Big Words: But
Fourth in a series of five
Genesis 3:8-15 // 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 // Mark 3:31-35 // Romans 5:8
Dear friends in Christ,
We are exploring a sermon series in these days called “Big Words.” So very often in the English language the words that have the greatest depth of meaning aren’t the longest and the most complicated but instead are the simplest. Little words, like go, be, with, but, and for. It’s tough to start a sentence without them. In this sermon series, we examine five little words, we ask what they mean and how they help us to express the depth of our theology. Three weeks ago, as we celebrated Pentecost, and we focused on the word “Go,” remembering the mission of God is both near and far. After that, we celebrated Holy Trinity Sunday, remembering the great mystery of who are God is, we focused on the word, “Be.” Last week, we moved into the great green season of Pentecost, the season of growth, as we looked at the word with.
Next week, during Hay Daze weekend, Pastor Griffin will lead us through “For.” Today, we meditate on the word “But.” What does that word mean?
I’ll tell you this: it is unlike the other words that we have encountered. Other words have a great variety of meaning, 10 or more definitions on how you can use a little word. But only really has one meaning.
It is adversative. It contrasts one thing against another. Yet, Nevertheless, however, still, despite that, in spite of, although. That is to say, things have followed a different course than the way your sentence started.
I woke up today happy, but – on the other hand -- Benjamin woke up sad.
I thought I would get to eat a piece of cake, but it was all gone.
I think my sermons are pretty short, but… some people would like them longer.
But again, this word is everywhere. You can’t talk for too long without running into this word again and again. You can’t go more than a few sentences before you have to use it. There is no substitute for the word, “But,” for the concept of reversal.
And dear friends, as many of my confirmands might know, everyone in the Bible has a big but. Adam has a big but. Moses had a big but. David has a big but. You and I have big buts.
Or, to say it in a different way, our Bible is full of reversals. Adam was created perfect, BUT he fell into sin. Moses led the people Israel out of slavery, BUT never got to set foot in the Promised Land. David was a man after God’s own heart, BUT he fell to adultery. Solomon had all the wisdom of the whole world, BUT he erred into foolishness. Gideon was cowardly, BUT God still worked through him to save his people.
And then, we see the greatest reversal of all: Jesus had no sin, but he took on the sin of the whole world. We were dead in our trespasses, but our God sent his son.
Reversal. It happens in each and every one of our stories – yours and mine -- and it happens in different ways. One story for today, three reversals, all three reversals found in our Scripture as well. First, a reversal the way we see our sin, second a real reversal of the course of human history, and third a reversal of the way we see our story.
There is a woman, connected to this congregation, living in Janesville, years before I got here. She looked like she had it all together: a family, a husband, a house, a job, but underneath the surface, things were not what they seemed.
She was addicted to meth. Her husband was addicted too. I don’t know who bit that apple first, but it didn’t take long before the life that they lived was a sham. She would sneak out of the house. He would cover. They started selling things to feed their habit. Things were not as they seemed. As her life, her health, her marriage started falling apart, no one really knew how to help her, and she didn’t even really want help herself, until one day when it all came crashing down. She had a warrant out for her arrest. She had our police chief knocking at her door.
And she said to me, “The day when Chief Ulmen arrested me, he was being my best friend. I didn’t think it at the time, but I look back, and I know.”
Reversal number one is, sometimes the But, the reversal, is in the way we see our sin. This is the reversal we see in our Old Testament reading; that moment when our perception catches up with our reality. That moment when the consequences catch up with our actions. That moment when Adam and Eve, who were absolutely perfect in every way eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they run away from reality. They react by thinking, “If we get away from what we had done, everything would be fine.” Have you ever thought that?
But the kindest thing that their God could do for them – the absolute kindest thing…. Is to be their best friend, to confront their sin, to draw near to them, to be WITH them, as we said last week and to let Adam and Eve see reality.
This gal, her world came crashing down. She saw how low she had gotten. Our church, we helped her out as she limped along. We helped her keep her house for a little bit longer. We helped to do some things, but eventually she left. She went through hard times. She hit rock bottom. She realized that she needed help. She realized she couldn’t do it alone. And her faith was the key to her change.
Point number two is that the reversal, the But, is that God changes reality. We find our Epistle reading. Our God doesn’t just help us see clearly; he changes the course of history. He doesn’t just let us look positively; he makes dead things alive. He brings to nothing the things that are. He uses the things that are not. He loves the unlovable and by his miracle they love him back. He pursues the faithless and by his miracle makes them faithful. He takes the universe on the crash course to annihilation and destruction, and by the most unlikely of means, by the death of the author of life, he brings eternal life and forgiveness to his enemies.
By your baptism, you are born into the story that changes human history. By the Supper, you are eating and drinking the body and blood that stem the tide of hatred and bloodshed, that bring forgiveness that only God can give. By his Word he feeds you that which is of more substance than any other word you could hear.
How do I know this story that started so long before my time here? Well, that gets us to reversal number three. I can tell you, I wouldn’t know it. I wouldn’t know our part in it, except for last year this young woman came on into the office and Pastor Griffin was out – he might’ve been on vacation... She stepped into my office to say thank you. Thank you for the part that Trinity played in her life, whether we knew how things would end or not. Thank you for the part we played as her Lord grabbed ahold of her time and time again.
Thank you. How can a person say thank you after a life of felonies, of jail time, of struggle, of loss? I would submit to you that for the Christian, this question leads us to the final reversal for today, from the Gospel reading. Sometimes, the But is that God bids us look back at the sin and brokenness and failure of our past, and he bids us see it through his eyes.
It’s not that what she had done had changed; it’s that her values changed. It is not that the facts changed; it is that her perspective has become a heavenly perspective. The curse of the serpent in the Garden becomes the first reading of the Gospel. The death of God leads to his resurrection and the resurrection of all flesh.
In the Gospel reading, we hear some hard words, but I’ll tell you this: Jesus’ mother was still his mother, his brothers were still his brothers. That doesn’t change. Think to the end of John’s Gospel, one of Jesus’s last seven words on the cross is to John and to his mother. Woman, this is your son. This is your mother. He says, in overwhelming love, “John, take care of my mom.” He still loved his mom and his brothers – one of his brothers went on to become (traditionally) the writer of the book of James.
But in Mark 3, Jesus is inviting a different perspective. He is reminding us that the kingdom of heaven binds us more deeply than our ties of blood. He is reminding us that the most meaningful connection we have with anyone is that we are sons and daughters of the same Heavenly Father. That all of our life, the good and the bad and everything in between, is ordered to that point, so that men might see our good deeds – and the confession of our faults – and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.
In counseling, as men and women come into our offices, broken by their own sin and broken by the sin of others, the comforting prayer that we can offer them is that it is your God’s firm desire that all the brokenness and emptiness and flaw and failure of our lives can and will in his time be used in your witness to those around you. All of the pain and bitterness and tears that you have now can and will be part of the great backdrop of God’s grace and his mercy through the pain and the storm. We are firm believers that these stories will one day allow you to speak when someone really needs to hear that you’ve been there, and you’ve come out the other side.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town, trusting that God is writing their story every week -- in his word, with his sacraments. They mess up just about as much as anyone else messes up, but they have this curious habit of asking for forgiveness and giving, this curious habit of holding onto the hope held out to them in the face of all that would cause them to mourn and doubt, this curious habit of remembering again and again that their savior has conquered all that needs to be conquered, and their lives are in his hands.
Amen and Amen.
Big Words: With
Third in a series of five
Deuteronomy 5:12-15 // 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 // Mark 2:23-28
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon includes meditation on the three texts read, as well as from a familiar Christmas text, one that quotes from Isaiah the prophet, Matthew 1:23, “You shall call his name Immanuel, which means God-With-Us.” Our texts thus far.
Dear friends in Christ,
We are exploring a sermon series in these days called “Big Words.” So very often in the English language the words that have the greatest depth of meaning are the simplest. Words like go, be, with, but, and for. In this sermon series, we examine five little words, we ask what they mean and how they help us to express the depth of our theology.
Two weeks ago, as we celebrated Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Jesus was raised from the dead, ten days after Jesus ascended to heaven, and we focused on the word “Go.” Last week, as we celebrated Holy Trinity Sunday, remembering the great mystery of who are God is, we focused on the word, “Be.” The last sentences of our pastor’s corner last week really summarize the sermon: “Who God is has made you and me. Who God is has redeemed you and me. Who God is sanctifies you and me.”
In the coming weeks, we will study the words “But” and “For.” Today, we meditate on the word “With.” What does it mean – and here we can help but build on last week’s sermon – what does it mean to be with?
The dictionary suggests that with can mean alongside, to go with someone. It can mean against. I’m fighting with you. It can be an adverb. Eat your food with joy. It can indicate relationship. I’m with her. One dictionary had no less than 10 definitions for the way we use this word.
This is a really interesting word, because we see it and its ramifications all throughout the Old and New Testaments. It is everywhere, and this little four-letter word. In Genesis, God is with Adam and Eve until they eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and they no longer fell like they can be with God. God is angry with them. God sends them outside of the Garden, separated from paradise, without paradise. The Exodus story begins with the Lord hearing his people and drawing near them to be with them. When he is with them the angel of death passes over them.
Isaiah 43: When you walk through the deep waters, I will be – and here’s that word again, WITH you, for – and this is a throwback to last week’s “BE”, I AM the LORD your God. Do you notice that? I AM the one who is, and when the One-Who-Is is WITH you, the troubles of life will not overtake you. If you’ve ever read your way through Ezekiel, you can find his plaintive and simple refrain: All this is for the point that I will be your God and you will be my people. So that I can be with you. The promise of the angel at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel: He will be called Immanuel, God-With-Us. Jesus’s great promise that bookends Matthew’s Gospel: I will be – you can guess it – with you always, to the very end of the age. St. John in his Revelation writes, “Amen! The dwelling place of God is with man, and he will live with them.
And guess what. That’s just the tip of the biblical iceberg. As you can probably guess about many biblical subjects, I could go on and on. But stay with me. Soooo, what does it mean to be “with”? The presence of God. That God is not distant but near. That God dwells in the midst of messy human drama. God is active in his presence in creation. The presence of God.
Today we look behind our texts and readings, not so much focusing on the content of the reading – the Old and New Testament are all about the Sabbath and Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath, but instead seeing the movement of our God in the text…. And asking the question, what does it mean for him to be “with” us?
From our Old Testament reading, to be withGod means guidance. It’s not just in the little snippet we have; it’s in the entire section. Moses is reading again the entirety of the Law to the people of Israel as they enter into the Promised land. They are remembering again that their God has come near in order to reveal to them the way that they are to go. Not only in this section about the Sabbath but throughout the Law, God is giving his people a rhythm that allows them the most opportunity to do exactly what he reminds them of at the end of our passage: “You shall remember that you were a slave and the Lord God brought you out from Egypt with a mighty hand.”
There’s at least one person that I talk to every week, who’s asked me to ask them questions, keep them accountable, help guide them. One particular person comes to my office and I meet with them week after week. What does my presence in her life do? Not much. I have no expertise. I can give very little good advice, but what I can do is be there to ask her questions, what I can do is be there week after week in order to give accountability and guidance. That’s what keeps people moving ahead. That’s one reason to be with people.
So, do you afford yourself opportunities to remember on a regular basis how much your God has done for you? Do you use the rhythm of our worship service to inform the rhythm of your day-to-day life? When life doesn’t go as planned, what’s the first word that comes to mind? Is it a word of praise? Of prayer? Or something else? To be with God means guidance.
Second, to be with God means transformation. That dovetails with last week’s sermon – “Who God is has redeemed you and me.” And we see it in our Gospel lesson. To be with Jesus for the disciples meant that the rhythm of Sabbath rest wasn’t abolished, but it is deepened. It wasn’t that there wasn’t a Sabbath, but it is that the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. Here’s the truth behind that truth: When the almighty, incarnate revelation of God, Jesus Christ comes into contact with anything, his presence transforms it.
Lutherans have a word for this, a word that not many other Christian denominations understand as deeply as we do. The word is “vocation,” or calling.
It’s the idea that all the facets of your life are made meaningful, and that meaning is transformed because of the calling of Jesus Christ to know what you are doing in relation to him! What you do, every second of the day, is significant, because it is part of the story that culminates on the cross. It is significant, because through your hands and your feet, your God is working to bring the whole universe to a close in Jesus Christ, not by fire and violence and war and pestilence – even though that is here and it will surely come – but by your hands and feet he is working the kingdom of God -- the presence of his son – in the lives of everyone who knows you.
Third, the presence of Jesus, our God with us, means life in the midst of death. I’ve said before, all the biggest event of life are never convenient. Births rarely come when you expect them. Children are born whenever they are born; just talk to a couple pregnant for the first time to know what helpless feels like. Children take over your life and they don’t give it back for a long time. Death comes when it comes. I’ve seen people who die quickly, before help can even come. I’ve seen others live on after all the machines are taken away, for hours, for days, even a week.
What does that do to a family? Not knowing how long they have to wait?
I can tell you this: those moments are not easy, but they are good. I was with a family in Rochester this last week, as they gathered in his last hours asking, aching to receive the hope that only Jesus can give, in the word, in his Sacraments. It got hot in the room. There were tears. But as we shared the hope that comes with eating the bread which is Christ’s body, drinking the wine which is Christ’s blood, and knowing in our hearts and confessing with our lips what Paul writes, that even when our jars of clay break, even when we carry death in our bodies, the life of Jesus is with us.
And in that moment, there is an unearthly peace and a godly strength. It doesn’t mean that tears don’t flow. But it means that peace can surpass our understanding.
Being there in those last moments, it puts us into a far deeper rhythm of life than we normally want to know. It slows us down to be present – to be WITH – this one whom we love, even if he isn’t there in the way we want him to be.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who plans out his days, even as he knows that the presence of his God will often lead him to all sorts of unplanned fruit. The kingdom of heaven is like a community where people ask questions, where people take the time to be with others, and that draws them together in a deeper way than words can tell. The kingdom of heaven is how God decided to make himself to man by becoming a man, by being with man in all the trials of a sinful life, yet being without sin and dying a death that transforms our life.
Amen and amen.
Big Words: Be
Isaiah 6:1-8 and John 3:1-17
Second in a series of six
May 26 and 27, 2018
“Woe is me! For I almost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are exploring a sermon series in these days called “Big Words.” So very often in the English language the words that have the greatest depth of meaning are the simplest. Words like go, be, with, but, and for. In this sermon series, we examine five little words, we ask what they mean and how they help us to express the depth of our theology.
Last Sunday was the Festival of Pentecost, an event which happened in Jerusalem 50 days after the resurrection of our Lord and at which time God poured out His Spirit in superabundant fashion and commissioned his church to go and make disciples by baptizing and by teaching all things he had commanded. Pastor submitted to us that the Triune God has commissioned us to go first of all to those near and dear to us, and secondly to places and people yet unknown to us. That we are called to be Christians in every moment to folks inside of our comfort zone and to those outside.
Today we focus on the little word BE. Our “As We Gather” paragraph in our bulletin today says it this way. Before we do, we be. Before we go, we are. Before we were, God is. Trinity Sunday celebrates the mystery of the God who is, because who God is has made you and me. Who God is has redeemed you and me. Who God is sanctifies you and me.”
Before we do, we be. In other words, before we can carry out the Great Commission near and far, we need to know who God is and who we are. Specifically, we need to know who we are in relationship to God.
Who are we? In recent months, about 1-3 times a week, the internet has asked me to verify that I am not a robot, to check a box that verifies that I am in fact human. That question strikes me as odd one, but it’s an easy one to answer, and so I do. A question more difficult to answer is what does it mean to be human?
The Lutheran answer to that question has been that we are simultaneously sinners and saints. John 3 language would answer that we are at the same time born of the flesh and born again of the Spirit. Isaiah 6 language would answer that apart from Christ we stand in God’s presence as lost and ruined mortals with unclean lips. In Christ we stand with our guilt taken away, our sin atoned for, and ready to serve.
Who are we? Two answers to that question today – the first answer is in relationship to the holiness of God, and the second with regard to His desire to have mercy on our souls. The first answer is that by nature we be lost, we be guilty, and we be, good for nothing. The second is just the opposite. By the grace of God we be found, we be forgiven, and we be ready to serve
Who are we and what does it mean to be human? The first answer is that by nature we be lost, we be guilty, and we be, good for nothing. Perhaps you remember a commercial back in the 70’s for Mennen Skin Bracer. It featured a guy finishing his morning shave in front of a mirror by splashing on some aftershave lotion, then he vigorously slaps himself on both sides of his face and says to himself, “Thanks! I needed that!” The commercial’s message was that everybody needs a good waker-upper to be ready for the day.
In a much more profound set of circumstances, God was calling the prophet Isaiah to slap the nation of Judah alongside of the head and wake them up. They needed to wake up to the dangers of national pride. They needed to wake up to their lack of attention to social justice. They needed to wake up to the reality that they were relying more and more on foreign and political alliances and less and less on the promises of God.
According to one tradition, Isaiah was a cousin to King Uzziah, which would explain his ready access to the royal court. The end of Uzziah’s reign marked the beginning of the end for Judah, whose neighbors Assyria and Babylon were becoming the military superpowers that would threaten and destroy Judah.
Perhaps you remember the scene where the Lone Ranger & Tonto are riding down into a box canyon. At the far end, the Lone Ranger notices an army of Comanche Indians, in full war-paint, frowning down from the cliff walls at him. Turning to his left he notices a great number of very mad looking Arapaho Indians staring down.
On his right he observes a host of Cherokee Indians peering at him over the rim of the canyon. Looking behind, he sees every Apache brave in the world slowly creeping into the canyon, blocking the exit. You may remember that the Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says, "We're in a heap of trouble, Tonto!"Tonto's nervous reply, "Uhh...who do you mean we, pale-face?"
The Kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where all kinds of folks wake up every morning, they look themselves in the mirror, and they don’t like what they see. They have learned over the years that God is holy and they are not. They have learned that if they try to live even one day without confessing their sins and asking for guidance, they are in a heal of trouble. They have learned that if they try to solve their problems without the Holy Spirit guiding them, if they schedule themselves too busy to pray, if they let their Bibles collect dust, and if they try to go even one week keeping Jesus Christ at a distance, they are in a heap of trouble. Individually and collectively, they ask what does it mean to be human, and they realize again and again by nature they be lost, they be guilty, they be good for nothing.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having n his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for...And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Who are we and what does it mean to be human? By the grace of God we be found, we be forgiven, and we be ready to serve.
The grace of God changes everything. According to our sinful nature, we were lost and condemned creatures. In the waters of Baptism, the Triune God claims us as His very own, the forgiveness of sins is delivered into our very souls, our hearts are made new.
The grace of God changes everything. It is our very nature to wander away from the truths we have learned from our mother’s knees, it’s our very nature to try to blaze our own trails, to find our own solutions to life’s most complicated situations, and it’s our very nature to take little molehills and make them into mountains, but in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, our Father in heaven refuses to give up on us, our Good Shepherd time after time comes looking for us, the Spirit of God guides us back into the very truths that set us free.
By the grace of God we be found, we be forgiven, we be ready to serve. At closing chapel this past Friday, I told the story I’ve told before- of Uncle Alvin (Grew up in a Christian home, attended German Lutheran Parochial School, fought bravely in World War II, was wounded, receive awards that he really didn’t brag about as far as I know, he was a hero in the war, but not so much in the 45 – 50 years that followed. His drinking caused all kinds of troubles, for decades he turned his back on church, his family members including my mom lost sleep many a nights worrying about and praying for his soul, and it seemed as though his life was headed for an unhappy ending.
But His Father in heaven never gave up on Uncle Alvin, His Good Shepherd kept following him around with goodness and mercy, and at the end of it all, it seems as though the Proverb came true, Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
In the days and weeks preceding his death, he accepted a visit from a Lutheran Pastor and Professor Dr. Rudnick. Dr. Rudnick read Scripture, he prayed, he listened, and finally, in preparation for Holy Communion, Pastor Rudnick asked if Alvin was sorry for his sins, he asked if he believed in Jesus as Savior, he asked if Alvin wanted to amend his sinful life. To which the answer was yes. At which time the angels and the archangels and all the company of heaven rejoiced. As the very bread and wine touched his lips, the very body and blood of Jesus Christ was delivered into his soul, his guilt was taken away, and one more time the gates of hell had failed to prevail.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who look themselves in the mirror every night, and they like what they see. They know that even though they have fallen short of God’s glory that day, their Father in heaven still refused to give up on them, their Savior is with them, He loves them, and His angels will be guarding over them all through the starry night. They say their prayers, they make the sign of the cross, and they sleep in peace, believing that their God’s mercies will be brand new in the morning. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
8th Grade Graduation, 2018
The victory of faith.
1 John 5:1-5
“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” 1 John 5:4
What kind of victory do you want? I remember it was in 5thgrade, I was never a good athlete. I still am not a good athlete, but it was in grade school that my parents made each of us to try at least one sport. And so in 5thgrade, I played basketball. I never really played in a game. I never scored a point, and my dreams of victory were pretty small.
I wasn’t thinking about winning tournaments or bringing home trophies. I didn’t think about outscoring our rivals – that was St. Paul’s Grafton Panthers. I didn’t think about buzzer beaters or three-point bombs. My dream was to steal the ball and do a layup, just once. Just once, to steal the ball and do a layup.
That was a pretty small victory.
What kind of victory do you want? Search your heart. Another way to say it, what is success for you?
Or, finish this sentence: I would be happy if I only had X. In high school for me, it was, if I only had a group of really good friends, I would be happy. In seminary school, it was, if I only had a wife, someone to love.
Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. The word overcome is the same word as victory, it’s the word NIKE. John is saying, at the end of this letter, he’s saying that we have won the victory over the world.
Act like you’ve been there. The first time my high school’s soccer team won a game. Ethan and the first shot the 5thgrade team made. Another way to say it: Make sure you answer the big questions before you answer the little ones.
The story of a man, one Christmas Eve, he was having a day that was pretty much hell on earth. His wife was in early and painful labor in Mankato. His dad was approaching his last hours in Owatonna, and he had a gash in his hand the size of a sheet of paper. His world was falling apart, so what can he do?
Well, for the Christian, am I baptized? Yes. Does the life of Christian end in death? No, because Christ has won the victory that matters. He has wrestled death to the ground for me and won. And he took a deep breath, and went to help his nearest neighbor.
There was a girl a few years older than me in high school, a beautiful gal who loved Jesus. Her name is Alyssa. She went to the big high school just down the street from where I lived. She said that high school was tough for her. Really tough. She cried every day when she parked her car. I don’t know what made it so tough, but this I do know: she spent the first moments of her day praying and reading her Bible. She survived the tough days and did well in the good days, because her victory was in Jesus Christ.
I’m not saying that your years will be that bad. Mine certainly weren’t that bad. But what I am saying is that she looks back on those days now knowing what she knew then, that Jesus has won the victory, and knowing what she didn’t know then: that tough times, they pass.
Victory. We are victorious because Christ is victorious. One more point to make: the victory that makes us victorious comes through our faith.
What does that mean: Through faith? It means what Jesus says in Luke 17: “Truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can tell this mountain: Be uprooted and thrown into the heart of the sea, and it will obey.” It isn’t the size of the faith that matters, that does such great things; it’s the object of that faith.
Or as John wrote earlier in his letter, “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
What is our victory? It is a victory that Jesus won over death for us. What gives us that victory? Our faith. Why does it matter? We answer the biggest questions of life, so that everything else can be what it is.
Amen and amen.
Funeral Sermon for Norma Mittelsteadt
“To Whom Shall We Go?”
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Some time ago, a school teacher friend of mine had the brakes on his car go out in my next door neighbor’s drive way. A day later, on one of the hottest days of the summer, I drove into my driveway only to see him underneath his car, sweating up a storm, working on his car with the help of his dad. I rolled down my window and hollered out, “Hey, there’s people that can do that for you, you know!” We talked smart for a bit and I went off to relax in the shade on my patio while he finished the job. Or so I thought. A few days later, when I asked Eiden how it all worked out, he admitted that in the process of fixing one of the brakes, one of the other brakes was damaged and in reality, he caused more damage than he fixed! When it comes to car repair, there are two kinds of people – the do-it-yourself kind of a person and the take it to the repairman kind of a person.
So also when it comes time for soul repair, it seems as though there are two kinds of folks – those who go running with their questions to the lover of their souls, Jesus Christ, and those who try to slug their own way through their own days of trouble. Our text for today is a portion of the Gospel lesson appointed for yesterday, the 12th Sunday of the Pentecost season. Jesus was teaching the people how vitally important it was to believe in Him and follow Him. Again and again, He declared Himself to be the living bread that came down from heaven. Again and again, He pleaded with people to know that if they eat of this bread, they would live forever. Again and again, He taught them that blessed would be the folks who would hear His Word and blessed would be the folks who would hold on for dear life to His promises and blessed would be the folks who would keep on running to God for refuge and for strength.
But on the other hand, cursed would be the folks who would try to answer their own questions and handle their own troubles. Weak and burdened would be the folks who would try to carry their own loads and solve their own conflicts. Confused and injured would be the folks who would try to fix their own messed up lives and blaze their own trails.
In John 6, Jesus had proclaimed these realities of sin and grace so clearly that many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Jesus. Perhaps it was with tears of sadness in His eyes that Jesus asked the Twelve Disciples, “Do you want to go away as well?” And then the outspoken Peter, the one who often got it wrong, actually got it right. He answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Norma got it right every time she ate the living bread that came down from heaven, every time she sat still and knew that God was God. She got it right every time she made her way slowly and surely into the house of God and used her ears to hear. She got it right every time she admitted that she was a sinner and threw herself on the mercy of Almighty God. She got it right every time one of her pastors asked her if she would like Holy Communion and with that famous smile of hers she said yes. Of course she wanted to receive the very body and blood of her Savior. Of course she knew that she couldn’t make it through the trials of life on her own strength and with her own ingenuity. Of course she couldn’t fix her own troubled heart and struggling soul. Where else would she go?
We all know where to go if we have medical concerns – to the doctor. If our problems are financial, we go to an accountant. If we have serious legal difficulties, we are wise to consult a lawyer. But what about days like this, when we spend a few hours following caskets into and out of the church and over to the cemetery? Where shall we go after the dust has settled and the casket is buried? Where should children and grandchildren go after laying to rest a mom and a grandma you’re not sure you can live without? If we really want to get it right in the quietness of tonight, where shall we go? Specifically, where shall we go with our questions?
In Jesus’ day, people could walk up to Jesus and ask Him the questions that they had. They would ask and He would answer. Not always, in fact rarely it seems, would Jesus give a straight answer. Frequently He answered questions with another question. Often He answered with a story or a parable that seemed unrelated. On more than a few occasions, Jesus answered the questions people should have been asking instead of the ones they actually did. In our text for today, after Peter asks and then answers his own rhetorical question, Jesus responds, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is the devil (referring to Judas Iscariot).
This morning, there are a few questions that really matter and all kinds of questions that matter not very much at all. Rather than asking if Norma believed enough, we ask, was she baptized? Yes, she was. Rather than asking if she did enough good, we ask was and is God faithful to His promises? Yes. Rather than asking why she could have lived a longer life, we ask if her Good Shepherd followed her around in all the chapters of life with goodness and mercy? Yes He did. When she cried out in her days of trouble, did God answer in a way that was perfectly thought through and for her benefit? Yes. When her believing heart pumped for the last time, and as she breathed her final air, did the angels of God take her soul into the very presence of Jesus? Absolutely. On the last day, will this cold and lifeless body be resurrected and reunited with her soul and will she see Jesus face to face and is it true that in heaven there is no more heart failure and are there no more falls and no more fractures and no more worrying about grandchildren and no more sadness? Yes, yes, and yes, this is all as certain and valid as the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The final questions are for all of you, dear friends and family of Norma? Where are you going these days for your refuge and for your strength in time of trouble? Where are you going with the wrong that you have done and the good you have failed to do? Where are you going with your fears and your doubts, your worries and your failures?
I invite you to know one more time today the great desire of your Father in heaven, which is to hold you close and never let you slip away. Know the desire of your Savior Jesus which is to forgive your sins and never bring them up again. Know the desire of the Holy Spirit which is to work in your hearts a strong and a growing and a fruitful faith through the ups and down and the zigs and the zags of life.
Recently I read that medical researchers have found that one of three adults cannot name any of their great grandparents. My first thought was to see if I could name mine, and I did find that I am able to name seven out of eight. My next thought was to be dismayed that a third of my great grandchildren wouldn’t even be able to name their short and fat great grandpa preacher man. But once I get past being full of myself, I was reminded that my name isn’t at all the name that matters. What matters is that the next generations know the name of Jesus. In fact there is salvation in no other name than His Name.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Norma could have one wish come true, it would be that God would send his holy angels to guard and to be with all of her descendents and that the wicked foe would never have any power over them. What else would wish for than for all of her descendents to calling on the Name of Jesus in every day of trouble, to be taking all of their burdens and brokenness to their Savior in every day of frustration, to be crying out for mercy in every day of falling short, to be standing in God’s grace in every chapter of life, to be sitting in the assembly of the redeemed in a regular kind of a way, and to be walking humbly before God in all of their days.
Dear friends, wherever you are at in your own spiritual journey, it’s a beautiful sight to see all of you gathered around this casket, missing that beautiful smile, and listening to God’s precious Word. Please know that from this day forward, every time you are still and know that God is God, every time to pay attention to His Word, every time you eat the bread and drink the wine at His Supper, every time you receive the very body and blood of your Savior into your souls, you are getting it right.
If you want to fix your own cars or tear apart your own lawn mowers or sheetrock your own basements, go ahead and knock yourselves out. But for heaven’s sake, when it comes to getting your hearts mended and your minds corrected and your souls repaired, do come running to the One Who has already gone on before you, all the way to the cross. Do come running to the One who already got it right on your behalf. Do come running to me, with all of your faults, your failures, and your fears. Come running with your burdens, your brokenness, and your bruises. Come running with all that needs to be fixed, and as often as you do so, know that the words of eternal life will sweep over your soul as a cup of water quenches the thirsty, as a piece of bread satisfies the hungry, and as a word of forgiveness heals the broken. God grant that the children and the grandchildren and the great grandchildren and the generations to come would always know how beautiful are the words of eternal life, that you would spend your days holding onto those words and cherishing those words and being changed by those words and sharing with other those words, and may Norma Jean Mittelsteadt rest in eternal peace.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther