Conversation page). Wednesday, in Part II, we’ll focus on what that divine pardon does as it goes out into our homes and work places.
A woman actively engaged in the wrong mission. No doubt you have heard the old adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” While there may be a bit of truth in that old saying, anyone who has felt the stinging barb of criticism knows that words can deeply wound. James Dobson quotes Lewis Yablonsky, the author of Fathers and Sons, as a son who had observed the effect his mother’s negative comments had on his own father. At the dinner table, Lewis’ mother would say things like, “Look at your father! His shoulders are bent down; he’s a failure. He doesn’t have the courage to get a better job or make more money. He’s a beaten man.” The author writes that his father never defended himself. He just kept staring at his plate. That lady was on a mission, to be sure, but it was the wrong mission. This morning, I have a question for all of you wives out there, and husbands, and single folks, and no matter what station of life you are in and no matter what chapter of life you are in, what is your mission in life? Is it the mission of God, which is to make disciples for Jesus Christ, or is it something other than or less than that?
In our text for today, we hear the prophet Isaiah announcing the good news that their God was on a mission to rescue them from Babylonian captivity. They were to remember the good news of the past and always to be getting ready for the good news to be coming in their future. They were to remember getting rescued from 450 years of Egyptian slavery and to anticipate getting rescued from Babylonian oppression in the near future. They were to never forget that the sins of their parents and grandparents had been pardoned and to rejoice that God had devised a plan to pardon their iniquities, as well.
The second “P” in our four part series is pardon. The pardon of Christ has come and is coming to us, and we are to be (preparing for it) at the same time. Today we ask the good Lutheran question what does this mean? And on Wednesday we ask another good Lutheran question, how is this done? What does this mean, in other words what does it mean to have the pardon of Christ and how do we get it and what does it mean to hold onto and treasure and enjoy the forgiveness of sins in this season of Advent?
Advent means to come. Christ came, He continues to come, and He is coming again. As you well know, He came the first time as a seemingly helpless baby in a manger, He comes to us this very day in the words of absolution and in the preaching of His Word and in the bread and the wine of the Supper, and He will come one day soon as a thief in the night. What does it mean that your sins and mine have been pardoned in the courtroom of the Most High God? It means that God has found a way to declare guilty people not guilty. You husbands who have fallen way short of cherishing your wives in the way that Christ has cherished and nourished His bride the Church, I say to you with a tender voice – your sins are pardoned. You wives who have spent all kinds of effort berating and insulting and cutting down your men, I say to you with a gentle word that your sins are pardoned. You who are single or retired or widowed who have stumbled into habits of stubbornness or selfishness or self-righteousness or laziness or apathy or busyness or you fill in the blank, I say to you with great joy, your warfare is ended and your iniquity is pardoned. Advent Lesson #1 today, in every one of our days, we are to be getting ready to receive the pardon of Christ. We do that by making straight in the desert a highway for our God, by lifting up the valleys and making low the mountains and by smoothing out the rough edges. Or to say it another way, by repenting. Which brings us to our second and final lesson this morning.
To make the Biblical case for What (repentance) isn’t and what it is. Our Catechism says it this way. Repentant believers are those who are sorry for their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ…..And that good works, which are the fruits of repentance, are bound to follow. The first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses is “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, Repent ye! He makes clear that the whole life of His believers is to be a constant or unending repentance.”
Three truths I would like to lay before you today on the subject of repentance. First, it doesn’t listen to the voices of (false peace), but to the voice of one crying in the wilderness. The voice of false peace would say that if you ignore problem situations in life, they will usually go away. The voice of John the Baptism cries out for you to stop making excuses for your messed up circumstances and get down on your knees and ask for help. The voice of false peace will tell you that you a better sinner than average, the voice of the prophets will tell you that you are chief of sinners. The voice of false peace will tell you that you’re pretty much ok in life, the voice of Isaiah would cry out to you today that you have done much that is wrong and left undone much that right.
Secondly, the repentant heart doesn’t ask what’s wrong with other people, but rather what’s wrong with (me). Have you ever noticed how much our conversations dwell on what’s wrong with other people? It doesn’t ask what’s wrong with the rioters and looters in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City. It asks what’s wrong with me and why am I so quick to judge and slow to pray. It doesn’t ask what’s wrong with the Minnesota High School League and their ruling on transgender athletes, but rather what’s wrong with me and why am I so full of myself and what are my bad habits these days? Repentance doesn’t ask what’s wrong with everybody else for getting Christmas wrong, but rather what are ways in which me and my household are getting off track in this season of comfort and joy?
Third, the repentant heart doesn’t say that “I’m sorry if I offended you,” but rather “I’m sorry that I have offended (God and others).” If you have been following the Ferguson Missouri situation, then you may know that several St. Louis Rams players showed solidarity with the family of Michael Brown by raising their hands during pre-game festivities. The next day, a county police chief indicated that an Rams official had apologized for the actions of those five players. Shortly after that, that official denied in an email that he had apologized. He clarified that he had “expressed regret for any perceived disrespect of law enforcement.”
The repentant heart doesn’t say “I’m sorry if I offended you, but rather I’m sorry that I have offended God and others.” It doesn’t say that you should not have taken offense, but rather I am so sorry for giving offense. It doesn’t say that I could probably do better, but rather this day I will aim for perfection. It doesn’t say that this world would be a lot better place if other people would shape up, but rather, I need to shape up. It doesn’t say, “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing in life or what direction I should be traveling, but rather that my Savior loves me so very much and I intend to spend my days thanking and praising, serving and obeying Him – whatever that takes, and wherever that leads. People who know who they are and why they are.
People engaged in the right mission: The kingdom of God is like a wife with a new heart and a burning desire to encourage her husband into being all that he can be. It’s like a husband who is rejoicing in his wife’s forgiveness and is on a mission to pass along the same Christmas comfort and joy his grandparents passed along to his parents. More and more they are finding their church to be like a city of lights set on a hill where darkness is having a hard time hiding and where angry hearts are letting go of their grudges. Less and less are people asking what is the matter with everybody else and more and more the glory of the Lord is being revealed to them. Together they are seeing Jesus and realizing that life doesn’t get any better than that. Amen.
Acts 5:1-11 / Exodus 13:11-18 / Luke 8:1-3
Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them[a] out of their means.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town with an ambitious mission. Their Achilles heal is their finances, and although it’s hard to pin down, there is something unsettling about their stewardship of treasure. The kingdom of God is like a young couple with children who are blessed with good jobs, life is going reasonably well, and they love their church. They appreciate their pastors, they attend Divine Service two or three times a month, and they give on an occasional basis. They would like to give more, but they do not have financial peace in their own household. For several years now, they have been spending more than they are making, and their credit card, vehicle, and mortgage debts are overwhelming them on a regular basis. When they realize that the pastor is about to preach the annual money sermon, their hands begin sweat and their feelings of failure begin to rise, and they cry out in their hearts for the peace of God to rule with regard to their personal finances and their desire to give in a generous and sacrificial way to a mission and ministry they believe in.
(Sermon notes in bulletin and on screen) Today is the third in a series of three sermons on how to manage in a faithful way our Christian vocations. 1) Time, 2) Talents, and 3) Treasure. Peace with regard to our treasure begins every day with a look in the (mirror). In our second lesson for today, we are studying the frightening story of Ananias and Sapphira, who from all outward appearances believed in the mission and ministry of the early church. They gave in a generous and sacrificial manner, but with deceitful hearts. They had every right to retain their property, but they sinned by pretending to offer it all. In so doing, they offended Almighty God, Who had in fact offered up His one and only and beloved Son to be their Savior. Their hypocrisy is the first sin recorded in the New Testament Church’s history. God made an example of them by striking them down dead on the spot, and we do well to learn from their example. If they had looked in the mirror that morning, they would have found at least two serious stains on their soul. Hypocrisy and flawed motives.
The first lesson we want to learn today is that peace with regard to stewardship of treasure begins with a look in the mirror. Looking for (hypocrisy). Am I loving my God with my whole heart and soul and mind? Am I loving my neighbor as much as I love myself? Am I pretending to be somebody I am not? Have I swerved into selfishness or carelessness with regard to my treasure? Looking for flawed (motives) The highest and purest motive for giving is in response to the simple fact that Jesus Christ loved you enough to live for you and die for you and rise up again for you and ascend into heaven for you and rules all of heaven and earth for you. Your sins are forgiven and heaven is yours, and therefore you give. Any motive for giving other than that one is less than pure. Flawed. (Including giving out of a sense of duty, giving in order to please God, giving so that the church can pay bills, giving because life is going well. I’m not saying those motives are entirely wrong, but the flaw in each one of them is that there is an earthly condition attached to each one of them.) This morning, we would bring all of our hypocrisy and flawed motives to the cross where we find that Christ has paid for every bit of that with His own life. Where we find the peace that the world cannot give, only Jesus.
Second, Peace with regard to our treasure increases as we move from a “have to” mentality towards a (“get-to”) attitude. In today’s Old Testament lesson, the Israelite families were required to consecrate their firstborn human and animals to God, as a way of remembering that God had spared their firstborn in the great Passover and Exodus event. Once a year they were to set aside 7 days of eating unleavened bread as a way of remembering how they were privileged to get out of Egypt and were not to take time to let their bread rise for the journey. Once a year, it was the duty of the head of the household to tell the story to the entire family, how the strong arm of the Lord had delivered them out of slavery. All of their firstborns were to be redeemed with the bloody sacrifice of a Lamb – pointing forward to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This yearly festival was God’s way of helping His firstborn son- the nation of Israel- not to forget all the benefits of being who they had been declared to be. They were required by law to give in a regular and sacrificial manner, as a way of remembering and never forgetting on their way to the Promised Land.
Moving towards the Promised Land as we remember the (slavery) from which we have been delivered. In every one of our days, we do well to think of ourselves as strangers and pilgrims here, on our way to a place far better. Never do we want to forget that the body of Christ has been broken for us, that His blood has been shed on our behalf. And so we come often to that meal where our sins are in fact forgiven, where our faith is in fact strengthened, and where our hearts are in fact changed. Where our mentality of “have to” is changed to a “get-to attitude.” Where we think of our giving to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ not only as a duty, but privilege. Not so much what I should do as my fair share, but what I get to do, in proportion to how I have been blessed.
(New Testament giving is new and it’s different.) Moving towards (hilarious) giving as we count the privileges we are enjoying. In II Corinthians 9, Paul writes that “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, nt reluctantly, or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. The Greek word translated “cheerful” is actually the word “hilarion” from which we get the word hilarious. It brings a smile to my face whenever I remember a very active and generous leader from the first congregation I served, who said on several occasions when the church needed to have a special offering that “we’re gonna have to cough up some more money.” What would it look like / feel like if our giving in this place was hilarious? (The last time I laughed in hilarious fashion was this week, when a friend posted on FB a video of about 20 examples of people waking up friends and family in rude fashion / tieing firecrackers to feet, putting snake in face, putting on a mask and starting up a chain saw). How could the Holy Spirit move us towards that kind of hilarity? From a “have to” to a “get-to” attitude? As we count our blessings, list our privileges and prosperity on paper and in our minds and fix our eyes on our #1 joy – our debt has been paid / we are free to spend our days serving and giving just for the fun of it all.
Third, Peace with regard to our treasure is all about (Jesus). In our Gospel lesson for today, we find it recorded that as Jesus and the 12 men disciples went through the cities and the small towns proclaiming and bringing the Good News of the Kingdom, some women traveled with them and provided for them out of their means. Many women, not just a few, actually. Mary Magdalene is listed first as one from whom Jesus had sent away seven demons. The same Mary who witnessed the agony of her Master’s crucifixion. The same Mary who lingered at His tomb with so many tears mixed in with hope. The same Mary who called Him Teacher and held onto His resurrected body with all of her heart, until Jesus sent her away to tell the men disciples that Christ was risen. We can imagine that Mary Magdalene and the other women supported Jesus not just with an occasional gift, but with regular and generous and sacrificial and cheerful, and dare I say, hilarious fashion?
True and lasting peace, whether it has to do with the stewardship of time or talents or treasure, is all about Jesus. It’s all about spending time with Him and His Body the Church. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Faith comes by eating and drinking at the Holy Supper. Faith comes by being still and knowing that God is God. Faith comes by looking at our souls in the mirror in daily fashion, throwing ourselves on His mercy, by receiving all that He wants us to have, and by praying again and again these two prayers: 1) Draw us (closer), dear Jesus! 2)O Holy Spirit, help us to (mature!)
The author Nelson Searcy has written a book encouraging pastors to help their people to be moving up the scale from occasional to systematic to proportional to extravagant, and to do so always in response to the mercies of God. The mercies of God, you see, are not just once in awhile, but new every day. The grace of God is daily and it’s freely offered and it’s generous, and more than that, it’s extravagant. This author urges pastors to speak to their people in a regular and passionate way on the subject of giving. When I don’t do that, dear friends, I do you a dis-service. That giving is an important measure of Christian faith and should not be shoved off to the side. Certainly not the only marker of Christian faith, but an important one. As we end one church year and begin a new one by the grace of God, your pastors urge you to mark this day, this very day, as a day of moving one step forward in the stewardship of our treasure.
The kingdom of God is like an occasional giver who prayed, Lord Jesus Christ, I confess that my response to your faithfulness has been hesitant and inconsistent. Draw me closer, hold me tighter, and move me one step forward toward giving that is regular and thoughtful and in response to all that You are and all that You have done and all that You are doing.
The Kingdom of God is like a systematic giver who prayed, Lord Jesus, I admit that I have often given was left over instead of first and best. Draw me closer, hold me tighter, and move me one step forward toward giving that is in direct proportion to the abundance with which you have blessed me.
The kingdom of God is like a proportionate giver who prayed, Lord Jesus, I could do far better than I am doing. Draw me closer, hold me tighter, and move me one step forward toward extravagance. That I could be like that sinful woman who couldn’t stop crying in the presence of Jesus, who couldn’t stop herself from wiping your feet with her hair and who couldn’t stop kissing those same feet and pouring out expensive perfume as a measure of her gratitude. Lord Jesus, draw us closer and hold us tighter.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town with a big mission where more and more of God’s people are beginning their days by looking in the mirror and searching their hearts. Their language of doing their duties and “we have to do this” is giving way to a language of privilege and opportunity and “we get to serve and it’s an honor to give.” And at the end of the day, they find themselves more and more resting in the promises of God and laying their heads down on their pillows in peace.
10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
Dear Friends in Christ,
On Friday, we laid to rest Ron Wiste, a lifelong member of this congregation, a well known business owner on Main Street, and a cheerful sort of a guy who was pretty famous in our little town for looking people in the eyes, calling them by name, complimenting them, and consistently brightening their days. On the golf course he was a bit famous for accomplishing not one but two holes in one. At least twice, he had the perfect swing. He got it right!
The death and burial of every one of our loved ones is a great opportunity to ask ourselves is we are getting it right. Are we faithfully managing time, talents, and treasure in a way that is glorifying God and building others up in their Christian faith? Today is the first of three sermons in our stewardship emphasis as fix our eyes on the One Who got it right in every one of His days dwelling among us in the flesh. He got it right on Good Friday and He got it right on Easter Sunday and He makes everything beautiful in His own time and in His own way here and now in our midst. To use the language of our Vision Statement, He is transforming our lives with His Gospel with the desire that the culture around us will be transformed as we faithfully manage God-given vocations. The Christian question of vocation is “How can I be a Christian in this part of my life?” Today we give our attention to all three readings selected for today and ask the question, “How can I be a Christian in the way I manage my time?” Three particular temptations I invite you to think about with me today – the temptation to be too busy to pray, the temptation to be timid in terms of sharing the faith, and the temptation to live in such a way that we get the glory instead of God.
First, we learn from Daniel that God’s peace will be ruling in our hearts and minds to the extent that our prayer life is continual and settled. (Temptation #1 – the temptation to be so preoccupied with less important business that we are too busy to pray / listen) Luther writes about Daniel that he was a splendid and great man in the sight of both God and the world. First in the sight of God, he above all other prophets had this special prophecy to give. He not only pointed towards the Messiah, but was able to predict with certainty the times and years of the kingdoms that would rise and fall under God’s direction. In our first reading for today, we find a real secret of Daniel’s greatness. His real concern for doing the will of God drove him to his knees three times a day in prayer.
The context of these daily prayers was that King Darius had appointed 120 officials throughout the kingdom, and over them three presidents, of whom Daniel was one. Daniel distinguished himself with good behavior, and was about to be placed over the whole kingdom – at which time the other presidents and officials set a trap for Daniel. They persuaded King Darius to sign a document that insisted that any man who prayed to any god other than King Darius in the next 30 days would be cast to his death in a den of lions.
Daniel’s response was to keep on doing the will of God. He got it right day after day. He went to his house and with the windows open towards Jerusalem he got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Over time, God’s Spirit had worked the kind of faith in Daniel’s heart that moved him to be more concerned about the interests of God than the opinions of man.
Many of us have been blessed by parents and grandparents, especially our moms and grandmas, who taught us to pray in regular fashion. Today would be my dad’s 94th birthday, and my best memories in life include seeing my parents getting it right / reading their Bibles and their Portals of Prayers and saying their prayers day after day in their old age. Mom would do the reading and the praying and Dad would listen in. Even a stronger memory of mine is as a pre-school boy watching my mom get it right / even better than a hole in one / have an hour of quiet time every morning, reading God’s Word, praying out of her big green coming apart prayer book, pouring out her soul in praise and petition to her God. In later years, I became aware that Mom had prayed for each of her children and for dad by name in every one of our days. Her prayer times were as certain as her meal times and her brushing her teeth times and any number of other daily routines. Lesson #1 today is to repent as individuals and as a congregation the many ways in which we have been too busy to pray. How foolish and how lazy and how misdirected we are in so many ways and at such great cost. To have the peace of God ruling in our stewardship of time is to have a continual and settled prayer life focused on the Kingdom of God.
Secondly, we turn to Acts 23 where we marvel at the wisdom of the apostles knowing enough to pray for a spirit of boldness. (Temptation #2- timidity in terms of speaking and doing what God is asking us to do in our various vocations as husband and wife, parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, teachers and students, employers and employees, etc.) The context of Acts 23 is that Peter and John had been preaching the resurrected Christ, about 5000 men had recently heard that Word and believed it, they were summoned before the Sannhedrin to explain themselves, they continued to speak with confidence that there was salvation in no other name than that of Jesus, they were imprisoned and then released, (On their way out of prison, they kept on getting it right. They knew enough to keep on praying. their prayer on their way out of prison was for God to help them stay bold, that He would keep on stretching out his hand to heal, and that signs and wonders would be performed in His Name. God answered them immediately. The place in which they were gathered together was shaken, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. They kept on speaking the Word of God with confidence. (Let us pray. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us. Forgive our timidity. Do whatever you need to do and permit whatever you need to permit in this Church and School to shake us up and to give us your peace. Amen.)
A third lesson comes from Jesus Himself today in Matthew 6 and is in fact a bit of a paradox when compared to Lesson #2. Lesson #2 was to pray for boldness, and lesson #3 is to be careful not to speak and live in such a way that we get the glory instead of God. Jesus warns us not to practice our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, not to fall into the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, not to be good stewards for the wrong reasons. A Lutheran commentator named F.W. Wenzel comments, “We should let our light shine and show our good works when we are tempted to hide them and we should hide them when we are tempted to show them.”
The kingdom of God is like who has learned the wisdom of looking in the mirror every day not just to comb his hair but to spend some time each day in searching his heart. Not just to shave his beard but to admit his messed up life. Not just to make sure he can look good on the outside but to come clean with his impure motives and to cry out for help to form good habits. Over the years, the Spirit of God has taught him how easy it is to be full of himself and how much better his life is when he takes time to get it right / to get on his knees and cry out for forgiveness and for wisdom and for boldness, in that order. Forgiveness, wisdom, and boldness. In recent months, he is learning more and more that he really doesn’t know what to say and so He bows His head in prayer instead.
Lord Jesus Christ, do what you need to do and permit what you need to permit in this place, that you could get and keep our attention in a stronger way, that you could help us get it right in this place, that we could manage our time in a way that gives glory to you and encourages others, that our witness would be bold and yet gentle, and that you would make all things beautiful in your time. Amen.
A glad heart makes a cheerful face,
but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.
14 The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,
but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
15 All the days of the afflicted are evil,
but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.
16 Better is a little with the fear of the LORD
than great treasure and trouble with it.
17 Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
Dear Friends in Christ,
About 15 years ago, on a hot summer day, I looked out my office window and saw that Ron had pulled up with a pickup truck and a hedge trimmer, and he was trimming my bushes. I went over there and inquired and in his kind manner he indicated to me that my bushes looked awful and he was going to take care of it. When I said that I would change clothes and help, he said in no uncertain terms that I would not be helping him. That I had more important things to do. That scene was repeated 8-10 years in a row, once or twice a year, Ron Wiste showing up with a glad heart and a cheerful smile, helping out, insisting that I go back to my office and do what he considered the important work, pastor stuff. There’s no doubt in my mind, that dozens and perhaps hundreds of folks around town and throughout the area would have similar and even more impressive stories of Ron showing up in all hours of the day with a smile and a kind word and a helping hand- just because he could.
Some how and in some way, Ron found a way to stay cheerful in a consistent manner, even when he spent days butchering cattle and hogs and deer cutting meat and dealing with endless customers, even as he was afflicted with years and years of a rare blood disease, even when he was bent low with grief as he laid his son into the grave. Proverbs 15 teaches us that a glad heart makes the face cheerful, but that a broken heart drains us of energy and confidence. Solomon isn’t talking about outward circumstances in this chapter. He’s saying that what really affects us is what’s inside of us, what is in our hearts. The Book of Proverbs deals throughout with behavior, but time and time again it takes us back to the source of what we do and what we say – the heart. God’s Word always aims at the heart, and this is what I would like to aim at in this message – the heart and how to stay heart healthy. Specifically, I ask you to think with me about how Ron Wiste found it possible to stay cheerful and whether it would be possible during this All Saints Week to imitate the good qualities of Ron Wiste moving forward. Staying Cheerful is the theme of our message today. Two truths I invite you to learn again about the secret of staying cheerful, or to say it in other ways – staying joyful and pleasant in all the chapters of life.
The first lesson we want to learn again today is to keep on looking backwards, and the second is to keep on looking forwards. Looking backwards, and looking forwards as a strategy for being joyful always.
When I suggest that looking back is a way of staying cheerful, I am simply referring to remembering all that God has given you in both body and soul. In Ron Wiste’s case, he could look back and see that God had blessed him with Christian parents, a strong family life, and all kinds of opportunity. He could look back and remember that he had been baptized into the name of the Triune God, that Jesus Christ loved him enough to live and die and rise again on his behalf, and that the presence of the Lord was wherever he went. One of my favorite memories of Ron is when he and Peg would come forward to the Lord’s Supper and he would look me in the eyes and then take the little cup of wine and hold it in the air toward the altar as if to offer a toast and then give me a bit of a wink and then down the hatch it would go. Drinking in the very forgiveness of sins as if he really was in the midst of a celebration of something far bigger than he.
A few years ago, Ron asked me if I would visit with him and him alone. He had a question for me, and for me alone. After the usual conversation where he showed absolute interest in and concern for Debi and me and our children and grandchildren, he got this serious look on his face, and with tears in his eyes he asked me if I thought he was good enough to get into heaven. With tears in my eyes, I answered no. I think I surprised him a bit. Of course I explained that none of us was good enough to merit a place in paradise, that all of us have sinned and fallen way short of the glory of God, and that my best advice for him was to throw himself on the mercy of God and cry out for forgiveness. I couldn’t really think of any particular sins on his part, other than him being really annoyed with a few Packer fans on occasion. His brother Roger did share with me yesterday a time when he was sitting in a reclining chair as a ten year old and Ron snuck up behind him and hit him with a hammer.
Lesson #1 today on the subject of staying cheerful and contented in life is get down on our knees and cry out to God for Him to have mercy on our souls. It is to rejoice every day in the forgiveness of sins. To fight off sadness and deep disappointments in life by naming and writing down and counting blessings in both body and soul. To resist the temptations of the sinful flesh to complain about what we don’t have in life by fixing our hearts and minds on the daily bread we do have and so much more. Paul learned the secret of contentment and wrote about it even as he sat in prison on death row for confessing his Christian faith, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.” Lesson #1 for being contented and holding onto true and lasting Christian joy is to keep on looking back at the perfect life Jesus lived on our behalf, to keep on looking back at the cross where our Lord was slapped around and spit at and beaten up and crucified until He was dead and buried and to keep on looking back to the empty tomb and Jesus standing nearby in glorious resurrection and keep on looking back at every single promise of God including the one that says I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Which brings us to Lesson #2 on how to stay cheerful – to keep on looking forward to resting from our labors in the presence of Jesus Christ with all the saints who have gone on before us. To keep on looking forward to that day of resurrection when Jesus will commend us for giving some food to the hungry and he will commend us for giving a drink of juice to a thirsty child and for visiting the sick and those in prison. To keep on looking forward to that Last Day, that day when the trumpet will sound and the archangel will shout and our bodies will be resurrected and all baptized believers will be clothed in white robes and given a palm branch to wave around in victory and we will see Jesus face to face and every tear will be wiped away from our eyes and there will be no more trouble and no more leukemia and no more ventilators. We can only imagine. Peg and you sons and daughters and inlaws and grandchildren and all you who must be separated for a time, as a way of moving on and being contented and staying cheerful – do look forward to that when Ron will be commended for all of those times when he looked in the eyes a lady who wasn’t feeling very beautiful and said, “Hey there beautiful, what can I get for you today……and for all those times when he cried with those of you who were crying and laughed with those of you who were laughing. For all those times he kept his sense of humor with you Packer fans doing your Lambeau leaps and rubbing in the latest victory, for all those times he gave you full and undivided attention – these are the words he and all who have held onto their Baptism faith through thick and thin, for better and worse – well done good and faithful servant. Come, blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
An entertainer named Joe Brown once said, “I have no understanding of the long-faced Christian. If God is anything, He must be joy.” Another said it this way, “If you have to cross the street to be happy, you’re not seeing things properly.” My prayer for each one of you here today is that you would see life properly in the days ahead. That you would live each one of your days by faith alone in Jesus Christ understanding that true Christian faith never comes alone. It always comes with good works that were ordained by God before we were ever born. That you would live one day at a time here and now by the grace of God, looking forward to living forever in the full glory of the Lamb of God who has taken away the sins of the world. That you would cry your tears of sadness today and in every one of your days until you can’t cry any more, and then get up and get on with life knowing that you can do all things that God is asking you to do in life with the strength of Christ. That you would spend your days imitating the good qualities of Ron Wiste to the best of your ability and keep on running for refuge to that same meal where Ron and Peg kept running. The meal that was instituted on the night Jesus was betrayed and for the particular purpose of comforting and strengthening broken and messed up sinners who aren’t feeling a bit beautiful. As often as you cry out for mercy, that often the angels of heaven will be rejoicing over you. As often as you eat this bread and drink this wine, your sins are forgiven, that often the Spirit of living God will give you strength, that often you will be in communion with the angels and the archangels and Ron Wiste and every saint that has gone on before us. In that meal, you will be experiencing a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where there will be really good meat, really good wine, and the rest we can only imagine. In closing, I pray for you, Peg and for all of you who were loved and blessed by Ron in so many ways, to keep on looking forward to the church triumphant, even as you try to stay cheerful as you fight the good fight and run the straight race here in the church militant. Close your eyes, if you would and listen to the words of Mercy Me, in a song called I Can Only Imagine.
I can only imagine what it will be like
When I walk by Your side
I can only imagine what my eyes will see
When Your face is before me
I can only imagine
Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for You Jesus?
Or in awe of You be still?
Will I stand in Your presence
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing, Hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine when that day comes
And I find myself standing in the sun
I can only imagine when all I will do
Is forever, forever worship You
I can only imagine
Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for You Jesus?
Or in awe of You be still?
Will I stand in Your presence
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing, Hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine
When all I would do
Is forever, forever worship You
I can only imagine.
May God bless and keep each one of you strong and growing in your Christian faith, do stay cheerful, and may Ronald Oliver Wiste rest in peace. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther