Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
We are habitual forgetters.
• Friend’s story of scheduling test and then forgetting to do it
• Clair Sauer’s story of forgetting to turn in the driveway of client
• Easter Monday 6 a.m. story of forgetting to lock doors
• Paul wrote to a church he had helped to plan and disciple. A church he had preached the Gospel to. He writes to remind them of the Gospel he already shared. Urges them to remember, receive, take stand in Gospel.
• We know how uncomfortable we feel when we eat too much, and then we forget. We know how stupid we get when we drink too much and then we forget. We know the damage we do when we lose our temper and then we forget. We know the blessings of quiet time with the Lord and then we forget. We know the beauty of our Lord’s Supper and then we forget. We know the value of confessing our sins and then we forget. We know the death and resurrection of Jesus is of first importance, and then we forget.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
Sin is the elevation of anything other than God, to ultimate.
• God is creator of all and knower of all. He knows where every star is. He knows the orbits around the solar system that planets travel. Every cell, every atom, every thought, every event, he knows. He knows every event at every level of happening and how those events play into other events and lad into other events and other events at every level of those events happening and how it flows throughout all eternity. And He never has a headache over any of it.
• Just think about what gives us headaches. 8 grandchildren spending 6 hours at my house, eating candy and drinking juice and crumbling crackers and sticky fingers and doing dishes and eating too much and worried about picking stuff up and is the house clean and is everybody having a good time and when can I take my Advil and go to bed.
• Dave Ramsey’s point that you can buy fun but not happiness. Matt Chandler writes, “So in the end, sin is when I say, “Money is what I’m after. It’s what I’m all about. It’s what I’m going to get. It’s what my life’s about. It’s the air I breathe, it’s what I want. It’s the sole purpose of my existence.” Monday is not evil, but by making money ultimate, you’ve fallen into sin. We can do the same thing with sex, we can do the same thing with family, we can do the same thing with marriage. Those things are not of first importance. They are secondary.
• We belittle God when we make secondary stuff primary. In a book, “Death by Suburb”, the author writes, “Soccer is dumb when your wife is dying of cancer.” How perpetually ignorant do we look when death is coming for us, but we’re spending every hour of every day accumulating our trinkets and then organizing our trinkets and putting up shelving to store more of our trinkets and then sifting through and sorting out and selling some of those trinkets so we can buy even more of our trinkets and eventually passing along our trinkets to children and grandchildren who already have more trinkets than they want? Nothing against trinkets, or sports or success or entertainment or any of that, but as often as it gets to be ultimate, it’s sin.
God’s reaction to our sin is to see to it that His Son is crucified, dead and buried.
• He creates hell as a just and right response to our sin, but that’s not sufficient. God’s is to have mercy, and so he sets into order the Levitical system, the Day of Atonement, two lambs. The one gets stabbed in the throat and drained of its blood. And then this other one gets prayed over and all the sins of Israel go on this goat and they release it into the wilderness and call it the scapegoat.
• Then God shows up in the flesh. He orders history in such a way that Jesus gets His blood drained and carries away the sins of the world. So, what is of first importance? The sacrificial, ransoming, expiating, propitiating cross of Jesus Christ. That’s what.
The resurrection of Christ changes everything
• It proves:
1) That all of Scripture is true
2) That Jesus is Who He says He is
3) That the Father has accepted the sacrifice of His Son once and for all
4) That because He lives, so also does Jason Crouch/ Larry Oelke/ Bonita Flemming live.
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
• The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ changed Peter from a champion forgetter to a servant could not forget and therefore spending his days thanking and praising, serving and obeying.
1) Peter was a champion forgetter. One minute he was correctly confessing that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. The next Jesus was calling him Satan and telling him to get out of his way.
2) One minute he was drawing his sword / cutting off a guy’s ear / talking big about how he would stand with Jesus and never ever ever deny His Master. The next he was swearing like a drunken sailor that He never even met this Jesus. What could have possibly happened that turns this frightened, arrogant man into the father of the church, who in the end is no longer afraid but allows himself to be crucified upside down? The resurrection of Jesus Christ changed Peter. That’s what happened.
• The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus changed James. What’s amazing about James is that he was the brother of Jesus and at one point he thought Jesus was crazy and wanted nothing to do with him. Post-resurrection, we find James worshiping Jesus as God, leading the church in Jerusalem and willing to be martyred.
• The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has the potential to change every one of your days / conversations / chapters of life for the better.
1) As often as you remember who God is and how majestic is His Name, that often your lousy attitudes will give way to praise and exaltation.
2) As often as you remember all that He has done for you in the person and work of Jesus Christ, that often your misplaced and wrong priorities will give way to that which is of first importance.
3) As often as you search the Holy Scriptures and use your ears to hear what God is wanting to say, that often the forgiveness of sins will be able to sweep over your soul and make you stand up straight and tall in the glory of the empty tomb.
4) As often as you admit that you have fallen short, believe that Jesus is your Savior and dine at your Lord’s Table with a desire to get life right, that often you will be proclaiming the death and the resurrection of Christ until He comes again. That often your faith will be strengthened. That often your neighbors will be blessed. That often all will be well with your soul.
Easter Vigil, 2015
54 “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD.
2 “Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
3 For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.
4 “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
5 For your Maker is your husband,
the LORD of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
6 For the LORD has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
7 For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
8 In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the LORD, your Redeemer.
Sermon Theme this Lent – Singing With the Exiles
Yesterday, on Good Friday, our sermon theme was “All”. We remembered that Christ had suffered not just most, but all that we should have suffered. He drank not just a portion, but all of the cup of His Father’s wrath – the cup that you and I should have drunk. He was crucified all the way unto death, the death we should have died. He paid for all of the debt for all of the people in all of the generations, with no exceptions and with zero conditions.
Tonight, our sermon theme is “Nothing” On that first Holy Saturday, it seemed as though all was lost and that nothing had been gained. As though darkness had prevailed over light and as though life had given way to death. As though nothingness had won the day and as though there was nothing at all to sing about. And yet Isaiah invites us this very night to sing. To sing along with the exiles who were about to be released from Babylonian captivity. This evening we would sing as a warm-up for tomorrow morning, at which time we will be invited to sing as we have never before sung.
The Easter Vigil is the first official celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Frequently, especially in the ancient church, it was during this service that people were baptized and adult catechumens were received into full communion with the Church. During the vigil we get our first glimpse of a distinctively Easter hope. From the darkness of Good Friday there bursts forth light from our Savior’s empty tomb. From nothing comes everything.
Nothingness described Zion in the days of the prophet Isaiah. Zion stands for sixth century BC Israelites who were exiled in Babylon. It was from Sarah’s barren womb that God had built a great nation. In those days for a woman not to bear children was a great shame. To lose children would be great grief. Just as Sarah was barren but thenwwas giventhe promised son, so the exiles would once again be fruitful and multiply. We are told in chapter 54 that Zion had no children, no family, and no husband. Her city had been destroyed, her cupboards were bare, and her hopes were diminished. She had absolutely nothing.
Nothingness describes sinners and exiles in every generation. The Preacher cries out in Ecclesiastes 1, “Complete nothingness…..all is vanity.” St. Paul agrees, “All have turned away; they have become useless.” Shakespeare adds this line, “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Just two days ago, 147 people were killed by Muslim extremists and 79 more were wounded at a Kenya University. They were killed because they were Christians and because it was Holy Week. Nothing new about any of that, is there? Every passing year is marked with bombs, bloodshed, and brokenness; death, decay, and destruction, more tears, terror, and trauma.
Every time God meets up with nothingness, everything changes. He is the One Who met up with an earth that was without form and voice and dark and created the heavens and the earth. In the days of Noah, the same water He used to destroy was that which carried the ark to safety. At the Red Sea, same waters His servant Moses used to crush the enemy were those He used to rescue Israel. Faced with the fury of Nebuchadnezzar, the same fire that consumed His enemies didn’t have a prayer when it met up with the friends of God,namely Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Jesus Christ, who although he was in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing. He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Fix your eyes tonight on the King who volunteered for slavery. On the Creator who gets spit on by creatures. On the source of truth found guilty of lying. On the source of light who for three hours hangs in the darkness. On the source of life who gets crucified, dead, and buried. On the hero who goes from the pinnacle of praise to the ultimate of nothingness. Isaiah writes, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him; nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.
Because of what the Suffering Servant would do on a little hill outside of Jerusalem, Isaiah 54 announces that Zion’s precious children and priceless city structures would be renewed. Her tents, once destroyed, would not only be restored but expanded. Her dead children and past misery would forgotten, and a new family would rise up in a city now safe and prosperous. God’s reversal of Zion’s shame would be complete. The barren one would give birth to many children. The ravages of the Babylonian flood would recede and give way to peace. The refugees in Babylon would possess a rebuilt city decked in royal splendor! Reason to sing like they had never sung before.
Psalm 30 – His anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Isaiah writes, For a brief moment, I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. Whatever is your emptiness here tonight, get ready for it to fade away as darkness must give way to the sunrise. John writes, “From Hs fullness we have received grace upon grace.” Paul is amazed, “And you have been given fullness in Christ.” David shouts, “You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” Jesus confirms it, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.”
In Christ alone, there is grace enough to pay off your entire debt. Grace is the day’s wages paid to workers who had worked only an hour. It is the father scrubbing the stench of pig off his son’s back. It is a criminal received into paradise in his dying hour. It is nothing plus mercy, which equals everything.
The kingdom of God is like a man who is often tempted to be full of himself, but tonight once again at the foot of the cross he learns to spend his days begging and not bragging, beseeching and not boasting, learning to bend his knees and never again to strut his stuff. Yet one more time he is remembering what he has learned from his mother’s knee – that apart from Jesus Christ he could just as well be dead and buried, but that in Him, He is alive and well. Amen.
Palm Sunday, 2015
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Growing Up By Staying Low - 45 years ago, I played football for the Wyndmere Warriors. My coach was Ken Bakkegard, who was even shorter than I am, but fiery. If you didn’t do it right, he had a habit of grabbing the front of your helmet and looking you right in the eyes and chewing you out. For whatever reason, he decided that I should play center on offense. Which isn’t a very glamorous position, by the way. The only time people note who you are is when you miss your block or snap the ball over the punter’s head. And one of the worst mistakes you can make is to not stay low. If the opposing nose guard got lower than you and stood you up, that play wasn’t going to go very well. To this very day coaches are training players to succeed by staying low.
Here is one coach’s quote, “Football is a dangerous sport, but playing smart and safe is the key to making sure you're not being hauled of the football field on a stretcher or in a neck brace. It's not one-hundred percent preventable, but how do you minimize the risk of potential deadly injuries to young football players? This video will show coaches a few drills to teach their young athletes to minimize catastrophic neck injuries. And the key is staying low at the line.
The shared vision here at Trinity Lutheran Church and School is that we mature as disciples for Jesus Christ. That all 1700 plus of our members would not only be following Christ but be actively engaged in His mission to seek and save the lost. That our newly confirmed members wouldn’t just be surviving confirmation class and public examination, but in fact would be signing up for a life-long journey of taking on the form of servants and spending your days and nights having the mind of Christ. Getting down on your knees, growing up by staying low, growing up by washing feet, cleaning toilets, and you fill in the blank. Two parts to our sermon today, “Joining Jesus On His Mission.” The first is getting into position every week to have the mind of Christ, and the second is practicing what we preach with clear purpose each week.
Part I: Getting Into Position Every Week. Seven habits of maturing disciples we have identified here at Trinity. Three habits focus on receiving what God is wanting to give us and four habits focus on giving away to others what we have received.
Our first stated goal of Confirmation Class this year has been to engage young people in the rhythm and significance of God’s mission. The rhythm of creation was that God created light, land, sea, fish, birds, land animals, and humanity in 6 days and rested on the seventh day. The rhythm of Old Testament life was that they would work on the first six days and then rest on the seventh. The rhythm of New Testament life is that we hear God’s Word on the first day of the week and treasure it and keep it and live it out for the glory of God and the benefit of others Monday through Saturday. (Compare to rhythm of dancing – a few have it and many of us do not). The first habit of disciples who are growing up by staying low / getting into correct position is that we receive gratefully God’s good gifts in Divine Service.
Question #1 - What truths did I learn in this week’s sermon, and how are they (setting me free)? The bad news is that if you will not listen to a sermon, the truths of God’s Word presented in that sermon will have no way of setting you free. The good news is that every time you remember the truths you learned from your parents or grandparents or confirmation class pastors, they will bless and keep you. Nationwide research suggests that in all of the churches, about 70% of young people who have grown up in the church will fall away by age 25 or so. And yet Zechariah reminds us today that as often as you return to your stronghold, the blood of the covenant sets you free. As often as you eat and drink at the Holy Supper, that often your sins are forgiven. That often your faith is strengthened. That often you are reconnected to a God whose passion is to have mercy on you.
The second habit of disciples who are growing up by staying low / getting into the correct position is to search eagerly Holy Scriptures. Question #2 - What is my passion, and where is it (leading me)? (My mom would have been 90 this past week. Her passion each day was to read her Bible and say her prayers). Our Lord’s passion, His great desire, of course, was to get to the cross and die for the sins of the people. It was for the joy set before Him that He did not count equality with God something to be snatched and held onto. So that He would welcome your sorry souls into paradise, He emptied himself. He took on the form of a slave and lowered himself and was obedient as far as death would take him, even death on a cross.
What is your passion these days, and where is it leading you? Perhaps your greatest desire in life is to eat, drink, and have fun. How’s that working out for you? Perhaps it is to make a boatload of money and buy all the happiness that money can buy. How’s that working out for you? Perhaps your passion is just to survive life and mind your own business. How’s that working out for you? Today we learn of Jesus in the temple at age 12 was getting Himself in a position to be about His Father’s business. He did that by spending quality time with the Bible scholars of His day. By doing so with a mind that was curious, a heart that was on fire, and ears that were tilted.
The third habit of disciples who are growing up by staying low/ getting into the correct position is to humbly confess sin to God and others. Our third question is What is heaviest on my heart today, and where am I (taking my brokenness). Every day and every day, your Savior invites you to follow Him. To follow Him closely. Come unto me, He invites, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. A broken and a contrite heart, I will not despise, our God promises. Is there a more beautiful promise than that? Which of your bad habits are hurting and harming you the most? Take them on bended knee to your God and cry out for mercy. Which of your weaknesses are getting the best of you? Take them to your King who is humble and mounted on a donkey and cry out hosanna. Which corners of your life are broken and which of your dreams are shattered? Take them to your Christian friends and to your Lord’s Supper and ask for a second chance.
Part II: Practicing What We Preach With (Clear Purpose) Each Week
Could it be that one good question is worth a thousand answers? Four questions to help us think about practicing what we preach with purpose. The first is What’s my next step in terms of (laying down my life) for my neighbors? (Story told by Army Veteran Mr. Johanson at Friday’s Veteran’s Roundtable – Chaplain Rooney praying for and sending out 15 members of their battalion through enemy fire, each sent with a portion of Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd – GO.. I shall not want – GO. He makes me lie down in green pastures – GO. He leadeth me by the still waters –GO., etc) Here were soldiers laying down their lives for millions of people they would never know, many of them who never be grateful, much less say thank you. Husbands, ask yourselves, “which train should I jump in front of on behalf of my bride today?” Wives, ask yourselves, “which horrible habit of my husband should I cover up today?” Teachers, ask “which student really needs me to listen to their story today?” Students, ask “which classmate of mine needs me to hang out with him or her today?” Imagine on the last day, Jesus looking you in the eyes and saying, “When I needed someone to be available to me, you were!
The second of four habits of disciples who are practicing what their church is preaching with clear purpose is to prayerfully endure life’s crosses. Could it be true that one good question is worth a thousand answers? Which five people will I (pray for) and suffer with this week? Our younger generation is uniquely positioned to know who needs a prayer partner. Just go on Facebook, and within seconds you will know which of your friends is having a bad day, which one is stuck in traffic, which one is angry about snow falling on the first day of spring, which friend has a father who is dying, which one has a child that is sick or naughty, which family member needs you to walk alongside. Imagine on the last day our Lord looking you in the eyes and saying, “When I needed a friend to pray for and suffer with me, you did!”
Could it be that one good question is worth a thousand answers? Is my joy in the Lord a (contagious) joy? Medical experts tell us that smallpox and Bubonic Plage and influenza and rabies and ebola and HIV and a host of other diseases are contagious. Human experience tells us that crabbiness and unthankfulness and orneriness and stubbornness and hopelessness and sadness and even stupidity can be contagious. But the Spirit of God would remind us today that every fruit of the Holy Spirit, including joy, can be contagious. (Story of Ed Cutler / Florence Kyle who taught me how to knock on doors and tell people about Jesus). Their joy in the Lord was both with purpose and almost impossible to resist! Imagine on the last day our Lord looking you in the eyes and saying, “When I drifting toward the darkness and needed a ray of sunshine, you gave it to me!
Could it be that one good question could be worth a thousand answers? How will I season my conversations with (Good News) this week? There is a time to ask questions, of course, and there is a time to listen, and then there is in fact a time to give a reason for the hope that is within you. Paul writes to the Colossians, Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
In his book, “Joining Jesus on His Mission”, author Pastor Greg Finke has this to say about talking to people, “Survey after survey shows that Americans are among the most lonely and isolated people on earth…The truth is that God has wired some of us to be introverts and some of us to be extroverts….God intends that we interact with people at the relational pace with which he has wired us….The truth is extroverts and introverts bring both strengths and weakness to the practice (of talking to people). Extroverts are good at initiating and talking, but they are not as good at listening and asking the next question. On the other hand, introverts are good at noticing and watching people, but struggle to initiate conversation…” Imagine that on the last day, Jesus looks you directly in the eyes, and says, “When I needed you to initiate and carry the conversation, you did…..And when I needed you to watch my face and ask good questions and listen at length, you did.”
Following Well – The kingdom of God is like a young man who confirmed his faith at this altar in April of 2000, about the time this year’s confirmands were growing in their mother’s wombs. Our Confirmation Class picture display shows that his hair was long, he wore tennis shoes, and he stood to the left of a short fat face preacher. Since then, he has drifted away from the Church but praise be to God not his Lord. He’s messed up his life in such a way that he has landed in Blue Earth County Jail and that the St. Cloud Prison and now Moose Lake Prison. And from his prison cell, this young man who’s about the age of Pastor Muther and probably wore one of the robes one of you is wearing writes us a letter and thanks us for sending him Bible Studys and sermons and indicates that they truly help him to get through hard times, “I truly believe God has put me in here to help me change not only my life but the lives of others around me. I know I’ve made mistakes and will never be perfect but our God is a loving and forgiving God and not a day goes by that I don’t call on Him to give me the strength to make it through the day….inhere I help people learn every day and there are days that I teach about the Lord and Savior and there is a true sense of joy….Not a day goes by that I’m not in my Bible the Word comforts my soul.”
Charles would no doubt agree with Chris Tomlin, who sings, it this way “The one who reigns forever / He is a Friend of Mine / The God of angel armies / Is always by my side.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Dad’s Complaint Department
My dad was a man of few words, but he had a habit of making every word count. I don’t remember ever getting spanked, but I do remember him reaching for his belt and beginning to remove it and thinking to myself that I didn’t want to travel down that road. When we kids would start to complain about how cold it was or how we really didn’t want to do our chores, he had an eleven word little saying that rings in my ears to this day, “Quit your complaining, or I’ll give you something to complain about.”
My father took no pleasure in punishing his sons and daughters. What he took pleasure in is the same as what our Father in heaven has always took pleasure in, takes pleasure in today, and always will take pleasure in – when we say in sincere fashion that we are sorry for our sins and cry out for mercy. In our text for today, the people of Israel were complaining. Again. They complained against God and they complained against Moses. They complained about no food and they complained about no water and they complained about the food they did have and how they hated it so. In a variety of ways and on multiple occasions, God had told them to quit their complaining or He would give them something to complain about. He kept on drawing a line in the sand and telling them not to cross that line or else! One day they collectively crossed that line one too many times. And God gave them something to complain about. He sent fiery snakes among the complainers and they bit the people, and many of them died. And when enough people had died, they cried out for mercy. And in the moment they cried out for mercy, the angels and the archangels of heaven rejoiced. As they do to this very day when one or more sinners quit their complaining long enough to say in sincere fashion they are sorry for their sins and ask for forgiveness.
This wasn’t the first time God would move His people from a “moaning and groaning” mode to a “Lord have mercy mode” and it wouldn’t be the last. The entire book of Judges takes place even after the people of Israel have taken possession of the Promised Land, and they keep on forgetting how far they have come and how faithful God has been. In their forgetfulness, they fulfill what Solomon wrote later on, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly. In today’s sermon, the Holy Spirit would hold a mirror in front of us to show us the ways we are repeating our foolishness. The ways we have fallen again and again into the cycle the Israelites kept falling into - The Sin / Suffering / Supplication / Salvation Cycle.
Three truths I invite you to learn again today about what snakes God might be sending into your life as an individual and our life together as a congregation and as one nation under God. The first lesson is that First of all the poison still is fatal. Martin Luther writes that where the Israelites were, there is a snake that is called an asp. When that particular snake bites a person, they swell up, and they get a fever. The fever will get so high that their skin actually turned fiery red. Unless the part of the body that was bitten was amputated, the fever would penetrate the whole body, and death was inevitable.
Israel was So close and yet so (far). They were so close to the Promised Land, and the poisonous attitudes which kept on getting handed down from one generation to the next kept them from entering. They would remember how God had provided water in miraculous fashion, but as often as the water seemed far away, the poison of bitterness would rise up and rule. They could remember how God had literally dropped manna from the sky and quail would fly low and be caught, but as often as the food seemed scarce or untasty, the poison of hatred would stand up and shout. Their noses were close enough not once but twice to smell the land flowing with milk and honey, but out of their hearts kept on coming a spirit poisoned with pessimism and pride. So close to the precious promises of the one true God and yet so far away from holding on tight and staying the course.
Once again God found it necessary to increase their suffering to the point where they would feel the sting of their sin. To this very day, we need to (feel) the poison. The kingdom of God is like a man with a drinking problem whose wife has given him second chance after second chance, but he really doesn’t feel the poison until that day where she looks at him with a righteous anger in her eyes and says, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.”
It’s like a woman with an anger management problem whose husband has hung in there and stayed engaged, but she really doesn’t feel the poison until that day when he won’t look her in the eyes and he finally says, “I don’t care. I’m done.”
Thank God that hasn’t yet gotten to the point of not caring about us. Thank God that He has loved us with an everlasting love, and to this very day He is rich and never stingy with His mercy. Thank God that The antidote still is (effective). That day in the desert, the people of Israel finally realized their sin. All around them their friends and relatives were dying, and so they came to their senses. Like the prodigal son who wasted his inheritance and eating with the pigs and who finally remembered how good and safe and beautiful it was in his father’s care, so also did Israelites flee for refuge to Moses and confess that they had sinned when they had complained. Two lessons we learn again about life together in God’s family.
First, Humble yourself, or be (humbled). No doubt God would prefer to teach us in the good and smooth times that He is Lord, but if we have to learn the hard way, the hard way it will be. No doubt our Father in heaven would prefer to say, “quit your complaining, or I’ll give you something to complain about” and have us snap back to attention. But if it’s going to take a two by four or a snake or a loved one dying to get our attention, then a two by four or a snake or a loved one dying it will be. Whatever it takes to humble us, so that God may exalt us, so shall it be.
Secondly, and most importantly, we learn again that God’s ultimate desire is to show (mercy). The desire of God isn’t just that we quit our complaining, it is that our sins of complaining be paid for, forgiven, sent away. The desire of God isn’t just that we learn our lesson, it is that our diseases be healed once and for all. Up on a pole in the middle of their camp went that snake made out of bronze. That bronze snake itself was not the magical cure. It was a sign of God’s promise to heal them. Without God’s promise, that snake was ridiculous, just an inanimate object. But because of God’s Word, it was a beautiful sign, a sign that He would hear and heal. For about 8 centuries, Israel would carry that bronze snake around, wherever they went, polishing it, preserving it, even worshiping it until God had to command King Hezekiah to destroy it. But the day of our text, it was a sign and symbol of God’s promise to help and heal.
Our Gospel lesson for today fast forwards us 1500 years. Where Nicodemus is wondering about the teachings of Jesus and how it might be possible to be born again. And Jesus answers by saying that just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. Which is to say 1)the poison is still fatal. 2)The antidote still is effective. And 3) The look still is (required). This very day, the Spirit of God would invite you to fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith. This very day, fix your eyes on the One Who can’t and won’t take His eyes off you. Fix your eyes on the One Who refused to complain and went as a lamb to the slaughter on your behalf.
The author Chad Bird says it this way, “With full premeditation, knowing exactly what was about to happen, he slid off his shoe, shoved his foot in the face of an uncaged snake, and let that serpent strike his heel. Not only that he held it there and let the snake strike again and again and yet again, until every drop of venom passed from that serpent into his heel, into his body. It worked its way upward, through his calf to his thigh to his abdomen to his chest and finally to his head. His whole body pulsed with poison. Indeed he became so fat with venom it seemed he would burst. And just at the last moment, before death finally came, he raised his foot as high as the heavens, and slammed down his heel upon the head of the snake. He crushed that serpentine skull beneath his stricken heel. And his mission accomplished, he collapsed in death. The snake slayer died, and the snake and all it poison died with him.”
The kingdom of God is like a woman whose husband with the drinking problem has driven to the brink. She has announced her decision to be done with him. And then she hears him that night sobbing uncontrollably. In his mind, his life is over. He whispers to God in heaven above for forgiveness. On the inside of his heart, a desire to change rises up and begins to rule. A new day is dawning, and somehow, in some way, by God’s grace, a marriage survives.
The kingdom of God is like a husband who doesn’t care anymore, and yet as his wife with the anger management problem fixes her eyes on Jesus, she starts to see clearly one more time. One more time she looks him in the eyes and says she is sorry. One more time she asks for forgiveness. One more time they get down on their knees and pray, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Two thoughts, in closing today, by way of practical application. What does it mean to (fix) your eyes on Jesus? Our Shared Vision Statement answers in three ways. It means to receive gratefully God’s good gifts in Divine Service. (repeat). It means to search eagerly Holy Scripture. (repeat). It means to confess humbly sin to God and to others.
Secondly, I have it on my mind to ask you to think about Finishing strong! Eventually of course, the people of Israel did enter the Promised Land. They did conquer their enemies by the grace of God, and there were periods of time where they lived humbly and walked by faith. On a personal note, I’ve been talking with my financial advisor in recent weeks about the next ten or 20 or maybe even 30 years of my life and what they might look like. He asked me to fill in an inventory about what my preferences might be and what those years might look like. When I was 30 or 40 years old, I gave little thought to finishing strong, but at age 60 it’s different. Our text for today invites all of us to do inventory on a regular basis. To ask good questions like, “What kinds of snakes have been biting me lately? Have I been feeling the poison? Have I been fixing my eyes on Jesus Christ and Him Crucified? Am I just sort of wandering through the wilderness with no particular purpose, or am I focused on the good works God has ordained for me to do? Am I finishing each day strong, or do most of them just sort of end with a fizzle? Praise God with me today that He is in fact a God of new beginnings and second chances. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Second Sunday in Lent
Dear Friends in Christ,
Borderland Living – Last night, Pastor Muther and I returned from a three day conference which may have been one of the best and most practical conferences I have ever attended. I have two three ring binders jam packed with great and lofty plans. I have a brand new legal pad full of hand written notes and I am so fired up about preaching this morning that I feel as though I could preach for three hours straight through this morning. Makes you nervous doesn’t it?
Part of me always wants to think that if I could just get a list of 5 or 7 or 10 great ideas and then we could put them into practice, that living life together as pastors and people would be easy. That we could take the path of least resistance and we could get our act together, once and for all. That instead of driving along in the same old ruts of life, we could get unstuck. In his book “Your God is Too Safe” author Mark Buchanan coins the phrase “Borderland”, which he describes as the “condition of stuckness.” A land where people have been baptized into the Name of the Triune God, but are sort of bored with the whole organized religion thing. Where folks are acquainted with Jesus but aren’t really growing up into Him. Buchanan writes “that people on borderland have grown comfortable with boredom. They have settled for a God “on call”, a God available for crises and fiascos, who does a bit of juggling with weather patterns and parking stalls but who otherwise remains unobtrusive as a chambermaid, tidying things up while you’re at brunch…a God who is kind, tame, and sort of shy.”
Jesus would teach us better than that today. Our sermon theme on this kickoff Sunday for National Lutheran Schools’ Week is “Taking the Not So Easy Way.” Three truths today we want to learn about following Jesus closely. About denying ourselves and taking up our crosses on a daily basis and joining Jesus Christ and engaging with His Word and people on a mission to save sinners who are more lost and more alone and more distracted and more self oriented and more skeptical than ever before.
The first lesson is that Taking the not so easy way means (discerning) who Christ is. In one of our sessions at the Conference yesterday, a Pastor Malme from Green Bay who has done some teaching at Concordia in Mequon, indicated that his first assignment for his college students is to answer the question, “Who is God?” He said that by far their number one answer is “He is the Creator, and He is there for me when I need Him.” Interesting isn’t it, that in a culture that increasingly embraces the theory of evolution, college students’ first idea about God is that He is Creator.
Peter’s first idea about Jesus in our text for today was that Jesus was in fact the Christ, and his second idea was that Jesus should take the path of least resistance. He balked at what His Master was saying about suffering many things, being rejected by the elders and the chief priests, and being killed. He was trying hard to believe in Jesus with all of His heart, but he had bought into the very same lie Satan had put before Jesus in the wilderness – that there was a way easier than the cross. That Jesus could just one time fall down and worship the satan and the kingdom would be given over to him.
Pastor Malme from Green Bay Packer land suggested that one of the new normal for pastors and churches and schools these days is the “up to you generation.” The growing number of kids whose parents have said to them, “it’s up to you if you want to go to church or not.” We recognize today what a foolish approach to raising up children that is. These parents, for whatever reason, are trying to take the easy way out, but in fact have fallen into one of Satan’s favorite lies – that there is a way to love Jesus and the world at the same time and in equal measure.
This same workshop leader suggested that in the church and school he serves, the new normal is that increasingly the spiritual champion in the home is the kid. He suggested that we need to win the kids for Christ if we want to win the parents for Christ.” That frequently as the result of the Lutheran School or of the Confirmation Class, the sons and daughters are discerning in a stronger way than their parents who Jesus Christ is.
The second lesson we learn from our Gospel lesson today is that Taking the not so easy way means (rebuking) our enemies. In our Baptism liturgy, we are asked to promise again and again that we will spend our days renouncing the devil, renouncing the works of the devil, and renouncing the ways of the devil. In our Gospel lesson today, we see Jesus taking Peter aside in loving and stern fashion and correcting him. Pointing out to Peter that he had fallen for a lie, that he was setting his mind on the things of man instead of God. Walk through our Lutheran School any day of the week, and you will see teachers taking aside students in loving and firm fashion correcting them. Pointing out to them that they have fallen short, leading them to apologize, reassuring them that Jesus did everything He needed to do for them so that their sins could be forgiven.
Taking the not so easy way of life means speaking the truth to one another in love. It means recognizing and feeling the weight of our failures and faults. It means drowning the old sinful nature on a daily basis with contrition and repentance of sins. It means throwing ourselves on the mercy of God in our thoughts, words, and deeds. It means saying often to God and to one another, “I messed up. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. Please forgive me. Please tell me again that Jesus loves me. Please, please, help me not to fall into the lies of Satan. Please, would you help me to do better?”
Doing better in life doesn’t just happen because we want to do better. It happens as we hear God’s Word, as we treasure that Word in our hearts, as we put into practice that Word, and as we patiently endure the various trials and troubles that God may send our way or that we may have brought on ourselves. Taking the not so easy way means (bearing) our assigned crosses. In a general sort of a way, the crosses we bear might include all of our suffering in life as Christians, whether self inflicted or not. In a specific way, Luther says that “your cross” is the misfortune and grief you experience because you hear the Word of God, and because you learn it, hold on to it. And put it into practice.”
Pastor Martin Noland wrote this about bearing the holy cross. As I read this quote, I invite you to think about how this applies to what we are doing in our Lutheran Church and School and how the enemies of the faith have always wanted to sabatoge what God is doing in this place. “It has everything to do with our enemies: the devil, all his angels, and the world. They are the ones who inflict every possible misfortune and grief upon us…the devil, all his angels, and the world are on attack only “where God’s Word is preached, accepted, and believed, and bears fruit…..the devil cannot bear to have anyone teach or believe rightly. It pains him beyond measure when his lies and abominations, honored under the most specious pretexts of God’s name, and are disclosed and exposed in all their shame, when he himself is driven out of a man’s hearts and a breach is made in his kingdom.
Taking the not so easy way in life means Thinking right and traveling (light). To think right is to regard our crosses correctly. It is to know that everything God assigns to His believing saints is of eternal value. That He works everything out for good for those who love him. That every one of our crosses will point us to heaven. They will render us humble before God. They will teach us implicit trust in divine grace. They will strengthen our faith. They will move us to prayer. They will turn our view from this present and perishable world to the eternal and perishable life to come. They will remind us again and again to travel light, that is to say to live as pilgrims and sojourners who spend our days standing up for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom instead of sitting around and just sort of wandering around aimlessly with no particular purpose in life.
Taking the not so easy way in life means Crying and (rejoicing) at the same time. At our faculty Bible study this past Tuesday, it was reported to us that the 24 year old son of one of our alumni had taken his own life. And again that a couple of our school alumni had gotten themselves into serious legal trouble. And again that one of our alumni and her family were suffering with yet another story of cancer and all that goes with it. We studied Colossians 2 for about a half an hour with tears in our collective eyes. Crying for the pain of it all and yet rejoicing because we know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope will never put us to shame. Knowing that that very day, we would be privileged to deliver into the lives of 150 children and their families the Good news that while we were still weak, at just the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. He died for those who messed up yesterday, who are messing up today, and who will mess up tomorrow. He died for those who are following Him at a distance and for those who are staying close. He died for those who have a habit of taking the path of least resistance in for those who are resisting the lies of the evil one in a strong way, by the grace of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Taking the not so easy way means understanding the principle of (Momentary) cost vs. eternal rewards. Humanly speaking, operating a Lutheran School is an expensive proposition. It requires dozens and even hundreds of families to give in a sacrificial and serious manner. But as often as we think correctly, we know that every dollar we spend on Christian education and every bit of sweat and blood and tears that we may put forward for the cause of Lutheran Schools pales in comparison to spending eternity face to face with Jesus alongside parents and grandparents, alongside of children and grandchildren, alongside of friends we know well and neighbors we’ve never met.
The Land of Lutheran Schools is that place where children learn every day that even though life can be very hard, it gets easier every time they come to Jesus with their tiredness, their troubles, and their trials. It’s that place where children go home at night and say to their parents at supper time, “hey, we need to pray before we eat.” It’s that place where teachers and pastors begin every day with an encouraging word and end it with a benediction from the Triune God. It’s that place where children learn the lifelong practice of saying again and again to God and to others, “I messed up again. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. And help me. Please help me to have clean hands. And a pure heart. In Jesus’ Name.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther