In That Day – Sermon for April 24/25, 2016

In That Day
Isaiah 12:1-6
Fifth Sunday of Easter (Cantate)
April 24th/25th, 2016
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

            Excitement inspires storytelling. It seems to be human nature. When a group of people get off a roller coaster, they excitedly tell one another about their experience, recounting an experience they all just shared together. When a family returns from a vacation they can’t wait to share the pictures and stories with their loved ones.  When a child is born, the mother and the father usually begin telling people immediately, through phone calls or Facebook posts, telling others their good news. When a child passes the test they’ve been studying hard for, or when their art project is chosen to be put on display, or 39bb9b550d8cde0cd41297e206a1ad25when they make the team, they excitedly tell their parents. On most days that you ask, “How was school?” the answer you’re likely to get is, “fine,” or “ok.” But if the child is excited about something, you get a story. Excitement inspires storytelling.

The same dynamic can be seen in today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah. Much of the first chapters of Isaiah are filled with prophecies of judgment. The first few chapters of the book describe the terrible situation in Israel, detailing the sin of the people and painting a picture of how far they had fallen. The next few chapters prophesy God’s judgment, warning Israel of the punishment they were going to face for their rebellion and unbelief. In the midst of such destruction, God promised to provide a remnant. In chapter 10, God promises that although the Israelites had been like the sand on the seashore, only a small group of them would return to lean on him.[1] The prophecy of the remnant serves two purposes. First, it demonstrates the wide scope of judgment that Israel would endure. It shows the depth of punishment that was headed their way in response to the depth of their sin. But even more so, the prophecy of the remnant shows that death and destruction are not God’s final word for Israel. Restoration is. He will preserve a remnant, and that remnant will one day return home.

The return of the remnant is the “that day” which Isaiah referred to in verse 1 of today’s reading: “You shall say in that day.” In fact, between Isaiah’s first prophecy of the remnant and today’s reading, the phrase “in that day” is used 6 different times to promise hope for the future. The message is: O Israel, the day of your destruction is coming quickly, and it will soon arrive. But the day of destruction is not the last day for you. There is also coming a day of restoration. In that day, the day of restoration, you will no longer look to foreign worldly powers to defend you, but you will trust in the Lord[2], and the burden will be lifted off your shoulders.[3] You will no longer seek the wisdom of earthly rulers, but you will seek the wisdom of God and of his Word.[4] In that day the Lord will recover you[5] and you will be so filled with joy that you will respond with joyous songs of thanksgiving for all God has done.[6] Like a person who cannot contain the good news they just received, you will break forth into song on that day, on the day of your redemption.  Your excitement will inspire storytelling.

Isaiah’s message is mirrored by Jesus in today’s Gospel reading.  The events of today’s reading took place in the upper room on Maundy Thursday. Jesus had just finished washing the disciples’ feet and instituting a new commandment, that they love one another with the same love they had received from him. After those things, Jesus began to teach the disciples many things, including the text we read last week and the words we heard today that he was going back to the Father. When the disciples were saddened by this news, Jesus consoled them by reminding them that his departure wasn’t the end: he would return. As we heard last week, he compared their sorrow to that of a mother giving birth, and he comforted them with the analogy that just as a mother holding her child is so overcome with joy that she forgets the anguish of giving birth, so also the disciples will be so filled with joy when He comes again that they will not remember the anguish they will experience in his absence.[7]  The promise of that future joy will fill the Apostles with such joy that they will be inspired to tell others, even if it means their own death.

In both of these texts we have the reality of sadness and hardship overcome by the joy of restoration, which inspires telling the story. Such joy fills our lives as God’s children even today. For we who were enslaved to sin have been set free. We who have suffered under the crushing weight of a guilty conscience have been set free. We who have felt the grime of shame that sticks to our conscience have been washed clean.  As long as we try to work out our own salvation, we are stuck in the day of judgment and will never make it to that day, the day of salvation. As long as we live in the excuses we make for our sin rather powerthan confessing our sin, we will be stuck in the day of judgment. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sin, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.[8]

And the joy of deliverance will fill our lips with words we can’t help but speak. We will say in that day, “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were rightly angry with me, your anger turned away that you might comfort me.”[9] The joy of such deliverance will inspire in us the song first sung by Moses and all the Israelites after they were safely delivered from Pharaoh’s army through the Red Sea, “The Lord God is my strength and my son, and he has become my salvation.”[10] It is a song of deliverance, for we are the delivered people of God. The Israelites of old were delivered from Pharaoh in the days of Moses and from Assyria in the days of Isaiah. We are delivered from the truest enemies of sin, death, and the devil. We rejoice in that deliverance that we experience today, and look forward to the fullness of that deliverance that will be ours in the life to come. We indeed draw water each and every day from the well of salvation, drinking the living water of Christ himself so that we never thirst again. When the world would dry our mouths with the accusation of our sin and the reality of death, we drink long and deep the water of our Lord’s forgiveness drawn from the well of his Word. We are the delivered people of God, so we join in the song of deliverance: “The Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

We give thanks to the Lord, we call upon his name, we make known his deeds among the people, we proclaim that his name is exalted.[11]  The joy of deliverance cannot be contained. The joy of deliverance inspires us to see that story of God told over and over again. Excitement inspires storytelling.  The joy of deliverance fills us as God’s children with the desire to share the story with others, to make known God’s deeds among the people, and fills us with a willingness to provide the necessary means for that storytelling to take place.  We do that here by supporting the work of this church and school – giving sacrificially from our own personal wealth and resources so that there can be a building where the people of God can gather around the Word of God to receive the gifts of God, to hear the story, the truth of our salvation. We want to let this be made known in all the earth, starting with the little corner of the earth where God has placed us. So we support the current work of this church and school. We support the future endeavors, looking to the generations who will follow us, providing today the needed renovations so that they Branching Out Logo No Backgroundwill have a place to come draw water from the well of salvation, a place where future generations can kneel at the altar of the Lord to be fed by him as we are fed by him today, a place where future generations can hear the proclamation of his Word as we are hearing it today.  In a few weeks each member of St. John will have an opportunity to pledge their support to the Branching Out Initiative, which seeks to do just that. We will each have an opportunity to pledge our support so that this church and school can continue to make known God’s deeds among the people here.

But we never forget that it is the joy of the Lord that inspires these things, the joy of deliverance. Such a joy fills us with excitement, and excitement inspires storytelling, such storytelling as happens in this very church and school.  May our Lord continue to fill us with such joy. May he continue to come to us in his Word to show us the reality and depths of our sin. May he continue to come to us in his Word to reveal to us the joy of our salvation. And may the joy of that salvation fill our speech. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitants of Zion, for great in our midst is the Holy One of Israel. Let this be made known in all the earth: the Lord God is our strength and our song, and he has become our salvation.

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[1] Isaiah 10:20-24

[2] Isaiah 10:20

[3] Isaiah 10:27

[4] Isaiah 11:10

[5] Isaiah 11:11

[6] Isaiah 12:1,4

[7] John 16:5-24

[8] 1 John 1:8-9

[9] Isaiah 12:1

[10] Isaiah 12:2; Exodus 15:2

[11] Isaiah 12:4

(Mostly) Luther on Psalm 23

The Lord is My Shepherd[1]
Psalm 23
Third Sunday of Easter (Misericordias Domini)
April 10th/11th, 2016
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

Jesus-the-Good-Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is your shepherd. We are his sheep. An appropriate comparison, for as Martin Luther once noted, a sheep must live entirely by its shepherd’s help, protection, and care. As soon as the sheep loses its shepherd, it is surrounded by all kinds of dangers and will certainly perish, for it is quite unable to help itself. It is a poor, weak, simple little creature that can neither feed nor rule itself, nor find the right way, nor protect itself against any kind of danger or misfortune. It is by nature timid, shy, and likely to get lost. When it does wander off and leave its shepherd, it is unable to find its way back to him; indeed, it merely runs farther away from him. It strays about until the wolf seizes it or it perishes some other way, like falling off a cliff or being swept away by the current while trying to drink from running water.

Still, however weak and small an animal a sheep may be, it nevertheless has this trait about it: it listens.  It is very careful to stay near its shepherd, to take comfort in his help and protection, and to follow him however and wherever he may lead it. And if it can simply be near him, it worries about nothing, fears no one, and is secure and happy; for it lacks absolutely nothing. If you wish, therefore, to be richly supplied in both body and soul, then above all give careful attention to the voice of your Shepherd, listen to His words, let Him feed, direct, lead, protect, and comfort you. Hold fast to His Word; hear and learn it gladly.

Our Shepherd will bless His Word so that it will accomplish its purpose and bring forth fruit in us. Through the Word he will give us His Spirit, who will assist and comfort us in all temptations and distresses and will also make our hearts safe and sure so that we will not doubt that we are safe in our Lord’s flock. He will treat us gently as His poor, weak sheep. He will strengthen our faith and provide us with other spiritual gifts; comfort us in all our troubles; hear us when we call upon Him; keep the wolf, that is, the devil, from being able to do us harm; and finally redeem us from all misfortune. Thus the psalmist can boldly confess that because the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

Of course, there will always be hardships in this body and life. Sin has corrupted the world in which we live. We will experience disease and economic hardships. Our relationships will be strained. Our lives will feel the same pressures felt by everyone else, whether they’re Christian or not. We may look at our circumstances compared with those of the unbelieving world and wonder whether or not our Lord is truly providing as a Shepherd ought.   But the words “I shall not want” are a confession of faith. The eyes of faith know that in real temptation we can find counsel and comfort nowhere else but in clinging to God’s Word and promise, evaluating our circumstances on the basis of his Word and not on the basis of the feelings of the heart. Then, when we despair of ourselves, our own abilities, our own failures, our own estimation of the situation, then help and comfort will surely follow, and absolutely nothing will be lacking.

The Word of God is the key. And yet, sadly, it remains a Word we so often undervalue and take for granted. It is as if the Psalmist were saying, “All people and kingdoms on earth are nothing. To the outward eye they may be richer, more powerful, and more splendid than the People of God. They may glory in their wisdom and holiness. But with all their glory and splendor they are a mere desert and wilderness, for they have neither shepherd nor pasture, and any sheep who wanders there will certainly go astray, starve, and perish. But though we are surrounded by many deserts, we can sit and rest here, safe and happy in Paradise, in a pleasant green pasture, where there is an abundance of grass and of fresh water and where we have our Shepherd near us, who feeds us, leads us to the watering place, and protects us. Therefore we shall not want.

We should learn to let the world glory in its great riches, honor, and power while it still can, for these are temporary, uncertain, perishable things that God lets foolish men scramble for. What does it matter for God to give wealth to someone who in turn blasphemes and slanders Him, or to a kingdom that will endorse evil at every turn, or other temporary honors and possessions to wicked people on this earth. What of it? All these will turn to ash one day.  To His children, as David says here, He gives the genuine treasure. Therefore, as the dear children and heirs of God, we ought to glory in neither our wisdom, nor strength, nor riches, but in this, that we have the “pearl of great value,” the precious Word, through which we know God, our dear Father, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. That is our treasure and heritage, and it is sure and eternal and better than all worldly possessions. Whoever has this treasure may let others gather money, live scandalously, be proud and arrogant. Let us not be troubled by such things, though we be despised and poor in the eyes of the world. It does not matter how rich and glorious we are here on earth; if we keep the treasure of his Word, we are exceedingly rich and sufficiently honored.

O how often we struggle with this! How often we fail to evaluate our situation rightly! We are so easily caught up in the rat race of modern life, forever chasing the next promotion, the newer car, the nicer house, the fancier clothing or more extravagant vacation.  We put our effort and time into the many things we want to do for our families and give to our families: a good education, the chance to excel in sports or music, a comfortable life, wonderful memories and experiences. But where does the Word of God fall on that list? Why do we so often fail to treat it as the treasure it truly is? Why do we find ourselves too tired to worship or attend Bible Study but always have enough energy to pick up some overtime if it means getting paid time-and-a-half?  All other things in this life will pass away. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of God stands forever. The Psalmist rejoices in that Word, and that through that Word he has everything he would ever want, regardless of his standing in the eyes of the world, regardless of how his life stacks up against the people three doors down.  For this Word is the green pastures that feed our soul, and it is the still waters that calm our troubled hearts.

Whether we are rich or poor in the eyes of the world, there will always be trouble in this life. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Being a sheep in our Shepherd’s flock doesn’t make those attacks any less intense. In fact, if anything, it makes them worse, for as soon as the Word is preached and as soon as there are people that accept and confess it, the devil quickly appears with all his angels and arouses the world with all its might against this Word, to stifle it and completely destroy those that have it and confess it.  Baptism not only make one a child of God, it also makes one an enemy of Satan. Are we then to look for shelter from these attacks in money or fame or the things of this life? No, there is no shelter there. And yet in the midst of these attacks, we fear no evil, for the Shepherd is with us to protect and comfort us with his rod and staff. Rather than living in fear, we sit at the table prepared by our Lord. The more raging and raving and insane the devil and his minions are toward us, the less we worry about them; yes, instead, we are secure, happy, and cheerful. And that is true only because we have God’s Word. It gives us such strength and comfort in the presence of all our enemies, so that even when they rage and rave most violently, we feel more at ease than when we are sitting at a table and have all that our hearts desire: food, drink, joy, pleasures, music, and anything else.

Even a man so highly blessed as King David exalts and praises the Word of God above all else, for by that Word we gain the victory over the devil, the world, the flesh, sin, a guilty conscience, and even death. When we have the Word and in faith cling to it firmly, these enemies, who we could never defeat on our own, lay down their weapons and let themselves be taken captive. It is not only a wonderful victory, but also a very confident and joyful attitude on the part of believers that we may compel and conquer all of these horrible and mighty enemies—not by resisting or striking back, but by sitting, eating, drinking, and resting, for we aren’t the ones who are actually doing the fighting.  We rest in the protection of our Shepherd. All of this is accomplished through the Word.

The Lord has prepared a table for us, and the meal on that table is the paschal lamb, Christ himself given in order to destroy our enemies completely. While the world continues to spew rhetoric of hatred and bitterness and vengeance, even then the dear bride of Christ can sit down at the table of her Lord, eat of the paschal lamb, drink of the fresh water, be happy and sing: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”  Therefore let us learn to cling to the rod and this staff of our Lord’s Word, and to find our way to his table when sorrow or other misfortune appears. Then we will surely gain strength and comfort for everything that worries us.

This is the promise that is ours as the sheep of our Lord’s flock. He is our Shepherd. He has given us all we need, therefore when we have him through his Word, we shall not want. His Word will lead us into green pastures to feed and nourish and strengthen our souls. And when sadness or grief overtakes us, his Word will soothe our troubled hearts with the cool water of healing.  He restores our souls. He will speak to us through his Word to lead us down the paths of righteousness, showing us how to live in forgiveness and mercy and in keeping with his design for creation. And even though that path in this life takes us through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil, for he is with us, guarding and protecting us with the rod and staff of his Gospel, deflecting away and fending off the assaults of the evil one. And while he is fighting off our enemies, we will sit at the table he has prepared for us; he will anoint us as his people, and fill our souls to the point of overflowing with the gift of his love. So as long as we are in this life, his goodness and his mercy will follow us as his Word continues to speak words of forgiveness and hope into our ears until that day when we take up our dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

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[1] Much of this sermon is from Luther’s 1536 commentary on Psalm 23