The Spirit Brings Life – Sermon for August 23/24, 2015

The Spirit Brings Life

2 Corinthians 3:4-11

12th Sunday After Trinity

August 23rd/24th, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

            I wonder how many people out there have been broken by politics. Maybe you have. I read something this past week that speculated the reason Donald Trump is getting such good poll numbers is because he is simply not an establishment guy. Is he Democrat? Is he Republican? Is he Libertarian? Is he Independent? No one really knows for sure. But what people do know is that he is not a career politician. He has not spent the last 30 years of his life in Washington building relationships with lobbyists and special interest groups.  Whether a Trump presidency would be good or bad for America is donald_trump_for_president_2016_poster-r5c416f83f1144568b91b9fe0a08ef8a7_ww8_8byvr_324something we will probably never know, but what seems certain is that a Trump presidency would not simply be more of the same. And more of the same is exactly what people grow to expect of politicians and candidates. Big promises that will never be realized. Special interest groups having too much pull. Corruption in every level. Maybe the problem is simply that too many people are overly cynical, but I truly believe that there are people out there who have been broken by politics.

I wonder how many people have been broken by our culture. This past week saw the release of the seventh undercover video exposing what really happens behind the curtain in the abortion industry, especially at Planned Parenthood. The trafficking of human organs, even organs surgically extracted from children who were still alive. Doctors admitting to altering their technique in an effort to preserve certain organs so that they can be sold later. Nurses admitting to harvesting the organs of the babies without ever telling the mothers that’s what was happening. The list goes on and on. The evil and barbaric details get more and more discouraging, or infuriating, or nauseating, or all of the above.  But the national outrage over the whole thing has been almost nonexistent. The internet blows up over a dead lion in Africa but not about a newborn baby being dissected for parts in our own backyard. People are more concerned with getting spoilers about their favorite TV show that will start up again this fall or keeping current with celebrity gossip. There is cecil-the-lioneven a group who made a parody video about how the real horrors of Planned Parenthood were the fact that the nurses asked for medical histories and took vitals. We live in a country that would prefer to poke fun at infanticide rather than deal with it. I wonder how many people can’t take it anymore. I wonder how many people have been broken by the callousness of our society.

I wonder how many people have been broken by the church.  I don’t mean broken by Jesus. I mean broken by those of us who put ourselves before the world as his representatives.  I would venture to guess that each of us can think of someone who has been broken by the church. Maybe you have. Maybe someone in your family. Maybe someone at your work.  I bet you know someone who truly believed that Jesus was indeed their salvation. Someone who confessed the faith. But somewhere along the way they got the idea that Christianity was all about performance, about doing the right thing. Somewhere along the way they got the idea that once they became serious about being a Christian that they could eliminate sin from their life. Sure, they were sinful before they truly committed their life to Christ, but they believed that things would get better once they took their faith seriously. They sat in some pew week after week and were told that they should be progressing in holiness, improving their behavior, ridding their lives of sin. They said their “Amen” week after week, but when they go home their life wasn’t like that. They weren’t getting better.  If they did make some progress in controlling one sin, they started struggling with another. They expected things to get easier, but instead they just got harder and harder.

To make matters worse, the more time they spent in church the more they saw the flaws of the other people there with them. The people in pew in front of them still did things that were sinful. People still gossiped in the narthex before and after the service. People still aired other people’s dirty laundry and treated fellow members of the body of Christ with contempt instead of compassion. And rather than finding comfort in the forgiveness of Jesus, they became obsessed with looking to find other evidence of improvement. But when they finally came to grips with the reality that the church is full of sinners, when they finally came to grips with the reality that they themselves weren’t really doing that much better at following God’s Law even after they had tried their hardest to, they started to lose hope.  In desperation or despair, they finally gave up trying. If they aren’t seeing improvement even after trying so hard, then why bother. And they leave the church. Broken.

I don’t know if there’s a good solution for those who have been broken by politics. I don’t know if there’s a way to reach those who have given up on the media or on our society as a whole. But as for those who have been broken by the church, Paul’s words today are clear. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Paul is speaking of the importance of distinguishing Law and Gospel in our Lord’s Word and in our lives.  Our Lord’s Word is filled with passages that tell us what we are to do and how we are to live. Too often we assume that the presence of these passages in God’s Word means that we must have the ability to fulfill them.  After all, why would God tell us to do something that was impossible for us? That wouldn’t make sense.  We read the letters of the Law, the commands of God engraved in stone and passed down from generation to generation. Why would God write these things down for us if it was impossible for us to fulfill them?  And yet, in the words of Paul, those letters brings death.

For the reality is that we are all of us dead in our sin, and all the righteous works in the world can’t fix that. The person next to you, the person in front of you, the person behind you, the person in this pulpit is no more able to reach perfection than you are. The command to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves is a perfect summary of the Law. You can devote your whole life to sinners-wanteddoing things that love God and serve your neighbor. Yet even after a lifetime of such noble deeds, we have accomplished nothing. As Luther put it, such a life would leave us with peas but no pods, husks but no corn. That is why the Law can be nothing more than letters. Though it is a holy and righteous Word from God, it remains on the surface. It cannot penetrate to the heart.

Without a change of heart, there will be no change of action. You can post a no trespassing sign in your yard, but those letters aren’t going to keep people out; people have to care enough to listen. You can put out an invitation to sign up for MCREST but those letters themselves aren’t going to get people to donate their time; people have to want to be here. You can vote to build new classrooms or install a new gym floor, but those actions remain nothing more than letters on a page if there is no change of heart; people have to buy in and be willing to make sacrifices in their own lives. It is a change of heart that brings about action. Simply telling people what to do will not inspire them to do it. They have to want to.  People will support causes they believe in. That support comes not from the letter of the Law, but from a change of heart.

The same is true of the Christian life. The letter kills, but the Spirit brings life. Without a change of heart, the Law is powerless to bring about life and salvation. If you are convinced that Christianity is about being a good person of fulfilling the demands of God’s Law, you are bound to be disappointed with yourself and the people around you.  Luther said that the 10 Commandments may as well be called the table of omissions, for no matter what positive spin we try to put on it, the Law will always point out our shortcomings and our failures to live up to expectation.  We can try to use the Law of God to show someone what progress they are making, but all they will see is how far they have left to go. For the letter of the Law brings death. It brings despair. The problem for those who have been broken by the church is not simply that they have failed to live up to God’s standard. That is a problem for all of us, broken by the church or not. The problem is that by being badgered incessantly with the commands of God’s law, they were abandoned to flounder in futility.

And as much as any of us puts our trust in our own ability to fulfill God’s Law, we are floundering too.  Jesus did not create his church in order to make people better citizens or better parents or better employers or employees. Jesus did not come to earth simply to give us an example or further instruction from God on how to live. We already had that information. We had those letters, but those letters result in death. Even the best peopleLaw-Gospel2 still die eventually. It’s no wonder that those who only hear the Law of God eventually get broken down by the same old thing: failure after failure, disappointment after disappointment. No, God’s Son came into this life because no one else could fulfill the letter of God’s Law.  Where the Law of God brings death to sinners, the Son of God brings life. We can preach the Ten Commandments until we’re blue in the face. It won’t bring about a change in heart. It would be no better than telling a starving man with no money in his pocket to hurry up and get something to eat before he starves, or telling a woman in the desert holding an empty cup to hurry up and drink something before she dies of dehydration. The words may be true, but something else is needed.

That something else is Jesus. The message of his life, death, and resurrection in our place is the true message of the church. It is that message that creates faith. It is that message that brings about a change of heart. It is that message that will heal those who have been broken by the letter of the Law.  It is that message that heals us. For the letter kills, but the Spirit brings life.  That doesn’t mean we stop preaching the letter of the Law. That doesn’t mean it’s ok or no big deal when the people of God gossip about each other or sin against each other. What it means is that the death those actions bring is not the final word. Forgiveness is. Life is. We are under the new covenant. Our sufficiency is not from ourselves, it is from God. Even in the midst of our failures and sins, we have confidence through Christ toward God. Not that our sin is meaningless – no, it is nothing of the sort. But neither our sin nor our righteousness, neither our failures nor our successes determine our worth before God. That comes from Christ alone. It is ours through faith alone. It is the simple freedom of the Gospel. Because of what Jesus has already done for me, I know I am right with God. I know I am forgiven. I know I have been reconciled and brought back into God’s family. And you have too. You are right with God. Your sin has been covered.

I don’t know if there’s a solution for those who are burned out by the same old politics. I don’t know if there’s a solution for those who are burned out by the moral bankruptcy of our world. But I do know that there is a solution for you if you are discouraged by the fact that no matter how hard you try you just can’t get it right. There is a solution if you are frustrated by the fact that even when you give it your best you still lose your temper, still feel lust, still lie and cheat and steal. There is a solution if you are frustrated by the fact that even here in our church and school people still gossip and say hurtful things. The solution is simple: repent. Call a spade a spade. You messed up. Someone else messed up. We all do; we’re all sinners. Confess your sin and forgive theirs. Then live in the joy of forgiveness.  Rest in the knowledge that Jesus has already paid for your sin, and for theirs. He has paid for all of them. Let go of the shame. Let go of the bitterness. Let go of the grudge. The letter kills, but the Spirit brings life. May our life together here in our Lord’s church be marked by his forgiveness, love, and reconciliation. May it be marked by the love of Christ.

+INJ+

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Funeral Sermon for Lorraine Porea

Lorraine Elsie Porea

Isaiah 41:8-13

Funeral Sermon

August 13, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

            Playwright George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying, “A happy family is but an earlier heaven.” From what I’ve heard about Lorraine, she would agree. From what I’ve heard over the past few days, for Lorraine, her family was a little piece of heaven on earth. “Sweet Lorraine” they called her, because she was a grandma to quote-George-Bernard-Shaw-a-happy-family-is-but-an-earlier-89240everybody. Having grown up in a large family with 11 brothers and sisters, she was no stranger to a crowded kitchen. In fact, it sounds like she preferred a bit of a crowd. Why else would she have everyone over every year to make Christmas cookies, a production so full and intricate that it sounds an awful lot like an assembly line: women baking, men frosting, grandkids decorating, and everyone sneaking a bite or two along the way?

Yes, her house was the gathering place, and it was important to her that everyone felt welcome. She was a woman of tremendous compassion. Compassion was such a fundamental part of her personality that even when the Alzheimer’s got bad near the end, if she saw someone who needed a hug, she would be the one to give it, probably with 10 small pats on the back. It didn’t matter if she didn’t know the person. All that mattered was that they needed to be loved, and she was going to be the one to do it. That’s probably why she was so willing to open her home to friends of her family. But her family itself held top spot in her heart. Going to the grandkids special events, coming here for Christmas Eve candlelight services, just spending time together. Yes, I think Lorrain would agree with George Bernard Shaw. I think for her, her happy family was indeed an earlier heaven, a piece of heaven on earth.

But we are here today because of the other family that Lorraine was a part of. You see, for all that she did with and for her own family, she was part of an even bigger family. On September 23, 1928 Lorraine was washed in the waters of Holy Baptism. She was adopted into the family of God, made his own precious daughter. He put his name on her and made her his own. And while her earthly family may have been for her an earlier heaven, because she was claimed by God himself as part of his family, she is now enjoying heaven itself. And it’s not because she was such a good mother or grandmother, and by all accounts she was one of the best. And it’s not because she was so active in Church, which she absolutely was, giving countless hours to the Ladies’ Society and their rummage sales. It’s not because of any merit or worthiness in her. No, today she is enjoying heaven itself because she is part of God’s family.

Being part of God’s family through the water of Baptism is a wonderful thing. Thinkwater baptism back to Lorraine’s confirmation verse, which is printed at the top of the bulletin and which was read just a few moments ago. God says to each of his children, he said to Lorraine, “You are my servant, I have not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Because she has been upheld by the hand of our Lord, Lorraine is now enjoying the rest of the promises that are part of that section of Isaiah. Listen to them again: Verse 11 – “All who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.” The Alzheimer’s that tried to put her to shame has been defeated. For all the confusion that it brought into her life these last few years, now it is the one standing confounded as it watches its prey being safely delivered from its grasp, as it sees Lorraine freed from its clutches to live in a new and healthy body, the body of the resurrection in the new heavens and the new earth.

From Verse 12 – “You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.” All the evils of this world, not only the Alzheimer’s but all disease. All heartache. All hardship. All the enemies of a happy life. Where Lorraine is now, even if she looked for them, she would not find them. They are as nothing at all, for she is resting safely in the hands of the Good Shepherd. Jesus has given her eternal life. Now, she will never perish, and no one will snatch her out of his hand. For she is part of God’s family, and our Heavenly Father is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch her out of his hand. Yes, she is safe with the Lord.

But she is not alone. It sounds like Lorraine didn’t like to be alone, always surrounding herself with family and friends. Like the author of Psalm 42, she would go with the throng in procession to the house of God, worshiping with the multitude. She Easter_Christ_is_risenworshiped with a mini-multitude here, with the other members of God’s family who would gather to hear his Word, who would feast on the body and blood of our Savior, who would leave this altar singing, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word.”  Now she has departed in peace, departed to be with the true multitude, people of every tribe and race and language all gathered before the throne of God in eternal praise. She is with her heavenly family, with all her brothers and sisters in Christ from all times and all places. She is in her Father’s house.

I know that you, her earthly family, miss her terribly today. How could you not? How could you not long for those days of homemade pizzas and apple pies and canned peaches? How could you not miss each little story that goes with every Christmas ornament? Decorating the tree will probably always remind you of her. She was such an important part of your family.  But find hope in the reality that she is part of our Lord’s family too, and though your time with her may be done this side of heaven, there is an eternity waiting for you in the Father’s house.  Washed by the blood of Jesus and clinging to his forgiveness alone, we too are promised new life in him. We too look forward to being reunited with those we love who have died in the faith.

For we are in our Father’s hand. What else is there to say? If God is for us, who can stand against us? Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, even in these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, no anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. He’s got Lorraine. He’s got you too.

So we are not here today to say good-bye forever. Lorraine used to like to say, “See ya later, alligator,” or, “After ‘while, crocodile.” We are here today to say “See ya later” to Lorraine. For as important as she is to her earthly family, she is part of our Lord’s family. So was dad. So are you. You will see her again in the Father’s house.

May God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Jesus Wept – Sermon for August 9/10, 2015

Jesus Wept

Luke 19:41-44

Tenth Sunday After Trinity

August 9th/10th, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

Anticipation. Excitement. Joy. Fear. Like a bride waiting that final few moments before walking down the aisle to meet her groom, like a groom waiting for the music to start signaling the beginning of the ceremony, like a group of high school seniors who are all dressed in cap and gown waiting to hear those first few bars of “Pomp and Circumstance,” 140425-hsgraduation-stocklike a child all dressed and ready for the first day of school, waiting for mom to start the car. Anticipation. Excitement. Joy. Fear.

Certainly these emotions, and likely many more, were swirling away within the hearts and minds of Jesus’s followers. Not just the 12, but all those who had been following Jesus, watching him do miraculous signs and wonders, giving sight to blind Bartimaeus, calling Lazarus forth from the grave, giving reason after reason after reason for these people to believe that he was indeed the Messiah promised by God, the one who deliver Israel back to her days of glory. Yet, for a frustrating three years, every time someone asked Jesus about this, he changed the subject. He told the people he healed not to spread the word about what he had done. He didn’t want people to look at him and see a mighty magician who could lead Israel into battle against Rome. He deflected the talk of royalty and messiahship.

But not today. Anticipation. Excitement. Joy. Fear. For this same Jesus who had spent years deflecting talk of being Messiah was now suddenly acting like one. He who had walked everywhere for three years had sent two of his disciples to fetch him a colt that had never been ridden. That’s a royal privilege, not to mention what it means for the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah entering Jerusalem on a donkey. He who had hidden from the crowds when they wanted to make him King was now letting them place their cloaks on the road while he rode toward Jerusalem. He who had told so many people not to speak of the miraculous healing they had received from his hand now allowed the crowds around him to shout out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” In fact, when the Pharisees told Jesus to silence the roar of the crowd, Jesus defended the shouts, telling the Pharisees that if the people would stop crying out then the stones themselves would start. Yes, this Jesus was finally beginning to act like he was indeed the promised Messiah.

And so you can picture the scene. On the journey from Bethany and Bethphage, excitement builds. With each step closer to Jerusalem, the tension grows. As they climb the back side of the Mount of Olives, the energy in the group climbs too. You can feel the anticipation in the air. It is bubbling furiously under the surface, so furiously that when theyJesus reach the crest of the hill, as they round the bend and finally catch their first sight of Jerusalem, the Holy City, the crowd can no longer contain itself. As the Temple glistens in the evening sun, the crowd cries out in joy that the Messiah has come to rescue the people of God. And in the midst of the shouts of victory echoing around him, in the midst of the joy and anticipation that are flooding through Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside at the prospect that this Jesus might now in fact be coming to reclaim the City of God, in this moment that held such great joy and anticipation for so many, Jesus weeps:

And when [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Jesus wept. I’m pretty sure that the only other time we know of Jesus shedding tears is just a few days earlier at the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus. Here, on Palm Sunday, Jesus is again in tears as he enters Jerusalem. Why tears? Why sadness on such a joyous occasion? Because, in his own words, the people of God did not know the things that actually make for peace. And their ignorance and stubbornness would come back to bite them in the end.

Their focus was in the wrong place. Their expectation was of the wrong thing. They set their sights too low. Had they been listening to what Jesus was teaching instead of being blinded by the desires of their own hearts, they might have seen more than the raw power of God. Luke makes it clear in the verses leading up to today’s reading that the people were honoring and praising Jesus during his triumphal entry not because they believed his words, but because of the mighty works they had seen.[1] That’s what brings Jesus to tears – he knows that despite the pomp and circumstance surrounding his arrival to Jerusalem, these people did not yet believe what he was saying. They were not looking for a savior from their sin. They had missed his message, and he knew where that would get them. And he wept.

The Apostle Paul is writing of the same reality in today’s Epistle reading from Romans 9 and 10. Hear his words again:

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

 Paul’s desire and prayer is that the Jews, the people to whom God had entrusted his holy Word, the people to whom God had continually sent his prophets, would begin to listen to that word and those prophets. That they would see Jesus as the Messiah that he truly is, not one sent for earthly gain but one sent to deliver the world from sin, death, and the devil himself. The Gentiles listened. They were not born into a culture that encouraged them to pursue God’s righteousness, they were born pagans. They didn’t know the first thing about the true God or his Messiah. But when they heard the message, they believed. Not so the Jews. The Jews had God’s Word, but turned it into a ladder to heaven, works of the Law that must be climbed rung after rung until you reach God’s side. Rather than building their faith on the firm stone foundation of Christ’s sacrifice in our place, they continued right past him in their efforts to save themselves by fulling God’s Law for themselves. But as they ran past the stone they stumbled. They fell. It would be impossible not to, For Christ is the end of the law as a means of righteousness to everyone who believes.

Jesus saw their fall coming, so he wept. He saw that they would reject his sacrifice, so he wept. He knew that even though he was riding into Jerusalem to save these people, they would refuse to be saved by him. So he wept.

I wonder if Jesus is weeping over us?

As the Church of God today, we are the new Jerusalem, the place where God dwells in his Word and Sacraments. Like the Israelites of old, we Christians today are the ones who have been entrusted with the Word of God. But are we listening to what it says? Do we recognize Jesus for the Messiah he is, or do we treat him simply as the Messiah we would like him to be?

It is undeniable that there are crowds of people today who are filled with joy, excitement, and anticipation about Jesus. But like the crowds who marched with Jesus toward Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday shouting praises for the mighty works he had done, are we simply excited because we want a Jesus that we can parade through the streets of Washington while we fix America’s problems? Are we blinded by God’s majestic power like the crowd on Palm Sunday? Do we only want Jesus who will flex his omnipotent muscle and make an example out of abortion providers who dismember the unborn for profit? Do we only want a Jesus who will call down the fury of the cosmos on all those who would shut down a pizza joint or run a bakery out of business over gay weddings? memories-pizza-indianaAre we only interested in a Jesus who punishes other people’s sins and makes sure that the bad guys of this world get what’s coming to them? If so, then like the crowd of joyful people who marched with Jesus to Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, we have not known the things that lead to peace. They remain hidden from our eyes. If all we know of Jesus is that we can’t wait to see him judge someone else, then he is weeping over us too.

For Jesus did not come to earth in order to save Jerusalem from the Romans. He did not come into the world to judge the sins of anyone. He came to be judged in our place. He came to be the savior. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.[2] While it is absolutely necessary for us to speak the truth to our sinful world, we must remember first and foremost that Jesus is our savior. He died for my sin, because I am by nature sinful and unclean, because I have sinned by the wicked things I’ve done and the good that I’ve left undone. The message of Jesus is first and foremost about how he has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed his blood for me. Each of us must embrace that reality. Each of us must confess our personal sin, our own need for a savior. For that is the savior we have.

When we treat Jesus as a loaded weapon designed for the destruction of our enemies, we have missed the point, and he weeps over us too.  Jesus used his power that first Holy Week not to judge sinners, but to take our judgment upon himself. He used his divinity to jesus-died-for-you2bear the burden that is ours, to suffer in our place, to die in our place, and to rise to life again promising us that we too will rise in him on the last day. That is what the power of God is for, not the destruction of Jerusalem, but the destruction of the chains and shackles of sin that bind our consciences. Rather than being so obsessed with the sins of others that we cannot see our own, let us confess the depths of our own fallen nature, and rejoice in the one who rode through the streets of Jerusalem to the cross for us, so that when the last day comes, the only tears Jesus sheds for us will be tears of joy as he welcomes us into his Father’s house.

[1] Luke 19:37

[2] John 3:17

Written For Our Instruction – Sermon for August 2/3, 2015

Written For Our Instruction

1 Corinthians 10:(1-5) 6-10

Ninth Sunday After Trinity

August 2nd/3rd, 20153

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

“Now these things took place as examples for us,” says the Apostle Paul, “in order that we might not desire evil as they did.” Are we paying attention? “These things happened to them as an example,” says the Apostle Paul, “but they were written down for our instruction.” Are we listening? “Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

Just what exactly is Paul talking about here? What is he trying to get us to remember? And, maybe most importantly, what are we supposed to learn from these examples?

bible-archeology-exodus-red-sea-crossing-drawingFirst things first. Paul is calling to mind the history of the Israelites. He is calling it to mind because the Israelites are our spiritual ancestors. We may not be ethnic descendants of the Jews, but the people of Israel in the Old Testament are our forefathers in worshiping the only true God. He was their God just as he is ours. They were saved by trust in his promised Messiah just as we are saved by faith in his promised Messiah. The things they experienced and lived through were all preparation for the arrival of the Messiah Jesus. Now that Jesus has come and finished his work of redemption, the end of ages has come. The fulfillment of the ages has come. Now we are waiting for his return. But the fact that Jesus has fulfilled all that was prophesied about him does not make those prophecies worthless. Quite the opposite, in fact. The things that God did to and through Israel certainly happened, but God made sure that those things were written down so that we might learn from them. But what do we learn?

To answer that, we first have to notice what events Paul specifically calls to mind. Notice that today’s reading starts at 1 Corinthians 10:6. Back in verse 1 of the same chapter Paul began calling to mind specific events from the history of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. He reminds us that all the Israelites were under the cloud, recalling the miraculous pillar of cloud and fire that both led the Israelites out of Egypt and protected the Israelites on their journey.[1] It protected them from Pharaoh’s army by acting as a barrier to keep the soldiers at bay while the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea.[2] It acted as a cloud normally acts, shielding God’s people from the scorching heat of the desert sun. It acted as fire normally acts, providing a source of light and heat in the night and some light to keep predators away from the camp of Israel. Over and over again, this miraculous cloud acted in ways that protected the Israelites in their journey.

Paul also reminds us that on that journey God provided for the physical needs of his people. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink.[3] God did not let his people starve in the wilderness. Neither did he expect this tribe of a 2-3 million leinweber-robert-during-the-exodus-moses-strikes-a-rock-and-obtains-a-supply-of-water-for-the-isnomads to find enough food in the desert to feed themselves. Instead, he sent them manna from heaven to supply their need. He sent them quail as meat to eat.[4] He supplied water from a rock.[5] Some interpreters even believe that the way Paul speaks of the spiritual rock[6] that followed the Israelites mean that the rock from which water flowed for Israel rolled along with them on their journey so that they would always have access to its eternal spring. Whether or not that actually happened, what is certain is that God not only provided protection for his people through the miraculous pillar of cloud and fire, he also provided food and water for them.

With all this going on around them, you would think the faith of the Israelites would be off the charts strong. What other group of people in the history of the world had such daily and regular experience of miraculous events? But here is one of the things we are supposed to learn if we are paying attention to the story of our spiritual ancestors. We often test God by asking him to do something miraculous. We often act as if it would be easier to believe if we had lived in the days of Jesus or had seen him do something miraculous. But here is a group of people who experienced the miraculous every day. And what happened to them?

That’s where today’s text picks up. Most of them were overthrown in the wilderness.[7] Some of them became idolaters, like the time they built a golden calf at the base of Mt. Sinai while Moses was interceding for them before God. The people had literally just heard the voice of God speak to them from the mountain, and they were so intimidated by the voice that they demanded that Moses speak to God for them.[8] No sooner had they sent Moses up the mountain to talk to God, than they began constructing an idol in his absence. And about 3,000 died as a result.[9] How often do we ignore the gracious GoldCalfprovision of our Heavenly Father who, out of his fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us, provides us with all that we need to support this body and life?

Some of them engaged in pagan rituals with temple prostitutes, like the time the sorcerer Balaam was hired by King Balak of Moab. The Israelites, who ate miraculous bread from heaven for breakfast, spent their afternoons and their evenings engaged in those pagan practices. And about 23,000 fell in a single day.[10] How often do we feast on our miraculous bread from heaven at this very altar and then, as soon as we leave this place, throw ourselves head first back into the sinfulness of the world around us? How do we indulge our own lust, our own greed, our own bigotry and hatred?

Some of them grumbled against Moses as God’s chosen leader, complaining that they were going the long way around Edom rather than cutting through hostile territory and destroying anyone who stood in their way. So as they traveled by the Red Sea, while they should have been reminded of the deliverance they had experienced there, instead their grumbling was so bad that God sent poisonous snakes and some of them were destroyed by serpents.[11] Some of them tried to rebel against Moses as their leader, putting the man Korah in charge, but were destroyed by the Destroyer when the ground opened up and swallowed the camp of the rebellious faction.[12]  How often do we grumble about the spiritual leaders God has placed in our lives? It may sound self-serving coming from a pastor, but it’s not about me. I have a pastor too. The reality is that the pastors of our Lord’s church are the men he has given to be the shepherds for his flock, our spiritual leaders today. In spite of my many personality flaws, in spite of my short comings, in spite of my failures as a sinful child of God in need daily of his mercy and forgiveness, through the office of pastor God is seeing to it that his Word is proclaimed. How often do we let personality quirks of a particular man get in the way of the gospel? How often do we grumble about the spiritual leaders in our lives?

In spite of all that God had done for them, in spite of all the miraculous things they had experienced, Paul reminds us that many of the Israelites fell away. There is a warning in there for us. At the time these things happened they served as examples to the rest of the Israelites. They were reminders that while God was indeed merciful and the very one who had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, he was also a jealous God who would not sit idly by while his chosen people chased after idols. These things happened to them as examples, but they were written down for our instruction. They were recorded by Moses and passed down through generation after generation of God’s people to this present day so that we might learn from the example of the Israelites.

Therefore, let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

Let us take heed, lest we fall. Let us not assume that things would be easier if God would just do something miraculous. Let us not arrogantly or stubbornly demand a sign. The Israelites saw signs and wonders every day, but rather than having their faith strengthened by these signs, many of them simply grew callous to them. Our problem is not that we don’t experience the miraculous, our problem is that our hearts have grown callous to the miraculous things in our midst. Take, for example, the fact that anyone is here today. It is only by the grace of God and the working of his Spirit that the gift of faith is created in anyone. Left to ourselves or the natural world around us, we would not know God. We could not know God. But our Lord has miraculously come to us through the jesus-died-for-you2preaching of his Holy Word and the gracious gift of his sacraments to create new life in our hearts. This life in Christ is a miracle. Celebrate the miraculous in our midst!

Not only is this new life is created entirely by the work of God, so also it is sustained entirely by the work of God. Another miracle. He does so through the continued study of his Word. Consider our earthly existence. A mother’s body works overtime for nine months as a baby grows in her womb. But once the baby is born, the mother’s job is far from over. In fact, it is just beginning. The child must be cared for, fed, and nurtured. If that child isn’t cared for and provided the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, that child’s life will be tragically short. So also our life of faith. We cannot survive without the basic spiritual needs of food, clothing, and shelter.  Our new creation must be fed on the Word of God, strengthened with his body and blood so that it can withstand the temptations and assaults of this world. We must be clothed by the robe of Christ’s righteousness, robes that are wrapped around us each time the pastor stands before this assembly and in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ forgives our sins.  We need the shelter found in God’s House, the shelter provided by being surrounded by other believers who are experiencing the same struggles and temptations. For no temptation has overtaken you except that which is common among men. Your struggle, my struggle, are the same struggles that people around us are experiencing. We don’t need to go it alone. Let us not give up meeting together, as is the habit of some, but let us gather to encourage one another, and all the more as the day draws near.

Even though the Israelites had been, in a manner of speaking, baptized in the Red Sea, many of them fell away. So also, even though we have been baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have not yet reached our promised land. Let the one who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. Let us not fall victim to the lie of once saved, always saved, lest we make shipwreck of our faith. Rather, let us recognize that, like the Israelites, very real temptations will come our way. But in each case, God will not leave us to fend for ourselves. With the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, and that way is Jesus.

If we rely on our own strength or judgment like those Israelites who wanted to oust Moses as their leader, we too will fall. If we succumb to the passions of the flesh like those Israelites who gave themselves to the women of Baal, we too will fall. If we turn our hearts from the worship of the true God to instead worship the false gods of our time like the Israelites who built the golden calf, we too will fall. Rather, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Humbly confessing our sin, we cling to his mercy alone. He is first and foremost the God who delivered his people from slavery in Egypt. He has delivered us too. This life is our Exodus, the journey from waters that set us free from our bondage to sin; the journey to the Promised Land of heaven. Come, be nourished for your journey. Be fed by the spiritual food of his body and blood at this altar for the forgiveness of your sin and the strengthening of your faith. Learn from the history written for our instruction, and rather than relying on your own strength or falling victim to the temptations of the world around you, live in the joy of the deliverance we have received, our own exodus from death to life. Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall, and let the one who knows he has fallen be lifted up by the life of Christ.

+INJ+

[1] 1 Corinthians 10:1

[2] Exodus 14:19-20

[3] 1 Corinthians 10:3

[4] Exodus 16:13-15

[5] Exodus 17:6

[6] 1 Corinthians 10:4

[7] 1 Corinthians 10:5

[8] Exodus 20:18-19

[9] Exodus 32:6,28

[10] Numbers 22-25

[11] Numbers 21:1-9

[12] Numbers 16