Cain and Abel / Genesis 4
Fifth in a Series of 9 Sermons
• Golden Calf rising up out of impatience and desire to have fun / Second Commandment/ God revealing Name to Moses
Third Commandment / Balance between rest and work
Fourth Commandment / Eli failing to restrain sons
• Move into Fifth Commandment / which is aimed at how we deal with our neighbors, especially our enemies who do us harm – Shall we get revenge or let it go? On Last Day, when I was hungry? Etc
• What does it mean to be my brother’s keeper?
• Story of Curtis protecting me from Bill Heitkemp on first day of jr. high football
• Verses 1-5 – God blesses Cain with life and with vocation / Parents must have taught sons to be thankful and to return thanks. First mistake was to bring an offering with a wrong attitude / perhaps a left over instead of firstfruit / perhaps he thought that God could be influenced to answer his prayer with an offering / In any case, devil’s agenda was to get him on the road to murder.
• Verses 6-8 – asks a question and warns him about sin crouching at the door and his need to fight the good fight of faith. We learn here the need to resist temptation early and often. Mistake #2 was to let anger have its way instead of resisting temptation. Lost temper instead of crying out for help to control his temper.
Stories on internet of Chinese man being unhappy with judge’s divorce ruling and smashing his own car outside of courthouse / another wife unhappy that husband wouldn’t take her to lake as promised and so she went on rampage / dairy farmer walking into church with cast on his hand / neighbors who yell and fight and cops are called / husband and wife moving into silent treatment as a way of punishing.
• Verse 9 – Third mistake was to make excuses instead of confessing what he had just done / Adam making excuses as well / Classic case of man drinking because his wife is so crabby and ornery and wife being crabby and ornery because her husband drinks so much. Notice God’s desire to have mercy.
• Verses 10-16 – Mistake #4 was to complain about his punishment rather than crying out for a second chance / or standing up like a man and learning from his lessons. God disciplines, but puts a mark on him / gives him a sign to protect and go with him. God still cares for him with a mark, even as he cared for Adam and Eve by making them clothes to cover their nakedness. Our sign of the cross put on us in waters of Baptism, Invocation, Absolution, Lord’s Supper, Benediction / Conversation with Isaiah and Brianne today – no complaining, rather tears, listening to Scripture, praying that the will of God be done.
• Verses 17-24 – Cain’s family story went from bad to worse / focus on building a city/ fine arts apart from God / revenge / polygamy.
• Verses 25-26 – Story goes back to promise / Seth appointed to take Cain’s place / God’s desire to have mercy never wavered / 4000 years later Savior is born / NT explanation of 5th commandment / all that leads up to murder is to be resisted early and often / our vocation to neighbors is to help and befriend them in every bodily need as a remedy for hurting and harming them in revenge.
• 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[b] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
• Am I My brother’s keeper? Yes, my sister Gail still looks after me / concerned about my health etc / actually nothing noble about that – even pagans do that. Do you know anybody with a drinking problem? Losing his temper problem? Spending money problem? Laziness problem? Drifting away from church problem? Poverty problems? Financial disarray problem? Have you thought about the best way to help them? Have you listened? Walked alongside as one sinner to another sinner?
• The kingdom of God is like a small band of believers who belonged to a large church in a small town. One summer evening they decided to spend the next week looking for people who needed help and to help them. Not as a way of earning God’s favor, but because God had already favored them. They did so not so much out of a sense of duty, but for the privilege of serving their Savior. The more they thought of Jesus forgiving the very enemies who were nailing him to the cross, the stronger their desire grew to love those not so easy to love. They are learning again that they are in fact their brother’s keeper, especially the ones who have fallen and are having a hard time getting up again. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Story #1 - Keep in mind that my parents were baptized into the Name of the Triune God at a young age. They trusted God with almost all of their hearts. They had lived through the Dust Bowl years and World War II with the help of their God. They appreciated and often counted their blessings. Their hope was in the God who had made heaven and earth. And yet on Friday and Saturday nights in the late 60’s their oldest son Curtis was out doing what 19 year olds did in those days – he was drinking beer and he was driving the 30 miles down to Clara City, South Dakota, maybe even buying some beer for other underage drinkers. And there was my mom on the couch crying and worrying and praying, in that order. In those evenings, she was trusting God with almost all of her heart, but she developed the habit of not going to bed until all of her kids were home safe and sound.
I can imagine dad saying to her, “Dorothy, why don’t you come to bed now, it doesn’t do anybody any good for you to get all worked.” To which she would have said very quietly, “Dad, I just can’t sleep.” To which he would have said, “I’m going to bed.”
I could imagine Jesus asking my mom, “Dorothy, where is your faith?” And I can her answering, “My faith is in you, Lord, but I’m just so restless and I love Curtis so much and it seems as though I should stay up and pray. And I can imagine Jesus answering, “Dorothy, I have loved your son before He was ever born. I love him even more than you do. I loved him with my very body and blood at the cross. I will love him all the way into eternity. Trust in my Father, and trust in me. You need your rest. Go to sleep now and please lay your head down in peace.
Story #1- Keep in mind that these disciples already knew that Jesus was all knowing and all powerful. They had already seen with their own eyes a dozen and maybe two dozen and more of their Master’s miracles. They knew that Jesus had been born of a virgin woman. They knew that He could change water into wine and they knew He could drive out demons and they knew he could tell paralyzed men to get up and walk and they would. They knew he could cure lepers of leprosy and they knew he could tell a man with a withered hand to stretch it out and it would be healed. And even more than that, they had seen him interrupt a funeral processional in the little town of Nain. Jesus had left them speechless as He told a sobbing widow to quit crying. He proceeded to tell the dead man to get up out of that coffin, and he got up out of that coffin and began to speak.
Now with all of that in mind and so much more, think about why Jesus would intentionally take his disciples into a boat and then fall asleep and then have them meet up with a storm. Not just a little spring squall, but an overwhelming kind of a storm with hurricane force winds and waves crashing over the sides of the boat and watch as the disciples do everything they can do and they worry and they pray and they get ready to die and finally they wake up Jesus and ask him if he even cares that they’re all gonna die!
Jesus rebukes the wind and then turns to the sea and says, “Be quiet. Put a muzzle on it.” And I wonder if Jesus had a twinkle in His eye when He asked, “Where is your faith? I can imagine them saying, “Oh my goodness, Jesus, our faith is in you, but why do you mess with us like that? We were going down and you’re sleeping, for heaven’s sake! And then Jesus saying, “It was for heaven’s sake that I was messing with you. We’re going to go through worse than this, and I want you ready. We’re going to go through nastier storms than this and I want you never forget that I’m the one who laid the foundations of the earth in the first place. Do not doubt me on this. I’m the one who created the winds and the waves in the first place, and more than that, I have loved you men with an everlasting love and I will love you at the cross with my very body and blood and I will love you all the way into the gates of heaven. I want to get you to the point where you can be calm not only after the storm but before and during.
Story #3 - The kingdom of God is like a man named Harry who works hard and he plays hard and he sleeps hard. Keep in mind that Harry had been baptized as a little boy and he had heard from his mother’s knee that Jesus loved him and that the Bible was entirely true. He believed in God, He really did with almost all of his heart and soul and mind. He tells himself that he happiest when he is putting in long hours and making lots of money and getting ahead in life. By getting ahead, he means that his house is getting paid for and his retirement years will be provided for and oh my goodness the years yet to come he is planning for them to be golden. Some days he feels like something is missing, but his favorite reaction to that is to put in some over time and every once in a while he gets to make a double payment on his house and oh how he loves to manicure his lawn and have his cars clean and shiny. One day out of the clear blue sky, he thought he heard God whisper in his ear, “Where is your faith?”
To which Harry said, “Why, my faith is in you dear Lord. Why would you ask me such a question? Where is your happiness? Well, my happiness is in you Lord. Pretty much anyway. Why are you messing with me like this, Lord? You know I work hard and I pay my bills and I’m a good person. You know that I feel I’m very blessed and I love life. I really do. Are you really happy? Well, life isn’t perfect, but as soon as I get my house paid for and the day is coming when we will retire and then life is going to be really good. Yeah, life is going to be really good someday. And then what? Well, I suppose life will be really good and then I suppose one day my wife and I will maybe get sick, but I’m sure we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. And then what? I don’t know. I suppose one of us will die and that will be really hard, but I think we’ll be ok. What do you mean by “I think we’ll be ok.” Hey God, it’s been chatting, and I really do need to get my lawn mowed, and hey have you heard that song that says, “God is great, beer is good, and women are crazy?” Actually, I think it says that people are crazy. Harry, can I ask a favor of you? Yes. Could you maybe sit still once a day or so and just know that I am God and you are not.
Story #4 - The kingdom of God is like a beautiful young lady who loves her Lord and she loves her family and she loves her life and she loves to be healthy! Keep in mind that she knows so many people who are so less fortunate than she is. That her heart is as grateful as it can be and she almost always takes time to pray and to praise and to give thanks. She runs and she trains and she is attractive and she is faithful and she cares deeply about her neighbors, especially those in need. One week, she doesn’t feel very good and the next week it’s a bit worse and three months after that she has enough symptoms to get her into her doctor. And as weeks of testing turn into a full-fledged storm of cancer washing over her body, she goes again and again to her Lord in prayer. She has so many questions for her Lord, but in so many of her days, she finds God to be silent. She begins to wonder if God has forgotten her. Worse yet, maybe He is punishing her. One day she says it out loud, “Lord, don’t you care that I am dying?” To which He responds, “Where is your faith?”
Lord, you know that I believe in you. Where else would I go for the words of eternal life? Where else would I turn for refuge and strength? Why does this storm have to be so nasty? What should I be doing? Just stay close to me. Sometimes I choose to calm the storm. Always I want to hold you close. Sometimes I will love you with smooth sailing. Other times I will love you by taking you right into the eye of the storm. Sometimes it will seem as if I am sleeping. That’s my way of messing with you, or to say it another way, to get and to keep your attention. Always know that I have loved you before the world ever came to be. I loved you at the cross with my very body and blood. I intend you love you through thick and through thin, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health.
Story #5 – The kingdom of God is like a father who trusts in His Savior and at the same time He trusts in himself. At the same time he counts his blessings and wonders why he so cursed. In the same hour he resolves to be a better dad and throws up his hands and says, “I’m done trying.” Sunday after Sunday, he says amen to the absolution and most Monday mornings he feels like a failure and a flop. As the years fly by, he has developed the habit of taking one step forward and two backwards. Some days he stays calm under pressure and some days he’s a jerk. But whether he has remained calm during the storm or only after the storm had passed, this he remembers every night as he lays himself down to sleep – my help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Amen.
Third in a Series of Sermons – 1) Chosen 2) Sanctified, 3) Unshakeable
Acts 2:22 – 28 – “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken.”
Hebrews 12: 28 – Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Three part sermon series – 1)Chosen to bear fruit that will multiply into eternity, 2)Sanctified and kept and protected and watched over by our Father in heaven, even as we keep our eyes peeled for the enemies of the faith. 3) Unshakeable Christian faith.
CS Lewis talked about three kinds of fear in his book, “The Problem of Pain.” The first kind of fear would be to know you were in danger, if you were told there was a tiger in the next room. The second kind would be if you were told there is a ghost in the next room. Lewis described that fear as “uncanny rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread.” The third kind of fear would be to suppose you were told simply “there is a mighty spirit in the room,” and you believed it. In this case Lewis suggests that “your disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a shrinking away sort of fear and awe in the presence of greatness.
It is this third kind of fear and trembling in the presence of holiness we want to talk about on this Trinity Sunday. The prophet Isaiah seemed to have it in our first lesson appointed for today. Peter talked about King David and Christ Himself having it in his Acts 2 Pentecost sermon. And in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus engages in a Good News kind of a conversation with Nicodemus so as to work within him a strong and a steady Christian faith.
It’s the kind of unshakeable faith a man by the name of Foster Walker had obtained. He was a man who accidentally strolled into the scene of a holdup at a store in Memphis Tennessee. All of a sudden, he found himself face to face with a gun in his face and the orders to surrender his money “or I’ll shoot you.” To which Walker answered, “You just go ahead and shoot. I just got done reading my bible, and I have already said my prayers.” The robber stood there frozen and dumbfounded, and Walker walked away unharmed.
It’s the kind of strong and steady and unshakeable kind of faith we would want our school children and our Sunday school children and our confirmation classes students and this weekend our high school graduates to have. A faith that shrinks away in unworthiness and draws near with confidence at the same time. A faith formed by the preaching of both Law and Gospel. A faith that will not be shaken even when the mountains are falling into the midst of the sea and the waters are roaring and foaming and the mountains are trembling. A faith that will not be diminished even when parents are divorcing and grandparents are dying and friends are disappointing. A faith that will be tested by not lessened when plans are failing and dreams are fading and life is overwhelming.
Three questions about what it means to have an unshakeable Christian faith. First, why do we need such a faith? Secondly, how and where does one get it? And third, what does it feel and look like?
First, why do we need such an unshakeable faith? It’s tempting to think that we can get by with a faith that is just ok, just an average “get you by” sort of a faith. Some would call it an “emergency faith” – the kind that really doesn’t cry out to God in regular fashion, but only when we find ourselves in serious trouble.
The people of Nepal found themselves in serious trouble about a month ago when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked their land. 8800 plus were killed. Hundreds of thousands homeless. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re not particularly concerned with people getting clobbered in faraway lands. We may be mildly concerned about the crime rate in Baltimore or the Christians getting executed by Isis in Syria or the flooding in Houston Texas, but our faith is rarely shaken by disasters in the distance.
What is more likely to turn our worlds upside down are the troubles experience by those near and dear. Husbands and wives who fight like cats and dogs. Friends and family dying of cancer. Neighbors getting killed in car or farm accidents. Bills that are getting paid, threats of utilities getting shut off, bankruptcy not far away. The problem with having just a “get you by” sort of a faith is that Jesus Christ didn’t do all that He did so that you can barely survive life. He came that you might have life and that you might have it abundantly. His desire is that you be afflicted, but not crushed. Perplexed, but not driven to despair. Persecuted, but not forsaken. Struck down, but not destroyed. Tested but not defeated.
The Bible makes it very clear that in the end times the earth and the heavens will be shaken. Isaiah said it this way, “The foundations of the earth tremble. The earth is utterly broke, the earth is rent asunder, the earth is violently shaken. The earth staggers like a drunken man, it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again.”
Revelation 6 warns, “…behold there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood…The sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place…
Life has always been short and full of trouble. And in the end of times, the Bible teaches that the leash of the devil will be lengthened. The fires of persecution will get hotter. Tribulations will multiply. Which is why we need a faith that is strong and steady and unshakeable.
Which leads us to our second question, How and where do we get such a faith? The simple answer is that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Faith came to Isaiah as God shook him down with a display of Trinitarian holiness and then raised him up with the words of his angel, Behold your guilt is taken away.” Faith came to David as God shook him down through the prophet Nathan telling a timely story and then raised him up with assurance that his transgressions were forgiven and his sins were covered. Faith came to Nicodemus as Jesus challenged him with questions and then laid out for him the plan of salvation.
How and where will our high school graduates get the kind of faith they will need to find their way through the ups and the downs, the successes and the failures, and twists and turns of life? The kingdom of God is like a teenager who has already survived significant setbacks in life and has figured out that every time she admits her faults instead of explaining them away is a time of refreshing. That every day she finds time to be still and spend time in Scripture is a day that goes better. That every week she finds time to listen to a sermon and eat and drink at her Lord’s Table is a week that goes better. That every time she started to wonder if anybody really cared about her or not, she would remember that Jesus Christ lived for her the perfect life she could not come close to living, that Christ suffered for her all that she should have suffered, that her Savior died for her the death she needed Him to die, that Christ rose up for her and ascended into heaven for her and is sitting at the Father’s right hand ruling heaven and earth for her.
First question today was why do we need an unshakeable Christian faith? Second question was how do we get it? Third is what does it look and feel like? For Isaiah it looked and felt like a man stepping forward with his sins forgiven and saying it loud and saying it proud, “Here I am. Send me.” For King David, it looked and felt like a man stepping forward with his sins forgiven and saying it with a conviction not to be denied, “I see the Lord always before me. He is at my right hand, and I will not be shaken!” For Nicodemus, it looked and felt like a man stepping forward with his sins forgiven and helping to provide proper burial for His Savior.
What does it look and feel like to have a strong and a steady and unshakeable Christian faith. The kingdom of God is like that high school graduate who doesn’t really understand it, but as her college years come and go, she is finding that the Spirit of God is working inside of her a heart that fears and loves God at the same time. At the same time she trembles and is relaxed in the presence of the Triune God. She has a growing horror in her heart as she realizes how seriously short she falls from the glory of God, and at the same time she is feeling more and more comfortable in laying her burdens and her worries at His feet.
It’s so good to hear your voice again. Just this week, I received a phone call from a young woman who I hadn’t heard from for ten years or so. She told me parts of her story which included all kinds of trouble, all kinds of financial problems, all kinds of relationship failures. As we began to conclude our conversation, she blurted out, “it’s so good to hear your voice again.” As we unpacked that little statement, she explained that her time in this church and over at our school was a time when she and her son felt safe. In this place, they had listened to the Voice of their Good Shepherd. In this place, they had trembled with fear and been calmed down by grace at the same time. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Second in a Three Part Series
John 17: 11b-19 – “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
When it rains, it pours. That’s the way life felt one day to Calvin in the Calvin and Hobbs comic strip. First, Calvin sits on a wad of bubble gum. Next, his teacher catches him glancing at his classmate’s paper. Then a bully knocks him down in the hallway. The water fountain sprays in his face. The bug he’d brought in for show-and-tell escapes. He gets picked last at recess. There is a hair in his lunch, and when he heads to the swing set, all the seats are occupied. Finally he misses the bus and has to walk home in the rain. In his bedroom that evening, Calvin looks at his trusted tiger and says, “You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.”
We’ve all had the adult version of one of those days. When we think to ourselves and maybe say it out loud. When it rains, it pours. And on our particularly difficult days, we may even take our “woe is me” attitude a step further. We might even wonder out loud to God why bad things happen to a good person like me. Which is really bad theology. First the idea that you and I are good people, apart from Christ. And secondly the idea that we deserve better luck than we are getting is a lousy way to begin the day. Better that we learn from Jesus today. To learn from Jesus to get down on our knees and pray as Jesus prayed. To pray, “Father, help me today to be in the world but not of the world. Protect me from the devil and every one of his demons……” Or to say it another way, “Father, sanctify me with the truth. Your Word is truth.”
Our sermon today is the second in a three part series. The first sermon was “Chosen”, and the third sermon will be “Unshakeable”. Today’s sermon explores what it means to be sanctified. In his explanation to the Third Article, Luther wrote, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him, but He has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith……” What does it mean to be sanctified and kept in the true Christian faith? Two answers to that question. First, To be sanctified is to be (kept) by our Father even as we (keep our eyes peeled) for the enemies of our faith.
Before we say much more about what it means to be sanctified and kept in the Christian faith, we want to keep in mind how we came to be people of faith in the first place. We want to make sure we are keeping the horse (justification) before the cart (sanctification) One of our early Lutheran writers (Adolph Koeberle) referred justification as the mother of sanctification. To be justified is to be declared holy by God on the basis of what Christ has done for us. To be sanctified is to be made holy by God through daily repentance and faith. By drowning the old and nasty and ornery old Adam so that the new and delightful life that we have in Christ will rise up on the inside of us and rule. We are justified by the grace of God alone through faith in Jesus Christ, and we are sanctified as we fight the good fight of faith/ run the race marked out before us/ renounce the devil and every one of his evil ways and works, in daily and deliberate and devoted fashion. The horse is justification, that is to say that Christ was and is and ever shall be for us. The cart that it pulls is sanctification, that is to say that Christ is in us. In history Christ has accomplished our salvation, and in the means of grace that salvation has been and continues to be delivered to us. Our ongoing prayer and desire is that God would keep us in that faith and that we never stray from, much less lose that faith.
Twice in our text Jesus declares that He has guarded/ kept His disciples in the Name of His Father, and twice more He pleads with His Father to keep them in His Name/ to keep them from the evil one. In Holy Baptism, the Name of the Triune God was placed on our foreheads and on our hearts. In Divine Service we begin by invoking that Name, and in the Benediction we hear again and again, “The Lord bless you and keep you…..” How does, in fact, the Lord keep us safe? Peter, a man who knew all too well about having good intentions and yet falling into temptation, wrote that we, “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Paul pointed the Thessalonians to the Word of God as that which is at work in believers. Jesus said simply, “Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.” The Holy Spirit sanctifies us as often as we use our ears to hear, as often as we remember what we have learned from our mother’s knees, as often as we taste at our Lord’s Table just how good He is, as often as we cry out for His refuge and strength – that often we receive exactly what we have asked for.
Even as we trust our Father in heaven to send His holy angels to watch over us, that the wicked foe would have no power over us, we want to recognize our own responsibility to keep our eyes peeled for the enemies of our faith. We are watched over, even as we are called to be watchful. Attended to by our guardian angels, even as we would be reminded today to be attentive.
Recognizing our (vulnerability) and remaining (suspicious). In Matthew chapter 7, Jesus warns us to Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Ask a man with a drinking problem how dangerous it would be for him to have a case of beer in his fridge and a bottle of rum in his cupboard, and he would tell you how easily he can fall. Ask a person who is trying to lose weight how tempting it can be to have pastries and ice cream and cookies just a few feet away, and that person would likely launch into a story of how good intentions can go awry. At our Saturday morning session of Men Who Need Help, we men who need help landed on the topic of how contentment in marriage can turn into complacency in marriage. Contentment with God’s rich blessings in marriage – good. Complacency in marriage in terms of having no desire to be a better husband or to have a better marriage- not good at all. And so we ask our Father in heaven this very day, Lord, help us to recognize just how vulnerable we are. Work within us a spirit that remains suspicious of that little voice inside of us that says “go ahead and take that path of least resistance. A spirit that remains suspicious of a world that says, “go ahead and eat and drink and be merry, you have worked hard and you deserve to be happy. A spirit that keeps one eye fixed on Jesus and the other eye looking out for the adversaries of Jesus.
To be sanctified in the truth is to be (acted upon), even as we (act). That’s another way of saying that although we are saved by the grace of God alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone, faith never comes alone. James says it this way, that faith without works is dead. Luther wrote in famous fashion “Oh, it is a living, busy, active, powerful thing that we have in faith, so that it is impossible for it not to do good unceasingly! Nor does it ask whether good works are to be done; but before the question is asked, it has wrought them and is always engaged in doing them.
In terms of sanctification being a matter of being acted upon, our Psalm for the day refers to the sanctified Christian as a tree that is firmly planted by the streams of water. Trees that are Growing and flourishing in days of prosperity as well as (adversity). Trees bloom and expand and do well when the sun is shining and the rains are falling and the weather is seasonable. The bear fruit in season and their leaves don’t wither. (days of prosperity) But nature tells us that days of adversity are a necessary part of the process as well.
Scientists tell us that as well. In a book “Ownership Spirit”, author Dennis Deaton tells of an experiment near Tuscon, Arizona, where an experimental glass building envelops 3.14 acres of land. One of the purposes of the facility was to construct a closed system where the complex interrelationships of life forms could be studied. One of their original theories was that if they could create a perfect growing environment, life could be sustained in remote places like outer space. What they soon discovered about trees in closed structures is that they began tipping over once they reached a certain height. These trees lacked “stress wood”, which would be developed in the outdoors as a result of gravity, wind exposure, snow buildup, soil movement, etc. The author noted a law of nature which would apply to all living species, from plants to animals, including human beings: “Living things are strengthened by struggle.”
As trees grow deep roots in response to battering winds, so do we develop strength and character as we respond to challenges. Luke recorded in Acts 14 Paul and other disciples reacting to a recent stoning and getting dragged around by encouraging early Christians with the saying that “through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God.”
It’s comforting to know that God’s Spirit is growing us up into Jesus Christ both in good times and bad. Both when the winds of life are calm and when they are of hurricane force. Both when our days are smooth and when nothing is going right. Both when we are sitting still and listening to the preaching of God’s Word and when we are putting into practice what we preach. Both when we are succeeding and when we are failing, the Spirit of God is teaching and the Father is protecting and the Son is growing up on the inside of us. Sanctification is at the same time the Father keeping us from the evil one and we doing battle with that evil one. It is both passively receiving the righteousness one for us at Calvary and actively exercising our human responsibilities.
One strategy for actively taking the battle to the enemies of the faith is by Doing at once the (very opposite) of what the evil one proposes. The kingdom of God is like a woman who fights off the temptation to complain about what is wrong in life by thinking about that which is right. It’s like the traveler who fights off the desire to murmur about the delays and detours of the day by counting his blessings which are in fact too numerous to count. It’s like the person who fights off the inclination to rant and rave by going off into his quiet place to pray. Like the teenager who fights the temptation to be lazy by getting a job and staying busy. Like the man who fights off the urge to curse his enemies by praying for them.
The day Sara’s family was born again / The author of “Glorious Ruin (How Suffering Sets You Free) tells of a young woman named Sara who was telling the story of her family’s public fall from grace. “She grew up in a privileged family – enormous house, beautiful clothes, expensive cars and schools, country club membership…Family was strict and her dad’s insane temper could be set off by the slightest offense…..When she heard her dad’s Porsche rumble into the driveway, she would hide in her room, never knowing when her father would explode in anger. One day her dad came home, gathered his terrified family for a meeting, and told how he had been caught embezzling. He wept as he confessed his wrongdoing to his children and indicated that they would have to start over. Sara describes that day as the day her dad was instantly better. Through a combination of suffering and public humiliation, Sara’s family was born again. All of heaven rejoiced over a single sinner that was brought to repentance. Not by his own reason or strength did her father come to Jesus Christ or believe in Him. The Holy Spirit called and He gathered and as the days when on He enlightened and He sanctified. And Sara discovered what I invite all of you to learn this very day about the work of the Holy Spirit. When it rains, it pours.
John 15:9-17 / Acts 10:34-48 /I John 5:1-8
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.
Dear Friends in Christ,
You may have read a story about a month ago where a 37 year old man was driving along with his 3 year old daughter and slid off the road near a bend and went into the Zumbro River. Another man named Jerry and his mom were driving along that same road when he noticed the car in the water and quickly jumped in to help. When he was interviewed about it, he said that he could barely see the car in the water, and when he looked more closely, he saw a man inside the car, pounding on the window. He also saw a child in the backseat. He did what many would do. He jumped into the water and was able to rescue the man and his little girl. When asked to reflect on his act of heroism, he replied, "I would hope anyone in my situation would have done the same thing. I was just in the right place at the right time."
I suppose many would agree that it was just a stroke of good luck that he was in the right place at the right time. Or could it be that we have an all-knowing God who appointed that particular man to be in that specific place at just the right moment? And could it be that the Holy Spirit guided this particular preacher to use this specific story to teach you a valuable lesson in this exact moment of time? In today’s appointed lessons, the Spirit of God would remind us that Christians in every generation aren’t just meant to wander aimlessly through their days with nothing significant to do and maybe getting lucky once in a while, but rather that we are chosen by Jesus Christ to spend our days engaged with Him on a mission to rescue sinners drowning in their own cesspool of sin. Or to say it another way, chosen to bear fruits that abide. Today’s sermon is the first in a series of three sermons with one word themes, “Chosen”, “Sanctified”, and “Unshakeable”. Two parts to our sermon – 1) The early disciples were chosen… and 2) All Christians are chosen…
The early disciples were chosen to testify as (friends of Jesus) instead of slaves. In our first lesson appointed for this Sixth Sunday of Easter, Peter referred to the first century apostles as men who had been chosen by God as witnesses. They were the ones who had seen the Risen Christ with their own eyes. Listened to Him with their own ears. Touched His wounds with their own hands. They did with Jesus what friends do with each other. They ate and they drank. They laughed and they cried together. They were willing to serve as slaves with a sense of duty and obligation, but Jesus invited them to come up higher. To testify as cherished friends instead of going through the motions slaves.
In Deuteronomy 7, we hear Moses calling out Israel to a higher status. Once they were slaves, but now “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are the face of the earth.” In the New Testament, Peter writes it this way, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession……” Not because His people were or are such a lovely and impressive people did God choose them or us to be His witnesses, but simply because His message was and is so lovely and so impressive. That’s why God has elected us both to be saved and to bear the message of salvation. Both to have our sins forgiven and to bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. Which is the second point we want to make about the early disciples. First they were chosen to testify as friends of Jesus instead of mere slaves.
Second, they were chosen to preach (towards) the forgiveness of sins. At first glance the message of forgiveness seems to be a truth that we all agree on. Preachers who proclaim that God is love and that Christ died for all and that heaven is going to be a wonderful place will get very little arguments out and about in the real world. It’s when they say that there can be no forgiveness of sins without repentance that folks start to get annoyed. And when preachers start to define sin and name the prominent sins of the day that their annoyance turns into hostility.
When preachers say that the fruits of the Spirit are love / joy / peace / patience / kindness / goodness / faithfulness / gentleness / self-control, listeners the world would agree and say that everybody should feel pretty good about themselves and go home happy. But when we start to say what the fruits of repentance are, Minnesota Nice turns into Minnesota Ugly. Our popularity diminishes every time we insist that sex is a gift of God to be enjoyed only in the context of marriage and that by the way, marriage was God’s idea and ought to be defined the way He instituted – that’s when our friendships start to get strained and our Facebook conversations take a turn for the worse. Where there is no repentance, the commandments are in fact burdensome / souls stay troubled / relationships go south / life gets empty.
On the other hand, wherever there is honest confession of sins, there is a washing away of those sins. And wherever there is a washing away of sins, there is the peace that only Jesus Christ can give. And where there is the peace of God, there is peace like a river and before you realize what’s happening, there is fullness of joy as pictured on the front cover of your bulletin today. Joy that starts with a conscience that is clean and then it bubbles up into a desire to share and before you know it, Christians in every station of life are experiencing full-fledged victory. The kind of victory Green Bay Packer fans like to tell us Vikings fans that they know and we don’t. The kind of victory that doesn’t come and go but stays with you and keeps on raising its banner high and even higher for all to see. The kind of victory Christians in all generations are chosen to never stop thinking about. Never stop talking about.
Our second main point today is that all Christians are chosen to bear fruit that will (multiply) all the way into eternity. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
The kingdom of God is like a little boy who goes to a Christian School in a small town and learns that Jesus loves Him no matter what. Somewhat against his will, he memorizes the Small Catechism. On the day of Confirmation he wears a white robe and waves not only a palm branch but goodbye for a time to the sanctuary. 15 years later he brings his fiancé into his pastor’s office and agrees somewhat against his will to four sessions of pre marriage counseling. He gets married and three years later they bring their baby somewhat against that baby’s will to get baptized. Six years later, they send that child to that same school where he learns that Jesus loves him no matter what, and then the teacher takes out that same list of memory work. And so the cycle goes – Christian congregations and schools and Sunday Schools and Confirmation Classes and baptism classes and pre marriage counseling classes and informal conversations galore – the chosen people of God going out as friends of Jesus bearing fruit that abides, and even better than that – it multiplies and it spreads into places as near as Alma City and as far away as Zlehtown Liberia – and even better than that, the cycle gets repeated in generation after generation, and even after death parts us.
In closing today, I invite you to think about what it means to serve with joy in the (Mother Church). The first thought you have when you hear the phrase “mother church” might be the Roman Catholic Church, which is in fact the original Christian Church from which many Protestants, including Lutherans broke away. For me, the mother church is Peace Lutheran in Barney, ND, a tiny little place where my Aunt Margene held me as I was baptized, that place where I memorized the Small Catechism including 701 Bible verses therein included and yes, pretty much against my will, that place where Law and Gospel were first preached into my heart in regular and faithful fashion.
For many of our children and grandchildren, this is the Mother Church. In this sanctuary, Jesus Christ keeps on coming, not by water only, but by the water and the blood. This is where the Spirit keeps on testifying and the water connected with the Word keeps on flowing. This is where the victory keeps on getting celebrated and the forgiveness keeps on refreshing and faith keeps on getting strengthened. You are in the right place and in the right time, not by accident or some twist of faith, but by design. In this place, whether you are a mother or not, married or single, sailing along smooth or struggling in rough waters – it doesn’t make a difference- you are equally loved, equally set apart, equally valuable, equally chosen for a variety of assignments that are equally pleasing to God and all the company of heaven.
Every time a single sinner repents / every time a little sincerely apologizes / every time a man with a drinking problem says I need help / every time a woman with an attitude problem says “I messed up” / every time a sweet little old lady says I can do better than that / every time a crabby old German Lutheran says I need to lighten up a bit / every time a busy mom says I need to slow down / every time a lazy teenager says I need to speed up /every time a messed up person says is there somebody around here that would walk alongside of me, that often Jesus and His angels rejoice. That often heaven’s choir sings. That often Mother Church has an opportunity to be in the right place at the right time. That often Christians have a chance to bear fruit that abides and to ask the Father for whatever they want, and He will give it to them.
The kingdom of God is like a young mother who knows where her place is in almost every part of her day. It’s at the side of her child helping her to pick out the right clothes for the day, telling the little boy for the umpteenth time that it will be Cheerios and not ice cream for breakfast, insisting that homework will get done before it’s play time, and scolding the naughty one for being rude to grandma. She knows without a doubt that she has been chosen by God to follow up in faithful fashion on her own choices in life. She finds a fair amount of joy in seeing her children survive most days and thrive once in a while. She finds even greater joy when her kids say thank you, when her husband is attentive, and when hard work pays off.
But her greatest joy of all is a happiness that the world has no idea how to find it nor what she is even talking about. It is the joy she finds at the end of the day as she cringes with horror at what had happened. The laundry had piled up and the kids were driving her crazy and her husband was even more inattentive than usual. The dog was tracking mud faster than she could clean it up and the messy diaper made her want to throw up and then it happened. Her fuse blew and she let loose with a lingo that would give her grandma a stroke and make a social worker come knocking. And then she remembered what she had learned from her mother’s and grandmother’s knees. She remembered what love was and is and ever shall be. That Christ died for her. That He rose up again for her. And that until that day when He came back for her, He had chosen her to bear fruit that would multiply all the way into eternity. Then she knew what Luther meant when he urged mothers in particular to find delight, love, and joy without end in the midst of “bitterness, drudgery, and anguish”
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther